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Life

A Sermon for Election Day

I wrestle with posting my sermon manuscripts. Why? First of all, often I don’t preach from a manuscript but only an outline or an expanded outline that might just look like scrap notes to others. So often I don’t have one.

There is a deeper reason, however. Sermons are not written communication, but oral. Sermons are meant to be heard with the ears, received with the mind, and chewed on with the heart. In the moment.

Because sermons are oral communication, what I preached yesterday to our congregation, while not dramatically different from my prepared script, is noticeably different. Some things were cut because of time. Some things were not said because I was looking at people’s faces and not my paper. Some things were added because of the looks I saw on people’s faces and I realized they needed something more, or different, than what I had prepared. You could say preaching is oral communication that lives.

When we read a sermon we find online, we are often looking to learn something. An oral communication like a sermon, while certainly helping people to learn things, is primarily meant to move people to worship Someone. Books and blogs can reproduce the content of a sermon, but they cannot reproduce the power of God to draw people to Jesus. It is a gift from God that, in a singular point in time, he moves through human proclamation of his word—whether preached to five people, a hundred, or ten-thousand. Sometimes you can tell he moves and other times you can’t. Most preachers never see or know the impact of their preaching.

Enough. That’s my rant on posting sermon manuscripts. And still, I decided today to post one. Here is my sermon manuscript yesterday from Psalm 2. Though it’s only in written form, I pray it not only edifies your mind but moves you to worship Messiah and take refuge in him.

The Rage of the Nations and the Reign of Messiah
Psalm 2

In two days we will end the most divisive and angry election season we have ever had in this country. You could say we have been witnessing a political circus for the past 9 months or so. But that’s just the surface. What is happening underneath is plotting and scheming of individuals and a nation to be free from all God-interference. We are witnessing a spiritual version of the game “king of the hill.” People and parties are clamoring for first place and God will have none of it.

Listen to Eugene Peterson:

A lot of people reject the word of God; they not only reject it, they turn their rejection into a world power. These people command most of the armies of the world, direct the advances of science, run school systems, preside over governments, and rule in the marketplaces…we [need] an act of imagination that enables us to see that the world of God is large—far larger than the worlds of kings and princes, prime ministers and presidents, far larger than the worlds reported by newspaper and TV.

We need something to enable us to see that our presidential election is not the most important thing. In every election there is the temptation to shrink our world down to the size of our world. Elections are like footnotes. Important, but not the whole story, and we need to remember that.

What will answer our need? Thankfully, God’s world is much bigger and he invites us into it. He answers our need in Messiah—Jesus Messiah.

Psalm 2 helps restore perspective in the midst of an anxious and divisive election. It opens our eyes to a big world, a grand world, where God and his Messiah reign. Let’s read Psalm 2 together.

Two Levels of this Psalm
There’s two levels to this psalm—and every psalm. The first is on the historical level. The background for this psalm is God’s covenant with David. It would be through David’s family that God would establish a royal line who would represent his rule on the earth. The throne would be in Zion—which is another name for Jerusalem. And like today, back then kings had rivals who would do all they could to scheme and plot to take over land and people and industry. God established his king in Zion and the other nations didn’t like this. They hate the king. They hate God. Psalm 2 is a song God’s people sang to remind themselves who their true king is and to declare to the nations that their efforts to subvert the king would be futile. That’s level one.

The second level stretches across redemptive history. As you read this psalm, it become obvious that the king mentioned is no mere human. Some of things said of him could not be true of David. He died after all, and so did all who came after him. But we know that many times the New Testament authors and Jesus himself would quote the Psalms—even this one—and apply it to Jesus. In fact, the word for “Anointed” in v. 2 is mashiach—Messiah. Do you know the Greek word for Messiah? Christos, Christ in English. Let’s look at one place that uses Psalm 2: Acts 4. The believers are praying.

[24] “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, [25] who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? [26] The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

[27] for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [28] to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

The peoples of the world have always plotted against God and his Anointed ones and the apostles saw that this comes to climax in the plot against Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate King. He is the greater David. And when it’s all said and done, there will only be one King of the hill. And our response must be to take our refuge in Messiah. Let’s turn to Psalm 2 and explore what God has to say to us.

We are going to ask three questions of this text today: Why do the nations rage? How will God respond? Where will you seek refuge?

Why do the nations rage?
These opponents are both numerous (nations and peoples) and prestigious (kings and rulers). Most of the people in the world, and most of the important people, don’t want God to reign over them. Here’s what they’re saying about God and his Messiah, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us” (v. 3). If you are a Christian, you see God’s word and his rule as freedom from sin, but the world sees it as shackles. They want to be king of the hill and they will not rest until they have sovereignty. That’s why they are raging. That’s why there are conventions, campaigns, debates, and elections, summits, espionage, and wars. It’s one big global game of king of the hill.

To be included in this raging, you don’t have to marshall a crusade against God. In David’s day, some of the kings who opposed him did not even know Yahweh by name. So this quote in v. 3 isn’t something any king said specifically. This is poetry and in poetry there is license to generalize and describe a mood or tone or feeling. Verse 3 simply gives words to the general disposition of all who are not on God’s side.

All you have to do to fulfill Psalm 2 is speak or live in a way that rejects Jesus’ right to reign over you. You don’t have to speak ill of him by name, write a nasty blog about him, be a criminal, or curse his followers. If you do not submit to the authority of Messiah Jesus—whether you are an elected official or not, whether you speak the words or not—you make war on God.

Now, most people don’t do this consciously or even maliciously. Nobody, candidate or otherwise, wakes up saying, “I wonder how I can subvert the reign of Messiah in my life and in this country today.” Of course they don’t say that. They want you to vote for them! No one talks that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

These first three verses expose why our nation is the way it is. Why our world is the way it is. The United States and our political candidates are not immune to the raging. Now you might object and think I’m saying throw the whole political baby out with the election bathwater.

No. Government is a good thing ordained by God—please hear me on that. By God’s grace, this country has created the most ingenious system of government the world has ever seen. So, you should vote. You should love you country. You should care about your country. You should pray for your leaders.

But there is a dark side and I do not want you to be fooled. I love this country but it is not ultimate. To care about your country and this election on one hand and see it for what it really is on the other are not mutually exclusive. You can do both. 

Now, we must ask: what’s God’s response to all this?

How will God respond?
Earlier I said that the problem with elections is that the often shrink our world to the size of our world. The raging of the nations and their leaders tempt us to believe that this is all there is. The thing about Psalm 2 is that it doesn’t leave us in a shrunken world. It opens up to us a big world. A grand world. A God-sized world, much bigger than any nation or ruler can imagine. Psalm 2 expands our vision into the world of Messiah.

Messiah is God’s person in history. Messiah is the person God will use to usher in his kingdom. It began with David and would conclude with the grater David, Jesus.

Look at God’s response in verse 4: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Derision means mocking. The NIV says, “The LORD scoffs at them.”

You can take the arrogance of politicians too seriously. God laughs at their pretense and calls it silliness. Everyone is try to be him! Can you imagine?! Do you join him in the laughter? Have you gotten to the place in this election season that you can laugh? Laughter restores perspective. It’s not a laughter like, “haha, I’m better than you!” Not at all. It’s more like the kind of laughter when you play king of the hill with your 14-month old and he thinks he can take you out.

God’s laughter then moves to mocking, scoffing. And then to wrath. “As for me,” God says, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” God’s response to the human game of king of the hill is to install his own King. King Jesus.

While we are consumed with our politics, something bigger is going on. There’s a more expansive kingdom and a more powerful king exercising his authority in the world. You can’t see it but it’s real.

How is Jesus installed as King? Unlike the leaders of the world, Jesus showed his authority by giving it up and dying on a cross. He is raised up…but as a sacrifice! And by believing in that sacrifice for your sins, you come under his reign. But if that’s the only image of Messiah you have, you have a truncated view. Look at vv. 7-9. This is a very interesting moment when messiah actually speaks–originally the Davidic king, and now Jesus:

“I will tell of the decree: the LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

It is through Jesus’ death that the nations become his, but there’s more. God’s response to the raging of the nations is to wipe them out. Break them. Dash them. He didn’t do it then. He didn’t do it the first time Jesus came. He’s not doing it now. He’s patient. But in the end, there will only be one kingdom.

Revelation picks up on this image. Listen to Revelation 19:15-16:

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

These images are obviously figurative—but the point is made. Jesus will take vengeance on those who reject him, particularly the nations. Does it make you tremble to think that in the end all nations, even our own nation—which we rightly love and care about—will be wiped out by Jesus? Does it take your breath away that all the leaders in the history of the world will give an account to Jesus on the last day?

Countries and elections matter. They just aren’t ultimate. And they will come to an end. Right now, God is patient with the raging and plotting. He even restrains evil so that most human governments actually do people good. But his patience will come to an end and that leads to our last question.

Where Will You Seek Refuge?
Verses 10-11 transition into the application: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear; rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.”

The kings of the earth also need a king. The only thing that will keep them from rejecting Messiah is to worship him. Kiss the Son. Recognize your unworthiness and how worthy he is.

Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a president who knew Jesus is king? It would be splendid. But friends, we must remember that it is hard for politicians who kiss the Son to be elected by millions of people who refuse to do so. And It is hard to kiss the Son when you have some measure of power over people. Most leaders in human history have not obeyed these words. That’s why the warning is here.

What happens if they don’t heed the warning? God will be angry with them and they will perish because, it says, his wrath is quickly kindled. Now, you might ask, “Isn’t God slow to anger?” He is. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. But God’s slowness to anger does not mean he never gets angry. He has a long wick, but he does have a wick, and it does burn. And eventually, his patience wears out. And when the wick is done burning, he will not delay.

In some ways, this Psalm is a harsh, terrifying psalm. But it ends incredibly positive. Let’s not miss it. The last line expands the warning but turns it into a benediction: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (v. 12).

There are two ways we can respond. Seek refuge from God or in God.

Which will you chose? Will you find refuge in men and women or in Messiah? The rulers of this world see refuge in Messiah as bondage, shackles. They are trying to break free. But when you find your refuge in Jesus you have security and true happiness, true rest from all the raging and plotting and silliness. And the truth is that there is truly no refuge from Messiah. Only in him.

Finally, here’s how you can know if you seek refuge in Messiah.

You will be able to participate in our political process without despair because you know the present world is passing away and that in the end, there will be only one King and one Kingdom.

And on Tuesday night, no matter what happens…

  • you will pursue your joy in Jesus.
  • you will be humble if your candidate wins and respectful if your candidate loses.
  • you’ll be able to pray for your new president and not argue with people on social media.

No matter what happens in the future because of this election, you will have a sense of rest and peace in Messiah because you will have believed God’s word, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

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Theology

What Happened to Pharaoh’s Heart?

I love the Bible because it does not argue in theological categories. When it comes to God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, it is black and white. The truth is, the Bible makes it clear that man is free and has the ability to choose. At the same time, the Bible is unmistakably clear God is sovereign. If he were not, he would not be “God.”

In this wrestling match, somebody’s freedom has to be contingent on another. Do you want to be the one to say that God’s freedom is contingent upon yours? I don’t think so.

One example of how this plays out is in the life of Pharaoh during the plagues in Egypt. The first mention of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened is in Exodus 4:21. There it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart before Pharaoh did it to himself.

It is sinful and wrong for Pharaoh to harden his heart against God. Furthermore, it would wrong for him (if it were even possible) to harden another human’s heart. Yet, here is God, doing what would be sinful for Pharaoh to do on his own. In fact, Exodus says Pharaoh’s heart was hardened 18 times. Nine of those times, it was Yahweh’s doing (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). Six times it is simply stated as a fact that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, not attributing the hardening to anyone in particular (7:13, 14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35). Only three times is Pharaoh credited with hardening his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34).

This episode clearly shows that God is free in the absolute sense, and Pharaoh is free because he, in fact, did what he wanted to do. In his Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards argues we should think of freedom this way: we are free because we do what we want. In the final analysis, we do what is sinful. Before salvation sin is all we really want to do anyway.

So it is clear that Pharaoh’s freedom was contingent upon the freedom of another, namely God. Lest we shout, “Not fair!” we must remember that God is not a man and we cannot project what we think is appropriate for man upon the all-wise, all-loving, omnipotent, and omniscient Creator God. For his ways are inscrutable (Rom. 11:33). As Edward writes, God is far above “the influence of law or command, promises or threatening, rewards or punishments, counsels or warnings.”[1]

This shouldn’t leave us feeling hopeless or like programmed robots or predetermined cyborgs. It should cause us to cast ourselves upon the grace of God in the cross of Christ, acknowledging our complete lack of ability to do any good. Only then will we really be free to do what God commands, for it was for freedom that Christ set us free to actually pursue holiness (Gal. 5:1).

The one who hardens hearts is also the one who softens hearts so that we might live a soft-heart kind of life. Therefore, let us pray pray as St. Augustine prayed: “Command us to do as you will, O Lord, and will us to do what you command.”

__________________

[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Notion of Liberty, and of Moral Agency,” Freedom of the Will, (accessed February 29, 2012), paragraph 9.

Categories
Theology

Spurgeon on being “legally dead”

Spurgeon explains what it means to be legally dead before God (from a sermon on John 5:40, “You refuse to come to  me that you may have life”).

No being needs to go after life if he has life in himself. The text speaks very strongly when it says, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” Though it saith it not in words, yet it doth in effect affirm that men need a life more than they have themselves. My hearers, we are all dead unless we have been begotten unto a lively hope. First, we are all of us, by nature, legally dead—”In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt die the death,” said God to Adam; and though Adam did not die in that moment naturally, he died legally; that is to say death was recorded against him. As soon as, at the Old Bailey, the judge puts on the black cap and pronounces the sentence, the man is reckoned to be dead at law. Though perhaps a month may intervene before he is brought on the scaffold to endure the sentence of the law, yet the law looks upon him as a dead man. It is impossible for him to transact anything. He cannot inherit, he cannot bequeath; he is nothing—he is a dead man…We ought all to weep, if we lay this to our souls: that by nature we have no life in God’s sight; we are actually, positively condemned; death is recorded against us, and we are considered in ourselves now, in God’s sight, as much dead as if we were actually cast into hell; we are condemned here by sin, we do not yet suffer the penalty of it, but it is written against us, and we are legally dead, nor can we find life unless we find legal life in the person of Christ, of which more by-and-by.

Read the whole thing.

Categories
Life

Jesus: Son of God, Son of Man

I’m starting an in-depth study of Romans, so throughout this year as I work through the book I’ll post some of my notes here on the blog.  Here are some thoughts from Romans 1:3-4:

Paul says that the gospel of God is directly “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  The gospel is never removed from the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Paul does not give a systematic Christology in the rest of this letter, so it is important for us to note these two verses and Paul’s theology of who Jesus is and what he did.  These verses tell us two major things about Jesus:

  1. Jesus is the Son of Man: The gospel of God (the Father) is “concerning his Son,” Jesus, “who was descended from David according to the flesh.”  Jesus was born fully human, with human genes, a human family line, of human flesh.  This was to fulfill the Scripture (cf. v. 2) that the Messiah would come from David (see 2 Sam. 7:1-17).  The phrase “according to the flesh” implies that he has another nature, namely, a divine one.
  2. Jesus is the Son of God: The gospel of God (the Father) is “concerning his Son,” Jesus, “who…was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”  The phrase “in power” can mean, “Jesus was powerfully declared to be the Son of God” (Luther), or it can mean that Jesus has been declared the Son of God “in possession of that ‘power’ which belonged to him as the only begotten of the Father” (Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown; Calvin; Hodge).  It seems that the latter would make more sense.  After Jesus rose from the dead, he was no longer marked by lowliness and human limitation.  He became the powerful King, ruling over the world with authority (see Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 15:25-26).  Jesus was God before the world ever existed — even before his resurrection.  Jesus was in the beginning with God (John 1:1-3), is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), and is the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb. 1:1-3).  The point in verse 4 is to show that after his resurrection, Jesus took on a different role than he did before: he was no longer simply Son of God as Messiah, but now Son of God as Messiah and the powerful, reigning Lord (Moo, Epistle to the Romans, p. 49).
Categories
Life

Father, Long Before Creation

This is one of my favorite hymns. It was originally a Chinese hymn, and it was translated by Francis P. Jones.  It was most recently re-recorded by Matthew Smith on the Beams of Heaven: Indelible Grace IV project.

*               *               *

Translated by Francis P. Jones
Music and Chorus by Andrew Osenga

Father, long before creation
Thou hadst chosen us in love,
And that love so deep, so moving,
Draws us close to Christ above.
Still it keeps us, still it keeps us
Firmly fixed in Christ alone.

Though the world may change its fashion,
Yet our God is e’er the same;
His compassion and His covenant
Through all ages will remain.
God’s own children,
God’s own children
Must forever praise His name.

God’s compassion is my story,
Is my boasting all the day;
Mercy free and never failing
Moves my will, directs my way.
God so loved us,
God so loved us
That His only Son He gave.

Loving Father now before Thee
We will ever praise Thy love,
And our songs will sound unceasing
‘Til we reach our home above,
Giving glory,
giving glory
To our God and to the

Giving glory,
giving glory
To our God and to the Lamb.