Saturday, August 25, 2018

2018.08.25 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 15:10-20

Questions for Littles: Who called the people to Himself in v10? What did He want them to do? What does not defile a man (v11)? What does defile a man? Who warned Jesus that the Pharisees were offended (v12)? What does Jesus say is the reason for the uprooting of some plants (people, v13)? What does Jesus tell the disciples to do with them in v14? What does He say will happen to those whom the Pharisees lead? Who asks Jesus for an explanation (v15)? What does Jesus say happens to our food, eventually (v17)? But where do our words come from (v18)? How long does that last? Apart from Christ, what kinds of things come out of our hearts (v19)? When that is what is coming out of our hearts, what does it do to us (v18,20)?
From the Scripture for this week’s sermon, we see one more of the changes that Jesus was making from the manmade religion of the Pharisees. Earlier in the chapter, we had seen that true religion is only that which has been invented by the Lord’s Word. Now, we see that true religion can only occur by the Lord’s power.

When Jesus rejects the tradition of the Pharisees outright in v11, they are offended. That’s not surprising. Have you ever told someone that something religiously important to them was invalid because it’s not part of the true religion in Scripture? Or maybe you’ve been told yourself.

It takes special humility to accept this, and to repent of and ruthlessly expunge everything from our religion that comes from ourselves. In fact, the required humility is so very special that Jesus says that it cannot come from man but only by the will and power of God (v13).

Lord, take away my blindness, because I cannot take it away from myself! Lord, give me faith, because I cannot give it to myself!

And that is actually the point of Jesus’s explanation in vv17-20. We can’t just wash our outsides in order to be clean before God. Why not? Because we’re rotten to the core of our hearts. The actual sins that proceed from us are literally just the tips of the spiritual icebergs in our hearts.

The only we can ever be clean before God is by receiving a spiritual heart transplant! Anything other than this Reformed doctrine of conversion is false religion, and the pit into which it causes people to stumble is horrifically deeper than the grave!
From where has your sin come? What can be done about it? Who can do this?
Suggested Songs: ARP51A-B “God, Be Merciful to Me” or TPH435 “Not What My Hands Have Done”

Friday, August 24, 2018

2018.08.24 Hopewell @Home ▫ John 2:1-12

Questions for Littles: Where do Jesus and His disciples go (v1-2)? What happens at the wedding (v3)? Whom does Mary tell about it? Why does Jesus say that this has nothing to do with Him (v4)? But what does His mother say, anyway, and to whom (v5)? How many waterpots were there (v6)? How much did each hold? How full did they fill them (v7)? What did the master of the feast think of the wine (v10)? What did he imply the guests had already done before this good wine came out? What did John call this miracle (v11)? What did it show/manifest? How did the disciples respond? 
In the Gospel reading this week, Jesus does the first of the signs through which the apostle earlier told us that they beheld His glory.

Of course, the more impressive part of the sign is actually the less important. The evangelist had told us that Jesus glory was “as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Now, making 150 gallons of good wine after everyone has already drunk freely might have been amazing and even generous. It certainly saved the young couple and their family from embarrassment. But, the Holy Spirit constructs His account in such a way as to point us to something else about the Lord Jesus’s character here: submissiveness to His mother.

There are two possibilities: either it is time for Jesus to separate Himself and begin His public ministry, or He is still a part of Mary’s household and in submission to her. It is doubtful that Christ performed other miracles before this. Theologically, His miracles were signs. And yet Mary, having treasured up in her heart so much about Jesus, and knowing His perfection in honoring her, is quite certain that He is both willing and able to do something.

Christ’s first miracle, then, is instigated not by some theological discerning of the time, but by our Lord’s perfect obedience to the fifth commandment. This is the main point of vv4-5 and v11-12. Once this first sign has been performed, the ministry now begins in earnest.

What a significant place, in the history of redemption, God has given to the honoring of our parents! Even on the cross, as Jesus appoints this very evangelist to care for Mary, He is still presenting prominently the goodness of the duty to honor our parents!

So, also, the Lord honors marriage in general and weddings in specific by making one to be the occasion of His first public miracle. Ultimately, however, this is not a passage about honoring parents and honoring marriage as much as it is a passage about believing in Christ. What did the first disciples do, when they saw Jesus perform this sign?

They believe in Him—and so must we!
Why is Christ’s perfect honoring of His parents and honoring of marriage important? How do you continue to honor your parents? How do you honor marriage?
Suggested songs: ARP45B “Daughter, Incline Your Ear” or TPH128B “Blest the Man That Fears Jehovah”

Thursday, August 23, 2018

2018.08.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1Corinthians 7:1-9

Questions for Littles: Who had written that it was good for a man not to touch a woman (v1)? What happens when each man doesn’t have his own wife, or each woman doesn’t have her own husband (v2)? What do husbands and wives need to show one another (v3)? Who has authority over a wife’s body (v4)? Who has authority over a husband’s body? What does v5 command them not to do? For what purpose can they take a break? For how long? Why must they come back together quickly? To what (end of v5) was Paul offering a concession (v6)? Like whom did he wish they were instead (v7)? Now to whom is he talking in v8? Like whom does he say it is good for the to remain? But what should they do if they cannot exercise self-control (v9)? Because of what does he give this particular instruction (cf. v26)?
In this week’s Epistle reading, we learned that at least some of the Corinthians had come up with their own solution to the problem of sexual immorality: perpetual celibacy. It’s not a new plan. Roman Catholics—and other cults—have long taught the idea that there is a level of super-Christian who decide never to get married at all.

Now, the Corinthians were in a temporary situation of distress (v26) that it made it best to stay single if possible without sin (v8-9). But, not everyone is given the gift of unusual self-control (v7). So, even in the Corinthian situation, marriage was the best option for most.

Man’s ideas are no substitute for the Word of God or the Spirit of God. When God calls something good, like marriage, we cannot compensate for our sinfulness by calling that thing bad and just trying to stay away from it.

Obviously, from this passage, singleness is not a cursed state. However, it is plain from this and many other passages that marriage is a blessed state.

And it is crystal clear from this passage that husbands and wives are to be affectionate to one another. This is God’s good design for marriage, and to depart from it is not only to deprive ourselves of God’s good gift, but to leave ourselves defenseless before our own sin and folly.

Let us learn what folly comes from adding rules to God’s rules, as if that could actually do something about our sin.
What are you doing to support and guard your and others’ marriages?
Suggested songs: ARP45B “Daughter, Incline Your Ear” or TPH549 “O Gracious Lord”

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

2018.08.22 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 29:1-14

Questions for Littles: To what land does Jacob come (v1)? What does he find there (v2)? What were lying by it? What was on the well’s mouth? At what point would they roll the stone away (v3, 8)? Who was coming (v6, 9)? What did Jacob do by himself in v10? What did Jacob tell Rachel in v12? Where did she go? Whom did she tell? Where did Laban go in v13? Who told Laban the same things that Rachel had just told him (v13)? What did Laban say in v14? Where else have we heard this particular phrasing (cf. 2:23)? How long did Jacob stay with him at this point? What had Jacob’s mission been (cf. 28:1-2)? 
In the passage for this week’s Old Testament reading, we have what is getting to be a familiar romantic theme. Boy meets foreign girl at well. Boy goes home to girl’s family. Boy marries girl and takes her to a different country.

There are two stories that depend upon the outcome. The smaller one is the story of Jacob getting a wife. Of course, he really didn’t need one so long as he was Rebekah’s mama’s boy. But then came the whole Esau mortal-revenge problem, and finding an appropriate wife became a handy excuse.

Now, Jacob the deceiver, son of Rebekah the schemer, is getting himself entangled with an entire family of people of similar character. That doesn’t bode very well. We do, incidentally, find out something moderately impressive about him: when push comes to shove, he’s able to lift a stone with the strength of many men in order to get a private audience with a gal.

The bigger story, of course, is the one of how the Lord is defeating the serpent by bringing a Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into the world. As we are becoming familiar with noticing, His method in the history of redemption is to use messed up sinners to bring the Redeemer into the world.

Laban, for selfish reasons, announces that Jacob is his bone and his flesh. That sacred statement with which we were introduced to the holy, creation ordinance of marriage, is twisted into an instrument by which Laban hopes to profit as much as possible from his connection to Jacob.

But there is another sharing of bone and flesh that will come through this. The Word will become flesh and dwell among us. God the Son will take to Himself a bride, and just as He has taken on her flesh and bone in the incarnation, so also He will give her new, eternal life, of both soul and body. Little could Laban have known what glorious grace toward which his words were pointing!

In your daily life, dear Christian, the Lord is not bringing Himself into this world to accomplish salvation, but He is indeed working that salvation out. As He applies His redemption, one day at a time, He is working through lives like Jacob’s and like ours—messed up sinners as we are—so that all would be to the praise only of His glorious grace!
With what greater story is this week’s story of your own life intertwined?
Suggested songs: ARP23A “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or TPH256 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

2018.08.21 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 58

Questions for Littles: Questions for Littles: What does v1 say Isaiah is to be telling God’s people and the house of Jacob? Whom does v2 say that they seek daily? What does v2 say that they delight to know? What does v2 say that they ask of God? Whom does v2 say that they take delight in approaching? What questions do the people ask in v3? What does v4 say are the reasons that they were fasting? What were they trying to make happen? What does v5 say that they did to their souls when they fasted? What did they do to their heads? What does v6 say that God wants their fasts to be like? What does v7 say they should do as a result of their fasts? To whom should they bring their bread? Whom should they bring into their house? What should they do for the naked? If their fasts are like this, what does v8 say will break forth like the morning? What will spring forth speedily? What will go before them? What will be their rear guard? Upon whom does v9 say they will call? What will He do? To whom will they cry? What will the Lord say when they cry? What does v9 say are three things that people who trust in and worship God will take away? To whom does v10 say they will extend their souls? Whom will they satisfy? What does v10 say will then come into the darkness? And what will their darkness be like? Whom does v11 say will guide them continually? Who will satisfy their souls as in drought? Who will strengthen their bones? What does v11 say they will be like? What does v12 say they will rebuild? What will they raise up? What will they be called? From what were they to turn their feet on the Sabbath (v13)? Whose day is it? What were they to call a delight? What were they to call honorable? Whom do we honor when we delight in the Sabbath? Whose ways are they not to do on the Sabbath? Whose pleasure are they not to find on the Sabbath? Whose words are they not to speak on the Sabbath? What (whom!) does v14 say that this kind of Sabbath-keeping will make them delight in? Upon what will this Sabbath keeping make us to ride? Upon whose heritage will this kind of Sabbath-keeping make us to feed?
This week’s Call to Worship, Invocation, and Confession of sin came from Isaiah 58. This chapter compares false religion with true. False religion that thinks God owes us for making ourselves miserable by obeying Him. Such religion treats worship and obedience as miseries that we endure so that God will be satisfied with what we do. Doesn’t it frighten you, dear Christian, that these people sought God daily, and delighted to know His ways, and asked from Him ordinances of justice, and took delight to approach Him (v2)… and yet the introduction to this entire chapter was a trumpet-blast announcement of their sin (v1)?

If such eagerness for worship, and zeal for learning, and commitment to obedience can be condemned by God as wicked, how can we tell by the fruit of our lives if we genuinely belong to God or not? Thankfully, our passage highlights a fruit that comes from false religion: driving others hard, accusing others, speaking wickedly (v9b). It turns out that if we consider God hard and demanding and uncaring with us (v5), requiring us to manipulate Him by what we do (v4), we will be hard and demanding and uncaring with others.

But the Lord has given us His worship and law generously, giving us that which is for good and for joy—to free us precisely from that sinful mindset that belongs to our natures (v6), and to turn around and be as merciful with others as God has been with us (v7).

What’s the great difference between the two kinds of religion? One says, “look what great things I have done for God!” (v3). The other says, “look what great things God has done for me!” (v9a). Those who trust in the Lord and rejoice in His mercy and grace become those who are merciful and gracious with others (v7, v10). Their lives become abundant not by the impressiveness of their effort, but by the continual work of God’s grace in them (v8, 11). And God uses them to bring life and healing and strength to others (v12).  Isn’t that what you would like, dear Christian? Which religion is yours?

Now, what if we have discovered that our hearts are too much like the false religion and too little like the true religion? None of us appreciate God’s goodness and generosity as much as we ought to. None of us are merciful and gracious to others as we ought to be.

Enter one of God’s good and generous gifts: His Sabbath. There’s a wonderful “If-then” in v13-14. It goes exactly opposite what many of us would expect. Apart from grace, we naturally approach Sabbath-keeping like Pharisees, thinking that good Sabbath keeping will show how much we delight in the Lord… we think that “If you delight yourself in the Lord, then you will turn your foot and call the Sabbath a delight.”

However, our passage says exactly the opposite: “If you turn your foot and call the Sabbath a delight, then you will delight yourself in the Lord.” In other words, every Sabbath is a heart-training day, a delight-training day. God has built into every single week a day that cures us just a little bit of the false religion, and grows us just a little bit in the true religion.

What are we to do on His holy day? Treat it as holy! In other words, treat it as His, not ours. There are particular places that He has for us to go (worship!), so we focus on going there instead of wherever else we would have wanted. There are particular pleasures (Him Himself in focused, direct fellowship) that He has for us to enjoy—pleasures that should obsolete and dwarf whatever else we would seek after. Even the type of conversations that we have are determined by the fact that it is His holy day.

We’re so convinced that our natural desires and pleasures are the best, that we don’t always feel like the Sabbath is a gift, but in moments when we don’t feel it, we need to trust what Scripture says. That’s a big part of the Christian life, isn’t it? Doing what God says is best, even when it feels to us like it’s not? There’s already a joy in entrusting ourselves to His wisdom, and the love in which He has given His good commands. It is sweet to submit to the Savior, to yield ourselves to Him who loves our soul.

But it is more than that. There is a promise here, and thousands of years of believers have experienced God’s faithfulness to that promise. The Lord teaches us that there is a mechanism here, and thousands of years of believers have experienced the truth of that teaching.

Oh, how delightful is the Lord, our life! Indeed, He makes us to ride on the heights. What is the heritage of Jacob our father? The Lord Himself is our inheritance! And every good and perfect gift that He provides in that relationship.
How does weekly Lord’s Day keeping turn you away from man-made religion to God-made religion?
Suggested songs: ARP92 “It’s Good to Thank the Lord” or TPH151 “Lord of the Sabbath, Hear Us Pray”

Monday, August 20, 2018

2018.08.20 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 7:13-23, 16:18-28

Questions for Littles: What do the scribes and Pharisees ask about in vv1-2? What question does Jesus ask back in v3? What had God commanded, according to v4a? What had God threatened, according to v4b? But what did the scribes and Pharisees say to people (v5)? What did their saying end up doing to God’s commandment (v6)? What does Jesus call them in v7? Who had prophesied about them? With what did Isaiah say they draw near (v8)? But where was their heart? What did Isaiah say about their worship (v9)? Why was their worship empty and pointless—who/what was coming up with their way of worshiping God? 
From the Scripture for this week’s sermon, we learned two of the most important reasons for being Reformed: to be free from the commandments of men, and to serve the Lord sincerely and truly.

The scribes were the Bible scholars of the church, and the Pharisees were the local religious leaders of the church. As far as their understanding of what the Scriptures taught, Jesus said that they actually understood the Bible rightly (cf. Mt 23:1-3), but where they fell into serious error was in coming up with their own things to add to Scripture (Mt 23:4), which resulted in focusing on the outside instead of the heart (Mt 23:5-7). The only solution is to cut all man-made teaching and authority out of the church (Mt 23:8-12).

That’s exactly the issue in our passage in Matthew 15. It’s not like their ideas sound bad on the face of things: make sure to wash your hands before you eat, and devote a certain portion of your wealth to the service of God that you refuse to use for anything else.

But the folly of adding their own ideas alongside God’s Word can be seen in the results. When our ideas are treated in the same way as God’s Word, our ideas are being given too much weight. So it’s not surprising that when push comes to shove, God’s Word then ends up being given too little weight.

Focusing too much upon hands that are soiled with dirt ends up in their neglecting the more important problem of hearts that are soiled with sin. Focusing too much upon guarding funds for serving the church ends up in their neglecting the more important duty of taking care of their parents.

There is something even worse than messing up our theology or messing up our obedience: messing up our relationship with God.

When we go away from God’s law to our own definition of what love is, God says about us, “Your heart is far from Me.” My heart far from God?! What could be worth falling into such a condition?!

When, in addition to what God has commanded for worship, we add what feels worshipful to us, God says about us, “in vain they worship Me.” If God says our worship is worthless, how can it even matter if we or anyone else likes it?

Ultimately, this is the entire point of being Reformed: Scripture alone defines our doctrine; Scripture alone defines love and obedience to God; Scripture alone defines how to worship God. Why? Because we want to draw near to Him with the whole heart, and we want to render unto Him worship that He values.

Adding any ideas of men, however well-meaning or good-looking to us, just isn’t worth the cost!
What negative criticism have you heard of being “Reformed”? How would you answer that now?
Suggested Songs: ARP119B “How Can a Young Man Cleanse His Way?” or TPH119B “How Shall the Young…?”