Monday, July 6, 2020

Sunday Sermon, "Loving as Jesus Loved" (John 13:31-38)

In John 13, Jesus points His disciples to a central characteristic of the Christian life: that His followers must love - and not only that - but love "as Jesus loved us." It's the fine print, but loving as Jesus loved us is no small thing. Check out this week's message: "Loving as Jesus Loved" from John 13:31-38.

Before the Sanhedrin

"Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day” (Acts 23:1)

Jesus was silent before His accusers, but Paul looked them straight in the eye and preached to them. We see in this contrast the difference between Jesus’ unique work of sacrifice for the sins of the world and our work of proclaiming His death to the world. Jesus allowed Himself to be flogged by the Roman soldiers, but before the Romans laid the whip on Paul, he informed them that he was a Roman citizen. Immediately they removed the chains from him, because he was under Caesar’s protection (Acts 22:24–29).

The Roman commander summoned the Sanhedrin and set up a meeting between them and Paul. Paul began by proclaiming that he had done nothing wrong. At this point he was ordered to be struck on the mouth by a bystander. Jesus did not resist when He was buffeted, but Paul immediately rebuked the man who ordered him struck. Then they told Paul that his assailant was none other than the high priest. Paul apologized, because God’s Law says not to bring a railing accusation against those in authority, even when they mistreat us (Acts 23:1–5; Exodus 22:28).

Then Paul decided to set the Sanhedrin against itself. In the Gospels we find that Jesus worked much with the Pharisees because they were the Bible-believing traditionalists of their day, but He did not spend much time with the liberal Sadducees. Paul announced that he had been trained as a Pharisee and that he was on trial for believing in the Resurrection, specifically the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees believed in resurrection, while the Sadducees did not.

The Pharisees suddenly decided to side with Paul against their hated enemies, the Sadducees (who grieved the Pharisees by controlling the temple). A violent conflict broke out between the two parties, and the meeting dissolved in chaos. Fearing for Paul’s life, the Roman commander removed him from the scene and took him to the Roman barracks. There Jesus appeared to Paul and told him that He had ordained him to testify in Rome (Acts 23:6–11). The emphasis on the Roman barracks in this section seems to indicate that God was moving His people out of a Jewish context into a Gentile one (Acts 21:34, 37; 22:24; 23:10, 16, 32).

We notice that Paul did not hesitate to use any legitimate means to confuse the enemies of the Gospel and to protect himself as the spokesman for Christ. There is nothing “unspiritual” about making use of the protection given us by the “powers that be.” Consider how you might follow Paul’s example today.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Magnalia Christi Americana

Four generations of New England Puritan scholars and pastors from one eminent English family describes the Mather lineage in Boston, Massachusetts, between the years of 1596 and 1785. Richard Mather (1596–1669) helped to produce the first collection for congregational singing found in the New World, The Bay Psalm Book. Increase Mather (1639–1723), Richard’s son, attained the position of president at Harvard College for sixteen years before resigning in 1701. Cotton Mather (1663–1728), Richard’s grandson, is perhaps the best known of the Mather family because of his triumphant historical analysis of the Gospel’s advance into the New England wilderness: Magnalia Christi Americana, or, in English, Great Works of Christ in America. Samuel Mather (1706–1785), Richard’s great-grandson, the least known of the family, followed in his forebearing footsteps as a clergyman of great learning and achievement.

In most American households the Mathers are unknown. Current text books on colonial American history mention, if any, only Cotton Mather. His name is mentioned only to scorn him as a wicked, witch-hunting, puritanical fundamentalist to be disdained and exorcized from the annals of a “politically correct” revision of the American epoch.

Starting with Richard Mather’s 1635 arrival in Massachusetts Bay Colony, then stretching 150 years until 1785 when Samuel Mather died at age 79, there was an uninterrupted line of ministry to hungering hearts, born out of a godly heritage. There must have been theologizing over many an evening’s dinner, daily chores, and the practical application of faith to life during the mundane necessities of life throughout the lives of these men of stature.

Is it presumption to contemplate faithfulness in passing on Gospel truths from one generation to the next? The Mathers fought against an increasing number of manifestly unconverted people found within the walls of the churches. Their zeal was not so much for evangelization as it was for purification—for a community of visible saints known by the harmony of faith and practice. The application from their pulpits was for godly living flowing from a life of faith. This life was patterned by these pious pastors in the church, world, and home. The Mathers were very familiar with Moses’ instruction to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6. They saw themselves as the faithful Israel entering a promised land. The words “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (6:6–7) were taken with utmost sincerity and literalness as speaking about their experimental, covenantal experience. 

The Puritan education from cradle to grave was centered on the Scriptures and the application there from to all of life. They saw that the covenant relationship between God and man was perpetuated by God working in ordinary familial ways. God would preserve a people for Himself. They understood that God’s Spirit works through the Word of God. If the Word of God is operative in Christian families as they read, discuss, attend the assembly, and pray, God may bestow saving grace to those within the household. Salvation is the unconditional work of God alone, who often establishes and uses the most ordinary means to bring this to pass.

Let us all be quick to tell our children and our children’s children about the wondrous things God has done. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Let us place them under all the means of grace at our disposal. Tell your children about the gracious covenants of God. By God’s sovereign grace, let us fan their flickering flames of faith into raging infernos for God’s glory.

This weekend, as many of us celebrate Independence Day, remember not so much of America but the great works of Christ in America, the salvation He provides to all who believe. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Arrest in Jerusalem

"When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem" (Acts 21:12).

Acts 21 begins with Paul’s return trip to Jerusalem. Along the way, it was prophesied that he would be arrested and bound over for trial. The disciples begged him not to go, but he insisted. This begins an important theme in Acts, which is that Paul goes through the same steps as his Master. Jesus also set His face toward Jerusalem, and the disciples tried to persuade Him not to go when they learned that He intended to die (Matthew 16:21–23). Like Jesus, Paul would be seized and tried by the same three courts that tried the Lord: the Jewish Sanhedrin, the court of the Roman governor Felix, and the court of the Herodian Agrippa. Unlike Jesus, Paul would be delivered from death.

When Paul arrived at Jerusalem, he reported to James, the chief pastor of the church in Jerusalem, James and the other pastors told him that the Jews and Judaizers hated him intensely and had spread distorted stories about him. Since he intended to fulfill his Nazirite vow, they suggested that he do so publicly and in company with four Jewish Christians who had also taken this vow. Paul took it on both his second and third missionary journeys.

James’ wise counsel was thwarted when Jews from Asia saw Paul in the temple and raised a hue and cry against him. According to the Jewish oral law traditions, which Jesus abominated, no Gentile was allowed in the temple area on pain of death (contrast God’s generous law in Numbers 15:14–16). A mob was raised, and the)’ were engaged in beating Paul to death when Caesar’s troops arrived. Once again Caesar delivered the church from assaults by heretics and apostates (Acts 21:27–32).

Paul informed the Roman commander that He was a Roman citizen and asked to speak to the Jewish crowd. He proclaimed Christ and what He had called Paul to do. Then Paul brought Christ’s charge against the Jews. He told the crowd that Jesus had appeared to him and had told him that the Jews would reject the kingdom and that it would be given to the Gentiles. At this point, the crowd began screaming for Paul’s blood, and Paul was carried off by the Romans (Acts 21:33–22:24).

The theme recurs again and again: The Jews have rejected the Gospel and it is going to others. This has happened more than once in church history when the older church has tried to destroy those who sought to reform her, and the Gospel has gone to new nations. It could happen in our land.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

A Picture of Paul

"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight" (Acts 20:7)

Acts 20:1–6 tells us that Paul left Ephesus and travelled through Macedonia and into Greece. The Jews plotted against him in Greece, so he went back through Macedonia and then came to Troas, where he stayed for a week.

The church was already meeting regularly for the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, and this was also the time for Bible study and preaching. It was Paul’s last night, and he preached for a long time. Because the room was full of smoky lamps, a young man named Eutychus sat in a window to get fresh air and stay alert. Around midnight he fell out of the window and dropped three stories to his death. Paul, however, was used by God to raise him to life again. Then they went back upstairs, broke bread, and studied the Bible until daybreak.

There is a lot going on in this story. One way to consider it is as a new covenant Passover—the Lord’s Supper at midnight—a man raised to life at midnight—these things show us what really happens in worship when we have the Lord’s Supper. But what we can focus on in today’s lesson is that Paul was a teacher who held people’s attention. He did not take five minutes worth of material and stretch it out into a 45-minute sermon. Rather, he taught the Bible to hungry people who listened by the hour. If we had more exegetical Bible teaching, we could have longer sermons and fewer complaints.

Two other aspects of Paul’s ministry stand out in this chapter. We see this in Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders, which he delivered to them as he passed through their region on his way back to Jerusalem. He told them that he served them “with great humility and with tears,” and that he did not shrink from teaching them all of the counsel of God. We see that Paul was not only a great teacher, but he was also a great pastor. He was fearful at times, but he did not shrink (Acts 20:19–20).

Finally, we see Paul as a priest, a guardian of the church. He warned the elders to be guardians also, to act as shepherds to protect the church from the wolves that would surely attack. He told them that wolves would grow up in the midst of the church. As he had warned them, so they would warn their people (Acts 20:28–31).

Paul was a prophet (teacher, preacher), priest (guardian, worship-leader), and king (pastor, shepherd) to the church. He is a role model for elders everywhere, and also for each of us. Consider today your own calling in life. In what ways are you to be a teacher, a guardian, and a shepherd? Allow Paul’s example to speak to you.