Monday, December 27, 2010

Sin, Grace, Joy

Text: Matthew 2:1-23

Right smack dab in the middle of the hallelujahs and hosannas, of gift-giving and feasting and family is this reading – which includes a text commonly referred to as “the slaughter of the innocents.”  This is a text about the murder of innocent children.  It naturally offends our sensibilities, especially given its placement in the lectionary on the first Sunday of Christmas.

Why is it here?  Why does it seem that the lectionary creators are trying to kill our joy with this selection.  What were they thinking?  

I think the story is here because it serves as a wakeup call.  It shows us that in addition to the supernatural angelic hallelujahs and hosannas, there is another response to the arrival of little child whom the angels referred to as Christ the Lord, the anointed King of God.  And the key to understanding the responses is founded upon that little word with huge implications, “King.”  In summary, there are two ways to receive the news of this king’s arrival: Worship or rebellion.  The three parties in this section of the text illustrate this.  You have Joseph, the wise men, and Herod.  In order to get a full appreciation for this, I want to invite you to consider this truth: When you read a gospel, what you’re reading is history, but it is invariably more than just history.  Writers like Matthew are making huge theological points about God and how God operates as they recount these stories.  And what we have in this story, using the three characters, are three statements of truth:

  • Like Herod, our natural response to the arrival of the King of the universe is rebellion and refusal to believe. In that state of rebellion, we will attempt to salvage our position by any means necessary.  If that means demeaning or destroying our neighbors, even those who are most helpless, so be it.
  • Second: Belief in what God has accomplished for us in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection is a gift.  The gift is granted entirely by God’s grace when God reveals the truth to us.  Case in point: The wise men.
  • Third: That living life in obedience to God’s call requires ongoing grace, faith, even if we are called into exile for a time, as is the case with Joseph and his family.
If the Child Is King, then Herod Isn’t, And We Aren’t

Part of understanding this passage knowing more about who Herod was.  Herod was “King” of the Jewish people, but was really an appointed agent of the Roman Empire, which had control over this region at this time.  Even so, Herod was very jealous of his power and prestige, and he tolerated no dissension or rebellion.  Commentator Dale Bruner writes of Herod: “Jerusalem had reason to be troubled when Herod was because Herod’s troubles inevitably meant the people’s.  Herod had killed three sons of his sons in his mad attempt to retain his crown.  Caesar Augustus had said only partly in jest that ‘it is better to be Herod’s pig that his son.”{1} This was a man prone to explosive, violent excess.  If you posed any kind of threat to Herod, you better run for your life.  Given this information, you can now better understand Matthew 2:1-2. Wise men from the east come to Jerusalem “[2] asking, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” What does Matthew then say?  Verse 3: “[3] When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”  Herod’s troubles inevitably meant the people’s.  The reason he is troubled is because someone has been born king of the Jews, which was Herod’s title!  You can imagine now why he was troubled.  How could this even have transpired without his knowledge?  And how could this person lay hold to the title that was rightfully his?

Herod then has a secret meeting with the wise men.  He hears their story, and then asks his own people to consult the scriptures to determine where the Christ will be born.  They give Herod, and the wise men, the answer:  Bethlehem.  And so Herod sends the wise men to Bethlehem with these words, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”  Right.  Off they go, and they find the child and present him with gifts.  You know the story.  After they worship the newborn infant, the wise men receive a warning in a dream not to return to Herod.  So they by pass him, and head for home.  

Now I want to give you a bit of bible trivial.  When you read Matthew’s gospel, all through chapter 1 and chapter 2, Herod is referred to as “King Herod” or “Herod the King.”  Then the wise men visit Jesus and, in verse 11, worshipped Him.  Thereafter in the gospel, Herod is only referred to by his name.  He’s never again King Herod.  He’s been dethroned by the true king of the Jews! That brings us to verse 13, and Herod, who is troubled with the arrival of the wise men, will become deeply troubled.

What is Herod’s response when he learns that this child has been born and that the wise men have “tricked” him?  He reaches out violently in his attempt to thwart what God has done.  He tries to snuff out God’s chosen King to preserve his now-vanquished position.  He considers that the child is still very young, so he orders the slaughter of all male children in the area, bringing such grief and anguish to the survivors so poignant that even Rachel, Rachel from long ago, the great matriarch who wept for the much later exile of her children, weeps again for this slaughter.

What is our gut response to Herod? If you’re at all like me, it’s to cry out with great injustice.  It is very easy to make this call from here, isn’t it?  These are children.  Killing them to preserve his position should be unreservedly condemned.  Indeed.  The problem for us, though, is not just the crime perpetrated here by Herod.  I believe that Matthew places him in this story for the purpose of showing us how all sinful human beings react when their sovereign kingdoms of self-control, power, wealth, prestige, pride are threatened by the one true God of the universe.  When God comes into someone’s life, so often the response is to lash out, to preserve the fictions of control we’ve so carefully constructed for our comfort and pleasure, even if it means throwing some people under the bus.  In our time, this is repeatedly played out for us in the world of politics, where it’s become commonplace to trash someone’s integrity and reputation simply to preserve power.  It plays out in jobs when someone deliberately undermines the work of another to get that promotion.  When God isn’t your ultimate satisfaction and joy, then drastic measures are considered par for the course in order to preserve our fragile kingdoms of self-autonomy.  Bruner says this in his excellent commentary and I think it’s true for me as well:  Herod is a problem in this text because Herod reveals who I am deep down inside, a rebel king who will do anything to preserve my autonomy apart from the infinitely perfect, sovereign God of heaven and earth.  Herod shows us what we are really capable of apart from God.  It might be slanderous gossip, which is the murder of someone else’s reputation, or it might even be actual murder.

So What Is Our Hope?  God’s Grace

Herod shows us the depths of our sinful depravity.  And we’re all in the same boat, rebels whose natural inclination is to reject God or even remain deliberately ignorant of God.  This is what St. Paul meant when we wrote in Romans 3:10-18:

[10] as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; [11] no one understands; no one seeks for God. [12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” [13] “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” [14] “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” [15] “Their feet are swift to shed blood; [16] in their paths are ruin and misery, [17] and the way of peace they have not known.” [18] “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Is there any remedy to this sin problem?  Is there any hope for sinners condemned to perpetual alienation from God due to their sin?  Christmas proclaims with a shout: YES!  The remedy is God-provided.  The remedy is his Son, Jesus.  And the good news is that this remedy is available even to the people we casually assume would never get it.  People just like, say, several wise men from the East, likely pagan astrologers, who come to know Jesus as King.  How do they come to know this?  By God’s revelation to them.  In the popular movie “The Nativity Story” from a few years ago, the Magi begin their journey through complex examination of the sky.  They learn that something big is about to happen, but what they don’t realize at the time is their knowledge is coming from God through their observation of God’s creation.  So God begins to reveal this good news to them first through the creation.  That gets them moving, and when they arrive in Jerusalem they meet up with Herod.  Herod, who is anxious about his title, gets a crack research team working on the problem of where this Christ is to be born.  He learns, that the child who is King will be born in Bethlehem.  Where does Herod’s research group get this information?  From the scriptures!  Quoting from Micah, they report to Herod (who then shares this with the Magi): “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Compare the responses of Herod and the Magi.  Does Herod the so-called “King of the Jews” go to see this shepherd ruler God has promised to the people?  No.  He hears the Word of God, but is as receptive of it as the hard footpath is to the seed cast by the sower. When the seed hits that soil, it bounces off and the birds get it and carry it away.  Hardened hearts are not receptive to the Word of God.  But what do these pagan, Gentile Magi do?  They hasten off to see this king!  They heard the Word of God, even though it was pronounced to them by power-hungry Herod and his servants.

So the Magi have received grace two ways already.  First, they received it through God’s creation, and now they’re received it through God’s Word.  Next, it will be revealed to them finally and most fully in the person of his Son Jesus.  What happens when they see the fullness of God’s glory this way?  Here’s what Matthew write at verse 11: “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”  The majesty of God glory and the depth of his grace for sinners was revealed to them fully in the person of Jesus, Son of God.  The only proper response is to fall down to the ground in worship and praise.  And then what did they do?  They parted with precious gifts: Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They parted with things most people would never gift up.  They parted with the riches that the rich young ruler was reluctant to give up, having just spoken to God’s only Son, the source of what we often deceive ourselves into believing will give us ultimate satisfaction and security.  These things they laid at the feet of their Infant Lord and King.  They may not fully have appreciated what they were doing at the time, but the Magi unmistakably point to the ingathering of God’s people by grace, which includes even us and all other pagans and sinners.

Joyful, Immediate Obedience

In Herod, the Word of God is naturally rejected and rebelled against by sinners.  In the Magi we see the manifestation of God’s grace even for gentile unbelievers such that they can see God.  In Joseph, we see how this revelation by God brings with it faith and obedience.  Joseph has received God’s word by means of revelation and responds to it faithfully.  He is called by God to pick up suddenly, and take Mary and the newborn child to Egypt, because they learn that Herod seeks to destroy the child in order to preserve his position.  There is no hesitation on Joseph’s part.  He obeys the command because he has received from God the grace of knowing who the child is, when he was visited in his dream and heard this word:

[20] But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. [21] She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Beloved, look deeply at the bible, at the Word.  Look at what is proclaims to you today.  The Word of God has been read and proclaimed and the person of Christ has been revealed to you in glory.  He is the one who “will save his people of their sins.”  He accomplished this because, like these innocent children, he will be slain. But his death on the cross is radically different, because in it he bears your sins and my sins, even the darkest, most heinous sins, like murder, and kills them.  If you believe in him and what he has done, and believe that God accepted this sacrifice for sin by raising Jesus from the dead, then you will be saved for a life of joy that cannot ever be found in any earthly treasure, free from guilt and fear.  Merry, merry Christmas.  Amen.

{1} Bruner, Frederick Dale. The Christbook: Matthew 1-12. Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids. 2007.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
December 26, 2010
First Sunday in Christmastide
Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Donald Drew

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Dragon Is Defeated

This story in St. Luke’s gospel is powerful, despite its familiarity. It’s a bizarre mixture of earthly things and heavenly things.  The story is nothing less than an account of how God tore open our “boring” reality and came down to us, becoming as we are, ordinary.  He came into the world as we all do, through the birth canal of a woman. He entered the world in an unsanitary place, wrapped in some cloths and laid in the animal trough, a “manger”, the place where livestock slobber.  No fancy bassinet with cushy bumpers for Jesus.  Just the smell of dung and dirty bedsheets.

And amid all of this ordinariness, miracles are breaking out all over.  Not with the landed gentry, mind you, but with the dirty, stinking, low-class shepherds.  Those dudes received as an unmerited gift a fireworks show of Godly proportions.  First one angel, breaking into the night air with the glory of God’s fire all around, speaking the words we sing about each year, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  The Christ?  The Messiah?  The anointed King of God?  And then the angel said, “And this will be a sign for you.”  At this point, the early readers would probably be anticipating something fantastic, mind-blowing, extraordinary.  Instead, this is the sign, “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  What was that?  You just said a king was born?  What on earth is he doing in a trough?  What kind of king is this?  But before the questions could be asked, suddenly the multitudes appear, singing God’s praises for this great thing that has been done. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”  Thus, any hesitation on the part of the shepherds of the news of a king lying in a manger was wiped out.  Off they went to see for themselves what God announced by means of his angelic messengers.

This is an odd story because it’s filled with things we expect and things we don’t expect.  It’s a strange blend of ordinary human events and ordinary heavenly events (which are highly un-ordinary to us!). We are so familiar with this text that we miss out on its fundamental oddness.  Moreover, we’ve tampered with the story to domesticate it, to make it more palatable.  So now we see images and movies complete with halos, warm, comfy hay, and the glow of the campfire illuminating the cherubic face of the newborn Christ. As a result, we miss the biggest thing of all, the defeat of the dragon!

I know what you’re thinking.  What dragon!?  There’s no dragon here in Luke.  Just nice angels, clad in white robes, bearing harps as they fly through the night sky singing hallelujah.  But why are they singing! What is the reason the story of this ordinary birth is celebrated by God’s heavenly messengers?  The reason for the singing is the defeat of the dragon.

What Dragon?

The dragon is not, of course, explicitly mentioned in the gospels.  He is found, however, in the one other place where Jesus’ birth is mentioned, the book of Revelation.  Specifically, Revelation 12.

[12:1] And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. [2] She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. [3] And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. [4] His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. [5] She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, [6] and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

Are you beginning to see the reason for the angelic celebration? What has happened when Jesus was born?   The dragon was thwarted!  His intention was to devour the means of salvation for humanity. But the infinite, sovereign God outsmarted him.  Instead of consuming the child born of the woman, her son instead goes up to the very throne of God to reign!

Who is this dragon?  Revelation 12 continues thus:

[7] Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, [8] but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. [9] And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. [10] And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. [11] And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. [12] Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Ah, the dragon is that ancient serpent! The one from Genesis, the one who tempted Adam and Eve, who then disobeyed God, and distorted all of their progeny with sin.  The same one who, despite his defeat, would tempt Jesus in the wilderness.  The same Satan who is my enemy and your enemy, and whose fury is constantly at work in the vain attempt to undo the finished work of Christ.

The Ordinary Birth Is the Defeat of Satan

Now the celebration song of the angels can be understood a bit better, can’t it? What the birth of Jesus represents for you is the defeat of your chief enemy and accuser, Satan. He has been defeated by this child and no longer has any power over you.  The cause of his ceaseless accusations against you, your sin, has been forever wiped out by the blood of the Lamb who was slain.  This little boy, lying in this dingy manger, by his birth, life, and sacrificial death has redeemed you.

I look at this story so much differently now than ever before.  Now I read this account in Luke and wonder that this God we worship would condescend, come down so low, break into our sinful world, and redeem my soul from certain destruction.  Beloved I’ve been so convicted of my sin this week, and how utterly unworthy I am of his grace.  I read this story in Luke and want to cry out, “WHY ME?” Why on earth would you consider me worth saving?  Perhaps you wonder this as well.  You’re here and your family is in turmoil.  You personal life is in ruins.  The reason for that chaos is sin.  Satan, you see, although he is defeated, is still at war with the saints.  The dragon’s time is short, and so he has intensified his attacks in fury and anger. But for those in Christ there is certain victory. For those who are in Christ, all hell can be breaking loose, but the victory is sure and certain.  That is why we rejoice this night!  That is why we sing with the angels!

You may be here tonight in deep turmoil.  The reason for that turmoil is sin.  You are just the kind of person to whom this child came as dragon slayer.  He is here to slay the dragon and all his works in your life – sin and guilt, death, disease, loneliness, and exile.  He invites you into this grand story, where the dragon is defeated by the Light of the World.  He invites you to believe this story, this true story with real dragons and real sin and real death, this story which actually has a real beginning, when a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered, the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria somewhere between late 6 and early 5 BC.  The real story has a joyous ending in his blood shed for you, confirmed and sealed by his resurrection from the dead.  By believing in Him, the bright morning star, the babe in the manger, all is forgiven, past present and future, and a new life of joy and obedience begins.  So come, gather around the manger, and witness the utter defeat of the dragon by this tiny newborn baby, the one who has been swept up into heaven, and the one who will slay the dragon’s hold on your life, if you will only believe in him, the one Lord Jesus Christ.  Believe in Him, trust Him for your eternal security, and the dragon’s claws will forever be struck from your body and your soul, and you will be granted a robe made white by his precious blood.  Believe and be saved and enter into God’s Sabbath rest!  The gift is here.  The dragon has been defeated. As the writer of Hebrews has said:

[6] Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, [7] again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

The dragon has been slain, beloved.  You are invited to come and adore your King, the one who saved, or will save you from the dragon today.  All thanks and praise to God.  Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
December 24, 2010
Christmas Eve
Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Donald Drew

Friday, December 17, 2010

There Was Never a Backup Plan

Commenting on 1 Peter 1:20, Calvin addresses this question: Was Christ our salvation an afterthought of God?

It may be asked, As Adam did not fall before the creation of the world, how was it that Christ had been appointed the Redeemer? for a remedy is posterior to the disease. My reply is, that this is to be referred to God's foreknowledge; for doubtless God, before he created man, foresaw that he would not stand long with integrity. Hence he ordained, according to his wonderful wisdom and goodness, that Christ should be Redeemer, to deliver the lost race of man from ruin. For herein shines forth more fully the unspeakable goodness of God, that he anticipated our disease by the remedy of his grace, and provided a restoration to life before the first man had fallen into death.  (Commentaries on the First Epistle of Peter, 52, emphasis added.)

In his awesome sovereignty, God only ordained one plan of salvation through eternity; namely, Jesus Christ and him crucified. Amen.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Prepare for Action: Be Holy in All Your Conduct

This is week two of our four weeks series with the theme: “Prepare for Action: Readying Ourselves for the Arrival of the King.”  Last week, I said that Advent is a time of preparation for the arrival of our King.  It is not just a time of preparing for an event that happened in the past, the incarnation of the Son via the womb of the Virgin Mary.  It is a time for refocusing on the reality of the second coming of Christ.  Because we live in a culture that has, by and large, lost the urgency of his immanent arrival, I decided that we would place our focus on these Advent Sundays on how Christians ought to prepare themselves for the coming of our Holy King.

Last week, we covered the first of these topics.  We were exhorted by the apostle Peter to prepare our minds for action by setting our hope fully, not partially, on the “grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13).

This week, we focus on the second of the exhortation of Peter related to the coming of our king, to be holy in all of our conduct.  We get this from the three verses which have been read to you, and which I will read again now:

[14] As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

Peter addresses his brothers and sisters in the church as “obedient children.”  We are children of God, and this is deliciously good news!  We are not children of the world, or of some satanic or demonic power, we are children of the Most High God, adopted into God’s family by the precious blood of his Son.

And the Father desires that His children be obedient.  What do obedient children do?  They obey their Father.  They desire to please their Father.  God desires to be glorified by us in all of our conduct. Obedient children are not conformed by their worldly passions - things that go by the wayside and aren’t eternal.  Instead, they obediently set their hearts on eternal things, on the things of God, putting out of their minds those things which, in their ignorance of God, they thought were so great.

How do you become a child of God? By believing in his Son, Jesus Christ, who bought and paid for you so that you might become part of the God’s family.  Having put your faith in Jesus, your sins were, once and for all, forever forgiven so that you are considered by God as righteous, and therefore eligible for the inheritance prepared for you in the kingdom of God.

What, then, is the standard of conduct for those who have received God’s grace and have been called from the darkness and death of the world into eternal life with the Father?  What should characterize their personalities, their actions, and even their most secret thoughts?  The answer is given in the text:

“[15] But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

What is this holiness, then. What does it mean to be holy in all our conduct?  To get a good answer to this question, we must  know more about what the holiness of God means, especially because of what Peter wrote in verse 16, which is a quote from Leviticus 11:44

[44] For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.  (Leviticus 11:44 ESV)

What is the standard of holiness by which God’s chilren should live?  God’s perfect holiness is the standard.

How Holy Is God?  Totally Holy.

In our weekly adult bible study, Bible 101, we’ve begun to examine the chapters in Exodus regarding the construction of the tabernacle.  Moses is called up into the holy mountain of God further instructions from the Lord.  He went up, and was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (see Exodus 25ff).  After receiving some instructions on obtaining contributions from the people for the construction of a sanctuary, we begin reading the instructions for the fabrication of the tabernacle.  The instructions begin with the design of the most holy object in Israel, the Ark of the Covenant. Instructions are then given for the design of the table for the Bread of the Presence and the Lamp made of pure gold. More detailed instructions are given for the construction of the tents for the tabernacle, for the court of the tabernacle, for the garments the priests will wear, rules for consecrating the priests for service, and then more instructions for the third object of the holy place, the Alter of Incense.

I remember reading all of that as a kid and being totally bored.  What is with all of this detailed, laborious instruction for the construction of this thing?  Why couldn’t the writer quote what God saying something like, “Build this thing according to my instructions,” followed by something like, “and it was done as God instructed.”

It wasn’t until years later that I better understood what those seemingly boring, detailed lists of instructions were about.  You see, the construction of the tabernacle, the design of which would later be used in the design and construction of the temple, is about bringing the most perfect, righteous, holy God in communication with His created human beings.  But there is a big problem.  The big problem is that the perfect holiness of God is fundamentally incompatible with the taint of human sin. Therefore, for there to be any communion at all between the totally sovereign and perfectly holy God of Israel, an elaborate interface had to be constructed for God to be manifestly present with His people. What these elaborate instructions show us, then, is the perfect holiness of God.

The perfect holiness of God isn’t much thought of these days.  As a result, we don’t have a healthy fear of the God who is supremely holy.  What are the implications of unholiness before a totally holy and righteous God if holiness and sin are incompatible.  They aren’t good.

Another story from the Old Testament that illustrates this.  Having been anointed king of Israel, David decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  The Ark, as we have just discussed, was the most holy object in the nation.  It resided in the Holy of Holies, the most holy place in the tabernacle. There were specific laws for transporting the Ark.  It was to be carried by the priests using gold-covered poles which were placed through rings, so that no priest or human being would ever touch this most holy object.

What did David do to transport the Ark to its new home?  A new cart was built, so that the Ark might be rolled up to Jerusalem, pulled by oxen.  Right away, we know there is a problem, because the Ark isn’t being carried by the priests, as God commanded.  Here’s what happened, as recorded in 2 Samuel:

[5] And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. [6] And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. [7] And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. [8] And David was angry because the LORD had burst forth against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. [9] And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” [10] So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. [11] And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household. (2 Samuel 6:5-11 ESV)

What sin had Uzzah committed that he would be summarily executed for touching the Ark?  The great Puritan academic and preacher Jonathan Edwards said Uzzah’s sin was a sin of presumption, of presuming that his sinful hand was less incompatible with God’s holiness than the sinless dirt and mud into which the Ark might have fallen.  He was quite wrong, as we can see.  These are tough things for us to hear, because we desire a God who will related to us on our own terms.  But God demands, and indeed has the total right to demand, as the creator of the universe, that we approach Him only His terms.

The good news of the gospel is that God has himself, in the person of his glorious Son, fulfilled all of the terms for us.  That’s why the curtain was torn in two upon the death of Jesus, exposing the Holy of Holies, the most holy place, containing the most holy object in the nation, to profane eyes.  Jesus took upon his shoulders all of our sins so that we can be free for the holy obedience we could never have apart from Him.

You Were Called to Be Holy

How seriously do you view the holiness of God? We are to be holy in all our conduct, as he is holy. We are created in God’s image, saved from his wrath for sin by the death of his Son, so that we might become his obedient children, holy and righteous in all our conduct, as children of the Most Holy God ought to be.

The way many people live - and I include myself in this analysis - is by doing everything in their power to look good to the world and to those inside the church. But then there’s just that one vice that we reserve a special room for, to duck in when the worldly addiction, lust, or other idol whispers that it needs attention.  Do you have any secret rooms in your life?  Our public conduct is one thing, but God demands purity of heart as well.  What this means is that, while we may successfully hide our sinful secrets from others, they can never be hidden from God.  If you thought WikiLeaks was dangerous, you ought to see the contents of my own heart when it is compared with God’s perfect holiness.

One day I was reading a blog by a guy named Tim Challies, a good Canadian brother who spends a lot of time reading and writing about contemporary Christian fiction and non-fiction literature.  One day he made a comment that really got my attention: If someone else had total access to your computer and to your web browser and all of your online accounts, what would they discover about you?  What would that person discover, say, about your Internet browsing behavior, or how you spend your money?  Would they discover a relationship that is inappropriate or unbiblical?  Building on that thought, suppose someone developed a technology whereby a screen could be mounted on your forehead, facing the world, so that anyone could see what you were thinking.  What would they see?  I have many co-workers who likely would not have been happy with what they saw.  It’s easier to look good than to be holy, isn’t it?  And yet, our calling as those who have been saved by the good news of Jesus Christ is to be holy as God is holy.  This text today exhorts us throw ourselves onto the grace and mercy of God, and to totally eliminate everything impure and unholy from our lives, so that we might become his obedient children.

I think this is why in the reformers viewed the church as a priesthood of all believers.  The priests in the Old Testament had to go through elaborate rituals in order to be pure enough to minister in the tabernacle of God.  By the precious blood of Christ, we have all been once-and-for-all ordained by God for holy service, and to fling away from us anything that detracts from the holiness into which we have been called.  You may be particularly burdened with a sin that has been problematic for a long time.  You’re invited today, by the blood of Christ, to trust in his Grace, repent, and by the power of the Holy Spirit fling that sinful idol into the ash heap of the old ways of life which were lived in ignorance.  The urgency to get our spiritual house increases with each passing second, as our Lord Jesus Christ prepares his glorious return.  Let us join together in keeping each other accountable in prayer, steadfast love, and forgiveness, so that we might be ready for his arrival.  Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
December 5, 2010 
Second Sunday in Advent
Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Donald Drew 

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