Monday, December 31, 2012

Living for the Glory of God

1 Corinthians 10:31 (NKJV)
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Why do you do what you do? Paul challenges us today to do everything to the glory of God – whether we eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Why?

First, we ought to do all to the glory, honor, and praise of God because God is our Creator. We owe our very existence to Him: our ability to speak, to think, to move, to breathe, to dream, to joy, to sorrow, to reflect – all comes as gifts from His hand, the God who fashioned and molded us in His image and gave us this world in which to live. Therefore, we ought to glorify Him.

Second, we ought to do all to the glory, honor, and praise of God because He is our Preserver. He holds us together and prevents the universe from collapsing all-together. The components of the atom that would split apart left to their own devices are by Him held together in harmony supporting life. He causes the grass to grow, he enables the birds to fly, he gives food to the beasts of the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man. The Lord does all these things; therefore, we ought to glorify Him.

Third, we ought to do all to the glory, honor, and praise of God because God is our Redeemer. Though we rebelled against Him and brought all creation into decay and corruption and separated ourselves from Him, He pursued us. He sought out the lost sheep; he swept the house looking for the lost coin. He called our father Abraham and in Abraham promised that He would bless all the nations of the earth. He called our father Jacob and changed his name to Israel, promising that through him He would bless all the nations of the earth. He called David and anointed him king and promised that He would raise up one of his children to rule and reign forever over all the nations of the earth. These promises God has fulfilled in Christ – He sent Him to bless all the nations of the earth, all the families of the earth by ruling over us and delivering us from our enemies – both earthly and heavenly.

So why ought we to do all we do to the glory of God? Because He is worthy to receive glory. He created us, not we ourselves; He preserves us, not we ourselves; He saves us, not we ourselves. Therefore, whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, let us do all to the glory of God.

But rather than live for the glory of God, we frequently do what we do for other reasons. We live for ourselves; we live for other gods; we get distracted by the gifts and miss the Giver. Reminded of our sinful tendency, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Dayspring from on High

Christmas Day Sermon, 2012
Stuart W. Bryan

This last Sunday we looked at Zacharias’ song of praise, the Benedictus. There Zacharias speaks of Jesus in a very unusual way – he speaks of him as the Dayspring from on High. What is the meaning of Zacharias’ title?

Calling Jesus the Dayspring from on high is equivalent to comparing him to the rising of the sun – a poetic way of referring to dawn. The arrival of the Messiah, Zacharias is telling us, is like the rising of the Sun, bringing light and warmth and life to the world.

Zacharias’ title for Jesus is not surprising. Throughout the OT the prophets anticipated the arrival of the Messiah with the language of light. Isaiah spoke of his coming like this:

The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

“I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles,” (Isaiah 42:6)

Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”” (Isaiah 49:6)

The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:3)

So why this image of light? Because prior to Jesus’ arrival, the world was a dark place. The world was dark – blackened by idolatry; held in thrall to demons and false gods. The world was dark – clouded by sin and deceit; hiding from the light of God’s truth, hating goodness even while being drawn toward it. The world was dark – trapped in ignorance and folly, denying the very God who molded and fashioned the world.

But Jesus came to introduce light to the world. He came to rescue us from the darkness of idolatry; to deliver us from the darkness of sin; to free us from the darkness of ignorance. Jesus is the light and in him is no darkness at all. And He came to shine His light on the nations of earth and to reverse the darkness that entered the world as a result of our rebellion against God.

You see there’s a reason our fathers selected December 25th as the day to celebrate Christmas – and it had very little to do with actually calculating the day he was born. Instead it had everything to do with light. In the Roman calendar, December 25th was the shortest day of the year, the darkest day of the year; and following the 25th the light increases, the days get longer. This is the meaning of the Incarnation; this is the meaning of Christmas: light has come into the world; the Dayspring on high has visited us.

And because Jesus is the light, He brings joy and gladness in his wake. We needn’t cower in fear – the darkness has flown away. So listen to Malachi’s vision of the Sun of Righteousness, our Lord Jesus Christ: “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings, and you shall break loose like calves released from the stall.”

Brothers and sisters, the Sun of Righteousness has arisen; we have been forgiven; the light has dawned. So let us act accordingly. Let us rejoice and be glad; let us celebrate and give thanks. For God has been good to us.

Do not be Afraid

Mark 6:45–51 (NKJV)
45 Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. 46 And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. 47 Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. 48 Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. 49 And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 51 Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.

This morning we study Zacharias’ song of praise, commonly called the Benedictus. Zacharias meditates on the wonder of our Redeemer – that God acted in fulfillment of His promises to save and deliver us as His people.

The consequence of this action is that we need not be afraid. But we often are afraid. We forget who it is who is on our side and we tremble at the challenges that face us. Like the disciples in the boat, we are thrown into a dither and rather than remember the One who is with us, the One who has promised to protect us and care for us, we grow fearful. It is in such times that Jesus speaks to us and says, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

So as we come into worship this day, I remind you to hear the words of Jesus afresh. He is the Lord. He is our Redeemer. And he says to us, “Do not be afraid!” So hearing his words of assurance and reminded that we often do fear, forgetting who He is, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

God is the Judge

Psalm 75 (NKJV)
1 We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near. 2 “When I choose the proper time, I will judge uprightly. 3 The earth and all its inhabitants are dissolved; I set up its pillars firmly. Selah 4 “I said to the boastful, ‘Do not deal boastfully,’ And to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up the horn. 5 Do not lift up your horn on high; Do not speak with a stiff neck.’ ” 6 For exaltation comes neither from the east Nor from the west nor from the south. 7 But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another. 8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, And the wine is red; It is fully mixed, and He pours it out; Surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth Drain and drink down. 9 But I will declare forever, I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. 10 “All the horns of the wicked I will also cut off, But the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.”

Mary’s song of praise following her visit to Elizabeth centers on the theme of God as Judge. Saturated as she was in the hymnody of the Old Testament, Mary used the words and themes there to shape her praise. And her praise sounds remarkably like Psalm 75.

Psalm 75 celebrates that God is the Judge. God raises up one and casts down another. It is God who is the Lord – who rules in the affairs of men and nations. What then is our duty and responsibility? Our duty and responsibility is to humble ourselves before Him and to honor Him. Why? Because He swears that He will destroy all those who are proud and stiff necked.

This is true both of the rulers of nations and of we simpler folk as well, whether men, women, or children. God takes pride seriously. He hates a haughty countenance, despises him who thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think. Therefore, because God is the Lord and we are not, we are to be humble, open to correction. We are to bow the knee before God lest we be destroyed. We are not to be like the fool who advertised his pride on the billboards of Spokane: “Bow the knee? Not me.” But he will bow the knee – either now willingly or in the future unwillingly. Solomon warns us in Proverbs 29:1, “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” So what does this mean?

Men, are you cultivating relationships that provide you with accountability and correction? If you are married, do you listen to the wisdom of your wife and treasure the gift that God has given you in her? Married or unmarried, have you established relationships with other men who can correct you and exhort you? Men to whom you are directly accountable? If not, do so.

Women, are you cultivating relationships that provide you with accountability and correction? If you are married, do you listen when your husband endeavors to fulfill his calling of shepherding and husbanding you, correcting you? Are you willing to humble yourself before him as though he were God Himself and honor your husband for the office he holds? Married or unmarried, have you sought out relationships with other wise women who will speak the Word of God to you and not comfort you in your sin and complaint? If not, do so.

Children, are you listening to the correction and rebuke that you are receiving from your parents? God has put them into your life so that you can learn and grow and develop into godly, mature young men and women. Beware hardening your neck. Beware the hand of pride that would lead you to say, “I know better! My parents are foolish! They just don’t understand.” Listen and cultivate an obedient and humble heart. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus the Lord.

Reminded that this is our calling as the people of God – to be humble and open to correction – let us kneel and confess that we have often been proud and froward instead.

The Blessing of Children

Psalm 127:3–5 (NKJV)
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

This morning we meditate in the sermon on the nature of the songs we sing around Christmas – songs that celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. When Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a Son this was received for what it was – good news, Gospel, glad tidings of great joy. Why? Because children are a blessing from God.

It is this reality that the psalmist sings today. Behold children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is his reward.

Increasingly as a culture we have come to the conclusion that children are a burden more than a blessing. Birth control has, under the Obama administration, become a right as near and dear as life itself. The insurance companies are positively tripping over themselves to assure us all that there is no longer any copay for birth control pills while coverage for maternity costs becomes subject to increasingly high deductibles. The system increasingly highlights the cost of children.

But the psalms focus on the blessing. Does it cost something to have children? Absolutely. Is it at times a struggle to bring up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Absolutely. But the psalms orient us to the blessing. Children are a heritage from the Lord – children are God’s reminder to us that he intends to bless us and to cause us to inherit the earth. The fruit of the womb is his reward – a treasure far greater than second homes, new cars, expensive toys, or undistracted minds.

So, brothers and sisters, let us remember at this time that Mary responded in faith by rejoicing in the news that she would bear a child and let us imitate her by giving thanks for the children that God has given us and anticipating with joy the arrival of others. And let us confess that as a culture we have despised the little ones – let us kneel as we do so.