Monday, December 30, 2013

The Democratization of the Lord's Supper?



Acts 2:42-47


42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

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In these verses we see the importance of the Lord's Supper.  In verse 42 and verse 46, "the breaking of bread" is a reference to the Lord's Supper, and alludes back to Jesus' own practice and institution of the Supper.

These verses come directly on the heels of Peter's Pentecost sermon.  Verse 41 states, "
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls."

The question naturally arises, How could so many people be receiving the Lord's Supper so often in their own homes?  How could this possibly come about so quickly?  

Surely the twelve apostles could not administer the Supper every time it was observed in a home with believers present.  It seems that non-apostles, i.e., the laity had to be administering the Supper in these home settings.  Further, it would seem that this administration by the laity was seen by Luke as a good thing, not a bad thing.

But, today, such a frequent administration of the Supper by lay people in their homes would be seen as a bad thing, not a good thing!  Today, such a frequent administration would be impossible, because only pastors can administer the Lord's Supper, and it takes years and years of training to become a pastor.  And, maybe for this reason, it is almost impossible to imagine a situation, today, where people are being saved "day by day" in our communities.

What might happen in our churches if we democratized the Lord's Supper, and recognized the priesthood of all believers?  What if we stopped limiting the administration of the Supper to just one man, but opened it up to a trained laity?  What if we began to invite our fellow church members, not just to a Bible study, but to teaching and a meal that included the Lord's Supper?  What if our small groups began to experience, the power of the age to come (Heb. 6:4-5) in the form of faithful teaching and the Supper our Lord instituted?

Could it be that by limiting the Supper's administration to one person, who alone is allowed to minister, we are actually limiting Jesus' ministry among us, by his Spirit?  Interestingly, when the church began to make inroads evangelistically beyond Jerusalem, it was because the laity began to preach the gospel, not the apostles:


"And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word."
Fellow Christians, maybe it is time to  democratize the ministry.  If we truly want to see the church strengthened and the lost converted, we may need to allow what Scripture allows (and certainly does not forbid!), namely, the work of the ministry given to a trained and qualified laity.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Theology of Singing Gleaned from the Psalms: Psalm 9

We are continuing to look at what the Psalms teach us about singing.  We primarily are looking at the Psalms to learn about the content of our songs, though we may also learn lessons about worship as we make our way through the Psalms in which we find the word sing.

The third and fourth occurrences of sing are found in Psalm 9.  The first occurrence is found in verse 2:

Psalm 9
To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.
  I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

When we read the Psalms it is important to identify the speakers in the Psalms.  This is fairly easy to do in many of the Psalms, because we are told that the speaker is David.  However, the New Testament throws us for a loop when it sometimes sees the speaker of the Psalms to be Jesus Christ!  For example, in Hebrews 2 we are told that Jesus is the speaker of Psalm 22 (which Hebrews 2:12 quotes), which is a psalm of David:

That is why he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

The rationale for seeing Jesus as the speaker in many of the Psalms is that David was a type of Jesus.  David was the anointed king, who looked forward to the anointed king, who is the Christ.  David's life patterned beforehand the life of our Savior in that he suffered before entering his glory.  Thus, when we read the Psalms, especially the Davidic psalms, but also others, we hear Jesus speaking to us, just as the writer to the Hebrews teaches us.

When we hear Jesus speaking in Psalm 9, the first thing we are struck by is that Jesus is the worshiper in these first two verses.  It is Jesus who gives thanks to the Lord; Jesus who recounts the Father's wonderful deeds; and Jesus who sings praise to the name of the Most High!

Thus, let us learn that Jesus is the true worshiper, and his people join their voice to his when they sing God's praise.  Jesus' voice of praise may even be heard in their praise and thanks and recounting of the Father's wonderful deeds!

Second, we see that in our singing we exult and delight in the Lord himself.  Yes, we delight in his benefits, but we delight even more in the Father and the Son.  "I will be glad and exult in you," points to a personal relationship that finds delight in the other, who in this case is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Third, we see that our singing ought to speak of the Lord's mighty deeds.  We will see this theme again and again.

The next mention of the word sing occurs in verses 11 and 12:

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Here we see that praise comes from a people who are afflicted even to the point of martyrdom.  Just as Jesus' people join in his praise, so Jesus' people join in his affliction.  They too are hated by a world that values things other than the triune God.
Verse 13 shows us the suffering and affliction of our Lord and Savior, as he speaks in the first person.  But verse 14 shows us his exaltation after suffering death on our behalf, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and was raised to the heavenly Zion:

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Theology of Singing from the Psalms: Psalm 7:17

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,    
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. (Ps. 7:17)
We continue our look at what the Psalms teach us about singing.  The second occurrence of the word sing  is found in Psalm 7.  This psalm is ultimately a psalm about the Father's vindication of his Son because of his righteousness. Through David, we learn about the true David's vindication. The psalm begins with these words:

Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;    
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,    
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.

Our Lord was hated and put to death by his enemies (see v. 3-5), but these enemies did not have the last word.  The Father raised him from the grave on the third day.  Jesus was vindicated by the Father because of his righteousness. Though the world persecuted him and put him to death, the Father vindicated him and reversed the world's condemnation.

In Psalm 7, David is a type of Christ.  David was righteous and innocent in the incident he describes, but he was not altogether righteous, as his life clearly shows. Ultimately, Psalm 7 can only be applied to Jesus, who alone was without sin.

So what do we learn about the content of our singing in Psalm 7:17?

We learn that the great reversal of the death and resurrection of Jesus should be at the heart of our thanksgiving and praise when we sing.  Righteousness is a reason for thanks for us, because Jesus' vindication is his people's vindication! We can joyfully sing of God's final judgment, not because we are righteous, but because Jesus, to whom we belong, is righteous.  His vindication because of his righteousness belongs to those who turn from a wicked world that put him to death, and who turn in mercy to the Father, who has provided a place of refuge for us in his Son.

We also learn in this psalm that our praise of the Most High includes his judgment of all people.  While he has graciously made a way of escape from judgment through his Son, this way is only through repentance and faith in his Son.  Thus, our praise includes praise for the Lord who will come to judge in righteousness, vindicating his own, but condemning those who do not trust him. Thus, our praise of God's mercy is always against the backdrop of the judgment we deserve because of our sin.  Here in Psalm 7 we have a clear warning of this judgment:

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;   
 he has bent and readied his bow;
Thus, in love we warn unbelievers to flee to Jesus, for he alone can vindicate and justify his people, for he alone was righteous.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Theology of Singing from the Psalms: Psalm 5:11-12


There are 62 references to the English word sing in the Psalms.  From time to time I would like to look at these verses in the Psalms and see what they might teach us about the nature, the purpose, and the content of singing, according to the Psalms.

In my view, this current generation of Reformed and Evangelical Christians has a faulty view of music's role in congregational worship. Some churches sing almost to the exclusion of reading the Word of God.  Some churches give music almost a sacramental place---a kind of power that draws us into God's presence.  And, in almost all Reformed and Evangelical churches, the content of some of our songs is shallow, and sometimes, even unbiblical.  So there me may be some profit in seeing what can we learn about singing from the Book of Psalms.  We will begin with Psalm 5, and verses 11 and 12, where we have the first occurrence of the word sing.

11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.

First, notice that singing is associated with joy.  Verse 11b shows that singing is what people do when they are joyful.

Second, but also notice that singing is not the cause of joy.  Joy comes from what the Lord has done, according to verse 11a, in giving his people refuge.

Third, the content of singing concerns this refuge the Lord has given his people.  It includes blessings like protection, favor, and blessing, and it results in joy and love for the Lord and his character (11b)---a personal knowlege of the Father (David is the speaker of the psalm, who was a son of God as the anointed king, and through him, Christ, speaks this psalm).  The content of singing also includes deliverance, as the context of Psalm 5 shows.  This deliverance is a deliverance from enemies and a transfer into the realm of God's kingdom via the anointed king.

Finally, this psalm teaches us that only those who take refuge in the Father through believing the Son, are able to sing and worship.  True worship is the prerogative of the righteous only, who have taken refuge in Christ.  This is seen by noting the contrast between verses 9-10 and 11-12.  Enemies of the Lord and his Anointed One (verse 8) cannot be his worshipers.

May our songs in the church reflect this joy that comes from experiencing the Father's deliverance through His Son and knowing him as our God and Father, and his Son as our Lord and Savior.

11

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two Important Truths Concerning the Lord's Supper

Ignatius of Antioch was a church father, who was a student of the apostle John, became the bishop at Antioch, and was martyred in Rome by being fed to the lions. I came across two quotes of his in a book I am reading, concerning the Lord's Supper:

"I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life --- which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. . . . And I desire the drink of God, namely his blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life."

The Lord's Supper is more than a memorial. The sign (bread and wine) is joined to the thing signified (Christ's body and blood), and thus we are given Christ's body and blood in the Supper, and through these, the benefits of Christ. How this happens is a mystery. What is important is that we do not merely receive the sign, but hunger and thirst to receive what the sign signifies.

The second quote of Ignatius, points to another important truth about the Lord's Supper:

"Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it."

The bishop was the pastor. The pastor usually administered the sacrament. But notice that the pastor could entrust this administering of the sacrament to others, who were not pastors. This is an important point if we are ever to return to a weekly or even more frequent partaking of the Supper. We must see that just as lay people can be licenced to preach, so lay people can be trained to administer the Lord's Supper. If we are ever going to return to the apostolic pattern of at least weekly communion, then more people must be trained and entrusted to administer it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jesus Speaks in the Psalms


One of the things people miss in reading the Psalms is that the speaker of the Psalms is often Jesus Christ our Lord! This is what Hebrews 2 teaches when it says that Jesus said what David said in Psalm 22! Hebrews 2:11-12: 

"That is why he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”"

As David's greater Son, the righteous sufferer, and the resurrected Lord, Jesus speaks to us throughout the book of Psalms. The Psalms are not only about Jesus, but Jesus is often the very speaker of the Psalms! How wonderful it is for his sheep to hear his voice in the book of Psalms!

Monday, December 2, 2013

"The Case for the Psalms"

I finished N. T. Wright's book, "The Case for the Psalms." He made a case for the use of the Psalms in churches that no longer go through the Psalms in their worship in a systematic way. His basic argument is one I resonated with and have articulated myself, namely, that the Psalms can have a transformative effect because they teach us the biblical worldview so different than the worldview of the secular world around us. The Psalms teach us to see the glory of God in creation, to long for His new creation when his glory will drench his creation in a greater way, and to see how in Christ that new creation has already dawned, just as the Psalms themselves prophesied. To see and live in this new way is a wonderful blessing!

As for the Evangelical and Reformed churches that have displaced the systematic reading and singing of the Psalms in the liturgy with praise choruses, I am not optimistic they will return to the practice most abandoned in the twentieth century. For that reason, it is imperative that individual Christians read at least one Psalm per day. Wright's own practice has been to read through the Psalms once a month, which works out to five psalms per day, which would mean about 40 verses per day. Here is a plan for reading through the Psalms once a month that takes into account the problem of Psalm 119:

Each day you read five Psalms. On the first day of the month read Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, and 121. On day 19 you’ll read Psalm 19, 49, 79, 109, and 139. On day 29 you’ll read Psalms 29, 59, 89, and 149, skipping 119. Why skip Psalm 119? Because it is the longest chapter in the Bible---176 verses!

In months with 30 days (April, June, September, November), you won’t read Psalm 119. But when there is a 31st day in the month (8 of them), you’ll read only Psalm 119. Reading only Psalm 119 on day 31 assures that all chapters in Psalms are read only one time. 

Kind of ambitious, but it might be valuable to try. Wright says that he generally reads his five Psalms at various times of the day, rather than reading them all in one setting.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

N.T. Wright and an Example of Reformed and Evangelical Liturgical Insanity



"In some parts of contemporary Christianity, the Psalms are no longer used in daily and weekly worship. This is so especially at points where there has been a remarkable growth in numbers and energy, not least through the charismatic movements in various denominations. The enormously popular 'worship songs,' some of which use phrases from the Psalms here and there but most of which do not, have largely displaced, for thousands of regular and enthusiastic worshipers, the steady rhythm and deep soul-searching of the Psalms themselves. This, I believe, is a great impoverishment. By all means write new songs. Each generation must do that. But to neglect the church's original hymnbook is, to put it bluntly, crazy." --N. T. Wright in "The Case for the Psalms"

Just as I suspected, Reformed and Evangelical churches have gone liturgically crazy, and Tom Wright agrees!

Sadly, one of the characteristics of crazy people is that they refuse to listen to wise voices, but only those voices that are self-destructive, and so my guess is that the "dumbing down" of worship will continue, and even worse, the removal of the Lord's voice in the Psalms.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Worship Form that Belies the Gospel Message

We went to a church plant this morning that is near us. We were sent a flyer in the mail and it said that the church believed in the five solas of the Reformation (with which we agree), so we thought we would give it a chance, although I assured my wife we would find a big band up front and at least one or two inane songs.

Of course, I was right. The band was there and the songs were inane, as for example, the line that Christ sets us free to dance! When you come into church at my age, being set free to dance is pretty far down on your list of priorities.

But my real objection to the way this generation is attempting to worship is that the form
 of worship is so far removed from the message of the cross. Jesus instituted the intimacy of a meal and the quiet of learning at his feet. This generation comes into his presence with a musical production and showy entertainment, and then tries to tell us about Christ-like behavior, when the very form of its worship belies and contradicts the message of a crucified Lord.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sabbath and Supper in Luke 6:1-11

I wrote this hymn based on Luke 6:1-11 which brings together the related themes of Sabbath and Supper. It teaches that Jesus has fulfilled the Sabbath and brought about the eternal Sabbath, which began when he was raised from the dead. The argument that Jesus uses to defend himself against Pharisaical objections, points to himself as the true Son of David, who gives his disciples the bread of the Presence, food that was only to be eaten by the priests on the Sabbath day. Thus, the passage shows that Jesus is the one who by his cleansing blood has created a priesthood of believers, who now have the privilege of eating the holy bread, not on the Sabbath, but on the eighth day, which begins the eternal Sabbath. How privileged we are to eat this bread on the Lord's Day, bread that only the priests of the old covenant were allowed to eat! In the hymn below, "bread" is capitalized as a way of pointing out that the bread we eat as the priesthood of believers is actually Jesus, the bread of heaven.

Come to Eat the Bread Together

Suggested tune: St. Austin (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=153). Meter: 878747. Based on Luke 6:1-11. Words: William Weber, 2013. (after sermon, beginning of worship, communion, Sabbath, Lord's Day, eschatology, already not yet)

v. 1
Come to eat the bread together,
that the Son of David gives.
To His table gladly gather,
eat the Bread that you may live.
Are you hungry
for the heav'nly Bread He gives?

v. 2
Come to Jesus, Lord of Sabbath,
on the day when He was raised.
With His death and resurrection,
He has brought the coming age.
Eat the Manna,
heavenly Food that will sustain.

v. 3
Come to eat the Bread of Presence;
only priests may eat the Bread.
We are priests and we are holy,
by the blood that Jesus shed.
By His body,
broken for us; we are fed.

v. 4
Now, eternal is the Sabbath,
ushered in when Christ was raised.
Jesus, now we come to listen,
on this day to learn Your ways.
Teach and feed us,
so our walk might bring You praise.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reflections on Form and Power in our Worship Together

Acts 20:7: "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread . . . ."

This verse shows how far we have moved away from the apostolic view of worship. Can you imagine any present day Christian saying that the reason we gather together on Sunday is "to break bread," i.e., to partake of the Supper?  I cannot, nor have I ever heard anyone say that, and that is the problem.

The fact that few people see that the Lord's Supper is the way Christ instituted his worship for his church is grievous. "Do this (the meal) in remembrance of me," is how Jesus instituted his worship. He instituted worship, not through teaching, but through a meal, and this is significant in understanding the true nature of what is to happen when we worship our triune God together. Divorce Word and meal, as the church has done for so long, and it leaves the church with a recipe for losing the heavenly presence and power of Christ, and creating malnourished and weakened Christians.

Worship is about sitting at Jesus' feet in order to learn from him, but it goes beyond learning to receiving his grace and life, and this comes through his broken body and shed blood, received by faith. Worship with our fellow Christians, without this eating and drinking, is incomplete, and short circuits our greatest need, which is to receive Jesus' life for our poor and needy souls. Worship is about Word and life, Word and experience, Word and meal, and this is why Jesus wisely instituted his worship by commanding us to eat his meal when we gather together on the first day of the week. 
Teaching without the meal is incomplete because Jesus wants to do more than teach us:  He wants to give us his very life to change and transform us by his power.

But can we have the proper form of worship (Word and meal) without experiencing the power of Christ and the age to come?  Yes, it is possible because of our unbelief.  We can have teaching and the meal and still miss the life and power Jesus wants to transmit to us, through the unbelief of both leaders and laity.  But it seems to me this danger of form without power is exacerbated, not helped, if we ignore the very form of worship our Lord gave us in the words: "Do this in remembrance of me."

O that pastors and elders, churches and denominations, would take these words from our Lord to heart:

"And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes." (Luke 12:42-43)

The "proper time" is defined by Luke in his second book in Acts 20:7. "On the first day of the week" is when pastors are elders are supposed to give their households, i.e., churches, their portion of food.  Blessed are those pastors and elders who do so, and blessed are those Christians who eagerly and gladly eat the portion of food (Word AND meal) they are given on that day! 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Communion Hymn

I have been struggling a few days to write a hymn based on Luke 5:27-39. But the Lord was gracious through my reading to give me the words for a hymn, which I think would be good as preparation for communion or during communion.

Come, O Jesus, Great Our Need

Suggested tune: INNOCENTS (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=56).  Meter: 7777.  Based on Luke 5:27-39.  Words: William Weber, 2013. (after sermon, Lord’s Supper, table fellowship)

v. 1
Come, O Jesus, great our need,
we have sinned in word and deed.
Come Physician of the soul,
only You can make us whole.

v. 2
You are gracious, good and kind,
pleased with sinners to recline.
Though our sin within is great,
new desire in us create.

v. 3
Jesus, cleanse and wash within,
grant forgiveness of our sin;
clothe us with Your righteousness,
then we will be truly blessed.

v. 4
Bridegroom who makes all things new,
blessed are those who live in You.
Waiting for the wedding feast,
blessed are those who then will eat.

v. 5
But a foretaste of that meal,
now You give to bless and heal.
Jesus’ body, Jesus’ blood,
holy cure from God above.

v. 6
Sinners welcome all to come,
leave your sin and to Him run.
See His loving arms spread wide,
on the cross the Crucified.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why Do We Go To Church?

“Going to church is not primarily about me or even about us, but about God. I go to church not first of all to benefit myself (though that is a very important secondary effect) but to worship the Lord.” –David VanDrunen

While I almost always agree with Dr. VanDrunen, I have to disagree with the above statement. We go to church to meet with Jesus Christ to hear his teaching and to receive his forgiveness and life by eating his body and drinking his blood by faith. We go to church, first of all, to receive from Christ, not to give anything to Him. The first and primary reason for gathering together is to meet with Christ, who is among us as One who serves. 

The problem with VanDrunen's statement is that it takes away the glory that accrues to the Lord in serving us before we serve Him. It fails to take into account the Lord's sufficiency and our weakness; the indicative of the gospel that comes before the imperative of the law; Christ’s coming to us as gift, before he is an example. As David, and through David our Lord, said of himself often in the Psalms: I am poor and needy. We must always approach our Lord as those who are poor and needy.

After we have received the Lord grace and life, then we are in a position to give our bodies and hearts to Him as an act of worship, and this is a worship that exceeds the divine service to include all of life (Romans 12:1).

If we recovered the truth that we only see by faith, namely, that Jesus is present with us powerfully in Word and meal to teach about the kingdom and give us his kingdom, how it would change our desire to go to church!

A Misunderstood Saying of Jesus: John 14:2-3

In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

The assumption invariably made about these words is that they refer to the distant future when Jesus returns again.  But I wonder if they are better understood as Jesus' coming to us via the Holy Spirit.

Jesus prepared a place for us in the Father's house through his death for sin and his resurrection from the dead.  He comes to us by his Holy Spirit, so that we might dwell in Him.  There would be little comfort for the disciples  in these words of Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion if he was referring to the distant future and his second coming.  But there is much comfort for the first disciples, and us, if we now dwell with Jesus because our lives are hidden with him above (Col. 3:1-3).  Jesus is not the god of the deists, far away and removed from us.  Instead, he has come to us via the Holy Spirit and taken us to himself, so that we dwell with him above. This He accomplishes by the Spirit, who dwells both in us and in heaven, and is thus able to lift us to our Lord above.

Context also points to the notion that Jesus is referring to His coming via the Holy Spirit.  Later in John 14, Jesus says this:

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you."

Jesus is promising the disciples immediate help.  He is promising the disciples that they will not be left alone as orphans.  After his death, he will come to them in the resurrection in "a little while."  After his resurrection, He gave them the gift of the Spirit.  We now live because Jesus lives, because we are in him and he is in us by the Holy Spirit.

The close connection between Jesus and the Spirit is seen in verse 17 of John 14, when our Lord says of the Spirit, "
You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."  Jesus dwelt with the disciples when he was on earth, but after his death and resurrection, Jesus would not just be with them but in them. Having Jesus in us is better than having Jesus' physical presence with us, for if he is in us he can pour his faith and love and his affections into us.

Thus, the promise Jesus is making his disciples in John 14:2-3, John 14:18 and John 12:26 is that he is not an absentee Lord and Savior, but he is with us in an intimate way.  He dwells in us and we dwell in him, though he is in heaven and we are on earth, and this happens through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
 

Will Jesus come again to judge the living and the dead?  Yes, but this is not what is taught in these particular verses.  Rather, we are being taught that Jesus' presence is a present reality among us now, even though he is in heaven and we are on earth.  Our Lord's promise in John 12:26 is true, "If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also." Even though we are on earth and Jesus is in heaven, nevertheless, we his servants, dwell where he is.  By the Holy Spirit, he is in us and we are in Him.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Devotional Series through Luke: Luke 1:5-25 (part 1)


Luke 1:5-25

            
[5] In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. [6] And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. [7] But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
            [8] Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, [9] according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. [10] And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. [11] And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. [12] And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. [13] But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. [14] And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, [15] for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. [16] And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, [17] and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
            [18] And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” [19] And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” [21] And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. [22] And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. [23] And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
            [24] After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, [25] “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Devotion

Luke’s Gospel begins in the temple and ends in the temple.  It begins with a priest, Zechariah, who is ministering in the temple.  But when he comes out of the temple to bless the people, he is unable to utter any words.  A mute priest is worthless in pronouncing God’s blessing.

Jesus is the true Priest, who offered a perfect sacrifice on the cross.  Though his voice was also silenced for a time, he was raised on the third day as a sign that his Father was pleased with the sacrifice he offered.  Therefore, at the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is able to give a priestly blessing to his people: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).  The disciples returned to Jerusalem, where they “were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:53).

Jesus’ blessing brings worship and great joy.  Three times in verse 14, Gabriel mentions joy.  This joy flows from the gospel Gabriel spoke (v. 19), and God accomplished through his Son.  The fact that Gabriel speaks the gospel to Zechariah is a hint of what Jesus is going to accomplish by his coming, for the last time Gabriel appeared in Scripture was Daniel 9.  At that time, Gabriel spoke these words: “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place” (Daniel 9:24).  Luke has included his own 70 weeks by carefully noting time in the infancy narrative of Jesus.  It was during the six month (180 days) of Elizabeth’s pregnancy that Gabriel came to Mary (v. 26).  Mary’s pregnancy was then nine months (270 days).  Jesus’ presentation in the temple (Luke 2: 22) took place according to the Law of Moses on the fortieth day after the birth.  Adding the numbers up, then, 180+270+40=490 or 70x7 or 70 weeks. 

Luke and the Holy Spirit would have us see that with the coming of John, and more importantly, the One for whom John prepared the way, the new era of salvation has come.  Jesus came to atone for our sins and bring in an everlasting kingdom.  To know his forgiveness and to be a member of his kingdom will surely make us worshipers and bring us joy!

Praise the Lord Who Came to Save
To the tune: ST. GEORGE (http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/694). Meter: 7777D.  Based on Luke 1:5-25.  Words: William Weber, 2011. (after sermon)
v. 1
Praise the Lord who came to save,
John was sent His way to pave.
John would come prepare the way,
herald of the awesome day.
God unto His temple came,[2]
glory, power were displayed.
Died for sins and then was raised,
Jesus worthy to be praised.
v. 2
Zechariah came to serve,
in the temple incense burned.
Then an angel from the Lord,
told him that his prayers were heard.
’Lizabeth with barren womb,
in her body life would bloom.
By His might she would conceive,
from the Lord a son receive.

v. 3
Zechariah full of doubt,
knew his body was worn out.
We are old, how can this be?
News from God did not believe.
Do not doubt what God can do,
by His power life renews.
What He says will come to be,
blessed are those who will believe.

v. 4
Praise the Lord for His good plan,
God the Son became a man.
God’s beloved sent to save,
died our death and then was raised.
Do not ask, how can this be,
own the bless-ed Mystery.
Scripture promises fulfilled,
God has done all that He willed.

v. 5
Father, in our barren hearts,
life and power please impart.
Form Your Son within our souls,
by Your Spirit make us whole.
We, Your gospel would receive,
joyful news we would believe.
Unbelief we do confess,
give us faith that makes us blest.

[1] Justification refers not only to forgiveness of sins, but also to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  God declares those who believe in his Son to be forgiven and righteous.
[2] See Malachi 3:1

Hymn of Epiclesis

Hymn of Epiclesis:

Pour, O Father, Send, Lord Jesus

Suggested tune: UPP, MIN TUNGA (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=599).  Words: William Weber, 2013. (epiclesis, invocation)

v. 1
Pour, O Father, send, Lord Jesus,
give the Spirit from above.
We are poor and we are needy,
join us to Your life and love.
Love between the Son, the Father,
knowing this we have enough.

v. 2
May we know our blessed vocation,
by the Spirit who gives birth.
We are born above, O Father,
born to spread Your fame on earth.
Give the faith and love of Jesus,
so to spread Your matchless worth.

v. 3
Jesus, breathe the promised Spirit,
take away our heart of stone.
Make us feel Your heart’s affections,
to us make the Father known.
May we feel Your warm compassion,
love that at the cross was shown.

v. 4
Spirit of our suff’ring Savior,
lead to love and lowliness.
May we seek the good of others,
put away our selfishness;
in our ways, the cross our pattern,
and our Savior’s selflessness.
                                                                    

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Devotional Series through Luke: Luke 1:1-4 part 2




Luke 1:1-4

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Devotion and Hymn

Albert Moehler writes, “We are narrative creatures, and God made us this way. . . . We cannot even tell each other who we are without telling a story, nor should we try.”  Luke is going to tell us “a narrative about things that have been accomplished (or fulfilled) among us.”  This narrative, Luke tells, is about Jesus: who he is and what he has done.

This narrative will include us as we journey with Jesus through the pages of Luke, for like all good stories there must be some trouble, problem, or difficulty to resolve, and in this story we are the trouble! We are the sinners Jesus came to rescue.  God the Father sent His Son into the world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Whether we know it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not, all human being are involved in the story Luke is going to tell, for the human race is sick and needs a physician, lost and needs to be found, sinful and needs forgiveness.

Luke did not invent this story.  Rather, he received it from those who were “eyewitnesses” of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and later became “ministers of the word,” as we see in the book of Acts, Luke’s second volume.  The Christian faith is unique among the world’s religions because it is grounded in historical events.  These events are the perfect life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  Take away the historicity of these events, and the Christian faith is eviscerated.  It vanishes and becomes worthless.  Our salvation is gone if the eyewitness testimony to this narrative is untrue.

The world around us tries to catechize us into its narratives, whether stories of evolution, political utopia, technological progress, or various idolatries.  Luke would have us be catechized (the word taught in verse 4 is the Greek word catecheo) and learn the story of Jesus Christ, whose gospel was confirmed by the fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament and the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, who heard his teaching and saw his miracles, including the greatest miracle of all, his resurrection from the dead.

O Father, Heal Our Souls

To the tune: ST. THOMAS (
http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/732).  Based on Luke 1:1-4.  Words: William Weber, 2011. (Illumination, After Sermon)

v. 1
O Father, heal our souls,
as we approach Your book,
the story of our Lord and Christ,
to Him for life we look.

v. 2
A testimony sure,
we have of Jesus’ life,
from witnesses who heard the Lord,
and saw Him with their eyes.

v. 3
Diseases harm our souls,
our faith is often weak,
but all who look to Jesus Christ
will find the health they seek.

v. 4
O Father, hear our prayer,
to know Your only Son,
the truth of who He really is,
and all that He has done.

v. 5
O Father, make us know,
that we are loved in Christ.
For we are His and He is ours,
we share His love and life.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Devotional Series through Luke: Luke 1:1-4 (part 1)

Luke 1:1-4
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.



Devotion:

At two key times in my life, the heavenly Father has used Luke’s Gospel to create and strengthen faith in His Son.  The first time came as a young man in my early twenties.  I was struggling with doubts about the Christian faith I learned in my youth.  The lusts of my heart, the licentiousness of the world, and my own sinful behavior, clouded my mind, so that I doubted even God’s existence.  But, thankfully, I was miserable, and my misery drove me to pick up the Book and read.  I bought a self-study booklet and began to read and study Luke’s Gospel.  Then, a remarkable thing occurred.  As I neared the end of my study, I realized I believed!  I believed Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that He had died and risen for the forgiveness of my sins.

About thirty years later, I began another trek through Luke’s Gospel.  This time my goal was to write hymns based on each passage of Luke’s Gospel.  Again, it happened as I was nearing the end of my journey through Luke.  Without expecting it, and almost imperceptively, I realized I had a new and deeper understanding of Jesus’ person and work, his love for me, and an assurance of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus with me and I with Him.

My experience with Luke’s Gospel should not be surprising.  Luke’s purpose in writing is to give “certainty” or assurance about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (v. 4).  In other words, Luke wrote to create and strengthen faith.  Luke, who was a close companion of the apostle Paul, probably heard Paul say many times, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  The triune God can do marvelous things in your life as you read, meditate, chew, and digest the Gospel of Luke.  May He do it in your life for His glory and your joy and blessing.

O Father, Heal Our Souls

To the tune: ST. THOMAS (http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/732).  Based on Luke 1:1-4.  Words: William Weber, 2011. (Illumination, After Sermon)

v. 1
O Father, heal our souls,
as we approach Your book,
the story of our Lord and Christ,
to Him for life we look.

v. 2
A testimony sure,
we have of Jesus’ life,
from witnesses who heard the Lord,
and saw Him with their eyes.

v. 3
Diseases harm our souls,
our faith is often weak,
but all who look to Jesus Christ
will find the health they seek.

v. 4
O Father, hear our prayer,
to know Your only Son,
the truth of who He really is,
and all that He has done.

v. 5
O Father, make us know,
that we are loved in Christ.
For we are His and He is ours,
we share His love and life.


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