Saturday, January 6, 2018

2018.01.06 Hopewell @Home ▫ Hebrews 6:13-18

Read Hebrews 6:13-18
Questions for Littles: To whom had God made a promise (13a)? By whom did He swear this promise (v14)? After what did Abraham obtain the promise (v15)? To whom did God show more abundantly the unchangeableness of His promise (v17)? How did He show this more abundantly (end of v17)? What is it impossible for God to do (v18)? What do God’s unchangeable counsel and unchangeable oath give to us? What are we who have fled for refuge enabled, by this strong consolation, to lay hold of?
In the Scripture for the sermon this week, we learned not only how to seek assurance of our belonging to God in Christ, but also the fact that God desires for us to have this assurance.

How do we know that God wants us to have this assurance? Because He swears an oath about it!
Now, that sounds a little strange to us.

We understand why husbands and wives swear vows to each other. And we understand why judges and government officials take oaths before God. And we understand why church members take vows and oaths.

But… God? Isn’t it pretty much impossible for Him to lie? Aren’t His plans and promises unchangeable?

Yes, and the passage says both of these things. But let us consider v17 more closely. It is not that God was making the word or promise more sure. Rather, he was showing more abundantly how sure they already are. It is the display of the certainty, not the certainty itself, that is magnified here.

And why? v18 tells us: to give us strong consolation. If we have fled for refuge to the Lord, it does not honor Him for us to continue always in a condition of nervous uncertainty about our spiritual state. Rather, it honors Him that those who are seeking refuge in Him, would find in that refuge a strong consolation.

So the Lord accommodates our weakness. He makes allowance for how doubting and shaky our faith can often be. And He piles onto His promises with covenant oaths. He did this several times with Abraham, but the one quoted here is from that extraordinary incident on the mountain where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac.

He has continued to do so with us, giving us a New Covenant in which the sacrifices are not bulls and goats, appointed by God for the certainty of believers, but the very blood of Jesus Christ Himself. The washing of His blood and pouring out of His Spirit signified in baptism. The covenant meal, complete with the Cup that is the New Covenant in His blood. These are forms of covenantal assurance, pointing to and united with the oaths of the living God Himself.

By means of Word and Sacrament, God answers our weakness with a strong consolation, so that we will lay hold of the hope set before us. Hallelujah!
How often do you reflect upon your baptism as a covenant sign? How does God’s appointment of the Supper as a covenant sign strengthen your certainty about His promises?
Suggested Songs: ARP191 “I Love the Lord” or HB368 “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less”

Friday, January 5, 2018

2018.01.05 Hopewell @Home ▫ Mark 7:24-8:10

Questions for Littles: Into what region did Jesus go in v24? What couldn’t He do? Why not—who found Him (v25)? What ethnicity was the woman (v26)? What did Jesus imply about her in v27? Did she deny it in v28? How did she respond? What does Jesus say is a result of her response in v29? What did the woman find when she went home (30)? To what region does Jesus then go in v31? Interestingly, in this Gentile region, what does He say in Aramaic in v34? In addition to regaining his hearing, what other miracle does the man in v35 experience? What does He command them in v36 (something He usually commands in Jewish territory)? What do people say about Him in v37 (that demonstrates that though Gentiles, they had Messianic expectations)? What size multitude had Jesus gathered now, even in this Gentile territory (8:1)? What did Jesus have on the multitude in v2? How long had they stayed with Him, even without food? Why would some of them have passed out on the way home, if He sent them away to eat (v3)? Why didn’t the disciples think they had any other options (v4)? How many loaves did they have (v5)? What did Jesus command the multitude to do in v6? What two things does Jesus do with the loaves before giving them to the disciples? What else did they have (v7)? How much did these people who hadn’t eaten for three days eat (v8)? How many, of what size baskets of leftovers, did they take up? How many had eaten? To what (Jewish) region did Jesus now go (v10)?
In the Gospel reading this week, Jesus goes into Gentile territory and shows that He is making for Himself children from among the Gentiles too.

First, we find Him in Tyre and Sidon, coastal trade-port cities with terrible reputations for wickedness. In fact, these cities often find themselves targets of condemnation in the Minor Prophets, and even appear in Jesus’ pronouncements against the Jewish cities on Galilee.

There, a woman somehow finds out that He is there and comes to ask Him to save her daughter from the control of a demon. The woman is a Gentile, and Jesus basically says, “Don’t you know that I’m a Jewish Messiah who came to a Jewish nation?” In fact, His word picture for her and her daughter is “dogs” as opposed to “children.”

However, this woman’s love for her daughter and faith in Christ foster a humility that doesn’t take offense at this but rather insists that Christ has more than enough grace for all. Jesus recognizes this and tells her that her daughter has been healed.

Jesus moves on to the Decapolis—a region populated by Gentiles and Samaritans, but we find in v37 especially that there are many here expecting the Christ. He was prophesied to make the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, and here Jesus does both in one case. Those who are expecting Messiah say, “He has done all things well.”

And He has, dear Christian. He has fulfilled every prophecy and completed every task of the Messiah. He is a victorious and complete Savior. You may cling to Him with absolute confidence!

The final episode may be the strongest statement that Christ is a Messiah for the Gentiles every bit as much as the Jews. The Jews had recognized whom He was claiming to be, when He fed a multitude in the wilderness.

Now, there is a multitude who is willing to stay with Him without food for three days (their willingness a small miracle in itself), but this one is Gentile. What does He do? Reproduce the wilderness feeding, still with seven large baskets left over. Jesus is a more-than-abundant Savior for the whole world!!
Have you ever wondered if Jesus is a Savior for you? What’s it look like for you to cling to Him anyway?
Suggested songs: ARP45A “My Heart Is Greatly Stirred” or HB132 “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!”

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018.01.04 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 8:5-14

Questions for Littles: According to what are you living, if you set your mind on the things of the flesh (5a)? According to what are you living, if you set your mind on the things of the Spirit? What is it for us if we are fleshly (“carnally”) minded (6a)? What is it for us if are spiritually minded (6b)? Why is being fleshly minded enmity against God (v7)? What can’t those who are in the flesh do (v8)? What else is true about someone, if he does not have the Spirit of Christ (v9)? If we are in Christ, are we controlled by our dead flesh or His alive Spirit (v10)? Who dwells in us, if we belong to Christ (11a)? What did God do with Christ’s physically dead body? What will He do with our spiritually dead bodies? Through whom will God do this (end of v11)? What are we, according to v12a? To whom (v14)? What will happen if we live according to the flesh (v13a)? How can we put to death the deeds of the body (13b)? What will happen then? What is true of every one of the children of God (v14)? 
In this week’s Epistle reading, we heard about the same battle as in 7:14-24, but with one great difference: the struggle is now being considered in light of why it is a struggle for the believer.

Believers struggle against sin because we have been made alive by the Holy Spirit to hate it, and we are living with that mindset. Our sin bothers us—including the sin of not bothering us enough. The reason that it bothers us that our sin doesn’t bother us as much as it should is because of the Holy Spirit!

Now, if we are primarily frustrated that the sin is making us feel guilty, or that its consequences are inhibiting our pleasure, or that we are not able to sin as much as we would like… that is to have the mind set upon the flesh. In that case, battle is not because we are saved, but it is a false battle precisely because we do not have our mind set upon the Spirit.

Now, let us not miss an important connection in 8:6-8… the spiritual man’s mind is subject to the law of God. The law is the clearly defined description of what pleases God, and it is precisely because the fleshly minded don’t care to keep it that they cannot please God.

Here then, is a great work of God the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers: He works in us a resurrection (v11)—He takes hearts that were dead to God and His law, and makes us alive for battle against sin… alive for obedience to God’s law… alive for pleasing God.

Who enjoys this marvelous work of the Spirit? Every single believer, from the moment he becomes a believer (9b, 14). Praise be to God!
What sin are you struggling against? Where do you see your love for God, His law, and pleasing Him?
Suggested songs: ARP119M “O How I Love Your Law!” or HB310 “Take My Life, and Let It Be”

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018.01.03 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 11:1-9

Questions for Littles: Who had one language and speech (v1)? Who journeyed from the east (v2)? What did they find in Shinar? What did they decide to build (v4)? Where would its top be? What did they want to use the power to make for themselves? What did they say that they did not want to happen to them (end of v4)? Who came to see the city (v5)? What did the Lord say were “one” in v6? What did He decide to do in v7? What was the city called (9a)? Why? What had happened to them by the end of v9? 
In this week’s Old Testament reading, we come to Babel, which we were told in last week’s passage was the beginning of Nimrod’s kingdom.

God had said, “Let us make man in our image” (1:26) and commanded him “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (1:28). Then, by chapter 6, it was not the beautiful image of God with which man had filled the earth, but rather with violence (6:11, 13).

After the flood, again, God commands, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (9:1), reminding us again that it is especially because man is in the image of God (9:6) that he is to “be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply in it” (9:7).

But Nimrod is all about Nimrod, not about the image of God. Under his leadership, men say not, “let us glorify God as His image and obey Him,” but rather “let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (11:4).

Here is direct, defiant disobedience. Indeed, every sin has some of this in it, “I will be my own god, and do it my own way!” But here, it is the whole of humanity making it their single mission.

Sadly for the descendants of Shem and Japheth, they were part of this because they neglected one of God’s most important promises and principles: separation between the believing and unbelieving, that ‘enmity’ that God promised to bring between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (3:15). When the family of Seth ignored this and intermarried with the family of Cain (6:1-2), it led to the flood.

And now what observation does the Lord make about the Shemites and the Japhethites under the leadership of Nimrod? “Indeed, the people are one” (11:6). How sad for believers in every age who wish to be friends with the world! Do we not yet see that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4)?

Let us then behold the glorious grace of God! Once again, He says, “let us...” Where man had refused to fill the earth with the image of God, now God does so in one great stroke. “So Yahweh scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth […] from there Yahweh scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth” (v8, 9).

Not until Pentecost, when people from all the nations would begin to be reunited in the image of God, would this confusion of tongues begin to be undone—God maintaining by grace what men ruined by sin!
What can we do to participate in the valuing and spreading of the (renewed!) image of God on the earth?
Suggested songs: ARP162 “All Ends of Earth Will Turn to Him” or HB501 “The Ends of All the Earth Shall Hear”

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Prayer Meeting Tomorrow, January 3! (click on link below for the prayer guide)

Have you been considering whether some things need to move up in priority for you and other things down?

Gentle reader, I commend to you the corporate prayer meeting!

We are wholly dependent upon (and utterly undeserving of) the mercy of God for every good thing we need as individuals, households, church, and community. Shall we not carve out some time each week to call upon His Name together?

Scripture is full of precept and example of it for us!

Whether you are able to gather physically, or only in mind and heart, we will be praying from 7p.m. to 8p.m. tomorrow according to [this plan].

Each week, we vary the focus slightly within each section, using Matthew Henry's excellent guide, A Method for Prayer--which simply collects and arranges Scripture priorities in prayer in a manner that is easy for us to translate into a manual for our own praying.

If you're planning to gather in person, try to be there by 7p.m. In order to accommodate families' weeknight schedules, we strive to stick to the schedule and finish by 8!

2018.01.02 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 46

Questions for Littles: Who is our refuge and strength (1a)? What else is He (1b)? What, therefore, won’t we do (2a)? When (2b)? And when else (2c)? And when (3a)? And when (3b)? What was one event when these things literally happened? What water from v4 is not water of judgment? Whose city does this river make glad? What else does v4 call this city? Who is in the midst of her (v5a)? What does this keep from happening to her? Who helps her (5b)? When? What happened when the nations raged (6a)? What happened when the Lord just uttered His voice (6b)? Who is with us (7a, 11a)? What is our refuge (7b, 11b)? What are we encouraged to do (8a)? In this case, what works specifically are we to behold (8a)? And v9? What are these raging and warring nations commanded to do (v10a)? Who wins this battle for supremacy among the nations (10b)? In all the earth (10c)? 
This week’s Call to Worship, Invocation, and Confession of sin came from Psalm 46.
Here is a great Psalm of confidence in the Lord. If God is our refuge—where we go to be safe—and our strength, … then what danger should really cause us to fear?

Really, there is only one that comes close. The judgment and wrath of God Himself. This is the danger that removes the earth. This is the danger that casts mountains into the sea. The flood (and the burning of fire at the return of Christ) are utterly terrifying.

But think about the flood. Who, in the flood, had God as his refuge and strength. To whom was God the present help in trouble? This is the great safety of Noah. Not the ark. But Him who is causing the devastation, destruction, and desolation beneath the ark.

Did you catch that in v8? “Come, behold the works of the Lord.” What works? “Who had made desolations in the earth.” The world-destroying power of God is actually a comfort to those who know that this world-destroying power is for them, not against them.

If by having God as our refuge, we have faced down God’s own wrath, then what have we to fear from men, and governments, and armies, and nations? There were plenty of those in place, when the earth had been “filled with violence” in Genesis 6, and God destroyed them all with one great stroke. Just so—it can be fearful when nations rage and kingdoms move. But our God’s power is such that the mere uttering of His voice makes the earth to melt!

“Yahweh of Hosts” is a name that highlights this. Not only is He the Creator of all, so that everything depends upon Him, but one of the things that He created are the angel armies—the hosts—that are under His command. But He is not just our God of unlimited power, He is our God of amazing grace!

“God of Jacob” is a name that highlights this. He doesn’t use the name “Israel” that covenant name of faith. No, there is plenty of “Jacob” left in believers in this life. That name, of course, highlighted how Jacob was a heel-grasper, who from the womb lived by his wits: manipulating, tricking, and stealing however he could to get his way. This was anything but a man of faith.

No, God does not shrink from identifying Himself with people who need such grace as we do. He is a God of amazing grace!!
What current situations seem most difficult to you? How will you remember God’s power for you?
Suggested songs: ARP46 “God Is Our Refuge” or HB381 “God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength”

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018.01.01 Hopewell @Home ▫ Hebrews 6:9-12

Questions for Littles: Of what is the writer confident according to v9? What do these better things accompany? What is God not unjust to do (v10)? What two things have they done toward God’s name? To whom is this ministry toward God’s name done? What does the writer desire (v11)? Unto what are they to show diligence? What are they not to become (12a)? Whom are they to imitate instead (12b)?
The Scripture for the sermon this week is dripping with love.

First, there is the way the writer addresses his readers: “beloved.” He has just spoken to them a very difficult word:

a threatening word to suggest that this could happen to some of them,

a frightening word of how one can end up being abandoned by God,

and a profoundly sad word of how this happens to people precisely because Jesus comes to mean quite little to them.

There is, therefore, something precious and instructive here about the word, “beloved.” The firmness of the threat makes its tenderness that much more precious. Let us see the character of our God here, whose word it ultimately is.

Often, He is a Father who is exercising the best of His goodness and wisdom in assigning to us that which is difficult.

Sometimes a hard word like the one in vv4-8, sometimes a messenger from Satan (2Cor 12:7-10), sometimes a form of discipline (Heb 12:5-14), but always from Him who has from all eternity considered us His “beloved.”

Therefore, it is an instructive word, because it teaches to us something about how we ought to conduct ourselves. The more difficult a thing we must say, the more tender must be our affectionate manner of address, that we may imitate the character and wisdom of our Lord!

Ultimately, this love is the source of the apostolic confidence about them, because it is a love that God has not only shown to them (reproducing it in the apostle), but it is also a love that God has reproduced in them (reproducing it toward other believers).

What is the work and labor for God that He will surely not ignore? It is a “work and labor of love toward His name” (v10). How does this love toward His name show itself? By “ministry to the saints” (v10)—those people whom the Lord has declared “holy” (“saints”) by identifying them with Himself.

This, ultimately is the key to stirring up our own confidence and assurance: not navel-gazing introspection to assess whether we feel loving enough, but rather “showing the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end.”

In the diligent effort of loving God’s name, and therefore working hard to serve His people, we find that He is the One producing love in our hearts, and therefore He strengthens our assurance that He is the One who has granted unto us repentance.

We do not thereby earn our way to glory. The “promises” are still gained by “inheriting.” However, the demonstration of the family resemblance, by the Father’s Spirit within us assures us that the inheritance rightly belongs to us.
To whom should you especially express tender love? What work of service to the saints do you do?
Suggested Songs: ARP16A “Keep Me, O God” or HB473 “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”