Friday, December 03, 2010

Amazing Creation

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. - Psalm 19:1 ESV

How can we not stand in awe at the majesty of God?  O that all men and women may know of God's majesty!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Plan: One Great Big Advent

Every now and then, a really important idea crops up on Twitter, a new-fangled social networking tool that allows individuals to put up their thoughts for others in the Twitter universe (the “Twitterverse”) to see. As I was considering what to preach on this Advent season, I was struck by one “tweet” in particular, posted by a pastor named Tim Brister in Cape Coral, Florida. In his tweet, Tim quotes from a book The Bible and the Future by Anthony A. Hoekema.  Here’s the quote: 
The loss of a lively, vital anticipation of the 2nd coming of Christ is a sign of a most serious spiritual malady in the church. (110)
That grabbed my attention because I agree that this is a very serious problem in the contemporary church. Advent is not just a celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ, it is primarily aimed at reminding the church that Christ will come again.  Advent is the seasonal reminder to us that the little babe in the manger really is our King.  Advent invites us to ask ourselves the critical question again:  Do we really believe this?  If you do, if you accept by faith that Jesus, the Incarnate One, suffered and died for your sins, how does that play out in your life?  Does it show in your life? This is a huge question for all people in the church because an un-transformed life implies an un-regenerate heart that pays lip service to the crucifixion of Jesus but doesn’t really accept it as sufficient for salvation.

I think that is at the crux of the quote above.  The loss of the vital anticipation of the second coming of Christ is a “most serious spiritual malady” because it implies that there is tremendous unbelief in the contemporary church.  So what should we do?

I looked up the book from whence the Hoekema quote came and read a bit further.
Though there may be differences between us on various aspects of [the doctrine of the second coming], all Christians should live in the light of that expectation every day anew. [Emphasis added]
All Christians should live in the light of that expectation [of the second coming] every day anew.  As a result of this, I have been led to spend all four weeks of Advent on the topic of living in light of the expectation that Christ will indeed return.  How should we live in the light of this reality?

1 Peter gives us some great insight into this question.  We’ll explore four exhortations for how those who are born again live in light of the awaited second coming of Christ.  The overarching theme for this series is: “Prepare for Action: Readying Ourselves for the Arrival of the King.”  Christians who are living in the hope of Christ’s return are exhorted to:
  1. Set our hope fully on the grace to come (1 Peter 1:10-13)
  2. Be holy in all conduct (1 Peter 1:14-16)
  3. Have a holy fear throughout the time of waiting (1 Peter 1:17-21)
  4. Love one another in purity (1 Peter 1:22-25)
I’m really excited out this next series, and I hope you will join us in our preparations for the arrival of our King!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Preparing for Action - Set Your Hope Fully on the Grace to Come


We are starting a four-week Advent series this Sunday. The overarching theme is: “Prepare for Action: Readying Ourselves for the Arrival of the King.” I’ve chosen for this series four consecutive passages from 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter’s letter to the dispersed churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (v 1), in what is now modern-day Turkey. Why did I choose 1 Peter? I was drawn to this letter because Advent is a time when we remind the church that in its ministry and mission it is actually a time of preparation for the arrival, the coming, the advent of the One who is the King in the Kingdom of God. In churches that use the Lectionary readings for this time of the church year, the first Sunday in Advent places special emphasis on the second coming of Jesus Christ. Substantial portions of Peter’s letter are devoted to the anticipation of the arrival of Jesus. I like what John Calvin has to say about the epistle. He writes:
The main object of this epistle is to raise us above the world, in order that we may be prepared and encouraged to sustain the spiritual contests of our warfare. [Commentaries on the Epistle of 1 Peter, 27]
It is easy for the church, in this time of waiting, to become flaccid, to grow weary of engaging in “the spiritual contests of our warfare” of doing good (see Galatians 6:9). In the midst of Black Friday shopping, the obsession of gift exchanges at Christmas, and the culture’s lack of understanding of grace, it becomes very easy to grow weary. Paul had no room for that in Galatians, and, as we will see, neither will Peter in 1 Peter. As the time draws near for the arrival of Jesus, our excitement should increase, not decrease, each year. Our level of preparation for his arrival should be greater, not less. And our passion for all peoples to know Christ should grow exponentially as his arrival grows near. We are best reminded by Paul’s words to the Romans (13:11):
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
In this series, I will explore four of Peter’s exhortations to the early church which are also, I believe, applicable to us, as we continue our spiritual preparation from the second coming of Jesus. All four of these topics are basically answers to an overarching question: How do we glorify God in our preparations for the arrival of Christ? Here are the four exhortations. We are called upon to:
  1. Set our hope fully on the grace to come
  2. Be holy in all conduct
  3. Have a holy fear throughout the time of waiting
  4. Love one another in purity
This morning, we will focus on the first of those four answers – by setting our hope fully on the grace to come. Before we get there, however, we need to look a bit at what comes before in the letter.

The Foundation: Christians Have Been Born Again into a Living Hope

Peter beings his letter with a beautiful section of thanksgiving by reminding his readers, and us, that we are recipients of an inheritance:
[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, [5] who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
There are a four things we should note about this thanksgiving. First, Christians are those who have received mercy. The mercy that they have received is the gracious forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Second, the result of that great mercy is that we now have what Peter calls “a living hope” into which we have been born again. To have a living hope means that the hope is the basis for life. The hope we have transforms the way we live. Third, as those who have been born again into eternal life, Christians have a promised inheritance “that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” That inheritance is shared with Christ, and includes eternal life. And fourth, those who have been born again for this inheritance are, by God’s power, “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.” This means that if you are in Christ, you are as secure as He is. You have no reason for fear, because you are under God’s protection, right now.

The thing to note from this is that all of this has been done for you. This is the essence of the gospel. You do not chose of your own power to be saved and to receive these gifts. God chooses, according to his steadfast love and mercy, and gives to those whom he has chosen these gifts: Mercy and forgiveness, a living hope, an eternal inheritance that cannot be corrupted, and protection through faith for “the salvation read to be revealed at the last time.” If you have been born again, made regenerate, by the Holy Spirit, all of these things are yours, no matter what happens – pain, affliction, suffering, joy, love, happiness. It matters not what the particular circumstances of your life are at the moment. As a Christian, you have been born again into a living hope which is astonishing, even shocking, in a world that is so often filled with hopelessness. 

This Salvation Was Intended For You from the Beginning

Peter then shows us how this salvation was the intention of God from the beginning:
[10] Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, [11] inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
This salvation was the subject of the prophets. They spoke about the grace that was to be yours. I like how Peter puts this in very personal terms. The grace that the prophets in their diligence searched for was intended for you, beloved. So, for example, when Isaiah prophesied, as he did in today’s reading, that “[2] It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, [3] and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” That is a statement that refers to the final establishment of a kingdom to which peoples from all nations will come to receive the grace of God’s Word. This is a gift of God’s grace for you and me, a people who come much later in time, but who are just like the people to whom Peter is writing. The prophets did not see clearly when exactly the promised one would come, but they did know that he would suffer and enter into glory. On Thanksgiving at the United Methodist Church, I preached a sermon on just such a text, again from Isaiah, chapter 52:13-53-12, where the promised savior to come would be a man of sorrows, who would take upon himself the sins of the people, us, and impart to the people his righteousness. Can you see now what Peter is talking, then, we he speaks of the “grace that was to be?” That grace is found in Jesus Christ, and him crucified, the one whom we are waiting for.

What Peter says next is really amazing. He writes that the prophets received their revelations in such a way that “they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

When you heard the words from the prophet Isaiah that Monica just read to you, did you receive them that way? Did you receive them as a promise of grace for you, these thousands of years later? When I read texts like this, I am amazed when someone by the recurring complaint that the bible “doesn’t speak to them.” Or that these dusty old parchments are “irrelevant.” All of it is relevant because, as Peter writes, they were writing about the gospel of grace without even realizing it.

But you realize it, loved ones, because you have heard the announcement of the gospel through preaching. When the Holy Spirit moves on a person who is dead in sin and by the preached word brings that person to eternal life, something has happened which is so glorious and stupendous that the angels themselves long to see it!

We speak so often in this culture about a longing to know the “magic” of Advent and Christmas. Can you see that how this “magic,” this gift, is actually a real thing in the life of those who have been saved? In our lives and in our conduct, do we live like people who have received such astounding blessings in the gospel of Jesus Christ that when people observe us they see the hope and peace that marks those whom have a treasure so amazing that the angels themselves long to fully comprehend?

If you really believe the truth of this salvation in the coming Christ, then this will effect a huge change on the way you live. Even the most commonplace transactions of life are transformed into a manifestation of grace in the life of the Christian. Here we are once again at the first Sunday in Advent. The wait is growing shorter even as I preach this word. If we have received such grace in the mercy and forgiveness of God, and that so glorifies God in such a way that even the angels long to look upon this, how then should we live in the now shortened time we have left until Christ appears? And now we get to the first of the four exhortations of this Advent season.

Gird Your Loins

The ESV has verse 13 as follows:
[13] Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
I like the way the old King James has the beginning of verse 13. It reads, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” The phrase suggests that we are a people who are easily distracted by the temporary cares of the world and by the idolatrous pursuit of the worldly desires. We are a people who are constantly tempted by these things. Especially now. I am a person who is easily distracted. My wife can attest to this. How many of you, I wonder, are, like me, trying to simultaneously balance the culture’s passion for consumption with the expectations of attending multiple family and social obligations across increasingly huge geographic areas (those of you with kids you have moved from Jackson will know what I’m talking about)? Add to that pressures from work and pressures from the work we know are waiting for us on the other side of the few days we’ve taken off. Add to that the pressures many feel because of medical problems or the griefs suffered by those whose loved ones have died and you get a better understanding of why people long for something else during this season. The reason for the longing is that we’ve utterly forgotten the grace that will be presented and brought to us when Jesus Christ comes again. But here, we are exhorted to set or hope fully on the coming of the King, and to engage discipline over our minds so that we remember that precious hope.

As you have begun your own preparations for the Christmas holiday, have you deliberately set time aside to recall the great promises of the gospel, that you are destined for “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, [5] who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”? When you are in the checkout lane, will the person across the counter from you see someone who has that kind of hope? Will it come out in your interactions with others? Will it be made manifest in your own life because, as one who has such hope, you are filled to overflowing with peace and joy as one whom Christ has purchased at the price of his own blood?

He is coming, and the time grows short. What should we be thinking about? This advent, as we prepare for so much which is worldly and temporary, my prayer is that we will recommit ourselves to the pursuit of joy in the gospel – that in Jesus Christ, all has been forgiven, once and for all, that we’ve been set free from everything that would encroach upon our minds so that we can bask fully in the glow of the glory of the grace to come when Jesus arrives. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
November 28, 2010
First Sunday in Advent
Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Donald Drew

Thanksgiving: He Was Crushed. We Were Saved

Several days ago, my wife and I were listening to KKOJ.  It was about nine in the morning.  For those of you who listen at that time, you know that each weekday at 9 am there is about a 15-minute conversation between Doug Johnson and John Reitmeier.  The basis of this conversation is supposedly John’s “Cool-Site Pick of the Day.”  On Monday, Doug and John spent a considerable amount of time talking about hunting related violations and the humorous stories behind many of them. I stepped out of the room for a moment and when I came back, Sara asked me if I had heard the joke that Doug had just told on the air.  I said I hadn’t heard it.  Sara then repeated the joke for me.  It goes like this:
What is the thing to be most thankful for on Thanksgiving? That you’re not the turkey!
Now, I’m a pheasant hunter, and if I were to hunt turkey the way I hunt pheasant, well, I guess it wouldn’t be so bad to be the turkey.  They would run little risk with me around.  And pheasants mock me openly.

The turkey hunting joke that made it on the radio was good for a laugh, but then I thought of something that wasn’t as funny.  Success in hunting means spilled blood.  Hunting is a tremendous privilege, because the animals we take are made to give their lives up to the hunter.  Therefore, it’s never really something that should be undertaken without some degree of self-examination, because hunting costs life.  We shouldn’t forget that.

What does this have to do with anything from our scripture reading tonight?  That’s a good question.

We are here tonight to observe God’s grace in this holiday called Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving was established specifically to thank God for the many blessings of this people we call a nation.  In our culture, the practice of giving thanks of this day has now largely been overtaken by the idolatrous pursuit of football, multiple parties, and, perhaps most centrally, shopping.  Thanksgiving is meant to mark off a time for, you know, giving thanks.  To someone. For something. But Thanksgiving has now suffered what so many holidays have suffered from in the midst of our countries amazing affluence. 

I think God led me to select text from Isaiah to remind me and you of the most extraordinary event that has ever happened in the history of the universe.  It was predicted here in Isaiah, and fulfilled in a person named Jesus Christ.

Our text is the fourth of a series of songs, commonly referred to as “servant songs,” in the book of Isaiah.  These songs speak of a human who is the Lord’s servant, who is heir to the throne of David, and who will bring healing to the people after they have so thoroughly rebelled against God in sin.

The entire song is well worth close examination, but there is not enough time for that on this occasion.  Instead, I want to focus on just two really key sections: 53:4-6 and 53:10-12.

Isaiah beings by telling Israel that the servant would take the appearance of one whom the people would likely not expect as their servant-king.  The one who will be “exalted” (52:13) is described as having “no form or majesty that we should look on him,” and “[3] He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”  The servant is described as being, in the eyes of the world, the biggest loser of all time, not worth looking at, worthy of being despised.  And, in a society that places such a huge premium on self-esteem and being liked, this servant will not be esteemed at all.  He will, in fact, be trampled upon.

And that brings us to one of the most important texts in the whole bible, 53:4-6:
[4] Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. [5] But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. [6] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
This servant-king, who is despised and rejected by the people, isn’t considered worthy of anything.  And yet, look what he has done.  He bears the griefs and carried the sorrows of the people.  He was wounded, not for his own transgressions and sins, but for ours.  He was crushed for our iniquities and sins.  Upon him was placed chastisement due to us.  And by his stripes, the stripes of one who is beaten with the whip, we are healed.  There are two parties in this text.  The first is “we/us”.  That's you and me.  We are the ones with griefs and sorrows.  We are the ones who are the transgressors and sinners.  We are the one who from birth bear the iniquities and sins of our first parents.  The second party is the suffering servant. And do you see what happens in this text? All of this sin is transferred to him, to the servant.  He bears it all.  He is crushed by it.  We wonder off, recklessly perusing the ways of the world in pursuit of self-exaltation, worshiping idol entertainments and fleshy pursuits of money and sex, acquiring stuff at unprecedented levels in the vain attempt to secure our own salvation, rejecting the word of God and his rejecting the mantle of those who are created in His divine image. And all of that is transferred to him, the only one in this biblical scene who is innocent.

What we then learn is that this oppression of the suffering servant serves a divine purpose, which is disclosed in verses 10-12:
[10] Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. [11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. [12] Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Verse 11 is the critical verse: “[11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

The one who suffers anguish because of what he has to bear from us shall himself be satisfied.  We, the rebels, the sinners, the ones who deserve divine wrath for sin, are instead given freedom which is completely unmerited grace.  “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (11).

He takes ours sins and the guilt and the punishment of death.  We receive his forgiveness, pardon, and eternal life.  This is what Jesus Christ accomplished for us by his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.  He took your sin, and my sin, and all of the crushing punishment we deserved.  For those who accept his sacrifice as sufficient to cover over all sin, he grants his righteousness, total forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life.  That is genuine cause for not only Thanksgiving, but worship to the one who grants us such overwhelming grace.

So I ask you, dear ones, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?  As you consider the person and work of Jesus Christ for sinners like you and me, what are you most satisfied with?  What is the source of your joy? Are you most satisfied when you are able to raise some material trifle over your head in triumph, having just grabbed the last one from the store shelf during the 2 a.m. Black Friday sale? Or with the latest victory of your favorite high school, college, or pro football team? Or with the astonishing estate you’ve amassed?  Or are you most satisfied in Him, the one who secured your eternal salvation at the cost of his own blood, so that you might live forever enjoying the glory of your Creator?

I want to be clear, the good things we have are gifts from God, and they ought to be enjoyed.  But they are not ultimate.  I think the gifts we are given are enjoyed most when we stop and consider carefully the amazing freedom and forgiveness and mercy and love shown to us by the Father in the blood of His precious Son.

This Thanksgiving, we can all be thankful that we’re not the turkey.  Hunting requires the taking of blood.  Sin requires payment by blood.  And this Thanksgiving, we can sing for joy that we were not held to account for our sins with our own blood, but by the blood of Jesus.  May that be for you and me the source of ultimate joy and satisfaction this Thanksgiving season and into eternity.  What a wondrous gift!

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.1

Thank you, Almighty Father, for Jesus.  Amen.

1Wesley, Charles. And Can it Be. Hymn composed in 1738. The hymn is the 363 in the current United Methodist Hymnal.

Given at the United Methodist Church in Jackson, Minnesota
November 24, 2010
Thanksgiving Eve