Saturday, August 3, 2019

2019.08.03 Hopewell @Home ▫ John 15:1-8

Questions for Littles: How does Jesus describe Himself in John 15:1? How does Jesus describe His Father? What does the Father do to branches that do not bear fruit (John 15:2)? What does the Father do to the branches that do bear fruit? Why? What does Jesus say that they already are in John 15:3? How did they come to be this way? What does He command them to do in John 15:4? What does He promise to do in response? What cannot happen unless they follow this command? What description of Himself does Jesus now repeat in John 15:5? How does He go on to describe His disciples? How much fruit will they bear if they abide in Him, and He abides in them? What can they do without Him? What happens to the one who does not abide in Jesus (John 15:6)? What does Jesus say will abide in those who abide in Him (John 15:7)? If His words are abiding in them, what will be done for them? Whom are they to glorify (John 15:8)? How does this happen? What does this make them?
As Christ and His apostles leave the upper room (John 14:31), the Lord Jesus continues explaining the work of the Holy Spirit as He will teach them (John 14:26) and produce in them love for Jesus and the keeping of Jesus’s words (John 14:23-24).

As the Spirit’s ministry to them constitutes the Father and Son making Their home in the believer (John 14:23), so also it constitutes the believer abiding in Christ. Jesus says this three times in our passage.

First, in John 15:4, Jesus commands that we abide in Him. There are branches that look like they are on the vine, but there is no vital, internal connection. The life of the vine is not entering the branch, so they bear no fruit. The Father, whose love and fellowship toward us is only ever in Christ, casts out such “branches” from His Son and those connected to Him (John 15:2).

However, for those who are bearing fruit, the work in them is not yet done. The Father continues to minister to them—in His Son, by His Spirit. John 15:3 calls us back to John 13:10-11. Now, Jesus tells us the mechanism by which He joins us to Himself so that we would be clean: the Word which He speaks (verse 3). To this day, we still hear and believe Him through preachers whom He sends (cf. Romans 10:14-17).

But even after we believe in Jesus and belong to Jesus, there is still Word-work to do. The Father, who is with us by His Spirit, has an ongoing ministry to fruit-bearing branches. He prunes them. He cleans them further. Like Jesus washing their feet in chapter 13, the Father addresses the areas that still need improvement. This is how we come to bear more fruit (John 15:2), or as John 15:5 puts it, “much fruit”—the second verse in which our abiding in Jesus is mentioned. So this pruning and this abiding in Jesus are one and the same. The Father increases our fruit bearing by making us more and more to abide in the Son.

But what does that pruning look like? What does our abiding in Jesus look like? That brings us to the third mention, where the wording is changed ever so slightly. “If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you…” Here is the mechanism by which we are pruned—the way of abiding in Jesus: having His Words abide in us.

Sermon hearing, and Bible reading, and mulling over Scripture should be personal. It is not just an exercise in learning. It is an abiding in the Son by the ministry of the Spirit. It is yielding oneself up to the Father, by the Spirit, that He might prune us cleansing us more to make us more fruitful.

As He uses His Word, by His Spirit, to grow us up into His Son, we become closer copies of His Son—disciples (John 15:8), bringing glory to the Father who does this. The Christian life is a Word-saturated, progressive work of the Triune God to produce in us the fruits of fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When do you read/hear/meditate upon God’s Word? What should you be seeking out of such times? What are you hoping God will do in you in these times of fellowship with Him?
Suggested songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH1B “How Blest the Man”

Friday, August 2, 2019

2019.08.02 Hopewell @Home ▫ John 15:18-25

Questions for Littles: What attitude toward followers of Christ does John 15:18 anticipate the world having? Against whom else has the world had this attitude? How could His followers have been loved by the world (John 15:19)? Why aren’t His followers still of the world? With what command does John 15:20 begin? What did the world do to Christ? What will they do to His followers? Why will they do “all these things” to Christ’s disciples—Whom do they not know (John 15:21)? What particular sin do they have because of Christ’s coming and speaking (John 15:22)? What does Jesus call it to reject what He says (John 15:23)? Whom else does someone hate, if they reject Jesus? What particular sin do they have because of Christ’s working miraculous sign-works among them (John 15:24)? Why did these things happen (John 15:25)?
As the churches have lost the knowledge of the depth of man’s sinfulness, they have also fallen for the idea that there is a way to be loving enough that unbelievers will find us likeable. This passage is a startling reminder that this idea represents the expectation or suspicion that we can be more loving than Jesus!

No, the problem with unbelievers is not that they just haven’t happened upon likeable-enough Christians. It is that they hate the Christ.

The motivation to love them as ourselves must be to reciprocate to the Lord Jesus obedience to His commandments that comes from wholehearted love to Him because He first loved us. We must not be motivated by the idea that we will be “likeable” enough.

Jesus came as the revelation of His Father (John 1:18—and really the whole book of John). He actually expected to be hated without a cause—both because the Scripture said so (John 15:25) and because He was speaking words and doing works that were from the One whom the world already hates (John 10:25-39; John 14:10-11).

Now, we should expect to be hated. If we are speaking gospel words and still being “liked,” we may begin in love to press the issue of guilt and grace. For, it may well be that when we have striven not to be world-liked but Christ-like, and we are not hated and persecuted for it, that the cause is a work in the heart that God the Spirit has begun in them.

But let us not fear or shrink from being persecuted and hated! This they did to our Master, and this passage reminds us that it is wickedly arrogant to expect that we would receive differently.
Whom have you been telling about Christ to whom you might speak more plainly?
Suggested songs: ARP2 “Why Do Gentile Nations” or TPH2B “Why Do Heathen Nations Rage”

Thursday, August 1, 2019

2019.08.01 Hopewell @Home ▫ Galatians 1:11-17

Questions for Littles: What point is the apostle making about the gospel that he preached in Galatians 1:11? From whom did he not receive it (Galatians 1:12)? How else did he not receive it? How did it come? What does he assume they have heard of in Galatians 1:13? What had the apostle done? How much had he persecuted the church? What had he tried to do? In what had he advanced (Galatians 1:14)? Farther than whom? How did he do this? How was the timing of his conversion determined (Galatians 1:15)? When had the apostle been separated? Through what did God call the apostle? What was the apostle called to reveal (Galatians 1:16)? How would this revelation occur? What did the apostle not immediately do? Where did he not go (Galatians 1:17)? Where did he go?
We know that Paul had received information about Christ from Stephen in Acts 7, but the apostle here is pressing upon us the fact that the Gospel itself—the significance of who Christ is, the reason for and significance of what Christ did, the means by which a sinner comes to be saved… this was something that came from no man but directly from Jesus Christ Himself, because ultimately what is received in the gospel is not information but a Person.

What we see in our Galatians passage this week is that the communication of the gospel is not so much the communication of information but the display of an individual.

How did Paul get the gospel that he preached? “Through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). For what purpose did God call Paul through His grace? “To reveal His Son in me” (Galatians 1:16a). What was it that Paul preached among the nations (Gentiles)? It’s a what question with a Whom answer: “that I might preach Him.”

This reminds us again of the seriousness of holding purely to the mechanism of salvation in the gospel. If we turn away from it, by adding anything at all alongside it, we are turning away from a Person (Galatians 1:6).

Ultimately, each of us must receive the gospel in the same way—even though the Lord uses others. He used the apostles, prophets, and evangelists to give us the Bible. But it is still His very breathed out words (2 Timothy 3:16). He uses preachers to announce the gospel to us, but it is still Him whom we hear and believe (Romans 10:14-17, literally translated). He uses preachers in the Sabbath assembly to announce His will and shepherd us unto glory, but it is He who speaks from heaven (Hebrews 3:7-4:10Hebrews 12:22-29).

What Jesus made clear by using no man at all to deliver the true, pure Gospel to the apostle Paul is still true even when He does use men: His Word comes to us as personally from Him, and we are to be receiving Him Himself in them and responding to Him Himself.
When are you taught the Bible by others? Who is really addressing you then?
Suggested songs: ARP119W “Lord, Let My Cry before You Come” or TPH172 “Speak, O Lord”

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

2019.07.31 Hopewell @Home ▫ Judges 10:1-5

Questions for Littles: Who arose after Abimelech (Judges 10:1)? Who was his father? Who was his grandfather? From what tribe was he? In what city did he live? Where was this city located? How long did he judge (Judges 10:2)? Then what happened? What else do we know about him? Who arose after Tola (Judges 10:3)? From what region was he? How long did he judge? How many sons did he have (Judges 10:4)? Upon what did they ride? In how many towns did they live? What were those towns still called when Judges was written? What happened to Jair in Judges 10:5?
We don’t really notice Tola and Jair much. Five verses dispatch the two of them, and no specific acts of theirs are recorded.

But the Scripture does give us a few indications that they were actually fairly significant—at least in the work of God, and perhaps even in the eyes of the people.

First, there is the blessing of longevity. When we come later to the divided kingdom, there are a couple periods in which one kingdom has an extended reign that provides stability and prosperity, while the other goes through kings like fast food through the intestines—in rapid, turbulent fashion and out with a bang. 45 years over two judges is a couple of pretty good stints!

Second, Tola’s lineage is very carefully traced—especially for a man from Issachar. We don’t really hear much about Issachar; but someone—by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—cared enough to trace this Issacharite back through three generations.

Similarly, Jair was a man of note. He had so many kingly progeny that, at the time of writing, an entire region bore his name. Surely, there was sin involved in producing that; but God has ever demonstrated Himself able to overcome the personal wickedness of a ruler to use him to do good to His people.

Particularly in a book in which there has been so much instability and upheaval—and will be much more—this little break is a breath of fresh air. Often, in life and the church, we don’t recognize that God’s great mercy sometimes appears not in neon lights and fireworks, but in extended seasons of the boringly normal.
In what ways has God been displaying “boring” faithfulness in your life?
Suggested songs: ARP119W “Lord, Let My Cry before Your Come” or TPH1A “That Man Is Blest”

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

2019.07.30 Hopewell @Home ▫ Hebrews 12:22-24

Questions for Littles: To what mountain have we come (Hebrews 12:22)? To whose city have we come? What else is that city called? Of whom are there an innumerable company there? What is the church there called (Hebrews 12:23)? Where are they registered? Who is the Judge of all? What verdict has He declared about the spirits in the church of the firstborn? What else has been done to these just men? To whom else does Hebrews 12:24 tell us we have come? Of what is Jesus the Mediator? What speaks better than the blood of Abel? 
In this week’s Call to Worship, Prayer for Help, Song of Adoration and Confession of Sin, we heard not only about the mountain to which we haven’t come (Sinai, apart from Christ); but, we also heard about the mountain to which we have come.

The flow of the chapter has been: “we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses… and our Father is doing everything necessary to get us ready for glory… so we too should be making every effort toward holiness… since we have come not to Sinai but to Zion.”

God stirs us up in the pursuit of holiness by the greatness of these glorious worship services on the Lord’s Day.

First, it is not a mountain with smoke and fire at the top. It is not a touchable mountain that we are to stay away from, but a spiritual mountain upon which the Lord Jesus is taking us all the way to the top. And what we find there is a city where we belong.

It’s our Father’s city. And it’s full of angels, which this book already taught us are servants who minister to those who are inheriting salvation (Hebrews 1:14). And these angels are not assembled for war, but for a great celebration.

With whom else do we worship, when the Lord carries us by faith to heaven in the Lord’s Day Assemblies? The church of the firstborn. What we can’t see in English is that the word “firstborn” is plural. Here is something strange: everyone in Christ’s church has the status of a firstborn! This is a place of glory and honor for us!

It is also a place of security. The rights of the firstborn have been legally recorded in heaven. And God, the judge of all, has declared the members of this assembly to be just—officially “not guilty” in the court of God. In fact, the souls in glory have not just been forgiven, they have already been perfected. God’s salvation is sure, and it works!

This is the main message that we hear in Christian worship. To be sure, it is not the only message. As we will be reminded once again in Hebrews 12:25, we are not to refuse Him who speaks. But, before we hear anything else, we are to hear His blood.

Abel’s blood was terrible news. God observed it. God responded to it. His justice refused to ignore it. These all indicated that God is a God of wrath against sin. Jesus’s blood, however, tells good news. And it does a better job of talking than Abel’s does. Whatever sin testifies against us, Jesus’s blood talks louder, testifying of our redemption.
How does your approach to Lord’s Day Worship take into account these glories?
Suggested Songs: ARP95B “Today If You Will Hear His Voice” or TPH95A “O Come before the Lord, Our King”

Monday, July 29, 2019

2019.08.26 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 17:9-14

Questions for Littles: Who speaks to whom in Genesis 17:9? What does God tell Abraham to keep? Whom else does God say must keep His covenant? What obligation does God call “My covenant” in Genesis 17:10? Who must be circumcised? Who else gets included in the command in Genesis 17:11? When must a child be circumcised (Genesis 17:12)? What two groups are specified in verse 12, then reaffirmed in Genesis 17:13, as being required to have the sign applied to them? How long does the covenant with Abraham last? What if someone does not receive the sign—what shall happen to him (Genesis 17:14)? Why?
It might slip our notice, as we look at the rest of this passage, that Abraham spends the entire passage on his face. We would do well to come with the same posture of heart toward God, as He says MY covenant, MY covenant, MY covenant.

God is the One who initiates this covenant. Abraham does not have a choice in the matter. He did not make a decision or a commitment to bring himself into this binding relationship. Of course, he must decide and commit, but these were not optional for him.

God is the One who makes all of the promises. Promise to forgive. Promise to make holy. Promise to defeat death. Promise to give land. Promise of everlasting relationship. Yes, there are demands of Abraham, explicit and implicit. Faith. Obedience. Service. Worship. Even the application of the sign itself—which implies his obligation to yield to all of these things. But this is God’s covenant, and it has at its core God’s promises.

God is the One who will sustain both sides of the covenant. We saw this with the smoking pot and flaming torch in chapter 15. We heard it earlier in this chapter with the glorious statement that God Almighty would exercise that power in sustaining Abraham’s walk. In between, in chapter 16, all we had was Abraham’s failure.

Ultimately, this is a picture of Christ Himself. It is in Christ that God keeps all of these promises in your life and mine! The sign has changed but the substance is the same.
When were you baptized? How often do you reflect upon it and look to Christ?
Suggested Songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH265 “In Christ Alone”

2019.07.29 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 15:7-21

Questions for Littles: Whom did the Word of Yahweh say that He was in Genesis 15:7? What did He say that He had done? What did He promise that He would do? What does Abram ask in Genesis 15:8? What does the Word tell Abram to bring Him in Genesis 15:9? What does He tell him to do to them in Genesis 15:10? What three things fall upon Abram in Genesis 15:12? What bad news does God give Abram in Genesis 15:13? What good news in Genesis 15:14? What good news in Genesis 15:15? What reason does Genesis 15:16 give for why this is going to take so long? What pass between the animal pieces in Genesis 15:17? What does Genesis 15:18 say was happening? What was God binding Himself to do in Genesis 15:18-21?    
The passage that we have today is a marvelous display of the mercy and patience of God.

When Abram asks, “how shall I know” in Genesis 15:8, we want to scream into the text, “Because God just told you! Don’t you realize that the living God is speaking to you?!” Already, before any of God’s response to His dear one’s weak faith, great mercy is on display. God speaks to Abram! But we are not in a position to criticize, are we? Don’t we have the breathed-out words of God on the pages of the Bible? And do we marvel at and cherish at God’s having spoken and continuing to speak to us?

God’s response is not to admonish but to assist. He gives Abram instruction for an oath ceremony—not because the Word of God itself is made more sure, but because He is going to present it in a way that is more sure to Abram’s weak faith. The Lord does this throughout Scripture, and He does it for us today with the sacraments. God is being patient with Abram.

God also explains more to Abram. He owes Abram no more details. The secret things belong to our God. But, just as Jesus said that He treats us as friends by bringing us into what He is doing (John 15:15), so also God treats Abram as a friend (here, and especially in Genesis 18:17-19). We too are given not merely commands but much to support us as God opens His mind to us and tells us what He is doing.

What we see is that God is assuring Abram. This is important, because Scripture says that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 8:7-10Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6). So, God takes His weakly believing servant and gives his faith a booster shot. The Lord wants us to be sure, and tells us to pursue that assurance too (2 Peter 1:10). God assures His people.

But perhaps the most amazing thing in this passage is how it is that God assures Abram. In this oath ceremony, the dead animals on either side form a walkway of blood between them, calling down the curse of death upon whomever breaks the promise. But God does not have Abram walk between the pieces. He manifests Himself in two different ways to walk between the pieces! It will be Himself that God kills (which He will have to become a man to do) in order to keep His promise to Abram. The difference between Abram and the Amorites is not that the Amorites are sinners, and Abram is not. The difference is that Abram has the death of Christ!
How has God been demonstrating patience with you? Do you have “the Christ difference”?
Suggested Songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH459 “My Hope Is Built”