Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Right Man, The Right God in a World Full of Options

A Glorious Commitment
(1 Chronicles 11:1-3, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, October 15, 2017)

[1] Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. [2] In times past, even when Saul was king, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the LORD your God said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over my people Israel.’” [3] So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD. And they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the LORD by Samuel.

All Israel Gathered Together to David

Today we return to the rest of First Chronicles. It is all about David the king. The struggles of David to get to this point which are presented in detail in First Samuel are summarized in just a few words at the end of 1 Chronicles 10. Saul of Benjamin was out because of his breach of faith with God. David of Judah was in.

Now “all Israel” got on board. They came together with David the king—the one man who would lead them. In earlier decades, before Saul, “there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) From the story of Ruth the Moabite, through the account of the struggling Hannah the mother of Samuel, on to the disappointing insistence of Israel that they wanted a king, and all the way to the death of Saul and his son Jonathan, Israel has been brought by God to the dynasty that would eventually lead to the Savior of the world to come. When Israel gathers together and acknowledges David as their king, we have come to a great moment in history. (See Amos 9:11 with Acts 15:13-17, also Ezekiel 34:23-24, 37:24-25)

Israel's Testimony

The people do not understand where this is all leading. They do not know what the angels will be singing about in the skies above Bethlehem in a thousand years. What do they know?

1. David is one of them. They put it this way: “Behold, we are your bone and flesh.” They are together as brothers, even though David is descended from Judah and many of them are from Joseph, Benjamin, and the other brothers. Nonetheless, they are all descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are all Israel. When Jacob their ancient patriarch was ready to die, he had said that the ruler's scepter would belong to Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:10) This statement of the dying Jacob has much more in it than the nation can affirm at this moment, but they are at least saying that they are one Israel under David of Judah, and not two or more Israels under leaders of their own choosing.

2. They are also affirming David's life up to this point as proof that God has prepared him for this great moment: “In times past, even when Saul was king, it was you who led out and brought in Israel.” This was what young Israelite girls had sung about years before which had driven Saul to distraction. God had clearly used David as a great military leader over the fighting men of the entire nation. The exploits of David for the glory of the Lord, from the days of the defeat of Goliath through the entire reign of Saul, were extraordinary. David's analysis of his success was God-centered from the beginning. As he said before he sent a deadly stone flying, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Samuel 17:45)

3. The Word of God had indicated that David would be king. God had said to David, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over my people Israel.” In particular, God had spoken through the prophet Samuel when no one expected David to be king. When Saul was rejected by the Lord, Samuel also said that “The Lord has sought out a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over His people.” (1 Samuel 13:14) Later Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” (1 Samuel 15:28)

The Covenant of the King & His Anointing from on High

We are told in our passage this morning that “David made a covenant with them ... before the Lord.” This was a solemn commitment on the part of David to be their king. It all took place as an activity of the worship of Yahweh as the Almighty King of Israel.” As Samuel had done so unexpectedly so many years before, now the people “anointed David king.” They did this by pouring oil over his head as a symbol of the Spirit of God empowering him to reign in accord with His Word.

The word “anointed” here is the Hebrew “mä·shakh'.” The “anointed one” is in English the “Messiah.” The Greek word is “Christos” from which we get “Christ.” David was anointed with oil as king. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit beyond measure. The gospel that we preach is all about this Anointed One, who made a very public covenant to be our King through His death on the cross. He “cut” a covenant with us that will never be broken. He “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:3-4)

The Word of the Lord

It was according to God's plan contained in His prophetic Word, that David would be king over Israel. According to the same Word of the Lord, a new King has now been anointed over the people of a better covenant. When we assemble together to worship Him, we do what all His subjects must do. It is our privilege to ascribe to Jesus all glory as the Resurrection King over an eternal kingdom. He takes us from the mourning of our futility to the joy of resurrection.

It is also our duty to recognize Jesus as one of us, a true Man, yet without sin. We should see His record of battle against evil and death, evidenced first by messianic miracles (consider Isaiah 35) and culminating in the cross and resurrection, as proof positive that He is the right King of the promised resurrection world that is coming soon. Finally, we must celebrate that the identity and actions of Jesus are fully in accord with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. He is the right Man and the right God in a world full of options.

It is our privilege to ascribe to Jesus all that we would say about Yahweh, because, as the basic Christian confession has been from the first century of what we call A.D., “Jesus is Lord.” He calls us to a life of simplicity and goodness with daily opportunities to follow Him in sacrificial love flowing from the good Christian confession. We have been designed for a Master, but which one? Self? The false gods of idolatry? The siren call of successful people and celebrity Christianity? No, only for Jesus, the long-expected David.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 30 – From Mourning to Dancing

Gospel Reading—Matthew 9:32-34

[32] As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. [33] And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” [34] But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Bruce Johnson Preaching...

“He Has Done All Things Well”

Mark 7.31-37

I. Introduction

A.  Origin in Ryle.  This sermon had its origin in J. C. Ryle’s “Expository thoughts on Mark,” a devotional commentary which is very pastoral in its tone.  Using that volume for my private worship developed within me a desire to preach from Mark.

I felt the need for another, more scholarly source.  Please don’t hear that as a sign of intellectual arrogance but rather of love for the written word of God.  The scholars dig deep.  The Bible itself commends examining the Scriptures daily. Acts 17.11 It tells us how Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel. Ezra 7.10
B.  Aided by Edwards.  For the scholarly resource, I chose James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark.  I will refer to “Edwards” from time to time today, and, unless I tell you that it’s a different Edwards -- which it will be once as the 18th-century pastor/philosopher/theologian Jonathan Edwards joins us -- the reference will be to James Edwards’ book.  

C.  Purpose.  Mark’s purpose (Edw. p. 10) is to portray the person and mission of Jesus Christ for Roman Christians undergoing persecution under Nero.  My purpose is to portray the personhood of Jesus, especially as compared to His “merely” incarnating a principle (or principles).  I am intentionally starting in the middle of the book of Mark because I want to see clearly the picture of Him “who does all things well.”  

D.  Themes.  Six distinctive themes per Edwards (pp. 16-20) -- discipleship, faith, insiders/outsiders, Gentiles, command to silence and journey.  This passage has the last three.

E.  Mark Himself.  As Nathan Snyder told us two weeks ago, Mark is generally regarded as the first gospel published and Mark himself as Peter’s “interpreter.”  He wrote in Rome around A.D. 65 (after the great fire of 64 and before the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70).  His full name was John Mark, and he was the son of a woman named Mary.  The early church gathered in her house, Acts 12.12 which may have been the site of the Last Supper. Acts 1.13-14, Mark 14.14

F.  Placing Ourselves in the Story.   “All of history is His story” is more than a memory-aiding device.  The beloved answer to the first question in the shorter catechism -- Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever . . . tells us that there’s a story with a setting, characters, a plot, dramatic tension, point of view and a theme.  I have sometimes found myself “in” a John Grisham novel-- which would end on the last page, sending me in search of another novel and the faux intimate connection with the characters which I was enjoying through Grisham.  Then -- much to my delight -- I realized that I am a part of His-story, which never ends, and in which (by His grace) I actually play a very desirable part as a member of His body.  So do you.

Placing yourself in the story is not some Walter Mitty-esque exercise in daydreaming but can be compared to the exercise and development of a “muscle” or a faculty -- imagination -- which God has given you to enable you to glorify Him and enjoy Him continually.  

G.  Jesus as the Leading Character.  In common parlance (and using a syntax I rather deplore), “It’s all about Jesus.”  BUT:  Which Jesus?  Who is Jesus?  In thinking about those questions, I remembered that Ken Myers, host of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, once used quotes from the theater film “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” to illustrate cultural confusion over the identity of Jesus.  Having searched for these quotes on the Internet and found them buried among many others from the film, I would never want to watch the film.  But its does give us a picture of the confusion which can exist even in the church over the identity of Jesus.

Samples:  I like to picture Jesus as a figure skater. He wears, like, a white outfit, and He does interpretive ice dances of my life's journey.

Ricky Bobby, offering table grace in the presence of one “Chip” -- . . . dear tiny Jesus, with your golden, fleece diapers, with your tiny little fat balled up fist . . .

Chip -- He was a man; he had a beard.

RB -- Look, I like the baby version the best, do you hear me?

Or:  I think of Jesus as a ninja fighting off evil samurai.  Or:  I like to think of Jesus as a mischievous badger.

Others (not from Talladega Nights):  Santa Jesus gives me what I want if I’ve behaved myself.
iPhone Jesus “beeps” me to tell me what to do and when to do it.  We all fashion our golden calves. Ex. 32.4  “Mischievous badger” Jesus is no more ridiculous than “These inanimate golden objects are the gods who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

Whoever Jesus is (and, of course, we approach the question already knowing many of the answers), believers are “in” Him in a sense more intimate than anyone this side of heaven can explain.  John 17.21-23  

That Jesus -- the One with whom we are in union and who loved us even as the Father loved Him -- is wonderfully described in today’s passage, which neatly divides into four parts -- v. 31:  The circuitous route.  v. 32:  The request for material relief.  vv. 33-35: The intimate healing.  vv. 36-37: The disobedient -- but awed -- reaction.

II.  Circuitous Route -- The journey described here is like going from Portsmouth, NH, to Boston, MA, by way of Augusta, ME.  I found no explanation for this circuitous route in Edwards or any of the other sources I consulted.  The obscurity of the route, like the means of healing (as we’ll shortly see), shows the gulf between God and man -- God having the wisdom and the power to travel where He wishes and heal as He wishes and man being unable to discern His reasons.  We don’t need to know the why of the where in order to learn from it.  We can take this gulf as a reminder of our created, dependent state even if we know as a certainty that it must mean more and whether or not we can expect ever to understand more about it.  Creatures cannot know everything the Creator knows.  We’ll see that reinforced when we get to the end of our passage.

III.  Request for material relief -- “They begged him to lay his hand on him.”  Scripture does not condemn or correct them for this request.  It appears to be perfectly legitimate.  Jesus grants it, after all.  It falls within the scope of what the writer to Hebrews had in mind:  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Heb. 4.16  If we asked Scripture to tell us everything we need to know about prayer, the answer from this passage would come back: You are at liberty to ask God for physical healing.  Not:  God will always grant that request.  Not even that you are at liberty indefinitely to renew that request.  You are at liberty to ask God for physical healing or -- perhaps -- that He would meet some other material need.  
IV.  Intimate Healing -- Here Jesus touches the man’s tongue with his own saliva.  He will spit on the eyes of the blind man in Mark 8.23.  Let’s consider his method and its messiness.

Method:  As with the circuitous journey, Jesus (as God) does what He wants to do when and where he wants to do it.  Ryle (p. 150) on why Christ chose the means He used for this healing:  “Christ was not tied to the use of any one means in doing His works among men.  Sometimes He thought fit to work in one way, sometimes in another.  His enemies were never able to say, that unless He employed certain invariable agency He could not work at all. . . . He will not have any means despised as useless, and neglected as of no value.”

His choice of means reminds us of His sovereignty -- and not only in the choice of means but in the choice of persons to save, sanctify and glorify.  So much for method.  Now for
Messiness.”  The NASB doesn’t want us to miss the point, so its translators add “with the saliva” at the end of v. 33.  The intimacy -- and the messiness -- are unmistakable.  The question is “Why?  Why would the Christ -- who could heal from afar (centurion’s servant), who could heal by being unknowingly touched (woman with the issue of blood) -- why would He so “sloppily” enter into the body of the one being healed?”  Could it be that He was personifying union -- even the marital union with His bride?  Could it be that he was personifying the inherent messiness of all intimate relationships in a fallen world?  I don’t know, but I encourage you not to miss the intimacy in the midst of the messiness.  And remember:  You are part of this story.  When Christ saved you, He entered you just this intimately.

He sighed” -- Bishop Ryle quotes Martin Luther on Christ’s sigh to this effect: “This sigh was not drawn from Christ on account of the single tongue and ear of this poor man; but it is a common sigh over all tongues and ears, yea over all hearts, bodies, and souls, and over all men from Adam to his last descendant.”  (p. 152) It is our sigh, too, at all forms of “illness.”

What next?  “. . . and he [the deaf and dumb man] spoke plainly.”  This is amazing in light of the fact that he would not have known what words sounded like.  In fact, he might be expected to have a very small (nonexistent?) vocabulary.  BUT -- as in Gen. 1.26-28, which reveals freshly created beings immediately and fully possessed of the power of speech -- God’s healing of this man is immediate and endows him with the power of speech.

I am inclined to say that Gen. 1.26-28 reveals not only beings capable of hearing and speaking with understanding, but also the primacy of words -- of the power and purpose of speech.  Note that the first recorded words of God to man were words of command -- much like the first words of Jesus to the deaf mute were a command to be silent about the healing.

So, touch and speech -- both in Gen. 1 (when God “formed man out of the dust of the ground”) and here -- are displayed in God’s relationship to man.  Neither passage -- nor both combined -- make the full case for touch and speech being essential components of relationship, but they are at least strongly suggestive.  When He fixes us, He touches us; He is not a distant and removed “god” who merely issues decrees.  Jesus’ body matters.  This passage “proves” the radical nature of the incarnation.

What about the deaf and dumb man himself?  He was unable to hear the Word or to proclaim it -- to receive or to give the Word.  Though surely his friends had crude ways of signaling him, a full-blown sign language wouldn’t be developed for another 1,600 years.  He could not hear about God, and he could not call upon God.  He is like us before we are reborn.  We are he.  We are in this story.

V.  The disobedient -- but awed -- reaction -- Disobedience first:  The crowd could not have considered the divinity of Jesus fully.  They saw the miracle that He did and heard His injunction not to tell anyone.  Yet they did just that.  Their illogic goes something like this:  Someone who can heal like that “astonishes us beyond measure” (v. 37) [superexceedingly in CLNT] but not to the point at which we will obey Him.  They could be “thunderstruck” and yet disobey -- proof positive of the depth of human depravity.

Awe: “Astonished beyond measure” might reflect the degree to which they sought a hero -- the degree to which they were (we are) born to worship.

In order to give us a good picture of the extent of their awe, let me borrow words from another context:  The “incomparable excellencies and the entire perfection thereof” -- words which WCF I:5 uses to describe the scriptures but which seem to fit very well the 1st-century reaction (and perhaps our 21st-century reaction) to Christ’s healing of the deaf mute.

But there’s more.  It’s not just the material miracle itself which inspires awe.  To the student of scripture, this event had a signal place in redemptive history.  Let Edwards explain:

The description of the man with the speech impediment . . . uses a Greek word, mogilalos, that occurs only once elsewhere in the Bible.  In the description of the revelation of the glory of the Lord to the nations in Isaiah 35 we read: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped . . . and the tongue of the dumb (mogilalos) shout for joy” (Isa 35:5-6).  The presence of mogilalos in v. 32 links our story unmistakably to the Isaiah quotation.  Since Mark is writing for Roman Gentiles, he only infrequently appeals to OT proof texts.  On the few occasions when he fortifies his literary architecture with OT reinforcements, however, they are load-bearing beams.  The reference to Isaiah 35 is no exception.  Isaiah 35 is essentially the final chapter of the first part of Isaiah.  It follows a series of chapters declaring God’s judgment of Edom, Egypt, Tyre, Israel, and Jerusalem.  In chap. 35, however, the theme shifts from judgment to eschatology, and to the joy not only of the redeemed but all of creation at the revelation of the Lord.  The allusion to Isaiah 35 is of supreme significance for Mark’s presentation of Jesus, not only because the restoration of speech to a mogilalos signals the . . . arrival of the Day of he Lord but also because the desert wastelands of Lebanon (Isa 35:2) will receive the joy of God.  The regions of Tyre and Sidon [where this story is set] are, of course, precisely the Lebanon of Isaiah 35.  Jesus’ healing of this particular mogilalos in the Decapolis becomes the firstfruit of the fulfillment of Isa 35:10, that Gentile Lebanon will join “the ransomed of the Lord [and] enter Zion with singing”!  -- Edwards, pp. 224-225

And so, at last, we come to the doctrine on display in this passage:  The perfection of Jesus’ perfection leaves His followers thunderstruck.  I used the phrase “perfection of perfection” as compared to a phrase like “the extent of His perfection,” which implies a limit to it.  To borrow again from the popular culture, we might say that Christ’s perfection just “keeps on keeping on.”

Implications:  1.  Why does it matter that He has done all things well (that His perfection is perfect)?  Because we have done all things so poorly.  Our righteousness is as filthy rags. Is. 64.6  Let’s not duck it: Our very being here to worship is impure.  Before we assemble again on the next Lord’s Day, you will either harbor murderous thoughts toward someone or speak murderous words toward someone or both.  You will covet someone’s spouse, car, job, bank account, good health, house, permissive parent or station in life.

But He who has done all things well has paid in full for your sins, and His well-doing stands as yours before God.  Church of Christ, “because of God, you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness, sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” 1 Cor. 1.30-31  

2. “Perfection of perfection” is what heaven’s like.  Jonathan Edwards from The End for Which God Created the World: “Heaven will be a never-ending, ever-increasing discovery of more and more of God’s glory with greater and ever-greater joy in Him. . . . There will always be more, and the end of increased pleasure in God will never come. . . . It will take an infinite number of ages for God to be done glorifying the wealth of His grace to us -- which is to say He will never be done.”

3.  Implications of our being thunderstruck -- of “perfect perfection” being stunning:  The perfection of Jesus’ perfection often seems so otherworldly and so far beyond us that we dismiss it.  I can enter in to an Indiana Jones movie; I can’t enter in to Star Trek.  What’s your analogy?

Why settle for John Grisham?  Why settle for a mess of porridge?  By God’s grace, consciously, deliberately and repeatedly enter into the story -- into His-story.

The healing of the deaf and dumb man is not an isolated incident or story but part of a larger whole -- the story of redemptive His-story.  It covers everything Jesus says and does, so that, for example, when John quotes Christ as saying “in Me you may have peace,” John 16.33 you can know that this peace-giver is one who does all things well -- perfectly, in fact, and so perfectly that more and more and more of His perfection is continuously revealed to the church triumphant, which we confidently expect to join in God’s good time.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Why Me, Lord?

The Father’s Plan, Predestination, and Providence
(Ephesians 1:3-14, Preaching: Pastor Nathan Snyder, October 1, 2017)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

When trials come into our lives, we might ask God, “Why me, Lord?  Why is this happening to me?”  May the Lord strengthen us to trust him as we consider from this passage the sovereign plan, predestination, and providence of our loving heavenly Father.

The Father’s Plan

God the Father has an eternal plan.  Verse 5: “according to the purpose [good pleasure] of his will [what God has determined to accomplish.”  Verse 11: “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel [purposed plan] of his will.”  Verses 9-10: “making known to us the mystery [something God is revealing which was previously unknown to us] of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”  The Father is planning to do something, namely to unite all things in Christ.  God has planned every detail of history toward the goal of bringing everything he has made, both in the physical and the spiritual realm, under the lordship of Christ.

For those who willingly submit to Christ’s lordship over their lives, this plan of God will mean everlasting joy.  For those who persist in wanting to be their own lord and master, this will mean everlasting suffering, because when God unites all things under Christ, this will mean that those who have refused to surrender to his lordship now will fall under his judgment, since he is the only rightful King.  Have you surrendered to the lordship of Jesus, God’s anointed King?  If you have, you have nothing to fear when he returns.  Rather, the coming of Christ is our hope, because he will set all things in the world, and in our lives, to right.

The Father’s Predestination

God the Father has predestined people for salvation according to his plan.  We see this in verses 4-5, and again in verse 11.  If God had only planned to send his Son into the world to set things right, but had not planned to first send his Son into the world to bring salvation, then all of us would be destroyed by Christ, for we are all guilty of sin in trying to be our own lord.  Yet God sent his Son into the world first not to condemn the world but to save it by dying on the cross in our place.  The very King appointed by God to bring judgment upon the rebellious was first appointed by God to die the rebel’s death to save guilty rebels like you and me.  Listen to the words of Acts 4:27-28.  “[F]or truly in this city [Jerusalem] there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”  The people who killed Jesus were guilty of their crime.  At the same time, they were carrying out God’s eternal plan to bring salvation to guilty rebels all over the world, all who repent of their rebellion, and receive Jesus alone as God’s appointed Savior and King.

Ephesians 1 makes clear that not only did God plan to send his Son to bring salvation, but he also chose individuals for salvation in Christ before the foundation of the world.  A key component of his plan to unite all things under Christ was to save through Christ people from all over the world, people whom he predestined to be adopted as his children.  God’s predestination causally precedes our receiving Christ by faith.  God does not predestine us because he saw that we would submit to Christ’s lordship.  He has predestined those who will submit to Christ, and then in time his Spirit brings those whom he has predestined to believe the gospel and surrender to Christ.  This is why in Acts 13:48, Luke records that “when the Gentiles heard this [the good news of salvation through Jesus which Paul had preached], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”  We are responsible to believe the good news of salvation through Jesus.  We are responsible to turn away from seeking to rule our own lives and submit instead to Jesus’ lordship.  Yet those who do so have been chosen by God before the foundation of the world.  So all the credit goes to him for our salvation.  Knowing this ought to produce in us great humility before God and other people, and great delight in knowing that unworthy though we may be, God has selected us to be his beloved children.

The Father’s Providence

God the Father is providentially working all things according to his plan.  When Paul says God is working “all things” according to the counsel of his will (verse 11), he means everything, just as “all things” in verse 10 refers to everything being brought under Christ’s lordship.  On the larger scale, this means God is working all things to bring about the salvation of all this chosen people, and to bring the world under the lordship of Christ.  On a smaller scale, this means God is working all things for our personal eternal profit.  If we are trusting in Jesus as our Savior and King, and thus have God as our Father, this is a tremendous comfort.  When we face the painful trials of life, when we rise and when we fall, and when all seems to be crashing down around us, we have this truth to stand upon.  Our Father who loves us, who chose us to be his children, who sent his Son to die for us, who by his Spirit drew us to himself, is working every detail of our lives in such a way that it will bring about the greatest good for us.  That good, Paul says in Romans 8:29, is to make us like Jesus, or as Paul puts it here in verse 4, the good is to make us holy.  This will lead to our everlasting joy.  Let us then ask, “Why me, Lord?  Why am I chosen for salvation?  Why did you predestine me to be your child?  Why did you send your perfect Son to pay my debt?  Why have you given me an eternal inheritance?  Why me, Lord?”  And we can rest in knowing that in his Fatherly wisdom, God is lovingly bringing into our lives just the right trials for us in his gracious work to teach us to trust him, cling in faith to Christ, and become more like him in character, which will lead to our everlasting joy.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Repent and Believe in the Gospel!

The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God
(Mark 1:1-15, Preaching: Pastor Nathan Snyder, September 24, 2017)

[1] The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. [2] As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, [3] the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” [4] John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. [5] And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. [6] Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. [7] And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. [8] I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

[9] In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. [10] And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. [11] And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

[12] The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. [13] And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

[14] Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, [15] and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Into this world lost in sin and under the dominion of Satan entered the Son of God.  His name is Jesus, which means “Yahweh is salvation.”  He is called the Christ, which means “the Anointed One,” for he is the one anointed by God’s Spirit to reign as King, toppling the kingdom of Satan and establishing with permanence the kingdom of God.  His rule brings God’s salvation for all who repent and believe.  One day, it will mean the restoration of all things.  All this is in fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.  In God’s perfect timing, he set about accomplishing through Jesus what he had promised.  This is the gospel, the good news, the wondrous proclamation that God reigns and has come in power to work salvation for his people (cf. Isa. 40:9-11; 52:7-10).

Mark wrote this short book to proclaim this message.  He introduces the book with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Unlike Matthew and Luke’s gospel accounts, Mark does not begin with a record of Jesus’ lineage, or an account of his birth.  Unlike John’s account, he does not begin with a theological reflection on the eternal origin of the Word made flesh.  Instead, Mark begins by quoting from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.  Both verses foretold that God would send a messenger to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming.  Mark shows that this was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist, who prepared the way by proclaiming that the Jewish people should be washed with the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Gentile converts to Judaism during this time period were often baptized, but John was calling the Jews themselves to do so.  This was preparing the people of Israel for the coming of their King.  They could not think that simply because they were God’s chosen people, they did not need God’s grace and forgiveness.  As long as they had this self-righteous attitude, they would not be ready to receive the coming Christ.  They needed to confess that they themselves were sinners, and renounce those sins, turning from them and receiving the symbolic cleansing of baptism in the river Jordan.  John also prepared the way by proclaiming that he was only getting people ready for the coming of one who was far mightier than he, the straps of whose sandals he was unworthy to untie.  John baptized with water, but the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Of course, it was the Christ of whom he spoke.  John was preparing people for Jesus.

Have you ever received Jesus?  If not, what is getting in the way?  The preparatory ministry of John the Baptist is applicable in a sense to you.  His message is to repent.  Lay aside whatever barriers you have raised in your life, in your heart, in your mind, to receiving God’s own Son and living in the joy of his kingdom.  Do you think that you don’t need a Savior because you have tried to live a good life?  Repent!  We are all unworthy sinners in the holy sight of God.  Do you think that some sin you are holding onto is worth more than God’s eternal kingdom?  Repent!  All sin against God leads only to emptiness and death, but God is offering through his Son the promise of forgiveness and eternal joy in his kingdom.   This need to repent is also true for those of us who have been believers in Christ for years.  There is always the need to confess our sins to God, receiving afresh his mercy to us in Christ.  As the apostle John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:8-9).

Mark next tells us of Jesus himself coming from his hometown of Nazareth down to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  Mark does not record, as Matthew does (Mt. 3:13-15), how John protested this, saying that he instead should be baptized by Jesus.  Nor does Mark record Jesus’ statement of why he should be baptized by John, namely to “fulfill all righteousness.”  Rather, Mark focuses on what came out of the heavens at this moment.  The heavens were torn open, the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, and the voice of God spoke from the heavens.  “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (cf. Ps. 2:7; Isa. 42:1-4; Mk. 9:7).  Mark is recording the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Here God himself declares Jesus to be his Son.  And God is totally enthralled with his Son.  He is pleased with him.  He delights in him.  Jesus is beloved of his Father.  He is treasured above all else.  God for all eternity has delighted in his Son with infinite, endless love.  He loves his Son with the totality of his being, because the Son is the pure image of all God’s perfections.  He is the very radiance of the Father’s own glory.  When the Father looks at his Son, he sees nothing but loveliness.  Perfect wisdom, perfect strength, perfect holiness, perfect justice, perfect mercy, perfect love.  And the Son submits to his Father and to his Father’s will.  His perfect obedience delights his Father’s heart.  It is this beloved Son whom God has sent in the anointing of the Holy Spirit to reclaim sinners, to overturn Satan, and to establish God’s kingdom.

Since Jesus was to overturn Satan’s rule, God saw fit by his Spirit to drive his Son into the wilderness for forty days where he was tempted by Satan.  Mark mentions the wild animals, which highlights the darkness and danger of these wilderness days.  This was not a vacation.  This was a trial Jesus had to overcome.  Israel, which God had also referred to as his son, though not in the same way as Jesus, had been tested in the wilderness for forty years, and had failed many times.  Yet God’s Son Jesus did not fail.  Jesus is the only man who withstood the full onslaught of Satan’s temptations and never once yielded (cf. Mk. 8:33).  This was necessary if he was to save us from Satan’s power.  He alone has overcome, and we can only overcome through his strength.

Mark goes on to summarize the message of Jesus as he began his public ministry in Galilee, after John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod.  Jesus himself proclaimed the gospel of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”  God had planned and promised this moment, and now it had come.  God’s kingdom had come.  Jesus was the King bringing in that kingdom.  Jesus also proclaimed the response we must have in order to receive this kingdom, and be received into it.  We must repent and believe in this good news.  There it is again, the message to repent.  This is clearly important.  Also, we must believe.  The words of God in Isaiah 30:15 come to mind: “In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.”  I love this verse because it makes clear that repentance is not a burdensome task that God has laid upon us and is now waiting to see if we will buck up and just do it.  Repentance includes turning away from all attempts to save ourselves.  It is turning from all idols, all sin, all false hopes, all false promises of salvation in anything other than God, and all thought that we can save ourselves from our idols and our sins.  The Son of God is the one anointed in the power of the Spirit to save.  Believing in the gospel is believing in him, and resting in his saving work.  So we turn from sin and turn to Jesus in faith.  Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of God, is our only hope.