He who does not honor the Son…

January 3, 2016 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Bible - NT - John, Creeds, Heresy, Meditations, Trinity, Worship
2 John 9–11 (NKJV)
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
Last week we learned that the Father and the Son are inseparable. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father; and he who does not honor the Father does not honor the Son. This unity of the Father and the Son is a major theme throughout the Apostle John’s writings. Alone among the Gospel writers, John records Jesus’ words to the disciples at the last Passover feast. The unity of Father, Son, and Spirit is a major theme of these words. Consider these statements that Jesus makes:
Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately… you believe in God, believe also in Me… He who has seen Me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me… the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you…when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me… He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority; but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
This inseparability of Father, Son, and Spirit explains why John takes such pains in our epistle to refute the errors of Docetism. It also explains why the Trinity was the first major debate in the history of the Church. Who is this God we worship? Who is Jesus? Who is the Spirit? The first commandment declares to us, “You shall have no other gods before me.” So who is this God we worship? He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The inseparability of Father, Son, and Spirit also explain why, as a congregation, we have prioritized reciting the historic ecumenical creeds together throughout the year. Depending on the time of year, we recite or sing the Apostles’ Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Each of these creeds reminds us whom we worship – we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we do not worship some abstract deity called “God”; we worship the God who revealed Himself in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ and who has poured out the Spirit to lead and guide us into the truth.
This morning, remember that it is this God, the Creator of all things and the Redeemer of His people Israel, who has called you here to worship. It is to Him we offer praise, before Him we confess our sins, to Him we present our offerings, from Him we receive instruction, and with Him we feast at the Table. And He is no puny tribal deity or idol, but the Living God who rules over heaven and earth.

So reminded into whose presence we have come and whom we are worshiping, let us bow before Him, acknowledging our sins and transgressions and asking Him to forgive us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Let us kneel as we confess our sins.

Auto-pilot and Sinful Ideas

May 11, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Creeds, Easter, Eschatology, Heresy, King Jesus, Meditations, 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 readers of Scripture we are often tempted to go into auto-pilot and assume that we know what a text is saying without really paying attention. Consequently, we miss the point of the text.
Take the Scripture before us today. Many read our text and assume that Paul is arguing for the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. “Paul’s point is that Jesus really rose from the dead and that this is what guarantees our forgiveness.” And so we go on auto-pilot and move on to the next paragraph. But this is not Paul’s point. While Jesus’ resurrection is central to Paul’s whole argument, it is not Paul’s point. Jesus’ resurrection is not under dispute; Paul has already asserted that Jesus’ resurrection is central to the Gospel he preached. 
So what is his point? His point is 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 the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 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. Paul’s point is that the resurrection of the dead on the last day is a central part of the Christian faith; we believe, as the creeds remind us, in the resurrection of the dead.
In the modern American church we stand in dire need of re-reading Paul’s words here in 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 Jesus’ resurrection. 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.
What Paul’s words remind us is that sins are not simply wrong actions; sometimes our ideas are sinful as well. We can embrace ideas that are erroneous and sinful. By denying the general resurrection, the Corinthians had embraced an idea that was poisonous to the Gospel. 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? What ought the Corinthians have done? 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. And 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. Let us kneeel as we confess.

The Historicity of the Resurrection

May 4, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Cross of Christ, Easter, Heresy, Meditations, Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:3–11 (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. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
The American Presbyterian historian and theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote his classic work Christianity and Liberalismto expose the fundamental differences between Christianity historically understood and liberalism. In his day liberalism was beginning its conquest of the American mainline churches, a conquest which in our day is largely complete. Machen insisted that liberalism is not merely a corrupted Christianity, it is no Christianity at all. It is a new belief system that teaches that whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead is insignificant. What really matters is our subjective experience of Jesus, that Jesus lives on in our hearts.
As Machen correctly perceived, this notion is entirely foreign to the message that Paul preached and that Christianity has preached. The Gospel that Paul preached was rooted in history, rooted in reality. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day. The very thing that distinguishes Christianity from every other religious system is that Christianity is rooted in reality, centered on God’s actions in space and time, in history. It is not merely a system of dogmas but a declaration of events that have dogmatic significance.
Note, therefore, that Christiantiy is, as Machen insisted, founded upon a combination of historical events and their theological significance. Christ died. This is history. He did not get spirited away or exchange places with someone else as Islam teaches. He actually died on a cross outside Jerusalem while Pontius Pilate served as prefect of the Roman Empire in Judea. And why did Christ die? He died, Paul says, for our sins; he died to endure the punishment that our sins deserve. That is theology.
This same combination of historical reality and theological significance characterizes Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. This is history; and note that Paul emphasizes the historicity of this event by appealing to witnesses. The Risen Christ was seen by Cephas, the Twelve, 500 brethren at one time, James, the Apostles, and Paul himself. And, Paul implies, if you want to verify the truth of all this, go ask them since most of them were still alive in Paul’s day. In the rest of the chapter, Paul goes on to unfold the theological significance of Jesus’ resurrection.
As Christians we are often led astray by the theological liberalism that pervades our social institutions – both religious and political – ino believing that religion is just a subjective phenomenon. No one religion is superior to another; each has it adherents; each meets the subjective needs of its followers; each is merely a private, personal experience; so who are you to judge? But this is to subvert completely the very meaning of the word Gospel – good news. The Gospel is an announcement of something that objectively happened and that objectively changed the course of human history. Christianity is not just a private religious matter but a public announcement: Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again; so all men and nations are called to confess that Jesus is Lord; Jesus is God’s Anointed One.

So reminded that if we are to approach God it must be on the basis of truth, something that really happened, and not just on the basis of our sincerity; 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.

Embracing the Truth

August 18, 2013 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Ecclesiology, Heresy, Meditations
2 John 7–10 (NKJV)
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him;
For the last two weeks we have explored John’s second epistle and seen that John unites things that many of us often attempt to divide. Today John tackles the topic of truth and informs his readers that truth matters and that Christianity has propositional content that enables us to evaluate false teaching.
The particular false teaching that John rejects was called docetism – docetists taught that the body is evil and that salvation is escape from the prison house of the body. They insisted, therefore, that Jesus could not have assumed a body – that would put him in the same dilemma as the rest of us. Jesus only appeared to have flesh and bones – he really was a spirit instructing us with secret knowledge on how to escape the body.
This, John tells us, is a damnable lie. If we do not get the identity of Jesus right, if we do not articulate the truth about Jesus, then we have neither the Father nor the Son. John informs us that the critical issue is not whether one believes in a person named Jesus but what one believes about him. Who is Jesus? Both Scripture and Christian tradition have always insisted that Jesus is God Himself in human flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity. He is “God of God; Light of Light; very God of very God…being of one substance with the Father.”(Nicene Creed)
Those who modify, twist, distort, or pervert this doctrine are neither Christians nor allies. Whether Unitarians who insist that Jesus was just a great man, or Muslims who insist that Jesus was just a great prophet, or Jehovah’s Witnesses who teach that Jesus was just the greatest of all god’s creations, or Mormons who teach that Jesus was just a man who earned his way to godhead – we are not to consider these nor their like as Christians or allies. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house [church] nor greet him [consider him your ally in the work of the Gospel].
Maintaining this stance is challenging in our day – we live in a religiously pluralistic society full of neighbors and friends who do not embrace historic Christianity and who consider such a devotion to truth out of touch. And so we often find ourselves tempted to compromise or downgrade Jesus’ claims. We are ashamed of the truth rather than embracing the truth.

So reminded of our call to embrace the truth and that we have at times compromised the truth instead, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.