Friday, June 27, 2008

Authoritarian Idolatry

Shall we conclude, then, that within every political society there occurs, implicitly, an act of worship of divine rule? I think we may even venture as far as that. ‘State-authority’, remarks Stephen Clark, ‘is what emerges when households, clans and crafts first recognise a sacred centre in their lives together and then forget where the centre gets its authority…The voice of the High God reminds us that the land is his’ (Civil Peace and Sacred Order, p. 90). Certainly it explains, as very few attempts at theorising the foundations of politics ever do explain, the persistent cultural connexion between politics and religion. And it allows us to understand why it is precisely at this point that political loyalties can go so badly wrong; for a purpose can only be an idolatrous worship which sanctions an idolatrous politics. It sheds light, too, on the nature of the impasse into which a politics constructed on an avowedly anti-sacred basis has now come. For without the act of worship political authority is unbelievable, so that binding political loyalties and obligations seem to be deprived of any point. The doctrine that we set up political authority, as a device to secure our own essentially private, local and unpolitical purposes, has left the Western democracies in a state of pervasive moral debilitation, which, from time to time, inevitably throws up idolatrous and authoritarian reactions (Oliver O'Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, 49).

Love the Lord Your God Alone

At its heart of hearts, our confession of faith is this: The Lord Jesus Christ is our God; the Lord alone. And we will love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our might. If you want the explanation for why we do what we do, look no further. We obey the Lord because we love him. Join us this Sunday as we gather to give corporate expression to our love for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Songs
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)
Trust and Obey (#525)
Thou Sweet Beloved Will of God (#528)
Be Thou My Vision (#462)

Scripture Reading
Jesus Is Our Saving Lord - Philippians 2:1-11

Sermon
A Pledge of Allegiance - Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Fifth Commandment

The Command to Love Your Parents with Honor

Deuteronomy 5:16

One day Jesus was teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. His parables were clearly having an effect, so the religious leaders huddled to find a way to stop him. They had to make him look bad in the eyes of the people so they could arrest him. First the Pharisees tried to trip him up with a question about paying taxes to Caesar, but his answer made them all marvel at him. Then the Sadducees gave him a hypothetical puzzle about the resurrection, but again Jesus unmasked their own unbelief. Then a theological and legal expert came forward and asked him the hardest question of all, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus’ answer brings us right to the heart of all true biblical religion. Love the Lord your God with all your soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

This is exactly how we should view the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments have emphasized our love for God. This is what love for God looks like. There is the command to worship the Lord exclusively; to worship the Lord spiritually (responding to God as he is with integrity); to worship the Lord with honor, or to treasure his name; to enter into the Lord’s rest. Now we come to a shift in the Ten Commandments from a focus on our relationship with God to a focus on our relationship with man. But we must never lay aside the foundation of the first four commandments. Love for our neighbor always has to flow from love for God. Human morality must always be based on God and his revelation of himself. So the command we are going to consider today is a bridge command. Love for God is perhaps supremely expressed in honoring your parents.

Let’s hold this gem of a commandment up to the light so that we can effectively make it a part of our lives.


Who is this command about, and to whom is the command addressed?


The command is about parents ­­- fathers and mothers, that is, the man and the woman who begat you, or even the man and woman who adopted you into the covenantal structures of their family. This command obviously presupposes the natural family that God created and ordained when he made Adam and Eve. God ordained that a natural family be one man and one woman united in an exclusive covenant relationship for life. Sadly, in our society today this command has become harder for many people to fulfill because of the epidemic of divorce and the growing prevalence of couples living together without getting married. Some children grow up not even really knowing who their father is. But this is a horrendously abnormal situation. In any normal family, as God has designed it, there is one husband and one wife in covenant relationship.

Now, one of the primary functions of this covenant relationship is to produce offspring, children. The command is addressed to children, that is, anyone who has parents. When the verse says “your” father and “your” mother, it is speaking to each individual person. The truth of the matter is, we never outgrow being a child of our parents. Your father is your father for as long as you live, and your mother is your mother for as long as you live. This command applies to you as long as you live.


What is the command?


The command is to honor father and mother. What does it mean to honor them? The term used in this text can have the idea of ‘to weigh heavily upon; to be heavy, dull; to be weighty, be honored’ (HALOT), or “to regard as heavy, that is, heavy with authority and responsibility and thus worthy of utmost respect” (NIDOTTE). It is used in connection with honoring men, but most often it is used of honoring God (e.g. 1 Sam 2:30). In these instances, we find it connected with praising the Lord, standing in awe of him, sacrificing thank offerings, worshiping, giving thanks, giving to the Lord of our wealth, being kind to the needy, and so on. Malachi 1:6 is a very helpful text, for it puts honoring into the context of a father/son relationship and a master/servant relationship. This gives us a human picture of what honoring implies. Honoring implies deference, respect, obedience, or support. Leviticus 19:3 speaks of the same thing but uses the term “fear.” Honoring must then include the idea of ‘fear’ or ‘reverence.’ In fact, notice that God puts this command side by side with the command to keep the Sabbath. Now if you grasped in our messages on the Sabbath how seriously God took the Sabbath command, then you will see that apparently this command to honor father and mother is pretty weighty!

We glean further insight into the meaning of this term by examples of its violation. In Exodus 21:15, striking is one example of a failure to honor parents, and it was punishable by death. Cursing parents was worthy of death in Exodus 21:17. In Deuteronomy 21:18-21 we find that stubbornness and rebellion and failure to obey are violations of honoring parents, and once again the death penalty is required. Proverbs 30:17 foretells dire consequences for the one who mocks his father or scorns to obey his mother. Ezekiel told the exiles that they were in exile in part because they treated their parents with contempt (Ezek 22:7). These things are the opposites of honor. These are things that no child should ever, ever do to his parents.

Given what we have learned then,


How can we obey this command?


First, we can obey this command most basically by loving, respecting, and valuing our parents. We must highly, highly respect them. You should value your parents’ opinions. What they think should matter to you. Now, granted, this is going to be easier for some of you than for others. Some of you have godly parents who have good character and are respectable people. Some of you may have parents who are less than respectable, are not believers, or have poor character. This does not change the fact that you must honor them. The Bible does not say to respect your parents only if they are great people. You need not participate in any of their sin, obviously. But your attitude toward them must always be one of respect.

This, by the way, applies to mothers equally as to fathers. God has given fathers and mother different roles. The fathers are to lead the home, to represent the home in the public square, and so on, but even though mothers do not have that role, they are still to be honored. I am deeply grateful for a father who taught me this in word and in action. He did simple things like teaching me to thank my mother after every delicious meal she prepared for us (even when I didn’t like the food!). He used his authority in the home to uphold my mother’s honor. I didn’t dare to speak disrespectfully to my mother. I knew I would have to face my father if I did so. Most of all, he just loved my mother deeply, and that attitude toward her carried over to his children. I am so thankful for a father like this, because it infused my young heart with an attitude of honor toward my parents.

[To be continued]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 32 - The Last Judgment
  1. GOD has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom the Father has given all authority and power to judge. At that day the apostate angels will be judged. So too will all persons who have lived upon the earth; they will appear before Christ's judgment throne to give an account of their thoughts, words and deeds, and to receive His award in accordance with what they have done in this earthly life, whether good or evil.

    Eccles. 12:14; Matt. 12:36; 25:32-46; John 5:22,27; Acts 17:31; Rom. 14:10,12; 1 Cor. 6:3; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 6.


  2. God's purpose in appointing a day of judgment is to make known the glory of His mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect, and the glory of His justice in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, that is to say, the wicked and disobedient. In that day the righteous will inherit everlasting life, and receive a fullness of joy and glory in the Lord's presence as their eternal reward. But the wicked, who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, will be relegated to everlasting torments and 'punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power'.

    Matt. 25:21,34,46; Mark 9:48; Rom. 9:22,23; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2 Tim. 4:8.


  3. To deter all men from sin on the one hand, and to give greater comfort to the godly in their adversity on the other, Christ would have us firmly persuaded that a day of judgment lies ahead. For the same reasons He has kept the day's date a secret so that men may shake off all confidence in themselves and, in ignorance of the hour in which the Lord will come, may be ever on the watch, and ever prepared to say, 'Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly. Amen.'

    Mark 13:35-37; Luke 12:35-40; 2 Cor. 5: 10, 11; 2 Thess. 1: 5-7; Rev. 22:20.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Some Help on Music

Religious Affections Ministries has a couple posts that you might find helpful regarding music.

The first one is for those of us who are not musicians but are looking for good recorded music to listen to. This list of sacred recordings can be useful as you fill your home with worthwhile music.

The second post is much more challenging for the non-musician, but it you want to seriously consider what makes a musical work "good," then Dr. Timothy Shafer's analysis of Holy, Holy, Holy will provide you with substantial material to work with.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Conservative Covetousness (and the Demons Behind It)

Russell Moore posts a "must read" meditation on how our covetousness keeps us from living with a kingdom perspective, particularly in relationship to our families. Read it now.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Secret of Relevance

The church is puzzled by the world's indifference. She is trying to overcome it by adapting her message to the fashions of the day. But if, instead, before the conflict, she would descend into the secret place of meditation, if by the clear light of the Gospel she would seek an answer not merely to the questions of the hour but, first of all, to the eternal problems of the spiritual world, then perhaps, by God's grace and through his good Spirit and in his good time, she might issue forth once more with power, and an age of doubt might be followed by the dawn of an era of faith. (J. Gresham Machen, "Christianity and Culture," in Education, Christianity, and the State)

Repentance and Forgiveness of Sins Proclaimed to All Nations

God's plan of salvation includes not only Christ's death and resurrection, but also the proclamation of that to the whole world. This Sunday we will be privileged to hear from Kevin Thompson, who is going to do just that.

Songs
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
Amazing Grace (#247)
And Can It Be? (#335)
I Will Sing the Wondrous Story (#268)
What Think Ye of Christ (#363)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)

Scripture Reading
Luke 10:1-24

Sermon
Kevin Thompson

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)

The Command to Enter into the Lord’s Rest (Part 4)

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Do you gather to worship the Lord with a heart at rest, enjoying all the blessings that come to us in Christ? The Sabbath command no longer applies to us as new covenant believers, on this side of the cross of Christ, as a legal prescription. Nevertheless, it still teaches us because it is a pointer to fundamental principles of life and reality. Last week we learned that the most important thing we can learn from the Sabbath command is that we need God’s rest, and we know that that rest is only found by believing in Christ.

But is that all we can learn from the Sabbath command? I believe there is much more we can learn. And this is why: the law God gave to the Israelites through Moses was one concrete application of his eternal moral law. God’s eternal moral law is really just an expression of his own character and nature. We today live under a different covenant with a different law – the law of Christ, but it too is an expression of the eternal moral law of God. Thus both the law of Moses and the law of Christ are applications of the eternal moral law of God. They are for different times in the outworking of God’s plan, and so they have different specific commandments, but they both reflect the same moral standards. I believe these moral standards are built into the way God created the universe; his handiwork declares his glory. Because of that, I believe the Sabbath command is like a sign-post, pointing to fundamental, created reality that God has built into the universe and which we ought to follow.

So the Sabbath can point us toward God’s rest, which is ultimately found only in Christ. But as we live this life on earth, the Sabbath command can also point us toward how we should live out that rest. Let me remind you of some of the lessons Israel would have learned from the Sabbath command.

1. We are creatures, not the Creator. This implies that we ought to emulate God. Furthermore, it teaches that we are not in control, God is. We must trust God for provision, not our own efforts. This is the opposite of pride and worry; it is submission and trust.

2. There is a regularity to this created world, and we should operate according to it. This would include our worship. Our worship must take place in time and space. In other words, we must set aside time devoted to God. This breaks us free from the tyranny of time and toilsome labor.

3. Nevertheless, labor is good.

4. Still, we need rest. We are not merely machines for production and consumption. What is more, we should not treat other people, and even animals, that way. [The 4th command challenges our economic assumptions and aspirations.]

5. What glorifies God is good for us!

I believe that the Sabbath command can function for us as Christians to point us to the very same truths. Creation itself speaks to these truths. The NT supports these truths. We ought to learn and live by these truths. Let me now apply one of them to our lives.

You need to set aside regular time to seek God.

The NT does teach us that all of life is holy to the Lord, but that does not at all change the fact that we need special times set aside for our worship. We all know that if we don’t make time for something, it doesn’t happen. I have a “to-do” list of things that need work around my house. My wife works to make sure that I designate time to work on these things, because if I don’t, they don’t get done! That’s why, for instance, I encourage you to set aside a specific, regular time each day for private religious exercises.

But since God has made us part of a body of believers, the same thing applies to our corporate worship. We need a specific, regular time in which we meet to engage with God through prayer, song, and hearing his Word. It is good for us to meet at all kinds of times, but in particular, I believe that we should specifically maintain our Sunday meetings. This appears to have been the pattern of the NT believers. The believers in Troas met on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). Paul explicitly commanded the believers in Corinth to lay aside their offerings on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:1-2). Then when we get to the book of Revelation, we find John saying he was in the Spirit on “the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10). Because John is telling us where and when this happened to him, and because he does not seem to be speaking metaphorically, it seems most likely that he is talking about the first day of the week. I believe this is particularly appropriate in the book of Revelation, because it seems to be an “allusion to the decisive victory won by the Lord of lords on the first day of the week” (Laansma). And that points us to the reason that the early Christians would have chosen the first day of the week to begin with – Jesus Christ rose from the dead on that day. That was the day that he was acclaimed as Lord of all (Rom 1:4). The gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all specifically state that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. What is even more interesting is that the only other places in the entire NT that the phrase “the first day of the week” is found is in connection with the believers meeting in Troas (Acts 20:7) and the believers meeting in Corinth (1 Cor 16:2). In other words, I am suggesting that when the early believers used the phrase “the first day of the week,” it had a specific connotation for them. That was the day that Jesus conquered sin and death. That’s why John called it “the Lord’s day.” That is why they regularly met on that day to worship Jesus Christ as Lord.

Now, this is not to say that Sunday is intrinsically more holy than any other day or that God gave us specific commands about how to observe the Lord’s day. It is not, and he did not. But it is particularly appropriate for us to worship him as his body on that day. Do you think it appropriate that our nation celebrates July 4th? Why? Then how much more is it appropriate that we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week – the Lord’s day.

I also believe it is appropriate that we do it together as a body, for Ephesians says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:25-27). Isaiah prophesied that “he shall see his offspring….He shall see and be satisfied” (53:10-11). Now think about this: when we gather together each Sunday before the Lord, we are saying, “Here we are Lord. We are your body. We are your bride. See us and be satisfied. Take pleasure in the fruit of your agony. You have washed us with your blood. We love you and bow before you as our Lord.” As we gather, I can see in my mind’s eye the Son at the right hand of the Father turning to the Father to say, “It was worth it all. Thank you, Father, for sending me to endure the cross and for raising me from the dead. Thank you, Spirit, for applying my finished work of redemption to these people and for uniting them in one body.” And the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wrapped in Trinitarian love, gaze in delight on the bride of Christ.

And now I ask you – do you not want to be a part of that? Why would you go to a football game or an amusement park on Sunday when you could be participating in an awesome display of the love and power of God? Why would you go shopping when you could have it as the “market day of the soul”? Why would you intentionally turn this day into a day of toilsome labor when you could be bathing your soul in the rest that Christ provides? What else could be more important to your spiritual well being and that of your family? You need to set aside time to seek God.

I would encourage you today to make time for God in several practical ways. First, make church attendance a non-negotiable in your life and in your family. Go to church and sit together every week, 52 weeks a year, year after year after year. That is one of the most, if not the most, spiritually important things you can ever do for your family. I would say it is even more necessary than a personal devotional time every day. For most of church history most Christians did not have their own Bibles to read and study. How did they survive spiritually? They went to church. I realize that there are some things that are absolutely necessary that will come up that require some people to miss church on occasion, but as a rule, there are very, very few things that are more important than being in church. Make it non-negotiable.

Second, work to have a Lord’s Day on Sunday. Don’t let it become cluttered with everything else you didn’t have time to do over the week. Now, again, this is not a biblical command, but I believe it is very wise. In western societies we have a privilege that not many people have had in history, which is having Sundays off. We are in the process of squandering that privilege by using Sundays for all kinds of things other than spiritual exercises. It has become just another day to work, another day to shop, another day to do whatever we want without a thought for God. Churches are even going along with the trend. More and more churches are holding Saturday evening meetings so that people can do other things on Sundays. But you don’t have to go along with the flow. Let’s show the world a better way. Make the Lord’s Day an absolutely special day. Start preparing for it on Saturday evening by getting clothes ready. Get to bed at a decent time. Sing the songs for worship with your family. Teach your children that this is Jesus’ special day, and we show our love and faith by going to church. Let them see (and this is crucial) that you really enjoy going to church. Start a fun family tradition that you do after the evening service. Read spiritually beneficial stories together like Pilgrim’s Progress. Whatever you do, make the Lord’s Day special.

There is so much more that could be said. I do believe, for instance, that reasonable blue laws are beneficial for all in society and that they are within the sphere of legitimate jurisdiction for government to enact and enforce. But right now I simply want to exhort you with this: if you have felt your spiritual temperature dropping – set aside time for God. If you have felt frazzled in what the world calls the rat race of life – set aside time for God. Make this a non-negotiable for you and your household. Cry out to God, “I don’t need food, I don’t need sleep, I don’t need money – I need you. I need your smile. I need your presence and pleasure. I’m going to show that by setting aside time to seek you, especially with your people.” Present your bodies as living sacrifices by setting aside time for God. Rest in him. And bring pleasure to Christ as he sees the fruits of his sacrifice coming to pass in the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Most Important Christian Educational Institution

In 1925, J. Gresham Machen published an essay entitled "Faith and Knowledge." I found these two paragraphs instructive.

The absence of doctrinal teaching and preaching is certainly one of the causes for the present lamentable ignorance in the church. But a still more influential cause is found in the failure of the most important of all Christian educational institutions. The most important Christian educational institution is not the pulpit or the school, important as these institutions are; it is the Christian family. And that institution has to a very large extent ceased to do its work. Where did those of us who have reached middle life really get our knowledge of the Bible? I suppose my experience is the same as that of a good many of us. I did not get my knowledge of the Bible from Sunday School or from any other school, but I got it on Sunday afternoons with my mother at home. And I will venture to say that although my mental ability was certainly of no extraordinary kind, I had a better knowledge of the Bible at fourteen years of age than is possessed by many students in the theological seminaries of the present day. Theological students come for the most part from Christian homes; indeed in very considerable proportion they are children of the manse. Yet when they have finished college and enter the theological seminary many of them are quite ignorant of the simple contents of the English Bible.

The sad thing is that it is not chiefly the students' fault. These students, many of them, are sons of ministers; and by their deficiencies they reveal the fact that the ministers of the present day are not only substituting exhortation for instruction and ethics for theology in their preaching, but are even neglecting the education of their own children. The lamentable fact is that the Christian home, as an educational institution, has largely ceased to function.

Machen, who came to be widely regarded as one of the finest Christian scholars of the twentieth century and a staunch defender of the faith, credits his mother with teaching him more of the Bible by the time he was fourteen than most seminarians know when they enter seminary. Praise God for mothers like this! Do you realize, mothers, what an opportunity you have to impart spiritual truth your children? Fathers, are you prepared to be spiritual leaders to women to know their Bibles this well? If we had fathers and mothers like this, what would the next generation be like?

The Second London Baptist Confession

  1. THE bodies of men after death return to dust and suffer decay, but their souls which neither die nor sink into a state of unconsciousness-they are inherently immortal-immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, whose holiness is at death perfected, are received into paradise, where they are with Christ, looking upon the face of God in light and glory, and waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. The souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Souls separated from their bodies are in either paradise or hell, for the Scripture speaks of no other abodes of the departed.Gen. 3:19; Eccles. 12:7; Luke 16:23,24; 23:43; Acts 13:36; 2 Cor. 5:1,6,8; Phil. 1:23; Heb. 12:23; 1 Pet. 3:19; Jude 6,7.

  2. At the last day, saints then alive on the earth Will not die, but be changed. All the dead will be raised up with their selfsame bodies, and none other, although with different qualities, and shall be united again to their souls for ever. Job 19:26,27; 1 Cor. 15:42,43,51,52; 1 Thess. 4:17.

  3. By the power of Christ, the bodies of the unrighteous will be raised to dishonor. By His Spirit, Christ will raise the bodies of the righteous to honor, for they will be refashioned after the pattern of His own glorious body. John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15; Phil. 3:21.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pleasurable Religion

Here is a stanza of "Come, Ye that Love the Lord" which I had never heard before. It is worth pondering.

The sorrows of the mind
Be banished from this place;
Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.

Life or Death

A crisis of life or death - that's what happens when God reveals himself to man through his commands. We have carefully considered the Ten Commandments over the past few months. But we have not truly heard them if we do not come to this point ourselves. Are God's commands your death sentence or are they your source of life? Join us Sunday to find out.

Songs
Come, Thou Almighty King (#63)
Fairest Lord Jesus (#21)
Our Great High Priest Is Sitting (#173)
Arise, My Soul, Arise (#174)
O Thou in Whose Presence (#451)
With Joy We Meditate the Grace (#176)

Scripture Reading
Coming to Mount Zion - Hebrews 12:18-29

Sermon
Life or Death: Encountering the Lord through His Commands - Deuteronomy 5:22-33

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)

The Command to Enter into the Lord’s Rest (Part 3)
Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Hebrews 3:7-4:13

What should we do with the Sabbath command? Shall we have blue laws? Shall we not have sporting events? Last week we learned that under the new covenant that Jesus instituted, the old covenant and its sign (the Sabbath) have been removed as a matter of observance. It is no longer binding upon Christians. Unfortunately, Christians who are very immature may stop there, assuming that that is the end of the matter. They may even go so far as to boast of their liberation from such an old fashioned rule. But this is exceptionally foolish. There is a wealth of truth to be learned from the Sabbath commandment, and we are going to learn from the Bible the number one lesson for us from the OT Sabbath command. Today we are going to look at the book of Hebrews to see how the idea of the Sabbath applies to us as new covenant believers.

Now, Hebrews constitutes classic literature in the NT, and it is dense in its argument. So we need to back up and get a running start in order to land where we want to in understanding our passage. Let’s start out in chapter 3.

We find first of all that Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses (3:1-6). Moses was a servant; Jesus is the Son! Therefore, the Scripture continues, watch out for unbelief (3:7-19)! The author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 95 in order to bring up the example of Israel. God led them out of Egypt by Moses. But they did not believe God, and thus they did not obey him. As a result, God did not grant them his rest. The warning for us is clear. We could be like them. We must watch out for an evil, unbelieving heart which would lead us to fall away from the living God. We must be continually diligent. Sin is a sneaky enemy, constantly trying to slip in under cover of darkness to bring us down. We cannot let our guard down for a moment.

In order to avoid falling away from God, we need to exhort one another every day. Let me just note here how important constant fellowship with other believers is in our lives. Each one of us needs the church family, the church body, to be active in our lives to protect ourselves from this danger. That is why our church covenant says in part, “We purpose, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other, and faithfully warn, exhort, and admonish each other as occasion may require. We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but will devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the ordinances of the church, and to prayer.”

Here is how serious this is: We share in Christ, if we hold our original confidence firm to the end (v. 14). If you don’t finish the race, you don’t win the prize. If you don’t continue on in your faith in Christ, then you demonstrate that you do not have genuine faith and are not one of his.

So, the author has been focusing up to this point on warning them against unbelief. “Harden not your hearts,” he cried. “Watch out for unbelief!” Now he begins transitioning into talking about the results of that unbelief.

Reaching God’s Rest

Chapter 4 opens with a strong exhortation - Fear the consequences of unbelief! Why? The consequence of unbelief is failing to reach God’s rest (4:1-13). The author is now picking up on the last part of the Psalm that he had quoted, “They shall not enter into my rest.” And so he begins to talk about the idea of rest.

First, he says the promise of entering God’s rest still stands. Israel had good news preached to them. God made promises to them, but they did not ever receive the promises God made because of their lack of faith. Only those who believe enter that rest.

But now he begins to make some very interesting observations about rest. We have to ask ourselves, “If we are to enter into God’s rest, what is he talking about?” The author answers this by noting that God has a rest which he entered into on the seventh day of the creation week. His creation program complete, and completely good, God ceased from creating on the seventh day. This day in Scripture is never said to have an end. God entered into eternal life-giving enjoyment of the works of his hands.

Now, the author does not give any more explanation than that, but let me pause here to draw together a few thoughts. We have seen that we ought to enter into God’s rest with him. We can conclude from the context that this is the opposite of falling away from the living God. Thus it is the same as sharing in Christ, which is entered by believing Christ, which then leads to obeying Christ. Jesus Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. He is superior to the prophets, to the angels, and even to Moses. The author is relentlessly driving home the point – you must trust in him, you must listen to him, you must follow him. And if you do, he says, you will enter God’s rest. Thus, this rest he is speaking of is everything God has promised us in Christ. It is all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. It is participation in the new covenant which gives forgiveness of sins.

Forgiveness of sins! You who are believers here this morning, can you not testify of the rest that comes with forgiveness of sins? The human soul cannot bear sin. Sin drives us insane. When you see its hideous shape in your soul, when you feel guilt, you will either be driven to desperately seek forgiveness or to “denial,” that is to say, lies. Sin is a cruel taskmaster that will not stop lashing us with the whip. There is no rest for the weary. There is also no rest for those who would be righteous. Constantly striving to be good enough will never make it, because there is always more that needs to be done. We need forgiveness. That is because, as Augustine has so famously said, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

But not so many know how Augustine ended the same book:

Lord God, grant us peace; for you have given us all things (Isa 26:12), the peace of quietness, the peace of the sabbath, a peace with no evening (2 Thess 3:16). This entire most beautiful order of very good things will complete its course and then pass away; for in them by creation there is both morning and evening. The seventh day has no evening and no ending. You sanctified it to abide everlastingly. After your 'very good' works, which you made while remaining yourself in repose, you 'rested on the seventh day'.... This utterance in your book foretells for us that after our works which, because they are your gift to us, are very good, we also may rest in you for the sabbath of eternal life.
There also you will rest in us, just as now you work in us. Your rest will be through us, just as now your works are done through us. But you, Lord are always working and always at rest....
Of your gift we have some good works, though not everlasting. After them we hope to rest in your great sanctification. But you, the Good, in need of no other good, are ever at rest since you yourself are your own rest.

Augustine was applying exactly what we are reading about here in Hebrews.

Second, since the promise still stands, we must strive to enter into it. In other words, the rest God speaks of, what he has promised us in Christ, is not completed by what we have here and now. It is something that we reach fully and finally in glory. It is full salvation. Therefore, we must persevere (3:6, 14). True faith follows Christ. True faith obeys Christ. That is why throughout this passage the author alternates between talking about unbelief and disobedience (3:18-19; 4:2, 6, 11). Unbelief is the root; disobedience is the fruit. They are morally connected. Strive to enter God’s rest. In other words, follow Christ. Trust him! Obey him! He is the only way to find real rest for your souls. Everything the Sabbath pointed toward is found in him.

Chasing, chasing, chasing – that’s the way of this world, be it money, material possessions, relationships, accomplishments, drugs, etc. But God in his Sabbath command says, “Stop.” He wants you to enter into his rest, and this can only be found by resting in Christ. One way to describe real faith is resting. I can enjoy many things this world has to offer, but only as fruits of my relationship with Christ. Jesus Christ still calls, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Are you heading that call and following his voice?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fight the Good Fight

Douglas Wilson has a good post on the central battleground of our times here, along with a guest post from Canadian pastor Steven Boissoin, who is being prosecuted for writing a letter to the editor against homosexuality. Just a little bit to make the lay of the land clear.

Poverty?

As a follow up to last Sunday's sermon, I would like to post these stats that I just came across. These were given by Patrick Toomey, president of the Club for Growth, in a speech delivered as part of the Ludwig von Mises Lecture Series sponsored by Hillsdale College, and published in Imprimis (available online here). Toomey says,

Among families living below the official poverty line in the early 1970s, less than 40 percent had a car, almost none had color televisions, and air conditioning was virtually unheard of; in 2004, 46 percent owned their own homes, almost 75 percent owned a car (indeed, 30 percent owned two or more cars), 97 percent had color TVs, and 67 percent had air conditioning. The poor in the U.S. have an average of 721 square feet of living space per person, as compared with 430 in Sweden and 92 in Mexico.

My point on Sunday was that living in these times of prosperity makes it very easy for us to think that we are somehow deprived if we don't own our own home and car and have a color TV and air conditioning (not to mention cell phones, laptops, iPods, Wii, wee, wee, wee...). In other words, we feel poor even though we have more material prosperity than 99% of humans in all of the world's history. What makes us feel poor? Covetousness.

As Christians, we must look at the Bible's objective standards of poverty rather than at the federal government's poverty guidelines.

Fight the contagious disease of covetousness in your souls.


What a powerful testimony contentment can be in a culture of covetousness!
Update: Keep this in mind when you read things like this.

The Suspense Is Quickening Me

What is it that we enjoy so much about a good story? Is it not the suspense? In every plot there is a crisis or complication that provides the “what’s going to happen?” which keeps us interested. We all love a good story.

How ironic is it, then, that many times we want our lives to be the most boring story ever written. We don’t want to have any complications, or else we want to be able to choose which complications we think we would enjoy the most. We want God to provide everything now and tell us the whole story now. “No suspense for me, if you please,” we tell the Lord.

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 30 - The Lord's Supper

30.7 Those who, as worthy participants, outwardly eat and drink the visible bread and wine in this ordinance, at the same time receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and receive all the benefits accruing from His death. This they do really and indeed, not as if feeding upon the actual flesh and blood of a person's body, but inwardly and by faith. In the supper the body and blood of Christ are present to the faith of believers, not in any actual physical way, but in a way of spiritual apprehension, just as the bread and wine themselves are present to their outward physical senses. 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-26.

30.8 All persons who participate at the Lord's table unworthily sin against the body and blood of the Lord, and their eating and drinking brings them under divine judgment. It follows,therefore, that all ignorant and ungodly persons, being unfit to enjoy fellowship with Christ, are similarly unworthy to be communicants at the Lord's table; and while they remain as they are they cannot rightly be admitted to partake of Christ's holy ordinance, for thereby great sin against Christ would be committed. Matt. 7:6; 1 Cor. 11:29; 2 Cor. 6:14,15.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Delight Yourself in the Lord

The Tenth Commandment, "You shall not covet," forces us to consider the desires of our heart. As I pondered this, my thoughts were drawn to Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." What delights us? What draws out our hearts in desire? Is it the Lord?

Songs
O Father, Thou Whose Love Profound (#29)
Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
God Is the Treasure of My Soul (#632)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)
Be Thou My Vision (#462)
Come, Let Us To the Lord Our God (#330)

Scripture Reading
Hebrews 13:1-6

Sermon
The Command to Love - Deuteronomy 5:21

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)

The Command to Enter into the Lord’s Rest (Part 2)

Deut 5:12-15; Matt 5:17-18; 12:1-8; Rom 14:5-6; Gal 4:9-11; Col 2:16-17

How many of you know what “blue laws” are? In the colonial era and the early years of our republic, they were commonplace. Here is an example from Massachusetts.

Whereas the observance of the Lord's day is highly promotive of the welfare of a community, by affording necessary seasons for relaxation from labour and the cares of business; for moral reflections and conversations on the duties of life, and the frequent errors of human conduct; for public and private worship of the Maker, Governor and Judge of the world; and for those acts of charity which support and adorn a Christian society: And whereas some thoughtless and irreligious persons, inattentive to the duties and benefits of the Lord's day, profane the same, by unneccessarily pursuing their worldly business and recreations on that day, to their own great damage of the community, by producing dissipation of manners and immoralities of life: Be it enacted … [that no person shall] keep open his, her or their shop, warehouse, or work-house, nor shall, upon land or water, do any manner of labor, business or work (works of necessity and charity only excepted) nor be present at any concert of music, dancing, or public diversion, show or entertainment, nor use any sport, game, play, or recreation, on the Lord's day, or any part thereof, upon penalty of a sum not exceeding twenty shillings, nor less than ten shillings, for every offense.

This is hardly comprehensible to their descendants over 200 years later. Why would they enact such laws? Does the Sabbath command imply this?

Last week we began considering the 4th commandment, which says “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” The OT shows us how important the Sabbath was to the nation of Israel, as it pointed back to God’s example in creation and to God’s work of redemption. Supremely, it was a sign of the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. Israel observed the Sabbath by ceasing from their ordinary work on the seventh day of the week in order to reflect on the Lord and their relationship with him. I would like to remind you of the lessons that Israel would have learned from this command.

1. We are creatures, not the Creator.

2. There is a regular order to this created world, and we should operate according to it. This would include our worship. Our worship must take place in time and space. In other words, we must set aside time devoted to God.

3. We emulate God.

4. We are not in control, God is. We must trust God for provision, not our own efforts. It is the opposite of pride and worry. It entails submission and trust.

5. This breaks us free from the tyranny of time and toilsome labor.

6. Nevertheless, labor is good.

7. Still, we need rest. We are not merely machines for production and consumption.

8. We should not treat other people, and even animals, that way. [The 4th command challenges our economic assumptions and aspirations.]

9. What glorifies God is good for us!

The New Age Has Come

That is what we learned from the OT. Now we are going to move on to the NT, because it is here that we find out how this command applies to us today. There is one decisive event which has transformed for us how the OT law relates to us. That decisive event is the work of Jesus Christ. If we are going to get any spiritual benefit out of the 4th commandment, we must see it through Jesus Christ. I believe that the 4th command provides a perfect case study of how we should handle the OT laws in the light of the work of Jesus Christ. Let’s first of all review what Jesus himself taught us about the law.

In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus establishes himself as the complete fulfillment of the law. It all pointed to him. He presents himself as the Lawgiver who supersedes Moses. When Jesus lived on earth, he obeyed the Sabbath law according to the OT, but Jesus made it very clear that he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-8). Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath. The whole purpose and point of the Sabbath was fulfilled in him. That fact has extremely important implications for us as followers of Jesus.

But before we get to those implications, we need to see one other crucial accomplishment of Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the law, and he also established a new covenant with a new sign. In Luke 22:20, Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Under the Mosaic law, the Sabbath was the sign of the covenant relationship. That was why God treated it so seriously – why he prescribed the death penalty for anyone who broke it. But when Jesus came and shed his blood, he inaugurated the new covenant. The covenant made with Israel at Sinai, along with its law, was no longer in force. The new covenant had come in its place, the covenant that provided for real forgiveness of sins. And Jesus gave a new sign for that covenant. We call it the Lord’s Supper. So Jesus fulfilled the law, and he then established a new covenant with a new sign.

Three New Covenant Applications of the Fourth Commandment

The practical significance of this comes out in the rest of the NT, particularly in the writings of the apostle Paul and in the epistle to the Hebrews. This week we will look at what Paul wrote, and next week Lord willing we will reach the climax of the NT teaching about the Sabbath in the book of Hebrews.

This is the scenario after Christ had come - He had fulfilled in himself everything the OT law pointed toward. He had come as the Lord of all, the new lawgiver who superseded Moses. This was not in contradiction to the OT; in fact, it was the true fulfillment of the OT. Because the OT law had been fulfilled, Christ’s followers had a different relationship to what God had said in the OT. It fell to the apostle Paul to explain this relationship in 3 different contexts where it was necessary to combat false ideas about the law.

The first situation was in Galatia. The Galatian believers had come to know the gospel through the ministry of Paul, but they were being influenced by Judaizers, that is, men who taught that in order to be truly a Christian one had to keep the Mosaic law. This directly contradicted justification by grace through faith, so Paul wrote this letter vigorously contesting their false ideas. Note what he wrote in Galatians 3:1-2: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” When Paul gets to Galatians 4:9-11, he specifically brings up the issue of the sacred times and seasons of the law. (By the way, the context makes it very clear that this is the OT law that he is speaking of, cf. 4:21.) This would definitely include the Sabbath. The fact that these Galatians were observing the calendar of the OT law showed that they were no longer trusting in Christ alone for their justification. Paul was afraid that they would not be saved because they were turning away from the true gospel. From what we have already considered, can you see why Paul thought this way? By taking on the Sabbath observance as a means of their justification, these people were taking on the sign of the old covenant law. Paul had already told them that by the works of the law no one will be justified (Gal 2:16). They were in effect rejecting Christ as the fulfiller of the law and rejecting his blood as the means of giving them the new covenant which brought forgiveness of sins.

We who live under the new covenant do not need to observe the sign of the old covenant. In fact, it would be a contradiction for us to consider the Sabbath day observance as binding. Since the Sabbath cannot be disassociated with the old covenant (it is the sign of that covenant), we would in effect be acknowledging that we are still under the covenant God gave at Sinai, and we would be disregarding the new covenant that Christ has instituted in his blood. If we put ourselves under “Sabbath” regulations as having anything whatsoever to do with our justification, then the Lord’s Supper is gutted of its significance. In other words, Christ’s death is worthless, and we cannot be justified. This is an extremely important lesson!

The second situation that the apostle encountered which needed clarification regarding the Sabbath ideas in the OT law came at Rome. Apparently, there was something of a clash between a couple groups of people among the Christians in Rome. The one group Paul characterized as “weak in faith.” These were people who did not have a strong enough faith to grasp and apply to their lives some of the things that God had revealed. Therefore, their consciences would not let them do certain things. The other group Paul called “strong,” that is, they were strong in faith and thus able to grasp what God had revealed. Paul gives this instruction in Romans 14:1, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” These “opinions” held by the weak brother were biblically incorrect ideas, yet they concerned non-essential issues. This is a great contrast with the problem in Galatia. Paul’s overriding concern and exhortation is that they should accept one another so that they could glorify God together (cf. 15:5-7). The weak should not pass judgment on the strong, neither should the strong despise the weak.

Apparently one of the areas of conflict was over how certain days should be treated or esteemed (14:5a). Given the setting, this almost certainly refers to the Sabbath. Notice what Paul’s instruction is, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5b). In other words, if the weak brother feels that he needs to observe the Sabbath as holy to the Lord, fine. His opinion may be biblically deficient, but it is non-essential and he is doing it as to the Lord. If the strong brother feels that all days are just as holy as Saturday, fine. Technically, he is correct. Yet this is not a matter over which Christians should be divided, and each brother should follow his practice as to the Lord. Remember, the glory of God is the ultimate goal here.

Now, given Paul’s instructions here, it is fairly obvious that he does not treat the Sabbath the way the OT treated the Sabbath. In the OT, breaking it incurred the death penalty. In the NT, no day is more sacred than another day. Why is that? It is because Christ fulfilled everything that the Sabbath day pointed toward. He took the old covenant which the Sabbath day stood for out of the way, and brought in the new covenant.

In the third situation Paul encountered, he really brings this point home. In Colossians 2:16-17, the Scripture says, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ”. The Sabbath was only a shadow; Christ is the substance. The Sabbath was a shadow in the sense that it foreshadowed what Christ would bring. Is that not exactly what we learned from Christ in Matt 5:17? The law pointed to him and he fulfilled it. This verse only makes sense if the Sabbath is not a requirement for Christian worship. Why would we celebrate the shadow when we have the substance?

So the fact that Christ fulfilled the law and instituted the new covenant teaches us first of all that Christians do not observe the Sabbath today. Every day for us is holy to the Lord. Thus the Seventh Day Adventists are entirely incorrect in their belief that “The Sabbath is God's perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people.” Now if we wanted to gather for prayer or other religious exercises on Saturday, we are certainly free to do so, just as we are free to do so on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. The book of Acts records that the early church met day by day in the temple and in their homes (2:46).

There is one more very important implication of the fact that Christ has fulfilled the Sabbath, which we will discover next week, Lord willing. In fact, I believe it is the pinnacle of the meaning of the 4th commandment for us as NT believers.

Yet from what we have learned today, I would like to exhort you with two things. First, do not put your trust in religious observances like the Sabbath to make you right with God. Look to Christ! Second, keep observance of days in proper perspective in your Christian life. There is a long history of Christians arguing with one another about Sabbath observance. Some of this discussion has been very profitable, mutually stimulating to love and good works. But some of it has been acrimonious, exactly the opposite of what Romans 14 calls for. The goal in all of this is not to prove “I’ve got the right view and you are wrong,” per se. It is that all of us may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we are after.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 30 - The Lord's Supper

30.4 The denial of the cup to the people, the worshipping of the elements, the lifting up of the elements, the carrying of them about for the purpose of adoration, and the reserving of them for any pretended religious use, are all contrary to the nature of the ordinance and to Christ's intention in appointing it. Exod. 20:4,5; Matt. 15:9; 26:26-28.

30.5 The outward elements in the Lord's supper-bread and wine-duly set apart for the use appointed by Christ, bear such a relation to the Lord crucified that, in a true sense although in terms used figuratively, they are sometimes called by the names of the things they represent, namely, the body and blood of Christ, even though, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before being set apart for their special use. 1 Cor. 11:26-28.

30.6 The doctrine commonly called transubstantiation which maintains that in the supper the substance of bread and wine is changed into the substance of Christ's body and blood through consecration by a priest or in any other way, is repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason. Furthermore, it overthrows the nature of the ordinance, and has been, and is, the cause of all kinds of superstitions and gross idolatries. Luke 24:6,39; Acts 3:21; 1 Cor. 11:24,25.