Category Archives: Theology

Christ is Preeminent in and over Creation

“To look at the window . . .as I did that first day . . . to look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible.”—John Glenn, speaking about his view of the Earth from the space shuttle Discovery

To think of creation when summer is upon us and we are outside more often, is appropriate. Yet, there is little else that is more controversial today than the subject of origins of the earth. The Bible is clear on such matters, as our Thought for Meditation is taken from the first verse of Scripture. Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

And yet some get riled at that verse. Our children are indoctrinated from sixth grade that man came about by chance; and that God had nothing to do with how things came about. It was all natural selection, a process of the survival of the fittest.

The Bible is not a story book. Our God is a God of miracles. There is good evidence to support creationism, the belief that an Almighty God made all that we see. Christians have affirmed God’s creative power in the Apostles’ Creed states: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”

But today, I not only want to advocate for Genesis 1:1, that God created everything that we see, as well as you and me. But that Jesus holds first place in it. He is preeminent. Webster’s defines preeminent as having paramount rank, dignity, or importance : OUTSTANDING, SUPREME

Consider the following in our time together:

• Jesus was never created, but participated in creation as Co-Creator;
• Jesus taught creationism;

Let’s first understand that Jesus was not created. Note how Colossians 1:15 reads:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

It is easy for the unbelieving world to assume that Jesus was just another man on the landscape of human history. But He was not. He was unique. Jesus was the God-man. He continually talked about being sent from the Father and having glory given to Him before the world began. He also said in John 8: “Before Abraham was, I am.”

Unfortunately, I heard a minister once pray to Jesus in a service: “For this purpose you were created.” I was shocked to hear such blasphemy. Jesus was never created. He is the Creator, as John’s gospel says in its opening statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The Bible is quite clear that Jesus participated in creation as Co-Creator.

Jesus was never created. As the Nicene Creed states concerning Christ:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”

Genesis 1:1 is also a doorway into the study of the Trinity. God the Father’s primary role is that of Creator, but Jesus also is creator. He is Co-Creator with the Father.

Jesus holds the highest place in the universe. He is the “firstborn of all creation,” which is a title of honor. He is worthy of our praise as the Divine Son of God. He proved He was God by doing Creator-like things such as walking on water, calming the storm, raising Lazarus from the dead, and healing the blind. And after He was raised from the dead, he appeared to His disciples and Thomas saw his wounds and proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus is God’s message and holds a place of honor as Co-Creator. Hebrews 1:2: “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” In addition…

Secondly, Jesus taught creation.

He said of the Scriptures that not one stroke would be abrogated, until all is accomplished. What’s more is that He affirmed the truthfulness of the Old Testament Scriptures in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy word is truth.”

The Bible teaches that God is a Father; and God is a Creator. Jesus affirmed that several times. God as Creator is stressed again and again throughout the Scriptures.

He is our Maker, worthy of our worship! Psalm 95:3: “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” God as Creator ought to cause you to raise your hands, bow your head or hit your knees in awe!

In addition, He is our Helper, the One we call upon! Our God is loving and condescends to us when we need help! Psalm 121:1: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” God did not create everything and then go on vacation. Rather, he is intimately engaged and sustains it all today.

And the Bible is pretty explicit on how this was done. Intriguing is how each of the increments is described, “Then there was evening and morning, the third day; then there was evening and morning, the fourth day” etc., etc. Is this literal language, or poetic language?

Historically, it would seem that creation week has been taken literally. Some cross references seem to indicate 24 hour increments: Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

Exodus 31:17 ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ”

Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Millard Erickson states about creation week: “…we cannot be dogmatic. The age of the universe is a topic which demands continued study and thought.”

Martin Luther said: “How long did creation take? When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned then you are…. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His word in the direction you wish to go.”

So then, humility is needed on both sides of the argument. Even the most skilled scientist graduating from the most prestigious school, did not witness creation at its commencement and could not observe what took place or how it came to be. We must be careful of man’s explanation about the past.

But notice that Jesus was a creationist. He encouraged the Pharisees to read and believe Genesis in Matthew 19:3: “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Our Lord believed that the world had a beginning, citing that the tribulation that it would encounter at the time that Jerusalem was destroyed would be significant. Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”

Finally, Jesus taught that the Father is our provider, who takes away our worries. Jesus also taught that God takes care of His creation: In Matthew 6:26, Christ states that the Father is responsible for feeding the birds of the air. “…for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” And verse 30: “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” God is engaged with your world and your circumstances and wants you to turn to Him!

But Jesus’ teaching is offensive and has serious ramifications! The first sentence of Scripture states: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Dr. Johnny Gibson of Westminster Seminary says that Genesis 1:1 is the most offensive verse in the Bible. Why, you might ask? Because if Genesis 1:1 is true, then we are accountable to this Creator. And this Creator has stated that we have sinned against Him, greatly offending Him. And that we are not autonomous, but accountable to Him.

If you teach child they are graduated monkeys, don’t be surprised if they behave like it. Young people lack purpose and hope. Or if they live as if they are not accountable to anyone, don’t be surprised at the amount of trouble they get into or their dismal outlook on life. But if you teach them that they are here because of a loving Creator, then you are one step closer to the gospel.

If you deny the existence of a literal Adam, you undercut the gospel entirely.

It is in Romans 5, that Paul the Apostle refers to a literal Adam in his explanation of death. Verse 12 states: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Was death the result of a cycle of biology, or did it come about as a penalty for disobedience.

What’s more is that John’s Revelation in chapter 21 records the arrival of the new heavens and the new earth, created by God. The creation/arrival of the new, presupposes the creation/arrival of the old/first.

And the Holy Spirit was also active in creation. We are told in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”.

God is still creatively active in our world, especially in bringing men and women, boys and girls to Himself! And Jesus says that the Spirit is ever-active in the rebirth of a person, spiritually, from John 3:3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

All of God’s creative activity is not mechanical, void of relationship. Rather it is loving and powerful. What’s more is that God brings His creative power into our lives when we become a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, which is by His doing. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”

Have you experienced this new birth? Can you testify that He has made you a new person to where you no longer want to live for yourself, but for Him?

More is there than meets the eye! Again and again, the Bible directs us to see God as our Creator who is ever engaged in our world and ever engaged in your life.

So let us not separate Genesis 1 from the rest of the Bible and be tempted to chuck it aside because our idea of science does not endorse a creator God. Rather, more science speaks of a creator than you think.

For instance, Dr. A Cressy Morrison, past president of the New York Academy of Sciences stated: “So many essential conditions are necessary for life to exist on our earth that it is mathematically impossible that all of them could exist in proper relationship by chance on any one earth at one time.”

Lee Strobel, in his documentary, The Case for the Creator, reveals that there are many indicators that our universe has a design. Take for instance, Physics where the force of gravity is at such a setting that all things hold together. If it were moved even slightly, then all things would cease to exist. Picture if you were to stretch a ruler across the universe, some 14 billion light years and that was its possibly range for gravity and the present setting were that of just an inch, making all life on earth able to exist. But move that setting just one inch, and the effects would be catastrophic. No large scale life forms could exist. Maybe bacteria, but not conscientious observers.

Or the cosmological constant, which states that the expansion speed of the universe is one part to 100 million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion. If it were not so fined tuned, material objects could not form. It is so fine-tuned that it has been compared to if you were to travel hundreds of miles into space and throw a dart to the earth and it were to hit a bullseye the width of an atom.

Or the nuclear force that binds atoms together. If this were off just slightly, then Hydrogen would be the only element and life would cease to exist.

Or Richard Leakey, the World’s Foremost Paleoanthropologist, in a 1990 PBS documentary, stated: “IF pressed about man’s ancestry, I would have to unequivocally say that all we have is a huge question mark. To date, there has been nothing found to truthfully purport as a transitional specie to man… if further pressed, I would have to state that there is more evidence to suggest an abrupt arrival of man rather than a gradual process of evolving.”

The point is this: Science can only take us so far. And, upon a closer look, there is more in science that points to the design of the universe than that of naturalistic happenstance. And if there is a design to the universe, there must be a Designer. What’s more is this Designer speaks to us in His creative order, in His word, the Bible, and most specifically in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only through trusting Christ and repenting of one’s sins that a life of meaning and purpose can be realized, as well as reconciliation to our holy and righteous God.

Robert Jastrow, in his book God and the Astronomers, states:

“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

“Our Unrelenting God”

Some of you, a couple of weeks ago, awoke at 4:30 a.m. to watch the royal wedding. Along with the beauty and the pageantry associated with the event, you may have been curious about the outfits that the rich and famous would wear to such an occasion. Or you were curious about who came, and thus who was invited. And you noticed the vacant chair on the second row.

Our passage today is stated as an invitation to something much more important and more elaborate than any ball or wedding; yet there is no discrimination involved. Everyone receives an invitation. This is all the result of the death and resurrection of God’s servant mentioned in chapter 53- the one we know as Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We might ask as we approach our text, what does God invite us to? And how may we respond? We first see that…

GOD’S GRACIOUSLY INVITES US TO SPIRITUAL SATISFACTION.

Isaiah 55:1 says:

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”

The term which begins our passage is unique. The Hebrew means ah! alas! ha! It is meant to grab attention to something special. And this invitation was something unique.

And this invitation had spiritual relevancy. Living in Israel during this time, thirst would be a common occurrence. It was an arid part of the world. People could relate to being thirsty. Incidentally, water for consumption was sold in the days of Isaiah. The seller would call out to would-be buyers to come and purchase from his stand. The mention of wine and milk represents happiness and nourishment. What’s more is that unlike the necessity to buy these items in real life, they are indeed free to the one who responds to God’s gracious invitation. God uses these symbols to offer what is free to the needy heart, that only He can supply! They cost nothing to the person who responds.

Speaking of these other items, it should come as no surprise that
what we call communion, the partaking of the Lord’s Supper, consists of bread and drink. Let us remember what we did on Pentecost Sunday, as a reminder that Jesus is the soul’s true food and true drink. It is only through His great sacrifice that we can commune with God. And when we observe the Lord’s Supper, it is a time of rededication of faith and repentance from sin, realizing that our soul’s hunger and thirst is satisfied in Christ!

Notice how Jesus uses water and rest to illustrate the He can give us our souls deepest longings. Many times Jesus used water to illustrate His ability to satisfy spiritual thirst. Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4:13:

“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

And in John 7:37, Jesus spoke openly to all who would hear: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Jesus satisfies spiritual thirst.

Jesus also grants spiritual rest. He gives soul rest to everyone who follows Him. He said in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Such an invitation says something about God. Notice that in these requests, the Lord is not hiding Himself. He is not stand-offish or reserved. Rather He calls us to follow Him and promises us what we so desperately need: Himself! God establishes His covenant and invites us to enter in. The God of the universe lowered Himself to us. He came to our level and invites us to follow Him. Jesus came to lead us to God. Secondly…

WE MUST BE CAREFUL TO RESPOND TO GOD’S INVITATION APPROPRIATELY.

Notice what verse two states:

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live….”

These verses imply that some wanted to spend their spiritual currency on other things. They had bought into other religious fads and ideas that did not benefit the way in which God blessed the one who turns to Him.

Some of you here are looking for God and spiritual fulfillment in places other than Jesus Christ. But we come by this honestly. Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, puts it this way. He states that we all have a problem.

“We are homo-idolater, the creature who would fashion our own god. This the true perennial heresy. …We are natural-born idolaters, and it is good that we admit this up front. …The reason is simple- we must worship, we will worship. Even as nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human soul. The human soul will find an object of worship, either on the shelf, on the altar, in the mirror, or in heaven. We are born idolaters (Mohler, Words from the Fire).”

God invites you to reorient your compass to Christ; to reject the object, the activity, the person or the self and worship Him alone! He offers you the Grand Invitation, a summons to come to the living God and give Him our lives. Every day there is an invitation to follow Him.

But such an invitation must invoke a specific action. Verse 6 states:
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”

The people of Judah needed to turn back to God. They had drifted far away from Him. And now He was calling them back; calling them out of their idolatry, their fornication, their lack of integrity. God accepts us as we are, but He asks us to change with His help. Some of you have drifted from God. You need to come back to Him, today! And there’s no better time than the present.

Such a gracious invitation is not what we would construct. We would undoubtedly make it more difficult. But God asks of us to turn. Jesus preached again and again: “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”

Repentance means to change. It is implied in the act of confession, when a person comes before the Lord in prayer, and asks for forgiveness and turns from their wrongful deeds.

The other act is faith- which goes beyond believing that there is a God. But means embracing God, following Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.”

With these actions, they can be summed up in a drawing; a seeking. “Seek the Lord while He may be found,” preaches Isaiah. Jeremiah 29:13: “You will search for Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” James 4 tells us: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

All of this is not based on human knowledge or invention, but on God’s infinite wisdom. Thankfully, God did not consult us. He said in verse eight: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

And He uses the preaching of His word to bring about His desired outcome! That is why Christians are people of the book. We hold a very high view of Scripture, believing it to be the very word of God. It came from Him. Jesus said: “Thy word is truth.” And He was referring to Scripture! God’s word is sometimes compared to a seed. Jesus told the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8. There, the condition of the ground was key to each portion of seed scattered, and its production.

God will never allow the preaching of His word to be truly ineffective. There are ineffective preachers. And there are ineffective listeners. But there is no ineffective word. Set your spiritual hunger and your spiritual thirst upon God!

The story is told of a young student who went to his spiritual teacher and asked the question, “Master, how can I truly find God?” The teacher asked the student to accompany him to the river which ran by the village and invited him to go into the water. When they got to the middle of the stream, the teacher said, “Please immerse yourself in the water.” The student did as he was instructed, whereupon the teacher put his hands on the young man’s head and held him under the water. Presently the student began to struggle. The master held him under still. A moment passed and the student was thrashing and beating the water and air with his arms. Still, the master held him under the water. Finally, the student was released and shot up from the water, lungs aching and gasping for air. The teacher waited for a few moments and then said, “When you desire God as truly as you desired to breathe the air you just breathed — then you shall find God.”

God is Faithful

How do you encounter adversity? What has been your reaction to disappointment or struggle? Experience is a great teacher. It drives home the lessons that the Holy Spirit brings into our lives from God’s word, the Bible. Scripture and experience are two tools used by God to equip us for life. Heaven forbid that we should go through something and it be a wasted experience, producing no faith or reliance upon God.

A young woman named Anne Steele had encountered one trial and disappointment after another. Her mother died when she was three, and when she was nineteen she suffered a severe hip injury that left her an invalid. Eventually she fell in love and was engaged to be married, but the day before the wedding her fiancé drowned.

Later Anne Steele penned the following song:

“Father, whate’er of earthly bliss Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace, let this petition rise:
Give me a calm, a thankful heart, from every murmur free!
The blessings of Thy grace impart, and make me live to Thee.”

Suffering, when it comes to the humble and godly heart, teaches great lessons. We see the power of suffering in the Bible. For our lesson today, we turn to the book of Lamentations.

Lamentations is a poetic interpretation of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The term “lamentations” comes from the verb: “to cry aloud.” The overall gist of the book is that it is a series of cries, or “five melancholy poems of mourning over the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians,” according to Charles Ryrie.

But the third chapter shifts in its person, from third and second person usage to strictly first. J. Andrew Dearman states: “The emphasis of the previous two chapters on the tragic fate of Jerusalem is on the background of chapter three.; front and center is the travail of an individual.”

Look at these verses and discover some marvelous things about the God of the Bible. One thing is…

YOUR TRIALS MUST SERVE TO HUMBLE YOU.

Lamentations 3:19: “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.”

Dr. Ryrie also points out that the bulk of the book is written in what is known as a “limping meter, a cadence used in funeral dirges (which) is most appropriate for this lament over the destruction of Jerusalem.”

Incidentally, Jerusalem was destroyed twice in its history. In 586 BC by the Babylonians and again in 70 A.D. by the Romans. Therefore, the Jews read this book publicly once a year to commemorate both events. Our passage likely contains the most well-known verses from this book.

The book itself does not name its author but it is thought throughout church history that Jeremiah wrote it. The style is similar to the book of Jeremiah and 2 Chronicles 35:25 seems to indicate a Jeremiah connection. “Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments.”

Your trials are meant to bring pause to your life. They serve to remind you that you are limited in knowledge and ability. And that you are completely dependent upon God!

“For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” the Psalmist wrote.

Or as James 4:14 puts it: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In other words, you are not invincible. You need God!

ALTHOUGH YOU EXPERIENCE ADVERSITY, NEVER FORGET THAT YOUR GOD IS MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL.

Lamentations 3:21: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

These verses tell us that the Lord is faithful. The Hebrew term of “compassion,” or “steadfast love” is the term “hesed.” It is translated: “abundant lovingkindness in other places such as Exodus 34.

God’s love is unlimited. And He presents them on a daily basis. It says His mercies are new every morning. The statement is not made from an emotional mountaintop experience but rather from the deepest valley. If you start in chapter 3, you’ll see the Jeremiah knows full well that God is judging Jerusalem and the people of Judah for their sins. He’s turned his ear away from their prayers. He has also turned his hand toward them, ready to smite them.

Contemporary thought renders God either unable or uncaring. There are those who hold on to an idea of an all-loving God that would never do anything but give you positive things. The other popular idea is of a God unable to judge, unable to speak, and unable to act. This God cannot act in the affairs of men and women.

But the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture is One who “…has mercy on whom He has mercy and hardens whom He hardens.” (Romans 9:18)

Remember that Jesus, reminded us: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

But Jeremiah the third chapter teaches us that he disciplines those he loves. He is slow to anger and abundant and loving kindness. But there comes a time when he must act and he must judge. God performs discipline in our lives on a regular basis. The hardship that comes your way is meant to teach you. It is also designed to make your paths straight.

Every child who grows into adulthood and is successful, can recall a home life where he did not getting everything he wants, but rather all his needs were provided for and he is taught about God from the Scriptures.

John Chrysostom, the fourth century Church Father, stated:
“Afflictions are with us, whether young or old, rich or poor. One need only look at the lives of leaders or the wealthy to see that not even they are exempt from trials, but they only benefit from them if they learn from these trials.”

You listen to your betterment. Your adversity is not meant to be experienced for selfish reasons.

DO NOT WASTE YOUR TRIALS, BUT USE THEM FOR MINISTRY, SERVING GOD AND OTHERS.

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

What’s also important to understand is everything that we might encounter comes from God‘s hand. Such things are meant to equip you to help others. You are blessed in all your afflictions because He is a God of mercy. He gives us the ability to comfort others in their afflictions, when we are afflicted first.

Some might argue that what is described in Lamentations 3 is what Jesus endured during his passion. Jesus experienced suffering. Paul did too. In fact, most of the apostles died a martyr’s death. Such a view is presented in in the hymn: “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” penned by the 18th century Moravian minister James Montgomery:

“Follow to the judgment hall;
View the Lord of life arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the gall!
O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame, or loss;
Learn of Him to bear the cross.”

Remember that trials serve to humble you; that God is faithful orchestrating your life in His mercy; and that your experiences are not to be selfish in nature, but are meant to be utilized in your own personal ministry.

It has been said that diamonds are formed under great pressure and heat. If these conditions do not exist, they are simply not formed. It is not that they will be low quality, or smaller in size, but they will not form. God brings His refining fire into our lives to create in us what He sees fit. When He sees our lack of character, He will bring into our lives what we need. So next time a fiery trial comes, thank God. He is producing exactly what He knows you need in your life. The only difference between a diamond and a piece of coal is pressure.

Heaven: Who’s There?

Have you ever tried to describe a place that you’ve never seen? Never visited? It is impossible. But in the presence of someone who has, for instance, been to the Grand Canyon, you may hear them say: “Oh, it is beautiful! The vistas are majestic! You’ve got to go there! Take the mule down to the bottom! Take the helicopter ride!

Heaven is a bit different in that very few have been there and yet have returned to tell about it. Jesus and the Apostle Paul are two exceptions. Today, we approach the question: “Who is in Heaven?” Our answers are found in Holy Scripture.  Jonathan Edwards was a congregational minister in Northampton, Massachusetts, in the early 18th century. He was also a missionary to Native Americans and the third president of Princeton and considered by many to be the father of the American Church. Regarding heaven, he wrote:

 There are none but lovely objects in heaven- no offensive, or unlovely, or polluted person or thing is to be seen there. There is nothing that is wicked or unholy. …Everything is beautiful to behold, and amiable and excellent in itself.”[1] He was basing his description, not on personal experience, but on Revelation 21:27: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Jesus said much about that place. In John 14, Jesus speaks of going to prepare a place for us. This chapter occurs in the context after Jesus announces His departure in 13:36.

Jesus spoke of “His Father’s house.” He was talking of heaven. He mentions rooms. These are dwelling places within the house. Jesus also spoke of “eternal dwellings,” in Luke 16:9.

Jesus is going to prepare a place for His disciples. But the way that He goes is through the cross: the public torture, the separation from His friends and supporters, and most of all, the separation from His Father. Jesus takes the time to reassure them of His love, along with the imperative: Trust in God; trust also in Me.” Moving is the face that on the night that He would be arrested and go through the most difficulties of hardships, pain and separation; it is Jesus’ character to encourage His disciples. He tells them that He is going to the Father in 13:1, 3, and 14:28. Jesus’ words bring up the question…

What happens when someone dies? That is a question that is quite common. Two years ago, I lost my mother. On one of our trips to visit her grave, a relative asked: “Dave, what happens when we die?”  The Bible is quite clear. Jesus said that not everyone who dies goes to heaven. In fact, He made it sound like relatively few people enter everlasting life. Matthew 7: 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Finding out after you die is too late. Hollywood actor Brad Pitt was asked the question: Is your soul spiritual?

He replied: “No, no, no! I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, until then there’s no point thinking about it.”[2] I disagree. To be prepared here and now, is far better and less reckless and irresponsible.

Once we die, a departure occurs. This is the testimony of the major Protestant catechisms such as the Westminster of 1646 and the Heidelberg of 1564. A comfort that the believer has is that once he has died, he will always be in the presence of Christ.   These teach that once a Christian dies…

  • Shortly thereafter, his body goes into the ground. As the pastor says at the committal: “Earth to earth; ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
  • But the soul departs and is in the presence of Christ. Paul reflecting on his possible death while in prison, wrote in Philippians 1:23: “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better….” In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul said “…to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
  • The souls of Christians are separated from their bodies and reside with the Lord until the Second Coming of Christ. That place is known as paradise. Jesus said to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43: “”I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” It is heaven, but not in its final state or condition that will occur when God brings the new heavens and the new earth.
  • On the day that Jesus returns, the soul will be reunited with the body and it will be raised, what is commonly known as “the resurrection.” Martha, Lazarus’ sister believed this in John 11:24 by saying: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
  • Then, once the final judgment takes place, Christ will bring the new heavens and the new earth, which will come down. From then on, our homes will be permanent. 2 Peter 3:13: “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

Maybe the situation can be described in this way. If you lived in downtown Chicago, in a difficult area. But you were notified that you had inherited a sprawling beachfront home in Cape May, NJ. On your trip to Cape May, you had a small layover in Pittsburgh. While in Pittsburgh, you met some other family members who would also inherit the home. You would tell others that you were headed to Cape May; but your trip to Pittsburgh was incidental; it was a necessary stop, on the way.

In such a place, death is conquered. Who will be in heaven? Jonathan Edwards writes:

“Every gem which death rudely tears away from us here is a glorious jewel forever shining there. Every Christian friend that goes before us from this world is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above. There the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary and then shall never end. There we shall have companionship with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy, with whom on earth we were only conversant by faith.”[3]

Overjoyed, we’ll be to see our Christian friends and loved ones, and those we’ve only read about and admired over the years. Most of all, we will be in the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are comforted and blessed to know that it is a wonderful reunion and a great discovery. More than can ever be described into words. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).”

Until then, we know that we have access to the Father through Jesus. Now the Lord gives us a pretty exclusive response to Thomas’ question in 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus is the only way of connected to God. He alone provides access to Him. If we think that there are many ways to God, you are in essence calling Jesus a liar or you do not know your Bible very well.

Jesus said in John 1:51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This is an Old Testament allusion to what is known as Jacob’s ladder, the dream that the patriarch had of a ladder reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. Of that place, Jacob said: “And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven! (Genesis 28:17)”

Furthermore, Peter and John preached an exclusive message in Acts 4:12 when they said: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This goes with what Isaiah 45:22 says: “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

That’s why missions is so important to the life of the church. We have a message to get out and preach and share. D.A. Carson states: “It is totally inadequate to claim that one knows God, …while disowning Jesus Christ.”[4]

Nevertheless, the culture says: “Oh, there are other ways to God. Why be so narrow?” But what did God say? What did Jesus say? What more needs to be said?

Some within the false church and many within the culture say that this is an arrogant statement. Why be so narrow? We confused criticality with narrowness. Jesus is clearly speaking in reference to His Father’s house and its access. The point is that Christ has opened up heaven. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was rent in two from top to bottom.

Hebrews 4:16 tells us that based on the endurance of Jesus, and because He is our high priest, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” In Biblical times, no one could ever approach a king’s throne with boldness. You had to be summoned. If you went where you were uninvited, it could cost you your life. But we serve a different king that allows us to approach Him with confidence. Without Christ, there is no access, let alone confidence.

So, heaven is for those who know the Father through Jesus Christ. It is the place that Jesus has gone to prepare for us.

But Jesus is also preparing us for a place. That is called sanctification; the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who’ve trusted Christ. May the Lord’s words function as peace and encouragement to you who live for Him. May they function of motivation to know Him, if you’ve lived you’re life apart from Him. May it be to all of us a call to preparation; to know that this life is not all that there is. Rather this life is a preparation for the next. Your eternity lies outside of the material and outside of yourself. It demands trust in Christ and dependence upon Him.

Thomas a Kempis, a cardinal in the 15th century and the author of one of the best known Christian devotional works, The Imitation of Christ, said:

Follow thou me. I am the way and the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth, the never-ending life. I am the straightest way, the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated.[5]

[1] Jonathan Edwards, 14.

[2] http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/idolchatter/2009/07/quote-of-the-day-brad-pitt-on.html.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, Heaven: A World of Love (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1992), 17.

[4] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 1991), 491.

[5] Thomas A ‘Kempis The Imitation of Christ, 56. 1.

A Picture that Never Fades

The following message is based on Romans 6:1-11 and presents the subject of baptism, which is a sacred picture, offered by the church, of ritual cleansing from sin.  It was preached on June 2, 2013, on the occasion of baptizing six young people and receiving them into membership.

Pictures are representations of memories or special events.  We go to great lengths to save them.  Unfortunately, old pictures can fade, turn yellow or be destroyed.  The preservation of one’s collection of photographs is a popular topic today.  Many get theirs scanned into a computer for ready access.  Old movies can now be transferred to DVD.  Pictures remind us of important people, events and occasions.  Graduation pictures have been taken by the hundreds over the last few weeks.

We value pictures. Something that I like to do is go through old albums of years gone by and look at loved ones.  I especially like to view old pictorial directories of years ago.  You all don’t change!

Today, I want to speak with out about an important picture.  It is not a photograph, per se, but a representation of what Jesus does in the life of His followers, as we look at the picture of baptism.  We first learn that…

BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.

Water is the primary instrument of baptism.  It is associated with many things.  Water has always been seen as a universal cleansing agent.  The definition of baptism is the application of water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is an initiation rite into the Christian faith.  It is the sign and seal of God’s grace, as circumcision was in the Old Testament, as Paul teaches in Romans 4:11 and Colossians 2:11-12.

Baptism is also a symbol of transformation and cleansing.  Why do we need cleansing?  Because God says so.  Our sin says so.    God makes this invitation known in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

In Romans 6, Paul teaches that baptism is a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It implies that new life has been imparted to the individual and that there’s been a change in identity.

In answer to the question, if God’s work in our lives gives us license to do whatever we want, Paul answers: “May it never be!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

It marks the beginning of this new life in Christ.  Jesus called himself the source of living water (John 4:10 and 7:38).  Because of God’s offer of cleansing and forgiveness, many people in the Scriptures were baptized.  John the Baptist baptized at Aenon (John 3:23). Jesus was baptized; not for the reasons that you and I share, but to identify with us and mark the beginning of His public ministry.  The Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized by Phillip; Paul was baptized after being converted on the Road to Damascus.

This new life is what gave rise to Paul being made a new person; one who persecuted the church and responsible for the killing and imprisoning of Christians, to one who traveled the entire world and put his life at risk to preach the gospel.  He would say in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Sometimes Christians think that baptism is something that we do to get saved.  This is incorrect.  We are saved by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Baptism is not something we do to get salvation.  It is not a cause and effect relationship.  Rather, it is a passive picture of the benefits of an active faith.

Baptism is also a reminder of the ongoing benefits to trusting and following Christ.  Baptism is necessary to our faith.  Baptism is needed because we forget.  If you have not been baptized, then please see me.  It is an ordinance that you will never forget.  Caspar Schwenckfeld taught: “I believe in a holy Christian baptism for the washing away of sins in the confession of the Holy Trinity and calling upon the name of the Lord.  …I hope (I am) a baptized, though weak Christian.”[1]  We need this picture and must refer to it again and again.   BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION. Secondly, who administers baptism?  Next, we find that…

THE CHURCH IS THE KEEPER OF SUCH BLESSINGS.

These people also come today to commit themselves to the Central Schwenkfelder Church, as their spiritual family.  Today, the church has become optional in the eyes of many.  As I shared last week, church membership is seeing a dip as well as church attendance.  Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.

We cannot appreciate spiritual growth without giving the church, the family of God, its rightful place.  John Calvin said: For what God has joined together, it is not lawful to put asunder [Mark 10:9], so that, for those to whom he is Father the Church may also be Mother.[2]

Many of you grew up with Christian Endeavor.  You might remember its pledge that says: “I will support my own church in her Sunday worship, and all her ministries, in every way possible…”[3]  My good friend, Dave Coryell, the Director of CE says: “God intends us to be a part of a group of people that will worship Him together.  This is called a church.”[4]  In other words, you cannot claim to be a Christian and be permanently outside of the fellowship of the local church.

The Church plays a vital role in the lives of its members in the following way.  First, it is the body of Christ– Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “Upon this rock (of Peter’s confession), I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  It is Jesus’ bride and God’s ordained instrument to spread the gospel to the world.  As Christians, it is not optional part of our lives, but functions as a lifesaver in a world that is lost and dying.

Secondly, the church guards the role of Scripture, God’s sacred love letter to us.  Paul wrote to Timothy:  “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2: Timothy 3:14-15).  And as Christians, we are to desire the Scriptures as we desire nourishment.  1 Peter 2:2: “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”  It is among the body of Christ that we primarily learn and grow through our study of the Bible.

Thirdly, the church promotes the role of prayer.  The early church prayed as we find in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Jesus told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  It is most readily in the church that we see and hear of God giving and blessing and opening doors for His children.  We have a midweek prayer service throughout the summer  in our new Prayer Garden, or if it is raining or too hot, in the Community Center: Wednesdays at 6:45 p.m.

Fourthly, the church also promotes the importance of relationships. We need each other.  Proverbs 27:17 teaches: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  There are so many “one anothers” in the Bible.  We are taught to love one another; serve one another; forgive one another; teach one another, encourage one another.  All of these are pictures of love.  Bob Russell states: “I’m invited by a lot of churches to come and talk to them about church growth.  One of the first things I tell them is that the church will not stay healthy and grow without love.  The place to begin to improve your congregation is not with programs or organization or even doctrine but with the attitude of the people toward one another.”[5]

BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.  THE CHURCH IS THE KEEPER OF SUCH BLESSINGS.  Why is the fount on our altar?  It functions as a reminder that we need the Lord to cleanse us if we are to know Him.  Baptism is needed because we forget.  It is the entry to our relationship with Christ and the church.  It represents cleansing and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Lent originally was established for new Christians, those who experienced a call. They were to spend 40 days and 40 nights preparing for their baptism. If at the end they still wanted to follow Jesus, then on Easter Eve they would be baptized as the sun was rising in the east, signaling the new day, the new era, inaugurated because of the Resurrection.

I am sure it had a powerful significance for them, to have prepared for their vocation as Christians the same way Jesus prepared for His vocation as the Messiah: 40 days of introspection and self-examination.

There was a young convert in Haiti whose family believed in voodoo. They urged him not to forsake the family faith for this new Christian religion. But he ignored the family pressures and came for baptism. He walked into the water, stopped, and turned back! The missionaries were sure he had changed his mind. They were certain that the family pressures had prevailed. But he went back to shore to empty his pockets of all his voodoo charms. Then he reentered the stream and was baptized.

 

 


[1] Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Belief (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press: 2006), 135.

[2] Institutes IV, 1.1.

[3] 2011 Pledge of Christian Endeavor Mid Atlantic, found at http://www.cemidatlantic.org/who-we-are/c-e-essentials/.

[4] Dave Coryell, I Accepted Christ! Now What? (Blaine, WA: Arrow Leadership Ministries, 2001), 9.

[5] Bob Russell, The Power of One Another, (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 2004), 7.