Monday, November 26, 2018

Lord's Day 28 - 2

Evangelism Made Simple
Discussed this article in relation to talk given by pulpit supply minister last week.  

Thoughts on Devotions – LD28 (Part 2)

Q. 75 How does the Holy Supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ's one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits? Q. 76 What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood? Q. 77 Where does Christ promise to nourish and refresh believers with his body and blood as surely as they eat this broken bread and drink this cup?

Monday: Sometimes it is difficult to understand the stories, images and symbols used to describe Jesus' sacrifice for us. The images draw on wider Bible themes such as covenant and history from God's people in the OT. Eating and drinking Jesus' body and blood refer to a new covenant and to the Passover as well as the more general system of sacrifices in the OT. Jesus reference to the serpent on the pole that Moses lifted up speaks of obedience, faith and God's provision of a remedy for sin. We see that God's plan of salvation developed from the initial promise in the Garden of Eden, throughout the history of God's people, with final fulfillment in Jesus and his sacrifice. God's plan is revealed in Jesus - he is God's ultimate remedy for sin and we receive it by trusting God's promise.
John 3:14-18 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

Tuesday: Eating Christ's body and drinking his blood is a reassurance of our forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice, but it also symbolizes being united with Christ. Jesus gave the picture of branches being connected to and nourished by a vine. We are actually connected to Jesus and other Christians through the Holy Spirit. The Lord's Supper reminds us that we are connected with Jesus and with each other as we, together as a people of God and Body of Christ, remember what he has done and practice the close love and caring that Communion symbolizes.
John 15:4-5 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me - and I in him - bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing.
1 John 3:24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.
1 John 4:13 By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit.

Wednesday: The symbolism of eating and drinking also refers to the intimate connection between Christ's spirit and those who partake of the Supper. We ingest the elements and they become part of us. Similarly we are also in Christ. It also speaks to the permanence of the connection.
1 Cor. 6:15a Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
Ephesians 5:29-30 For no one has ever hated his own body but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, for we are members of his body.

Thursday: Communion is something we do in our local church, but it something that Christians around the world do in obedience to Christ's command. This is a strong symbol of the connection we have with other believers. It is also a reason that we need to belong to and participate in a church.
1 Cor. 12:12-13 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body - though many - are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.
Ephesians 4:15-16 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

Friday: The Lord's Supper is a remembrance, but it is also a proclamation of the Gospel message – speaking to the reason that Jesus died on the cross and the forgiveness of sin and other benefits we receive as a result.
John 6:52-58 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Saturday: The bread and wine (or juice) are physical symbols that help us experience what we have heard through the reading and preaching of the Word in another way. They are a sign – that is, they point to something else, Jesus' actual sacrifice, and they are a seal – repeating the message in Word with a tangible visual and physical proclamation.
John 6:35-40 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe. Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. Now this is the will of the one who sent me - that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father - for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Reading between the lines...

The surprise of judgment is that insiders will be cast out and outsiders will be brought in. Death is the leveler and judgment is the great reverser of fortunes. The madness of hell is reflected here and now in the madness of this life – the rich man is portrayed as expecting deference and service even in death – little changed. He is told that if his brothers will not listen to Moses and the prophets they will not listen even to someone coming from the dead. Hell is seen not as an imposition of some foreign punishment, it is the continuation of a mad stubborn rebellion. The one thing can wake people up is the Scriptures – do not trust in yourself or things – come as a beggar to Jesus. He still welcomes sinners. If you come full you will be turned away; if you come empty you will be welcomed.
Luke 16:29-31 But Abraham said, ʻThey have Moses and the prophets; they must respond to them.ʼ Then the rich man said, ʻNo, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.ʼ He replied to him, ʻIf they do not respond to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.ʼ”

Jesus and the disciples were exhausted – yet while they looked for solitude they were overwhelmed by a crowd. But Jesus saw their need and had a visceral compassion. Jesus was not immune to tiredness and weakness, yet his love for the people allowed him to respond to their need. Jesus serves their need for teaching first, feeding them on his word first, and only after serves their practical needs. Curious that this is the opposite of doing a soup kitchen. The disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away. In response Jesus tells the disciples to feed them. Jesus meets them where they are overwhelmed. Jesus involves the disciples in checking the resources and in distributing the bread and fish – and at the end they each have a basket of leftovers to convict them of their grumbling. Jesus steps in at our weakness, takes what we have and makes it more than enough. What is Jesus doing? He is doing what he always does – he leads his people into desert places and then spread a table. Paul also experienced this – through this we are taught to rely on Jesus, and we will find ourselves overwhelmed not be demands, but by his grace.
Luke 9:16-17 Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven he gave thanks and broke them. He gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied, and what was left over was picked up - twelve baskets of broken pieces.
2 Cor. 1:8-10 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again,

Jesus serves even though he is exhausted. Is he drawing on some secret reserve? Instead he seeks to empty himself, while we seek to retain a reserve. Jesus secret is that long after we say “enough!”, he continues to pour himself out. Jesus describes himself as the bread and as he is devoured he brings life to the world. Jesus gives eternal life to the world, but gives it by giving himself for the world. He is a self-emptying giver. Scrivener explains that to eat flesh and to drink blood is to take advantage of a life given by another – and Jesus says, I want you to take advantage of me. Without him we parish, and if we do not want to perish he must be consumed. At the Last Supper he proclaimed over the bread and wine – this is my body, this is my blood. He is consumed, we are nourished. He is poured out, we are filled. Jesus keeps no power in reserve; his power is his sacrifice.
John 6:33 For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.
John 6:48-51 I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Psalm 27:2 When evil men attack me to devour my flesh, when my adversaries and enemies attack me, they stumble and fall.
2 Sam. 23:17 and said, “O Lord, I will not do this! It is equivalent to the blood of the men who risked their lives by going.” So he refused to drink it. Such were the exploits of the three elite warriors.

When you receive the keys to something it is a sign of trust by the person giving you the key. Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Everyone is equivocal – some say this, some say that – until Peter makes his bold pronouncement that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus rejoices to be known and proclaimed. He says “Blessed, are you Simon,” and says that this was revealed to Peter by the Father. This is an example of how God works in bringing the message – we do not work our way up to a true knowledge of God, God comes down. Peter proclaims the most fundamental truth. On this basis he “hands over the keys” and says that “on this rock I will build my church”. Roman Catholics take this as evidence for Peter being the first Pope. But Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 (and repeated in numerous other Scriptures) clarifies that the rock is the proclamation of Jesus Christ – it is not a person. This is the scenario of Matthew 16 – proclaiming Jesus Christ is the mark of a true church, not tracing a lineage back to a person. All Christians are members of his body and with membership comes privileges and responsibilities – giving the keys of the kingdom. In John 20 Jesus uses similar language when giving the disciples authority to forgive sins – they do not forgive sins, but sins are forgiven in the authority of the message. As we speak of Jesus, people will come into the Kingdom of Heaven. The gates of heaven hinge on this message – we are not sharing personal thoughts, we must be proclaiming Christ. This releases and unstoppable power – even the gates of Hades will not prevail against it!
Matthew 16:13-20 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
1 Cor. 3:11 For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ.
John 20:21-23 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyoneʼs sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyoneʼs sins, they are retained.”

Martin Luther said that there are two ways of speaking about God – the way of glory or the way of the cross. The first looks to what looks reasonable to people, the second looks to the most foolish thing imaginable, a bleeding victim on a cross. One looks like the heavenly path, but leads to hell; the other looks hellish, but is the very gate to Paradise. The natural way for us to think is the way of glory. In Matthew 16, in the space of 2 paragraphs, Jesus goes from referring to Peter's statement of who he is as the rock on which the church will be built, to calling him anti-Christ and satanic. 6 shocks in this passage: 1) Jesus' identity is Son, his mission is Sacrifice – if we don't understand the sacrifice, we don't understand the Son. Jesus is the Christ, but he refuses to be a crossless Christ – the way of glory. 2) When Peter buys into the way of glory, and goes from key holder in the Kingdom to conduit of Satan in four verses. 3) The things of men are satanic, 4) pursuing “the things of men” is as simple as seeking comfort and avoiding the way of the cross. Flinching from the cross to go for comfort is satanic; 5) Peter thinks he is helping Jesus, but diverting him from the way of the cross is satanic; 6) the things of God means Christ crucified. If even Peter can get things so wrong, we're all in trouble. We must keep our focus on the cross, especially as competing pictures of God and the Christian life crowd in.
Matthew 16:22-24 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on Godʼs interests, but on manʼs.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

Peter wanted to protect himself and Jesus from the cross and go for comfort – these are not the things of God. Jesus calls us to reverse our values and perceptions, deny self and take up our cross. Jesus doesn't just die on the cross, he puts us to death with him. Jesus calls us to die and give up our own path to follow him – if this is the way that Jesus achieves glory, how can we expect to follow him in any other way? Even in the Trinity, the Father pours himself out for the Son, the Son pours himself out for the Father – this is the way of true flourishing. Entrust yourself to Jesus, he is the one who knows how to turn loss into gain, death into life, sin into righteousness. What are we pursuing - comfort and self-protection? The world cannot give us what Christ can.
Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 16:28 speaks of the Son of Man coming in his kingdom just before the Transfiguration. At the transfiguration the voice of God identified Jesus as his Son and commanded that they listen to him. Receiving honor and glory is connected with the role of High Priest, and the voice proclaiming Jesus as the Son is like an ordination. In the transfiguration Jesus is being proclaimed as High Priest. Whenever the Father declares his love for the Son, the cross looms large. The glory of the transfiguration heralds the sacrifice that Jesus has come to accomplish.
Matthew 16:28 I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Matthew 17:4-5 So Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters - one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!”
2 Peter 1:16-18 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Lord's Day 28 - 1

Thoughts on Devotions – LD28 (Part 1)

Q. 75 How does the Holy Supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ's one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits? Q. 76 What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood? Q. 77 Where does Christ promise to nourish and refresh believers with his body and blood as surely as they eat this broken bread and drink this cup?

Monday: Christians practice communion in obedience to Jesus' command. But participation also embodies a promise. Jesus said that it signified a new covenant in his blood. In the OT a new and better covenant was promised. Jesus brought the new covenant through his death and resurrection, and we remember that covenant (the promise that God would be our God and we would be his people) when we celebrate Lord's Supper.
Luke 22:14-20 Now when the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table and the apostles joined him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Tuesday: God makes provision for our limited understanding and faith through the use of physical things to help us understand and experience his spiritual promises. Baptism uses water in this way and Communion uses bread and wine.
Genesis 9:11, 13 I confirm my covenant with you: Never again will all living things be wiped out by the waters of a flood; never again will a flood destroy the earth...” I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth.
Genesis 17:7, 11 I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you...You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskins. This will be a reminder of the covenant between me and you.

Wednesday: We do not doubt that the bread being passed out in the communion service is real or that the cups or juice or wine are real. It is just as real and sure that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for me, and that because of his death God is no longer angry with his people. This is what we should remember when we take communion. 
Romans 5:6-9 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from Godʼs wrath.

Thursday: When we put the communion bread in our mouth and chew it, and when we drink the communion juice and swallow it we do not doubt whether we have done it or not. It is just as sure that Christ nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life. We are reminded that Christ's crucified body and shed blood opens our way to eternal life.
John 6:31-33 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ʻHe gave them bread from heaven to eat.ʼ” Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Friday: Communion, as compared to baptism, is received multiple times during a believer's life. It is a form of spiritual nourishment. This along with the reading of the Word and prayer nourishes, strengthens and refreshes us.
John 6:48-51 I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Saturday: Receiving the sacrament of Communion is a time for solemn reflection. That is why many churches do not allow children to participate until they are old enough to understand what it is about. It is a sad time because we remember that it is our guilt that put Christ to death, but we can be glad in the fact that because Jesus fulfilled God's law and died on the cross, I am forgiven and able to be adopted into God's family.
Isaiah 53:3-6 He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant. But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed. All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.

Reading between the lines...

What do you think of “a cross to bear”? In common parlance it usually refers to a difficult circumstance that we have to deal with. Or in a religious context we think of it as having greater determination to “live for Jesus” - doing certain things that are seen as pious. But Jesus, in calling us to bear a cross, calls us to die to self. There are 3 aspects to this: 1) identifying with Jesus and walking the path with Jesus, 2) abandoning our old life and committing to living for Jesus, and 3) finally, being freed from our old life. Jesus has paid of our debts in full and we are now free to live for God. We have nothing to bring to the deal except death – we are dead in our trespasses – but Jesus “can work with that” – he is an expert at bringing the dead to life. Jesus does not want us to try harder or be more determined – he wants us dead, Surrendered to him. Realizing that we have nothing to bring and turning to Jesus results in new life.
Luke 14:27-33 Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesnʼt sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say, ʻThis man began to build and was not able to finish!ʼ Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions.

“Lost sheep” is the image that the Bible uses for people. There is a similarity in being free – free to do what we want – and being lost. We talk about “finding ourselves”, but how does a lost person find themselves? If you are lost, what do you need to do? You need to find home. The good news is that someone from home has come to find you – the good shepherd has come to find lost sheep. Once we are home we do not need to “find ourselves”, we can just be ourselves. Sheep are dumb – do we think of ourselves as brave explorers, masters of our own destiny? The Bible's picture of humanity is of sheep who do not even know enough to respond to their Master and follow him. We should stop struggling to find ourselves and call out to Jesus to rescue us – he will carry us home.
Isaiah 53:6 All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
Luke 15:4-7 “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ʻRejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.ʼ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.

The world is divided into 2 camps – sinners and slaves. Sinners love freedom; the slaves love respect. Sinners opt out of the system to discover themselves; slaves opt into the system to prove themselves. Each group thinks the other is the real problem with the world. And they respond very differently to the grace of Christ. This is seen in the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal is a sinner, the brother is a slave. But in the parable the “hero” is the father (the one who welcomes sinners and eats with them). The father represents Jesus – as he is in all of the parables. In the 3 parables of this section he makes the same point - “I've come to find the lost.”
Luke 15:1-2 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Luke 15:28-32 But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, but he answered his father, ʻLook! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!ʼ Then the father said to him, ʻSon, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.ʼ”

Who is easier to get into heaven, a good person or a bad person. A bad person! The two sons in the parable of the prodigal son are an example. Who is welcomed and forgiven? The bad son. Who is left outside? The good son. We react to this – this surely cannot be right! Sinners and slave = unrighteous and self-righteous. Jesus welcomes and eats with sinners, but the self-righteous become angry. Our default mode is the same as the younger son – we want God's stuff, but we don't want anything to do with him. We don't need to become bad, we need to realize that we are bad. Neither sinners nor slaves want the Lord – they just want to use the Lord to get things out of him. The sinners take their share and run to the far country, while the slaves take theirs and build their reputation. The father is generous and gives the children what they each want. The far country is a mirage, the pigsty is the reality. True liberation is found at home with the love of the man who welcomes sinners.
Luke 15:13-16 After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

We often read the parable of the prodigal son as though the point is that the prodigal changes his mind, repents and straightens out his life. He finally comes “to himself” - the son's response to the father is actually a quotation of what Pharaoh said in Exodus. The prodigal's plan is not to repent and return to be a son, but as someone seeking employment from the father – he resolves to become a slave. This is the result of preaching “pigsty repentance.” – to leave the pigsty to enter the slaves' quarters – but this is not what the father wants. When he sees the son, before the son can say a word, he takes action to welcome him. He cuts the son off; before he can make his job application the father begins the extravagant welcome. This is what brings the son home – the father's action is what reconciles the son. The father publicly invites the son back into the family. The prodigal finally finds true freedom and change in the father's embrace. True change is found in the arms of Christ.
Luke 15:17-19 But when he came to his senses he said, ʻHow many of my fatherʼs hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”ʼ
Exodus 10:16 Then Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you!
Luke 15:20-24 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. Then his son said to him, ʻFather, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.ʼ But the father said to his slaves, ʻHurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again - he was lost and is found!ʼ So they began to celebrate.

The day the prodigal returned home was an incredible day for the father – he received his son back! – and for the son – he expected only punishment but he was celebrated by the father. The village experienced an incredible party! The older son, however, was furious. The servants were more in tune with the father's plans than the older brother was, and the village witnesses a angry rift between the older son and the father. It seems that the father has the two worst sons in Israel – one shames the father in the pigsty and one shames the family in the backyard. But the father again will bear the shame of the sinful children. He reconciles with the younger son, and now he goes out to the older son and begs him to come to the party. The father would have all if they would only come. The older brother, instead, relates to the father as a slave, an obedient slave, yet a slave. The father says, “Everything I have is yours,” but the older brother never asks. He would rather be a good slave than a beloved son. Each son in his own way uses the father, but does not want a relationship with the father. The father refuses to deal with either son on the basis of their moral record – Jesus summons younger brothers and elder brothers and asks that they “join the joy”.
Luke 15:28 But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him,

John Newton, in Amazing Grace, identifies with the younger son of the story. But the older brother, too, needs amazing grace. Most people recognize that the younger son has done wrong. But the older brother is also far from the father's heart – he is lost and needs finding. It is important to realize why the older brother is shut out of the feast – he is not out of the feast because of his badness, he is out because of his goodness and high morals. He is not out of the feast because his father is too cruel, he is out of the feast because his father is too kind. He despises the one who welcomes sinners and eats with them. This is the end of the parable, with the bad son in the feast and the good son outside. What happens next? While the parable ends here, we know how the story ends between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. The religious leaders hated Jesus and the grace he offered so much that they murdered him. Christ was not killed by a mob, he was killed by moralists like the older brother. Whether we are the younger brother or the older brother, we need to be reconciled and welcomed by Jesus.
Luke 15:31-32 Then the father said to him, ʻSon, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.ʼ”

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Lord's Day 27

Thoughts on Devotions – LD27

Q. 72 Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? Q. 73 Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the water of rebirth and the washing away of sins? Q. 74 Should infants also be baptized?

DeYoung, in The Good News We Almost Forgot, titles this chapter “Vivacious Baby-Baptizing.” He says that, “One of the best things I get to do as a pastor is to administer the sacrament of infant baptism to the covenant children in my congregation. Before each baptism, I take a few minutes to explain why we practice infant baptism in our church. My explanation usually goes something like this: It is our great privilege this morning to administer the sacrament of baptism to one of our little infants. We do not believe that there is anything magical about the water we apply to the child. The water does not wash away original sin or save the child. We do not presume that this child is regenerate, nor do we believe that every child who gets baptized will automatically go to heaven. We baptize infants not out of superstition or tradition or because we like cute babies. We baptize infants because they are covenant children and should receive the sign of the covenant.”

Monday: Bible-believing, creed professing Christians may differ in what they believe about baptism. Some hold to paedobaptism (baptism of children) while others hold to credobaptism (believer's baptism). Some sprinkle water, while others immerse. What Christians do agree on is that baptism itself does not wash away sins. Baptism is the visible sign of an invisible reality – that Jesus blood, shed on the cross, is able to wash his people of their sins. The Holy Spirit works in a person's heart to regenerate them (bring them back to spiritual life!) so that they can trust Jesus. The Spirit applies the blood of Christ to cleanse the believer or sin.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 Thess. 1:4-5a We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, in that our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction

Tuesday: The Holy Spirit spiritually resurrects a person – they were dead in trespasses and are made alive, putting their faith in Jesus Christ and their sins are washed away. Baptism is a “picture” of what is happening inside the person. Sometimes Scripture verses might sound like baptism itself is doing the washing – for example, Ananias told Paul to “rise and be baptized and wash away your sins.” Baptism is such a clear picture of what happens that it can be used in this literary way. In another place, after hearing Peter's preaching a group of people profess faith and Peter calls for them to be baptized immediately. The Holy Spirit gives faith and sins are forgiven – baptism is then applied as an assurance of God's promise of saving grace.
Titus 3:5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,
Acts 10:42-48 He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were greatly astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “No one can withhold the water for these people to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” So he gave orders to have them baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for several days.

Wednesday: Paul met people in Ephesus who had been baptized into “John's baptism” for repentance. He explained to them that John had prepared the way for Jesus, and explained to them the Gospel – they were then baptized again in the name of the Lord Jesus. Baptism by itself, even to show repentance, is not enough – forgiveness of sins requires faith in Christ.
Acts 19:1-6 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul said, “Into what then were you baptized?” “Into Johnʼs baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy.

Thursday: Israel, as described in the Old Testament, had a special relation relationship with God. God bound himself to them by making a covenant, and people used the physical sign of circumcision to show that they associated themselves with those in covenant with God. Circumcision did not “save” people it only commemorated God's covenant promise and obligations to be God's people. In the Great Commission Jesus commanded his disciples to take the Gospel to all people – there was no longer a special national distinction – and they were to apply the mark of baptism to designate those included in the covenant.
Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight - the only thing that matters is faith working through love.
Romans 10:11-13 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
1 Cor. 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.

Friday: Paul contrasted physical circumcision and circumcision of the heart, which is true circumcision. He describes this as “putting off the body of flesh” and putting to death the “old self” that loved sin. He also talked about being buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him through faith – an indication that sin no longer had power over a Christian in the same way that it once had. Baptism, the sign of the new covenant, in that way signifies a greater fulfillment of God's promises.
Colossians 2:11-14 In him you also were circumcised - not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ. Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.

Saturday: Some Christians believe that only believers should be baptized, as a sign of professed sin and accomplished forgiveness. Others who equate baptism as a sign of the better covenant in the New Testament and believe that it should be applied to children, just as the Old Testament sign of circumcision was. Whatever practice is followed, it is clear that the sign is an acknowledgment of God's promise that he is gathering a people to himself based on trust in Christ's sacrifice for the washing away of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit for regeneration to new life.
Acts 2:38-41 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!” So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.

* The comments above are based on the book, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism, by Starr Meade

Reading between the lines...

We are more often prone to speaking instead of listening. We have ears, but do we have ears to hear? Moses describes the Israelites as having hard hearts, blind eyes and deaf ears. This is the natural state of fallen humanity - spiritually speaking a greater disability than someone like Helen Keller (physical blindness and deafness). What hope do we have? Deut. 30 speaks of divine heart surgery. Somehow God breaks through so the deaf and hardhearted can hear – but it is always God breaking through. Without His revelation we grope in the dark. Isaiah also uses an interplay of heart, ear and eye in describing people's rebellion against God. If we are set against God we are not receptive, and his Word will actually further harden our heart. We need to be made into people who will hear and see and receive the Word. Isaiah talks about a time of salvation when people will have new hearts, and then we are able to hear God's Word – he calls us to give full attention. When Jesus comes to his people he has the same teaching – in the parable of the four soils in which he also says “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Jesus makes the same point – simply having ears does not mean listening; listening does not mean hearing; being in the audience does not mean receiving Christ's word. Receive God's Gospel Word when it is proclaimed.
Deuteronomy 29:2-4 Moses proclaimed to all Israel as follows: “You have seen all that the Lord did in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, all his servants, and his land. Your eyes have seen the great judgments, those signs and mighty wonders. But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears!
Deut. 30:6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live.
Isaiah 6:9-10 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live.
Isaiah 55:2-4 Why pay money for something that will not nourish you?
Why spend your hard-earned money on something that will not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is nourishing! Enjoy fine food! Pay attention and come to me! Listen, so you can live! Then I will make an unconditional covenantal promise to you, just like the eliable covenantal promises I made to David. Look, I made him a witness to nations, a ruler and commander of nations.”
Mark 4:3-9 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have sufficient root, it withered. Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked it, and it did not produce grain. But other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some yielded thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!”
Romans 10:17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.

The parable of the sower: 4 types of soil, 4 responses by the seed; 4 types of people, 4 responses to the Word of God. First, the seed is “fallen by the wayside.” The seed falls on hard, unyielding soil and the birds/Satan snatches it away. The gospel is not always on offer and if you don't receive it, it may be snatched away. Satan is found “pecking at” the Word where it is preached. He asked Adam and Eve, “Did God really say...?” and continues to distort the preaching and attacking listeners. Second, seed on rocky soil sprouts quickly but withers in difficult situations. Initial joy in the Gospel is not a guarantee of conversion. The third soil is “thorny.” The thorns are ordinary things: worries of life, deceitfulness of wealth and desire for things. The fourth soil is good and the seed produces a crop. It is straightforward – hear the Word, receive it, accept and you will have an abundant Christian walk. “Make room for the Word to do what the Word does and it will create life.” Do you think that making room for the Word of God can have this effect in your life? From an earthly perspective it does not seem likely to have such great effect, but that is the mystery and promise of the Gospel to transform lives. If it finds good soil, in time it will produce a bumper crop.
Mark 4:1-9 Again he began to teach by the lake. Such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there while the whole crowd was on the shore by the lake. He taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have sufficient root, it withered. Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked it, and it did not produce grain. But other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some yielded thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!”
John 15:7-8 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God.

Where in the Bible does it say “Give your life to God”? Paul, in the letter to the Romans says this, but it is clear that these statements are directed to people who are already Christians. Christ gave himself for us – only on that basis can we come to God. Giving ourselves to God has nothing to do with our salvation; it is a response of thankfulness for the gift of salvation he has given. In the parables of the treasure hidden in the field or of the pearl of great price, the explanation is often given that the treasure is Christ, passive and waiting to be found, while the merchant is us, active spiritual seekers willing to sell everything to gain Jesus. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what these stories are saying. God's people often are described as a described as a treasure, and in all of the other parables in Matthew “the man” character is Christ while we are described as passive objects (e.g., soils). All the parables are about Christ seeking and saving us. Given that the obvious interpretation is that Christ gives everything to purchase the world to gain us, the church. Yes, we do belong to God, but it is only because he has sought us, given all to purchase his bride and bring us into his family.
Romans 6:13-14 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 12:1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice - alive, holy, and pleasing to God - which is your reasonable service.
Matthew 13:44-46 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it.
Exodus 19:5-6 And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.ʼ
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
1 John 4:19 We love because he loved us first.

John the baptist was the greatest prophet of the OT era (even though he shows up in the NT). He ministry was prophesied twice in the OT before he shows up. He heralded Christ with his whole being. He preached righteousness, challenged the status business as usual, including the behavior of King Herod. Herod liked to listen to John, but he didn't do anything about it. His wife, on the other hand, knew how to act and calls for John's execution. The ruler is ruled by his passions and circumstances. Herod's response is our natural response to the Truth. We might be intrigued by the Truth, but if we remain paralyzed by indecision something will have to give, and our natural inclination is to silence the Truth. Herod questioned Jesus at his trial, but Jesus gave no answer – the Word of God have him the silent treatment. This is the ultimate judgment for Truth haters – if you flee from the Truth, at some point it will let you go. If we are confronted by the Word we need to act now – respond to Christ's call, flee sin or whatever it is.
Matthew 11:11 “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.
Isaiah 40:3 A voice cries out, “In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord; construct in the desert a road for our God. Every valley must be elevated, and every mountain and hill leveled. The rough terrain will become a level plain, the rugged landscape a wide valley.
Mark 6:17-18 For Herod himself had sent men, arrested John, and bound him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philipʼs wife, because Herod had married her. For John had repeatedly told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brotherʼs wife.”
Mark 6:20 because Herod stood in awe of John and protected him, since he knew that John was a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard him, he was thoroughly baffled, and yet he liked to listen to John.
Luke 23:8-9 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some miraculous sign. So Herod questioned him at considerable length; Jesus gave him no answer.
James 1:22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.

In the Book of Common Prayer, Cranmer's communion prayer speaks of being unworthy to take the crumbs from under the table, but looking to Christ's mercy. Communion is having a meal with the friend of sinners – the last thing we should do is claim our worthiness – we are welcome even though we are NOT worthy. We have no righteousness of our own. Communion is “God's soup kitchen” and we are beggars – we must rely on his mercy. In Matthew 21, the first 20 verses talk about the sinfulness of the people of Jerusalem, but when he goes to Tyre he meets people of great faith. This is great faith – coming to Jesus with nothing and expecting everything. Scraps from Jesus is better than the feasts of emperors. Jesus – the Bread of Life – feeds the woman. If we feel that we are not getting fed we need to press in closer.
Matthew 15:27-28 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their mastersʼ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

What is the most insidious sin? Greed – the greedy, especially in a consumer society, often don't feel greedy. We don't notice that it is happening. Watch out! It can happen to any of us! We rest on our preparations and riches. We are envious of someone who seems to have it all – but God says, “You fool!” to someone who is focused on getting more now, but does not seek riches in God through Christ.
Luke 12:13-15 Then someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But Jesus said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator between you two?” Then he said to them, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because oneʼs life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:20-21 But God said to him, ʻYou fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?ʼ So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God.”

Is God an introvert or an extrovert? The Bible portrays God as outgoing – it the impetus for creation and the same is seen in salvation in reaching out to the world. Jesus told a story at a dinner party – those initially invited are more interested in gaining possessions for themselves and scorn the invitation. We shun the kingdom of heaven and pursue a kingdom of self. God goes out compelling people to come in. What is it to be godly or Christ-like? Often we picture it in individual terms, working at personal righteousness. But the parable challenges us to radical other-centeredness. What is Christ-likeness? It is offering an invitation to the world – he calls us to be evangelist, missionary minded, to be outgoing. When we forsake our self-centered project and find life in God's outgoing mission we live – He has promised “my house will be full!”