On a Broad View of Application

As Christians who listen to many sermons, it is helpful for us to have a broad view of application. There are many ways that God wants His Word to apply to our lives, and we may not be aware of all those ways. In this post, I’d like to address a few of the many possibilities.

The most obvious kind of application is the answer to this question: how should I live my life in the next week in accordance with what God has said? We might call this “immediate” application. This is necessary, since this is where many Christians are. They want help with how to live their lives as Christians in the next week. They might call it “getting through the week,” or similar language.

However, this is not the only kind of application that is necessary for the Christian. Suppose the sermon has something that is not immediately helpful, but might be helpful later on? The Christian might use it a month, a year, or many years later. Is this somehow “less” practical than the immediate application? I would argue that it is not less practical, but is rather equally practical.

In addition to considerations of “when” something is practical, we must also consider “how” something is practical. Practicality is not just about what we do. It is also about how we analyze situations, which will in turn dictate how we react to that situation. For instance, if we analyze cancer as an attack on our humanity, or the worst possible evil, or the end of life as we know it, we are going to react in a posture of despair. However, if we analyze cancer as something God sends to accomplish a particular result, we will look for that result, and therefore be more patient while suffering. As John Piper might say, we would then not be wasting our cancer. In other words, practicality is not just about what we do, it is also about how we think about things.

Ultimately, what I’m getting at here is that doctrine is practical. Doctrine simply means the teaching of the Bible. We must believe the Bible when it says that all Scripture is useful for instruction, rebuke, etc., so that the man of God may be complete. All Scripture, not just some of Scripture.

What we believe about God has the profoundest ramifications for our lives. If God is a cosmic bully, or homocidal maniac, that will drastically affect how we live. If God is our loving heavenly Father, that drastically affects how we live. If Jesus is the only way to God, that affects how we live. If Jesus is one choice among many, that drastically affects how we live. If Christ’s death and resurrection saves us from our sins when the Holy Spirit grants us faith in Jesus Christ, that will drastically affect how we live. We cannot separate doctrine and practice.

For preachers, this means that we need to have all different kinds of application: immediate, and not-so-immediate, hands-on, and also doctrinal application.

For those who listen to sermons, we need to have our minds open to all the truth of God, not merely to the kind of truth we think we need. After all, no one else in the congregation will be in precisely the same place that we are. They will need different things at different times. We need to believe that all Scripture is useful. We need to believe that God will show us something helpful from Scripture. We need to come to the sermon with the expectation that God will feed us by His Holy Spirit. And we will need to have some method to store away those nuggets that we get. We shouldn’t reject any truth just because we cannot see the immediate application. We should rather be busy bees and store that truth away, so that it will be available when we do need it.

Great Sermon

Forget about my sermons. Go listen to this one. Best of all, you can see it in full video with amazingly good reproduction of sound and video.

New Technology

Well, it’s not a new technology in the absolute sense. It’s just new for me. Lord-willing, I will have the capability to record sermons in a digital medium, convert the sermons to MP3 format, and upload them to SermonAudio.com. Look for the first one to be available tomorrow (the Ephesians sermon). I plan on having the link available on the print post version, not in a separate post. So look for the link near the beginning of the post.

The Matthew sermons have to catch up a bit. The first one of those to be recorded will be (D.V.) the sermon on fasting in Matthew 9:14-17, to be preached tomorrow. I still have to post the intervening sermons before I can catch up.

Holiness for Pleasant Places

I am conducting my ninth funeral service tomorrow. Here is the sermon which I will preach.

Psalm 16

Eugene Peterson once said this, “In out kind of culture, anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sin up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” The great theologian Jonathan Edwards said it this way, “Resolved, never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”

Our Psalm has a great deal to say about pleasant things. There is rejoicing, having the Lord be our right hand, not being shaken, pleasant places, a beautiful inheritance, pleasures forevermore, and fullness of joy. All of these beautiful things are in this Psalm. However, there is also holiness. Verse 2 says “I have no good thing apart from you.” Verse 3 says that the saints of the land are those in whom is all the writer’s delight. Of course, the reason why the writer takes delight in God’s people is because he takes delight in God. You cannot have the one without having the other. Verse 4 describes the writer’s avoidance of idolatry. The Lord is his chosen portion, not anything else. So, just as much as there is good to which we can look forward, there is the corresponding warning: we don’t get there without holiness.

There is this absolutely hideous notion out there that it is possible to believe God and believe in Jesus Christ, and yet live whatever life you want to live. There are very few people who see personal holiness as a necessity in life. They think that, since they are free from the law’s demands, that they can therefore do what they want. This is one of the world’s great delusions. It is one of Satan’s favorite tricks. There are going to be an enormous number of people who come the judgment seat of Christ, and Jesus will say to them, “Why should I let you into heaven? You said that you were a Christian. But your surely didn’t act like it. Instead, you did whatever you wanted. You hated my church, and hated my people. You cut yourself off from the church. The church is my bride,” says Jesus Christ. How can you love God in Jesus Christ without loving the church, who is the bride of Christ? See, in verse 2, David says that he loves his Lord. In verse 3, David says that he loves the Lord’s people.

There is a great contrast between those who love God and love God’s people, on the one hand; and those who run after other gods, on the other hand. David describes these people as being very religious: they even make offerings to their gods. However, though they think they will find happiness in those gods, they will only find sorrows multiplied. They will multiply and multiply, those sorrows, until hell itself multiplies them beyond reckoning. What gods are you running after? There are any number of gods. Most of today’s idols don’t look like gods. That is, they don’t have a physical shape. They aren’t like a statue or something like that. Most idols today are not something you could touch. Consider money, pleasure, and power. Most of the today’s idols fall into those three categories. Money idols include greed, envy, jealousy, theft, and even neglecting to take care of the property of your neighbor. Pleasure idols include pornography, drugs, and alcoholism. Power idols include gossip, violence of any kind, deceit, and verbal abuse. So just in case any of us here think that we are exempt from sin, and that we are pretty good people, think again. No one is. We are all sinners, justly deserving the wrath of God in the punishment of hell. The result of sin is death. Sin is the great world problem, not hunger, or lack of world peace, or anything like that. Sin is the root problem. Sin is the reason that Cat Dornbush lies before us in a casket. Sin is the reason why we will all die. Consider your own mortality. Do not try to escape thinking about it. Face it right now! Face the fact that you are going to die. The question them becomes this: is there any hope at all?

The world has no answer to the problem of sin. In fact, the world usually denies that there is such a problem. That goes to show you just how blind the world is. The world will try to redefine sin as a chemical imbalance in the brain. Or it will say that our behavior is determined by our circumstances. Or it will say that how we were treated as children by our parents is the reason for our behavior. All of these things can be factors. But none of them are the real explanation for our behavior. The real explanation is pure and simple: we sin against the law of God. We have a sin nature in us, and we actually sin. This is the deep problem of human existence. None are exempt from this problem, or the result of this problem, death.

Is there a solution? Yes, there is! The solution is in verse 10: “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see corruption.” We are to understand Jesus Christ as the ultimate singer of this Psalm, you see. David sung it many centuries before Christ. But he was talking about Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us that the entire Old Testament is about Himself. So the solution goes like this: God the Father sent God the Son to earth in order that He might become a human being. That Son, who was Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, experienced everything human except sin. Jesus is the solution to sin largely because He Himself was not subject to it. It is a bit like a person in quicksand. The person in quicksand cannot rescue himself, nor can anyone who is also in the quicksand rescue him. The only person who can rescue the person in the quicksand is someone who is standing on firm ground. All humanity is caught in the quicksand of sin and death. Only Jesus Christ stands on the firm ground of His own perfect holiness, His own perfect keeping of the law. This is firm ground indeed. Verse 5 then comes into play: The Lord is my chosen portion. If the Lord is your portion, then you have the righteousness of Christ. His law-keeping becomes yours by faith. Take refuge in Christ. In Him alone can you find the answer to the world’s problem as it is manifest in you. The Lord will then be at your right hand, standing before God the Father and saying, “This person is innocent, because my blood covers him.”

But Jesus, in dying on the cross would have been defeated if He had stayed there. That is why verse 10 provides our hope. Jesus was not allowed to see decay. The sacrifice was enough. His body did not need to see decay. Since Jesus had never sinned, and yet was the perfect sacrifice, then death itself would start working backwards. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, said it this way: “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in the traitor’s stead, then the table would crack, and death itself would start working backwards.” “Working backwards” is another way of describing resurrection. Peter, in Acts 2, uses this text to describe what happened to Jesus Christ: “For David says concerning him (Jesus)…’You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption’… Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and o that we all are witnesses.” After Peter’s speech had ended, the people were cut to the heart. Is your heart cut open? Have you seen that your end is death, and that your only hope for anything good beyond the grave is in Jesus Christ? That your hope must be in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? Paul says that if Christ is not risen, then you are still in your sins, there is no hope. You must take refuge in the Lord, you must find your portion in the Lord, and you must trust in Christ.

But trusting in Christ is not the end of the story at all. For it says in verse 10, “or let your HOLY one see decay.” It is only the holy ones who can expect resurrection, you see. Now, it is vital to point out that our holiness is not the solution to the problem of sin, but the RESULT of the solution to the problem. Our holiness is part of the ongoing application of the solution. The solution to the problem of sin is Jesus Christ, and nothing and no one else. But, if you have the solution by the grace of God, then you will be holy. You will become more and more holy. Death is the seal of your holiness, then. If you are thinking to yourself that you can believe in Jesus, and have the world as well, then you simply delude yourself. You cannot have God and your own sin. That is not possible. You have to give it up. But you cannot give it up, can you? How many times have you tried? I mean, really tried? The fact is that only God can work in you to give it up. But the call is still there: give up your sin. Holiness means that you are different from the world. It means that you don’t follow the world’s way of doing things, but you follow Christ.

Does that mean that you must always look gloomy, and never enjoy anything in life? That is many people’s perception of holiness. Holiness does mean that we should take pleasure in anything that is sinful, nor should we indulge in sin at all. But look at this Psalm. Is David sad because he is holy? On the contrary, the boundaries have fallen for him in pleasant places. He has a beautiful inheritance. He has the promise of fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord. Only holiness can bring happiness. Everyone on earth has a hole in their heart. That hole can only be filled by one thing, and isn’t what %99 of the world thinks it is. It isn’t money, pleasure, or power. Those things cannot and will not ever satisfy the true longings of the human heart. The only thing that will fill that hole is God Himself. Idols are empty, and they have no power. God can save, and God alone, and God will fill your life with godly happiness. There is a deep and abiding pleasure in the things of God. To study God’s Word is a treasure beyond price. To be with the people of God is a treasure beyond price. To be in prayer to God is a treasure beyond price.

To hear God speaking to you in a sermon is a treasure beyond price. If I speak the Word of God, then it is not I who speaks, but God. Many people wish to have God speak to them in some silly way, like horoscopes, or dreams, or by talking with the dead. God is speaking to you right now. And what He is saying is this: “Stop filling your life with idols, and come to My Son, and trust in Him. If you would have true happiness, you must have true holiness. My Holy Spirit will work in you.” That is what God is saying to you. That is what Cat would say, were she here now. If you would have fullness of joy in all eternity, and the love of all things holy right now, then you must have the Lord as your portion, and not anything else. You will find that the trade is worth it. Jim Elliott once said this about being a Christian, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what cannot lose.” If you give up money, pleasure, and power, which you cannot keep going into the next world, and if you gain the Pearl of Great Price, you will have treasure indeed. Indeed, that is true wealth, true pleasure, and true power. All of the things in this life that we think are those things really are not. Only in Christ can you find what will last. Come to Christ and be healed.

Our Father in Heaven

Matthew 6:9
I’m sure that you have heard this before: “I just prayed and prayed but nothing happened. I did not seem to find peace. I did not seem to get any satisfaction out of it.” Also, we ourselves seem to hate to pray. I know that I myself really struggle with this. I find it difficult to pray on a regular basis. I also find it difficult to enjoy praying. I feel as if it is something that I have to do, rather than something I get to do. Jesus has some very good words for us. And they are still helpful, even though we know these words extremely well. Let’s dig deeper and find some fresh water to cure our prayer desert.

First of all, we must remember what Jesus said right before. He warned us of two dangers that constantly beset our desire to pray. The first danger to avoid was ostentation; praying so that others might see just how pious we are. The second danger that we must avoid is that we pray in such language that we think God must hear, regardless of whether our heart is in it or not. With those two negative examples behind us, now we can turn to the positive example of how to pray. Having taught us how not to pray, now Jesus tells us how to pray. It should be mentioned in passing, that while the Lord Jesus did give us this prayer; still, it could more accurately be called “The Disciples’ Prayer.”

We should not pass over too quickly those first words of verse 9: “This, then, is how you should pray.” Notice that Jesus does not say, “This, then, is what you should pray.” In other words, Jesus is not here giving us a formula to which God will automatically respond. Of course, it is not wrong to pray this exact prayer, as we do so often in our worship, and as many of us do at home. But this prayer is not a formula. Rather, it is a model. We should model our prayers after this prayer. We should pray for the kinds of things that are in this prayer. Now, this prayer is not exhaustive. We should not think that because Jesus did not mention something specifically in this prayer, that therefore we should not pray for it. For instance, this prayer does not explicitly mention what all our daily needs are. It is a summary of what prayer should contain. It is remarkable how much this prayer does contain.

We should contrast this prayer with how some people think of prayer. For instance, some of us may be familiar with the Prayer of Jabez. That is a prayer in Chronicles that Bruce Wilkinson siezed upon as the basis for a health and wealth Gospel. He recites it as a mantra, almost. That falls into the very trap that Jesus warned us against in the previous verses. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He didn’t say, “Don’t you remember that great prayer in Chronicles about enlarging your borders?” Jesus gives us a much more comprehensive model on which to base our prayers. We will examine this prayer over the next several weeks in order to refresh our minds as to its full meaning, and in an effort to help us to pray this prayer with our hearts and minds fully engage, rather than merely repeating it as an empty exercise.

Let’s take a look at the prayer as a whole briefly before we look at the first sentence. First, we must notice that the prayer starts talking about God, not about ourselves. This is what is so wrong about people who pray only when they need something from God. That approach is so wrong, because it stems from a wrong view of God. God is not primarily someone who is supposed to meet our needs. God is someone who is primarily someone to be worshipped by us. That is why the whole first half of this prayer glorifies God, seeks His righteousness, and His kingdom first, before all these others things are added. How many times do we only perfunctorily pray about God’s glory, and then rush right to our wish list, which is a mile long? Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that “We tend to be so self-centred in our prayers that when we drop on our knees before God, we think only about ourselves and our troubles and perplexities.” As John Calvin says, we think that God doesn’t love us if He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to. Oftentimes, the reason that God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to is that we haven’t even begun to address Him the right way. You wouldn’t go in front of a prince or a king without knowing the proper way to approach him. There are rules you must follow, etiquette that is important. The same thing is true of our heavenly Father. Yes, He is our Father, but He is god of the universe, and we must remember that when we come before Him.

The other aspect of the Lord’s Prayer as whole that we must look at is the outlook of the prayer. The first half of the prayer is eschatological. That is a long word that simply means that we are concerned about heavenly things. We have an eye toward the future establishment of God’s kingdom, even though that kingdom has come already. What we pray for then, is the consummation of the kingdom, the climax of Jesus’ rule on earth. That part of the prayer that is about God is also about God’s kingdom, and we pray that that kingdom will come. It is future, though the kingdom is also already here. We must always pray, then, with the future in view, and not just the immediate future, but the entire future. The second half of the prayer could be labelled “meanwhile.” As we wait for the first half to take place, we pray for more immediate things as well.

Every word in this prayer counts. The first word is “our.” There are two things to notice about that word. The first is that prayer should be corporate as well as private. He gave us instructions for individual prayer before. Now, He gives us a corporate model. The second thing we should notice about this word is that it is what is known in grammar as a possessive pronoun. That it, it indicates that we possess something. Now, we do not possess God as we might possess our car. However, the word does indicate that there is a special relationship between us and the Father. This means that we must be in a right relationship to the Father, in order to call Him “Our Father.” He cannot be ours, unless we are His children. You cannot call God “Father” if your true father is the devil. This prayer is a prayer for disciples only. This is not a prayer that anyone can pray. This is because only disciples can call God “Father.” What is true in the Beatitudes must be true for us, if we are to be in a position to pray this prayer.

This brings us to the second word in the prayer, “Father.” In what sense is God our Father? Well there is more than one way that He is our Father. He is our Father because He has created us. In that sense God is the Father of all mankind. But that is not the kind of Fatherhood that Jesus means here. Jesus is not talking about modernist humanistic agenda. D. Clair Davis, my professor of church history at Westminster Seminary, once said, “Unitarianism talks about the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man, in the neighborhood of Boston.” Well, that is not the kind of Fatherhood about which Jesus is speaking. The other kind of Fatherhood spoken of in Scripture is the far more important Fatherhood by adoption. That is, we become adopted into God’ family, becoming brothers to Christ, who is preeminently the Son of God. You see, Jesus Christ is the Son of God by right, and by eternal generation. That is a fancy way of saying that Jesus was always the Son of God, even in eternity past. His Sonship is by right and by eternal generation. Our sonship comes by adoption. We had thrown off the yoke of God before, when we fell into sin. Adam is the true prodigal son, and we are all in Adam. There was nothing left of our sonship. We disinherited ourselves. But God is the great Adopter. He loves adoption. There is no one who has adopted more children than God has. Every Christian who has ever lived is a child by adoption. The question then becomes, “How are we adopted?” This is nothing less than the question of salvation itself. The only way that we can become adopted by God is if first the legal problem of sin is dealt with. We owe God so much that we can never repay Him. That debt has to be paid if we are to become part of God’s family. That debt is what our Elder Brother Jesus Christ paid for us. And He did that by taking on our sin on to Himself. He took our debt on to Himself. He tells the Father, “I have paid that person’s debt in full. There is nothing in the way now for you to adopt that person.” And if we are adopted, then we are full heirs. We have an inheritance. When we call God Father, then, that is what we mean.

Notice here that the relationship with God as Father means that we can come to Him anytime. There is no time in which He is unavailable. He is close to us. And He runs to hear us. He earnestly desires that we speak with Him, even as we earthly fathers love it when our children come to us wanting to talk, and ask questions, and learn, and grow. So also our heavenly Father loves to instruct us and see us grow. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “You will find that the outstanding characteristic of all the most saintly people the world has ever known has been that they have not only spent much time in private prayer, but have also delighted in it.” We should delight to talk with our Heavenly Father.

Now it is right here that many people have a problem. When someone tells them that God is their Father, they conjure up in their minds images of their earthly fathers, and some of those images are not very pleasant. Some of the things that our earthly fathers do are not very helpful, for indeed, they sin. Sometimes, they even abuse their children, verbally, or even sexually. We must be careful not to equate God the Father with images along those lines. That is not what our Heavenly Father is like. God is just, and God is merciful, and He is both at the same time. If you had a bad father, or one who never demonstrated his love very well, then cleanse your mind of that image and think of a different image of father: imagine a father who is always patient, who always listens, who always looks out for your true best interests, who writes so many letters to you that it constitutes an entire book, who sacrifices His true Son for you, an adopted son, who is quick to notice anything you do that is right, and praises you for it, even though it was His strength that gave you the ability in the first place, and who overlooks countless wrongs and insults given by you to His very face. That is a more accurate picture of our Heavenly Father. It is He Whom we address.

Now, there is always the temptation to go the other way, too. We can be so taken with the fact that we can approach God, that we forget Who He really is. He is not our chum, with whom we joke around. This is not to say that God is without humor; there are several passages in Scripture that indicate that God has a sense of humor, and that God created laughter. However, we are not to treat God lightly. That is why Jesus tells us that when we address God as Father, it must come also with the recognition that He is in heaven. Theologians talk about God being immanent in creation; that is, that He is present in creation. God didn’t wind up the world like a toy and then set it goin, never to influence the world again. No, God is present everywhere, and works out His will. He is immanent. However, God is also above the world. That is, He is transcendent. God transcends the world. He is not to be equated with the world, as many religions do. Hinduism, for instance, would say, “Our Father, who is in us.” New Age religions would also say that. But that is wrong. God is in heaven, even as He is also present everywhere on earth. The Jews, on the other hand, saw God as so transcendent, that they could not really talk with Him on a regular basis. They had no Mediator, such as we have in Jesus Christ. That is why they would never even call God by name. They would simply pray to “The Name.” Now, that practice was designed to make sure that they never used God’s name in vain. However, it also meant that they could never address God as Father. Understand, then, that what Jesus is saying here was rather revolutionary in Jewish circles. But to us, we need to hear the second portion of that address: God is not our buddy. He is our Friend, but He is also God of the universe. He is in heaven. And so we must avoid both extremes. We must avoid being to chummy with God, and so depriving God of that worship and adoration which we should always bestown on Him when we pray. But we should also recognize that we can indeed call God our Father. He is not a God who is far off, but a God who is near. And He is for us.

He is for us as we are in the church. The great early church father Tertullian once said, “Nor is Mother Church passed over without mention, for the mother is recognized in the Son and the Father, as it is within the church that we learn the meaning of the terms Father and Son.” Do you understand that profound statement? It is only in the church that we learn what it means for God to be our Father, and for Jesus to be His Son. That is another implication of the word “our” at the beginning of the prayer. Augustine says it this way, “You cannot have God for your Father without having the church for your mother.” and that is certainly true. To say otherwise would be to agree that an eye can live without being connected to the rest of the body, or that a hand can be used without a brain to wield it. It is absurd.

And so, we pray to our heavenly Father. It is a marvelous privilege. If you want to pray and pray and have God hear and answer, then we must consider what these words mean, what they imply. We must be disciples, concerned about God’s glory and kingdom. We must have God as our Father. We must see Him also as the transcendent God of the universe. We must have the church for our mother. That is of the essence of true prayer. To close, let’s hear from our catechisms: HC 120: Q. Why did Christ command us to call God “our Father”? A. at the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer- the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father. Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us what we ask in faith. 121. Q. Why the words “in heaven”? A. these words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty as something earthly, and to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power. The Westminster Larger Catechism says this: “Q. 189 What does the preface of the Lord’s prayer teach us? A. The preface of the Lord’s prayer (contained in these words, Our Father which art in heaven,) teaches us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of His Fatherly goodness, and our interest therein; with reverence, and all other child-like dispositions, heavenly affections, and due apprehensions of His sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension: as also, to pray with and for others.” Hallelujah! We have a God who answers prayer!

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Matthew 6:9
How often do we think about our own names? It can give you a weird feeling if you think about it for too long, since thinking about your own name usually means too deep a look inside yourself. And yet, it can be healthy every now and then to look at your name, and ask yourself the question, “What does my name mean?” Often, what we’ll discover is that we don’t know what our name means, or if we do, it doesn’t really have anything to do with who we are. It is quite different with God. His name means something important. And His name is extremely important when it comes to knowing who He is.

We look today at the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer. It has to do with God’s name. Let’s take a look at this request one word at a time. The first word is “Hallowed.” That is not a word that we use very often in day to day conversation. In fact, just about the only time we ever hear it is when we say this prayer. What does the word “hallow” mean? It means “to set apart for special use.” So here it means that we do not use God’s name like we use any other name. There is something special, something different about it.

Of course, we cannot even begin to think about this petition without immediately being reminded of the third commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” What is stated there in a negative form (do not misuse the name of the Lord) is here in Matthew stated in a positive form (you shall use it properly).

What comes to mind for most of us when we think of this commandment is swearing. Certainly, swearing is forbidden under the third commandment. So also is the use of God’s name in a joking manner, or using it as an exclamation. In fact, the misuse of God’s name should disturb us even more than common curse words. We should stand up for God’s name when it is being misused. However, there is a right and a wrong way to do that. We should stand up for God’s name in a way that impacts people with the knowledge that we really do care about God’s name. In other words, we should speak the truth in love. Here is one example of someone doing just that: the story is told by Rob Schenck: “Some years ago, after a long speaking itinerary in the midwest, I boarded a late-night flight to return home. I was tired and looking forward to a rest. Sitting behind me in the airplane were two salesmen whose conversation was peppered with profanity. I had finally had it when they began running the Lord’s name into the gutter. I raised myself up from my seat and turned around so that I was looking down on them from my perch. Then I asked, ‘Are either one of you in the ministry?’ The one in the aisle seat raised his eyebrows incredulously and said, ‘What the…would ever make you think that?’ ‘Well, I am in the ministry,’ I said with a smile. ‘And I am amazed at your communication skills. You just said God, damn, hell, and Jesus Christ in one sentence. I can’t get all of that into a whole sermon!’ They both blushed and were silent during the entire rest of the trip!”

Here is what our catechisms have to say about this part of the Lord’s Prayer: Q 122: What does the first reqest mean? A. Hallowed be your name means: Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth. And it means: Help us to direct all our living- what we think, say, and do- so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised. The WLC: Q 190: What do we pray for in the first petition? A. In the first petition, (which is, Hallowed be thy name), acknowledging the utter inability and indisposition that is in ourselves and all men to honour God aright, we pray, that God would by His grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him, his titles, attributes, ordinances, word, works, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by; and to glorify him in thought, word, and deed: that he would prevent and remove atheism, ignorance, idolatry, profaneness, and whatsoever is dishonorable to him; and, by his over-ruling providence, direct and dispose of all things to his own glory. The Heidelberg Q. and A. is fairly self-explanatory. The WLC requires a brief summary: what it is saying is that even this petition is not divorced from the Gospel. We cannot worship God correctly in and of ourselves. Instead, we would do anything rather than worship God correctly by bringing honor and glory to His name. Therefore, this petition is also a request for God’s Good News to spread through all the world. The name recognition for God is to be expanded until all people in the world recognize, acknowledge, and bow before that Name above all names.

We are unable to worship God and use His name properly in and of ourselves. If left to ourselves, we would dishonor God by dragging His name through the mud, spitting on Him, and finding any way possible to bring disgrace on to God. We are rebels. But, of course, God’s honor cannot be stolen in an ultimate sense. God will be glorified in all things. Even through the rebellion of mankind, God will be glorified. That is, He will overturn evil, and good will triumph.

Now, imagine for a moment that you are going to come before the President of the United States. Wouldn’t you want to seek counsel about how to approach him; what etiquette might be involved? Now imagine that you are a traitor to the United States, that you had sold state secrets to a foreign country. Now, how would you want to approach the President of the United States? We should approach God with penitence and humility. We can only approach God if we have Jesus Christ as our Mediator, since only He has opened the doors to paradise. Hebrews says that there is only one Mediator between God and man, and that Mediator is Christ Jesus. We cannot expect God to listen to us if we are in rebellion to Him. So the call to God that His name be hallowed is also a call to us that we hallow His name by calling on the name of Jesus for our salvation.

Furthermore, when we pray that God’s name be hallowed, we are also praying that salvation will come to the world. I know that we have looked at this a bit already, but I want to drive this point home: honoring God’s name is a way of sharing the Gospel. For instance, in that example I gave earlier about the two men on the airplane, the pastor was sharing the Gospel in a way, since the men were not honoring God, or holding His name as sacred. They could not do so, since they were in rebellion. My old pastor in Philadelphia, Phil Ryken, says this: “When non-Christians use God’s name- even in vain- it shows that deep down they know there really is a God. Their rage is direct rebellion against His honor.” When we confront in a loving way this dishonor of God’s name, we are confronting that rebellion against God in which they are engaged. Tconfronting rebellion is part of sharing the Gospel to people. It is not the whole of it. But it is a part. And it is a very important part.

If we pray that God’s name be hallowed, that should strengthen us to do just that. How do we hallow God’s name? We must be careful here not to limit the application too narrowly. This hallowing of God’s name has a very wide application. For instance, we hallow God’s name when we worship Him properly. We hallow God’s name when we avoid grumbling and complaining, since it is against God’s goodness (and hence against His name) that we grumble. We hallow God’s name when we give the same honor and glory to Christ the Son as we give to God the Father. Some people deny the divinity of Christ. For instance, the book that has now become a movie, The Da Vinci Code, asserts that Jesus was just a man, a prophet, and no more. But if that is true, then Jesus cannot take our sin upon Himself. Only God can carry the infinite burden of sin and do away with it. If Jesus is not God, then we are still in our sins, with no hope of salvation whatsoever. We hallow God’s name when we obey the Scriptures that God has given to us. In that sense, hallowing God’s name cannot be a sort of shorthand for the entire Christian life. All that we do is to be for the honor and glory of God’s name.

Here is an appropriate analogy to help us understand how to treat God’s name. This illustration is from Gary North, quoted in Phil Ryken’s book on the Ten Commandments: “One way for a modern American to begin to understand this…is to treat God’s name as a trademarked property. In order to gain widespread distribution for His copyrighted repair manuel-the Bible- and also to capture greater market share for His authorized franchise-the Church- God has graciously licensed the use of His name to anyone who will use it according to His written instructions. It needs to be understood, however, that God’s name has not been released into the public domain. God retains legal control over His name and threatens serious penalties against the unauthorized misuse of this supremely valuable property. All trademark violations will be prosecuted to the full limits of the law. The prosecutor, judge, jury, and enforcer is God.” That is what the third commandment means when it says, “God will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”

Well, how do we misuse God’s name? How do we not hallow it? We misuse God’s name when we use the name of God carelessly or in an exclamation such as “Oh, my God!” “What the heck?” “Good Lord!” “Gosh darn it!” I believe that these expressions do not bring honor and glory to God’s name. We misuse God’s name when we fail to stand up for God’s name when it is being misused by others. And we misuse God’s name when we fail to bring all the honor and glory to God’s name that we should bring. By that count, as we should recognize, none of us honor and glorify God’s name as we ought. Sins of omission here are just as bad as sins of commission. We misuse God’s name when we do not take advantage of ministry opportunities as we should.

I hope we realize by now that none of us are sufficient to hallow God’s name properly. And that is exactly where God gives us grace. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Won’t you start honoring His name today? And not just partially, but fully. That is the call. May God truly help us in this endeavor

The Time Was Right

Luke 2:1-8
I wonder if you have ever experienced a time in your life when absolutely everything just seemed to click. Everything happened in the right timing. Nothing ever seemed to happen but that it came at the right time. It seemed practically miraculous. That is exactly what we see here in the birth narrative of Jesus here in the Gospel of Luke.

This was a time period characterized by three major factors in world history. The first major factor was Roman peace. The Roman empire at this time ruled the known world. They ruled all the way from Great Britain to India, and everyone in-between. The only major powers at that time which were not under Roman rule were China and Japan, as well as the peoples living in what is now known as North and South America. Roman peace, or pax Romana in Latin, was quite remarkable. When Romans conquered people, they allowed the conquered peoples to practice whatever religion they had always practiced, just as long as they added a new god, namely, the Roman emperor. All you had to do was acknowledge lip service to the Roman Emperor as a “god,” and then that people would be left pretty much alone. New religions were not tolerated, since they were deemed to be conducive to rebellion. Now, when the Romans conquered the Jews, there was almost always trouble, since the Jews would not acknowledge the Roman Emperor to be divine. Nevertheless, for the most part, the Romans treated the Jews fairly, and let them practice their own religion. That is the nature of the first major factor.

The second major factor in the world at this time is that of a unified language. Several times in world history, there has been one language that everyone uses for trading. The technical term for such a language is lingua franca. At one time it was Aramaic. When the Greeks conquered everything, it became Greek. When the Romans conquered everyone, they let the Greek language have complete sway. Romans used Latin, of course, for anything official. But the language that almost everyone knew at the time was Greek. Even in Palestine, Greek was the language anyone knew, if they knew more than their own dialect of Hebrew or Arabic. Jesus and all the disciples most likely knew Greek. The entire New Testament is in Greek.

The third major factor in this time period was Roman roads. Romans were famous builders. They built not only great buildings, coliseums, palaces, temples, and public baths, but they also built extremely durable roads. Whatever the Romans built, they built to last, since they thought that their empire was going to last forever. So they used the best materials available to them, as well as the best engineers. The result was a road system that was monitored by the Roman army, and was therefore extremely safe. If you were a Roman citizen at that time, then you were pretty well assured of safe travel just about anywhere in the empire.

These three factors, Roman peace, Greek language, and Roman roads, combined to make it possible that Christianity would spread like wildfire. The news of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection from the dead would be like a spark in a dry forest, where all the trees are connected with fuses! Christianity would take the world by storm. In short, the time was right for Jesus to be born.

It says in Luke 2:1 that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that the world was to be taxed or registered such that they could be taxed. The interesting thing about this decree is that Caesar intended to exercise his rule more forcibly by giving this decree. The irony is that God used this decree to send Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so that prophecy would be fulfilled. Instead of resulting in what Caesar hoped it would, the actual result, and the only one that mattered for Luke, was that Jesus, the true Emperor of the world, was born. God the Father orchestrates all world events so that God’s purposes will be carried out.

This is an instance of God turning evil into good. God is in the business of doing that. There is nothing that God does better. What Caesar meant for his own self-aggrandizement, God turned into the instrument for bringing His Son into the world for mankind’s salvation. Now, salvation means much, much more than that Jesus is the world’s true Lord. That is true, but that is no good news at all for sinners. In fact, it is bad news for sinners. The good news is that Jesus came to be born in human flesh at all. God could have let us stew in our own sinful juices, as it were. But God sent His Son, to be born of a woman, to be born in our flesh and blood, to experience what we experience, to obey the law perfectly, both in the positive commands of the law, and in the negative judgment given by the law on sin. I think that we often dwell on the fact that Christ’s birth is a thing of joy. We sing “Joy to the World,” for instance. This is vitally true. We should be joyful. However, that is not the whole story. Why did Christ come to earth? It was because of our sin. It involved great humiliation on Jesus’ part. In a sense, our joy must be tempered with the realization that Jesus would not have needed to come to earth, if we had not sinned, and possessed a sinful nature.

So do we worship God for His great mercy? The main application for us today is that we must worship God truly. We must worship God only as God has told us to worship. We must not add anything. We must worship the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must worship Jesus Christ as the world’s true Lord, who came to earth to save sinners from their sin. It is with great gratitude that we must worship God.

We worship a God that knows exactly what the right time is. He knew the right time to send a Savior to the world. He knows the right time to call anyone to Himself. He knows the right time for Jesus to be crucified, and the right for Him to be resurrected from the dead.

It is absolutely shameful that many churches decided not to open their doors on this Sunday for worship. We are commanded by the example of Christ to worship on every Sunday. And what more appropriate day to celebrate Communion than today? Far from closing our doors, we should celebrate Christmas all the more when it falls on Sunday!

Star Power

Numbers 24:15-19

If you are a star in this world, you can get just about anything you desire. Worldly possessions, fame, power, pleasure. It can all be yours, if you are a star. Of course, very few people are stars. Even fewer people take their responsibility seriously when they have the eyes and ears of the public so completely under their control. But what is true star power? I would submit that what the world calls a “star” and what the Bible calls a “star” are worlds apart. In fact, they are diametrically opposed, the one to the other.

In the book of Numbers, the king of Moab, named Balak, has hired a prophet to curse Israel, so that Israel will become an easy prey to him. The prophet that he found to do this was Balaam. However, Balaam could do nothing except what the Lord had commanded him to do. Balaam was not exactly a willing prophet. He was compelled by God to do only what God commanded him. You will remember that God had to use somewhat unusual means to do so. God enabled a donkey to talk to Balaam, and rebuke the prophet, since Balaam had failed to see the angel of the Lord. What he failed to see, the donkey saw very well. It was in this way that the Lord overruled Balak’s intentions of evil toward God’s people Israel. What Balak intended for evil, namely, that Balaam should curse Israel, God turned to blessing, that Israel should be blessed. Three times Balaam blesses Israel instead of cursing, much to the consternation of Balak, who had hired Balaam to curse Israel. In verse 10, we see that Balak was really incensed. He says that the Lord will hold back honor from Balaam. Balaam replies with verse 14: “And now, behold, I am going to my people. Come, I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days.” This verse controls everything that follows, since he is talking about the latter days. That phrase “latter days” means a whole different age in world history. This is a prophecy about the future.
Balaam starts by saying that his spiritual eyes are open. That is, they have been opened by God. He hears also what God says to him. These are his spiritual ears.

Then follows a vision of a star. From the beginning we know that this star is a person, for Balaam says, “I see him.” Of course, Balaam must be referring to his spiritual eyesight, especially since he adds “not now.” This time indication says two things: this is a prophecy about the future, and secondly, that God controls the future, not Balak. You see, Balak wanted to control the future of his relationship with Israel. He wanted to be able to beat Israel in battle. There was no possibility of doing that unless Barak could call on the power of the gods to curse Israel. And that is why he hired Balaam to do his cursing for him. He must have thought that a prophet with Balaam’s reputation would have little difficulty in cursing Israel. But that is because he assumed something about Balaam. He assumed that Balaam would be able to say anything that Balak wanted him to say. What he didn’t know about prophets is that true prophets can only speak what God has given them to say.

What Balaam sees is a star. Now, in the Ancient Near East, various gods used stars as weapons to shoot at their enemies, according to the mythology. Balaam started here on a theme that Balak might have liked. But then, we hear the rest of the story. It says that the star will come out of Jacob, not out of Moab. He says further that it will crush the head of Moab. Now here we have real irony. Barak is the king of Moab! And here we have a star coming out of Jacob that will not only spare Israel, but will crush all her enemies, including the one who wanted Israel out of the way. What we have here is the continuing struggle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of Eve. Here we see that Eve’s seed will succeed in crushing the head of the serpent, Moab in this case. Literally, it says that the star will crush the temples of Moab’s head.

In the nearby time, this prophecy would have been fulfilled by David, who crushed Moab, Edom, and Seir. This is what the Jews say about the passage. But this is all they say about this passage. Some in the time of the Jewish wars thought that a particular man was going to be the Messiah. They called him “Bar-Kochba,” which means “Son of the star.” That Messianic hopeful was killed, however. There is no such thing as a killed Messiah. That is one of the reasons why it is so hard for the Jews to believe that Jesus is their Messiah. There was no such thing as a successful crucified Messiah. However, this does indeed a further fulfillment in the birth of out Lord Jesus Christ. It says in Matthew 2 that the wise men came because of a star that had guided them from the East into the land of promise. In Revelation 22:16, Jesus Himself is called the Bright, Morning Star. And, to answer the problem mentioned earlier, Jesus was vindicated by being raised from the dead. That is how come there can be such a thing as a successful crucified Messiah: if that Messiah is Jesus, risen from the dead.

Notice something else that must be true of this star: he must be a representative of Israel. It says in verse 14 that Balaam is going to let Balak know what “this people will do to your people.” “This people” obviously means Israel. What is happening here is poetic justice. The king of Moab thought to break down the defenses of Israel, when what will really happen is that Israel will crush Moab. Indeed, it will be more than Moab that will be crushed, since these countries that are listed here are representative of all the enemies of God’s people. In summary, this prophecy tells us about Jesus Christ, his coming to earth, and His victory over death at the cross and resurrection. The seed of Eve, who is Christ the Lord, will triumph over the seed of the serpent.

In verse 19, we see the end result: Christ will destroy the survivors of the cities, because He exercises dominion over all. This has begun in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But since not all of Christ’s enemies are destroyed, it will happen gradually through God’s people. That is what Jesus says in Matthew 16, when He says that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. The church will be triumphant against all her enemies.
So who is the star in our lives? Has the day-star Jesus Christ risen in our hearts, as Peter says? Or is our heart a heart of darkness? Just as the sun in the heavens is actually a star, so also Jesus Christ the Star becomes a Sun in our lives when He approaches us in our hearts. Will we trust in Jesus as the One who takes away the darkness of sin? Or will we shut Him out?

Or will we behave as if we are still in the dark? Jesus Christ has arisen! He brought light into the darkness, just as at the creation. Why do so often behave as if we are still in the dark? That should not be the case. We are the ones who are to shine the light of Jesus Christ to all people. And how can we do that if we are still dark? Do we lie, for instance? That is a deed of darkness. That is meant to keep the truth in the dark. Balaam could not help but bring the truth to light. That is the way of all true Christians. John says in his letters that we must dwell in the light. That means that our lives should be able to be an open book. Anyone ought to be able to come into our lives and see that light dwells there. How many of us would appreciate someone auditing the balance sheet of our lives? Aren’t there so many things in our lives that we would rather keep in the dark? But the Holy Spirit is constantly telling us that we need to bring those things to light. It is painful. But we must realize that the pain is only in the sinful part of our being. The reality which Satan wants to keep in the dark is that if we actually confess our sin, that part of us which is influenced by the Holy Spirit will rejoice. It is quite a relief to have someone know about our struggles. I think that the two sins in particular that like to be kept in the dark is the sin of lust for men, and the sin of gossip for women. Both of these sins thrive on secrecy. They are like mold, which likes the darkness. They are like cancer, which cannot survive in the presence of oxygen. I would submit that these sins above all others need to be kept in the open in order to be defeated. Satan would like nothing better than to keep these sins in the dark. Satan wants us to try to keep up appearances, and we think that that impulse to keep up appearances comes from our conscience. But deep down, we know that that is nothing more nor less than hypocrisy. So, instead, we need to have someone whom we trust, to whom we tell everything. And that person needs to know about our inmost struggles. That person needs to care, and not be too judgmental. That person needs to understand that sin still plagues the Christian, and that the best way is an open way, not a closed way. So I am not advocating telling everyone about our particular sins. But someone needs to know. So, let us not be children of darkness. But let us have the day-star rise in our hearts: the star of Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, will we be dwelling in the light of day. It’s worth it, my friends.

The Righteous Shoot

Isaiah 11:1-9
A forest fire is a terrible thing to witness. It destroys everything in its path. Nothing remains alive. The devastation is so intense that you might wonder how in the world anything could ever grow there again. However, as you look at that place a year later, and then another year later, you will see that the forest is coming back. It is the most amazing thing. Sometimes, a tree that topples over can have a shoot come out from it, a new growth. If the root system is not completely destroyed, then that can happen, even from seemingly the most dead trees, this could happen.

Now change the image just slightly. Imagine a forester coming through a forest, chopping down trees, because the trees were dead. The trees had been dead for many years. They had no good root system in them at all. But now, something different is about to happen. The root will be changed. The root will take in nutrients from the soil again. It is nothing short of a resurrection. In a way, that is what we see in Isaiah 11. We see this all happening by means of one who is anointed. “The anointed one,” is what the word “Messiah” means. He can bring this renewal because of three things: His qualifications, His performance, and the results of that performance.

First, we see His qualifications. They are laid out for us in verses 1-2. We see from verse 1 that the Messiah is a fruit-bearing branch. You might remember in chapter 5, where Isaiah sings (on God’s behalf) the song of the vineyard. That song tells of how the farmer planted the vineyard, and cultivated it, and cleared the area of stones. He guarded it by putting a watchtower there. And then he looked to see fruit, good fruit. But the only fruit that the vines produced was bad fruit, wild grapes. There was nothing more that He could have done for it than what He had actually done. The end of that vineyard then is to be destroyed. This is a metaphor for Israel, of course. It is Israel about whom the prophet is speaking. But now in chapter 11, we see a shoot. A new growth that will produce fruit. That is the Messiah’s first qualification, that He is a fruit-bearing branch.

The second qualification is that He has the Spirit of the Lord. There are seven ways in which He has the Spirit of the Lord. They are listed in verse 2: the Spirit rests on Him, is a Spirit of Wisdom, is a Spirit of understanding, a Spirit of counsel, a Spirit of might, a Spirit of knowledge, and a Spirit inspiring the Fear of the Lord. Seven, of course, is the number of completion and perfection. So the Messiah has the Spirit of the Lord to perfection. That is His second qualification.

From verses 3-5, we see His performance. We move from His qualifications to His performance. How does He do? Well, He delights in the fear of the Lord. That is almost a prerequisite for the Messiah. Everything He does, He does because He fears the Lord. That is, He reverences the Lord, worships the Lord perfectly.

The second way in which He performs well is in the area of jurisprudence. Notice the contrast between how the Messiah judges, and how we judge. We think that we have to see something or hear something in order to be able to judge. But since the Messiah has the Spirit of the Lord, which includes knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and counsel, He can make the proper judgment, without jumping to conclusions based on what His eyes saw, or what His ears heard. Furthermore, in the area of jurisprudence, He judges with righteousness. He never makes a mistake as a judge. How often do we judge incorrectly, because we make too hasty a judgment, based on what our eyes and ears heard! How often have we discovered that our eyes were deceived, or that we heard something wrong! No such problems exist with the Messiah, because the Messiah has the Spirit of the Lord resting on Him.

Those who are righteous will be judged accordingly, and those who are guilty will be judged accordingly. In short, He is a righteous and faithful Messiah.

In verses 6-9, we see the result of the Messiah’s performance. Obviously, these results would never come about, were it not for the fact that we have a well-qualified Messiah who performed everything He was supposed to do. So, we can see the progression from qualifications to performance to results. What are the results? They comprise the complete reversal of the curse that came upon sin. It was because of sin that wolves eat sheep, leopards eat goats, lions eat cattle, bears eat cattle, and cobras bite children. Ultimately, what we see here is that death will be no more. All those meat-eating creatures will have no more need to eat meat. Eating meat, of course, implies that the animal has to kill another animal. Now, this reversal of the curse is not limited merely to animals. Some scholars say that this passage has nothing to do with animals. I disagree, since animals too came under the curse of sin. But I also think that Isaiah is talking about more than just animals. That is because of verse 9, which says this: “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The first word “they”obviously refers to all the animals listed in the previous three verses. It is those animals that will not hurt or destroy because they know the Lord. At this point, it becomes fairly obvious that the animals are a figure of speech for people. Ultimately, of course, it is human beings who know the Lord. The knowledge of the Lord must that knowledge that comes by the Spirit of the Lord mentioned in the beginning of the passage. So let me clarify what I’m saying. Animals are not left out of this renewal that is going to take place. But the primary meaning of the passage is that human beings will not hurt or destroy, because they will know the Lord. And all of this happens because of who the Messiah is, and because of what He has done.

But someone (and certainly the Jews do this) might ask to whom this passage refers. We Christians say that Isaiah is talking about Jesus. But it is very interesting to observe what the Jews before Christ said about this passage, in comparison with what the Jews after Christ said about this passage. Jews before Christ had no problem saying that this passage was talking about the Messiah. The Aramaic paraphrase of the OT, called the “Targum,” says that this is talking about the Messiah. But after Jesus came to earth, the Jews would no longer say that. They changed their argument, since Jesus was not the Messiah for which the Jews were looking.
But does this passage talk about Jesus? Well, consider what we have learned so far. Firstly, the person must be a descendant of Jesse. Have you ever wondered why Isaiah wrote “Jesse” here instead of David? The reason is that one who is coming must be another David. The genealogies in Matthew and Luke prove that Jesus is a descendant of David, both through Solomon and through Nathan. We saw this especially in our sermon on Matthew 1, where Matthew takes great pains to point out that Jesus is the Davidic King.

Secondly, this person, whoever he is, must be more than human, because he must possess the Holy Spirit perfectly. He possesses the Holy Spirit seven-fold, as it were. Remember that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism in the form of a dove, and rested upon Him, as it says right here in verse 2: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” So, this person must be more than human. The NT constantly affirms that Jesus was more than human, that He was in fact God Himself, come to dwell with us, “Immanuel.”

Thirdly, consider the performance of Jesus Christ. That is, consider what Jesus has done. On the cross and in His resurrection from the dead, Jesus judged the world. That is the beginning of the end. Jesus is the Righteous and Faithful One, in contrast to Israel.

Fourthly, consider that the knowledge of God is even now spreading over the whole earth. That is fulfilling this prophecy that the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. That has happened and is happening because of who Jesus is, and because of what He has done. Therefore, this passage is talking about Jesus.

In this Christmas season, we observe that verse 1 hints at the Incarnation of our Lord. It says “shoot.” that shoot comes from the line of David. That is, it will be born from the line of David. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we must remember that we worship a God who is not far off, but who has come near, even into our very flesh and bone, becoming a man.

For us, the applications are numerous. First, we must worship God in Spirit and in truth. Specifically, we must worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, one God. When we become united to Christ by faith, we acquire the Holy Spirit. We possess what Jesus possesses. Jesus possesses the Holy Spirit, and so now do we also. By being united to Christ by faith, we participate in the same qualifications that Jesus has, in a creaturely way, of course. We will never be God, but we can possess the Holy Spirit, and be part of that Branch. Indeed, we will be vines that bear fruit, because we are attached to the Root.

Secondly, by way of application, we must participate in Christ’s performance. Christ is the only truly righteous person who has ever existed. His performance with regard to the law was perfect. Christ was so strong with regard to the law, that He did not have to crush the weak in order to get His own way. So must we do. We cannot crush the weak. Rather, we must give them justice. Your brother or sister in Christ is hurting, and what do we do? We should help to bear their burdens. Mourn with those who mourn, laugh with those who laugh.
To what then can we look forward? Why should we do these things? Because the heavens and the earth will be renewed. It is not just that death has now been vanquished, such that the wolf can lie down with the lamb. It is that the purpose of God for the world will now be fulfilled. It has already begun in the spiritual realm. Hearts and lives are being saved because of the preaching of the Gospel. The knowledge of the Lord is being spread. Let me interject one thing here. It says in verse 9 that there will be no more destruction because of the knowledge of the Lord. That means that the knowledge of the Lord must be there first, before there will be any peace. It is completely fruitless to say that we can have peace in this world without the knowledge of the Lord. And since the NT has defined that knowledge of the Lord as being in Jesus Christ, it therefore follows that there is no peace without Christianity.

But can you imagine what it would be like for there to be no war, no death, no suffering, no evil in this world? That is what Isaiah asks us to imagine. That has started with Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. All of this has started. It has not finished yet. For that, we must wait. But we must live our lives with this vision fixed in our imagination. It is that vision which God has prepared for all eternity for His people. That is the vision that is life-changing. And it will come to pass. Therefore, be in Christ, and live for Christ. Participate in Christ’s qualifications, and in His performance, by faith alone, and you will also participate in these wonderful results. A Savior is born!

Two Choices

Maybe it’s because I see things in black and white more than gray. I don’t know. But I seem to have this “two” thing going on right now. Anyway, my thought is in relation to Genesis 13. Lot decides to live by sight rather than by faith, whereas Abram lives by faith rather than by sight. This leads to two ironies. Lot doesn’t see Sodom and Gomorrah’s wickedness, whereas Abram is told to “Lift up his eyes to see” the land. If our choice is to live by sight, then we will not see the hook that Satan has so well hidden by his bait. If our choice is to live by faith, then God will open our eyes to really see. Lot slips by degrees into Sodom and Gomorrah, much like the frog that is in the pot, and gradually dies because of the temperature gradually rising. Abram, on the other hand, is given the entire world forever. All four points of the compass. That belongs to us now, who are the true seed of Abraham.

So, to choose what Lot chose is to choose to ignore “one little sin,” not realizing that one little sin leads to other slightly bigger sins, which lead to other still bigger sins. Sin is a snowball going downhill. The hill is steep. It is like the boy in Pilgrim’s Progress, who chooses to have his toys now. Only a little while later, his toys are all destroyed. The other boy has patiently waited for his toys, because they are better toys. That choice faces us ultimately, even as it faces us every day of our lives. We should choose the way of Abram, the way of Jesus Christ, who did not buckle under when Satan told him, “It is only a little loaf of bread, into which you should turn this stone. It is only one little prank on the top of the temple, and it is only one little bow to me.” Satan hides the hook. Jesus has made that decision. And in being united to Christ, we have that decision made for us, even as we make it every day.
That is a short precis of my sermon for tomorrow.

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