Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Week 2012

This week our E-newsletter previews the next two messages:  “The Cost of Righteousness” (12/23) and “The Proof of Righteousness” (12/24).  As both messages are a continuation of our series Jesus Wins, and preached in close proximity, we thought it made sense to combine our preview.  But after receiving the following jotting of an anonymous young person during last week’s 9:30 service it makes me wonder. 

 That’s a classic, wouldn’t you say?  I’m considering finding out who this kid is and doing a joint message some Sunday!

 Now, on to the previews…  This week in a letter to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, Dr. Sheldon Sorge, General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery, wrote:

Martin Luther came to think of his sin not as that which separated him from God, but as that which brought near to him the Savior who would take away his sin.  If we had no sin, we’d need no Savior.  What the coming of Jesus teaches us is that our sin brings God near to us to grant us wholeness in place of our brokenness, and justification in place of our judgment. 

 Luther used to wear out confessors until the Holy Spirit opened up the heart of the Gospel to him.  As Luther learned, the heart of the Gospel is how a sinner can be made a saint.

When surveys are conducted among Christians and the question is asked, “What is God’s chief attribute?”  The invariable answer is love.  And yet such an answer begs another question, “If love is God’s chief attribute, how do you explain His judgment?”  After nearly thirty years of ordained ministry I can’t begin to recall the numbers of times I have heard Christians ask, “How could a loving God do/allow ---?”  It’s a question that doesn’t originate with men but was first posited by Satan.

Think of it.  Satan believed that if he could induce men to will their own will rather than God’s will, God will send the same divine response Satan endured.  When Lucifer rebelled, the judgment of God was swift and eternal.  He was cast from the heavenly Eden into a darkened and ruined creation.  For him the words, “The wages of sin is death,” were axiomatic.  He had experienced them firsthand.  And yet, when divine judgment comes on sinful man there’s grace all over it.  In the pronouncements of work and birth and the clothing of animal skins God showers these offenders with His grace.  And, of course, the pinnacle of His grace is heard in His promise of Genesis 3:15.

But by the time we come to Isaiah 55, thousands of years have passed since the Garden and Satan has seen no evidence of his head being crushed.  Indeed, when God invites His people to come and buy food and drink for no money, etc., the vast majority turn Him down opting to satisfy their own will again, rather than His.

But as we will see on Christmas Sunday, Isaiah 55:1-9 is not only a shot across Satan’s bow; it’s a completely shocking unfolding of God’s plan of redemption by the seed of woman – the Son of David.  We will look at five points – the Scene (v.1); the Surprise (v. 3); the Secret (v. 4); the Solution (vvs. 6 & 7); and the Significance (vvs. 8 & 9).

In preparation for Christmas Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What was the point of the Protestant Reformation?

2.      Who is the first audience to hear Isaiah 55?

3.      Who is Cyrus and how did God use him?

4.      Why does Jesus quote Isaiah more than any other Old Testament prophet?

5.      What is the significance of the covenant referenced in verse 3?

6.      Who is the “witness” in verse 4?

7.      What do you make of God’s claim, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  (Malachi 1:2,3; Romans 9:13)?

8.      What does the word “compassion” mean as used by God in verse 7?

9.      What did Luther mean by the statement, “O felix culpa”?

10.  What does it mean to say that without the holiness of God there would be no knowledge of the love of God?

Our Christmas Eve message is a striking illustration of what we cover on Christmas Sunday.  Here in Luke 14:1-14 Jesus is at a Sabbath dinner party thrown by a ruling Pharisee.  Here Jesus is put to the test.  Rather than testing Him with words, they test Him with a broken man in much the same way they test Him in John 7:53-8:11.  They bring in a man who’s suffering from a serious disease to see whether or not Jesus will try to heal him on the Sabbath.  But that’s not the only test present at that party.  The account can be divided into three parts, each providing Jesus center stage.  In part one He deals with the infirm man.  In parts two and three He offers advice about being a guest and a host.  And as we will see on Monday night, in everything Jesus says and does He offers a complete portrait of His Father’s righteous plan to defeat Satan and glorify His name.

In preparation for Monday night, Christmas Eve, you may wish to consider the following.
1.      Do you think Jesus ever repeated His sermons?

2.      How are Matthew 23:1-12; Luke 14:8-12; and Luke 18:10-14 related?

3.      How does Jesus’ message in these texts address Satan’s rebellion?

4.      How many times does Jesus heal on the Sabbath?

5.      How is Jesus like the man He heals?

6.      How is Jesus like the perfect dinner guest?

7.      How is Jesus like the perfect dinner host?

8.      How is the point of Righteousness made clear in this text?

See you Sunday and Monday!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

"The Belt of Righteousness"

In Luke 18 Jesus tells a story about two men that go to the temple to pray.  In the temple courts public and private prayers were commonplace.  So, one man, a Pharisee, comes into the temple courts and assumes the typical prayer posture.  He lifts his eyes and raises his hands toward the heavens and begins to pray aloud, “O God, thank you that I am not like other men…this tax collector, etc.”

 Such a prayer was common among the religious Jews of Jesus’ day.  Listen to this one from the Talmud, “I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, that You have set my portion with those who sit in the House of Learning and not with those who sit in the streets, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise early for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labor and they labor, but I labor and receive a reward and they labor and do not; I run and they run; but I run to the life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction.” 

The prayer the Pharisee offer is of a similar sort as this Talmudic one, however he gets much more specific.  He not only lists his virtuous restraint from sin, he makes note of his accomplishments.  While the law required a Jew to fast not only once a year, this guy says he fasts twice a week.  While the law required a tithe of only certain crops, this guy tithes on everything.  From a human perspective he’s one fine fella – a man of considerable virtue, rectitude, and righteousness.

But Jesus begs to differ.  In fact, His antipathy for this man’s prayer and posture is so profound that He juxtapositions him with another man – a tax collector!  Tax collectors were by definition crooked.  Skimming off the top was the nature of their trade.  So, Jesus says this tax collector stands a far off (a popular expression by God to describe the essence of the human condition).  Instead of looking toward the heavens and raising his arms, this man looks at the ground and beats his chest saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  Now that is the common English translation of his prayer, but the Hebrew is far more pointed than that.  In Hebrew he says, “God, be propitious to me, a sinner.”

Do you know what he’s saying?  It’s the exact opposite of the Pharisee not only in content, but in meaning.  The word “propitious” is the adjectival form of the word “propitiate,” which means “to cause to become favorably inclined,” or “to appease.”  Every Torah-schooled Jew would know exactly what propitiation meant; for once a year the high priest would go behind the veil in the Temple and offer the blood of the atoning sacrifice to satisfy the righteous requirement of God for the sin of His people.  Without the atonement the justice and holiness of God would never be satisfied until every last Hebrew was dead.  Without satisfying the justice and holiness of God satisfied every Hebrew was a goner.  At the heart of God’s relationship with His people was the temple.  And at the heart of the temple was the Ark of the Covenant.  And at the heart of the Ark of the Covenant, on its very lid, was the place of propitiation, called the Mercy Seat, where the blood of the “perfect” substitute was offered.

You see, what this tax collector is praying is simple and yet extra-ordinarily profound.  He’s praying that God will not look upon his own righteousness, or lack thereof, but on the propitiating righteousness of another.  He’s praying for a righteousness that comes from outside of him.  And it’s another aspect of that foreshadowing righteousness that is at the heart of our study this week from Isaiah 11:1-5.

Two weeks ago it was the “Promise of Righteousness.”  Last week we looked at the “Son of Righteousness.”  And this week we examine the “Belt of Righteousness.”  Here in one of the most arresting messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, God reveals to the prophet Isaiah that He will send One who will emerge from the stump of Jesse.  He will be One on whom the Spirit of the Lord will rest.  He will be One who will wear a belt of righteousness and faithfulness.  As we unpack this prophecy we will see Jesus doing what the tax collector begs God to do.  And not only that, we will see Him doing everything that Satan can never do.

There’s a lot here, so in preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1.      Examine the first of Jesus’ seven woes in Matthew 23.

2.      What is the condition of Israel at the time of Isaiah 11?  Is there any relevance to Mt. 23:12?

3.      Who is Jesse and why refer to him as the stump out of which the Messiah will come?

4.      How is Israel like a stump when throughout the Old Testament the Lord refers to her as a tree or vine of His own planting?

5.      Why do the Hebrew refer to the Messiah as “a sprout”?  What is so significant about a stump sprouting in Palestine?

6.      What kind of fruit will the sprout bear?

7.      How is the Holy Spirit endowment mentioned here different than any other Holy Spirit endowment mentioned thus far in the Old Testament?

8.      Is there any parallel to the characteristics of “the sprout” and those mentioned two chapters earlier?

9.      What is the significance of a “belt” or “sash” to the Hebrews?

10.  What significance do you see in the description of this belt i.e. location, purpose, use?

11.  How is the belt related to Jesus’ mission?

12.  How does the ministry of the Messiah described here run counter to Satan’s mission and exact God’s glory? 

13.  What is the relationship between Isaiah 11:5 and Revelation 1:13?

 See you Sunday!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Son of Righteousness

This Sunday we look at another aspect of the coming Messiah and our Victor in the spiritual war by examining the title given to Him in the last chapter of the Old Testament.  Malachi 4:2 says, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”

Now the context of this statement is critical.  The prophet is called by God at a time when the people of Israel are under Persian domination.  From the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities hundreds of years earlier, the beleaguered nation has experienced a roller coaster of domination by outsiders.  By now deep discouragement has set in.  The people are asking the same questions others have asked throughout the past 500 years: Where is the restoration God had promised?  Where is this Branch of Jesse, this King of the house of David, who is to deliver us from our enemies?  Where is this everlasting kingdom God promised when we continue as captives in a strange culture?  When will the city that still lies in ruins be transformed into a glorious city of God?  Does God really care about His people? Is there really truth to divine justice?

As discouragement and cynicism set in, the people’s commitment to God’s covenant declines markedly (as it repeatedly did throughout Israel’s history.)  Their temple duties flag.  They begin to neglect their tithes and offerings.  They begin to offer blemished animals.  They begin to marry wives who worshipped foreign gods.  Divorce becomes epidemic.  And it’s into this context that God raises up the prophet Malachi to speak to the issues of the time.  Like other prophets, he allows the Lord Himself to speak directly to His people.  The words of 4:2 are a clear example of God speaking for Himself.  The message of God is simple, yet profound.  “Yes, I do still love you.  And yes, all of the grandeur of the ultimate restoration is coming.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said what many other students of Scripture have repeated over the last hundred years.  “We will never err if we allow the New Testament to interrupt the Old.”  Nowhere is that clearer than here in Malachi 3 and 4.  For what God is telling His covenant people in the time of Malachi is the same message He speaks to every one of His people in our day, “for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”  As we will see on Sunday, God’s message in Malachi is pure Gospel!

Before I give you some things to consider in preparation for Sunday, it’s instructive to note a few things about this title, “sun of righteousness.”  First, the early Christians (100 AD - 400 AD) took this title to apply to Christ Jesus.  This is the only time it’s used in Scripture, but it’s perfect fulfillment in the life and ministry of Jesus is obvious (see John 1:1; 8:12f, etc.).  Second, light was one of the most frequently used symbols of God in antiquity.  Through history many pagan cultures use light to symbolize other-worldliness and deity.  Third, the concept of righteousness pervades other religious systems like Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, etc.

Now for some things you may wish to consider:

  1. Can you think of any Old Testament examples of light being associated with the presence and glory of God?
  2. What do you make of the contrast between the judgment of the arrogant in 4:1 and the healing of those who fear God’s name in 4:2?
  3. How do you define righteousness?
  4. Do you see any difference between the righteousness of God and the righteousness of men?
  5. Is anyone saved by works?
  6. What similarities are there between the sun of righteousness and Lucifer?  How do they differ?
  7. What title is there for Satan that corresponds to this title for Christ?
  8. What is the significance of God’s title in 4:2 to what He says He will do for His people in 3:17?
  9. How can a Holy God make sinners His treasured possession?  Does the sun of righteousness help us understand how?
  10. Why does God say to remember the law and decrees given to Moses (4:4), especially after His promise in 3:17?
  11. How appropriate is it to change the “sun” of righteousness to the “son” of righteousness?
See you Sunday as we continue our series, Jesus Wins!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Promise of Righteousness

Advent season is here!  For Hebron that means beautiful decorations of the season as well as sacred Christmas music when we gather to worship.  It also means a new chapter in our sermon series Jesus Wins.  Previous sermons have laid the foundation to the issue of spiritual warfare noting the unrighteous choices of Lucifer (Satan) and Adam and Eve as they turned from God's will in favor of their own.  What a joy to now focus on Jesus the Righteous One.  He always does the Father's will, always makes the right choices and even exchanges our sinfulness for His righteousness!  He is the Christian's Champion and Captain in spiritual warfare; by His righteousness we have the victory!

Looking at this Sunday's text and theme, four questions come to mind...

1)      What does the Bible term "righteous" mean? 

The word is defined by terms like “just” and “clean” with an emphasis on that which is beneficial.  Vines' New Testament Dictionary defines it as "just, without prejudice or partiality".  In other words, it is doing right just because it's right (no hidden motives).  Just as we know we sin because we are sinners, so Christ Jesus does righteously because He is righteous! 

2)      Why did Christ come as a baby unlike Adam who was created as a full grown man? 

First, there is prophecy to be fulfilled like "the seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15) and “unto us a child is born". Second, there is the matter of identity as Jesus experienced full humanity except for sin (Hebrews 4:15).  

3)      What does "the government shall be upon His shoulders" mean? 

Just as we refer to responsibility "resting on our shoulders” so Christ is ultimately given authority to carry out God's will and rule on earth. 

4)      Why is Christ called the Everlasting Father when He is actually God the Son? 

Charles Spurgeon preached a great sermon on this question which will be referred to in Sunday's message, but for the present consider two thoughts.  We have our spiritual life and righteousness from Christ AND He takes great care of us in fatherly fashion. 

This text has been a great blessing to study and hopefully will stir us all as we worship together.

See you Sunday!

  1. In I Corinthians 1:30, Christ is said to become for us...righteousness.  What do you think that means?
  2. Isaiah had more than one prophecy about the birth of the Righteous One.  See Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22
  3. Some translations separate Wonderful from Counselor and some have them as one name together as in Isaiah 9:6.  Either way, how do you see these two terms describing Jesus?
  4. Prince of Peace is also a name of Jesus.  Colossians has key verses on the connection between true peace and our Lord.  Colossians 1:20; 3:15 
  5. Isaiah 9:7 connects government, peace and righteousness.  What do you think that kind of "government" would look like?  Some believe that Christ's government is not as much a political system as it is His rule in our hearts!
  6. As our text connects peace and righteousness with Christ's rule, a correlation has been noted between Christ and Melchizedek.  Study Hebrews 7:1-3.
  7. What does it mean that Jesus will reign on David's throne?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Cain Calculation

In all the history of the world no group has been more despised than the Jews.  From the time of Abraham and Sarah, Satan has targeted the Jews for extinction.  Why?  Because Satan remembers the promise God made in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15).  He knows the divine promise that one day the seed of woman will crush his head.  So he continually asks throughout Old Testament history, “Who is this seed?”

Last Christmas Eve I preached on Sunday’s companion text – Revelation 12:1-4.  In his book What’s So Amazing about Grace? Philip Yancey writes, “I have yet to see that version of the story of Christ’s birth on a Christmas card.”  As Jesus pulls aside the curtain to reveal the reality of spiritual warfare past, present, and future to His beloved John, He gives him a clear view of that night in that cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem.  As Jesus clearly indicates, it’s not really “Silent Night” – it’s D-Day.  It’s the moment when the full might of satanic forces aligned to destroy the seed of woman before He’s born.  Only in Gethsemane and on the cross do we see more vitriol.

Remember the testimony of Scripture regarding Satan’s assault on the seed.  When Sarah’s too old to conceive, Satan thinks he’s won; but God miraculously opens her womb and Isaac is born.  When Isaac’s wife Rebecca is barren for twenty years, Satan thinks he’s won; but God opens her womb and gives her twins.  When the twins grow up and the older hates the younger, Satan thinks he’s won; but then God pours out His grace on both of those boys.  At almost every point in Israel’s history, Satan’s hopes are raised and dashed.  You see it in the life of Joseph.  You see it in David’s life.  You see it throughout the history of God’s people.  But you know where it all begins?  It begins immediately east of Eden.  As we will note on Sunday, the story of Satan’s attack on the seed of woman begins only a chapter break away from God’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden. 

Now I had planned to offer a panoramic view of Satan’s attack on the seed of woman throughout the Old Testament this Sunday.  But as is often the case, when I dug into Genesis 4, I found far too much to hurry past.

This Sunday is the week directly before Advent – a time in which we will examine God’s response to Satan’s attack by sending to us THE SEED of woman.  He is as Martin Luther so aptly describes Him – an alien righteousness.  And it’s righteousness that is exactly what we need.  Moreover, it is this righteousness that will nail Satan’s coffin shut one day.  We will focus on righteousness in five messages: The Promise of Righteousness, The Son of Righteousness, The Belt of Righteousness, The Cost of Righteousness, and The Point of Righteousness. So, this Sunday is a perfect precursor to God’s ultimate response to Satan’s repeated employment of The Cain Calculation ((his seed destruction plan) throughout Old Testament history.  We get our first glimpse of this calculation in our primary text this week:  Genesis 4:1-9.

In preparing for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1.      According to R.C. Sproul, the “shelf principle” is among the most important hermeneutic (interpretive) tool we have available to us as Bible students.  What is the “shelf principle”?

2.      What linkages can you find between the events of Genesis 3 and the Cain/Abel story?

3.      What does the name Cain mean?  What does it tell us about Eve’s perspective on Genesis 3:15?

4.      What does the name Abel mean?  Is he well-named?

5.      Why do you think Abel’s offering was acceptable to God and Cain’s isn’t?  Does Hebrews 11:4 help?

6.      How does Cain exhibit the three fruits of sin we discussed last week?

7.      How does God’s question to Cain (verse 9) mirror His question to Adam in Genesis 3?

8.      What is God telling Cain about himself and about God in verse 7?

9.      How is John correct about Cain when he references him in I John 3:12?

10.  How does the story of Cain provide the key to the way God will win the victory over every will but His own?

See you Sunday as we listen to the Word and feed on Him!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Articles of War

In 1862 Henry Dunant published a book entitled, Memoir of the Solferino, on the horrors of war.  His own experience in war inspired him to take up the cause of those adversely affected by conflict.  He called for the creation of a permanent humanitarian relief organization.  His call was heeded and the International Red Cross was created in Geneva, Switzerland.  Additionally, Dunant called for the promulgation and ratification of a treaty that would recognize the neutrality of the agency and allow it to operate within a war zone.  This latter appeal resulted in the development of a set of wide-ranging rules and regulations governing combat that is known as the Geneva Convention.  While the Geneva Convention does not establish the means and methods of war, it does govern the treatment of prisoners, the protection of civilians, and the requirements of surrender.  In a broad way the requirements of the Geneva Convention have governed much of global warfare for the last 150 years.

Now just imagine if the parameters of warfare could be established by someone who had the power to impose them on all combatants.  Just imagine if, instead of signing on to a manmade treaty, these articles of war would be imposed regardless of the wills of man or Satan.  Just imagine if God could govern all conflict by an imposed set of rules. 

When you study the Scriptures and human experience since Eden, you begin to see that such thoughts are not the product of imagination, but a certain reality.  Think of it.  Unlike articles of war that govern collateral damage and the treatment of prisoners, the articles of war God establishes govern the conflict itself.  Look at Job, chapter one, where God addresses Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”  When Satan replies, “The only reason Job fears you and walks uprightly is the hedge you’ve put around him.  Take down the hedge and stretch out your hand against him and he will curse you to your face.”  And the Lord says to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.  Only against him do not stretch out your hand.”  (i.e. You’re not allowed to kill him.)  Think of it.  In the ultimate and most consequential war of human history, God establishes the rules.  In fact, not only are the acts of war governed by Him, but the consequences as well.  (Note Isaiah 54:17; II Corinthians 10:4; James 4:17)

This week we leave the Garden of Eden (though we could find good reason to stay for many more weeks) and begin to look at the trajectory of spiritual warfare and the clear rules God has established for the conflict.  Satan has now been joined in the conflict by other wills that seek to exert themselves against God’s will and His sovereignty.  It’s fascinating to consider that while all over creation rival wills are in constant quest of control, there is one will that stands above the fray.  His will proceeds uninhibited, for His will has established all rules of engagement and all consequences.  And we will look at three of them this week – fear, restlessness, and hatred.

Before giving you some things to consider in preparation of Sunday, I’d like to share a page from my favorite devotional.  Actually, it’s from today – November 15, 2012.  Spurgeon is commenting on Deuteronomy 32:9, “The Lord’s portion is his people.” 

“How are they His?  By His own sovereign choice.  He chose them, and set His love upon them.  This He did altogether apart from any goodness in them at the time, or any goodness which He foresaw in them.  He had mercy on whom He would have mercy, and ordained a chosen company to eternal life; thus, therefore, they are His by His unconstrained election.

“They are not only His by choice, but by purchase.  He has bought and paid for them to do the utmost penny, hence about His title there can be no dispute.  Not with corruptible things, as with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord’s portion has been fully redeemed.  There can be no mortgage on His estate; no suits can be raised by opposing claimants, the price was paid in open court, and the church is the Lord’s freehold forever.  See the blood mark upon all the chosen, invisible to the human eye, but known to Christ, for “the Lord knows them that are His.”  He forgets none of those whom He has redeemed from among humanity; He counts the sheep for whom He laid down His life, and remembers well the church for which He gave Himself.

“They are His by conquest.  What a battle He had in us before we would be won!  How long He laid siege to our hearts!  How often He sent us terms of capitulation!  But we barred our gates, and fenced our walls against Him.  Don’t we remember that glorious hour when He carried our hearts by storm?  When He placed His cross against the wall, and scaled our ramparts, planting on our strongholds the blood-red flag of His omnipotent mercy?  Yes, we are, indeed, the conquered captives of His omnipotent love.  Thus, chosen, purchased, and subdued, the rights of our divine possessor are inalienable: we rejoice that we never can be our own; and we desire, day by day, to do His will, and show forth His glory.”

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “The Articles of War” from John 15:1-11 and Isaiah 45:5-7, you may wish to consider the following:
1.      What do you think is the most essential tool in the study of theology (the study of God)?

2.      What does it mean to say, “I may not know all the answers, but I do know most of the problems?”

3.      What is God’s purpose in allowing other wills to exert themselves?

4.      What are some of the consequences of exerting your will against God?

5.      What is the difference between godly fear and human fear?

6.      How can human fear be a means of grace?

7.      What is that famous quote of St. Augustine regarding restlessness?

8.      How can God use human restlessness for His glory?

9.      What evidence do we have in Scripture of restlessness in man and Satan?

10.  What does Isaiah 45:7 mean?  What does the Hebrew word ra mean?

11.  True or false:  God creates evil?  If false, why?  If true, how?

 See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lessons of the Garden

We are back in the Garden of Eden this week to get a fuller view of a key lesson for every Christian.  For centuries men and women have come to this garden and debated over the fruit.  Was it an apple or a banana?  Was the fruit just a figure of speech or a sweet reality?  What’s more, why would God place this one tree at the center of the garden, with fruit that’s “beautiful to the eye”, and promptly restrict its consumption?

For years I’ve heard about a test of love.  “If man was created in the image of God with free will,” the argument goes, “then the exercise of obedience to the divine command would show man’s love and respect for God.”  In other words, it was a test of the depth of man’s love.  Perhaps, but there’s much more here than that!

By this time in our series we have traveled quite a distance down the path of divine revelation.  While some may debate timelines or creation theories, what we have endeavored to do is examine the broad strokes of divine revelation – seeing how, in fact, the “war” between Satan and God commenced.  Indeed, by the time we come to Genesis 3, Lucifer has been cast from the presence of God to the territory of his dominion that had become a wreck and a ruin through divine fiat.  It was all darkness and formlessness until the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – remade what was lost.  In those six days of creation God brings light out of darkness and His image bearers out of the dust.

One of the results of His work is the incitement of Satan’s jealousy and disdain.  When Satan sees what God has done he determines to attack.  His hatred is toward his enemy, the Most High God, and his target is this new rival creature – man.  Think of it.  When God places man, male and female, in the garden He extends to them the same responsibility Lucifer once enjoyed.  He gives them dominion and, as we see in our text, Satan cannot abide by it.

Now, rather than analyze the kind of fruit tree God restricted in Eden, or the depth of Adam’s love for his Creator, we will instead turn to some more important lessons found in the garden; lessons that have a direct impact on you and your walk of faith.  Remember, we are seeking to establish a biblical context for the spiritual warfare in which each of us is now engaged.

Spurgeon once said, “Unbelief is a weed, the seeds of which we can never entirely extract from the soil, but we must aim at its root with zeal and perseverance.  Among hateful things it is the most to be abhorred.”  Indeed, it is so egregious that when it is in full fruit, Jesus speaks of it as the unpardonable sin.  You know its origin?  Genesis 3.

Here in the Garden of Eden Satan attacks his rival by sowing seeds of doubt and unbelief in the mind of man.  He does it through a question and a declaration, both of which are intended to elicit doubt.  It’s a two-headed doubt that remains alive and well today.  The first head is to doubt the character of God, i.e. “How could a good God restrict such fruit?”  Satan still sows it!  The second head is to doubt the “badness” of man.  Is there any question that doubt is alive and well today?  Think of it.  God’s not good and man’s not bad.  That’s Satan’s agenda and it’s the prevailing view today, sometimes even in the church.  We look at the foundations of this satanic perspective this Sunday in a message entitled, “Lessons of the Garden.”  Our primary text is Genesis 3:14-24, but we will also read Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 and note its relevance.  In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What was the Synod of Dort?

2.      How did the declaration of the church of Holland relate to the truth of Genesis 3?

3.      When man fell into sin how far do you think he fell?  Is there any evidence from Scripture?

4.      What does it mean when someone says, “If you get the fall of man wrong, you get the Gospel wrong?”

5.      Why does God place the restricted tree in the garden?

6.      What is man’s immediate response to their disobedience?  Is it still true?

7.      How is Satan’s question in Genesis 1(b) a frontal attack on Christ?

8.      How does his question cast doubt on the goodness of God?

9.      How does his declaration cast doubt on the evil of disobedience?

10.  How do God’s judgment of man and His gift of garments shed light on our salvation?

 See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

In the Garden

This Sunday we come to the heart of the middle scene of divine revelation.  When you study the Scriptures you find that all of existence can be divided into three scenes:  the first creation (Genesis 1:1, 2) and its judgment; the second act of divine “creation” as God brings order out of chaos (Genesis 1:2f through the second coming of Christ); and the final act of “creation” when God creates the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21).  The reason I place quotation marks around the word creation in Acts Two and Three is to distinguish God’s first act of creation as ex nihilo – out of nothing.  When God created the heaven and the earth in Genesis 1:1, He did it out of nothing.  Prior to this act of creation there was no matter out of which God could shape the heavens and the earth for no matter existed prior to Genesis 1:1.  However, in His second and third acts He re-forms or remakes what He had previously created.  This is why the word “brood” is used to describe God’s work in Genesis 1:2.  When the Spirit of God broods and the Father speaks His word order is brought out of the chaos when God judged Lucifer in the wake of his rebellion.

If you were with us last week for Tim’s message, “Piercing the Darkness,” you know that each member of the Trinity played a critical role in the work of re-creation.  What God had wrecked and ruined He reshaped and refashioned by the word of His mouth and the brooding of the Holy Spirit.  What the fallen angel Lucifer was entirely unable to do, God does by the word of His mouth.  How ironic it is to know that the one named “bearer of light” is completely impotent in bringing light out of the darkness of God’s judgment.

This week we are at a crucial point in Act Two – Genesis 3.  Here we find Satan’s response to the creation of a rival.  Think about that “rival” for a minute.  In Genesis 5:1-2 we read, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.  When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.  Male and female He created them, and He blessed them and named them man when they were created.”  (So much for exclusive language in the Bible!  From the very beginning “man” equals male and female.)  This description incorporates several features of man’s creation that are greater than the features in His creation of Satan.  First, the verses tell us that God made man in His image and likeness.  Though Lucifer was said to be “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” there’s no imago dei in him.  Second, the man is said to have received a divine blessing.  This too is a distinguishing trait of man.

So, when God brings light out of darkness, when He forms the earth and the sky, the waters and all living creatures, He doesn’t rest until He has made man the crown of His creation.  This infuriates Satan.  Satan had always looked on the earth as his personal property.  When he was created, as we’ve noted from Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14, he was given three roles – prophet, priest, and king.  Even in his fallen state, this last role is retained in that he goes from the king of creation to the prince of this world (John 14:30) or the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2).  In commenting on a divided kingdom He references Satan (Luke 11:17, 18).  If God should “try” to endow an intruder (one He creates in His image) with dominion in Satan’s domain, Satan would do everything he can to make him his creature.  (Indeed, everyone who seeks to entrench himself/herself in his/her position and place of power is operating in the spirit of Satan.)  So the battle is joined.

Satan has two primary objectives in the garden:

1.      To interrupt the relationship between God and his image bearers;

2.      To gain the allegiance of these image bearers so that they might will Satan’s will rather than God’s will.

It is said that the seed of every great biblical doctrine is found in Genesis 3.  Indeed, when you examine the balance of Scripture you find each one of these embryonic doctrines coming to full bloom.  The sad fact is that nearly every biblical heresy and contemporary error has its genesis in a misunderstanding or misapprehension of the truths of Genesis 3.

In preparation for Sunday’s message “In the Garden”, Genesis 3:1-15 and John 20:19-23, and our three points:  The TARGET (Genesis 1:26, 27); The TESTIMONY (Genesis 3:9); and The TRIUMPH (Genesis 3:15), you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What biblical doctrines can you identify in Genesis 3:1-24?

2.      How is the “T” of TULIP so commonly misapprehended?   How far did Adam fall?

3.      How is the creation of man a threat to Satan?

4.      How is the creation of man a further judgment of God on Satan?

5.      What does the imago dei mean?  How are we made in the image and likeness of God?

6.      What is the meaning of God’s act and question in Genesis 3:8, 9?

7.      What is God’s purpose in setting the command in Genesis 2:16, 17?

8.      In what way did God honor His promise of death in Genesis 2:17?  (See I Cor. 2:14.)

9.      How different are God’s judgment of fallen Lucifer and His judgment of fallen man?

10.  What is the blessing in 15(a)?

11.  What is the blessing in 15(b)?

See you Sunday as we welcome some wonderful new members into the family of faith at Hebron!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Piercing the Darkness

Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse gives a succinct overview of Genesis 1.  "A single verse (1) suffices to speak of the original creation of the heaven and the earth.  Another verse (2) is all that is needed to describe the awful chaos into which the ruined earth was plunged.  And less than thirty verses more tell of the six days' work during which the Lord 'made the heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is'."  The Invisible War, p. 68

Into the darkness of Genesis 1:2 comes the Spirit of God to reveal the divine plan of a renewed earth and the creation of mankind.  God's purpose has not been thwarted by Satan's rebellion.  The "light" will be turned back on and mankind, though made "lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:5), will ultimately be raised to "judge angels" (I Corinthians 6:3) and give all glory to the Almighty.  Satan must have become increasingly angered at this "invasion” of what he considered his realm as the "prince of this world".  Though stating that he would be like the Most High, he has no power or ability to do what God does with simple commands = create light and life!   This new creature, man, placed in his realm with authority and responsibility must be attacked and subjected to his will.  Sounds like spiritual warfare to me!

See you Sunday!

 1.  The Spirit of God "brooded" - this term seems to connect us with the concept of a bird covering her eggs in the nest.  Consider some other passages that give us a symbolic view of God from the "bird world". Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; Luke13:34

2.  Find the Trinity in Genesis 1:2-3.  Compare Hebrews 1:2 and John 1:1-3.

3.  Study about Christ in Colossians 1:15-17. What does the “firstborn over all creation” mean regarding Christ?

4.  The darkness of Genesis 1:2 invaded by God's light in Genesis 1:3 has a wonderful parallel in our salvation.  Consider John 8:12; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Peter 2:9.

5.  Consider God's renewal of the earth from formless, empty, darkened, and deluged to lightened, organized, full of life, and very good as you read Genesis 1.  Quoting Dr. Barnhouse again "Out of the chaos was brought the 'cosmos' which signifies order, arrangement, and beauty." The Invisible War, p. 68

6.  Why would Satan consider the earth his realm and God's intervention to be an invasion?  Luke 11:17-18; John 12:31; 14:30

7.  What could we consider to be God's greatest intervention into Satan's "realm" producing the greatest light of all?  John 17:4


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Victor's View

Have you ever been in a fierce lightning storm?   It is both frightening and fascinating in its power, brilliance and danger! Jesus said that He saw Satan fall from Heaven like lightning.  This statement from our Savior corresponds to Satan's fall described in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.  When Satan rebelled against God with his 5 "I wills," he was hurled from God's presence to the earth. Many of us watched the recent "fall" of Felix Baumgartner from approximately 24 miles above the earth. It was astounding to observe the speed and twisting with which he hurdled downward! We can only imagine what explosive impact Satan's collision with earth must have had as he was thrown from the presence of God for his rebellion.

Our sermon series' theme is "Jesus Wins!". The words of our Lord that He saw Satan fall speak to that truth in three awesome ways:   1) Jesus was there when it happened = another testimony to His eternality and Deity;  2) He won - Satan lost; and 3) We too can have victory over Satan through Jesus' name!

What a blessing it is to also read in our text of the believer's name recorded in Heaven. Satan is ultimately out of God's presence, but we will be eternally in His presence due ONLY to the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!

See you Sunday!

1. There are 70/72 (depending on your Bible translation) disciples of Jesus sent forth to minister. Does the number 70 stand out in the Bible? Genesis 46:27; Exodus 15:27, 24:1; Numbers 11:16; Jeremiah 29:10; Daniel 9:24

2. Who/what are demons? Study 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6

3. How did demons respond to the authority of Jesus? Mark 1:23-25, 5:2-12 What did they know about Him?

4. How vital is the name of Jesus to us? Matthew 1:21; John 16:24; Acts 2:38, 3:6, 4:9-12, 16:18; Philippians 2:9-11

5. How does the O.T. correspond to Jesus' statement of Satan falling from Heaven like lightning? Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:17

6. Consider this sobering Scripture passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:22-23

7. What do the Scriptures mean about our names being written in Heaven? Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5, 20:15, 21:27

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The First Judgment

Perhaps you’ve known a kid like this. His name was Eric Von Fange and he lived in the same neighborhood I did in Virginia. He had an inquisitive mind. When his father bought a new car and brought it home, Eric stayed up for forty-eight hours taking the engine apart to see how it worked. Imagine that! His father buys a car, drives it home and within hours he and his wife are on a plane to California. At the same time Eric’s in the garage ripping the engine from its mounts.

Years ago I read of another boy who tore into a grandfather clock to see what made it tick. When he tried to put it together, however, it seemed to have enough wheels and springs to make two clocks. In the process he discovered that all of the parts must move in their proper sequence – certain wheels must move forward and certain ones backward. There are wheels that move quickly, and there are wheels that move slowly. There are large mainsprings and tiny hairsprings. All of the parts need to work together to make the clock go.

So it is with the life of a Christian. When events move forward we are pleased with the progress. If events move backward, we are inclined to be impatient; we want them to move in the direction of our own will, not understanding the purpose that God has in our lives. There are matters that are great and very important to us – mainspring events like births, marriages, deaths, triumphs, and tragedies. There are matters as fine as a hairspring like petty annoyances and trivial happenings that seem little and unimportant at times. Yet, both mainspring events and hairspring events regulate the course of our lives. There are events that move smoothly and rapidly and we rejoice at their action. Some things lag and incite our impatience as we seek to speed them up to the tempo of our own wills. Some events are welcomed and cherished. Others are dreaded and rip at our hearts.

But when all of these events – backward, forward; fast, slow; great, small – are seen in their relationship to each other, we Christians must conclude with the Apostle Paul that to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose and plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good that brings Him glory.

As I write this morning it’s only thirty-eight hours after the discovery that 22-year-old Sara Walendziewicz’s earthly life has been cut short. For Sue and Dave, David and Ashley, and so many of us, this event is a mainspring that conjures up a myriad of questions that strike at the very heart of the plan of God. How could Sara’s final breath be a part of a perfect pattern of good that brings God glory? How can her life and death speak of a loving God who works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose?

Paul’s words in Romans 6:23 help. Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Now many think Paul is speaking of sins and their consequences. They think of sins like the seven deadly ones, or the ten chronicled in the Ten Commandments, or any other list of actions that are in opposition to God’s law and reap the wage of death. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Paul is not talking here about acts of sin. (He talks about sin elsewhere.) But here he’s talking about the state of sin. As we will note on Sunday, the sin of which Paul speaks is like poison in the bloodstream and acts of sin are like the resulting boils. Paul is speaking about our natural state in Adam. Before the finished work of Christ is applied, every one of us has a death sentence hanging over our head. Indeed, we are already dead spiritually and on our way to the same end to which Lucifer is destined. But that’s not the end of the story for the believer. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. It’s a gift that He has already bestowed on you and me and Sara. We are the recipients of that gift. Unlike Lucifer and his armada of demons, our destiny is not death, but eternity – everlasting life with the One to Whom we belong.

We are going to talk about one of the giant mainsprings of existence this Sunday as we look at two great texts: II Peter 3:1-7 and Romans 1:18-23. In a message entitled “The First Judgment” we will look at God’s judgment of Lucifer. We will see in II Peter – the PAST, the PRONOUNCEMENT, and the PLAN of God as we continue to establish a biblical context for our life in Christ and our purpose therein.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. In what ways is Romans 6:23 not an evangelism text?
2. What is the difference between sin and sins?
3. Of whom is Paul writing in Romans 1:21?
4. How were God’s words in Genesis 2:17 fulfilled in Genesis 3:19?
5. What do you make of the Eden described in Ezekiel 28:13f?
6. How does it compare to the garden in Genesis 2? Revelation 21:15-21?
7. What waters is Peter referring to in II Peter 3:5-6?
8. How are they different from the floodwaters Noah endured? (See Jeremiah 4:23-26; Job 9:5-10; Psalm 18:7.)
9. How does God deal with Lucifer’s rebellion?
10. What is God’s word to us in the face of judgment? (See II Peter 3:1-2.)
11. What is the message for Sue and Dave Walendziewicz and you?

See you Sunday!