Kneeling in Worship

September 27, 2020 in Bible - OT - 1 Kings, Confession, King Jesus, Liturgy, Meditations, Prayer, Tradition, Worship

1 Kings 8:54 (NKJV)

54 And so it was, when Solomon had finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the LORD, that he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.

In its public worship, every church has traditions. Whether it is a tradition of spontaneity or a tradition of regularity, traditions are unavoidable. They are an inescapable part of human life. It is important, therefore, that we regularly evaluate our traditions to make sure that they reflect and not undermine biblical principles.

Among the traditions we have as a congregation, one of them is kneeling when we confess our sins. In just a moment I will invite all those who are able to do so to kneel with me to confess our sins to God. Many people find this practice uncomfortable or objectionable – in fact, many have refused to return and worship here because we kneel during our service. The preaching is fine; the music is acceptable; the fellowship seems sweet – but why do you kneel?

This question often causes me to scratch my head and wonder what is wrong with the church today. What is it about kneeling that bothers us? Some say it reminds them too much of Roman Catholic worship. But, of course, if we were to reject whatever the Roman church practices, then we’d have to eliminate Scripture reading and prayer as well. Others are bothered by what kneeling means in other contexts. After all, there are times when kneeling is inappropriate. Mordecai refused to kneel before Haman; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to kneel before Nebuchadnezzar’s statue; God reserved 7,000 in Israel who would not bow the knee to Baal; and several stalwart Christian sports players have refused to kneel in homage to the Black Lives Matter propaganda. There are times when kneeling is compromise or even sin.

But there are other times when kneeling is good and right: all Israel bowed the knee to King David; a leper kneeled before Jesus begging to be healed; a man kneels before his beloved and asks for her hand in marriage. In such situations, kneeling is the right thing to do.

So what about worship? Is it fitting to kneel? Well note our text today: Solomon – the Son of David, the King of Israel, and the wisest of men – kneeled before God to make supplication and prayer. And Psalm 95 summons us, O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God our Maker! And note that this isn’t a summons to private but to public kneeling – O come, let us kneel ­– let all of us together bow before God for He is worthy! And so the four living creatures and the 24 elders in the book of Revelation fall down before the Lamb and they sing a new song saying, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!

This morning we have entered into the presence of Almighty God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, the High and Holy One – the One whose glory fills heaven and earth; the One whose power governs all that occurs; the One whose love compelled Him to send His only-begotten Son to rescue His people from sin and Satan and death – is it not most fitting to kneel in His presence, particularly when we recognize the many ways in which we sin against Him and stand in need of His forgiving grace? So, as you are able, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sorcery and Superstition

September 13, 2020 in Atheism, Bible - NT - Galatians, Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Depravity, Human Condition, Meditations, Sin, Truth, 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.

Whenever we as human beings throw off the worship of the Living God, we do not cease to worship, we do not cease religious practices. Rather, we replace the worship of the true God with idolatry, and we replace the practice of true religion with superstitions such as sorcery or witchcraft, the work of the flesh that we focus upon today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… sorcery.”

The Greek word is pharmakia – from whence we get our English words “pharmacy” and “pharmacist” – one who dispenses drugs. While we often associate “sorcery” with the casting of spells, more frequently sorcery was connected with the use of hallucinogenic drugs, alcohol, and poisons, along with an invocation of demonic forces, to do either harm or good. Sorcerers use their skills to frighten, enslave, and accumulate wealth. They make lavish promises of victory over foes, increased fertility, inevitable prosperity. Because sorcery uses drugs and appeals to dark forces, it is always accompanied by other types of wickedness and incurs the wrath and judgment of God. Thus Moses warned Israel:

“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives [the nations] out from before you” (Dt 18:10–12).

Despite this warning, sorcery has reared its ugly head again and again whenever a people turn away from God toward idols. So King Saul, in his apostasy, consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28); the wicked king Manasseh “caused his sons to pass through the fire… [and] practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists” (2 Chr 33:6). And in our day, too, the practice of witchraft and sorcery is becoming increasingly common. Thus we find Malachi and many other prophets warning that God would come in judgment on those who practiced sorcery (Mal 3:5). And John writes that “sorcerers… shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone…” (Rev 21:8).

When the Gospel arrives, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and His conquest of the powers of darkness, it drives out sorcery. Even as light drives out darkness, so the true worship of God drives out superstition. God had promised through the prophet Micah, “I will cut off sorceries from your hand, And you shall have no soothsayers” (Mic 5:12). So, after Paul had preached the Gospel in the city of Ephesus, “many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all” (Acts 19:19). The Gospel frees us from lies and superstitions.

So what of you? Have you been freed from superstition? The promise of such superstition is that one can control the future or protect oneself from harm. But the one who has come to love God no longer needs to manipulate the world but can rest in the good providence of God, trusting Him to protect and to prosper those who love Him and keep His commandments. So do you trust Him? Or are you trying to manipulate the world in some superstitious way? 

Reminded that sorcery incurs the wrath and judgment of God and that it is the fruit of rebelling against God, let us acknowledge that it has become increasingly common in our society and that we too, as the people of God, are sometimes lured by its promises of control and prosperity. And as we confess our sin to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. 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.

God Cannot Be Reconciled to Sin

June 14, 2020 in Atheism, Authority, Bible - OT - Psalms, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification, Worship

Psalm 5:4–6 (NKJV)

4 For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, Nor shall evil dwell with You. 5 The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity. 6 You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.  

There is a grain of truth in the maxim, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” The truth is that God has acted in Christ to deliver sinners from their sin and reconcile them to Himself. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life. God sent His Son because He loves fallen men and women and children who are made in His image and precious in His sight.

We must be careful, however, lest we permit this maxim to obscure God’s utter and complete hatred of sin, a hatred so pronounced that He will condemn sinners who refuse to repent of their sin to hell. He will judge both sin and sinner. Matthew Henry writes:

“[God] sees all the sin that is committed in the world, and it is an offence to him, it is odious in his eyes, and those that commit it are thereby made obnoxious to his justice. There is in the nature of God an antipathy [a natural aversion, hatred] to those dispositions and practices that are contrary to his holy law; and, though an expedient is happily found out for his being reconciled to sinners [through Christ], yet he never will, nor can, be reconciled to sin.”

God never will, nor can, be reconciled to sin. While God can be reconciled to sinners through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus, He can never be reconciled to sin.

This is, believe it or not, good news. For if God could be reconciled to sin, then we wouldn’t know that our cries for justice, our cries against evil and wickedness, are meaningful or heard by God. Perhaps, as some eastern religions teach, good and evil are just opposites that must perpetually exist in balance and we just ended up on the wrong side of the yang. Perhaps, as atheistic materialism implies, good and evil are just social constructs that different cultures can design wholly on their own without reference to a transcendent standard and we just didn’t have enough power to force others to comply with our design. If God can be reconciled to sin, then the world is a dark and dreary place.

But thanks be to God, God cannot be reconciled to sin. Evil is always evil and good is always good. God does not take pleasure in wickedness. He abhors the one who does evil, the boastful, the worker of iniquity, the speaker of falsehood, as well as the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. He will not and cannot be reconciled to sin nor to unrepentant sinners.

So what of you? Have you reconciled yourself to your own sin? Are you making excuses for your greed? Excuses for your dishonesty? Excuses for despising the poor? For refusing to hear the cries of those who long for justice? For neglecting your children? Excuses for failing to lead your wife and children? For looking at porn? For indulging your children’s disobedience? Excuses for refusing to submit to your husband? For grumbling against God’s providence? For pitying those executed for murder or kidnapping? Excuses for disobeying your parents? For yelling at your sibling? For neglecting your aged parents? Excuses for nursing your bitterness? For coveting your neighbor’s house? For envying the rich?

Such excuses are simply ways that we attempt to reconcile ourselves to our sin. We call good evil and evil good. We attempt to define good and evil on our own terms, to shake our fist at God and pretend that we are wiser than He. But we are not wiser and the soul that sins shall die. Disaster and judgment come in the wake of excuses for sin. But hear the good news: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Pr 28:13).

So reminded of our propensity to reconcile ourselves to sin, let us not make excuses for our sin but let us confess it to the Lord. And as we confess, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in bulletin.

The Son of God with Power

April 12, 2020 in Bible - NT - Romans, Church Calendar, Easter, Eschatology, Glorification, King Jesus, Meditations, Politics, Postmillennialism, Resurrection, Sovereignty of God, Worship

Romans 1:1-4 (NKJV)
1
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

Today is Easter – the most significant of the various holy days in the Church calendar. More pivotal than Christmas, more central than Pentecost, more crucial than Epiphany – Easter celebrates the most world transforming event in all human history. Because of the resurrection, we have the Gospel. Because of the resurrection, we have cathedrals. Because of the resurrection, we have new life, forgiveness, and peace with God – all because of the resurrection.

It is this world transformation that Paul highlights in the introduction to his letter to the Romans. After assuring us that Christ’s coming was proclaimed beforehand by the prophets and that he came as was foretold a son of David, Paul goes on to declare that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead.

As we have been learning in our series on the Biblical Hope, Paul is telling us that Jesus not only had a claim to the throne of His father David but that He has now been installed as King in fact. He was born of the seed of David – in other words, he had the natural right to rule as God’s King. But simply having the natural right to rule does not establish that one does in fact rule. Bonnie Prince Charlie may have had a rightful claim to the throne of England; but a mere claim does not make one king and Charlie never had the power. But not only was Jesus born to be King – not only did he have a rightful claim to the throne – by the resurrection from the dead He was declared to be the Son of God, the King of Israel, with power. He is now seated upon His throne, ruling as God’s King, and will continue to rule until all His enemies are subdued beneath His feet.

So what is the significance of Easter? On this day we celebrate the coronation of our King. Nearly two thousand years ago Jesus was crowned King of the Universe, the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Jesus is Lord; Jesus reigns.

And so as we come to this Easter on which we are worshiping together virtually, unable to gather together as we would wish, unable to breakfast together as is our wont, unable to commune together at the Table of the Lord, let us remember that this hard providence comes to us from the hand of our Risen and Exalted King. Not one hair falls from our head apart from His will; how much more does this inability to gather together on Easter come from Him?

So what does He intend? First, He intends to remind us what our sin deserves. While we often take sin lightly and don’t suppose the evil great, our exalted King Jesus uses such hard providences to teach us to measure its nature rightly. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and death in all its forms – death which is separation, isolation – is the just consequence of our sin. Let us embrace it; let us acknowledge it.

Second, He intends to remind us of the greatness of His mercy toward us His people. Jesus endured separation from His Father, from the Father who had never turned His face away from Him throughout His life, in order that we no longer have to be separated from God. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are reconciled to God and assured that if God is for us, nothing can be against us. Can this virus separate us from one another for a time? Yes. Can it separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? Never.

So as we enter into the presence of our Risen and Exalted King, Jesus, let us not harden ourselves in our sin; let us bow the knee and acknowledge our guilt, seeking His forgiveness. And having received the forgiving grace of God through faith in Christ, let us rejoice in His mercy. Reminded that Jesus is Lord, let us kneel as we are able and confess our sins to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confessions followed by the corporate confession in your order of service. (Our confession this morning is an acknowledgement of the ways we have broken each of the Ten Commandments.)

My God, in Him Will I Trust

March 22, 2020 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Discipline, Faith, Judgment, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Providence, Sacraments, Sovereignty of God, Worship

Psalm 91:1–8 (NKJV)

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” 3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. 4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. 5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. 8 Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.

Well it’s been an interesting week! We thank you for your prayers that we and the Schumanns were able to return home from Guatemala. We witnessed many evidences of the Lord’s lovingkindness and care for us while we were away – we managed to arrive in Guatemala just before they began quarantining visitors from America; while at the airport in Guatemala City waiting to have our temperatures taken, we stood in line immediately behind a fellow believer who “just happened” to take his family to Antigua for the weekend and “just happened” to stay in the rooms right next to ours and who provided us with timely counsel and help as we were trying to decide whether to leave Guatemala or not; while we were unable to contact the airlines from our hotel in Antigua, Andy Schumann worked tirelessly back home and secured us tickets on one of the last flights out of Guatemala; and in the midst of all the turmoil, we experienced remarkable peace and enjoyed a relaxing, fulfilling few days in a beautiful hotel with friendly people and sweet fellowship. Praise God.

Now we’ve returned home and we have this appalling circumstance in which I am speaking to a mostly empty sanctuary rather than gathering face to face with the flock. I should be seeing your faces, shaking your hands, hearing your voices, rejoicing in God’s mercy and deliverance together. Instead, we are broadcasting a service of prayer and preaching. I trust that you recognize that this is not normal, nor is it an acceptable substitute for our assembling together – livestreaming is not assembling. We must view this as a chastisement from the Lord on our nation for our many sins and transgressions. God is isolating us from one another as a small taste of the isolation that shall face us for all eternity if we do not turn from our sin and seek the forgiving grace of God in Christ.

God has placed us in the wilderness. So what ought we to do? We ought to acknowledge our sin, acknowledge the justness of the Lord’s rod of correction, and entrust ourselves to God Himself and to every word that proceeds from His mouth. We have yet to see what the final outcome of the current crisis will be. Yet we know that our Sovereign Lord is in control, that He governs in the affairs of men, and that He is at work. For all those who acknowledge their sin and trust in His forgiving grace, He promises to grant us long life, eternal life, through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son to deliver us from the fear of death and to grant us the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead – is that not good news?

And so reminded that we are to turn to the Lord in times of disaster, let us do so together. Let us confess our sin to the Lord and seek His forgiving and empowering grace, praying that He would have mercy upon us as a people. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel together as you are able.

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.

With Palm Branches in their Hands

April 14, 2019 in Bible - NT - Revelation, Easter, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Worship

Revelation 7:9–12 (NKJV)

9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which our Lord Jesus entered into Jerusalem and was acclaimed the long-awaited Messiah by the people of Israel. To celebrate Jesus’ entrance into the city, they gathered the branches of palms, laid some upon the road and waved others in the air, rejoicing in His arrival. In Christian history, we have called this event Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.

In Revelation 7 this vision of praising God with the waving of palm branches is repeated. John beholds an immense multitude standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb of God. They are clothed in white robes which point to the forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of Jesus (cf. 7:14). And in their hands are palm branches. So why palms? Why have we distributed palms in worship today so that your children can disturb you with them during the service?

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery notes that throughout the Old Testament, “the palm tree was associated with the oasis, a place of fertility in the midst of the wilderness. It provided food in the form of the date, and its sap could be used as a sweetener or for making wine… the palm frequently connoted fertility and blessing” (622). Consequently, the righteous are compared to the palm in Psalm 92:12-13 –

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the LORD Shall flourish in the courts of our God.

The palm tree makes its way into the construction of the Temple. Palm trees were carved into the walls and doors of Solomon’s temple according to 1 Kings 6:29, 32, and 36. Later in Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glorious Temple, he describes the palms that decorated each of the gateways and gateposts of the Temple – likening the Temple to a fruitful garden, like the Garden of Eden, a place where God’s blessing dwells.

So when John beholds the righteous, clothed in white robes and carrying branches of palm in their hands, it is this vision of fruitfulness and delight that he wishes to communicate to us. We are palm trees adorning the temple of the Living God. So the righteous cry out, while waving their palms, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And the angels join in the praise, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then the angels explain the significance of the palms with these words, “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters [in other words, He will lead them to oases where palm trees grow]. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:16-17).

So as we enter into worship this Palm Sunday, waving our branches of palm, let us rejoice that our Lord Jesus has given Himself for us, He has shed His blood that we might stand before our God clothed in garments of white and that we might be fruitful palm trees, reflecting the fruitfulness of our God. The only way that we can be here in such joy is by confessing our sin, our need for the cleansing blood of Christ, and our need for His empowering grace. So let us confess our sins to the Lord and rejoice in His goodness. Let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.