Sunday, August 31, 2014

Unite My Heart to Fear Your Name

Psalm 86:11–13 (NKJV)
11 Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. 12 I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore. 13 For great is Your mercy toward me, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

As a result of our rebellion against God in the garden we are all by nature, at birth, estranged from God. We are alienated from God in the womb. As we will read in our sermon text this morning, our rebellion against God resulted in our expulsion from the garden, from God’s presence.

By the grace of God this estrangement from Him, this alienation, is recoverable. We who were once alienated from God, strangers to the covenants of promise, have been brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, our sins which separated us from God, have been covered. Therefore, for all those who turn from their sin and approach God through Christ there is forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God.

But even if you are at peace with God, you sense the remnants of the sinful nature. In this life we groan – we groan under the consequences of living in a sinful world and we groan under the folly of our own sin. It is this latter groaning which prompts the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 86. The psalmist prays, Unite my heart to fear Your name. In other words, he asks God to give him singleness of heart. Why? Because as believers in Christ we still face a divided heart – sometimes we find ourselves longing for the glory of God and the praise of His Name; other times we long for our own glory and sin against God and others. We need God to give us a united heart.

So this morning as we enter into God’s presence to worship – let us approach Him only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ; and let us beseech him to root out of our lives the sinful desires which divide our hearts from him and from one another. Let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shall We Not Accept Adversity?

Job 2:9–10 (NKJV)
9 Then [Job’s] wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Our sermon today considers God’s words to Adam and Eve following our rebellion against God. We will find that the various troubles that exist in the world have their origin in our rebellion. Toil, severe pain, animal suffering, weeds, strife, death – all these things entered the world as a consequence of our rebellion.

But it is important for us to understand, simultaneously, that none of these things took God by surprise or happened apart from His Sovereign control. God is the Lord. He rules over men and nations. Nothing happens apart from His decree, including the Fall.

Consequently, when we face the consequences of living in a fallen world – when, like Job, we begin to suffer: we lose our wealth; our health is compromised; our loved ones die – when these things happen, as Christians we know that they come from the hand of God. As Job reminds his wife, Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? God sends the one as well as the other; the heart of wisdom takes them from His hand and trusts Him in the midst of them.

If you are suffering, be assured that God is still in control, still ordaining and overseeing and governing all things. The question is not, “Has God sent this adversity?” – for we know most certainly that he has. No one can say to Him, what have you done?! The question rather is, “Why has God sent this thing?” Has he sent it because He hates you or because He loves you?

Hear the good news: if you have turned from your sins and sought forgiveness in Christ’s Name; if you serve God through Jesus, then God loves you. He has sent this suffering because He delights in you and delights to show through you the wonder of His power. So trust Him, rely upon Him, and know that not a hair falls from your head without your Father’s say.

Reminded that our God reigns and that he sends even adversity for the good of His chosen people, let us confess that we are often tempted to respond to adversity like Job’s wife; we’re often tempted to curse God. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Fullness of Deity

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Colossians 2:6-10

One temptation that routinely faces us is to substitute our own religious ideas for the Word of God. Today we will see that Satan strives to persuade us to abandon God’s Word so that he can unmoor us. Without God’s Word we’re like a boat adrift, left to try and find some substitute meaning and purpose to life. So Paul warns us to beware lest we be cheated by such trifles, expressions of human tradition and not divine truth.

Paul informs us that the reason these various substitutes are vanity is because they are not connected to Christ in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Jesus was God Himself in human flesh. So the reason it is folly to reject Christ is because when He spoke, God spoke; when He acted, God acted; when He wept, God wept; when He thundered, God thundered. Our Lord Jesus Christ was the full embodiment of the deity and so we can know that the things he spoke, thought, and did were infallible revelations of God’s person and will. No clearer revelation was or is possible.

The apostles, therefore, reserve some of their most severe denunciations for those who preach a “false Christ” – a Christ other than the one who lived and breathed and spoke in human history. Jesus really was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, baptized in the Jordan, ministered in Galilee, died on Golgotha, raised in a garden near Jerusalem, and ascended from a mountain near Bethany. So it is to this Jesus we cling – the Jesus who was and is God Himself clothed in human flesh.

If Jesus is not God then the things he revealed are no more solid and sure than the teachings of Plato or Aristotle or Hume or Sartre. If Jesus is not God, then we are left with the mere opinions and traditions of men. But glory be to God, the Jesus of history was and is fully God and fully man. He is fully capable of revealing the Father to us and fully capable of identifying with us – because He bears in His one person the two natures – divine and human.

Hence, it is no coincidence that of all the differences between non-Christian religions and pseudo-Christian movements like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the one thing they hold in common is a rejection of the full deity of our Lord Jesus. This is the center point of Satan’s attack – obscure the Person of Jesus. But Paul tells us quite plainly today – in Him all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form.

And so, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ was indeed God Himself clothed in human flesh, let us confess that rather than pay attention to His Word as we ought, we frequently resort to the opinions and traditions of men that can bring only vanity and emptiness. Let us kneel and confess our failure to listen to our Lord.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Justification in the Old Testament

"The faith of the fathers was grounded on Christ who was to come, as ours is on Christ who has now come. Different times do not change faith, nor the Holy Spirit, nor his gifts. There has been, there is, and there will always be one mind, one judgment and understanding concerning Christ, in the ancient fathers and in believers today and in the future."

Luther, Galatians, p. 137.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Danger of Self-Righteousness

Colossians 2:6-8
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

It is common for those who have a passion for good works to degenerate into self-righteousness. The Pharisees, the Galatians, the Judaizers, and, at moments, even Peter and Barnabas fell into this trap. After all, nothing makes more sense to our carnal reason than to say that if we have achieved righteousness, then we must have earned it solely by our own merit and hard work.

It is to combat this notion that Paul exhorts us to walk in Christ, to conduct our lives, according to the same principle that united us with Christ in the first place. And what was that principle? Faith. Faith united us with Christ, was the appointed means by which God credited to our account the righteousness of Christ, was the gift that enabled us to emerge from darkness into the light of life.

So let us be absolutely clear what this means. Faith brings nothing of its own to the transaction; we did not receive Christ because we were wiser than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because we were more intelligent than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because of anything in us. For by nature we are all children of wrath, deserving of destruction, committed to waste and profligacy. What then does faith do? Looking to self and despairing of any self-deliverance, faith looks to Christ and rests upon Him for deliverance – save me O Lord, for I am helpless and needy; have mercy on me, for I am a sinner worthy of death.

And so Paul urges us to pursue our growth in holiness with this same mentality. Look not to your own worth, not to your own deserving, not to your own wisdom, but instead to the grace of God, the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who frees us from our self-absorption and enables us to pursue righteousness to the glory of God. God will not honor those who strive to achieve righteousness in their own strength. He looks to the one who is humble and who relies on His grace in Christ.

And so, reminded that God’s grace is the source of our strength and righteousness; that that which distinguishes us from our neighbor is not our commitment, not our determination, not anything of ours, but rather the completely free grace of God, let us confess that we often fall into the sin of self-righteousness.