Thursday, May 30, 2013

"The Shoes on Your Feet"

There are expressions used in the Bible that, at first glance, appear rather unimportant.  An example can be found in Sunday’s text – Ephesians 6:1-15.  Paul says, “Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”  It’s this last phrase, “the gospel of peace,” that at first appears to be unimportant.
Indeed, throughout Paul’s writings he frequently refers to the gospel as the “gospel of God” or the “gospel of Christ.”  In fact, this second expression, “the gospel of Christ,” is his most repeated favorite.  So the question is this:  Is the “gospel of peace” simply a synonym for the “gospel of Christ” or “the gospel of God?”  In one sense it is, for it is clearly the same corpus of good news that Paul is citing.  But in a different, dramatic way the “gospel of peace” refers to an element of the Gospel that is uniquely profitable to anyone seeking to stand in the midst of the spiritual battle all around us.

Prior to the 4th century BC, military leaders gave little or no thought to the feet of their soldiers.  Today it seems almost laughable to think of soldier’s feet being considered so unimportant.  As I think back over all the years of hearing war stories from the veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, etc., I distinctly remember infantrymen speaking passionately about their footwear.  Over the past sixty years it’s no exaggeration to say that the United States Army has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing the proper footwear for its troops in every conceivable environment.  “As the feet go, so goes the soldier.”  It’s as true today as when Alexander the Great first discovered it.  So how is it that the “gospel of peace” is the footwear of choice in the spiritual war?

There are multiple translations of the word “readiness.”  Some translate it “preparedness” or “watchfulness.”  Paul says that there is a readiness, preparedness, and watchfulness that comes from putting on the “gospel of peace.”  We will delve into all of this on Sunday.  Perhaps it’s fitting that this Sunday at Hebron is not only Communion Sunday, but also the week in which we honor the Lord by recognizing our graduating high school seniors.  They, like us, need their feet “shod” with the preparedness of the “gospel of peace.”  They, like us, will find one place that’s most fitting to put it on – the table of the Lord.

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

1.      How does Jesus’ act in John 13 inform us about the importance and significance of our feet?

2.      Why do many commentators point to Romans 10:15 as a help in defining what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 6:15?

3.      Do you think Paul’s reference to Isaiah 52 in Romans 10 is helpful in gaining an understanding of this piece of the armor of God?

4.      What is the “gospel of peace”?

5.      How is peace/shalom put on?

6.      How does the gospel of peace enable us to stand?

7.      What are the features of such footwear?

8.      How does the gospel of peace make the Christian dangerous to Satan?

9.      In the 16th century Martin Luther said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”  How did having the readiness given by the gospel of peace enable him to say that and mean it?

10.  How does the gospel of peace give the Christian firmness, protection, and mobility?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Breastplate of Righteousness

“I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
  But wholly lean on Jesus’ name;
 On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand,”

 Last week I mentioned the great Bible expositor and teacher of the last century, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  (Interestingly, later that day I was visiting a patient in the hospital whose son had a volume of Lloyd-Jones’ epic commentary on Romans under his arm.)  He’s written eight nearly 400-page books on the epistle to the Ephesians.  And in his 6th volume he mentions those who “put their feelings in the foremost place and rely on them.  And so they often find themselves like poor William Cowper crying out in agony, ‘Where is the blessedness I knew, when first I saw the Lord?  It has gone.’”

“This is a very common condition,” says Lloyd-Jones.  “Every pastor, every physician of the soul, will have met this with greater frequency than perhaps anything else.  People complain, ‘I cannot feel anything any longer; I used to, but I cannot now.’  They are dejected and downcast, and querying whether they are Christians at all.  The answer to all of this is, ‘Put on the breastplate of righteousness.’  It is the only answer.”

This is the second piece of equipment Paul admonishes us to put on in the spiritual war in which every Christian finds himself/herself. (If you can’t remember all we said last week about the belt of truth, check last week’s Enewsletter entry and the podcast.)

The truth is our highest, sweet frames, our best feelings, can be the most treacherous and may desert us at any moment.  When this happens we break free of our moorings, our foundation vanishes and you begin to wonder, like Cowper, whether we’re a Christian at all.

Some have even built a theology on this phenomenon. They maintain that we are saved by grace, but we must stay saved by our works.  It is as if, to them, we are born of the Spirit of God, but then left to our own devices.  Such “theology” is rooted in a misapprehension of the Gospel and typically some painful experience.

Paul knows all about the vicissitudes of human emotions (See Romans 7).  The only remedy is not law, but grace!  Indeed, the only remedy is the breastplate of righteousness!  While we are to enjoy feelings, they are to be subservient to, and the outcome of, our standing with God.  They are to be the product of our justification.  It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that saves me and secures me, not any feelings I may have with respect to it.

As we said last week, there is an inevitable order apparent in Paul’s writings.  The subjective must always follow the objective.  The imperative always follows the indicative.  (We saw the perfect application of this fact in Thomas’ post-resurrection encounter with Christ.”)  Paul knows that when this order is violated or ignored, Satan comes in and has a field day.

This week we turn to the second of the six pieces of equipment Paul tells us to “put on” or “take up” – the Breastplate of Righteousness.  If the belt of truth – the Gospel (John 8:31,32) is the protection for the loins of the mind (I Peter 1:13), the Breastplate of Righteousness is the protection for our heart, the seat of our affections.

We will be seeking to cover the heart of the Christian faith this Sunday – so much to say – so many truths to explore – so little time.  You want application?  Start now by digging into “the Breastplate of Righteousness” and consider the following:

1.      What does Peter mean in I Peter 1:3-9?

2.      Do you think Lloyd-Jones is right when he says, “…to believe in the possibility of falling from grace is to believe in the possible defeat of God by the devil.  That is unthinkable and utterly impossible”?

3.      Why is Polybius right when he says, “It would be difficult to strike a death blow to the torso of a soldier wearing the breastplate”?

4.      What is the breastplate of righteousness?  What does it protect?

5.      How does it protect us from the fiery darts of Satan?  What is Satan attempting to do?

6.      How does The New English Bible render the word “righteousness”?  Why is this so misleading and dangerous?

7.      What did the Puritans (following the sound exegesis of the Reformers) say about the righteousness of Christ given to the Christian?

8.      How is the righteousness of Christ a breastplate for us?

9.      How does what Paul writes in Philippians 3:1-9 relate to Ephesians 6:14?

10.  How can you tell the breastplate is on?

 See you Sunday!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Belt of Truth

Years ago before I came to Hebron I was “examined” by a committee of Presbytery to determine my suitability for the Hebron pulpit.  It was during that hour-long inquisition that a shocking charge was laid to my account.  “Sir,” a middle-aged woman said, “You are NOT Reformed!”  I couldn’t believe my ears.  Of all the charges they were leveling at me that was the one that stung the most.  I had cut my teeth on Luther, Calvin, and Edwards.  I had, for years, studied with Gerstner, Sproul, and Packer.  The Synod of Dort was not some dead, lifeless church council to me; it was an in-depth inquiry into the heart of the Gospel that to this day holds sway over any intelligent, orthodox understanding of the Gospel itself.  What in the world did she mean by saying I was not Reformed?

After arriving home (pre-cell phone days) I called a friend who had studied at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the 1980s and I told him of the accusation.  Immediately he laughed and said, “Oh Doug.  They think you’re Reformational, not Reformed.  You see, to them, being Reformed means always reforming, i.e. always willing to change and adapt your understanding of the truth.”

Now think of that.  One of the hallmark expressions of the Protestant Reformation was “Reformed and always reforming.”  But they had redacted it to mean the antithesis of what the Reformers meant.  What the Reformers meant was simple – because of our proclivity to abandon the truth of God’s Word and cater to our own predilections we need to constantly repent and return to the truth.  Instead of a weathervane, the Reformers saw the truth of the Gospel as a stake driven firmly into the ground, around which we must anchor our lives.

That’s exactly what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 6:10-20.  Finally, we’ve arrived at the point where many Christians begin their examination of spiritual warfare.  This is where Paul instructs the Ephesians, from a Roman prison cell, to put on and/or take up the whole armor of God.

I hope you will agree that having begun our study well before Adam and Eve we have established a useful and necessary context for a proper understanding of Satan and the spiritual war he has been waging against God and His people from the beginning of time.  Indeed, by starting our examination where we have, we are much more equipped to understand the imperative Paul is giving in Ephesians 6.

Unlike many who read this text and see it as an injunction to insure one’s salvation, it is rather a call to live out the call Christ gives to all who belong to Him.  As we will say on Sunday, for Paul the indicative always precedes the imperative.  In other words, what we are to do is only possible because of what Christ has already done.  As Paul says in I Corinthians 1:30, “And because of him (God the Father) you are in Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” or as the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12:2, “…looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”  Just as our salvation is the product of Christ alone, so is our sanctification.  It is as we abide in Him that we are able to put on the whole armor of God and join in ushering in the kingdom of God.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, the first in our final six-message section entitled, “Living in Victory,” I’d like you to think about a few things.

1.      How does Ephesians 6:10-20 fit into Paul’s understanding of the spiritual war?

2.      Why does the imperative necessarily follow the indicative when it comes to understanding the Christian faith?

3.      How does verse 10 establish the prime principal of spiritual warfare?

4.      Why does Paul always move from the general to the particular as in verses 11 to 14?

5.      If Jesus finished the work on the cross, why do we have to arm ourselves?  Can you think of any Old Testament analogs?

6.      Why are “wrestling” and “withstanding” a part of the Christian life?

7.      What if a Christian does not put on the whole armor of God?  Does he/she lose salvation?

8.      Why start with the belt of truth?

9.      What is this belt?  What is the truth?

10.  How do these six pieces of equipment function?  What do they hide?

11.  How does Jesus’ victory inform our fight?

 See you Sunday as we begin the final section of our series, Jesus Wins.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Woman, Behold Your Son"

Talk about a Mother's Day sermon! In John 19:25-27 we have Mary, Jesus' mother, caring for her son while He is on the cross.  We also have Jesus, Mary's son, caring for His mother while He is on the cross.  What a Bible lesson on love and loyalty!

We have learned that while on the cross our Lord Jesus was not a victim but a victor.  His care for His mother exhibits this.  He demonstrates that He is the Son of God and son of man by speaking to both His Heavenly Father and earthly mother.  He also demonstrates that He is the PERFECT sacrifice for our sins by His obedience to God's law.  In providing a home for Mary He is fulfilling the 4th commandment to honor our parents.  Not even the exhausting and violent suffering He has experienced keep Him from compassionate care for His mother as well as others!

Standing at her son's cross, Mary is experiencing a prediction made to her when Jesus was a newborn.  A godly saint, Simeon, had told her, "And a sword will pierce your own soul too."  The respected commentator, Matthew Henry, poignantly describes her suffering when Jesus is on the cross..."His torments were her tortures; she was upon the rack while he was upon the cross; and her heart bled with his wounds."

When we study the Scriptures sometimes it is hard for us to fully grasp the relationship between the Son of God and His earthly mother but their connection and interaction at the cross is the ultimate in motherhood and family love.  Sometimes our own family relationships have complexities, highs, and lows, but may the precious example of our Savior and His mother inspire and instruct us!

See you Sunday!

1.  Why do you think Jesus called Mary "Woman" instead of Mother during His days of ministry?  John 2:4; 19:26

2.  I believe the "son" that Mary is committed to by Jesus for care is the Apostle John.  John 19:26; 21:20.24. Why do you think John received that privilege? Study John 19:25; Mark 1:20; Matthew 27:55; and John 7:5. Why do you suppose Mary's husband, Joseph, is not mentioned regarding her future care?

3.  Along with His interesting name for His mother what else is unique about their relationship?  Mark 3:31-34; Luke 11:27, 28

4.  In the upper room prayer meeting of Acts 1 does the context suggest they were praying to Mary or with Mary?  Acts 1:13, 14

5.  Since Jesus would no longer be physically present to care for His mother He has John do it.  What might that suggest about us as the representatives of Christ in the here and now?

6.  Study this powerful passage on the importance God places on caring for our family members.  I Timothy 5:4, 7, 8

7.  In this 3rd statement from the cross our Lord demonstrates His victorious compassion even under great suffering and pain.  How do we treat our loved ones when we are having a "bad day"?   By the way, how many of the 7 statements from the cross can you remember?

8.  Take time to reflect on the blessings and challenges of motherhood.  If you have the opportunity, be sure to express your love and gratitude to the one(s) who have mothered you!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"It Is Finished"

On January 11, 1861, the Alabama Secession Convention passed a resolution designating an official flag.  Designed by several women in Montgomery, the flag was two-sided.  On one side was the “Goddess of Liberty” holding an unsheathed sword and above her the words, “Independent Now and Forever.”  On the reverse side was the embroidered picture of a cotton plant in full bloom with a rattlesnake coiled at its base.  Below the cotton plant and the snake were the Latin words, “Noli Me Tongere,” translation:  “Touch Me Not.”  The flag was sent to the governor’s office on February 10, 1861, but due to severe weather damage was never flown after its first day.

Thirty-four years later the Alabama State legislature adopted a new state flag that remains to this day.  In fact they memorialized the design this way: “The flag of the State of Alabama shall be a crimson cross of St. Andrews on a field of white.  The bars shall be not less than six inches broad, and must extend diagonally across the flag from side to side.”  So think of it.  In 1895 the State of Alabama changed its flag.  In Alabama the cross supplanted the serpent!  The disciple John would have appreciated that.

Of all the Gospel writers, John is the one who gives us the sixth word of Jesus from the cross.  Without the Gospel of John we would never have known this incomparable declaration of victory from the cross of Jesus.

Last week we took much care to see how the fourth word, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” spells the defeat of sin, death, and Satan; but the sixth word is clear confirmation.  And what’s particularly wonderful is that John was there to hear it.  For remember the words that immediately preceded “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” were, “Woman, behold your son…”

As Arthur W. Pink says, “’It is finished,’ was not the despairing cry of a helpless martyr.  It was not an expression of satisfaction that the termination of His sufferings was now reached.  It was not the last gasp of a worn-out life; no, rather it was the declaration on the part of the Divine Redeemer that all for which He came from heaven to earth to do, was now done; that all that was needed to reveal the full character of God had now been accomplished; that all that was required by the law before sinners could be saved had now been performed: that the full price of our redemption was now paid.”

Moreover, the word Jesus utters here is the necessary declaration that the great purpose of God in human history is now accomplished.  What the first Adam was unable to do, the last Adam has done.  Taking on human flesh God the Son, the Light of the World, defeated the scheme of the former bearer of light, and ransomed a people God had made lower than the angels to sit with Him in heavenly places.

Think of it.  When the Son of God announces, “It is finished,” He not only insures that the creatures of dust will sit with Him in the heavenly places, but will be His bride, and judge the angels, including the fallen ones!  If it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, this one word from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ is worth a trillion words.  There is no greater evidence of Christ’s cosmic victory than His sixth word from the cross.

Read what Charles Spurgeon says of it:
“Children of God, ye who by faith received Christ as your all in all tell it every day of your lives that it is finished.  Go and tell it to those who are torturing themselves thinking through obedience and mortification to offer satisfaction.  Yonder heathen is about to throw himself down upon the spikes.  Stay poor man where for wouldst thou bleed, for it is finished.  Yonder faker is holding his hand erect until the nails grow through the flesh, torturing himself with fasting and self-denials.  Cease, cease poor wretch from all these pains for it is finished.  In all parts of the earth there are those who think that misery of the body and the soul may be atonement for sin.  Rush to them, stave them in their madness and say to them, ‘Wherefore do ye this?  It is finished.  All the pains that God asks, Christ has suffered.  All the satisfactions by way of agony in the flesh that the law demanded Christ has already endured.  It is finished.’ And when you have done this go next to the benighted votaries of Rome when you see the priests, with their backs to the people, offering every day the pretended sacrifice of the Mass, lifting up the host on high a sacrifice they say, a unbloodly sacrifice, for the quick and the dead.  Cry, ‘Cease false priests!  Cease!  For it is finished.  Cease false worshippers; cease to bow for it is finished.  God neither asks nor accepts any other sacrifice than that which Christ offered once for all upon the Cross.’” 

In preparation for Sunday’s message and communion you may wish to consider the following questions:

  1. What linkage can you find between Jesus’ statements in Matthew 27:46 and John 19:30?
  2. The words, “It is finished,” are one word in Greek:  Tetelestai.  This word comes from the Greek root teleo.  What does teleo mean?  Can you think of any English words that incorporate it?
  3. How is Jesus’ declaration in John 19:30 greater than Caesar’s declaration when he returned from Rome after his defeat of King Pontus?
  4. The word “anguish” comes from the Latin word which means “to be compressed.”  How is the cross a compression for Jesus?
  5. In John 19:28 it says that Jesus said “I thirst” to fulfill Scripture.  How is tetelestai a fulfillment of Scripture?
  6. John says in verse 30(a) “When Jesus had received sour wine He said, ‘It is finished.’  How is the life of Jesus a perfect illustration of receiving sour wine from the world?
  7. How does the word tetelestai offer us a complete picture of God’s redemption?
  8. How does His word tetelestai fulfill His words to His disciples in John 12:31?
  9. What is the geographic center of the city of London?
  10. What effect does this declaration have on your discipleship?

See you Sunday, as we gather at His table!