Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jesus the Risen Lord

John 20:19–23 (NKJV)
19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

For nearly two millennia now our fathers and mothers have been celebrating the feast of Easter – the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. On this day, the first day of the week, our Lord Jesus rose bodily from the grave and definitively conquered sin and death.

So what is the meaning of the resurrection? Is the resurrection just a nice story about the tenacity of life over death? Is it like the fairy tales of old, a tale that’s obviously not true but meant to teach us some moral lesson? The Scriptures proclaim that neither of those answers is sufficient – the meaning of the resurrection is, first of all, historical. Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. It is then, second, theological. Because Jesus rose from the dead, He has conquered death and now reigns as the Ruler of all. As I said in our greeting this morning – Jesus Christ is “the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

John records the significance of Jesus’ Lordship in his Gospel. In the evening of this day, Jesus appeared to the disicples and pronounced his blessing upon them and commissioned them to be his emissaries to the world. “Peace be to you!” he said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Even as the Father sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save that which was lost, to reconcile us as human beings to Himself, so Jesus has sent the Church into the world with this same mission – he has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation so that we petition others on behalf of Christ, “Be reconciled to God!”

To accomplish this task, our Risen Lord has poured out His Spirit upon us and given us the immense privilege of proclaiming forgiveness in His Name. “If we forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” We have the privilege of declaring to all those who put their faith in Christ, “You are forgiven. Jesus really has conquered sin and death. He is our great High Priest who makes reconciles us to God.”

Alongside this joyful task, we have the solemn duty of warning the nations that there is no other way to be reconciled to God. We must come to God through Christ alone. “If we retain the sins of any, they are retained.” There is no way to be accepted by God other than through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All other paths end in judgment.

So listen – where have you placed your confidence for acceptance by God? Jesus is the Risen Lord, the ruler of the kings of the earth. On the last day, we shall all rise from our graves and stand before this King as our judge and give an account of how we have served him. If we remain in rebellion against him, refusing to find in him the one who reconciles us to God, then we shall be judged. So turn from your sin and turn to Christ; rely on Him and Him alone for forgiveness. Only in and through Jesus can we be reconciled to God.

Reminded that we can only be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness in Christ.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Behold your King!

Zechariah 9:9-10 (NKJV)
“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.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Worship or the Lord's Service?

John 4:23–24 (NKJV)
23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

In the history of Christianity, one of the names used to identify the weekly public service of worship at which the congregation gathers is the Divine Service or the Lord’s Service. Unfortunately this title has fallen into disfavor. Today we almost exclusively use the term “worship” to describe our weekly gathering.

On one level, of course, to describe our weekly gatherings as worship is fitting. To worship God is to ascribe worth to Him – to announce that He is the Lord and Creator of all and is therefore worthy of all honor and glory and power. Each Lord’s Day we gather to worship the High and Exalted One, the One who has rescued and redeemed us from destruction. As Jesus says in our text today, we gather to worship God the Father in the Name of His Son and by the power of His Spirit. Worship is a great term.

But the term can obscure a fundamental reality of worship, a reality that we must beware obscuring and a reality to which Jesus points us today. We come each Lord’s Day, you have come today, to worship the Lord and to serve Him. So why have you come thus? Because, Jesus tells us, the Father has first sought you out. God brought you here. We worship the Lord as a response to His work in our lives. We love because He first loved us. We serve because He first served us.

And this is why calling our weekly corporate gathering the “Lord’s Service” is apropos. The title is intentionally ambiguous – is the “Lord’s Service” the Service of the Lord – worshiping Him and honoring Him and praising Him – or is it the “Lord’s Service”, the Lord’s Service of His people – calling us together, comforting us from His Word, feeding us at His Table? Biblically our gathering each Lord’s Day is both.
So when we gather each Lord’s Day are we gathering to serve the Lord? Absolutely. He is to be the object of our service. But not only is our weekly gathering the “Lord’s Service” in this sense – that the Lord is the object of our service – it is also called the “Lord’s Service” because preceding our service of God and all during that service, the Lord is serving us. God in His grace and mercy calls us to worship; He summons us here and grants us grace to worship and serve Him. And he feeds us throughout the service reminding us of His promises. When we gather each Lord’s Day we gather not just to serve the Lord but also to be served by Him.

Ought we not, therefore, to begin each Lord’s Day with gratitude and thankfulness? God has called us here; summoned us to enter into His presence and worship Him in Spirit and Truth. So how have you responded to His summons? Are you here with eager hearts and minds? Or are you here cloudy and disinterested, so worn from the cares of the week that you cannot serve Him well?

Reminded that God has sought us out and served us in order that we might serve Him, let us kneel and confess that we often respond to His work with ingratitude and indifference.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Liturgy is Inescapable

Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV)
13 Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, 14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”

Every church is liturgical, has a liturgy that directs them in their public worship week by week. Liturgies are inescapable. For what is a liturgy? Webster defines a liturgy as “a series of … procedures prescribed for public worship in the Christian church.” It is simply the order in which the activities of public worship are arranged. Sometimes these liturgies are simple and straightforward; other times they are intricate and complicated. everyone has a liturgy.

The question that must be asked, therefore, is not whether we should have a liturgy at all – that much is inescapable – but whether the liturgy we have reflects the principles given to us in the Word of God. And one of the first principles given us in worship is that it must come from the heart. As human beings we are always in danger of replacing genuine, heartfelt worship with hypocrisy – speaking “holy” words, doing “holy” actions, thinking “holy” thoughts all the while our hearts are far away from God.

Because this is a human problem that comes from the human heart and not an external problem, hypocrisy infects all types of worship. Whether it’s a low church Pentecostal service with its planned spontaneity or a high church Anglican service in which every word is scripted. Both are prone to hypocrisy because sinners plan them both. And it is this sin of hypocrisy into which Israel had fallen in Isaiah’s day:

Therefore the Lord said: “… these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,…”

So what of you? Have you become distant from God, begun attending the divine service out of mere habit, giving no attention to the words spoken, putting no heart into the service? Have you become a mere spectator thinking that worship is some sort of entertainment for your personal pleasure? Have you become dull of hearing? Or are you actively engaged? Learning your role in the service? Singing your part? Contributing your voice? Joining the one leading in prayer? Listening attentively?

Brothers and sisters, beware hypocrisy, beware mere externalism, beware drawing near to God with your lips when your hearts are far from him. God takes such hypocrisy seriously and threatens his people with his fatherly correction if we fall into such sin. So reminded that when we come to worship, we are to come with our hearts engaged, loving and cherishing the Lord and His law, let us confess that we often draw near with our lips while our hearts are far from him. Let us kneel as we confess together.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Know When Not to Listen

1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV)
21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.

If you’ve lived long you no doubt have come to learn that effective communication is difficult. Not only is it challenging to explain things to others, we frequently find that the one to whom we’re speaking just isn’t willing to listen. This is especially true in times of conflict. We speak to the best of our ability and it seems that our words just bounce off our hearer.

It is this dullness of hearing among his audience that Paul will rebuke in our text today. They were in danger of not understanding him – not because the subject matter was overly challenging but because they were unwilling to listen to what he was saying.

When we come to the text we will highlight the problem with this attitude when faced with the biblical text. As human beings made by our Creator, we are to listen to the Word of God and pay heed to the voice of wisdom.

But as Paul indicates in 1 Thessalonians, there are times when we should close our ears. “Test all things,” he writes. “Hold fast what is good.” We are called upon to listen carefully, understand honestly, and then test what is said, clinging only to that which is good. This implies, of course, that we are to reject that which is evil. So how do we distinguish? We assess what we hear in light of the Word of God. God has revealed that which is good in His Word and as we feast upon His Word we will be enabled to recognize falsehood when it rears its head, no matter how alluring it may appear.

Solomon describes this benefit of gaining wisdom in Proverbs 2. “When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul, Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you, To deliver you … From the man who speaks perverse things… [and] From the seductress who flatters with her words,” (Prov 2:10-12, 16). Gaining wisdom protects us from folly, from giving heed to that which we ought not. It protects us from the man who speaks perverse things and from the seductress who flatters with her words. It teaches us when it is appropriate to close our ears and refuse to listen.

I was reminded of these things while attending a debate this week between Doug Wilson and Andrew Sullivan over the resolution Is Civil Marriage for Gay Couples good for Society? Mr. Sullivan professed to believe in Jesus and serve him while simultaneously living as a homosexual in union with another man. He was very winsome, very passionate, very articulate. But if we know the Word of God; if we know what God has to say about the abomination of homosexuality; if wisdom has entered our soul, then it delivers us from the man who speaks perverse things, it enables us to recognize the folly of the position.

Our calling as God’s people, therefore, is twofold. It is both to listen and not to listen. Our calling is to listen to God, give heed to what He says, believe it and embrace it for the good of ourselves and our children after us. Simultaneously our calling is not to listen – not to listen to the subtle or not so subtle temptations of those who would turn us from Christ and teach us to listen to some other god.

This reminds us that as human beings we frequently fail to listen to the right voices and instead listen to the wrong, And this is certainly becoming increasingly true of America. We are shutting our ears to the voice of God and listening to the voices of others. Reminded of this, let us kneel and confess that we have become dull of hearing.