National Day of Prayer, May 7, 2020

“The Father Planned It All”  by Robert Hawker

Almighty Father, it is your special mercy to give your Son, and with him all things, to the highly favored objects of your everlasting love.

From all eternity, you planned, ordered, willed, appointed, and prepared the great salvation of the gospel.  You chose Christ as the head, and the church as the body of this amazing work of redemption.

You have carried out all the great designs.  You strengthen and complete everything in our final salvation—in grace here, and glory hereafter.

Blessed, holy, and compassionate Lord God!  For the sake of Jesus fulfill this promise daily in my soul.  Bear me up, carry me through, and strengthen me in Christ, that I may walk in his name, until you bring me in to see his face in your eternal home, and I dwell under the light of his countenance forever, amen.[1]

Thursday May 7, 2020—National Day of Prayer

John 17:1-5 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Today, I want to encourage you and be encouraged myself to pray.  In the passage above, we see our Lord Jesus praying.  In John 17, Jesus is with his disciples, eleven of them, anyway.  You see, this is the night that our Lord will be arrested.  Judas has already made his exit at the prompting of Satan to betray Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t pray in response to Judas leaving—that was back in chapter 13.  Jesus’ prayer is all part of his plan, which went according to the Father’s plan.

 Jesus prayed here for his disciples, both those present in the room and his disciples from every time (v. 20 ““I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word”).  Jesus prayed  for his people here, knowing our weakness and his mission, he prayed that we would be preserved from the Evil One (v. 15).  He prayed that we might share in the glory of heaven—so that Jesus would be glorified in us (v.10, 20-23).  He prayed for our sanctification, that God would set those who Jesus had received in the covenant of redemption for the purpose of God’s glory and their personal holiness (vv.17-18).  Jesus prayed for his people, we should also pray for Jesus’ people.  That we would be protected from the world and Satan.  That we would exist purposefully to glorify God and enjoy him forever—which means we must embrace the gospel truth in all of our being and actions.

But later on Jesus would pray for himself in the garden of Gethsemane.  He would pray for another way, but also he would pray God’s will be done.  There was no other way, we all know that.  Today, our point is that Jesus also prayed for himself.  Be encouraged to pray for yourself—that God would deliver you from whatever needs you have, especially those spiritual needs.  The spiritual foes at your door that won’t leave you alone and seek to destroy your walk with Christ, you may pray for deliverance from them.  Psalm 86:14-16 records one such prayer, “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.”  Find others in the Psalms that offer special words to your own personal thoughts.

We should, of course, pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2).  Pray for Christian leaders to rise up.  Pray for wisdom in all our leaders.  Pray for those who are Christians in positions of leadership to be protected from forces of worldly influence, undue political power, and Satan’s minions.  This warfare is spiritual (Eph. 6), while we can see some of the effects of Satan’s fight against God, the majority of the fight is invisible, pray that our leaders would remain vigilant in service of Truth. 

Pray according to God’s promises, as we read in Robert Hawker’s prayer from the top of this devotional.  “Blessed, holy, and compassionate Lord God!  For the sake of Jesus fulfill this promise daily in my soul.  Bear me up, carry me through, and strengthen me in Christ, that I may walk in his name, until you bring me in to see his face in your eternal home, and I dwell under the light of his countenance forever, amen.”  Jesus was doing the same thing in John 17.  We are the people the Father gave the Son.  The Father already secured us safely in the Son’s bosom, but still Jesus prayed—because prayer is more than petition.  “Prayer is an idol-busting activity”, Dale Ralph Davis said once, use your prayer time to destroy the idols of your heart and this world.  Prayer is our acknowledgement that we are dependent on God.  It is our action of looking to the Father of all Blessedness for today’s sustenance and favor.  Let us all take advantage of the Throne of Grace today.

In Jesus’ love and work for our eternal good,

Pastor Matt

[1] Hawker, Robert, “The Father Planned It All” in Piercing Heaven:  Prayers of the Puritans.  Ed. by Robert Elmer.  (Lexham Press:  Bellingham, WA, 2019) p.98.

The Seeds of Promise

Devotional Thursday April 30, 2020

Genesis 12:1-9  Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

Today, we’re going to look a little more at this theme of fulfillment in God’s plan, the already and not-yet, continuity between the testaments, and our recognition of God’s plan.   The church began all the way back in Eden when God made Adam and Eve to serve him and be in fellowship with him (the Immanuel Principle—God with us.  This is the metanarrative of the entire Bible, namely how God is restoring Immanuel.).   Through each successive covenant in the Bible[1], God’s plan is revealed more fully.  God revealed his plan to Adam and Eve when he created them.  It was simple, you can enjoy all  of what I have made for you all you have to do is obey me.  The covenant of creation is synonymous with the covenant of works (see footnote 1 for brief explanation). 

Yet God didn’t punish our original mum and dad immediately.  Instead, God showed grace in extending mercy to his people.  It was God who offered the first sacrifice and clothed them with it, covering their shame, Gen. 3:21.   That was the inauguration of the covenant of grace, but it didn’t replace the covenant of works it merely extended grace to those who would become true partakers of it.   By and large, the true partakers of the covenant of grace are also members of the visible covenants, i.e. Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New. 

At this point I should say that this is a distinctly Reformed and Covenantal position to say that the New Covenant is visible.  Baptism is the sacrament which makes one a visible member of the New Covenant.  It inaugurates a person into the covenant with all of its privileges and benefits.  Abraham received the promises of Genesis 12, he was inaugurated into this relationship with God but there wasn’t yet a covenant.  That had to wait until Genesis 15. 

Which begs the question, why was there a need for this covenant?  Was it to make sure God held up his end of the bargain?  No, it couldn’t have been God is always faithful.  Was it to make sure Abraham held up his end?  Read through Gen. 12 and 15, Abraham didn’t have an end to hold.  The covenant was given, with its  incredibly bloody ceremony, to reassure Abraham (at that time Abram) that God’s promise is still valid and sure even in the absence of visible evidence.  

Then in Genesis 17 Abraham is given a sign of the covenant, circumcision.  It is to be applied to every male in the household, 8 days old and older.  They all receive it at that time and wish they were still eight days old.  Genesis 17 not only gives a sign, or sacrament, of the covenant it also gives a stipulation, verse 1, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 

We all know the story—Abraham never manages the blameless part.  And praise God for that, because I know I can’t be blameless.  I’m a lot worse at it than Abraham, in some ways I’m more like David that way.  This call to be blameless shows us that God’s covenant people are responsible to live according to God’s righteous commands (the covenant of works) even if we can’t keep them.  Our inability doesn’t excuse us from our responsibility.  The sacrament of circumcision points back to God’s faithfulness to extend grace to his people. 

Just like he did when he offered that animal for the skin for Adam and Eve.  Just like he did when he came to Abram in Ur and promised him a people, a place, God’s presence (Immanuel), and the program of redemption to come through his family.  Just like the covenant ceremony in Gen. 15 pointed to God “being Abram’s shield” (15:1) by walking through those pieces of animal alone while Abram slept.  Essentially that was saying the curse for disobeying the covenant, death, being torn in two, I will suffer if either of us break this covenant.  It was pointing forward to Jesus who fulfilled all of the OT covenants as well as the covenant of works for us.

Circumcision was given to Abraham to confirm in God’s man’s heart the covenant promises of Gen. 12.  The promises were all received in seed form for Abraham, with an aspect of the already but not-yet.  These promises were essentially the same as the New Covenant, especially when we consider the fourth, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.  It was the seed of the New Covenant given to Abraham, which included Isaac and even Ishmael, to be administered on the eighth day. 

The  eighth day marked a beginning of a new week, but also pointed to the New Covenant.  The covenants don’t replace one another, they expand one another and reveal God’s plan more clearly.  So now our children receive the sign of baptism because they receive the promises of the covenant in seed form, but they are called to walk with God by that sacrament, too.  Just like Abraham was in Genesis 17, “walk before me and be blameless”.  Circumcision on the eighth day was another way God revealed his plan in the shadows of the OT to bring all to completion through Jesus.

May we all rest in God’s perfect plan today and take heart that God’s promises will be fulfilled and are yes and amen in Jesus.

Looking forward to seeing many of you on Sunday! 

Pastor Matt

[1] The covenants in the Bible are:  creation/Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinai/Mosaic, and the New Covenant.   There are theological covenants as well, though not explicitly mentioned in the Bible by name the concept is clearly taught, and upon which salvation depends, they are: (the covenant of) works, grace, and redemption.

Acknowledging God’s Purpose

Devotional—Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Matthew 28:1-10  Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

I didn’t write any devotionals last week to help me spend more time with my family.  I don’t know if any of you are like this, but just because I’m physically with someone doesn’t mean I’m really spending quality time with them.  Which I’m sure is a lesson we can all take to heart—especially in this day of smart phones, computers, and ubiquitous TVs. 

Today I want to look at the day of the resurrection to understand a little more about God’s purpose being worked out and how we acknowledge that.  Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, which became the basis for Christian worship to happen on that day.  We have New Testament evidence of this happening. 

For instance, in Acts 20:7 Dr. Luke writes, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”  And in 1 Cor. 16:1-2 Paul instructs the church in Corinth, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”  In both instances, not only does scripture point out that the earliest Christians had met that one time on the first day of the week, it also seems to assume that this was a regular occurrence.  Of course, you could argue that there isn’t a specific command in scripture to change the day of worship, but you would be arguing against a long history of Christian understanding of God’s purpose and how we recognize it. 

In our practice of worshipping on Sunday we acknowledge that God’s great purpose in sending Jesus to be our Savior was accomplished.  We recognize that God had planned redemption from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-4, Rev. 13:7-8) and he brought it about through Jesus, his own Son.  This very thing is anticipated in the Old Testament as much as the New Covenant is anticipated in the Old Covenant.

God had created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, making it  holy and making it a sign for all generations.  That was the first week of time itself.  And then God made a covenant with Abraham.  It was a covenant of partial fulfillment and promise (the already and not-yet).  Abraham lived in the “already” experience of God’s blessing realized in his presence, his protection, and even blessing.  He dwelt, albeit nomadically (it must be a word since spell-check didn’t ding it!), in the land God promised to him.  It wasn’t yet fulfilled because nomadic living isn’t permanent, Abraham’s receiving of the Promised Land would wait for his descendants.  In that little picture we see something of Abraham’s promises, and his experience of the already but not-yet. 

God gave Abraham a sign of the covenant—circumcision.  And it was to be administered on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life.  This eighth in a liturgical sense, a ritual sense, marked the new week and pointed forward to the New Covenant and the new day of worship—the Lord’s Day!  Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, and Esau along with countless others received this sign of God’s faithfulness and now on our weekly worship on Sunday we celebrate its further fulfillment.  But we’re not there yet, right!  Our “already” is greater than Isaac’s, but we’re still not quite there yet.  We’re celebrating God’s faithfulness, not ours, and by doing so our hope is expressed and built because we can be absolutely sure that “he who has called us faithful, he will surely do it”—JESUS WILL COME AGAIN! 

Our “already” is growing and becoming more glorious according to God’s plan and timing, day by day! And we get closer to seeing the fulness of the “not-yet” Jesus has in store for his people. Let us live to acknowledge God’s great purpose and in that way we glorify him for what he has done, and what he has promised to do too. Amen!

Pastor Matt

Being Comfortable and Content in Jesus

Friday April 17, 2020

John 20:11-18

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Yesterday the point I wanted to make, that I’m really not sure I made, was that we’ve been given the perfect self-revelation of God in Jesus.  What more do we need?  More than that, we’ve been given, through our Lord’s work, the person of the Holy Spirit to make God’s self-revelation a part of us.  Today I want to look at Jesus’ personal revelation as a source of contentment again, but also as it is a source of amazing comfort.

We know from verse 1 in John 20 that Mary in v. 11 is Mary Magdalene.  Mary had been possessed by seven demons before she met Jesus (Luke 8:2), she followed him, supporting him and the disciples monetarily.  She heard him preach, she saw him heal countless others like he had healed her.  She was a true believer, but now her hopes were dashed, because three days ago (by Jewish counting) she had seen…him…die.

Now it was the first day of the week (maybe tomorrow or next week I’ll write on  the theological significance of the first day) and all she wanted was to minister one last time to her Lord.  Not her living Lord anymore, so in her mind maybe he was no longer Lord at all.  It would be understandable if she thought that.  In any case, she wanted to minister to Jesus’ dead corpse.  But as if to add insult to injury, to quench any remaining spark of hope and faith, the body wasn’t there. 

Just think about the lowness Mary must have felt on that morning—that’s why she was weeping.  It was more than crying, she was weeping with all of her being.  The Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament defines this word (klaiw for you Greek nerds) as “To weep, wail, lament, implying not only the shedding of tears, but also every external expression of grief.”[1]

 In her lament, she failed to notice Jesus. “They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 

The same happens for us, doesn’t it?  In the midst of trying times and circumstances beyond our control, it feels as if God is so far removed from us.  It begins to feel like we’re on our own and abandoned, when really God is closer to us than he’s ever been!  We simply need our eyes of faith restored again, Jesus said to her, “Mary”, and then she saw him! 

I imagine we’re all feeling some level of spiritual discomfort and malcontent, not least of all due to our isolation.  Jesus left this earth to ascend into heaven on behalf of believers.  To represent us to the heavenly host!  To be our mediator at the right hand of God!  But he didn’t leave us as orphans, he gave us the Holy Spirit—to warm us in his absence to God’s love.  To stir us into all righteousness. To remind us that nothing will separate us from God himself! 

Jesus told Mary, “do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father”, indicating the importance of his ascension.  But it’s also a lesson for her and us, there is a body to which we should cling now—the Church itself.  The ancient Latin church father Cyprian famously said, “He can no longer have God for his Father who does not have the church for his mother.”  Even in our isolation from the physical presence of the body, we continue to have the essence of the body of Christ through the Holy Spirit.  It could be that in our dark moods and even loneliness Jesus is closer now than he has ever been!

Dear family, I miss you, may you find comfort and contentment in Jesus today through your personal habits of grace!  Jesus is always with you, even to the end of the age.  Amen.

Pastor Matt

[1] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

Being Content with Jesus

April 16, 2020 Thursday

Luke 24:13-27

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

This week after our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection in Easter (which, by the way, happens each Sunday—one of the joys of being protestant is celebrating 52 Easters each year!), I’ve been focusing on implications of the incarnation.  The incarnation is important to the resurrection, or maybe we should say that in the opposite direction:  that the resurrection is important to the incarnation, because the resurrection validates both Jesus’ incarnation and ours. Not that God’s work needs validation, but in God’s grace we receive validating signs in his work.

On Tuesday, I said that God had made creation “good” (6x in Genesis 1 followed  by 1 “very good”) and that sometimes Christians don’t consider how God made us to be good at all.  We see the problems of the world caused by  mankind and see those as evidence of the  badness of our physical form—like  Plato’s thought that man’s spirit is good, but the body is bad.  This simply isn’t the case.  The dichotomy in NT between the evil “flesh” and the good “Spirit” is best understood as the evil of the fall which plunged our minds into continual sinful thoughts and blindness.  The good “Spirit” isn’t our spirits alone but rather the work of the Spirit (capital S=the Holy Spirit) on our spirits (lower case s=human spirits) and these two wage war in this life against each other. 

In this incarnate existence we suffer from that strife within.  One way we do so is in our relationship to Jesus, particularly in his perfect revelation of the Father.  In Luke 24 Jesus explains that all of Scripture pointed to him to Cleopas and the disciple without a name (cue America’s  “On  a Horse with No-Name”).  He showed them particularly that his mission had to include dying and being raised!  His work was to pay for the sins of his people, but for his people to understand that, Jesus had to reveal it.

God’s revelation of himself is the greatest grace we could ever receive from our heavenly father when we consider all that self-revelation includes.  If God’s self-revelation only included his holiness and our sinfulness, it would be a much different world indeed.  But that’s not what we find in Scripture.  We find a Father who loved his people enough to sacrifice his Son.  And a Son who extended grace upon grace in laying down his life and taking it up again.  Along with the Holy Spirit who is the gift believers receive through the work of the Son.  All  of  this is part of God’s self-revelation and is the source of the hope within us, and should give us great comfort today, and tomorrow, and forever.  Rest in Jesus, be content with God’s self-revelation in his Son.

Pastor Matt