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Good Friday

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:26-49 ESV)

The Church and Redemption

Today continue with our series on the Church. My working thesis is that “Jesus is the Head, Sustainer, and Ruler of the Church which means that we should know that He also dictates our methods, mission, functions, power, authority, etc.” In the previous post, we looked briefly at the connection between Old Testament national Israel, whom God designated as His congregation and assembly (the terms used in the New Testament for church), by virtue of His redemptive act at theRed Sea.

Two implications should immediately stand out. The first is that the continuity of terms indicates continuity of people. What I mean by that is that God’s saving of a people to Himself is not a plan for a certain ethnicity in the one case and another plan for everybody else. God’s working out of His plan of salvation unfolds organically, but often, as is the case here, similar or univocal terms are used. The second is that this congregation or assembly, from a human perspective, is a mixed bag! Not much changes in the New Testament.

Before we proceed to the Church’s authority, attributes, government, marks, etc., I should make clear that the New Testament is as explicit in linking the church to a redemptive event as the Old Testament is.  Remember, we saw in Exodus 12 the broad term for congregation was connected to the first Passover, which is part of the redemptive event which defined God’s people. We also noted that in Numbers 10 the more narrow term translated as assembly was used.

In Ephesians 5:25-27, Paul explicitly links Christ’s death on the cross with an effect for the Church. He writes,

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (emphasis added).

So at this point we can simply conclude that God’s redemptive acts of the Old and New Testaments were effectual to create a covenant people of whom He would be their God and they (we) his people. This identity of the church to God’s people applies when the individual parts are scattered and when they meet together for worship. So to repeat, God creates His church through His redemptive act in Christ so that they might be His alone.

What is the Church?

I would like to begin a series to work through our understanding of the Church. My working thesis is that “Jesus is Head, Sustainer, and Ruler of the Church means that we should know that He also dictates our methods, mission, functions, power, authority, etc.” Today I want you to interact with me a bit. Think about and answer this question: “How do you consider church and all its activities?” Let’s be specific: when I mention church, think Pilgrim PCA. When I write church and its activities, think Sunday morning and evening worship, Bible studies, and other specific Pilgrim PCA “stuff” on the weekly/monthly calendar.

Many Christian church members equate all church-sponsored activities and approach them as responsibilities to be juggled along with their other activities. In a world in love with activities, this is considered normal. One glaring problem with this is that it seems to set each person as autonomous – an identity in and of him/herself – that will decide which of the voluminous activities will gain his/her participation that week. However, the Church is your identity marker, not a sub-identity among others.

What I am not referring to are those markers used to identify doctrinal (“I’m Reformed”) or denominational (“I’m Presbyterian”) identity. Those have their place and are helpful down the line from where we are currently. Rather, what I am referring to is the identity that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit places upon you. The Triune God calls you the Church. I am not attempting to engage in a game of semantics but to make the most basic of biblical observations: that your identity as a believer in Jesus Christ is determined by your God and Savior. Thus, your thinking and acting regarding all things should flow from your God-given identity.

Let’s look at a couple of texts of Scripture. In Exodus 12, the Lord explains to Moses the initial Passover, followed by the Lord’s judgment on Egypt and the exodus of Israel from Egypt. At the end of the chapter, the Lord institutes the Passover as a sacrament to be kept by all the congregation ofIsrael(12:47). This term “congregation” means all those of the covenant people in their respective houses. Notice though that a non-technical term takes on technicality when linked to the redemptive event of the Exodus. The Hebrew term translated congregation is generally and mostly used this way.

There is a second Hebrew term which is translated as “assembly” with a narrower connotation. It usually and generally indicates that the congregation has come together for a special purpose (i.e., worship). Look at Numbers 10. There, the Lord gives instructions for the silver trumpets, mainly to call Israel to some type of action. One of those actions is to gather (either by heads or each individual) at the tent of meeting (see Numbers 10:1-4, 7). It is this second term, with the narrow sense, that is mostly translated into Greek ekklesia in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). That’s the word employed throughout the New Testament that is translated “church” (e.g., Matt. 16:18).

Let’s pull a couple of these strands together. First, notice that the church (as assembly and congregation) are the covenant people of God either scattered (i.e., in their homes) or gathered (i.e., at the tent of meeting or in worship). Second, notice that it is God who loads these terms with meaning because of His redemptive acts (both Old and New Testaments). Identifying people in this manner is what God has desired to do: He would walk among His people and be their God and they would be His people (Lev. 26:12 and 2 Cor. 6:16).

Putting all of these things together, we see that our identity as believers is given to us because of God’s redemptive, covenanting work. While I will not maintain that all church activities are created equally, I would assert that that we cannot (indeed ought not) approach the church as merely another group entity to which we belong (the zoo, the Rotary, the YMCA, etc.). Fundamental to our understanding of the Church is that God has acted redemptively and called us His people. When He calls us to gather in His presence, He’s not making options available. Moreover, our identity is one that He gives to us, not an identity that we gain autonomously.

A Christmas Meditation

I would like to offer a brief Christmas meditation from Philippians 2:5-8, commonly understood as Jesus’s humiliation. As we prepare to celebrate the first coming of Christ and the anticipation of His Second Coming, let’s remind ourselves as to Christ’s purpose and our response.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, is equal in substance and co-eternal in power and glory to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet, in the plan to save wayward man, the Son of God had the mindset of a servant. It is this very mindset that Paul is teaching the Philippians to emulate. How?

Paul continues by noting that the Son of God emptied Himself of something. It has become all too common to think that Jesus emptied Himself of his divinity or some attribute thereof (i.e., His omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence). However, that would not only be impossible, but also would make Him less than God. Rather, the text itself tells us what He emptied: He emptied Himself of His glory and majesty by adding or cloaking Himself in human flesh.

The Son of God’s humiliation did not end there; He also became a baby formed in a womb and born in the lowliest of places to a mother who would be married after conception. Further, God incarnate, Jesus the Messiah, lived under the burdens of sinful man to the point of His execution.

While we can certainly sense and empathize with Jesus’s misery and humiliation, He would rather that we emulate it. We live in a society that prizes winning at all costs – look at what lengths athletes are willing to go – cheating – to be the best. We see winning at all costs and boasting in what we say and do everywhere – the business world, athletics, and in families. We are called upon to live differently, to be humble like our Savior. It was in His obedience in humility that he was afterward exalted. We should strive to do well and excel in our work and play. But we are to do so as humble people, neither seeking attention nor self-promoting our accomplishments. Just like Jesus.

Thinking of Christ and Christmas

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the landof Zebulunand the landof Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galileeof the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:1-7

Preparing For Worship

On Sunday, November 18, I will preach from the last section of Hebrews 11. Specifically, we’ll examine Hebrews 11:29-40 under the title, “Triumphs In Faith.” To get you thinking in that direction, here is a quotation from John Calvin concerning this passage.

And it is a singular evidence of God’s benevolence towards us, that though he has shewn himself bountiful to his children from the beginning of the world, he yet has so distributed his grace as to provide for the wellbeing of the whole body. What more could any of us desire, than that in all the blessings which God bestowed on Abraham, Moses, David, and all the Patriarchs, on the Prophets and godly kings, he should have a regard for us, so that we might be united together with them in the body of Christ? Let us then know that we are doubly and trebly ungrateful to God, if less faith appears in us under the kingdom of Christ than the fathers had under the Law, as proved by so many remarkable examples of patience.

I hope to see you Sunday.

Preparing For the Lord’s Supper

Today’s preparatory remarks for the Lord’s Supper come from John Calvin in his “A Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper”. In this brief quote, Calvin wants believers, especially weak ones, to recognize Christ’s qualifying them to receive the Supper. Even more, he wants them to receive the Supper to gain a better assurance and deeper dependence on Christ for salvation.

And although we feel within ourselves much frailty and misery from not having perfect faith, but being inclined to unbelief and distrust, as well as from not being devoted to the service of God so entirely and with such zeal as we ought, and from having to war daily against the lusts of our flesh, nevertheless, since our Lord has graciously deigned to have his gospel imprinted on our hearts, in order to withstand all unbelief, and has given us this desire and affection to renounce our own desires, to follow righteousness and his holy commandments, let us all be assured that the vices and imperfections which are in us will not prevent his receiving us, and making us worthy of taking part at this spiritual table; for we do not come to declare that we are perfect or righteous in ourselves; but, on the contrary, by seeking our life in Christ, we confess that we are in death. Let us understand that this sacrament is a medicine for the poor spiritual sick, and that all the worthiness which our Savior requires in us is to know ourselves, so as to be dissatisfied with our vices, and have all our pleasure, joy, and contentment in him alone.

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

Today’s meditative reading comes from Hebrews 9:11-28. A few weeks ago, we looked at this passage and noted its connection to participation in the Lord’s Supper. Read the passage and reflect on it, particularly noting three things: the greater efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice to those under the old covenant; the absolute necessity of Christ’s sacrifice; and the unrepeatable finality of Christ’s sacrifice.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Bring the Books…October 2012

“When you come, bring … the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13 ESV).

Here is an annotated bibliography of popularly written books for understanding Christian living, the church, prayer, the benefits of the cross and church membership. I urge you to pick up these books and read them for your personal growth. None of these books are academic in nature and all of them are written by pastors.

Kevin DeYoung, The Hole In Our Holiness. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2012).

This book has ten chapters in 146 pages with an additional study guide for each chapter tucked away at the end of the book. This study guide is useful for both individual and group study.

From the very first page, I knew I would love this book. The author, Kevin DeYoung, dislikes camping. He concludes his opening diatribe by asserting that he does not get camping nor know much about it. Then he likens these assertions to the average Christian’s view of holiness. However, not knowing about or getting camping will not prohibit you from eternal bliss; not knowing about or getting holiness (that is practicing it) will!

This book is a clear, readable presentation of the “doctrine of sanctification” or personal holiness. In a winsome and sometimes humorous manner, DeYoung teaches the reader what holiness is and what it is not. He avoids simplistic reductionism – even coming against it – when he says that holiness is not merely a matter of avoiding certain (church) cultural taboos (like card playing).

More than a work which asserts and criticizes wrong versions of holiness, DeYoung sets out to teach the reader what holiness looks like. Further, he deals with the more prominent sin of sexual immorality. Lastly, he drenches his instruction with Scripture. In a kind, pastoral tone, he teaches from the whole Bible that God has always required holiness, that God saves people to be holy, and that God empowers His people to live holy lives.

This book is more than instruction. It is an inspiration for living a holy life.

Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008).

This book is part of the IX Marks book series, a series of books about local churches and their members (sometimes their pastors as well). The original concept of IX Marks was designed by Mark Dever, the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. This gift-book style manuscript has 120 pages in eleven chapters and an appendix.

Pastor Anyabwile is an African American who converted to Islam at a young age, even changing his name to what it is now. After getting married, he and his wife heard the gospel at Capitol Hill Baptist Church where they converted to Christianity. At one time a radical Muslim intent on converting Christians, he now pastors First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman Islands.

The ten marks (the author added one to the original nine) of a healthy church member are 1) an expositional listener 2) a Biblical theologian 3) Gospel-saturated 4) genuinely converted 5) a Biblical evangelist 6) a committed member 7) one who seeks discipline 8) a growing disciple 9) a humble follower and 10) a prayer warrior.

We believe in church membership which makes this little book worth your time and effort. According to Pastor Anyabwile in the Introduction, “This little book is written in the hope that you might discover or rediscover what it means to be a healthy member of a local church, and what it means to contribute to the overall health of the church” (14).

Notice the interaction between your health and the church’s health. Notice that this shared ‘healthiness’ is symbiotic – it feeds one into the other. Often members accuse churches of being unhealthy or churches accuse members of the same. It seems to a large extent both are to blame and both can become healthy once more.

While our aim here at Pilgrim is not merely to make this book our playbook for church membership, we would whole-heartedly agree with its basic assertions. Some of the marks seem obvious – committed, a prayer warrior – while others may be new to your thinking – expositional listener, biblical theologian. Some of these are actually scary – biblical evangelist, seeks discipline.

I hope that you will give this book a judicious and thorough reading and note: your health and the health of the church are dependent on one another.

Terry L. Johnson, When Grace Comes Home. (Ross-Shire, Great Britain, Christian Focus Publications, 2000).

This book is 173 pages divided into twelve chapters. Each chapter has a set of study questions which makes this book ideal for individual or group study. Terry Johnson is the pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA. He has written extensively on worship (e.g., Leading in Worship and The Family Worship Book) and in the area of practical Christian living (this book along with When Grace Comes Alive and When Grace Transforms).

In and around the church, one hears much about ‘grace’. Like the elderly, senile aunt in “A Christmas Vacation,” many respond with “Oh grace, she died thirty years ago.” Well when we talk about grace in the church, our referent is not usually to a person, but to an attribute of God that we are to have as well. Simply, grace is a gift – that is, something freely given that the receiver does not deserve on his own merit.

In When Grace Comes Home, Rev. Johnson seeks to tie a number of other concepts to grace so that one may see the connection between grace and the Christian life. The study questions at the end of each chapter help reader to get the connection also.

The opening chapter defines grace – Rev. Johnson calls it the theology of grace. From there, he shows the links between grace and worship, grace and humility, grace and adversity, grace and one’s outlook on life, grace and witness, grace and sanctification, grace and assurance, grace and law/liberty, grace and prayer, grace and guidance, grace and faith for living.

In addition to being biblically oriented – each chapter begins with a suggested Scripture reading and each one is saturated with Scripture – this book will also introduce the reader to basic Reformed teaching. Rev. Johnson does this with the authority of a pastor and the winsomeness of a friend.

I hope that you will make this book a part of your devotional reading in order that you may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

This week, I’ll post a few quotes for you in preparation for Sunday’s service where we will receive the Lord’s Supper. These quotes are designed as brief meditations; however, if you would like to pursue these matters further, note the source. Today’s quote comes from the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The Lord’s Supper, commonly called Communion or the Eucharist

Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body. (Westminster Confession of Faith 29:1)