Sunday, December 28, 2014

Keep the Word

Hebrews 4:11-13 (NKJV)
Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Much has transpired in the last week. We have moved out of the time of Advent and into the time of Christmas. And in the season of Christmas we celebrate! We celebrate the arrival of the long anticipated One; we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises in the life and death and resurrection of His Son. The Lord our God has come!

In our sermons this Advent and Christmastide, we have focused upon Jesus in the Psalms. One of the things that we have emphasized is that Jesus is the true Singer of the Psalms. In Him the psalms, all the psalms, reach their fulfillment and culmination. Throughout His life Jesus sang these psalms, meditated upon these psalms, absorbed these psalms into His life and made them part of His being.

Our text in Hebrews urges us to have this same type of faith. After exhorting us to enter into God’s rest, Paul directs us to the Word of God, which is able to slice and dice us, able to show us our faults and illumine our shortcomings. Why direct us here? Why direct us to the Word of God? Because this is the same place that our Lord Jesus went to direct His own walk with His Father. He was a student of the Word of God. He allowed the Word of God to make and fashion Him into the type of man His Father desired Him to be. And though He was free from sin, free from the necessity of going back and redoing things that he had messed up, He nevertheless grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man through the things that He learned in the Word.

And so the author of Hebrews directs us to be students of the Word of God. We are called to be disciples. To hear what He says to us that we might correct our faults and that we might be reminded of the great promises that He has made to us.

So reminded of our calling to be singers of the psalms, let us kneel and confess that we have often failed to permit His Word to shape us and have instead been shaped by other, contrary voices.

Friday, December 26, 2014

God Chose Mary

Luke 1:46–50 (NKJV)
46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. 49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”

Christmas is a time to reflect on the particular blessings that God has bestowed on each of us and to lift up praise and thanks to God. We see this modeled in Mary’s Magnificat – her song of praise written while staying with Zacharias and Elizabeth.

Has it ever struck you that God gave a gift to Mary that He did not give to any other human being on earth? Consider this for a moment: don’t just let the Christmas story pass you by; consider what’s happening. God chose Mary to be the mother of our Lord. God chose Mary – a girl in the city of Nazareth who was betrothed to a man named Joseph; who had a sister named Salome; who had a mother and father whose names are not recorded. God chose Mary – a girl who had a certain color hair and eyes; who was of a quite definite height and weight; who had skin of a particular shade. God chose Mary.

Now doesn’t that seem a trifle unfair? Why Mary? Why should she get the honor? Shouldn’t Mary perhaps feel a little guilty for being chosen? Don’t you and I have the right to be a little jealous, perhaps?

After all, let’s consider this: here God bestows on Mary a privilege that He had bestowed and would bestow on no other woman ever in all of human history. God chose Mary. Shouldn’t Mary feel guilty? Shouldn’t she realize that this was a trifle unfair and bemoan the gift that God had bestowed on her? Shouldn’t she perhaps have flogged herself? Felt guilty every time that babe leapt in her womb or sucked at her breast? Been apologetic to the various other women she met in the course of her life? “Sorry, sorry, sorry – so much wish it could have been you… Sorry.”

And shouldn’t you be a little jealous? After all, because God chose Mary, He didn’t choose any other to have this honor. Have you considered that? God did not choose Mary’s sister Salome. He did not choose Herodias – for which we’re grateful! He didn’t choose Mary the wife of Clopas or Mary Magdalene or Elizabeth or Anna the prophetess or Susanna or Joanna the wife of Chuza. God chose Mary. And consider that what this means: it means that God didn’t choose you. If you’re a woman, God passed you over; He simply did not choose you to be the mother of Jesus. God chose Mary. And, if you’re a man, God eliminated you from the running before you were even out of the gate. God chose Mary. Shouldn’t you be a little jealous?

I ask these questions because they have great relevance for us on Christmas day. You who stand here today have been given many remarkable gifts from God. If you are in Christ, you have been given the gift of salvation, a gift some men will never receive. If you are an American citizen, you have been given gifts of liberty, constitutional government, and incredible prosperity, gifts that others, who remain subject to tyrants and who are starving even as we speak, can only long for. If you are a husband, then you have been given the gift of a wife, a gift men some will never have. If you are a mother, then you have been given the gift of children, a gift some women will never enjoy. If you have Christmas gifts at home, then you have been given a measure of prosperity that millions have never known. Should you feel guilty?

And some of you aren’t getting the same gifts as others. Perhaps your brother got the Lego set you wanted? Perhaps the neighbors drove up in their brand-new Cadillac Escalade? Perhaps you find yourself unmarried still? Perhaps that other lady just announced that she’s having a baby and you’ve never had one? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… Perhaps you should feel jealous?

But guilt and jealousy are both unbecoming and sinful responses to the Lord’s gifts. God is the Creator; God is the Giver of all good gifts; God is the Sovereign Lord; and God is not fair. He simply does not give gifts equally. But that inequality is not to move us to guilt and jealousy but to praise and thanksgiving. Listen to Mary’s Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”

Notice, first, that guilt is not the way to respond to God’s gifts. After all, none of us deserve the gifts which God gives us. We all of us have forfeited God’s favor – including Mary. God chose Mary in His mercy, Mary tells us. And in this mercy, God gives sinful, undeserving men and women gifts; He lavishes kindnesses; He bestows graces – to one this and to another that. And the one who fears God learns to receive these graces not with guilt but with gratitude. Solomon reminds us, “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it” (Pr 10:22). So today receive the gifts that God has given with praise and thanksgiving. Lift up your heads! Don’t feel guilty – give praise to God! Don’t feel guilty – give thanks to God! And in that praise and thanks imitate Him by loving those with less.

Jealousy is just as unbecoming as guilt. Our Lord forbids covetousness – for covetousness, greediness, makes us small of heart and small of soul. The angels rejoice with Mary – they who long to know the things we know and cannot; Elizabeth rejoices with Mary – she who was chosen to give birth merely to the forerunner, not the Messiah; Anna rejoices with Mary – she who had never had a child and whose husband had been taken from her when a young woman. They were large of soul, rejoicing in the good gifts that God had given to Mary. God chose Mary – and they rejoiced!

So Christmas is here – rejoice, give thanks, and sing. Put away guilt; put away petty jealousy; rejoice in the good gifts of God, sing of His mercy, and share His kindnesses with others.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why Celebrate Christmas?

Esther 9:20–23 (NKJV)
20 And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, 21 to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar, 22 as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor. 23 So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them,

So why celebrate Christmas? The rationale is supplied by the passage before us in the book of Esther. About 2500 years ago God in His kindness delivered our fathers from the plotting of a wicked man named Haman. Though Haman was determined to slaughter our people - man, woman, and child – God rescued them from his schemes. God worked a marvelous deliverance – these were the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies… the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday. No more fear only delight and thanksgiving.

So what did our fathers and mothers do? They celebrated, of course – they feasted, thanked God, rejoiced in God’s goodness, shared presents with one another, and gave gifts to those in need even as they had been in need. Listen to the text again: Mordecai formalized the feast of Purim that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.

And so let us argue from the lesser to the greater: if our fathers and mothers celebrated their deliverance from the plottings of wicked Haman, ought not we celebrate the birth of Christ who through His mercy has delivered us from the plottings of Satan himself? Jesus took on human flesh and was born in order that he might fight against the Evil One and deliver us from Satan’s evil intent to destroy us and ensnare us in wickedness and deceit; his evil intent to hang us from his gibbet. The birth of Christ is the arrival of our Deliverer.

So what ought we to do? Why celebrate, of course! We ought to feast, thank God, rejoice in God’s goodness, share presents with one another, and give gifts to those in need even as we all were in need. Had not Christ come to rescue and deliver us, we all would have perished miserably in our sins. We all would have continued in rebellion against God, hateful and hating one another. We would have continued to despise the Lord Most High, to disregard His law, to endure the burden of our sins and the shameful, degrading lusts that once dominated our lives. But now…but now, we are free! Free from sin! Free from the fear of death! Free to delight in God and obey His laws! Free to love and be loved! Free to rejoice!  So ought not we to celebrate?

Yet how often we take God’s gift of life through His Son Jesus for granted! And this is why we need reminders, why God in His kindness has given us the Lord’s Supper and why our fathers in their joy gave us the gift of Christmas – that we might ever have Christ before us and rejoice in His goodness toward us. And so reminded of our call to celebrate, rejoice, give thanks, and share, let us kneel and confess that we are often ungrateful.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christ, the Center of Time

Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

If you’ve been at Trinity long, you’ve no doubt discovered that we utilize the Church calendar to organize our year. Our songs, our Scripture readings, our confessions, our meditation, and even sometimes our sermons are geared to the Church Calendar. Given that following the Church Calendar is not a matter of necessity, why have our elders decided to do so? What’s the point?

As we consider that question, consider what each phase of the church year does: it places Christ and His life and work at the center of all reality. It orients the entire year around the life of Christ: Advent – awaiting His birth; Christmas – celebrating His birth; Epiphany – celebrating His revelation as Messiah to the Magi and in his baptism; Lent – remembering His suffering on our behalf; Passion week – remembering His final week of challenge, betrayal, death, burial, and glorious resurrection; Ascension – celebrating His enthronement at God’s right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords; Pentecost – celebrating the outpouring of the Spirit by our Risen and Exalted Lord. Between Pentecost and Advent? Celebrating the work of Christ by the power of His Spirit throughout the course of history. The Church Calendar put Jesus at the center of our lives.

So why is this valuable? Well note Paul’s command today: So whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do – whether eating or drinking or sleeping or waking; whether living in the winter or summer; in the fall or the spring. Do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus. The Church Calendar helps us fulfill this command by putting Jesus exactly where He belongs – at the center of our Church life. And this, of course, reminds each of us to put Jesus at the center of our own life.

But often we are consumed with other things. We want to push Jesus to the margins of our lives; oh, we’ll give Him a bit of attention on Sunday but the rest of the week? That’s ours. But Jesus demands all our time – each day, each hour, each minute, each second. He is the Sovereign Lord and all we are and do is to be offered up in praise to Him.

So what of you? Has Christ been at the center of your life this week? Fathers, have you led your family to Christ this week, worshiping and praying and speaking together of Christ’s work in your home? Christians, have you displayed Christ this week, manifesting His character in your life and speaking His praises with your lips? Or have you put your own self at the center of your calendar?

Reminded this morning that whatever we do, in word or in deed, is to be done in the Name of Christ to the glory and praise of God, let us confess that we often do things and speak things in our own name. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

God's Delight in His Work

Proverbs 8:30–32 (NKJV)
30 Then I [Wisdom] was beside [the Creator] as a master craftsman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, 31 Rejoicing in His inhabited world, And my delight was with the sons of men. 32 “Now therefore, listen to me, my children, For blessed are those who keep my ways.

As we continue in Advent to anticipate the arrival of Christmas and the birth of the Christ Child, I would remind you that children love times of celebration like Christmas. While adults often grow tired, kids never tire and long for the celebration. “When are we going to get the tree? When are we going to put up the lights? When are we going to open presents?”

We see in our text from Proverbs today that the delight and energy and joy of children reveals God’s own delight in all His work. God never tires of causing the earth to spin like a top; never tires of flapping the wings of a bird; never tires of causing the grass to sprout from the earth; never tires of sucking water out of the earth through the roots of a tree and turning the nutrients into apples that people can eat. All these works of the Lord reveal His untiring joy and laughter, reveal His delight in all His work, His faithfulness and uprightness. Chesterton explains in his book Orthodoxy:

“A man [typically] varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into a [bus] because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the [river] goes to [the sea]. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. it may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

And so reminded that we have sinned and grown old, that we have become bored and complacent with the marvelous world that God has made and in which He has placed us, that we have complained rather than overflowed with thanksgiving, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.