Trinity Sunday 2019

June 16, 2019 in Bible - NT - John, Creeds, Image of God, Liturgy, Meditations, Trinity

John 17:1–6 (NKJV)

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday we explicitly remind one another that the God we worship is Triune – three Persons in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later in worship we will recite the Athanasian Creed, one creedal attempt to articulate our Triune faith.

As we saw in our study of John 17 last month, Jesus’ prayer reveals the relationship that has existed for all eternity among the Persons of the Trinity. For all eternity, the Father and Son have loved one another with such a deep bond that that love is Himself a Person, the third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit. In their bond of love, the Father and Son share glory with one another. Jesus prays, And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. Jesus asks the Father – the Father who declared through Isaiah, “My glory I will not give to another…” – Jesus says to this Father, glorify Me together with Yourself… And note that it is a particular type of glory, the glory which I had with You before the world was. Prior to His incarnation, Jesus existed in the form of God and, though His deity was veiled during His time on earth, now that He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, that glory has been restored to Him. Jesus was and is God Himself in human flesh. The Father, Son, and Spirit share glory.

Second, Jesus reveals that in eternity past, before the world was, when the Father and Son shared glory, they communed with one another, they lived in a relationship of love with one another. Jesus alludes to this eternal fellowship a couple times. He says, I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. In eternity past, before the world was, the Father gave Jesus a task to accomplish, a work to perform. Not only did the Father give the Son a task to do, He also gave Him a people to call His own. Jesus prays, I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me So when did the Father give these people to the Son? Before the world was. As Paul writes in Ephesians, the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.

This interaction between the Persons of the Godhead prior to the foundation of the world is sometimes called the Covenant of Redemption or the pactum salutis. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have dwelt in covenantal life for all eternity. As we consider this Covenant of Redemption, that before the foundation of the world God thought of us, loved us, and gave us to be Christ’s own people – apart from any merit of our own; indeed despite the demerit which He knew we would deserve – ought we not to be humbled and awed that the Creator of all took notice of us? As our opening Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians records, But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes 2:13-14).

And so reminded of the great love which the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us, and that He loved us before the foundation of the world and loves us despite our unloveliness, let us confess that we are unworthy His love. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Our Ascended Lord

June 2, 2019 in Ascension Sunday, Bible - NT - Ephesians, Church Calendar, Church History, King Jesus, Meditations

Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13
7
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” …11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

Today is Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday celebrates – along with Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost – one of the most pivotal events in the life of Christ and, hence, in the history of the world. On this day, Jesus ascended into heaven and took His seat of authority at the right hand of God Almighty, ruling there as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And from this position of authority, He sent forth His Spirit upon His disciples – an event we shall celebrate next week in Pentecost.

In our text today, Paul indicates one of the implications of the Ascension for the people of God. When Christ ascended on high, when He was enthroned in power, sitting at the right hand of God Almighty, He did so as the victorious Conqueror, in a position to distribute spoil among his followers. “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”

And what is the nature of the gifts He bestows upon His people? Ah they are numerous and glorious – for His gifts are not merely objects but persons. He has given apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – from other places we learn that He has given helps, works of mercy, humility, joy, contentment, peace, self-control, wisdom, virtue. Glorious gifts all!

So why has He given these things to His people? Paul writes that Jesus has given them “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Christ has given gifts to each of us that we might bless and build up our fellow believers in the faith. He has given to us that we might give to others.

So what does Ascension Sunday mean for us? First, Ascension Sunday means that Jesus is exalted as the Great King, the Ruler over all the kings of the earth and that all are called, both the small and the great, to worship Him as such. Second, Ascension Sunday reminds us that our King has given gifts to all His people; He does not leave anyone out. If you have been baptized into Christ, then Christ has poured out gifts upon you. Third, Ascension Sunday summons us to use those gifts to bless others, to be a generous people who imitate our great King. Finally, Ascension Sunday calls us to be an incredibly thankful people, thankful for the gifts which He has given each of us personally and for the gifts He has given us through others. “Our Lord Jesus, thank you for calling the Twelve and giving them to the Church; thank you for Paul, for Athanasius, for Clement, for Gottschalk, for Helena and Clotilda, for Luther, Zwingli, and Bucer. Closer to home, thank you for George and Freddy and Sally and for the gifts You have given Your Church through them.”

But frequently our attitude and actions are far from this. Frequently, we complain that we have not been given the gifts that others have received, and we endeavor to horde our gifts, increasing our own cache rather than blessing others. So reminded of this, let us confess our sins to Him and let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Two Humanities

May 26, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Easter, Faith, Glorification, Meditations, Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:20–26 (NKJV)

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

Today we continue to meditate on 1 Corinthians 15 in celebration of Eastertide, the time of year when we are invited to give special focus to the significance of Easter, the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

In our text Paul reveals the indissoluble connection between the resurrection of Jesus and our resurrection. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we shall rise from our graves. Jesus came, Paul tells us, as a Second Adam, the head of a new and renewed humanity. While the sin of the First Adam plunged himself and all humanity into death and judgment, the resurrection of the Second Adam, Jesus, brings new life not only to Himself but to all those who are in Him.

What this means is that throughout history there are two humanities: those who have the First Adam as their representative before God and who will, therefore, face death and judgment; and those who have the Second Adam as their representative before God and who will, therefore, inherit eternal life and salvation. These two humanities are called elsewhere the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, etc.

When Jesus returns in glory, every human being shall be made to appear before our Creator – and when we appear before Him, there will be but two fundamental groups of men and two spokesmen. There will be those who stand with the First Adam and who say to God through their representative, “I have ruled my life by my own standards; I have been my own authority; I have lived for my glory not yours.” Then there shall be those who stand with the Second Adam and who say to God through their representative, “All glory be to You, O Lord; for you have created and redeemed me so I have lived for your glory not my own.”

So in which group will you be found? Will you stand with the First Adam? Will you stand in rebellion against God, choosing your own way and ignoring the commandments of God? Or will you stand with the Second? Will you stand in submission to God, believing in Jesus for forgiveness and, like Him, treasuring God’s commandments? These are our two options; these are the two spokesmen. One will speak for you; there is no third option.

Of course, there are those who try to fool God; those who unite themselves with the Second Adam, Jesus, in baptism but who really embrace the life of the First. But on the final day there will be no fooling God or others. He knows the Adam with whom you identify.

So today as we confess our sins, let me remind you to confess them in the Name of Jesus, trusting in Him as your representative. Only in this way shall we rise unto life on the Last Day. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Election Revealed in Christ Alone

May 22, 2019 in Bible - NT - John, Election, John Calvin, Quotations

“When [Jesus] adds thine they were, and thou gavest them to me [Jn 17:6], He first indicates the eternity of election, and then how we should think of it. Christ declares that the elect always belong to God. God therefore distinguishes them from the reprobate, not by faith, nor by any merit, but by pure grace; for while they are completely alien to Him, He yet regards them as His own in HIs secret counsels. The certainty consists in His committing to the guardianship of HIs Son all whom He has elected, that they may not perish; and it is there that we must turn our eyes if we are to be certain that we are of the number of God’s children. For in itself the predestination of God is hidden; and it is manifested to us in Christ alone.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John: Part Two, Transl. by T.H.L. Parker, p. 139.

The Centrality of the Resurrection

May 19, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Easter, Ecclesiology, Glorification, Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:12–19 (NKJV)

12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

As part of our celebration of Eastertide, I’ve selected these words from 1 Corinthians 15 to help us meditate on the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. As we approach Paul’s words, we must beware lest we drift into auto-pilot and simply assume that we know what Paul is saying. We might be tempted to assume, for example, that Paul is defending the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. “Paul’s point is that Jesus really rose from the dead and that this is what guarantees our forgiveness.” If we assumed this, however, we would be wrong. While Jesus’ resurrection is central to Paul’s whole argument, it is not Paul’s point in these verses.

So what is his point? Paul’s point is not that Jesus rose from the dead but that all other human beings are going to rise from the dead. You see the Corinthians weren’t denying that Jesus had risen from the dead; they were denying that the rest of us would rise from our graves. Listen to Paul again: Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead [generally, at the end of history]? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.

Notice that Paul is endeavoring to highlight the inconsistency of the Corinthians’ beliefs. If there is no resurrection at the end of history; if the dead will not be raised when Christ returns again in glory, then neither did Jesus rise from the dead. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that every human being will rise from his tomb and stand before God. Jesus is, as Paul says elsewhere, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His resurrection is God’s pledge of the resurrection of all men. So note Paul’s argument: if we deny the general resurrection then we must, of necessity, deny Jesus’ resurrection. And if we deny Jesus’ resurrection, then we are still in our sins and without hope. But Jesus has risen from the dead; therefore, there will be a general resurrection.

In the modern American church we stand in dire need of re-reading these verses. We have gone on auto-pilot. We imagine that we can teach that Jesus rose from the dead and simultaneously teach that our ultimate destiny as human beings is to go to heaven when we die. But this is not the Gospel; this is not the Christian hope for the future; this is not the meaning of Easter. Our hope is that we shall emerge from our graves just like Jesus. So our confidence is that the bodies of those who have fallen asleep in Christ have not perished but that they do rest in their graves until the resurrection. We are not to be pitied; for we have not only in this life placed our hope in Jesus; there shall be a resurrection of the just and the unjust – Jesus’ resurrection is proof.

Paul’s words today remind us that it is not only our actions that are sinful; sometimes our ideas are sinful as well. We can embrace ideas that are erroneous and dangerous. The Corinthians were tempted to do so. So when God in His grace and mercy shines the light of truth on our error and corrects us, corrects our thinking, what ought we to do? We ought to confess our error, ask God’s forgiveness for our folly, and rely upon the sacrifice of Jesus to make us right with God despite our erroneous ideas. Jesus is the sacrifice for our sinful ideas even as he is the sacrifice for our sinful actions. Praise God this is so.

And so reminded that our ideas are often sinful and dishonoring to our Creator, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through Christ. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

God Listens to Mothers

May 12, 2019 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Children, Meditations, Parents, Prayer

Psalm 113:4-6,9 (NKJV)
The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold The things that are in the heavens and in the earth? … He grants the barren woman a home, Like a joyful mother of children. Praise the Lord!

Sarai was barren. For nearly eighty years she had longed for a child, longed to cuddle and nurse and play. But now her hope was gone; she no longer dreamed. But God heard her. He sent his angel to announce that she would give birth to a son. And though Sarai first laughed in scorn, reasoning that this man in her tent didn’t know the first thing about barren wombs, Sarah later laughed in joy, understanding that the wisdom of God is foolishness to men.

Leah was unloved. Passed off in the night as her more attractive younger sister, she saw in her husband’s eye the pity and resentment that broke her heart and made her weep. And when her sister was likewise married to her husband, her personal grief only increased. But God heard her. He opened her womb and gave her many children – and though her hope that her husband would love her was never fully realized, God loved her and raised up her son Judah to be the father of our Savior.

Tamar was shamed and scorned. Married to two men who had both been scoundrels, she was now being deceived by the father of those scoundrels, Judah. Though he had promised to give her his third son as husband, Judah’s promise was empty. He had decided, as most scoundrels do, that Tamar was the problem not his sons. So Tamar cried out to God and God heard her. He granted her success as she laid plans to entrap the worthless man Judah; and when she had conceived and Judah was prepared to destroy her, God delivered her from his hands, changing the scoundrel Judah into the man Judah. And Tamar’s son Perez became the ancestor of our Lord Jesus.

Manoah’s wife was barren. Her lifeless womb had given them no children and her grief was great. But God heard her. He sent his angel to announce that she would give birth to a son who would deliver Israel from her enemies – and she, unlike Sarai, believed and told her husband. And so Manaoh went in to his wife and she conceived and she bore a son whom they called Samson.

Elizabeth was old and barren yet full of faith and good works. She and her husband Zacharias served the Lord, loving him, cherishing his laws, delighting in his ways – all the while longing for a child. God heard her. He gave her a son in her old age and made him the last and greatest of all the prophets of the Judaic Age.

Mary was a righteous young woman, pregnant by God’s own power and facing the prospect of a betrothed who was determined to divorce her. She cried out to God and God heard her. He visited Joseph in a dream and Joseph remained with her becoming the human father of our Lord.

The Syro-Phoenician woman was desperate. Her daughter was deathly ill and no physicians could help. Then she received news that the Jewish prophet Jesus was in her town. She frantically searched for him and, humiliation of humiliation, begged him to heal her daughter. But he rejected her plea. And so she cried out to him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps from under the master’s table.” And God heard her. He healed her daughter and sent his new daughter home.

Clotilde was anxious. Her first child had died shortly after his baptism and now her second child, only a few weeks old, was also ill. Her unbelieving husband mocked and scorned – this is what comes of following this new religion of yours! Clotilde cried out to God and God heard her. He rescued the child from death and used Clotilde’s faith to turn her husband Clovis, King of the Franks, to Christ.

Brothers and sisters, the love of mothers has prompted God to move and to act from the earliest days of biblical history to today. So mothers – love your children and pray for them. God will hear you. Others – love your mothers and give thanks to God for them. Reminded that we have taken our mothers for granted, let us kneel and seek God’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

History is Foundational

May 5, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Easter, Ecclesiology, Meditations

1 Corinthians 15:3–8, 12-14 (NKJV)

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time…12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

The American Presbyterian historian and theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote his classic work Christianity and Liberalism to expose the massive chasm that separates these competing religious beliefs. In his day liberalism was just beginning its infiltration of American mainline churches. Machen warned that liberalism is not merely a corrupted Christianity, it is no Christianity at all. As one proof of his thesis, Machen noted that in liberalism Jesus’ resurrection is historically unimportant; what truly matters is not that Jesus rose from the dead but that Jesus lives on in each of our hearts. In other words, for liberalism experience not history is foundational.

As Machen correctly perceived, this notion is entirely foreign to Christianity. Christiantiy is not merely a system of dogmas or teachings, but a declaration of events that have theological and experiential significance. Christ died and rose again – that is history. Jesus did not swoon or get spirited away or exchange places with someone else. He actually died on a cross outside Jerusalem while Pontius Pilate served as governor of the Roman Empire in Judea. After three days, He rose from the dead and was seen by Cephas, the Twelve, 500 brethren at one time, James, all the apostles, and, finally, Paul himself. The Gospel is rooted in history, rooted in reality.

So why did Christ die and rise again? The answer to that question is theological. He died, Paul says, for our sins (15:3); He died to endure the punishment that our sins deserve. Then He rose from the dead to conquer death and free us from fear, to transform our experience. Our experience, therefore, depends upon history. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus in history, Paul tells us, “our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (15:14). In other words, in Christianity, history not experience is foundational.

In our broader culture, however, theological liberalism has won the day. Hence, we are constantly barraged by the claim that religion is primarily subjective, primarily a matter of personal experience. Religions are simply various ways of meeting the subjective needs of their followers; each religion is merely a record of the private, personal experiences of its adherents; hence, no religion is objectively true or false, just different. There are different strokes for different folks. Experience not history is foundational.

Christianity rejects this exaltation of subjectivity, of experience, over objectivity, over history. The Gospel is an announcement of something that objectively happened and that objectively changed the course of human history. Christianity is not just the record of private religious experiences; it is a public declaration: Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again; so all men and nations are called to confess that Jesus is Lord; He is God’s Anointed One.

So reminded that if we are to approach God it must be on the basis of truth, of something that really happened, and not just on the basis of our sincerity, of our personal experience; reminded that we must approach God through Jesus who died and rose again for our sins, died and rose again to reconcile us to God, let us kneel and confess our sins to God. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Prayer for the Church Family in America

May 2, 2019 in Baptism, Bible - OT - Psalms, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Ecclesiology, Holy Spirit, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Mosaic Law, Politics, Sacraments, Ten Commandments, Wisdom, Word of God

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Our local Pastors’ Association coordinates an event in our city at which various pastors briefly pray for our families, our churches, and our communities and leaders (local, state, federal). I was tasked to pray for the Church Family in America and given the following Scripture as my theme:

Psalm 111:10 (NKJV) – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.

Almighty and Everlasting Father,

You are good, You do good, and You are worthy of praise. You have not abandoned us Your people but have revealed Yourself in Your most holy word. Your law is holy, righteous, and pure, beloved of all those who put their hope in You. Our Lord Jesus knew that Your law is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path; so He Himself delighted in Your law, rejoiced in Your precepts, and meditated upon Your commandments day and night. He was filled with the Spirit of wisdom and of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. Likewise, He summoned us, as His people, to walk in the light of Your Word. “If you keep My commandments,” He said to our fathers on the night He was betrayed, “you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (Jn 15:10).

But, Father, we Your people have not feared You as we ought; we have despised Your commandments; we have substituted our own opinions of what is good and right for Your most holy Word; we have preached cheap grace, “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ;” we have preached “forgiveness without repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession of sins.” Holy Father, have mercy upon Your Church and grant us repentance; unite us together in a most holy love for You, for Your Son Jesus, for Your Word, and for one another, that together as one body we might praise Your Name forever and ever,

Amen.

*The words in quotations are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The Word and Spirit

May 1, 2019 in Holy Spirit, John Calvin, Quotations, Word of God

“For as soon as the Spirit is severed from Christ’s Word the door is open to all sorts of craziness and impostures.”

John Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John, Part Two (A New Translation, Edited by David W. Torrance & Thomas F. Torrance), p. 121.