Habituated to the Contempt of Death

April 12, 2021 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church Calendar, Church History, Easter, Meditations, Quotations, Resurrection, Trials

1 Corinthians 15:51–57
51Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Last week we celebrated Easter. But lest we think we can exhaust the glory of Easter with one day of worship, the Church has historically celebrated this period of time as Eastertide – so today is the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Jesus’ resurrection inaugurates a season for rejoicing! Jesus has risen from the dead! And this means that for all those who believe in Him our bodies likewise will be raised.

It is this theme upon which Paul dwells in our text today. This corruptible body shall pass through the furnace of death and be raised incorruptible; this mortal body shall pass through the furnace of death and be raised immortal. And when this has happened, when at the Last Day Christ has returned in glory and raised us from the dead and transformed us into His own image – righteous, incorruptible, immortal – then shall come to pass the promise of Scripture, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

So what does this mean? It means that we can have immense hope and confidence in the face of death itself and in the face of all death’s minions – sickness, pain, torture, persecution, hardship, trial. None of these things have the last word – the last word belongs to Jesus and to life. As horrible as death is, as devastating as it is, death is a conquered foe. Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus dealt death a death blow. We now live in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead; because Christ has risen, we too shall rise. As Paul declares, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It is this confidence in the face of death that enables us to fulfill the twofold task that Jesus has entrusted to us as His disciples. On the one hand, Christ calls us to lead lives of godly sincerity and purity no matter what opposition we may face, no matter what others may think or say. On the other hand, while living this way, Christ does not permit us to retreat into a little hovel but calls us to engage all the nations of the earth with the message of the Gospel, to be the light of the world. He calls us to stand against the world on behalf of the world. So how can we accomplish such a task? The early church historian Eusebius writes:

[To accomplish this twofold task] the strongest conviction of a future life was necessary, that [we] might be able with fearless and unshrinking zeal to maintain the conflict with… error: a conflict the dangers of which [we] would never have been prepared to meet, except as habituated to the contempt of death.

We are called to maintain the truth of God against all opposition with fearless and unshrinking zeal. We can only accomplish this when habituated to the contempt of death. And what is it that habituates us to such contempt? Deep meditation on the resurrection of our Lord. Jesus has died and risen again “that He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb 2:14-15). Jesus has risen from the dead to free us from the fear of death. Hence, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). So what should characterize our lives? “A fearless and unshrinking zeal” to maintain the truth of God against all opposition – whether from our own flesh or from the world or from the devil himself. Congregation of the Lord, Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!)

So reminded this morning of the power of Christ’s resurrection but no doubt reminded also that we frequently are fearful and shrinking rather than fearless and unshrinking, let us kneel and confess our lack of faith to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession that is found in your bulletin.

Today the Bridegroom Claims His Bride

January 10, 2021 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Church Calendar, Church History, Faith, Glorification, King Jesus, Marriage, Meditations, Quotations

Isaiah 49:6 (NKJV)

6 Indeed [the Lord] 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 give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Though Epiphany proper fell earlier this week on January 6th, today we celebrate Epiphany Sunday. As we have emphasized each year, Epiphany means “revelation.” On this Sunday, therefore, we celebrate God’s wonderful mercy in revealing His Son to the world. Historically, Epiphany has been associated with three distinct yet related events: the coming of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the wedding at Cana. Each of these events reveals Christ in a unique way.

Consider, first, the coming of the Magi which occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ life. The Magi were a powerful ruling class within the Persian Empire – wise men, counselors, astrologers who were often the power behind the throne. While Herod, the King of the Jews, plotted Jesus’ destruction, these Magi, Gentile rulers, sought out the new-born Jesus and worshiped Him, acknowledging Him as King of kings and Lord of lords. God revealed His Son to these Gentile rulers; they were the first fruits among the Gentiles. So Epiphany celebrates that, through the Magi, God the Father revealed that Jesus is His King, come to rule over all the nations of the earth.

Consider, second, the baptism of Jesus which occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In the waters of the Jordan, Jesus entered upon His earthly ministry and revealed the purpose of His kingship. He was washed in water to identify with us in our sin and to prepare the way for our forgiveness. As Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven declared, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Epiphany, therefore, celebrates that, through Jesus’ baptism, God the Father revealed that His Son Jesus is His Redemptive King, come to rescue us from our chief enemy – our own sinful corruption and guilt.

Consider, finally, the wedding in Cana of Galilee which occurs as the beginning of Jesus’ miraculous signs. When the wine at the wedding feast ran out, Jesus turned water into wine and, in John’s words, “revealed His glory” (Jn 2:11). He revealed that He was indeed God’s Anointed King, come to rescue His bride, and to shed His own blood for her that He might restore to her the joy of salvation, that He might make glad the hearts of men through His rule and reign. Epiphany, therefore, celebrates that, at the wedding of Cana, Jesus revealed Himself to be God’s Festal King, come to rule us in joy.

Epiphany, therefore, is a day of revelation, a day when God reveals how determined He has been to eliminate our excuses for rejecting His Son and rebelling against His lawful and joyful rule. As one of the ancient blessings for Epiphany announced, “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”

So what of you? Have you given heed to God’s revelation of Himself in Christ and acknowledged Him as God’s Son? Have you rejoiced in His coming and brought your gifts before Him? Have you rejoiced that God has revealed Himself to you and to the world? If you have done all these things, then thanks be to God! So one more question: have you then, in turn, been another means of God’s revelation of Himself to the world? It is to this that Epiphany calls us – to reveal Christ to the watching world, to proclaim the glories of our King that all nations and their kings bow before Him and worship Him.

Reminded of our calling to receive the revelation of God in Christ and to be the revelation of Christ to the world, let us kneel as we are able, confess our sins, and rejoice in His mercy.

Contentions

October 11, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Principles and Methods

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

One of the perpetual dangers of sinners in society is contention – the work of the flesh that we focus upon today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… contentions.” Webster defines contention as “Strife; struggle; a violent effort to obtain something, or to resist a person, claim or injury; contest; quarrel.”

Such contentions are characteristic of sinners in society and so are always a temptation for the Church Militant which is a society of sinful men and women. The Corinthian church, you may recall, was rife with contentions. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.” These contentions saw the rise of party spirit within the congregation. “I am of Paul,” said some. “I am of Apollos,” said others. But Paul rebukes both, “For where there are envy, contentions, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3) To give way to contentions, Paul insists, is to revert to our fallen nature and ignore the Lord who has saved us and united us together as one people. There is, Paul writes, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:5). Hence, we are to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). By one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body not many. Contentions are of the flesh, our fallen nature.

So why do contentions arise? Contentions arise from pride. Paul informs Timothy that the contentious man “is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words…” (1 Tim 6:4). The contentious man does not weigh matters rightly. He prides himself on his wisdom and discernment but through pride destroys the unity of the Church. He makes every mole hill a mountain and insists that all must agree with him or the church is going to fall into irreparable apostasy. Now, of course, the threat of apostasy is real; there are genuine mountains. But the contentious man cannot distinguish them from his personal preferences.

So what of you? Are you able to distinguish major from minor issues? Are you endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Are you putting to death the temptation to party spirit? Homeschoolers versus dayschoolers; gluteners vs non-gluteners; maskers vs non-maskers; winebibbers vs teetotalers. Among a people who take Scripture seriously, who take theology seriously, and who want to do all things well, there is always the danger of holding our theology in such a way that we destroy the very Church which Christ gave His life to save. So beware your heart; beware the lure of pride; always be open to correction; and pray regularly that God would preserve us all from contentions.

Reminded that contentions arise from a proud and disagreeable spirit and that we are often tempted to pride and contention, let us kneel as we are able and confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Our Hearts as Idol Factories

September 6, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Depravity, Greek Gods, Image of God, Meditations, Sin, Ten Commandments, Trinity, Worship

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Human beings are intrinsically religious creatures. We all have a sensus divinitatis, a sense of the divine, which God Himself has planted within us. However, because of our rebellion against God, we all likewise have a bent away from the Living God. We are inclined toward idolatry; our hearts are, in the words of John Calvin, an idol factory. And it is this work of the flesh that we focus upon in Paul’s list today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… idolatry.”

Idolatry is the worship of false gods or the worship of the true god through physical images. Idolatry has a bewitching power, enslaving nations and regularly tempting the people of God. So the people of Israel constructed the golden calf in the wilderness. Gideon had to cut down the altar of Baal which Israel had erected in his hometown. Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and filled Israel with the worship of the Baals and Ashtoreths such that Elijah believed he alone remained faithful. Our fathers regularly turned to idols and so brought on themselves the wrath and judgment of God.

This tendency toward idolatry did not cease with Christ’s incarnation. Christians have regularly turned away from the Triune God to some lesser deity. In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Ebionites taught that the Eternal Son of God was just a man while the Docetists taught that He was not man at all. In the great Trinitarian controversies of the 3rd and 4th centuries that resulted in the crafting of the Nicene Creed, the Arians taught that Jesus was not divine but some lesser being. In the 18th and 19th centuries, such idolatries multiplied. The Unitarians insisted that the Eternal Son was just a great moral teacher and example; the Jehovah’s Witnesses rescucitated the idolatry of Arius; the Mormons taught that the Eternal Son of God was some perverse offspring of a carnal union between deity and humanity.

Church history, in other words, illustrates that Paul’s warning against idolatry is necessary. The human heart bends toward idolatry. And so Paul warned the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14). We must remain ever faithful to the Triune God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

One of the chief traps that has ensnared God’s people in idolatry has been intermarriage with idolaters. God warned the people of Israel:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you… You shall make no covenant with them nor… shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods…” (Dt 7:1-4)

Despite this warning, the Israelites regularly intermarried with their pagan neighbors and fell into idolatry. Nehemiah reminded our fathers, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God… Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin” (Neh 13:25-26).

So if you are single and would like to be married – listen to the voice of the Lord – you may not marry a non-Christian! To do so is to court temptation and put yourself in danger of God’s wrath and judgment. As Paul reminded the Corinthians:

14Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God… (2 Cor 6:14–16) 

Reminded that God is jealous the affections of His people and would have us to avoid the worship of other gods, let us acknowledge that we and our father have often turned away from God to idols. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Jesus the Only Savior

November 10, 2019 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Church History, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Glorification, Lord's Day, Meditations, Worship

On November 9th I had the privilege of participating in the ordination and installation of Adam Harris as the new pastor of Trinity Covenant Church (CREC) in Fort St. John, British Columbia. The next day, I was also privileged to participate in the worship service by giving the following exhortation:

Isaiah 45:22–25 (NKJV)

22 “Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. 24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him. 25 In the LORD all the descendants of Israel Shall be justified, and shall glory.’ ”

It is an auspicious and glorious occasion that has brought us together today. We have arrived here from our residences in and around Fort St. John; we have flown here from our houses in Oregon and Idaho; we have driven here from our homes in Ontario and Alberta. We have gathered with one accord to perform one of our central joys and duties as the people of God.

So what is it that has brought us together? It is to worship the Lord of glory. Now perhaps you thought I was going to say that it is the ordination and installation of Pastor Harris to Gospel ministry that has drawn us together. But it is not. For as significant as his ordination and installation to pastoral ministry is, his call to ministry is itself a means to an end – and that end is the worship and praise of the Lord of glory throughout the world. Pastor Harris is not the one whom Trinity Covenant Church and Fort St. John need. Jesus is the one you need. So we have gathered together to glory in Him; gathered together to worship Him; gathered together to kneel before Him; gathered together to take oaths in His Name and to claim the righteousness of Jesus Christ as our own.

Peter reminds us that “there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved” than that of Jesus Christ our Lord. He is our Savior; He is our Deliverer; in Him do we trust. As glorious as Pastor Harris’ ordination is, he himself will tell you that it is nothing to the exaltation of Jesus Christ as the Lord of all the earth. But we often turn from our Lord to other gods; turn from the Living God to put our confidence in princes or people or pastors or pagan gods. We forsake the fountain of living waters and build for ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Our Scripture today reminds us that the goal of God’s work in the world through His Church, through His ministers, and through His Providential governance is to ween us away from the worship of other gods and to instill within us an unswerving loyalty to Him. Jesus is the only Savior.

So reminded this morning that we are to seek the Lord alone to be saved, let us confess that we are routinely tempted to place our hope for salvation in our man-made idols rather than in the Lord of glory.