Sunday, April 27, 2014

Standing Before God

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (NKJV)
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

Following Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week, he appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days, manifesting Himself to them, convincing them of the reality of the resurrection, and enlightening their minds to understand the things that had been written about him in the law and the prophets. This 40 day period has historically been called Eastertide, a time to celebrate the way the resurrection of Jesus has transformed the world. The entire cosmos has been changed, shaken at its very core. And because the world has been changed, we can be changed. Hope has arrived; forgiveness has been achieved; new life has entered into the world; consequently, we can have hope, can receive forgiveness, and can experience new life.

So for Eastertide we begin a series of exhortations from the 15th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. What is the significance of the resurrection? Why does it matter?

The first answer Paul gives, the introductory declaration, is that the resurrection matters because it enables us to stand before God unto salvation rather than damnation. The word Gospel means “good news” – and the good news of Jesus’ resurrection shines in its brilliance only when set in context of the bad news of our sin and rebellion.

Biblically heaven is for real as the recent book and movie by that name announce; but the tragic reality is that hell is for real too. And by nature we all are alienated from God, pursuing our own passions and desires and priorities rather than those of God Himself, and hence heading to judgment, heading to hell. We all like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way – some of us worship other gods, some of us think of no god but ourselves, some of us claim the Name of Jesus but live for our own lusts and pleasures – we all like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way. And the consequence of this straying is death and judgment. It is appointed unto men to die once and after this to face judgment. And shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?

When we come before God, when we stand before Him to give an account for what we have done, when we rise from our graves and give an account to Him who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, the inevitable result – if we endeavor to stand before him on the basis of what we have done – the inevitable result will be condemnation.

But thanks be to God that though we all like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way, the Lord has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. The Good News is that God provides a substitute, someone to take our punishment, to stand in our place, to endure the judgment of God for us. Through faith in Him, through trust in His work on the cross, we can stand in the day of judgment, we can be saved.

And how do we know that this man’s sacrificial offering has been accepted by God? Because, on the third day, he rose again from the dead. He rose – and sin was conquered. He rose – and death was overthrown. He rose – and the gaping jaws of hell that opened before our feet, preparing to welcome us to the grave, were broken.

So let us believe, let us entrust ourselves to Christ, to this One who gave Himself for us that He might reconcile us to God. And let us not merely believe for a time, let us not be among those who believe in vain, but let us trust Him all the way to the end of our days and so have an entrance abundantly supplied to us into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And this morning, let us confess our sins to the Lord, rejoicing that in Christ he freely forgives us.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

How Shall a Man be Set Right with God?

Romans 4:23–25 (NKJV)
23 Now it was not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone that [righteousness] was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. [Righteousness] shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was [crucified] because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

How shall a man be set right with God? Shall we love our neighbor and so please God? Shall we practice the ten commandments and so please God? Shall we beat our bodies into submission and so please God? Shall we live and let live and so please God? Shall we practice jihad and so please God? How shall a man be set right with God?

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. Why?

Paul answers our question here in Romans. The resurrection presupposes the crucifixion, the death of Jesus. So why did Jesus die? He died, Paul tells us, because of our offenses. In other words, Paul reminds us that we all of us have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We have failed to live up to God’s standards, failed to love our Creator with all our heart, soul, and strength. Consequently, by nature we all stand guilty before God – estranged from God and in need of reconciliation with Him.

So how shall we be set right with Him? Only through the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Jesus gave His life, sacrificed Himself, that He might take away our guilt and set us right with God.

And how do we know that Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted by God? How do we know that trusting in Jesus to reconcile us to God isn’t just some pie in the sky hope; some degree of wishful thinking? We know because Jesus rose from the dead. In the resurrection, God has given proof to all men that the sacrifice of Christ has been accepted. Jesus was raised because of our justification. In other words, Jesus was raised to set us right with God.

So what of you? Where have you placed your hope for acceptance by God? Have you placed it in your good works? This hope shall fail. Have you placed it in your sorrow for your bad behavior? This hope shall fade away. Our only hope lies in Jesus, the Lamb of God who was crucified for us and then rose again from the grave that we might be set right with God. So put your trust in Jeus. On the last day, we shall all rise from our graves and stand before our Creator – and the only way we shall endure that interview is if Christ is our Advocate.

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday 2014

Luke 9:51–56 (NKJV)
51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it was the culmination of intentional planning on his part. From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus understood that one day He would be called upon to enter into Jerusalem only to be rejected and killed. And it is this fixed purpose of Jesus to die for His people which Luke highlights for us in our text today.

Luke tells us that when the time had come for Jesus to be received up – in other words, when the time had come for Jesus to be crucified, the time when He would be delivered over to the scribes and chief priests, and rejected, and put to death – when that time had arrived, Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. He knew that it was impossible that a prophet should die outside Jerusalem – that it was there in that city that the final contest would be waged. And knowing this, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.

As they are traveling to Jerusalem, they come into a Samaritan village, but the village rejects Him and refuses to grant him and his disciples shelter. Why? Listen to Luke’s words: But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. Jesus is rejected in this village as a foretaste of the destiny that awaits him in Jerusalem. He goes to Jerusalem to suffer and be rejected.

Why? His rebuke of James’ and John’s vindictiveness gives the answer. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. Jesus is going to Jerusalem so that He might save men from sin and death, save men and women and children from the ravages of the Evil One.  He is going to Jerusalem to give His life a sacrifice for others, to give His life so that the just penalty of the law might be paid by Him so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem to die.

It is fitting, therefore, on Palm Sunday – this day that we celebrate the entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem – that our color changes to red – for red is the color of blood and it was to shed His blood that Jesus entered into the city. While Jesus was acclaimed today, He knew that this acclamation would not continue and that the end of the story would be bloody. He had set His face to go to Jerusalem.

And so this morning we are reminded that Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem for our sins – and so let us confess our sins in the Name of Christ and seek the Lord’s forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus our Savior. As we do so, let us kneel.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Our Incomprehensible Creator

This last Sunday I quoted from the book On the Trinity by the early church father Novatian (c. 200-258). The passage discusses the inability of we finite beings to either comprehend or explain God fully. Here is the quotation in full - this is an updated translation from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5:
Therefore, the mind of man cannot fully comprehend God in His being and nature, nor can our tongues adequately express the wonder of His majesty. For when conceiving and speaking of His majesty, all eloquence is mute and all mind impoverished. For He is greater than mind itself; nor can it be conceived how great He is, seeing that if it could, then He would be smaller than the human mind that conceived Him. He is greater, moreover, than all speech, nor can He be fully declared; for if He could, then He would be less than the speech which encompassed and contained Him. For whatever can be thought concerning Him must be less than Himself; and whatever can be declared must be less than Himself …For if the keenness of our eyes grows dull on looking at the sun, so that the brightness of the rays prevents us from gazing upon the orb itself, the keenness of our mental perception suffers the same thing in all our thinking about God, and in proportion as we give our endeavors more directly to consider God, so much the more the mind itself is blinded by the light of its own thought. What could you possibly say then that would be worthy of Him? He is more sublime than all sublimity, higher than all heights, deeper than all depth, clearer than all light, brighter than all brilliance, more splendid than all splendor, stronger than all strength, mightier than all might, more beautiful than all beauty, truer than all truth, more enduring than all endurance, greater than all majesty, more powerful than all power, richer than all riches, wiser than all wisdom, kinder than all kindness, better than all goodness, juster than all justice, more merciful than all mercy. Every kind of virtue must of necessity be less than He, who is the God and source of all virtue.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Covetousness and the Heart of the Law

Exodus 20:17 (NKJV)
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

It is in this 10th commandment that the true force of the other nine commandments is revealed. Had we simply the other commandments, we might console ourselves, like the Pharisees before us, with a mere external observance of God’s laws. I’ve never murdered another; I’ve never committed adultery; I’ve never stolen from my neighbor; I’ve never borne false witness in a court of law. But when we come to the 10th commandment, all such externalism is obliterated. For here we reach the true heart of the law – commandments which do not merely regulate our external actions but which govern our internal attitudes and desires.

Here we find the inspiration for Jesus’ insistence that the 6th commandment forbids not merely murder but the hatred and spite that give birth to it. Here we find the inspiration for Jesus’ insistence that the 7th commandment forbids not merely the acting out of sexual deviancy but the lust that gives rise to it. Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, idolatries, and every other thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. The law reveals that our fundamental problem as human beings is not that we do the wrong things but that we want, we desire the wrong things. Our problem is a problem of the heart, a problem of allegiance. We do not want to acknowledge that God is the Lord. Evil actions are merely the fruit of that idolatry.

Because the law, particularly the 10th commandment, highlight our sin, many have concluded that the law is the problem. “Let’s get rid of the law then we won’t have these problems.” Paul declares the absurdity of this idea in Romans 7 –

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

The problem is not in the law, the problem is in our hearts. The problem is that we have rebelled against our Creator and need him to forgive us for our sin and to enable us to love what is good and right. And praise be to God that He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to solve this problem. Through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, God forgives all those who confess their sins trusting in Jesus as their sacrifice. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Spirit of God empowers all those who trust in Christ to begin loving righteousness and practicing the same.

So reminded that the law of God is holy and just and good and that, in ourselves, we do not desire to practice it in our lives, let us confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through His Son Jesus. Let us kneel as we confess together.