Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Throne of His Father David

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 1:26-38

YOU PROBABLY RECOGNIZED our Call to Worship litany this morning as a version of the ancient Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." As I may have mentioned to you before, I belong to a community choir in the Pittsburgh area, and this semester we learned a new anthem using the words to that hymn. The rehearsal we first got it, we were looking over the music and I noticed something. I raised my hand and said to our director, "Excuse me, but there’s a mistake in the text on page 8. It says, ‘O Come! Thou King of David, come!’ It should say, ‘Key of David’ instead."

One of the tenors is a professor of Old Testament at Geneva College and he said, "She's right. It’s ‘Key of David,’ not ‘King of David.’"

Our director looked at the page for a couple of seconds, then pronounced, "I got this at a big choir convention. Nobody there said anything about there being an error in this text. We’ll sing ‘King of David,’ the way it’s written."

One of my fellow sopranos leaned over to me and whispered that the way our director makes us go easy on the consonants, our audiences would probably hear it as ‘Key of David’ anyway and it wouldn’t matter what was written in the score.

But that mistake in a 21st century choir anthem score says a lot about how contemporary Americans (Christian or not) think about Jesus and His Davidic ancestry. There’s the vague understanding that Jesus is connected to David somehow; something to do with both David and Jesus being kings, maybe; but how it really works nobody’s sure, and it doesn’t really matter, does it; it just has a nice ring to it.

But for the Holy Spirit speaking by the prophet Isaiah and for the angel Gabriel addressing the virgin Mary, our Lord’s relationship to King David meant everything about God the Father’s plans for Jesus the Son of Man and for us as His followers. Isaiah says of the Messiah to come,

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

Gabriel says to Mary,

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.

David’s throne! That’s not merely some nice-sounding phrase that made its way in with the Christmas wrappings. No, it’s a fundamental reality about our Lord Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He has done, and it powerfully affects all of our lives, now and in the world to come.

It starts with who our God is. He’s a promise-making and covenant-making God. He’s a God who keeps His promises. He made a promise to Israel at Mount Sinai that if they kept all the Law given through Moses, He would bless them and they would live and prosper by it. Keeping that covenant was up to the people just as much as it was up to God. And as we know from history, the Jews, our spiritual ancestors, weren’t able to keep it.

But God made a very different kind of promise to King David in 2 Samuel, chapter 7. There God swore that He Himself would build David an everlasting house. That is, He’d assured David a family dynasty with an unbroken succession of biological heirs. God promised David He’d raise up a son to succeed him and that he’d never take His love from him as He had from King Saul. He swore to establish the throne of the kingdom of David’s son before God forever. This promise required nothing from David and his heirs except humble, thankful acceptance. Its fulfillment didn’t depend on David, it all depended on God.

But how can God’s covenant with David possibly benefit us?

Actually, by Mary’s time, for long centuries many Jews probably wondered how it could benefit them. The promise was partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon, and for a long time God made sure that a direct descendant of David ruled on the throne of Judah, no matter how wicked they might be. But then came the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, and as we read in the prophet Jeremiah, God laid a curse on Jehoiachin, who was king at that time, swearing that neither he nor any of his offspring would ever again sit on the throne of David or rule in Judah. Then the Babylonians captured the city and took almost all the survivors away captive, and Jehoiachin was the last king of Judah to have any surviving offspring at all.

What’s more, after the Exile there was no more Davidic king in Judah. The Maccabees-- who are being celebrated now during Chanukah-- were priests who took over the kingship in the first and second centuries before Christ. And then there was the Herod family in Mary’s own time who claimed to be kings of the Jews. But they were not legitimate kings according to the promise of God. They were not kings from the house of David.

So where was this everlasting throne of David that God had promised? And who was the son of David who could sit on it?

These were hard questions! But faithful sons and daughters of Israel still held onto the promise of God spoken to King David and confirmed by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets. They knew that somehow the Lord would work it out.

And then one day, in a humble home in the village of Nazareth in Galilee (Galilee of the Gentiles, as Isaiah calls it in our passage), the angel Gabriel appeared to a young virgin descended from King David, not from the cursed line of Jehoiachin, several-times-great-grandson of King Solomon, but from David’s son Prince Nathan. And this girl was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was a direct descendant of Solomon and his legal royal line. By His virgin birth, Jesus through Mary was of the line of David’s son Nathan and did not fall under the curse against Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah and Coniah). But with Joseph as His adoptive father, our Lord was legally in the kingly line.

And so Gabriel announced to Mary that her Son Jesus would be the one who could at last fulfill God’s faithful promise to David and sit on David’s throne. And you’ll notice, that the angel doesn’t say that her Son would leave His throne to His sons and their sons. No. The promise is that her Son, Himself, would be king forever.

But again, what’s in this for us? Why should be to our good that Jesus should reign on the throne of His father David?

It matters to us, because of God’s plan for our salvation, made before the foundation of the world. God prepared His people Israel to be the channel through which His own appointed Saviour and Christ would come into the world; not to save Israel alone, but to bring salvation to all who believe in Him. As Jesus Himself says in John chapter 4, "Salvation is of the Jews." David was the best king who ruled over God’s people Israel; he was the beloved of God, and despite his sins he was the one who walked with God most closely. David himself could never have been the eternal king and saviour of the world promised even from the Garden of Eden; obviously, David needed a saviour himself. It is his descendant Jesus, coming from David’s house and lineage, who inherits the promises of eternal kingship. His kingdom is not only everlasting, it is also universal.
As it says in Isaiah 9:7,

"Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end."

And Revelation 11:15 says,

"The kingdom of this world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he shall reign forever and ever."

Jesus is not merely the king of the Jews, He is the king of the whole world, and the king of you and me.

But it’s worth asking, why is He also called the "Key of David"? We find that term various places in Scripture, and sometimes it also reads "the key of the house of David." Jesus is the Key of David because by His sacrificial death He opens the house of David to us. Through Christ we enter in and enjoy the blessings promised to God’s beloved Son and King. Until Jesus was born and died and rose to take away the sins of the world, God’s fellowship, love, and favor were open only to faithful Jews and those who were willing to become Jews. But Jesus has opened the door to the kingdom of heaven to all believers, and what He has opened no one can shut.

I doubt Mary had any idea of the scope of God’s glorious, world-embracing plan when she said, "I am the Lord’s servant" that day in Nazareth. But God has revealed it to us in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, brought to us in the writings of His apostles and evangelists. No one in Mary’s day could have dreamed that God would ever invite all the nations of the world into the blessings promised to Israel . But those blessings are now freely given to everyone who, accepting Him by faith, willingly bows the knee to Jesus Christ as king. They’re available right now to us, whom God has chosen and reconciled to Himself through the blood of His crucified and risen Son.

Sadly, some people want the blessings of Christ without receiving Christ Himself. It isn’t possible. Every good thing Jesus grants from the throne of David is with Him and in Him and through Him. And so Isaiah sings in today’s passage, that Jesus our Messiah is our Wonderful Counselor and our Mighty God; He is the very representation of the Everlasting Father; He is our Prince of Peace. As a good king looks after the welfare and prosperity of his people, Jesus our king gives us everything we need to live and prosper in Him. He blesses us with the forgiveness of our sins, the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, with the promise of perfect joy in the presence of God forever, and innumerable graces beside.

Jesus Son of Mary has inherited the throne of His father David. He is the Son of the Most High, God of God from all eternity. He is the ultimate Child of promise, who confirms to us the love of God, love even deeper than that shown to David and Solomon. His kingdom and rule will never end, and so His love and favor to His people will never end.

And we? We can be His joyful servants, receiving His grace, welcoming His presence in Word and Spirit, and longing for His return. Or we can be enemies in rebellion against Him, doomed to defeat like Midian the enemy of Israel, whom Isaiah mentions in his prophecy. Either way, we will bow the knee to Him who sits on the throne of David. Receive the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ, acknowledge Him to be great David’s greater Son, and like Mary, humbly say, "I am the servant of the Lord."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Redemption Drawing Near

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-22; Luke 21:5-36

A FEW YEARS AGO I WAS at a pastors’ conference where we were doing an in-depth study of the Book of Psalms. During one of the question and answer periods, one pastor gave his opinion that the psalms where God’s people complain of hardship, trouble, grief, oppression and so on simply shouldn’t be used in white middle-class American churches. Middle-class American Christians don’t have troubles like that, he said. Such psalms are irrelevant to our lives and we shouldn’t say them.

I wondered if he really knew what went on in his parish. True, we don’t tend to undergo suffering to the extent our brothers and sisters in Somalia or India or Saudi Arabia do. But we know what it’s like to have trouble. Especially with the economy as bad as it is and the future of our country as uncertain as it is, we find ourselves subject to worry, care, and for some of us, real hardship. The Psalms are given to us for our comfort, as is our passage from the Gospel of St. Luke.

. . . Comfort? Where’s the comfort in Luke chapter 21? It begins all right in verse 5, with the disciples pointing out the marvellous beauty of the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem. Life was hard and uncertain when you were a poor Galilean peasant, and being a follower of Rabbi Jesus could make things even harder. The Temple, at least, was something solid and permanent. An ordinary Jew could rely on it and feel sure about things, even when life wasn’t so good. That’s because it was a sign of God’s covenant with His people Israel. The disciples and all the Jews could look at the temple and know that in spite of the Roman occupation and everything else they were going through, God was still with them.

So does our Lord Jesus confirm their confidence? No. He says, "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."

What a knife in the gut! Good on the original disciples--they didn’t contradict Jesus (for once) or say, "But Lord! That’s impossible!" Instead, they asked, "Teacher, when will these things happen?" By now they’d learned to trust Jesus to know what He was talking about.

Jesus doesn’t answer their "When?" question. It wasn’t His will to give them an exact year and day and hour. Instead, He revealed to them and to us the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem with it. And at the same time, Jesus let us know how we can recognise the end of the age and the time of His coming as Judge and King.

We’re looking forward to that, right? His coming will be the end of all our trouble and the beginning of our eternal bliss. But before that Day comes, things on this earth will not get better, they will get much, much worse. Wars. Natural disasters. Pandemics. Terror. Cataclysms in the heavens and on the earth. Jesus said so, and He can be trusted to know what He’s talking about.

A lot of Bible commentators and ordinary Christians, too, get confused over this prophecy. Some say the whole thing applies to the time in A.D. 70 when the Romans marched in and destroyed Jerusalem and dispersed the Jews to the four corners of the world. While others say it all has to do with events that will happen sometime in the future, and the destruction of Jerusalem long ago has nothing to do with it.

But Bible prophecy again and again is fulfilled in a layered way. God revealed His will in pictures and mirrors. One event in the short term would serve as a symbol for something to happen thereafter. For instance, God’s great salvation in freeing His people from Egypt is a picture of what God would do in freeing us His people from slavery to sin by Christ’s death on the cross.

And here in Luke 21, the terrible events Jesus prophesied for Jerusalem were a picture of what will take place someday in the future when God’s judgement descends on all humanity when the Son of Man returns as King. We know from the text itself that the two events have been put together in one prophecy, for the Holy Spirit has Luke write very clearly in verse 24 that "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled." These events couldn’t all happen at once, in the past or in the future. When Jesus talked about the destruction of Jerusalem and about the end of the age, He wasn’t talking about the same time. Rather, He was talking about the same thing. And that thing is the process by which our sovereign God will judge unfaithfulness and evil in this world, install Jesus the Righteous Branch of David as King on the throne of the universe, and bring relief and redemption to His faithful people.

Advent’s a lot like that. It also has two parts. We look for the coming of Christ, the King. We prepare ourselves to receive Him in memory as the human Child born over two thousand years ago. But we also must make ourselves ready for His coming again in glory. We don’t know when that will happen; our Lord didn’t give us the year or day or hour. But it’s all part of God’s sovereign act of judging unrighteousness, making Jesus King, and bringing us redemption that He started long, long ago.

Let this passage be a warning to us, not to load God’s symbols with our own meanings. The Jews thought the Temple would stand forever as a sign of God’s favor to them. We humans see the Christ Child in the manger and think it’s all right to make God out to be weak and manageable and subject to our wants and desires. We sinners can cope with Jesus as a helpless baby. We can even take the grown-up Rabbi preaching woe to the Pharisees-- as long as we think "the Pharisees" are always Those Other People. But in our rebellion and idolatry we cannot take the Son of God hanging on a cross; much less are we ready to welcome the Son of Man come to judge us and rule over us forever.

None of us can accept Christ as He really is-- until God by His own unfettered will and sovereign initiative moves in our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit and converts us into His own people. But when He does, we become a whole new people! People of redemption, people of righteousness, people of hope! In our Jeremiah passage, verse 16 says, "In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord our Righteousness." But if you go to Jeremiah 23, it speaks there as well of the Righteous Branch raised up from David, and says "This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord our Righteousness." The Jerusalem Jeremiah foretells is not the city destroyed in his day. It’s not the rebuilt city overthrown by General Titus in A.D. 70. It is God’s new Jerusalem, His new Israel, His Church, and we can bear the name "The Lord our Righteousness" because it’s the name of our Redeemer Jesus, the righteous Son of David. We now belong to Him and live in Him, and because we do, we will escape the eternal judgement that will come on the God-hating generation of this world.

In verse 28 Jesus says, "Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Interestingly, this word "redemption" doesn’t mean "ransom"-- for the payment that bought us out of slavery to sin was the blood He shed long ago on His cross. Rather, the word means "release" or "deliverance." When all the world is melting in terror and hiding from the wrath of almighty God, His people can stand on their feet like free men and women liberated by Jesus’ blood and expect to be freed from the persecutions and hardships of those last days. Be of good hope, Christian people! No matter how terrible things may get, God is in control and will bring you through. You may give your physical body as a witness to Christ and His gospel, but as to your soul, not a hair of your head will perish.

However, this is no time for complacency, Christian friends. As our Lord says in verse 34, both pleasure and hardship can weigh down our hearts so we lose faith in the goodness and saving power of God. At this season of the year, it’s doubly heart-breaking to hear someone say, "I’ve lost my job; at our house we won’t have any Christmas." Oh, no, no! You’ve lost your livelihood; does that mean you’ve lost Jesus the living Lord as well? You say you can’t give your children any Christmas this year? But my sad friend, God has already given Christmas to your children and to you as well! Tell them the story of the Son of God who became flesh, who died and rose for their salvation, and you’ve given your children more of a rich and blessed Christmas than most of the richest households will get around this fallen world!

Or there are hearts touched by tragedy, who say Christmas has been destroyed for them because of the grief that has torn apart their lives. If that is you, I beg you to see that this is the time for you to lift up your head, for your redemption is drawing near! Sorrow may have invaded your life, but the Son of God has invaded this world of sin and pain and death; His arm is stronger than the worse that can happen to any of us, and by His cross the victory is already yours.

The Devil wants us to be distracted and not be watching for the second coming of our Lord. He wants us to stop being faithful to Jesus in our everyday lives. For what is it for us to be on the watch? In every other place in Scripture where the return of Christ is described, keeping watch means to keep doing the work He has given you to do, cheerfully, in His name and to His glory. To watch means to endure the ordinary hardships of human life gracefully, drawing always on the power of your Lord Jesus Christ, so that when the greater trials come we’re used to depending on Him. And always, always, to watch means for us to seek and enjoy the means of grace-- reading His word, hearing it preached, praying in Jesus’ name, celebrating and sharing the sacraments He has given us, assembling and serving with His people, the church. In this way Christ Himself will prepare you to be a witness to Him, both in times of peace and in times of persecution and hardship.

After our sermon hymn, we will administer the sacrament of holy baptism to D---, daughter of S--- and L--- and granddaughter of C--- and J---. Do not be deceived: You may see only something being done to an adorable baby. But baptism is a sign of the great conflict between heaven and hell that Jesus describes in the Gospels. War is waged over the souls of little ones such as this, and by baptism we signify that we claim her for Jesus Christ. Greater than that, in baptism God claims her for His own, that she might not be in terror on the Day when Christ comes as Judge, but lovingly look up and hail Him as Her Redeemer and King.

This is God’s promise to us in all our baptisms. If King Jesus comes soon, we will undergo a baptism of fire we never could endure on our own. But our God is strong. He is in control. And just as He brought us through the waters of baptism to new life in His Son, He will also bring us through the deathly fire of that Day to eternal life and peace with Him.

Be of good hope. Your sin was judged and destroyed on the cross of your Lord Jesus Christ. In this Advent season, prepare yourselves to relive the coming of your King as the Babe of Bethlehem. And at the same time, keep watch and live prepared to welcome Jesus your King when He comes to receive you into His glory. In His name and by His power, you can stand and look up, for your redemption is drawing near.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What God Does with Small and Broken Things

Texts: Haggai 2:1-9; 2 Corinthians 6:3 - 7:1

LET’S IMAGINE a scene from long ago. It’s 519 years before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, within the ruins of the city of Jerusalem, in the days after some of the exiles have returned from Babylon to rebuild the city . . . .

The old couple struggled up the way from city below. Painfully, they reached the summit of Mount Moriah and stood silently, watching.

"Look, Tzipora," said the old man, pointing with his stick. "There they are, at it."

"Yes, Eliezar," his wife answered. "They’ve been working for almost a month."

"Yes, and where has it gotten us?" Eliezar replied bitterly. "Beginning of last month, that prophet Haggai comes telling Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest that it’s past time for us to be rebuilding the Lord’s temple. He says the reason the harvest has been so bad is because we’ve been building ourselves nice houses and neglecting the house of the Lord. But how can we build the Lord the kind of temple He deserves?"

"But Eliezar," Tzipora replied, "the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord Almighty! We have to listen to him. The governor and the high priest listened to him. We all did. Remember how our spirits rose when Haggai said, ‘"I am with you," declares the Lord’? Remember how we feared the Lord our God and came and began to work to rebuild His house?"

"Yes, yes, I remember all that!" said her husband, wearily. "It was only a few weeks ago; I haven’t lost my memory yet! . . . Though it might be better for me if I had." He stopped, and regarded the ragtag gang of amateur builders laboring on the temple’s framework. "Look at that," he resumed. "Timber, not stone! Tzipora, you remember our temple before the Babylonians burned it! We were both children then, but you remember those massive stones King Solomon brought from Lebanon! You remember how glorious our Temple was!"

"Yes, Eliezar, I remember."

"Well, look at that," he said again. "Look at it! Do we have any hope of matching Solomon’s temple now? Even if we had the strength to build it, even if we were numerous enough, where could we poor Jews find the money? Where is the silver and gold it would take to erect such a temple in our day? And the nations around us! They’d never let us build what we should! We’ve been trying to rebuild this temple the past nineteen years, and every time we begin, those Gentiles write off to the king in Persia and get him to make us stop! Now King Darius says we can go ahead, but what’s the use?"

"But the Lord’s command, Eliezar!"

"Yes, Tzipora, the Lord commanded us to return to the work. But how can He be pleased with what we can give? Don’t you remember that day when the prophet Ezekiel spoke to us when we were still in Babylon? Such a new temple he described! How glorious with its walls and courts and gates and altar! That’s what the Lord expects us to build! And we can’t do it! We can’t do it! This new temple is nothing. Nothing."

"Nothing," his wife echoed, and sighed.

Eliezar and Tzipora watched the workmen struggle on. And almost as if the laborers had overheard the old man’s bitter words, the shouts over the work seemed subdued, flattened, discouraged.

Around the corner of the shell of the building appeared two men in fine robes and turbans, obviously high officials. "Look, Eliezar! There’s Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest!"

"Inspecting the work, I suppose," he replied. "I wonder what they think of it."

The old couple saw the governor say something to the high priest, who shook his head. Both men seemed weary, their shoulders drooping, their heads low.

Suddenly, a firm step sounded on the pavement behind Tzipora and Eliezar. Startled, they turned, the woman’s hand to her heart. "Oh! My lord Haggai!" she gasped. The prophet’s eyes seemed to burn into her soul.

"My lord, the governor and the high priest are there, just above," faltered Eliezar. "You have business with them?"

"Yes," said the prophet, "and with you, Eliezar son of Berekiah. And with you, Tzipora wife of Eliezar." He smiled. "Come. Hear what the Lord has to say to you and to all the remnant of His people. Come."

. . . People of the Presbyterian Church of N---, I don't think you have to reach far to identify with Eliezar and Tzipora. Going by what I heard when I preached here in August, there are many of you who remember how it used to be, back in the glory days of this congregation. I’m guessing that someplace you have an anniversary photo showing so many members you could never get them inside the doors at once. There was a time when the Sunday School swarmed with children; when church societies and organizations flourished; when acts of charity and service flowed out of this place with many willing hands to help them along. You remember when this congregation and its pastor and officers were leaders in this community, and the light of Jesus Christ shone out from this place like a beacon of peace and hope.

And now? Let the prophet Haggai speaking in the name of the Lord tell us how things are now. Just as he asked the Jews of Jerusalem in 519 BC, he asks you, "Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem like nothing?"

But hear now what the Lord has to say to you. Be encouraged, people of the Presbyterian Church of N---. The words of Haggai to the remnant of Israel are God’s words to you and to all God’s struggling people around this fallen world. The Scripture says to you, "'But now be strong, you elders. Be strong, you deacons and musicians and teachers. Be strong, all you people of the church. Be strong, and work. For I am with you,' declares the Lord Almighty.

"‘Be strong, and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty." Our downfall in our brokenness is that so often we think it’s all up to us to fix it. And either we try really, really hard and maybe we come up with something and are pumped up with pride in ourselves, or we get discouraged and give up because we can’t make things happen the way they used to or the way we think they should. We act as if God were busy up in heaven doing whatever and leaving it all to us, or maybe He’s on the sidelines, cheering us on, but in the end it’s our work to rebuild the church, not His.

But no! "‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty." Whatever He asks us to do in His name, He is the prime mover. He is the one who takes the lead and makes sure the job gets done. For us to think and act otherwise isn’t merely counterproductive, it’s sin.

In 519 BC God promised to help His people because of the covenant He made with Israel when He brought them out of Egypt. But you can claim His power on the basis of a better covenant, the one our Sovereign Lord made with you on Calvary through the blood of His only Son Jesus Christ.

For hear what the Lord says to all His chosen people, from Israel of old to us His new Israel today. He says,

"‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty."

Our Lord shook the heavens and the earth when He brought His people out of Egypt. But much more did He shake all creation when He Himself became incarnate in Jesus Christ, eternal God in human flesh! He shook all creation when God the Son of Man hung on a cross to take His own righteous wrath against our sin. He shook all creation when Jesus our Saviour rose triumphant from the dead to give new and unending life to all who are called in His name. Jesus Christ is the desired of all nations, and it is in Him and Him alone that God’s church is filled with glory.

The peoples of this earth don’t realize that Jesus crucified and risen is their desire. All of us-- all of us-- manufacture messiahs of our own imagining to fulfill our hopes and dreams, and we keep on doing it until God by His Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see His glory in Jesus Christ. It is the glory of Christ’s church, the glory of this congregation, to display to the world the true Messiah, to show the lost where their true longing lies. In this very town you are surrounded by unbelievers and people who claim to be Christian but know nothing whatever of the free grace of Jesus Christ who died to save them from their sins. This house is needed here. You are needed here. The Lord says to you, "Build!" No, not the physical building of the church, necessarily, but build your ministry in this place! Serve Him where He has put you; be a witness to the nations right where you are and right as you are!

But how can you do that? Does this church not seem small and broken? Just keeping the doors open is a struggle. And as for having the power and resources to rebuild the ministry of this church, who here feels the power in him or herself to do that? Ministry takes money, doesn’t it? Where is it to come from, especially in this rotten economy?

Remember what the Lord said through Haggai:

"‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty."

If money is needed, the Lord can provide it. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills! All creation is His! If money is the answer here, our Lord will shower it down.

But maybe God has something greater in mind, something money can’t buy. For,

"‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty."

Was Haggai the prophet referring to the literal temple the Jews were trying to rebuild? No! Compared to Solomon’s temple, that building truly was nothing. No, the glory prophesied was that of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Though they didn’t know it, the temple of God being built there was the people of God themselves. As they trusted and worked and worshipped, they were being made into a fit vessel from which the Messiah would come. As they trusted God and obeyed Him even in their smallness and brokenness, they became a channel through which the Lord would demonstrate His creation-shaking glory. And as He did it through them, so He can do it through you.

I know of a church over in Oxford, England. It was down to so few members, the diocese was about to close it. But six elderly women covenanted together to pray for the ministry of St. Matthew’s church and the Lord in His power answered their prayer. A couple of years later that church was filled to the windows with people of all ages and had a thriving ministry.

There may not be that many people in this area for that to happen here. But even in its smallness and brokenness, this house can be filled with the glory of God. This congregation can be made strong to do His will.

Isn’t that always the way of our Lord? Time and again He takes the littlest, the least, the youngest, the broken, the despised in the eyes of this world and uses it to show His almighty power. St. Paul in our New Testament reading declares that his own ministry is commended in his hardships, afflictions, dishonor, insignificance, poverty, and poor reputation. All the things that the world would look down upon, God turns into badges of honor. Not that these things are virtues in themselves, but because in Paul’s weakness, the gifts of God’s Spirit and His divine power more clearly shine forth. God uses Paul’s very smallness and brokenness to demonstrate the glory of Jesus Christ to the world.

For what could be more small and broken and despised than our Lord Himself, on that dark Friday on Calvary? The religious authorities mocked Him, the civil authorities considered Him a problem to be swept out of the way, the devil of Hell probably roared in premature triumph. Hung as a criminal on a cross! Rejected, scorned, bruised, and broken, Jesus was not the glorious Messiah the people expected to see. How could this Nazarene be the desired of all nations? Did He not look to all the world like nothing?

But in the very nothingness of the crucified Jesus, our God brought everything to this blind and broken world. He exalted this Lord Jesus to His right hand in glory and appointed that in Him and Him alone all men must meet with God. Jesus Christ is our Temple. He is the one place where the Almighty grants His peace. And as He dwells in you His church and as you His church dwell in Him, you are His temple here on earth.

And so, as St. Paul says, we must stop being unequally yoked with unbelievers. There are all sorts of ideas about what that means, but at the very least it must mean, Do not use the ways of this world to promote the goals of God. The world demands strength and power, but we preach Christ crucified in weakness. The world says church growth comes from high-tech glamor and the latest sure-fire marketing methods and appeals to sinners’ felt needs, but we preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. The world says success is judged by size and numbers and the bigger the better, but we preach faithfulness to our God and trust in Him to fill this house with His glory, however large or small the membership may be.

People of God, trust in His power, not in your own. Rejoice in your smallness and brokenness, for God is with you and will do great things in you. There is ministry here for you to do and He has given you gifts by the Holy Spirit for you to do it. So be strong, and work. Build the church in this place, not in your own strength, but in the strength of Jesus Christ, your Temple and your glory. Consecrate yourselves to Him in holiness, for in Him, you are all the temple of the living God.

To close, let us pray a prayer that John Calvin wrote in response to this passage in Haggai:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are not only alienated in mind from thee, but also often relapse after having been once stirred up by thee, either into perverseness, or into our own vanity, or are led astray by various things, so that nothing is more difficult than to pursue our course until we reach the end of our race- - O grant that we may not confide in our own strength, nor claim for ourselves more than what is right, but, with our hearts raised above, depend on thee alone, and constantly call on thee to supply us with new strength, and so to confirm us that we may persevere to the end in the discharge of our duty, until we shall at length attain the true and perfect form of that temple which thou commandest us to build, in which thy perfect glory shines forth, and into which we are to be transformed by Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Liberated for Worship

Texts: Exodus 6:6-8; 8:1; 1 Peter 2:9-12; Romans 12:1-2

IT’S BEEN YEARS SINCE CHILDREN in the Presbyterian Church (USA) were required to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism in order to be confirmed. But say I were to ask you, "What is the chief end of man?" most of you could reply, "Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

There’s the meaning and purpose of human life, right there in those twelve little words. Human life is for the glorification and enjoyment of Almighty God. You and I and every human being ever born were made for worship. Everything in creation was made to focus us on the living God as our chief joy and treasure. Everything we do should show all creation how wonderful the Lord Almighty is. That’s how He made us to find fulfillment. That’s what He created us to do.

But we don’t see humanity carrying out that purpose, do we? We don’t even see it in ourselves, who bear the name of Christian. Ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we have turned away from worshipping God and enjoying and glorifying Him above all other things. In Romans 3:10-18, St. Paul reminds us of what is written in God’s holy law:

"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."
"Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit."
"The poison of vipers is on their lips."
"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."

God made us to seek Him, to do good to others to the praise of His name. He gave us tongues to speak His word and vocal cords to sing His glory. He purposed our lips to proclaim the health-giving truth of His righteousness and love and our mouths to utter blessings on Him and our neighbor. Our feet He created to run quickly to do His service; our whole being He made for encouragement and joy and peace, peace we would find in bowing before Him and worshipping Him, looking to Him in holy fear. But do we? Does any human being of his or her own volition truly seek the Lord and the kingdom of His righteousness?

No, we do not. We humans run after and worship every other god except the Lord of heaven and earth. Some of us worship forces of nature, depicted as idols of metal, wood, or stone. We so-called superior modern types, we worship the false gods of money, power, position, or family. If we’re really sophisticated-- and I use the term satirically-- we claim to be worshipping the Lord God Himself , but we make Him over in our own image. We say, "Well, the God I worship wouldn’t do that!" or "My Jesus would always do this other thing!" When the very word of Scripture declares that we’re telling total lies about the Triune God.

When it comes down to it, we fallen humans are really worshipping ourselves, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden. Every sin, every act of human crime and warfare, every evil and disease that has come into this world, can be traced to that one vicious motivation that lies in every one of our hearts: We would be as God, and our chief end is to glorify ourselves and enjoy ourselves in our own way forever.

So as Paul continues in the third chapter of Romans, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God."

But why should God hold us accountable? What difference does it make to Him if we glorify and enjoy Him-- or not? When the Scripture declares that God’s wrath will come upon those who refuse to worship Him alone, isn’t He being arbitrary and unfair?

Seems like a reasonable question-- until the Lord opens our minds to understand just how things are. God must punish rebellion against Himself, first because idolatry violates the very reason He created us. It’s an outrage against the image of God in us all. Then, the wrath of God comes because our refusal to glorify and enjoy Him puts us in opposition to Him in a battle we can’t win. Our sin is like fierce waves pounding us like frail wooden boats to pieces against the rock of God’s righteousness. It’s true that God Almighty cannot bear sin in His presence, but more than that, we sinners could not bear His presence in our sin.

But the third reason God must punish our idolatry is perhaps the greatest of all, and the hardest for us in our fallen natures to understand: It is that He is God. He and He alone has the right to be praised, worshipped, and glorified now and forever. That’s what it means for Him to be God. He made us; we did not make Him. He commands us; we are not to command Him. Ultimately, everything ought and should and shall be done to His glory and to the praise of His name.

And so, for His own name’s sake, God Almighty did not leave us in our sin. He called us to be a people of His own choosing and provided a way for us to be saved.

In the days of Moses the Lord freed the Hebrews from slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt and led them out to be His chosen people. After the children of Israel came into the Promised Land the Lord gave them judges and kings and prophets, to liberate them from oppression by the Gentile nations round about them, and from the yoke of idolatry they so often took upon themselves. And we know that these wonderful acts of salvation looked forward to the greatest act of liberation of all-- that day when Jesus Christ, God’s own and only Son, hung upon a cross to take the wrath we deserved for our sins and to bring us salvation through His blood.

Why did He do it? Why did our Lord Jesus Christ suffer not only tortures of physical pain, but also the infinite horror of separation from His eternal Father? To save us from our sins, we reply. Yes, but why did He save us from our sins? Why did He set us free? Going farther back to God’s great liberation of Israel, why did He free them from Pharaoh? What was it all for?

The Lord our God freed us for worship. Over and over the Lord commands Moses to say to Pharaoh, "This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me." Not, "Let my people worship, so they may go." Worship wasn’t a ruse to get the Hebrews out from under Pharaoh’s eye, as if God wanted him to think that they’d come back as soon as they’d offered their sacrifices. No, they needed to be liberated from their slavery so they could worship God as He has a right to demand. In Exodus 6, verse 7 the Lord declares, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." He intended to bring Israel into a unique relationship with Him, where they could glorify and enjoy Him. In Exodus 1:12, the Lord tells Moses that their worship of Him at Mount Sinai would be a sign that it was indeed He who was with him.

If that was true for the children of Israel, how much more it is true for us, who are the new Israel in Jesus Christ! The Apostle Peter in his First Letter describes how it is with us:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

God chose us in Jesus Christ and called us out of darkness, that we might declare His praises! He liberated us for worship! When we truly worship Him, it is His testimony to us that He is with us and has set us free. Only God’s people can worship Him, and we become His people not by our efforts, or by what we deserve, but by His gracious liberating hand.

And from the days of Moses; even from the time of Creation, the worship God desires is like a beautiful bird with two wings. We worship God-- that is, we glorify and enjoy Him-- by coming together to hear His holy word read and preached, to receive the holy sacraments He has given to us, to sing His praises, to give our offerings, and to raise up our adoration and petitions to Him in prayer. And we worship Him with our lives as we serve our neighbor, those in the church and those yet outside of it. Peter tells us we should live such good lives among unbelievers that ultimately they, too, may glorify God. Paul in Romans 12 reminds us that in view of God’s mercy in freeing us from sin and wrath through the shed blood of His Son, we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. By such continual acts of worship we "test and approve what God’s will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will." As we worship Him in our lives we begin to know what it is to enjoy Him forever.

But we still have a problem, don’t we? We keep forgetting what we were saved for. To hear some preachers talk, you’d think God freed us from sin so we could have prosperous lives and happy marriages and well-behaved children and a sense of self-esteem and fulfillment. According to others, after Jesus has saved us by His free grace, it’s up to us to find our purpose under God by working really hard at some forty-day program, as if being a living sacrifice were something we have to do on our own. But no, God has saved us by Himself and for Himself, and having begun the work, He will bring it to completion.

But say we do acknowledge that we’re liberated for worship. The old Adam in us still wants to come up with his own ideas about what worship of Almighty God is. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, "I can worship God just as well or better on the golf course or at the beach as I can sitting in church." But the Bible’s answer to that is, No, you can’t. True worship of God is corporate-- it is offering of the whole royal priesthood, the people belonging to God. Even when we must be alone, our worship must acknowledge the spiritual presence of the whole body of believers. To claim it can ever be "Just Me and God" is to fall once more into idolatry.

But more than that, our worship together is not primarily a matter of what we give Him, but of what He gives us. Tell me, you who claim to worship on the golf course, are you hearing the Word of God preached? Are you hearing the bad news of God's wrath against your sin and the good news of Jesus Christ crucified to reconcile you to Him? And you who say you commune with God on the beach, are you receiving the holy sacraments our Lord has ordained? If not, how can you say you’re worshipping the one true God? Where our Lord does not give Himself in the ways He Himself has ordained, we are left worshipping idols we ourselves have made.

Then again, what if we want to remake worship to make it a better "experience," especially for the unbeliever? Let’s have more entertainment, louder amplifiers, better PowerPoint graphics, more exciting effects! Let’s get rid of boring sermons and sacraments and any talk about sin!

Beware, for if we omit or minimize the means of grace our Lord has given us, we’ll find we’re not worshipping the living God, but our idolatrous idea of Him. We can give a seeker the best "worship experience" in the world, but if we aren’t communicating the bad news of sin and wrath and the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, that man or woman will remain just as much a child of Hell as they were when they walked through the church doors. Worship is not about giving us great experiences, it’s about glorifying and enjoying the eternal, righteous, holy, and all-worthy Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Or what if we think worship is just what we’re used to and find comfortable, like a social club with hymns? What will we do when He roars like a lion in His Word and burns like fire by His Spirit? What will become of our tame Jesus idol then? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

But take comfort, Christian friends. Our heavenly Father knows our weakness and comes to us in mercy and love. The worship of God is not a burden, it is your glory and your joy! Yes, we often fail truly to worship God as we come together as local churches. We don’t perfectly worship Him as we go about our lives in the world. But our Lord Jesus is here by His Spirit to forgive us, to guide us, to guard us, and to lead us more perfectly in His service. He is with us to teach us to desire the living God more than life itself, for He is Life itself. Our Christ has liberated us to worship Him, for it is in worship that He gives us His grace and strength; it is in worship that our God and Father receives the honor He is due; and in worship we come to fall at His feet, lost in wonder, love, joy, and praise.

In the name of Christ our risen Lord, wherever we are, whatever we do, may we glorify God and enjoy Him forever. As His liberated people, let us continually worship God.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Worthy of His Calling

Texts: Malachi 3:13 - 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12

WHY SHOULD ANYONE WANT TO become a Christian? If you or I were talking to an unbeliever, someone we knew and cared about-- and the subject of church came up and that person should ask, "Why should I become a Christian? What’s in it for me?" how should we respond?

Maybe we could tell him about the fellowship and good times he could find as a member of a Christian church like 1st Presbyterian.
Maybe we could point to all the good works Christians do for other people and say how good she’d feel to be part of that.

Or, we could tell him that believing in Jesus will make him more fulfilled as a human being, that Jesus will give him a sense of purpose and higher goals for living. We could tell her that once Jesus is in her life, she’ll have new and wonderful ways to make her marriage better and help her raise obedient, well-adjusted children.

Or how’s this? We could even tell him (though really, we shouldn't) that faith in Jesus Christ will make him happier, more comfortable, and more prosperous in this world; and, if he cares about such things, it’ll also guarantee him happiness and security in the world to come. We could say that when you’re a Christian, Jesus solves all your problems, that once you have true faith, you won’t have to struggle with anything anymore. I mean, there are popular preachers out there who say that, and look how many people they have in their pews!

We could say all these things to an interested unbeliever. And some of them (some of them!) are true to an extent. But none of them get to the heart of what God has in store for us when we confess our faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ. If we wanted to be truly honest with our unbelieving friend or neighbor or family member, maybe we should quote to him the words of the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die."

Ouch. That’s not a church marketing pitch designed to win a lot of customers, is it? And maybe, yes, that’s not what we’d want to lead with. But if we said that, it would be true, and once our unbelieving friend or you or I or anyone else understands the depths of that truth, we’ll see that it’s the most comforting, fulfilling offer we could ever be made. The call to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is God’s call for us to identify with and participate in the sufferings of His crucified Son. Christianity is all about the cross. Our very baptism depicts us being immersed in the death of the wounded Messiah. But that’s really good news! Because only by dying to ourselves, our wants, our needs, our sense of who we are and what we can do and what we should be, can we be raised with Christ to the new life of joy and fulfilment and meaning God has planned for us. Only by humbling ourselves and wanting and worshipping God for who He is-- adoring our Triune Lord in all the glorious splendor of His holiness because He eternally deserves it--can we find glory and meaning in this life on earth and beyond that, in our life face to face with Him in heaven.

Which is why St. Paul, in our reading from 2 Thessalonians, reminds us that our relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ is a calling. From our human point of view, we church members may think we analyzed the pros and cons of buying into this Christianity deal and said Yes because it made sense or seemed like a good way to live. But you and I could never even consider, never even imagine, never even desire belonging to Jesus Christ if God Himself from all eternity had not elected to bring us into fellowship with Him through the shed blood of His only-begotten Son. How could we? Like everyone else, we were lost in trespasses and sins. We were rebels against Him and His righteous will. We didn’t want God. Maybe we wanted some things we could get out of Him, but we didn’t desire God for Himself! And because of our idolatry and sin we deserved God’s wrath just as much as the most vicious serial killer or genocidal tyrant.

Now frankly, when I turn that around and preach it at myself, I want to say, "Hey, wait a minute. I’m not that bad! Actually, I’m a pretty nice person! And so are most of the people I know, even the unbelievers!" But that very thought alerts me to yet another area in my life where Jesus bids me come and die. I may think I know what’s what in this world and how things really are. But God in Christ calls me-- and you-- to give that up and see things His way instead. He calls us to accept the utter wickedness of sin-- any sin-- and the utter burning holy righteousness of God. At the very least, He calls us to submit to what He says about us and our helpless condition and have faith that His will and wisdom are always best, whether we understand it now or not.

But there is another sense in which our calling as Christians is a call to suffering and death. We see it in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 and 5. Paul says, "Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering." When we live openly and honestly as Christians in this fallen world, we will suffer persecution. It may be mild, it may be severe, but it goes with our calling. When God in His sovereign power claims us for His own, He makes us new creatures through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We no longer are the same kind of human beings we were when we were born in sin into this world. No, through Christ we are now children of God, sons and daughters of the Lord and Creator of the universe. It’s natural that those who are still in rebellion against Him will hate and despise and persecute us as well.

Here in America, that persecution hasn’t been the open sort of trouble that came upon the Christians in Thessalonika. Or that comes even now to our brothers and sisters in places like India and Somalia and Viet Nam. But if we are Christians called by God, if we are worthy of the calling laid upon us, there will be times when we certainly will encounter trouble, misunderstanding, opposition, and even outright persecution because we are who we are. In those times the first thing that has to die is our dream of fitting in with everyone else. "Can’t we all just get along?" is not necessarily a Christian principle! Yes, be at peace with everyone, inasmuch as it lies with you, as our brother the Apostle Peter wrote. But far above that, let us strive to be at peace with God our Father, who has made us His own. Being a Christian means desiring His pleasure, His promises, His rewards above everything this world can give, even when we see none of that coming true in the present time.

I wonder if our frequent failure to grow as Christians and as churches has a lot to do with our taking a consumer view of our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we buy into Him because we think He’ll make us more fulfilled and comfortable, how can we be the world-changing soldiers of the King every child of His should be? Suffering and persecution comes with the package. To think otherwise would be like somebody who joined the US Army strictly because of the college tuition and job benefits, then was astonished because the Government sent him overseas to fight. I remember a case like that back in the early ’90s, when the First Gulf War was going on. A woman, a medical doctor, had joined up for the educational benefits. But when her unit was called up to go to Iraq, she refused to go with them to exercise her skills in the field. She claimed going to a war zone wasn’t what she’d joined the Army for. There was a court-martial, then a civil case, and the judges all ruled against her. Regardless of any benefits offered, the Army is about fighting the enemy. You should know that going in. In the same way, the Christian life is about putting God first in everything, and being willing to take the flak the world will fire at you because of it.

But as we heard before, we don’t really join God’s army, we’re drafted into it. We’re called. At the end of this service, we’ll be singing, "Once to every man and nation/ Comes the moment to decide." And it’s true: from our side we do have to make a decision for Christ. But understand, we can make that decision, we can say Yes to Him, only because God has first laid His electing hand upon us and brought us already into His fellowship. And as He does He gives us all the benefits of belonging to Him through His Son.

The complainers in our reading from Malachi didn’t want the benefits of God. They wanted the benefits of this world, right now. "It is futile to serve God," they say. "What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?" Doggonit, they’d put a dollar’s worth of ritual and fasting into the divine vending machine and now they wanted their Coke! With change!

It’s worth noting that this is the same gang of priests and people that the Lord has been bringing a case against for the entire book of Malachi. Their "worship" was insincere all along. But even in this one passage, we see the error of believing in Christ because we think He’ll satisfy our self-defined needs. Friends, we have needs only God knows about, and only by His calling and faithfulness can they ever be fulfilled.

In both our passages we see one of these needs, the need to be saved from the wrath to come. Malachi reports that those who fear the Lord and honor His name will be spared in the day of judgment, as a man compassionately spares his son who serves him. In the great day of burning, the arrogant and every evildoer, all who claim they don’t need God and don’t want God, all who want God only on their terms and according to their preferences, all such will be destroyed like stubble. Paul takes up the same theme: Through him the Spirit promises that the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven in blazing fire to punish those who do not know God and who don’t obey His gospel.

That’s not something we like to think of as happening to our unbelieving family and friends. But as Paul says, God is just. If someone says No to God, God will give him what he desires and say No to him.

But, as Malachi says, for those who revere His name, those who are the called according to His purpose, the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in its wings. Now "Sun of Righteousness" is a figure of speech for our Lord and Messiah Jesus, who comes as the Light of the World to bring salvation and enlightenment to all who believe. Paul reminds us that we will be glorified in Christ at His coming, and those who trouble us because we belong to Jesus will be paid back with trouble, according to His perfect justice. It must be so, for whoever will not accept the death of the Son of God in their behalf, will have to bear their own just death in themselves. This is not revenge or retribution, it is simple justice.

But beyond our need to be saved from the wrath to come, we need to know the glory and joy of true fellowship with our Lord. Malachi says that God’s faithful ones will be His, like a treasured possession a man gathers up and preserves. Or as some translations puts it, we will be His precious jewels. But the benefits of Christ are not only for the day of our Lord’s return. No, Paul prays for the Thessalonians and for us that by His power God may fulfill every good purpose of ours. This prayer is for us now, and since Paul is writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can confidently take it that he prays for things it’s God’s intention to give. God promises to bless and prosper every good work offered up in sincerity and love to His name! Even the least act prompted by your faith, He will bless; even the slightest humbling of our wills, even the least endurance of suffering or trouble for His name’s sake, He will remember and reward with good. And why? So that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in us, and we may be glorified in Him.

This is why we should be Christians. This is why we should tell our unbelieving family, neighbors, and friends about Him and what He has done for them in His death and resurrection and invite them to become Christians, too. Not for our own glory, but for glorious fellowship and fulfillment in Him. Not through our own good works, but through His grace and His grace alone. He calls us to suffer, because when we suffer with Him, we gain the reward of His suffering; He calls us to die, that in Him we might gloriously rise. Let those who will, seek God only for the earthly goods they can get out of him; by His grace we will seek Him for Himself and the glory of His name. Christian, Jesus calls you to suffer and die with Him, and then enter with Him into glory; may our God count you worthy of His calling.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Divine Humility and Kingdom Power

Text: Mark 8:31 - 9:50
JESUS SAID, "I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."

To see the kingdom of God come with power! What true disciple of Jesus Christ would not want to see that? Proud oppressors put down, wicked rulers toppled, the hungry fed, the righteous rewarded, justice done, and peace and brotherhood extended over all the earth. That certainly would be worth seeing, and not only seeing, it’s also something we’d like to participate in and get the benefit of.

But here it’s nearly two thousand years later and still we don’t see the kingdom of God come with power. The messed-up brokenness of this world seems to go on as it always has. We see poverty, unemployment, and oppression. We see elected officials deceiving the voters and neighbor cheating neighbor. We see a man willing to kill total strangers at a fitness center to get revenge for how life had treated him. The celebrities we admire turn out to be riddled with drugs and adulteries, and often our lives and the lives of our own families wouldn’t bear media scrutiny, either. So how could Jesus say that "some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power"? Did our Lord-- who is the Truth-- somehow slip up and say something that wasn’t true? Or is the problem with us, that we’re off track on what the kingdom of God really is?

When I was in seminary, one of my professors, R. T. France, taught us something about the kingdom of God that I’ve never forgotten, and I don’t want you to forget it, either: He said, "The kingdom of God is that state of affairs where God is Lord and King-- beginning with you and me." It’s worth saying again: "The kingdom of God is that state of affairs where God is Lord and King-- beginning with you and me." In the kingdom of God, God is absolute Ruler. In His kingdom, God gives all the orders and gets all the glory. Where God is King, those who willingly bow the knee to Him are raised to a right relationship with Him and a right relationship with one another. His subjects enjoy the benefits He gives, including joy and fulfillment and peace. Where God is king, justice, righteousness, and holiness prevail.

The Gospel of Mark is about the coming of God’s rulership. In chapter 1, verse 15, Jesus declares, "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" With every demon driven out, every healing performed, Jesus advanced the borders of the kingdom. The Kingdom was present, but not yet achieved its full power. We must understand: The kingdom of God is not something that one minute does not exist and the next minute, there it is in all its perfection! Rather, it comes in gradually, without our realizing it, then one day our eyes are opened and we recognize what God has been doing all along.

Jesus’ statement in chapter 9, verse 1 follows on from the events at the end of Chapter 8. You’ll remember that in 8:29, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ. I don’t think we can fully grasp what that meant for the Jewish people in the 1st century. At Christmas we joyfully sing, "Come, Thou long-expected Jesus" and "O come, O come, Emmanuel," but for a 1st century Jew, those hymns would have been cries of hope and anguish. Please, Lord! Send your Messiah, your Christ! Save us now! We can’t take much more! So when Peter has said, "You are the Christ!" and Jesus accepts the title, you have to know what the disciples were thinking. "Ah, soon we make our move! The Messiah is here! God will send His angels, His faithful ones will fight, and the wicked oppressing ungodly unrighteous uncircumcised false-god-worshipping, Temple-desecrating Romans will be driven out by force! The kingdom of God will come with power!"

That’s how things are supposed to happen, right? In this world, that’s the way things have to happen. If conditions are bad, you have to take your pride and your confidence in your hands and stand up and fight. You have to be assertive and aggressive and speak up and struggle for what you need and deserve. And if you’re too weak to do it yourself, you call upon somebody else who can be assertive and aggressive and outspoken enough to get out there and fight and win for you.

But that’s not how it works with the kingdom of God. With the kingdom of God, our normal expectations are turned upside down. Jesus accepts the title of Messiah, warns the disciples not to tell, and begins to teach them to expect His crucifixion. No no no no no, Jesus! says Peter (and you know he was speaking for them all). This is no time for You to be talking about weakness and death! This is the time for glory and triumph and power! But Jesus rebukes Peter and says, "Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

For the kingdom of God to come, it had to come God’s way, through the suffering and resurrection of His Son. It had to come through the divine humility of Jesus Christ our Lord, who submitted to a shameful, unjust death to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus could never have sat down at the right hand of His Father in glory unless first He had taken His throne upon the cross. It’s Satan’s business to make us object to that, so we’ll uselessly spend our time and energies bringing in a human version of God’s kingdom in purely human ways. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to open our eyes and help us see things God’s way instead.

Jesus makes it clear: If we would be children of the kingdom, we must follow Him in His divine humility. We don’t live in a time and place where they execute people by crucifixion, but Jesus still calls us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses. He calls for our hearts to be so utterly dedicated to God that we’re willing to suffer injustice, shame, even torture and death for Jesus’ sake. We see the kingdom come in power when our own wills are crying out, "I want, I need, I gotta have, I wanna do!" and we submit to God’s rulership and do what He wants instead. Not by our own strength, but through trust in Him. The kingdom of God is that state of affairs where God is King, starting with you and me, but can be true for us only because first it was true for God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is His divine humility in saving us and redeeming us from our sins that makes it possible for us to submit to God’s rulership and see His kingdom come in this world.

Throughout Chapter 9 and into Chapter 10, our sovereign Lord causes things to happen to show us the Christlike humility His kingship demands. In verse 9, after the awesome experience of the Transfiguration, the Voice of God echoes from the cloud, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"

Listen to Jesus! Hear and obey His word! Let His voice drown out the conflicting demands of your flesh and this world. Let His will be your first priority and your greatest joy.

Then in verse 12, Jesus again mentions that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected. In divine humility the kingdom comes, and in no other way. Will you accept His death for your sake? It is the way of the kingdom.

In verse 14 and thereafter, Jesus and the three disciples come down from the mountain and encounter the crowd in conflict over the other disciples’ failure to drive a vicious demon out of a young boy. Mark tells us the teachers of the law were arguing with the other disciples. What about? Most likely, about who had the best technique or the best formula for driving out demons. About which of the two groups, the Pharisees or the Nazarenes, had the most power. But in verses 23 and 24, all Jesus demands from the father of the boy is the merest measure of faith. Not faith as a work or faith as human effort, but faith as total humility before Almighty God and total submission to His will. Jesus delivers the boy and afterwards, in verse 29, He tells his disciples that kind of demon can come out only by prayer. But what is prayer, true, honest, God-pleasing prayer? Again, it is our confession of our total dependency on His power and His will.

When we pray, is it to get God to do our will? Or is it for us to seek His will and to accept it when we know it? Where there is a prayerful, submitted heart, there is the kingdom of God.

Not easy, is it? It wasn’t easy for the disciples, either. Along the road to Capernaum, they reverted to the old human understanding of the kingdom of God as position and greatness and power. You have to wonder if Peter, James, and John hadn’t been a little proud of themselves for having seen what they saw on the mountain. But once they all returned to home base, Jesus reminded them of what the coming of God’s kingdom was all about. "Sitting down," Mark tells us, "Jesus said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’" It is humility that gives us our place in the kingdom of God! The little child Jesus calls to Him is a walking parable of that truth. Not because children are intrinsically good or innocent, but rather that in that culture in particular, children were not esteemed. They were helpless and humble and dependent as Jesus was when He hung on Calvary’s cross, with only faith in His heavenly Father to tell Him that He would be raised to life on the third day. And we see the kingdom of God come in power when our hearts are disciplined to trust God for all our needs, when we are content to be humbled and even humiliated in this world, providing God will get the glory.

Then the disciples object that some other man, not of their group, was driving out demons in Jesus name. John reports that he told the man to stop. But Jesus says no, "whoever is not against us is for us," and "I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward." Our group pride is meaningless in the sight of God. Rather, His favor hinges on and revolves around Jesus Christ. This teaching of our Lord would find greater fulfillment after He ascended into heaven, when the Gentiles began to believe in Him and the Jewish believers had to come to terms with the fact that belonging to Christ didn’t mean joining a Jewish club.

Can we do that? Can we judge only by the measure of Christ and stop drawing lines according to whether someone is inside or outside our particular group? When we do, there is the kingdom of God come in power.

And in verses 42 and following, Jesus impresses on us our critical responsibility for the spiritual well-being of others, especially those who are young in years or young in the faith. There are many ways that spiritual pride can cause us to do things that could lead the weaker brother or sister astray. Is the kingdom of God come in us to the extent that we give up our freedom for the sake of others? And Jesus says, "It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell." There’s more to this teaching than hands and feet and eyes! What is precious to you in this world? What is dearer to you beyond anything else? Your health? Your financial security? Your relationships? Your good name? Jesus says, if any of these things causes you to sin, if any of these good things separate you from God and prevent you from submitting to His kingdom rule, end it. Cut it off. No good thing on this earth can compare with the glory of God’s perfect rulership over you, and no earthly loss, however painful, can be in any way as bad as the agony of hell, the eternal pain of knowing you’ve missed His glorious kingdom for ever.

How does the kingdom of God come in power? Against all the expectations of this world, it comes in weakness and humility. It comes through the cross of Christ and His humbling, saving, pride-purging work on our behalf. The kingdom of God certainly will bring justice and liberation and prosperity and joy. It will bring it, because all creation will be in submission to Christ as King. Pray that God will humble your pride, lest you remain in rebellion and sin and know His kingship only from the depths of hell. Pray He will give you faith to trust and grace to submit to Him in holy joy, that you may know the height and depth and width of the blessings of His rulership.

By Christ’s divine humility, God’s kingdom will come perfectly in power. Blessed were the eyes who saw its coming in the days when Jesus walked this earth. In our time, may He grant us eyes to see and hearts to proclaim His glory alone, now and forever, amen.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Food That Endures

Texts: Exodus 16:1-20; John 6:22-40

I’M GOING TO TAKE A risk now: Even though I’ve just met you all, I’ll predict that sometime during this service you’ll be thinking about food. No matter how hard you try, some stray thought will cross your mind about what you’re going to eat once you get home, or how the roast is doing in the oven, or how crowded it might be at the restaurant where you always go after church. I’m not risking that I might be wrong about that; the risk is that now I’ve brought the subject up, you won’t be able to think about anything except food.

It doesn’t take much to get us thinking about food, does it? Here in America, even when times are harder than usual, our thoughts usually run to what we might be eating next and how good it’s going to taste. In other places and times, we’d more likely worry about where our next meal is coming from at all. Food means life and lifestyle and a whole lot of other important and necessary things, and it stands to reason we’ll often have it on our minds.

The problem is, we don’t take our concern for food far enough. We contemplate and worry about and work for the kind of food that will sustain and enliven and give pleasure to our physical bodies, but we neglect to go on to contemplate and desire and work for the food that will enliven and sustain and give pleasure to our immortal souls. We consume our lives going after the kind of food that feeds us for a little while then we need more or we die, but forget about the food that can make us live forever. Sure, let us think about food, but let us go much further and concern ourselves with the food that really matters!

In John, chapter 6, verse 27, our Lord Jesus Christ says, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." Jesus the Son of Man has this special kind of food that sustains the new and different kind of life that we all need, and He promises simply to give it to us!

The people He originally addressed with these words, the crowd gathered around Him there in Capernaum, certainly needed this good news. They’d been running themselves to exhaustion the past several hours trying to get Jesus to give them more of the food that spoils. Yes, the bread and fish that Jesus gave them on the other side of the Lake was miraculously multiplied. But it remained plain ordinary bread and fish. Yes, God gave the Children of Israel manna in the wilderness, long ago in the days of the exodus from Egypt. But it was still food for the flesh, to be digested and done with; after a few hours, it would still breed maggots and spoil.

But that was the kind of food the crowds were after. That’s why they’d been searching so strenuously for Jesus. That’s why, as John tells us up in verse 15, they’d wanted to make Him king of Israel by force. Feed us, Jesus! Give us food for our bodies! We’ll do anything, we’ll be Your subjects and slaves, if You’ll just satisfy the hunger of our flesh! Their minds were stuck here on earth and hadn’t risen up to desire the food that endures to eternal life.

We’re often the same. Not just when we’re feeling hungry ourselves, but even in our Christian service. Too often we think our main calling as followers of Jesus Christ is to do physical relief work. To make sure the less advantaged are provided with food and clothing and medical care. And that once we’ve done that, we’ve done our duty as Christian disciples.

Now I’m really getting into dangerous territory, right? Yes, we should and ought and must show that kind of loving physical care for others. James the brother of our Lord says in his letter that if we see a brother or sister starving or naked and simply say, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed" and do nothing to meet his physical needs, we’ve clearly demonstrated that our faith in Jesus is meaningless and dead. But if food and clothing is all we give; if physical help is all we render, then we’ve given them only the food that perishes and we’re starving them of the food that endures. And that goes triple if the needy person is not yet a brother or sister in Christ. This mortal body is important, but it is doomed to die. What’s more, any well-meaning unbeliever can feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Only we as followers of Christ can go beyond that good work to do the best work of all. What’s the point of us going into the world in Jesus’ name if we nourish only people’s mortal bodies and fail to serve them the enduring food that only Jesus gives?

And yes, Jesus, alone, is the only Giver of that food. There’s a wonderful irony here in verse 27. "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you."

Wait a minute! You don’t work for a gift! You just receive it! Are we listening? Do we have ears to hear? The crowd there in Capernaum were deaf to what Jesus had to say. They missed the part about the gift and asked, "What must we do to the works God requires?" We fall into the same trap today. Okay, Jesus, okay, You’re offering us a better kind of food that doesn’t go bad but lasts forever and nourishes eternal life. All right, tell us what we have to do to get it!

And to them and to us, Jesus replies, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

That’s it. Just receive the gift of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. He is the one whom God has approved. He is the one whom God the Father has sent from heaven to be our Bread of eternal life. Open the hands and mouth of your will and take Him in by faith. When you have done that, you have done all that God requires for you to be fed. Preach Him broken on the cross for the sin of humankind and you have fed a spiritually-starving world.

The manna in the wilderness was a wonderful thing. But the Jews of Jesus’ day were wrong to be fixated on it. The manna that God gave in Moses’ day was not the true bread of heaven, rather it pointed to it. Or rather, it pointed to Him, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father, sent into the world to die for our sins and turn aside the wrath of God we so deeply deserved. We all wander starving in the wilderness of our rebellion until God raises up the cross of Christ before us and leads us into the bounty of His eternal kingdom. Jesus tells us clearly, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

"Yes, Lord," we say, "but I’ve lost my job, my unemployment’s running out, and if it’s all the same to You, I’d prefer You gave me food I can chomp down on with my physical teeth." If that’s where you are, I can’t blame you. In my flesh I’m just as shortsighted. Before we can even desire Jesus to give us Himself as the bread of God, we first need to beg Him to give us a true and holy appetite for Him. Oh, that He would make us into sort of people, that if some persecutor should give us the choice between eating a meal and remaining faithful to Jesus Christ, we’d choose to starve our physical bodies so our spiritual bodies could live.

That heavenly appetite is not something we can gin up on our own. It’s not in our fallen human nature to crave the bread of heaven over the bread of this earth. We can never come to Jesus to feed on Him unless the Father first has put that craving in us by giving us to His Son. It is God alone who makes us desire Jesus the bread of life beyond all other satisfactions. The good news is, that if you even desire to desire this, it’s a good sign that the Father is drawing you closer, ever closer to eternal life in Him.

The Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of the reality of God’s promise in His Son. This year we’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, and he said a beautiful thing about Holy Communion. He said that the heavenly reality of eternal life through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ is given along with the physical elements of bread and wine. The bread and wine are not changed in themselves, but they certainly are set apart to a holy use and mystery. For when we eat the bread and drink the cup, looking in faith to the Son and believing in His power to raise us up at the last day, we truly receive all the holy and life-giving benefits won for us by Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Lord. St. Augustine, many centuries before Calvin, was asked, "How can one eat of Christ, the bread of heaven?" He answered, "Believe, and you have eaten."

For this is the work of God: to believe in the One He has sent. It not only is the work God requires, it is the work God Himself performs on our behalf. Belief itself is a gift from God the Father; our ability to exercise that belief is also a gift, and Jesus Christ, the food that endures to eternal life, is the greatest gift of all.

So be at peace in Him. Your life with God does not depend upon your works, your good intentions, or even on how much you feel you love and desire Him. It depends totally on Him, in the power of the Holy Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given you to His Son, He has given His Son to you, and whoever comes to Jesus He will never drive away.

The manna that fed the Hebrews in the wilderness was a picture and a preview of Christ the true bread from heaven. In our own lives, may every meal, every thought of food, remind us of Jesus the bread of life. May the food that spoils spur us on to crave and hunger for the food that endures, the food that is Jesus Christ alone. May this craving seize not only ourselves, but all who don’t even realize they are perishing without the Son of God. And may God in His love use us to spread that hunger so others may refuse to be satisfied with anything less than Christ, the true and ever-living Bread.

This is His Table, spread for you. Here taste of the bread which satisfies all hunger, and drink of the wine that slakes all thirst. Receive your Lord, Jesus, the bread of life. In thankfulness and faith feast on Him, and receive the food that endures to eternal life.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The House That God Built

Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Matthew 7:13-29

I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’VE HEARD this before, but archaeologists have very likely found King David’s palace in Jerusalem. The discovery was actually made in 2005 by Dr. Eilat Mazar, the lead archaeologist on the dig. Since then, Dr. Mazar has taken a lot of heat for saying colossal stone structure was built by King David. Because believe it or not, there are even a lot of Jewish archaeologists who don’t believe David ever existed, or if he did, he was just some hill-country chieftain who would never have lived in a palace as massive and imposing as the structure Dr. Mazar has uncovered.

And what she uncovered is massive and imposing. It could only belong to a great king, the architectural evidence dates it to the time the Bible says David reigned, and what’s more, in the ruins were found a copper scroll, high-quality pottery, and some beautiful ivory spoons also datable to the 11th century BC. Dr. Mazar was asked why this important structure wasn’t found before. Her answer was that previous archaeologists weren’t looking in the right place. She believes that the Bible-- the Old Testament, at least, being Jewish and not a Christian-- is historical. So going by clues in God’s Word, she found the palace just where everyone should have been looking all along.

It’s a wonderful thing that King David’s palace in Jerusalem has been found. It’s wonderful any time archaeology confirms the historical nature of Scripture. Archaeology, when it’s been done by real scholars and not by sensationalist journalists, always does confirm Bible history, whether the archaeologists in charge believe in the Bible or not.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter if Dr. Mazar is right or if she turns out to be wrong about this particular ruin being King David’s palace. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter if all Bible history is just fables and our faith is based only on stories that people have made up in their heads. Just the opposite. Our God, the Creator of the world and everything in it, is a God who makes Himself known in human history. The Bible is the story of His interaction with real people in real places and real times. We should expect to find evidence of those people and places when an archaeologist in the Middle East takes up his pick and spade.

Nevertheless, as marvellous as this archaeological discovery is, our faith can never be based on the house King David built for himself. No, it must be based on the house the Lord God Almighty built for him-- and for us.

Our reading from 2 Samuel finds David when "he was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him." It grieved him that there he was living in a palace of cedar-- which is to say, a palace with its walls decorated with cedar panelling-- and the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant was still housed in a tent. If you go back to chapter 6, that tent wasn’t even the Tabernacle; it was, as we read in verse 17 of that chapter, "the tent that David had pitched for it." That didn’t seem right, and David began to think of building a proper house or temple to house the Presence of God.

Humanly-speaking, it was a good and noble idea. Nathan the prophet has no reason to assume differently; after all the Lord clearly was with David and would prosper him in this venture as well. But the Lord God had something else in mind. He gave Nathan a message for David, saying that it wasn’t for David to build Him a house; rather, He would build one for David. Not a physical palace of stone and cedar that would one day be destroyed by the Babylonians and buried for millennia. The Lord would build for David a house in the sense of life, greatness, and peace for him during his days on earth, of security for the people of Israel, and beyond all that, the Lord would build him the house of a family, a dynasty, a bloodline that after he was gone would be established forever in the sight of the Lord.

None of these things could David really achieve or guarantee for himself. Even the mightiest of warrior kings is at the mercy of external political and military forces. And the promise of an everlasting "house" for David could only be fulfilled after he died. It all depended upon the Lord his God. The Lord said He would build David a deathless house, and all David could do was to say Thank you and receive the promise God had made.

In our reading from St. Matthew, on the other hand, Jesus tells us that we must build the house of our own lives in the right way on the right foundation and that if we don’t, it won’t last forever, it will certainly be destroyed. How ironic! We think of the Old Testament as containing the message of the Law. That it’s all and only about what God’s people (including us) must do to please Him or else face His judgement. And the New Testament proclaims the Gospel, the good news of what God has done for us, which we receive by faith. But with our two readings, Law and Grace seem totally switched around!

We shouldn’t be confused or surprised, for the Old and New Testaments of God’s Word together make up the one story of Himself and how He saves us and restores us to Himself. Law and Gospel, judgement and grace run through the entirety of Scripture and God and His power is sovereign throughout. The Lord’s word to David is the promise of the Gospel. Out of His free grace He foretells the coming of the Son of David who would build the house for the Lord’s name and whose throne would be established forever. And Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (where our Matthew verses today come from) is in effect the final and most perfect declaration of the Law, which shows us how much we need God working in the promised Son of David to build the house of eternal life for us.

I once heard a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount where the preacher said it wasn’t written for Christians, but for Jews. This bothered me a great deal at the time, because it seemed she was saying that we as Christians didn’t have to listen to it. But in a way she was right. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes the Law of God to its ultimate level. Mere outward legalism will not do. It isn’t enough for God, He says, for us to just follow the rules. Our hearts and minds and spirits have to be totally obedient as well. Nor will mere profession of sound doctrine help us. We must do the will of our Father in heaven-- and His will is perfect holiness. We must hear Jesus’ words and act upon them perfectly, or the fall of our house will be great. But making our way into the kingdom of heaven by our own perfect obedience is the Old Covenant way. It didn’t work for the Jews, why should we gentiles want to try it for ourselves?

Matthew records that when Jesus was done preaching that day the crowds marvelled at how He taught. Jesus spoke as if He were the ultimate authority on God’s law. He didn’t cite other rabbis and previous cases the way the scribes very rightly and humbly did. But another valid response to this sermon would be, "Who then can be saved?"

A lot of people read the Sermon on the Mount and think "Yeah, I’m a nice person, I can do all that." If we think that way, we’re out of our blooming minds. How can we in our blindness and willfulness find the narrow gate Jesus speaks of in verse 13? How can we really discern between false and true prophets? By the fruit of their lives, Jesus says, but people are led astray by silver-tongued, miracle-working orators every day, and if they’re glib and impressive enough, no one cares how they treat their wives or if they kick the dog, or even if their ideas destroy millions of human lives.

In verse 23, the NIV translation says that when the kingdom of heaven comes, Jesus the Judge will say to the false prophets, "Away from me, you evildoers!" But the Greek literally calls them, "workers of lawlessness." In other words, no matter how holy or spiritually powerful someone might seem to be, he is a false prophet if he proclaims or practices anything against the revealed Law of God.

And here in verses 24 to 27, Jesus says we are to build the house of our lives upon these words of His. What words? His words confirming (as it says in 5:18) every jot and tittle of the Law and the Prophets.

Well, I don’t know about you, but that scares me silly. I want to build my life as a holy house for the Lord to live in, but I can hardly pitch a tent. And you’re in just the same situation. What hope is there for you or me or any of poor fallen humanity?

Our hope is in the King of the Lord’s kingdom, Jesus Christ, great David’s greater Son. The Lord says to David in 2 Samuel, "I will raise up your offspring to succeed you . . . and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." In the short run, this word pointed to David’s son King Solomon, who built the first Temple in Jerusalem. But it looks beyond Solomon to Jesus Christ, who is Himself the house of the Lord. In Him we meet with God, in Him the sacrifice for us was lifted up on the cross, in Him we find acceptance and forgiveness and holiness. Jesus is the King who will sit on the throne of God’s eternal kingdom, judging the nations and declaring His faithful ones not guilty before Him. Jesus is the one who, as it says in verse 14, is the true Son of God the Father; not by adoption, or by any human custom of calling kings sons of the gods, but truly and from all eternity, in His very substance and in everything He is.

The Lord told David that when the royal son promised to him does wrong, he will be punished by the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. We know that Solomon did go astray and God punished him for it through his enemies. Our Lord Jesus the Son of David never did any wrong, but God His Father laid on Him the wrongdoing of us all. He permitted Jesus to be punished and flogged by the hands of men, that we might escape the eternal punishment we deserved for breaking God’s holy Law. The love of the God the Father will never be taken away from Jesus Christ the Son of David, and so God’s love will never be taken away from us who trust in Him. We will live and prosper and please Him in the house He builds for us in His kingdom forever.
It is a good and noble thing to be like David and want to do things in this life to honor God.

Whether in great projects or in our everyday relationships, our striving to obey God’s Law is a way for us to build a house for His Name on this earth. But with the wrong foundation, that effort will fail and we will be left only with ruin. At best, we’ll end up glorifying only ourselves.

But God builds a house for us, which is Christ and His word alone. He is the eternal mansion house God builds for us to live in and the only solid Rock and sure foundation our lives can have. In gratitude and love we now make that house visible to the world, by our conduct, our obedience, and our trust.

It’s good news that the house of King David has been found in Jerusalem. It is even better news that King Jesus, Son of David and Son of God, died for your sins and rose again and has become a royal house where you can dwell for all eternity.

Accept the house that God has built for us, the house of His servant David, Jesus Christ our King. In Him we have rest, in Him we dwell in safety, in Him we perfectly keep the Law of God, in Him we are made great and forever endure.
Photo is of a capital from structure identified as the palace of King David.