This Sermon was preached on August 9, 2009 at First Fairmont Presbyterian Church, PC(USA).
Scripture Text: Psalm 130
Here is the audio of the Sermon I gave this morning at Fairmount ARP Church.
Text: 2 Peter 3:1-9
Title: “Longsuffering Redeemer”
Not the best Sermon I have ever written. Sounds a bit discombobulated. May God bless my incoherence.
First Monaca Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) September 14, 2008
Scripture Lesson Exodus 14: 19-31
Sermon “Baptized Unto Moses” Benjamin P. Glaser
Moses in the verses preceding our Scripture Lesson this morning has been negotiating with Pharaoh over the release of the Israelites from the hand of bondage in Egypt. They have gone through all ten of the plagues, the rivers have turned to blood, the frogs have come and gone, the outbreak of gnats and flies has ceased, the livestock of Egypt have died, boils have appeared, hail has rained down from heaven, locusts have eaten their food, darkness has come and gone, and finally the firstborn of all of Egypt and those who had not sacrificed the Paschal Lamb and placed its blood on the door frame have had their first born die at the hands of the Angel of the Lord. Only after all this has Pharaoh released the Israelites from their bondage and allowed Moses to lead them out. However Pharaoh in chapter 14 has reconsidered through the hardening of his heart by God so that, as verse four says, “Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.” It is at this point where we come to what we have read this morning, that is the crossing of the Red Sea and the fullness of what we can learn from the events of that day and what came after it.
But before we get to that it is important when we come to texts like this that seem too far-fetched or too much like myth to believe in our supposed more enlightened times that we appreciate what kind of God it is that we are given the delight to worship. We cannot treat these events as having no real meaning for us in the 21st century living in America reading them as we would Aesop’s Fables or the stories of the Brother’s Grimm. As if they are some type of legend only meant to teach some kind of moral lesson. We must comprehend that the Holy Scripture’s speak as one unified voice displaying for us the Almighty majesty of the God whom we have the pleasure of coming to worship this Lord’s Day. The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter ten says,” For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were [punished] in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. “ In other words these events have a very important thing to teach us, because as the chosen people of God passed through the Red Sea many moons ago we too who have been chosen in Christ and have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, pass through the cloud as Paul says to be on our way to the Promised Land. But just as the Israelites who were saved by God from the attacking Egyptians, they were also punished for their refusal to submit to God’s Will and God’s Law given to them by Moses at Sinai.
The people in the Exodus event all perform actions that occur not for any other reason but for the Glory of our Almighty God alone who is the sovereign and the supreme ruler over all of His creation. Nothing happens but for the Glory of God and only according to the purposes of God. We would think that the Israelites having seen this work, this parting of the seas that had been done through Moses, would have followed to the letter what Moses tells them to do. However we know it takes but a few days after witnessing the awesome power of Almighty God for the Israelites to fall away and construct an idol of their own making, bowing down to worship an inanimate object that has no power, no glory, no holiness because they had already forgotten the salvation God had provided for them in their rescue from the hand of the Egyptians. Refusing to submit to the Grace God had provided for them in the Law given to Moses. Of course it easy for us today to look back at the Israelites with disdain and contempt, but how we follow the same pattern. Falling for the wiles and the snares this world provides for us, trusting not in the power of our Almighty God who has rescued us from our own sin, instead trusting in the weak, powerless, and falsity that is the world.
This fight we have with God is as old as humankind itself. This fight is this old because we refuse to humble ourselves before the Lord our God. Why do we do this? Why do we who know that our omnipotent God, powerful enough to free His people from bondage, to part seas, destroy the most powerful Army on earth, Our God whom alone we can cleave, to save us from ourselves, why do we continue to deny him in this way? We are reminded of the words of David in Psalm 18:27 “The humble O Lord, thou wilt save; and the eyes of the proud wilt thou cast down:” We must be humble before God. We must recognize our fallen nature, our inability to save ourselves. That is what we do when we ask forgiveness for our sins. We recognize that we have fallen short of the Glory of God and that we need his help in reaching that Glory because we cannot do it. Romans 3:9-18 says, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; the poison of bees is under their lips”; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” We are utterly incapable of coming to God, He must come for us. As He has sent Moses to bring the Israelites from Egypt so to He has sent Christ to bring us to Him. Submitting ourselves to His Law as the Israelites are called to submit to Moses and the Law God has given him.
We must not look at submission as a burden but must look at it as the exact opposite. Submission is the glorious reality that we do not have to rely on ourselves for our own salvation. For I know if I had to rely on my own will to get me to the promised land I might go backwards let alone go forward towards the Promised Land. So we must look at this call to submit to the will and Law of God not as a yoke that we have been made to bear but that the yoke has been lifted from us so that we may be with Christ in Paradise. You see Christ died so that we do not have to. So that death could lose its sting and we could have victory over our foe. It was so that fallen humanity which cannot even come close to reaching the perfection that God requires of us could be with our Father in Paradise. There is a glorious reality in understanding that God has shown us any mercy at all. We who dishonor him at every step and deny his calling have been given this magnificent gift that is Jesus Christ so that we may have a right relationship with our creator. We shall not deny His will should we? We cannot allow the Devil to deceive us to believe that we can be the author of our own salvation or that we can of our own power perfectly follow this will. The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter Eighteen puts it this way: “I. Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which that hope of theirs shall perish: yet those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed.”
It is God’s will that we submit to Him, that we stop resisting His will, that we allow Him to have complete control of our lives. Submission requires humility because it requires that we acknowledge that God is more capable of directing our lives than we are ourselves, and it also requires that we acknowledge that God has a greater right to direct our lives than we do. God is in opposition to our foolish pride. He demands our complete submission to His Word and to His Word alone. This is what the first commandment is all about. We shall have no other Gods before him. Humanity cannot serve both God and Mammon. We must only serve Him that created us not just because that is what God commands in Scripture but also because we are incapable as fallen humans to perfectly follow the Will of God in and of our own ability. The devil tries to get us to resist God’s Will by telling us that we can know better than God, that is what the words to Eve in the Garden were all about and that we have a right to do as we choose with our own lives, the sin of the time of the Judges chapter 17 verse 6, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The fact is all sin is rebellion against God’s will and submission is part of true repentance towards God. We resist the devil by submitting to God, and submitting to God is the same as drawing near to God; therefore, when we submit to God the devil flees from us because he does not want to be near God. When we humble ourselves before God by submitting to His will, we acknowledge that His rights and abilities are greater than our own, and He rewards us by exalting us. God may exalt us in differing ways. He may deliver us from temptation, trial, suffering, or whatever difficulty we are experiencing, or He may strengthen us to bear up under our circumstances. Furthermore, He always exalts us by strengthening us in our faith. The Almighty Father has called us to completely deny ourselves and to follow him. However we should not look upon this as a burden but as glorious freedom. We are as babes in arms leaving ourselves to completely trust in our safety, our feeding, and our protection entirely on the Almighty. Submission is not a burden it is a release from the weight of sin. Let it go. Let God take your anxiety. Let God take your worry. Do not fear this World for if God is for us who can be against us?
As we come to the end of our morning service here on the Lord’s Day and as we begin to prepare to go out from this place into a world that has denied Christ crucified, a world that wants nothing to do with the free offer of Grace given by Jesus Christ, with the Law that he has given to us, we remember Christ’s words in Matthew chapter 5 starting at verse 13 going to verse 20 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Brothers and Sisters know that just as we who are sinners in need of a savior from our bondage to sin as the Israelites were in need of saving from their oppression in Egypt we have been brought forth from that bondage, passed through the Red Sea which is our baptism in Christ, being cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb, having the weight of the Law taken off our back so that we can now submit to the Law of God out of Love and worship to the Lord our God who has died for us on a cross so that we may partake in His Righteousness and that our righteousness may surpass that of the Pharisees who though they followed the Law could not do so with perfection, but those of us who are in Christ Jesus we have been brought forth from the Wilderness of Sin to the Promised Land that is Jesus Christ. All those in Christ will be like the Israelites who are in Moses, and they will pass safely to the other side as the Israelites did. However all those who are not in Christ will be like the Egyptians, and will be swallowed up in the furious wrath of God in the torment of the sea.
To God Alone Be the Glory of This Day and Forevermore. Amen.
Linway United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) May 18, 2008
Scripture Lesson Matthew 28:16-20
Sermon “Baptizing and Teaching” Benjamin P. Glaser
Jesus in our Scripture lesson today is preparing to leave the Apostles and He is meeting with them here at a mountain in Galilee before his Ascension so that He can advise them what it is they are to do after He is no longer with them in the flesh. He tells them to go out and preach and teach and convert followers to Christ and to baptize them accordingly. One of the commands that Jesus gives them is that they are to make disciples among all the nations and it is here that I would like to focus your attention. If you could I would like you to get out your pink slip provided in your bulletin or open your Bible to the Scripture lesson in Matthew 28:16-20 and I am going to read again this short passage right now and I want you to think over it as I read it and as I preach this morning, especially verse 19 and I want you to think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in light of this passage.
As a young child I was fascinated by how things worked. I would take apart my toys with screwdrivers and other tools to ascertain how exactly these things operated. I can remember one particular incident with my sister’s easy-bake oven. I had taken the little oven from her room and was sitting on the floor of my room and as I sat there with a screwdriver and a hammer I took the cover off and exposed the electric motor that operated the oven and as I sat there with the oven in various stages of unity I had the bright idea of plugging in the oven to see if it would become hot enough to melt some of the metal matchbox cars I owned. Well to make a long story short, it does and I have the scars to prove it. What I discovered that day, apart from the fact that a toy that it is made to cook actually gets hot enough to melt metal, is that I did not have the technical know-how to operate an easy-bake oven properly, of course one could say I just did not have the good sense to not take apart a working oven. One need not be anything more than a 6-year old to take things apart but to know how things work I needed more than just the tools of the trade I needed to have the know how. If one wants to become an electrician or a carpenter or a plumber or any type of trade you cannot just pick up a hammer and a nail and announce to the world that you are a carpenter. They’ll put you away. There is training you must go through, an apprentice time one must undergo, certifications you must receive and in many areas a union you must join to seek work as a carpenter. So why is it that we believe that all one needs to do to be a Christian, a follower of Christ is to just say, “Hey God I’m one of yours” and then go about your normal life claiming to be a follower of something and a member of something you have not studied or sought teaching about? Well this morning I want to talk with you about why it is we are called to do as apprentices to the Master who is Jesus Christ do and seek to study and know God’s word to his people given to us in His Word, the whole counsel of God not just the stuff we like, and why it is important in our day that when we are challenged by the ways of this world, when you are confronted at work by unbelievers who want to compromise your faith, when you are moved at school to violate the Laws of God that you have more than just a “well it’s a faith thing” answer as if faith is one way or another divorced from learning. One of the pitfalls we have made as a church is that we have somehow come to believe that Faith is antithetical to knowledge, that “science” or “truth” for that matter and “faith” have separate areas of responsibility. In other words we have moved from a place where we once believed as a Christian community that faith in Jesus Christ had a real knowledge component and that knowledge deeply affected our relationship with Christ to the place where “church” and “faith” are for our spiritual life and “science” is for our physical life. This over-reliance by most in the Church on science to answer questions that Scripture already has is an entirely different problem that we do not have time to get into this morning but there is a vibrant and rabid anti-intellectual movement within our community as believers in Christ and it is killing the church in America as it has already killed the church in Europe. The Apostle Paul in his writing to the Corinthian church in the first letter chapter 3 is confronting the same problem we have today in the church, the Corinthians have not moved passed where they were when he last saw them, beginning at verse 1“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” What Paul is saying here is that there is more to the Christian life and the understanding of Christ but since you have chosen to continue in ignorance and apathy I cannot feed it to you because if I do you will be damaged. If we choose not to move past our infancy in our understanding of Christ how can we do as the Apostle Peter demands of his readers and for us today saying in his first epistle chapter 3 verse 15 that we must be able to “[give] an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” It is not enough and it is not fair to Christ to give some convoluted and contrived answer to your unbelieving co-worker for the reason why you will not look at porn on their computer screen. As a disciple of Jesus Christ you need to be able to not just tell them why you will not scan their screen but to witness the Gospel to them so that they might believe as you have. This is what Christ is calling the Apostles to do and it is what he is calling us to do today not just in the church but in every area of our life.
One can hardly think the Apostles are ready for such a challenge. I mean was it not less than a week earlier that when their Master, Jesus Christ, had been arrested at Gethsemane that they had fled and hid in the wilderness so as to not be arrested themselves. Are these not the same Apostles that include Peter who had denied that he even knew whom Christ was? Or Thomas who doubted all that he had seen until he actual touched Christ’s physical wounds. How capable really are they to go and teach anyone anything? For one they are not exactly people who we would think would be much good at preaching and teaching. The majority of them barely have an elementary level education, they have not studied under the Rabbi’s or spent their days reflecting and studying the centuries of writings. These are mere fishermen, tax collectors, and a rag tag group of nobodies who have been chosen by Jesus Christ to go out into the world and teach and preach. How is it that Peter is to go and argue against the Jews and the Greeks who have had years of training in rhetoric, public speaking, apologetics, and philosophy? How can Stephen, who is soon to be martyred, stand up and counsel the Pharisees and the Sadducees as to the error of their ways and do so with conviction and confidence? They do so because they have an answer for the faith that is within them, the can do so because most importantly they believe what they are saying contains the words of Life, it is intrinsically what Christ himself had taught them so why should they not be ready to face the struggles and attacks of those who hate Christ? I am sure some of you are saying to yourself, “Well I am not Peter or Stephen” or “I have not had the luxury of sitting at the foot of Jesus” so I cannot hope to come to be able to do such things. Well you may not, like Stephen, ever be called in front of a Church court under the threat of death or you may never be walking around what is modern-day Syria and Turkey defending the faith against Greek philosophers and Jews like Peter. And you would be right to say you could not come to the knowledge that Peter or Stephen had if you do not take the time and the effort to become an apprentice, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Look again at verse 18 through 20, “And Jesus came up and spoke to [the Apostles], saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The word “disciple” as Matthew and others throughout the New Testament use it has a much deeper meaning than we usually inscribe for it. We could just as easily think of a disciple as a “pupil” or a “student”. The real meaning behind what we hear and what we read is that as disciples of Christ we are not meant to be just a follower, like one who follows around a band, the Apostles are not called by Christ to go out and create a sort of Jesus Christ groupie movement, but to go out and teach all that Christ had instructed them, all that the writers of the Older Testament had taught them and see to it that those who through a profession of faith had been moved by the Holy Spirit to proclaim faith in Christ are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. But their discipleship did not end with baptism it had just begun. In the Reformed faith we believe in baptizing infants not just because its pretty and cute but because we believe that in baptism we are bringing this child into a community of faith where the child will be brought up not only by believers but so that the child can become a believer, and not just that, we as a church make a promise that we will teach this child more than just their ABC’s of faith but that we will disciple them, making them students of Jesus Christ. The meaning of being a disciple of Jesus Christ calls us to be students of Christ, Christ is our teacher in the fullest sense of that word. Just as Christ taught the Apostles more than the basics so we should seek to know Christ at a much deeper level than just the nuts and bolts of faith. None of us after learning our ABC’s in kindergarten were able to obtain our High School diploma and go straight into college. There was much more involved in us receiving our High school diploma than just being taught our ABC’s and this is where we are as a church today. We have through the last 100 years or so dumbed down our religious life to the point that we are satisfied with our ABC’s, we are content with just coming to church on the Lord’s day and going home and not allowing the worship of Almighty God to crack through the insulated life that exist outside these four-walls, creating a compartmentalized faith that leaves Christ and his message for two hours each Sunday and maybe a prayer hear and there during the week. This is where Christ’s word to his Apostles strike us to the heart today in this very Service of Worship this morning. Why is it we are here? Are we here to be discipled or are we here to fulfill some kind of social responsibility? Why do we make ourselves get out of bed on Sunday morning when the rest of the world sleeps in? These are all questions we must answer for ourselves and these are questions that can only be answered if we seek ought to know them. Brother and Sisters in Christ I am here to tell you this morning that we are called as disciples of Jesus Christ that we are called to defend our faith and give not only ourselves a reason for being here but to give one to our unbelieving neighbors and family. Because if you cannot answer for the faith and hope that is within you why should anyone else believe either?
But before we trudge off to do the 37 other things we have planned for the Lord’s Day let us remember one thing. Today the session and the members here at Linway have brought these seven young people into the body of the visible church; you have brought these kids into the body of Christ. They are yet apprentices; their learning process has just begun. It is the job of this Church family to lead them and to teach them, discipling them in the way of the Christian Life, in how to properly understand the God whom we worship on the Lord’s Day, teaching them how to observe the Laws of God, teaching them how to observe the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and so on and so forth. The primary teacher in their lives will be and should be the Church. While none of us will ever be the master, because Christ is the Master, we must strive not only to bring ourselves into a deeper and more complete understanding of the faith we confess to believe we must not only exemplify that faith to them through the works of our lives but also through the words we confess.
To God Alone Be the Glory, Amen.
I would like this morning to focus specifically on verse 2 of the 49th Chapter of the Book of Isaiah that Jane read for us this morning. But before I do that I want to share with you a story of a Martyr of the Christian faith. I feel that it is vital that we understand that we exist in this Church not in a vacuum unaffected by those that came before us but that we owe our very presence in this sanctuary today to those who have been willing to lay down their life to give us the tranquility to Worship the Lord our God in peace this morning.
The Christian martyr William Tyndale was born in a small country town called Cheltenham near the English western coastal town of Bristol around the year 1490. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, the Yale and Harvard of England in those days. William Tyndale was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ, as it seems that many are, by the reading of Paul’s word to the Romans while studying at Cambridge. Tyndale was so moved by his reading of God’s word that he felt called by his Lord Jesus to translate the entire Bible into the English language. For we must remember at this time, over 500 years ago, the Scriptures that you use and that sit in the pew in front of you were not to be found in any language in the West other than the Latin of the Roman Catholic church. Now I do not know about you but I cannot read Latin. I once took Latin in High School and my teacher came to me about halfway through the Semester and said that I translated Latin about as well as an illiterate Roman soldier. Always the smart-alic I quipped back that well if I was a Roman Soldier why would I need to translate Latin anyway? The Priests, Monks, and scholars of William Tyndale’s day were the only ones who could read Latin. For the common man could barely understand English let alone read Latin. It is almost unimaginable in our eyes to think that the congregations and people in the pew in that day had no access to the Holy Scriptures. Tyndale however would find great persecution in his work; it was not legal in that day for the Holy Bible to be in any other language than Latin. He was exiled from England; Tyndale had to work on his translation while being hunted down by the authorities. Eventually Tyndale was able to finish a translation of the New Testament into English but unfortunately Tyndale would be caught before he could begin work on the translation of the Old Testament. He would spend the next six years in a dungeon prison, for the first four able to work on his translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to English. The last two he would spend with daily whippings and beatings. Finally in the year 1536 at the tender age of 52 William Tyndale was burned at the stake. William Tyndale died so that we may have the Word of God in our native tongue. William Tyndale endured great suffering so that we may have the Holy Scriptures by our side and with us as go about our daily life. So as we look at the passage today from the Prophet Isaiah keep in mind what the martyrs of our faith have done so that we may have this Scripture today.
Isaiah in the Scripture that we read for this morning speaks to the power that William Tyndale knew that was manifested in the Holy Scriptures. I would like for you now to open your Bibles or the Bible in the rack in front of you, open to the Word of God given to the prophet Isaiah chapter 49 starting at verse one, found on page of your pew Bibles and keep it open as we read the Word of God. Isaiah has been in the previous chapters speaking to the people of Israel, after having been delivered by the Lord our God from captivity in Babylon. Isaiah has been warning the Israelites that because of their sin they were cast into exile and it was not because of their own righteous conduct, rather in spite of it, that they were brought back to the land of their ancestors but only that the Mercy of God may be shown through them. Isaiah is also telling the Israelites that there deliverance from the land of oppression and subjugation is but an illustration for the greater liberation that is to come. If you take look back into Chapter 48 verse 17 we learn who it is that speaks the Scripture we read this morning, verse 17, “This is what the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says,” moving to verse one of chapter 49 “Coastlands, listen to me; distant peoples, pay attention. The LORD called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.” The focus has changed, now the Redeemer has begun to speak to the Gentiles, to us today. Listen to Me the Redeemer says, but who is this Redeemer? Who is this voice that says the Lord our God has named him in his Mother’s womb? Saint Matthew writes in his Gospel that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” The Lord our God has named him from his Mother’s Womb, Our Redeemer has been named, his Name is Jesus Christ who has come to deliver us from the oppression and subjugation of sin, to redeem us through his work as the Son of the living God on the Cross at Calvary.
Moving to verse two of Chapter 49, “He made my words like a sharp sword; He hid me in the shadow of His hand. He made me like a sharpened arrow; He hid me in His quiver.” The Redeemer here says four things about his character. The Redeemer first testifies to the power of his Word. His Word is like a sharp sword and a polished arrow. The Apostle Paul quotes this passage in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 6 verse 17 when he describes the Armor of God that each believer and follower of Jesus Christ is to wear to protect them from schemes of the Devil. To remind each of us as to the purpose of these implements Paul says in verses 10-17 of chapter 6 that we are to gird our loins with Truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, wear the shoes that move us to proclaim the Good News of Christ, take up the shield of faith, place on our heads the helmet of Salvation, and finally Paul tells us to bear the Sword of the Spirit which is what? The WORD OF GOD!!! The Word of God that William Tyndale was burnt at the stake for translating. The Word of God that it is our duty to know and learn. For how can the Word be a sword for our protection if we do not even know what it says? How good would a sword be to a knight if he never picked it up and practiced with it? Brothers and Sisters we are called by Peter, the rock upon whom Christ gave the keys to the kingdom to, “…Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give account for the hope that is in you…” The Apostle Paul makes it quite clear in the closing to the 6th chapter of Ephesians that we are in perilous times, times when we will need to have this Armor for our protection as the Apostle Paul says in verses 12 and 13, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this dark age, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” We have not reason to fear this world, for our Redeemer has come with his Word to protect us spiritually and this protection is what the Redeemer of Isaiah 49 speaks of next. Looking back again in verse two we get quite a different set of characteristics, much more Pastoral than the implements of War given in Ephesians. In reading these two distinctives we are reminded of the imagery of the Shepherd that holds the little lamb in his arms. The Redeemer says that, “He is hidden in the shadow of [the Lord’s] hand” and that “[the Lord] has hidden me in his quiver.” What does this mean? Why would the Redeemer need hidden by the Lord? What this expresses is not that the Redeemer needs hidden but think of the portrait that being hidden in the “shadow of the hand” of God the Lord and hidden in “the quiver” of the Lord articulates to us and for the Gentiles, to whom Isaiah is speaking. This communicates to us a picture that says both that the Redeemer is currently being prepared for his task because his time has not yet come and that the Lord our God and the Redeemer have such an intimate relationship that the Lord our God holds the Redeemer in his hand, protecting him from harm, like a Father protects a Son. Here the Redeemer whose Word is like a sword, whose Word is like an Arrow polished for precise work, says that he also needs the protection that his Father’s love gives. Brothers and Sisters if even our Redeemer, our Lord and savior Jesus Christ needs the protection and love of his Father how much more so do we? The Lord our God has sent his Son, His Word, our Redeemer to show forth his love for us.
Again we see this as we turn back to Isaiah chapter 49 and verse three. The Lord says to the Redeemer, “You are my Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show my Glory”, John Calvin in his commentary on this passage says this about the use of Israel here so we are not confused by it, “It is of great importance to connect this verse with the preceding, because this shows that [Isaiah] now speaks not only of a single man, but of the whole nation…When the whole body of the Church is spoken of, Christ is brought forward so as to include all the children of God.” So if both Christ and the Church are being brought to the fore here, we know how God’s Glory is shown through Christ our Redeemer but how is the Church supposed to show forth this Glory? Well for the answer to that we need to focus on what the Church can do today, in the here and now.
First what the Church can do today is to remember the next four verses of Isaiah 49 and what they teach, read with me verses 4-7, “But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength), He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, “Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.” As I have said previously God has chosen to show his Glory through his Son, who is our Salvation, and through the work of his Church. Look at verse 4 again in your Bibles. What does it say? It says Christ’s reward is in with the Father. In other words though Christ has come, tarried among the people, shown wonders and signs, so much so that people traveled from east and west to see this great man, which is not where Jesus’ Glory is found. We like to focus on the miracle stories but that was not why the Redeemer was born of a virgin and died on a cross. His Glory is found in his Death and Resurrection because he knows that by his death he will bring his people to him. Christ says in John chapter 10 verse 12, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus’ reward is us. Again Jesus says this again in John chapter 6 verse 65, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.” We are this glory that has been promised to the Redeemer. Christ died and was raised from the dead so that we may be his.
As we go out into a world that has denied Christ. That seeks in all that it does to hide from the Word of God. Let us not forget to put on the Armor of God, let us not forget the example given by William Tyndale and Isaiah, and I dare say like Jesus and seek out the lost and downtrodden, the one who is despised, to the one abhorred by people, to the servants of rulers, and to the Kings themselves. Let us share the Word of God with them, so that they can be part of the reward given to the Son by the Father, so that they can be saved and brought into the flock, as we are in the flock, protected by our Redeemer, our Shepherd who is the Christ, the Chosen one of Israel, who has paid the price for his children, so that we can one day be with the Father in Heaven. For we abrogate our responsibility as Christian Men and Women if we do not have an answer for the hope that is within us. Let us be not afraid to be protected by the power of the Word of God. Let us not be afraid to be changed by the Word. For remember the opening verse of Johns Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Oct. 7, 2007
Linway United Presbyterian Church
“The Roads of Zion are in Mourning”
As I was attending chapel at Seminary last week we began to sing a hymn that I had sung hundreds of times before. It was one of those hymns that as soon as the organist begins to play it you can feel your soul being lifted up and you may even step up a little onto the balls of your feet. You know what I am talking about. You know that feeling. It is a hymn that I have heard so many times that I can almost sing it without the help of the words on the page, I really need only to follow the musical notes and listen to the organ. We began with the first verse, I’ll save you the pain of listening to me sing and just read it to you, see if you recognize the hymn: “O worship the King, all glorious above, O gratefully sing His power and His love; Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.” And as we finished the first verse and the Organist began to begin again my voice raised just a little bit more as my singing became filled with gusto, when all of a sudden I fell silent as I noticed that what I had just sung was just a little bit different than what had been belted out by those next to me. It was not that I had forgotten the verse or that a large section of the hymn had been changed but I looked down and noticed that one single solitary verb had been altered to a noun. But this single solitary noun distorted greatly the whole meaning of the hymn. It is hard for us to imagine how a single word could change the meaning behind an entire hymn but lets look at both verses; now pay attention and listen to the difference. Listen as I read the original second verse of the hymn and the verse after it was changed and see if you can notice the discrepancy: Here is the version I knew: O tell of His might, O sing of His grace, whose robe is the light, whose canopy space, His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form, And dark is His path on the wings of the storm. Got it? Now here is the changed second verse: “O tell of His might, O sing of His grace, whose robe is the light, whose canopy space, the chariots of heaven the deep thunderclouds form, And light is God’s path on the wings of the storm.” Did you notice the difference? Did you notice the word that was changed? Now you may be asking yourself what difference does it make that the revisionist of this great hymn changed the phrase, “chariots of wrath”, that Robert Grant had originally included in his hymn, to “chariots of heaven”? Well before I answer that question let us look at the Scripture lesson [the liturgist] read for us this morning.
The Prophet Jeremiah in the first 6 verses of the Book of Lamentations, which we read this morning, described Jeremiah’s anguish and torment for all that had befallen God’s people after the destruction of the Holy City and the desecration of God’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. After the many years of God’s prophets warning the Jews that they had better start to follow God’s laws and commandments, that they had better change their ways here we read that Judah had once again disregarded the calls for Holiness and Righteousness deciding to head down their own path rather than listen to the counsel of the Almighty God. Jeremiah was so taken aback by the destruction that he could hardly contain his grief. He could only express his sorrow, John Calvin says, by expressing his astonishment. In our minds eye we can see Jeremiah down on his knees with his hands raised crying out to the Lord our God, “Why dear God have you forsaken your people!” “Why has Jerusalem deserved this punishment?” Listen to the imagery Jeremiah gives us in verse one and as you do try to place yourself in the shoes of Jeremiah and feel the pain of his words, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people. She has become like a widow who was once great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a forced laborer!” and in verse 2, “She weeps bitterly in the night and her tears are upon her cheeks. She has none to comfort her among all her lovers, all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her adversaries.” Jerusalem has gone from being honored by God, separated and glorified from among the pagan and heathen cultures that surrounded her to a grand lump of broken stone that is but dust and desolation. The city that once had boasted the glory of Solomon’s kingdom, which had bragged about its own glorification to the nations, now, is but a pile of rubble and emptiness. Jeremiah continues in verse 4, “The roads of Zion are in mourning, because no one comes to her appointed feasts. All her gates are desolate; her priests are groaning. Her virgins are afflicted and she herself is bitter.” Not only has the physical city of Jerusalem been destroyed but even the worship of the Lord our God has been stopped. The priests wail because they no longer can offer sacrifice to the Lord. The feasts and traditions of the Jewish people have been ended. Even the roads of Zion feel the emptiness of the exile. Jeremiah presents to us this image of the roads grieving in which the highways of Judah that were once filled with people who are moving with joy and excitement approaching the Holy City to offer their worship has gone silent………. However what is the most disturbing for the Prophet Jeremiah and for us is to come in verse 5. “Her adversaries have become her masters, Her enemies prosper; For the Lord has caused her grief. Because of the multitude of her transgressions; Her little ones have gone away, as captives before the adversary.” If we read too quickly through verse five we may miss a phrase that none of us like to take notice of, certainly not the editors of the new Presbyterian hymnbook like to hear, but is a truth we cannot overlook. Jeremiah cries out, “Her adversaries have become her masters, Her enemies prosper; FOR THE LORD HAS CAUSED HER GRIEF…” We have a natural human tendency to skip over the hard sayings like this in Scripture. We do not like to hear about the wrath of God anymore than we like to hear Christ and Paul telling us that we have to pay our taxes. Jeremiah has recognized that the sorrow that he is now feeling, the emptiness of the plains of Abraham, is not the result of the natural expansion of the Babylonian Empire or because of the arbitrary whim of an uncaring God but is the consequence of a people who have broken their covenant with our God. Jeremiah shows that the destruction of Jerusalem in all its turbulence and confusion was neither accidental nor random but was the work of an almighty God acting in his role as a Righteous judge. Jeremiah understands that God is grieved by Jerusalem’s iniquity. He understands that God our Father does not act rashly in his judgment or out of pleasure like the Gods of Greece and Rome or Babylon and Egypt but acts only because of his righteousness demands that his creation be perfect so that it might glorify him.
Of course this vision of God having the least bit of a hand in the workings of destruction is nearly a completely foreign concept in many of our minds. We have somehow over time created in our brain not a God who demands righteousness and allegiance to his will but a God who acts more like a kind Grandfather, patting us on our head, seeing us as generally good grandkids that just happen to “miss the mark” on occasion. We will have a hard time placing ourselves in the shoes of Jeremiah, understanding his pain and anguish if we have this muted understanding of God the Father. Even more dangerous is that if we fail to comprehend the Righteousness of the Father and the reality of his zeal for righteousness we can scarcely understand the cross upon which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was crucified.
Turn with me now if you will to the 27th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. We are brought forward in the New Testament to a similar time and place as we read about in Jeremiah’s lamentations. The enemies of God have brought his son to Golgotha, the place of the skull, to crucify him. We see the followers of Christ dejected and full of sorrow. Peter has already denied Christ three times and gone out and weeped bitterly just as Jeremiah had done for Jerusalem. The Lord our God has been beaten. It looks as if all that Christ had promised and spoken of was about in the matter of hours to be done away with. Forget that you know the rest of the story for right now. Place yourself at the foot of the cross next to Mary and James and John. Kneel with them; look up as your brother is being physically and emotionally tormented. Feel their pain. Read with me starting at verse 45. Matthew says, “Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ” ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” In Matthew’s telling of the crucifixion we are given these descriptions of the grief of God, that the earth trembled and was broken as his son was ruptured for our sins. All of creation moaned in unison with Jeremiah. As God had in his wrath destroyed the temple of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem for their disobedience in the time of Jeremiah here in the Gospels the Son of God has been broken for our transgressions. Just as Jerusalem had paid the penalty for the multitude of its transgressions in its destruction by the Babylonians, Christ has paid the ultimate price for our iniquity in his crucifixion by the Romans. Just as the roads of Zion had gone silent after the destruction of Jerusalem the Christ our Lord was dead.
As I spoke of in the beginning about the neutering of the great hymn by Robert Grant, let us not be like those who denigrate the power of God to work his will in the world by trying to soften or, in the case of the revisionist hymn writer get rid of God’s wrath. But let us be transformed by the understanding that even though we each deserve the same fate as Jerusalem, Christ our Lord and savior has stood up for us directing the wrath of God for our iniquity upon his own body away from us. And in God’s greatest act of mercy has raised his son from the dead, who died to make men holy, securing for the elect eternal life with him.
So as we sit here this morning readying to partake together in the broken body of Christ our Savior and drink of his blood with literally hundreds of millions of other Christians joined as one by our common bond in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ let us not do so casually or without forethought. For what we are doing in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as Paul explains in the 11th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church, is not to be taken lightly. For our Lord’s body has been broken for us. His blood has been spilled. He has died so that we may be seen as holy and righteous before our God. Not so that we could come and have bread and juice as simply an act of remembrance but so that the elements of communion may be set apart from their common uses and that those who receive them with faith and repentance may be spiritually filled with the Grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To the Honor and the Glory alone be to Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
As the summer time in America is ending and we are starting again a brand new school year. We end the time that has traditionally become the occasion when America takes a collective break from learning. Our schools from Head Start to the Graduate level for the most part shut down, excepting the underachievers like myself who spend their more formative summers in High School relearning Algebra and Geometry. Also in our Churches we usually suspend organized Sunday school programs at the end of May awaiting the fall kick off of a new standard program with the weeklong VBS program in the middle. This is the way Church education has been done for as long as anyone of us can remember. One of the things that have always distinguished Presbyterians is our focus on Education. English Puritans who saw in the academy a place where they could help enable the colonies to grow founded many of the oldest collegiate institutions in the United States. Because they rightly understood that the fate of the American enterprise lay more in the time spent engaging the young minds under their care than in measuring the sweat on their backs. As early as 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony had already established compulsory education up through what today we would call 4th grade. Virtually all of the schools established above this level were founded for the training of ministers and for the study of theology. It was not a coincidence that the founders of this country thought to build theological schools before laying the plans for the first law schools and programs for engineering. This was because our forefathers understood the need for us to not just have a cursory knowledge of the Scriptures but to be able to dialogue with one another concerning more intensive and developed Doctrine. It was expected in that day that before someone could became an officer of the Church that they would know the Westminster Standards and be able to defend their faith when called upon. It is interesting to note that the Westminster Shorter Catechism was designed for children and the illiterate to be used to help them know what it was they believed given that its form as short question and answers would be easily memorized. The church kept up this practice for centuries until the recent past. Unfortunately we have grown from that proud heritage to place today where we live in a time of intellectual and educational apathy. We have lost the value of not only theological education but familial education as well. We see denominational records of Sunday school attendance dropping like the Stock Market in 1929. In 1950 the average Presbyterian Church could expect 80% of its membership to attend Sunday school. Today the average is in the high teens. You might be wondering now why attendance in Sunday School has fallen so in the past 60 years in the church? But before we do that let us look at what Paul has to say in the 3rd chapter of Corinthians.
The city of Corinth in the time of Paul and the Apostles was a city of great wealth and stature. It sat on an isthmus between the two geographic centers of Greece and was a center for cultic worship and was the birthplace of many a false prophet. Paul in verse one through three of today’s Scripture lesson says to the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” Paul here is speaking to a Corinthian Church that is mired in dissension and confusion. The Church is being destroyed by infighting over the loves of the flesh, infighting that according to Paul arises out of their misunderstanding of who God is. They have confused the all-powerful God which the Westminster Confession of Faith claims is, “The one and only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection… not standing in need of any creatures which he has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is alone foundation of all being” for a God who is muted in power and seeks only to make us comfortable and safe. Paul continues in verses four through seven trying to get the Corinthian Church to understand the importance of knowing and understanding the power of Almighty God pleading with them, “For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” While some are claiming to be followers of Paul and others followers of Apollos they miss the point that Paul and Apollos are mere servants of the Almighty God, the Creator of all things who alone should be the object of their worship. The Corinthians as Paul says have not moved past the basic nourishment of their mother’s milk. They cannot yet take in the meat of the Gospel because they have not trained their bodies to receive it. In other words the Corinthians cannot accept the meat of the Gospel because they refuse to turn their flesh over to God. They seek the pleasures of their own flesh up and over the glorious food of the Gospel. The Gospel is there for the Corinthians to have but they choose to not have the Gospel so as to not alienate them from their brethren. Paul later in chapter three verse eighteen says, “Let no man deceive himself If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” You see the problem with the Corinthian church, the problem that leads to their infighting, is that they do not seek the wisdom of God but are purely satisfied by the unfulfilling wisdom of this world. They cannot move past the milk that Paul has given them because they are not interested in learning any more. They have become apathetic to the teaching and learning of the Word of God. One of the leading causes of death in areas of Africa where famine is hitting the hardest is a condition where the body after being deprived of proper nutrition for so long that it cannot now properly break down complex carbohydrates and proteins. The body then rejects this meat causing internal damage and eventually death. The flesh cannot handle what the spirit is not ready to receive. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot receive this meat because they are as he puts it “still too fleshly”. What does it mean to be too fleshly? Well we know that the Church in Corinth is still beholding themselves to the wisdom of the age. They refuse to put behind them the wisdom of the Greek for the understanding of God. In their childlike intake of Greek culture and education they refuse to deny themselves take up their cross and follow Christ and Christ alone. They fail to receive the meat of the Gospel because they have refused to be taught by Paul any more than what they already know. Because as long as I know a little bit that’s enough right? Why should I strive to know more than the basics? Paul addresses this as well later in this letter to the Corinthians when he says in chapter fourteen verse twenty, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking…but in your thinking be mature.” We have been called to move past the childlike faith of our past so that we can live on the nourishment that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Luke writing in Acts it would not be good of us to neglect the understanding and teaching of the Word so that we can endeavor to other things but we should strive first and foremost to have a deeper and more luscious desire to know the Word of God.
A former Professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary by the name of Dr. John Gerstner published a book in 1965 with the title “Theology for Everyman”. In this work Dr. Gerstner makes the outrageous claim that every person who declares themselves to be a follower of Christ should be at least, an amateur theologian. He makes the case that not all people are called to be able to understand the craft of plumbers or the intricacies of computer engineering or even the value of housework but all who are called to follow Christ are called to know Christ and his Word. Dr. Gerstner in his work says,” Is it not clear why a layman must necessarily be a theologian? Is there anyone, layman or otherwise, who does not need to know God? Does the Scripture not say, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3)? It is, then, no mere option with a layman whether he will be a theologian or not, whether he will have eternal life or not; it is no option with him whether he will know God or not. The knowledge of God is necessary to eternal life. And if eternal life is necessary for every man, then theology is also necessary for every man.” In other words just knowing who Jesus Christ is not enough. We have to be able to understand our faith at level more deeply than just cursory knowledge. Passing off the study of Scripture as being “boring” or being the job of the pastor is not good enough. I cannot tell you how many times in my young life I have heard people say that it is the job of the minister to know the Word and understand Doctrine so that I do not have to. Friends that is severely misguided. If we are to be believers in Jesus Christ we have to know his Word. You have to be able to understand the profundity of human depravity and sinfulness if you are going to be able to appreciate the full measure of the mercy and the depths to which Jesus Christ went to on the cross to save us. You have to be able to give a defense of your faith to the unbelievers of this world. How can we fulfill the mission of Matthew 28 if we do not know Scripture? How can we teach people about Jesus Christ if we ourselves cannot speak to the power of the infallible Word of God? We must not follow in the footsteps of the Corinthian Church who allowed themselves to be beholden to the wisdom of this age. For as Moses pleads with to the Israelites to understand in Deuteronomy 8:3 to know about the God that loves them and provides for them as they wander in the desert, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”
We must not be afraid of knowing Christ through his Word. We must not allow the apathy and anti-intellectualism of this age towards the Word of God overtake us. We must thirst for the nourishment that comes from reading and studying the Word of God. Do not consume the wisdom of this age for the Lord our God has come to do away with the wisdom of this world providing for us the Wisdom of the Almighty so that as the Israelites in the Desert we may not be famished by our lack of knowledge but may be filled with the faith and trust of the Holy Spirit.