09/24/2017 = Proverbs 16 = Always Being Reformed: “Sovereignty of God: Who’s in Charge Here?”

Click HEREfor an AUDIO version of this message.

Mark Wheeler

Proverbs 3:5; 16:9, 33; 19:21 8

Always Being Reformed: “Sovereignty of God – Who’s in Charge Here?”

09/24/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

 

A Senator is in a restaurant and the waiter brings over the rolls, but no butter. “May I have some butter, please?” The waiter gives a slight nod and wanders off. Ten minutes later, still no butter. The senator catches his eye.

“May I have some butter, Please?”

Still the vaguest of responses, and after ten more minutes, still no butter. 

“Maybe you don’t know who I am,” says the senator. “I’m a Princeton graduate, a Rhodes scholar, an All-American NBA player, and I’m currently a United States senator, chairman of the International Debt Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, chairman of the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.” 

“Maybe you don’t know who I am,” said the waiter. “I’m the guy who’s in charge of the butter.”

 

Today’s sermon is on the Sovereignty of God. Asking the question, “Who’s really in charge around here?” That’s not just a question about which parties get or give the butter, but we ask that question in all sorts of political situations, legal circumstances, medical conditions, family decisions,,,, and certainly in religious or ecclesiastic contextsWho’s really in charge here?

This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Among the earliest Reformers in the Church was a German Priest named Martin Luther, and a French Professor of Law named John Calvin. As one of their challenges to their Church’s hierarchy they posted opportunities to debate the subject of Sovereigntywho’s ultimately in charge? (Our own POTUS recently posted that same challenge before the UN.)

Luther’s, and especially Calvin’s, proposition was that God is Sovereign over life and faith, and no one else.

 

The Bible, remember that Sola Scriptura thing we talked about last week, is replete with examples of this truth spelled out in story form, poetry, and exemplified in parables and doctrine.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)” The opening lines of Genesis, and the whole of scripture. The One who creates is ultimately the One who owns, and thus the One who gets to decide. It is true that very early in Scripture this same God puts His human creations in charge over the rest of creation, but only as stewards, as caregivers, not as owners. (The MLB team owners trade and decide on which players are on the team, the managers steward those players [makes the lineup, decides which pitcher pitches against which opponent, etc… btw, last week I said that the Mariners still had a shot at the wildcard spot in the playoffs – no longer true at all….]).

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)” Those are Jesus’ words to the man being crucified for his criminal activities next to Him. Who has the authority to say that? Who’s in charge here? Only God!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,    and he will make your paths straight
. (Proverbs 3:5)” To whom does one submit? To the One with sovereign authority. Now keep listening to King Solomon in this book of Proverbs:

In their hearts humans plan their course,    but the Lord establishes their steps. (16:9)” We may think we’ve decided, but, King Sol says, it is the Lord who establishes our ultimate steps. …

The lot is cast into the lap,    but its every decision is from the Lord. (16:33)” Was it a coincidence? Happenstance? Wait. Is this true of the good and of the bad? Auto accidents? Hurricanes? Earthquakes? Genocides? School shootings? How is this an acceptable Christian doctrine?

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (19:21)” If this is true, does it not make us ask some difficult questions?

 

In fact, since the Scriptures have now been read, I’m going to come down these stairs and be on the same level as the rest of us. We are all on this journey, seeking answers, together, and while I might have more time to delve into the Bible, and have studied the languages in which it was written, and the contexts of its compositions, I struggle through life just like everyone else.

Let’s approach our faith questions together and discover, together, how our faith impacts our lives.

 

Some aspects of God’s Sovereignty are easier than others, and others become progressively more complicated:

God’s Sovereignty over creation: We may argue about 6 days vs. several billion years, or about Creator vs. accidental collision of non-created atoms; and we may never agree, but if we believe inGod the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”, we can believe this with little difficulty.

God’s Sovereignty over redemption: John 3:16 tells us that this God who created everything loves us so much that He invites all to receive Him, to believe in Him, and find our life blessed by His presence and power, forever! We might have questions about those who have never heard the name of Jesus, or about those who acknowledge some truths about Jesus, but not all of the Bible’s teachings, but believing that He is the way, the truth and the life does not jar most of us out of our faith.

God’s Sovereignty over judgment: this might rub some of us more harshly, but ultimately, it makes sense to believe that the God who is sovereign over creation and redemption, the One who made us and saves us, also has ultimate authority to decide ultimate outcomes. Today’s Children’s Message used the parable of the landowner who hires workers at 6:00am promising to pay them a fair day’s wage, and then he hires more at 9:00am, 12noon, 3:00pm, and even more at 5:00pm; and at the end of the day he pays them all the same “fair day’s wage”; and what do the first one’s hired do? They complain that they didn’t get more than they had agreed on because these others were counted as equal to them! Moral of the story: God is Sovereign over judgment (Luke 20:1-16); and maybe we’d best be glad we don’t get what we deserve!

God’s Sovereignty over providence: In His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence it’s not difficult to believe in His ability to provide for our needs. But what about whenneeds are not provided for”… or if God is a good God, why does He allow evil, or why is there not a way to escape evil…?

What are some current news items that brings these questions to the fore? [hurricanes, earthquakes, Freeman HS shooting, life threatening (and life taking) health conditions, etc.]

How do we answer these questions? How does our faith persevere? What do we believe?

 

A Summary of how John Calvin answered these kinds of question uses the acronym TULIP. Here’s a super brief description of this doctrine.

  • TTotal depravity. As demonstrated by Adam and Eve, and every Bible character since, and by you and me, left to our own devices we will all choose to sin (maybe not every time, but ultimately we will sin). This means that we deserve ultimate abandonment (see Genesis 2:17). But,
  • UUn-merited, un-earned, un-deserved grace or favor is offered. We are saved by grace alone (Sola Gratia) through faith alone (Sola Fide). Christ died for us, and all we have to do is receive and believe that truth. Nothing more. God’s grace is completely un-merited.
  • LLimited atonement. But just because it is un-deserved does not mean that everyone is saved. In God’s perfect sovereign omniscience, He knows who will and who does believe. Sovereign over judgment.
  • IIrresistible grace. God’s Word does not come back void (Isaiah 55:11), God’s sovereignty over judgment means His calling is always effectual. When heard correctly, His grace is irresistible!
  • PPersevering grace. Once we believe, every believer is kept eternally secure in their salvation (John 10:29). When it is rightly understood that God Alone saves sinners, then all glory goes to Him (Soli Gloria Deo).

 

Out of all the questions that believers and skeptics alike have about our faith, I think it is this one: where does evil come from and why does it still exist? I mean, if God is all-powerful and all-good, how do we understand the origin of, the creation of, the beginning of evil; and why has this almighty benevolent God not finished it off?

Here are some ways some non-Christian religions/philosophies answer this problem:

  • Evil is only imaginaryChristian Science
  • Evil is simply an illusionHinduism
  • Evil is just the absence of good in a universe where either there is no God, or where God and the Devil are of equal authority and power– Dualism

None of that comes from the Bible which teaches that God is the Creator of everything good (James 1:17). He is the “first causeof all things, but evil is a product of “second cause”. John Calvin wrote: “First, it must be observed that he will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world: and yet God is not the author of evil … for the proximate cause is one thing, and the remote cause another.” In other words, God created the universe, and the people who inhabit this universe, and then He gave those people free will, choice authority, we get to decide whom we will obey and honor and love, and whom we won’t. The secondary cause, the remote cause, therefore, comes from the brokenness of the fallen world we now live in.

God allows this, because He gives us freedom. Occasionally He steps in with a miracle to prevent, protect, provide, or present Himself. It’s occasional, and that’s why when it happens we call it a miracle.

 

So, “Who’s in Charge around Here?We choose to look to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to lead our lives and give direction – to make our paths straight, to establish our steps, to prevail in pushing our plans into His purpose.
In my effort to be shorter for these sermons I’ll stop talking here, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.

And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more.

Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?

 

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

Lawson, Steven J.; “Salvation is of the Lord”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 17-19.

Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.

Thomas, Derek W. H.; “God’s Sovereignty and Glory”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 6-8.

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09/17/2017 = Nehemiah 8 = Always Being Reformed: “Sola Scriptura”

Clicking HERE will allow you to HEAR this message.

Mark Wheeler

Nehemiah 8

Always Being Reformed: “Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)”

09/17/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

 

Suppose the Mariners win enough September games to put them in the post-season (it is still feasibly possible). And in the first division playoff game Nelson Cruz slams a line-drive that hits the top of the fence and ricochets over centerfield into the stands. The Mariners fans cheer, Cruz pumps his fist as he rounds third base, and the umpire calls it a Ground Rule Double!  What?!

Cruz comes screaming to Homeplate, the coach comes running out of the dugout, and the ump stands his ground. Who’s right? Does anyone know? Who’s got the ultimate authority?

Well – there’s a MLB Rule Book that the umpire is supposed to know; and every baseball field also has their own rule books. Are you ready? The local homefield rules must always comply with the MLB rules, but in the case of “Ground RuleDoubles, the MLB bows to the particular home field rules.

 

Today’s sermon is called Sola Scriptura! The Bible Alone is the authority over what is righteous and what is not!

 

Last Sunday we started our Fall sermon series recognizing both the chasm created by, and the theological correction offered by, the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. I confess that this series will be a little less “preachy” and a little more “teachy” but the history that leads to today’s context and the theological discussions that inform that history, I believe, are vitally important.

This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. So, like I did last week, let me set the background (those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it – well, we’re going to repeat it so that we’re doomed to know it!):

500 years ago, 1517, was a world in which the printing press had only very recently been invented and put to use. Prior to 1440 literature in the western world had to be hand copied, page by page, word by word, letter by letter. You can imagine how time-consuming it would be to make a copy of a book. And what book was copied most? The Bible. (Sidebar note: the Chinese had invented a wood-block printing press some 600 years earlier, but it was so cumbersome it was still only rarely used.)

Because of how laborious it was to copy a book, very few people owned their own Bible. It would just be way too expensive. (Remember what Gothic style Cathedrals look like? What do their windows dispolay? Stained glass windows was the Church’s way of providing Bibles for the masses!) But after 1440, Gutenberg’s invention made printing books much more affordable! And, of course, his most famous book is “the Gutenberg Bible” – worth well more than $2 million today.

 

It was just a generation after Gutenberg’s invention that a German Roman Catholic was born who grew up into his divine vocation as a RC priest. Father Martin Luther was priest at Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. And history was changing right before his very eyes.

 

In the pre-Reformation Church, the Bible was widely recognized as authoritative for faith and obedience, as the rule for faith and life. In 21st Century America (and Europe) the Bible is more questioned and ridiculed than it is read and obeyed, but that was not the way it was in Europe in the 16th Century. But the Christian world of Europe did offer another challenge to the Bible as our main authority – that was the Church itself.

One of the main teachings of the Church of that time was that it was impossible to be saved outside the Churchnot outside the Christian faith, but salvation was understood to be impossible without the sacraments of baptism, eucharist, penance, etc.

So, in 1517, when Father Martin Luther read the New Testament book of Romans (and other Bible passages) not only could he not defend that view, he found no evidence for it at all. Here is what Romans alone says about FAITH ALONE being the means of salvation:

  1. 3:28-30, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from worksof the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”
  2. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Himwho justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
  3. 5:1, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;
  4. 9:30, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
  5. 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the lawfor righteousness to everyone who believes.”
  6. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

 

Admittedly, before Bibles were available to the public to own and read, the priests were the carriers of God’s Word. The Bible was of utmost importance, but only as read and taught by those called by God into the priesthood. “We cannot be saved outside THE Church”, they said; and since it was the Church who owned the Bible, the Church’s authority of over faith and life was at least equal to that of the Bible, and maybe more.

 

One of Father Martin Luther’s insights in 1517 was that, especially post-Gutenberg, the Bible should regain its role as sole authority over body and soulthis is what we look at today.

 

Last week as we started this teaching series we were introduced to the 5 “Sola”-statements of the Protestant Reformers: Sola Fide (salvation is through “Faith Alone” – last week), Sola Scriptura (the sole authority over faith and life is the written Word of God, the “Bible Alone”), Sola Gratia (that the Scriptures teach that it is by God’s “Grace Alone” that effectualizes our faith), Solus Christus (that God’s grace is demonstrated and offered through “Christ Alone”), and Soli Gloria Deo (that all of life is to be lived to the “Glory of God Alone”).

 

Listen to this keynote passage from the Old Testament history book of Nehemiah, chapter 8: So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law….

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. (NIV)

 

The context of this story is that the Jewish people had been taken captive by the world dominant power of Babylon (remember the Daniel in the Lion’s Den story and the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace story – that’s the situation, about 150 years before Nehemiah steps on the scene), only now it is Persia who is the World Power, and Nehemiah, a Jew who served in the King’s palace, was given permission to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

What did you notice about what was happening here? At what time did “churchstart for them? How long was the sermon? How comfortable was the seating area? How many people complained?

The Jewish people were, for the first time in generations, allowed to gather in the public square and hear God’s Word – and they loved it!

Again, this was at a time when people did not have their own copies of the Bible, but part of what they read instructed them to “meditate on God’s Word day and night” (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1) anyway, to “keep it on their heart”, to “long for God’s Word”, to “delight in God’s decrees” (Psalm 119).

 

What we believe the Bible teaches is that it is God alone who has the right and the ability to declare us righteous in His sight.

So, if it is “Sola Scriptura”, why should we bother to listen to Wheeler preach at us every week? Or Billy Graham, or Andy Stanley, or Kathy Sandusky, or any human with the guts to stand in the pulpit?

Why indeed? What do you think?

And, if what we say is not grounded in God’s Word, or if it is against what God’s Word teaches, it certainly may be time to stop listening. But, only then. Not just because we don’t like what the Bible says….

 

I’m going to try to be shorter for these sermons, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, you’ll have a chance in just a minute.

And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time (and today’s extended Prayer time [Lord’s prayer Corps]) where we can talk even more.

 

This series is called “Always Being Reformed” which is part of a Reformation-based phrase that fully says, “We are the Church Reformed, and always being Reformed, according to the Word of God”. May we never be swayed merely by societal influence or pressure to be liked; may we always be swayed by God’s Word!

So I’ll close today by simply asking how important God’s Word is to you? If this is the means by which God reveals Himself to us, and if we say we are followers of Jesus, how much time do we devote to listening to His Word, alone, and together?

 

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

Godfrey, W. Robert.; “Continuing the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 33-36.

 

Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 70-71.

 

Reeves, Ryan; “The Geography of the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 22-25.

 

Sproul, R.C.; Into the Word; TableTalk; June 2017; P. 33.

 

Sproul, R.C.; Sola Fide; www.ligonier.org/blog/faith-and-works/; October 21, 2015

 

Waters, Guy Prentiss; “Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 18-22.

09/10/2017 = Ephesians 2:8-9 = Always Being Reformed: “Sola Fide (Faith Alone)”

You can add AUDIO right HERE!

Mark Wheeler

Ephesians 2:8-9

Always Being Reformed: “Sola Fide (Faith Alone)”

09/10/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

 

This Fall our sermon series will be a little more “teaching” and a little less “preaching”. This is not my normal style, as you will recognize, but the history that leads to today’s context and the theological discussions that inform that history, I believe, are vitally important.

This year, many people are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Many are. But certainly not everybody.

Let me set the background:

500 years ago, 1517, was a world in which the printing press had only very recently been invented and put to use. Prior to 1440 literature in the western world had to be hand copied, page by page, word by word, letter by letter. You can imagine how time-consuming it would be to make a copy of a book. And what book was copied most? The Bible. (Sidebar note: the Chinese had invented a wood-block printing press some 600 years earlier, but it was so cumbersome it was still only rarely used.)

Because of how laborious it was to copy a book, very few people owned their own Bible. It would just be way too expensive. (Who here has been in Gothic Cathedrals? What do their windows look like? Stained glass windows was the Church’s way of providing Bibles for the masses!) But after 1440, Gutenberg’s invention made printing books much more affordable! And, of course, his most famous book is “the Gutenberg Bible” – worth well more than $2 million today.

 

It was just a generation after Gutenberg’s invention that a German Roman Catholic was born who grew up into his divine vocation as a RC priest. Father Martin Luther was priest in Wittenberg, Germany. And history was changing right before his very eyes.

 

In the pre-Reformation Church, the Bible was widely recognized as authoritative for faith and obedience, as the rule for faith and life. In 21st Century America (and Europe) the Bible is more questioned and ridiculed than it is read and obeyed, but that was not the way it was in Europe in the 16th Century. But the Roman Catholic world of Europe did offer another challenge to the Bible as our main authority – that was the Church itself.

My favorite professor at CSUF was a Roman Catholic, former-priest, named George St. Laurent. Most of his students were protestant, but he was well loved by everybody. He used to tell us that you could tell a Catholic from a Protestant in two ways: 1) by the way someone pronounces Augustine (accent on the GUS is RC, accent on the AUG is Protestant); 2) by how important “church” is (RC’s cannot be saved outside “the Church”, Protestants can).

In 1517, when Father Martin Luther read the New Testament book of Romans (and other Bible passages) not only could he not defend that view, he found no evidence for it at all. Here is what Romans alone says about FAITH ALONE being the means of salvation:

  1. 3:28-30, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from worksof the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”
  2. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Himwho justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
  3. 5:1, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;
  4. 9:30, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
  5. 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the lawfor righteousness to everyone who believes.”
  6. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

 

Admittedly, before Bibles were available to the public to own and read, the priests were the carriers of God’s Word. The Bible was of utmost importance, but only as read and taught by those called by God into the priesthood. We cannot be saved outside “THE Church” (that meant the Roman Catholic Church, partly because that really was the only Church in Europe); and since it was the Church who owned the Bible, the Church’s authority of over faith and life was at least equal to that of the Bible, and maybe more.

 

One of Father Martin Luther’s insights in 1517 was that, especially post-Gutenberg, the Bible should regain its role as sole authority over body and soul; and the Church should back off from claiming its necessity for salvation.

 

Whoa! Did you hear what I just said?! The Church is NOT the biggest voice in the discussion? Luther was pushing against the biggest corporation in the world, and trying to take away its power! And the Pope was not happy about that!

 

Luther was not saying that the Church is unimportant. In fact, he would argue that the Church is God’s instrument for bringing the Gospel into the world. John Calvin, another Protestant Reformer would agree with that. The Church is vitally important, necessary even, But, we are saved, not by the Church, but by faith alone!

 

Listen to this keynote passage from Paul’s epistle to the Church in Ephesus, chapter 2, verses 8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

 

John Calvin tells us that it is “the doctrine of justification … [which] is the principal ground on which religion must be supported.” Justification is the means by which salvation is attained.”

The first theological point about which those 16th Century Reformers Protested was that the Bible is the only means by which we come to know what God wants for us. What do you think the language of the Church was in the 1500s? Latin, of course. “Sola Scriptura” was the first principle of Christian theology. We introduced it today, but we’ll dig a little deeper next week.

The second theological point of dispute was “Sola Fide” – Faith Alone! This becomes the central question of human existenceif we believe there might be a God, how can we be reconciled to Him?

What we believe the Bible teaches is that it is God alone who has the right and the ability to declare us righteous in His sight.

We cannot work hard enough to deserve God’s favor.

We cannot give enough money to the church, say enough prayers, pay enough penance, no amount of “hail Marys” or “our Fathers”, not flagellation, not even perfect obedience. Scripture alone teaches us that it is God’s grace alone, received through FAITH ALONE (Sola Fide) that puts us in place for this gift of God.

 

As you may well be aware, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther, then responded to the outbreak of the Protestant movement with a major church council, the Council of Trent, which was part of the so-called Counter-Reformation and took place in the middle of the 16th century. The sixth session of Trent, at which the canons and decrees on justification and faith were spelled out, specifically appealed to James 2:24 to rebuke the Protestants who said that they were justified by faith alone: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” How could James say it any more clearly? It would seem that that text would blow Luther out of the water forever.

Of course, Martin Luther was very much aware of this verse was in the book of James. Luther was reading Romans, where Paul makes it very clear that it’s not through the works of the law that any one is justified and that we are justified by faith and only through faith. What do we have here? Is this an irreconcilable conflict between Paul and James? Was James trying to correct Paul. Was Paul trying to correct James.

I’m convinced that we don’t really have a conflict here at all. What James is saying is this: If a person says he has faith, but he gives no outward evidence of that faith through righteous works, his faith will not justify him. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox would absolutely agree with James. We are not saved by a profession of faith or by a claim to faith. That faith has to be genuine before the merit of Christ will be ascribed to anybody. We can’t just say we have faith. True faith will absolutely and necessarily yield the fruits of obedience and the works of righteousness. Luther was saying that those works don’t add to that person’s justification at the judgment seat of God. But they do justify his claim to faith before the eyes of man. James is saying, not that a person is justified before God by his works, but that his claim to faith is shown to be genuine as he demonstrates the evidence of that claim of faith through his works.

 

I’m going to try to be shorter for these sermons, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, you’ll have a chance in just a minute.

And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more.

 

So I’ll close today with the two questions on the bottom of your Sermon Notes Page, and open the floor for your comments, insights, and questions:

 

  1. Can we be saved by the works or the words of, really, ANY human being?
  2. Where do we find the only means of forgiveness?

 

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

Godfrey, W. Robert.; “Continuing the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 33-36.

Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 70.

Sproul, R.C.; Into the Word; TableTalk; June 2017; P. 33.

Sproul, R.C.; Sola Fide; www.ligonier.org/blog/faith-and-works/; October 21, 2015

Waters, Guy Prentiss; “Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 18-22.

 

09/03/2017 – Matthew 5:11-12 – Happy to be Blessed: “You–>Heavenly Rewards”

If you wanna HEAR this message, click HERE.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:11-12

Happy to Be Blessed: “You–>Heavenly Rewards”

09/03/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

As we worship You, O Lord, please take away our sorrows and strengthen our faith in the face of our struggles that we might experience the joy of Your presence, in Christ’s name. We seek Your true blessing, and we hope to be that blessing for those around us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

The professor’s face was contorted with anger as he yelled and shook a fistful of torn paper in my face,” writes a Rev. Donny Friederichsen, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA), Short hills, NJ. “He accused me of harassing and attacking university students. What egregious act had I committed? I had properly posted an approved sign on a bulletin board advertising a campuswide outreach that my student ministry was sponsoring. I was stunned. I had never been the recipient of such harsh accusations.”

 

A Bremerton, Washington, high school football coach was punished for taking a knee at the 50-yard line for a post-game prayer, “violating the U.S. Constitution”, according to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel ruled the Bremerton School District was justified in suspending Coach Joe Kennedy after he prayed silently at midfield after football games.

He didn’t force anyone to do anything with him; he merely prayed in public. It looks like Roman Catholic coaches won’t be allowed to “cross themselves” when someone might see them either.

 

Today we come to the conclusion of our Summer-long series on the Beatitudes from JesusSermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Listen to this postscript, this assignment, and hear Jesus speaking to you: 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you….”

 

We are in this list of Beatitudes because of the varieties and ferocities of struggles we have all witnessed in our homes, in our city, amongst our national leaders, and across this globe. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

Do we need mercy shown in our world? Here’s an opportunity for blessing: BE GRACE-FILLED!

Do we need peace in our world? Here’s an opportunity for blessing: MAKE PEACE!

 

The 1st four Beatitudes are all about how much WE NEED GOD in order to live fulfilled lives! Poor in spirit, mourning over that poverty, humbled by our spiritual condition, and then, transitionally we begin to resemble God’s character by desiring righteousness. And God promises His eternal presence and comfort and satisfaction.

The next three Beatitudes describe CHRISTLIKE character traits that will form in those who follow Jesus well. Like the fruit of the Spirit, these grow in us as we grow in Christ.

The 8th Beatitude is like a LITMUS test for how well we live in the first seven Beatitudes.

The 1st and 8th Beatitudes are like bookends with the promise of “the KINGDOM of HEAVEN”.

And the 4th and 8th beatitudes close two sections by landing on a theme of RIGHTEOUSNESS.

 

Listen with me to these words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-2, 3-10, and then 11-12 ….—-

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,    for they will be comforted.  

Blessed are the meek,    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,     for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,    for they will be called children of God.  

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you….”  (NIV)

 

You caught that this stanza was different, right? Notblessed are those (or the ones) who …”, but “blessed are YOU when these bad things happen….

 

Do these things happen to us?  I ask because JesusSermon on the Mount is usually interpreted as a message for all time, for all peopleI wonder, if Beatitude #8, verse 10, is a litmus test for our faithfulness to the other Beatitudes, then does this statement, which is directed at us personally (not LPC, but those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ), mean we must expect that we/I will, in fact, be reviled, persecuted, have evil lies spoken about us/me because of how our lives/my life reflects that of Jesus Himself?

Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are you if these bad things happen to you,” He says, “WHEN they happen.”

 

I’m reminded of the story Josh Snodgrass told us two weeks ago when he taught about the difference between praise and worship. Some of you will remember: praise is when we thank God for what He has done; worship is when we adore God for who He is!

And then he told a story about his roofer-friend who injured his leg so badly it had to be amputated. When Josh asked him about how this effected his faith his friend said something like, “I know that my leg will be totally healed some day, and for all eternally; but this is my only chance to worship Him with just one leg, and I’m not about to miss this opportunity.”

Now, his leg missing was not due to persecution, or hate, or because he stood up for his faith. It was an accident. But his perspective connects straight up with this passage at the end of the Beatitudes.

Today’s Children’s Message was the story about Jesus’ teaching that we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow Him. How many times have I heard people say things about their health or their finances or their jobs when they “Well, I guess that’s just my cross I have to bear.”

No, a cross to bear is our choice to offer our lives for Kingdom purposes. Jesus died on a cross so that we might receive and believe His offer of Good News of salvation by faith alone. He then says that people will hate us because they already hate Him (that was the experience of Rev. Donny Friederichsen that we started with today.) THAT is our cross to bearnot just a difficult life happenstance, but a choice to be a person that reflects God’s love in Christ, even to the point of possibly suffering for that choice!

And our perspective on life circumstances plays into that. My Diabetes is not my cross to bear, but my choice to worship God without a working pancreas is! And this is mychance to be blessed”!

 

Last week in my devotional reading I was in Isaiah 51-53, where 700 years before Jesus spoke His Sermon on the Mount this Old Testament prophet wrote: “Listen to me, you who know right from wrong,
you who cherish my law in your hearts.   Do not be afraid of people’s scorn,    nor fear their insults.
    For the moth will devour them as it devours clothing.    The worm will eat at them as it eats wool.
But my righteousness will last forever.    My salvation will continue from generation to generation.

(51:7-8, NLT)

When we are faithful we will experience scorn, insults, persecution, for a time – but salvation lasts forever!

And a couple chapters later we read this Messianic prophecy: “He was despised and rejected
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.  We turned our backs on him and looked the other   

    way.        He was despised, and we did not care.   Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.   And we thought his troubles were a punishment from

    God,     a punishment for his own sins!
    But he was pierced for our rebellion,    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.    He was whipped so we could be healed.
    All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him    the sins of us all.    He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.    He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,    he did not open his mouth.
    Unjustly condemned,    he was led away
.”    (53:3-7, NLT)

Jesus did not warn us about difficulties without having endured them Himself first! All the way from Galilee to Jerusalem He kept telling His disciples He was going to face scorn, insults, even death. Peter said, “No! That will never happen!” and Jesus told him, “Get behind me, Satan!

Today’s passage says, “Blessed are you when these same things happen to you!

 

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome (4:46): “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes!” Can we say the same thing? Because we, also, believe the same thing?

Just a couple of verses following today’s stanza in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus continues with these words (Matthew 5:16): “Let your light shine … so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Immediately after telling His followers that we will suffer because of our faith in Him, He says to live lives that produce that suffering so that others will discover God’s grace and power as well. (Sidebar notation: Jesus says, “so they will give glory to your Father in heaven”; I don’t know if He means ourFather in heaven”, ie God, or if He means that “they will give God glory in heaven”, ie for all eternity. Maybe He means both!)

 

Now, to start to reel this in: All of the Beatitudes give a “Blessing” followed by a “promise”. This last paragraph gives a warning followed by an assignment: “Rejoice for being persecuted!” But He doesn’t leave us hanging; He lists three reasons to rejoice for being persecuted:

  1. Privilege of SHARING in Christ’s sufferings! We are counted as worthy to participate in the same sufferings as God’s only begotten SonBeatitude #7’s promise was to be “called sons/children of God”! John 15:18-19 records Jesus saying, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first! … because you are not ‘of the world’, but I chose you out of the world, , therefore the world hates you.” Rejoice, because our sufferings might be a sign that we are truly in Christ!
  2. We are counted among the HEROES of faith – just like the Old Testament prophets, most of whom also suffered for their faith! The Book of Life will list all the names from Hebrews 11’s Old Testament Heroes, and our names will be included in that great cloud of witnesses!
  3. We are promised an EVERLASTING reward – a heavenly reward!

 

I, in no way, want to downplay the horrors of suffering persecution. Last week Boris was not in worship with us, and I made mention of his years in prison and even solitary confinement because he boldly lived his Christian faith under a regime of a communist/socialist control. He would be the first to tell you that none of that was easy/fun!

But his story, and Jesus’ words in this Matthew 5-7 Sermon force me to ask how well we actually live into these Beatitudes. Am I persecuted? If not, maybe I’m really not living like Jesus wants me to live….

 

The command here is to live our faith out loud in such a way that that suffering actually happens. And the promise is for right now! That Bremerton High School football coach is actually doing this!

 

Do you live that out? Do you want to? Is Jesus in your life? Let’s make that happen today – rejoicing for the heavenly rewards which are ours, right now!

 

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

 

Resources:

Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange; hermeneutics.stackexchange.com.

 

Friederichsen, Donny; “Blessed Are The Reviled”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp 30-31.

 

Makarios: Blessed; the state of one who has become a partaker of God; to experience the fullness of God”; StudyLight.org.