Monday, January 30, 2012

For Three Transgressions, even Four

Amos 1:3-5
Thus says the LORD: 
    “ For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four,
      I will not turn away its punishment,
      Because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron.
       4 But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael,
      Which shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad.
       5 I will also break the gate bar of Damascus,
      And cut off the inhabitant from the Valley of Aven,
      And the one who holds the scepter from Beth Eden.
      The people of Syria shall go captive to Kir,”
      Says the LORD. 

A couple weeks ago we began a series of exhortations from the prophet Amos. God chose the sheepherder Amos to speak the Word of God to the corrupt people of Israel and Judah. However, before Amos speaks to the people of God, he speaks the Word of God to the nations around Israel. Though God was not in covenant with the nations surrounding Israel, he makes very clear that He is nevertheless their Ruler and Judge. He is Lord of all the nations of the earth.

In our text today God speaks a word of judgment on the nation of Syria with its capital at Damascus. The ancient king of Syria, a man by the name of Hazael, had been chosen by God Himself to rule Syria. Once a servant of the King of Syria, Hazael was sent to the prophet Elisha to discover whether the king would recover from his illness. There Eliasha announced that Hazael would be the next king of Syria. But even as Elisha made the announcement, he wept openly. Hazael, astonished, asked why he wept. And this was Elisha’s reply:
“Because I know the evil that you will do to the children of Israel: Their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword; and you will dash their children, and rip open their women with child.”

It is for these cruelties that Syria is condemned by the prophet Amos:
“For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four,
         I will not turn away its punishment,
         Because they have threshed Gilead [in n. Israel] with implements of iron. 

So what would be the consequence of Syria’s cruelty toward the people of God? God would hold them accountable. He would bring down the throne of Hazael, destroy his palaces, bring desolation on his land and people, and take many of the Syrians into captivity – words that were fulfilled when the mighty nation of Assyria destroyed Damascus within the next 50 years.

Now if it was true that God was Lord of all the nations of the earth in the Old Covenant, when God was permitting the nations of the world by and large to go their own way, how much more true is it now that Jesus is exalted as the Ruler of all the nations. Jesus rules and reigns among the nations of the earth and calls them to implement justice, righteousness, and purity on the earth. And even as God executed judgment on the nations of the ancient world for three transgressions and for four, so Jesus executes judgment on the nations of the modern world. Why have the governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya fallen this year? Why is the modern nation of Syria facing serious unrest? Because Jesus rules and reigns in history and overthrows wickedness and injustice, especially when that injustice is practiced against His people. And so the call to all the nations is, “Kiss the Son lest he become angry and you perish in the way.” Jesus is remarkably patient; he waits for three transgressions, even four before he strikes. But strike he will if we refuse to give heed to Him – especially if we strike out against His people.

And this is a sober reminder; after all our own nation is practicing cruelty. We are threshing the unborn with implements of iron, slaughtering our children in the womb; we are removing ancient boundary stones and meddling in affairs that are not our own; we are corrupting ourselves and others through the perversity and coarseness of our media; for three transgressions and for four Jesus judges – so let us kneel and confess our sins, requesting that God in His mercy would grant us repentance.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Suspension from the Supper

Public Suspension of ----- -----

2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 (NKJV)
13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians with several exhortations to the congregation at large. He begins by urging them, “brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” Note that Paul’s command presumes that it is possible to grow weary in doing good – after all, we don’t warn about things that aren’t possibilities. In endeavoring to do good we face much opposition – both from within and from without – and so Paul commands us to never grow weary. The temptations of the Evil One, combined with the allurements of the world and the lusts of our own flesh, often make the task of doing good challenging, the temptation to grow weary alluring.

Because of the strength of this temptation, the temptation to give up doing good and simply start doing whatever, Paul exhorts the church to take seriously those who refuse to obey the Word of God. As Paul remarks elsewhere, a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. If a congregation permits sin to go unchecked, then that congregation cannot be surprised when such sin spreads. So notice that Paul urges the Thessalonians to act – “if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” Paul’s command involves two parts – first, the Thessalonians are to “note” – mark – point out – publicly identify such a one. Second, they are to refuse to keep company – refuse to enjoy communion, including normal fellowship at the Lord’s Supper – with such a one. Why? What is the purpose of this marking? This suspending of normal fellowship? Note Paul’s words: “that he may be ashamed.” In other words, the purpose of this discipline is to awaken the sinner to the seriousness of his sin. As Solomon writes in Proverbs 20:30, “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, As do stripes the inner depths of the heart.”

It is with sober hearts that the elders inform you today – in accordance with Paul’s words that such things are to be announced in the public assembly (1 Cor 5:4) – that ----- ----- is being suspended from fellowship in the Lord’s Supper.

For some time ----- has been wavering in her service of Christ. During this time numerous folks have endeavored to encourage her and come alongside her. Within the last two weeks, however, she has made clear that she is turning away from Jesus and embracing a life of sin. It has become plain that for many months she has been lying to and deceiving her parents and others, using them to further her own selfish ends. She has been committing and is continuing to commit sexual immorality. She has rejected the Bible’s authority, declaring that it is not relevant for today. She has intentionally absented herself from corporate worship and avoided accountability.

-----’s parents and the elders have spoken to her and urged her to turn back to Jesus, to beware trampling under foot the blood of the covenant by which she was distinguished from the world. She has rejected these overtures. Our Lord commands us in Matthew 18:15-17:
““Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church...

In accordance with these words of our Lord, that when a brother or sister will not hear the exhortations of two or three witnesses the matter is to be brought before the church, the elders are bringing -----’s sin to your attention. Our purpose in so doing is twofold: first, that you would pray for ----- and her family that the Lord would give ----- eyes to see and ears to hear, that she would return to the Lord and flee from the foolish and destructive path that she is choosing. We know that all of us by nature are frail and prone to sin and deception, that but for the grace of God we would turn from him and serve self, and so let us pray that He would indeed have mercy upon her, bringing to her mind and heart the many things which she has been taught over the years.

Second, our purpose in bringing this to your attention is that you would consider writing to -----, expressing your love for her as a member of this body and urging her to repent and return to Jesus. The elders will provide you with contact information in the week to come should you choose to do so.

Suspending ----- from the Lord’s Supper is an act of love, “For whom the Lord loves he disciplines even as a father the son in whom he delights.” ----- is our sister and so as we admonish her we treat her “not as an enemy but as a beloved” sister who has lost her way. And these reminders of the deceitfulness of sin remind all of us of our need to confess our sins to the Lord. So let us kneel as we confess our sins and pray for our sister.

Our Father,

We are prone to sin, tempted to grow weary doing good. The temptations of the Evil One distract us, the enticements of the world draw us away, the lusts of our own flesh incline us toward evil. But for your sustaining grace we would each pursue our own way rather than the way of Jesus. We none of us by nature desire to take up our cross and follow Jesus – for following Jesus means dying to sin and self and none of us relish the prospect. We pray your mercy upon us. Remember your lovingkindness and mercy toward our sister -----. Restore her to her knees that she would bow before you and seek your forgiveness, that she would abandon the path of sin and destruction on which she has set herself and that she would return ot the narrow way that leads to life. We pray also that you would keep all of us from sin and deception, pour out your grace upon us that we would hunger and long for righteousness and purity and every good way. Through Jesus Christ our Lord and by the power of Your Spirit,


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Epiphany and Miscommunication

Isaiah 60:1–3 (NKJV)
1 Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. 2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. 3 The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.

Communication is a good thing. As creatures made in the image of God, spoken into existence by the Word of God, one of our most god-like capabilities is the ability to communicate – to articulate with words our thoughts, feelings, desires, longings, ideas, fears, etc. Words make us human.

Ideally when we communicate both parties get the same message. But sometimes – either because we forget to speak with one another or because the person speaking communicates something other than that which the other hears – our messages just don’t get across. And this is what happened last week with our service of worship.

You see Epiphany in the church calendar, the day that celebrates the revelation of Christ to the Magi and, many years later, His baptism and His first miracle at the wedding in Cana, is celebrated on a fixed day, January 6th. Churches in the west that don’t celebrate Epiphany itself but who celebrate Epiphany on a Sunday instead have to decide which Sunday on which to celebrate. And while Carrie and I were treating last Sunday as Epiphany, Jim and Cassandra assumed we would celebrate this Sunday. Miscommunication.

So what do we do when we have a miscommunication? First, of course, the one responsible for the miscommunication should take responsibility for it. So, mea culpa – I should have communicated better. Second, knowing that our God is sovereign over all and that He intended this miscommunication for our good, our next calling is to be thankful. One of the glorious things about miscommunications is that they frequently result in multiplied blessings: we got to sing additional Christmas hymns last week and we get to sing Epiphany hymns this week and what’s wrong with that? Praise the Lord! After all, the church calendar is just a tool, a means to enable us to focus our lives on the life of our Great King Jesus. The church calendar declares that his life is the pattern for our own – and Jesus was routinely misunderstood and yet continued to give thanks to God.

And it is the centrality and magnetism of Christ which we find celebrated in Isaiah’s vision today. What happens when the light of the world comes? When the glory of the Lord rises and shines upon His people? The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Men are drawn to that light, to the character of Christ, like moths to a flame.

Today throughout the world, millions of people will gather to worship Him and to pay Him tribute. Why? Did he march forth into battle with sword and shield, scimitar and daggar, battle axe and hammer? No; he did something far more fearsome. He faced the wrath of the thrice-holy God in order that he might pay the penalty for our sin. He went through the fiery furnace of judgment in order to bring us to safety and peace. He loved us and gave His life for us – upholding justice by causing justice and mercy to kiss in peace. He has conquered millions by His love.

And it is into this image that we are being transformed. So should we strive to communicate well? Yes for Jesus is the Word of God and faithfully communicated all that the Father had given him to say. But when we fail to communicate well, what should be our response? To acknowledge that we are yet fallen creatures in need of the grace of God and to give thanks that despite our miscommunications God has taught us to love one another and is enabling us, by His Spirit, to become more like Jesus.

So what miscommunications have dogged you this week? Have you and your spouse failed to understand one another? Have you and your children been like ships passing in the fog? Has your boss failed to hear your suggestions or your employee failed to implement what you thought you communicated so clearly? Whatever the miscommunication, God sends it as a reminder of our frailty, a reminder of our need for the sacrifice of Christ, and so let us kneel and seek His forgiveness for failing to respond to these miscommunications in a godly fashion.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why did Jesus come?

Malachi 4:5–6 (NKJV)
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6 And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.

When God created the world, He created it a realm of righteousness and peace – a place of blessing. When human beings rebelled against Him, however, the entire creation became twisted and distorted, it came under judgment. Where once there was only blessing now curses touched the animate and inanimate creation.

This was no surpise. After all, God Himself had announced that were our first parents to reject His Word they would surely come under His judgment. Further, since God Himself is the source of righteousness and peace, to turn away from Him is to sever ourselves from all that is good and right, from that which gives us blessing; even as a lamp depends for its light upon the electrical outlet, we depend for blessing and joy upon the living God. To reject God and imagine that we could preserve righteousness, peace, and joy is foolish – yet this was the sin of our first parents – and it is a sin repeated by countless millions of human beings to this day.

The ultimate end of rebellion is always judgment. Satan’s intention in tempting the man and the woman was to destroy all creation, to destroy that which God had designed and made, by bringing it like himself under God’s wrath and curse. Human beings became his tools, his instruments, to accomplish this objective.

But God had other plans. God intended to rescue the world not abandon it to the folly of our first parents or to the malevolence of the Evil One. He would rescue His creation. And it it this intention that is celebrated every Epiphany Sunday when Jesus was revealed to foreign kings, to the magi. It is also this intention that is announced one final time in the closing verses of the Old Covenant:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.

Uniformly the NT interprets the promise of Elijah’s arrival to refer to John the Baptizer. He is Elijah who was to come before the arrival of the Messiah; he was the one commissioned to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers – a worthy theme for discussion in and of itself. But I’d like you to note the reason God gives for sending John. Why send John to restore family relationships and bring people back to the Lord? “Lest,” the Lord declares, “I come and strike the earth with a curse.” God sent John as the forerunner of His plan of salvation, His plan to rescue the entire creation from the bondage in which it was trapped.

And this is precisely what Jesus declares to us. “For God so loved the world, the kosmos, the creation which He had so lovingly and painstakingly crafted, that He sent His only Son that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life…He did not send the Son into the world to judge the world but that the world might be saved through Him.” God acted in Christ to rescue the creation from its bondage to decay. And how did He accomplish this?

Remember that the ultimate end of rebellion is always judgment. In justice our rebellion must be judged. And so, wonder of wonders, the eternal Son of God took on human flesh by being born of the Virgin Mary, he lived among us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He bore the judgment that was due to us because we had rebelled against Him. And what’s more, God raised Jesus from the dead. In this way, He broke the power of death, reversing the curse that once enslaved all creation. He came lest the earth be struck with a curse; he came to rescue all creation.

So what of you? The ultimate end of rebellion is always judgment. Either we face that judgment ourselves – the end of which will be our condemnation – or we turn in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore the judgment for all His people, and so receive blessing from the Lord in Him. None of us can face the Lord in ourselves; we have all rebelled against Him. And so, as we enter into His presence this day, He commands us to seek refuge from judgment through Jesus. Reminded of our need for a Savior, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.