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Saturday, April 25, 2020

Affliction and Worship That Turn Our Hearts Toward Him (2020.04.25 Pastoral Letter and Hopewell Herald)


Hopewell Herald – April 25, 2020

Dear Congregation,

From last week’s sermon text, we learned that all our comforts, great and small, come in the same love, wisdom, and power that gave us Christ.

In tomorrow’s passage, the Holy Spirit teaches about the intermediate state of the believer at death, and the hope of the resurrection.

This is a reminder that all of our sufferings, and even our death, also come to us in the same love, wisdom, and power that gave us Christ.

This is why the most troubling thing for a biblically-minded believer is when we lose our sense of communion with God or our affection for other believers as the bride of Christ. These are heavenly-world, and next-world, blessings that the Lord has given us to being enjoying in this world.

It speaks to the weakness of our faith that we feel the loss of other things so much more easily and intensely than the loss of communion with God. Indeed, afflictions may be what He uses to stir up our hearts toward Himself, so that we would say, “it was good for me that I was afflicted.”

But suffering isn’t the only thing that He uses to stir up our hearts toward Himself. He says that if we call His day a delight, then He will make us to delight in Him. And in the Lord’s Day assembly, He gathers us to Himself in glory, and presents Himself unto us, in an unique way.

Let us seek to be strengthened in our faith tomorrow, so that fellowship with the living God in Jesus Christ would be the great thing in our lives that makes us to live in His world as those who belong to Him!

Pastor

2020.04.25 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 25:1–18

Questions from the Scripture text: What did Abraham do in Genesis 25:1? How many sons did Keturah bear him (Genesis 25:2)? How many grandsons do Genesis 25:3-4 mention? To whom did Abraham give his entire estate (Genesis 25:5)? How does verse 6 refer to Keturah (and Hagar) by comparison to Sarah? What did he do with all his other sons? How long did Abraham live (Genesis 25:7)? How does Genesis 25:8 describe him? What two things happen to Abraham in verse 8? What third thing happens to him in Genesis 25:9? Who bury him where? How did they get the field (Genesis 25:10)? Who else was buried there? What continued after Abraham died  (Genesis 25:11)? Whose genealogy does Genesis 25:12 begin? How many sons of Ishmael do Genesis 25:13-15 name? What else does Genesis 25:16 tell us about them? How long did Ishmael live (Genesis 25:17)? What three things happen to Ishmael in verse 17? Who is with him at his death (Genesis 25:18)?
Sometimes, our perception of God’s promises in our lives is that they come true rather slowly.

Between Keturah’s six sons, and their ten grandsons, and Ishmael’s twelve sons who are princes of peoples, perhaps even by the time that Ishmael dies, the descendants of Abraham are many.

But “through Isaac shall your seed be called” (Genesis 21:12). This is why Abraham leaves his entire estate to Isaac and sends the rest of his sons away (Genesis 25:6). One wonders why it is just he and Ishmael who bury him (Genesis 25:7-11), but there are many reasons, and the text simply doesn’t tell us. It does, however produce a stark contrast with the rather large gathering implied for Ishmael in Genesis 25:18.

The effect of the contrasts between Abraham’s burial vs. Ishmael’s, and Ishmael’s progeny v.s. Isaac’s current childlessness, is to communicate that the covenant line again hangs by a thread. This has been a theme throughout Genesis, and will continue to be. Not only through Genesis, but throughout the history of God’s people. Not only in Scripture, but throughout church history.

But it is not the number of threads that matter, but the nature of the thread. The “Isaac thread” is not Isaac himself, but the faithfulness of the God who has determined to bring His promises through Isaac. Tensile strength: infinite.

So, yes, God’s promises seem to be coming true slowly. But there is nothing more sure.

And we see that, ever so subtly, in two different ways. The first is the language of “being gathered to his people”—something said of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and Aaron in the Scriptures. In Genesis 25:8-9, it is apparent that this is something other than death or burial, likely what Christ refers to in Luke 16:22 as “being gathered to Abraham’s bosom.” Believers do not perish at death, but the Lord receives their souls into a state of blessing until the resurrection (cf. Matthew 8:11, Psalm 73:23–24).

And that is a message that our passage announces against the backdrop of the thread by which the promise hangs. Where is his body laid? Next to his wife’s. In the only piece of covenant land that the covenant people formally own. A grave cave. Purchased in the hope of the resurrection.

God’s promises sometimes seem to be coming true rather slowly, sometimes seem to hang by a thread. But they are as sure as the faithfulness of the God who has promised, and as sure as the Christ in Whom those promises all have their “yes” and “amen” (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:18–22).
What situation threatens to shake your confidence in God’s promises? Why mustn’t you let it?
Suggested songs: ARP116AB “How Fervently I Love the Lord” or TPH234 “The God of Abraham Praise”

Friday, April 24, 2020

Jesus exercises the same glorious authority in His preaching in our churches on the Lord's Days as He did in the sign-accompanied preaching on the Sabbaths in the synagogues of Galilee

2020.04.24 Hopewell @Home ▫ Luke 4:31–44

Questions from the Scripture text: Where did Jesus go in Luke 4:31? What was He doing on what occasions? How did they respond to His teaching (Luke 4:32)? Why? What kind of man did He meet at church (Luke 4:33)? What was the man calling Him and asking Him (Luke 4:34)? What did Jesus command the demon to do (Luke 4:35)? Now what were they amazed at (Luke 4:36)? What was the result of these things (Luke 4:37)? Where did Jesus go after church (Luke 4:38)? What was happening with Simon’s wife’s mother? Of Whom did they make request concerning her? What did Jesus do in Luke 4:39, and with what result? What did she do when she was healed? What time of day was it in Luke 4:40? Now who came, and what did Jesus do? What else happened to many (Luke 4:41)? What were the demons saying, and how did Jesus respond? What did Jesus do, when, at the beginning of Luke 4:42? Where did the crowd go? What were they trying to do? What did Jesus say that He had come to do instead (Luke 4:43)? And what was He doing where (Luke 4:44)?
The Lord Jesus came with victorious power to defeat Satan and his kingdom, which is what the demons themselves focus upon in Luke 4:34Luke 4:41. But Christ’s focus is elsewhere, silencing their acknowledgments of Him and refusing to answer their questions (Luke 4:35Luke 4:41).

The Lord Jesus came with healing power to undo the effects of the curse in people’s lives. And this is what the people eventually focus upon, as we see them there in Luke 4:40, coming the moment Sabbath is over to get healed, and in Luke 4:42 trying to prevent Jesus from leaving. But Christ’s focus is elsewhere, insisting that He depart to other cities to focus on another thing.

And what was His focus in His earthly ministry? Preaching the kingdom of God in their churches on the Sabbaths. Indeed, they were amazed at this preaching, not guessing but declaring, not the opinions of a man but the authoritative Word of God (Luke 4:32). Probably Luke 4:18-21, from the previous passage, is a good example of this kingdom preaching—declaring Himself to be the promised King and Savior.

This is the way of the Lord—to honor His Word. He declares His great works beforehand through His prophets (cf. Amos 3:7). He created all things by His Word (cf. Psalm 33:6–9). He upholds all things by His Word (cf. Hebrews 1:3). He works faith by His Word (cf. Romans 10:14–17). And it is by His Word that He works effectively in those whom He has brought to faith (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:13).

And so it comes as no surprise that when the Word became flesh in order to redeem us by His blood, He preceded that atoning work by that preaching ministry that Isaiah 61 had prophesied. During His ministry on earth, Jesus went to church on Sabbath and preached His gospel of salvation. And even now, in His ministry from heaven, Jesus preaches in the churches on His Lord’s Day Sabbath, proclaiming His gospel of salvation (cf. Hebrews 2:1–4Hebrews 2:12, Hebrews 4:2–9, Hebrews 12:22–26).

The Lord Jesus is a glorious Healer, a victorious King, and an atoning Redeemer! And He places great emphasis upon His own preaching as a means by which He applies all of these benefits to us. Let us be disciples who follow Him by being taught and keeping all that He has commanded!
In which activity, especially, does Jesus preach to you? When/how else do you get His Word?
Suggested songs: ARP119W “Lord, Let My Cry before You Come” or TPH172 “Speak, O Lord”

Thursday, April 23, 2020

2020.04.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ Ephesians 1:15–19

Questions from the Scripture text: What two things had the apostle heard back about the Ephesian church (Ephesians 1:15)? How did he respond to this news (Ephesians 1:16)? To Whom did he pray, and what does he call Him in Ephesians 1:17? What did he pray God would give them—what does he call the Spirit here? What does he pray that the Spirit would do to their understanding? What two things would they come to know in Ephesians 1:18 if their understanding is thus enlightened? What additional thing would they come to know in Ephesians 1:19?
Believers have lots of room for growth. Here was a church of such faith and love as to occasion apostolic thanksgiving to God—how we ought to join the Lord, and the angels, and the apostles in thanking God for whatever faith and love we hear about!

But they still had room to grow, and so the apostle who thanked God for them also prayed for them a prayer to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.” He addresses his prayer in such a way as to remember and remind us of the great power that He is enlisting.

By that power, the apostle seeks the working of the Spirit to help the Ephesian believers’ minds. He refers to the spirit here as “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” For what work of the Spirit does he ask? That the third Person of the Trinity would give light to they eyes of their understanding.

We learn here that for spiritual growth, there must be theological growth. Spiritual growth is more than theological growth, but it does not exist without the other. This is because there are at least these three things that we should always be growing in understanding:

The hope of His calling. There is stability and joy that comes from growing in our understanding both that it is He who called us, and what glory it is to which He has called us.

The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. There is wonder and worship that comes from growing in our understanding of how He has valued us and taken us to be His.

The exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power. There is confidence and zeal that comes from growing in our understanding of how it is by His almighty power that He worked faith in us, and by that same almighty power that He is still working in us.

Believers have lots of room for growth, which comes by growing in understanding these things.
What place does theological growth have in your prayers? And what place in your efforts?
Suggested songs: ARP19B “The Lord’s Most Perfect Law” or TPH172 “Speak, O Lord”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

2020.04.22 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Samuel 5:6–12

Questions from the Scripture text: What did Yahweh do to whom, while His ark was in the house of Dagon (1 Samuel 5:6)? What did the people of Ashdod say in 1 Samuel 5:7? Whom did they gather in 1 Samuel 5:8, what did they ask, and what was their answer? Where did they take it? What did Yahweh do there (1 Samuel 5:9)? What did the people of Ekron say that the other Philistines had sent them the ark to do (1 Samuel 5:10)? Now, who gathered, and what did they decide (1 Samuel 5:11)? What had God done to the people of Ekron (1 Samuel 5:11-12)?
How very different Yahweh is from Dagon, and from all manmade religion (i.e., Idolatry). The true and living God simply does not need the help of man.

How foolish Israelites are, when they think that they can harness the power of the Lord through uninstructed use of the furnishings He has given them to worship Him. How foolish Philistines are, when they think that the power of the Lord can be overcome by the power of Dagon or mitigated by location in one or another Philistine city.

What 34,000 Israelites had died trying to do, the Lord accomplishes by Himself with little fanfare and no assistance, devastating Ashdod and Gath and Ekron, the three greatest of the five major Philistine cities. He is what the Philistines feared, after all, the God who singlehandedly destroyed the great Egyptian empire. And yet, Israel (and Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas in particular) had not properly feared this God, carelessly provoking Him as they had at Sinai in the incident of the calf, and as Eli’s family had a history of doing in the day that Nadab and Abihu were ordained.

And what fools we would be if we did not recognize how easily we do the same. When we have problems in our lives—or in our families, or in our churches—let us remember that the Lord can do His work all by Himself, as He did in the cities of the Philistines. He does not need our help. Rather, He has appointed means—yes, things like training and weapons and strength for armies, and other appropriate means to other situations.

But the greatest means are found more directly in our relationship with Him: repentance to turn away from the sin that despises Him, and from which He is determined to cleanse us; obedience that honors Him, and which He is pleased to honor; faith that clings to Christ, so that He is glorified in carrying us through, and glorified in what He brings out of it; prayer in which we acknowledge all of these things before Him, and He responds to us according to His character and the relationship that He has given us with Himself.

When those are the great and foundational means that we are employing in our life as a whole, we will be prepared to employ means uprightly—not innovating in worship or the church, not manipulating or depending upon men or ourselves, but trusting and obeying the God who does not need our help!
What are you concerned about? What use are you making of the “greatest” means? What other means are you employing in faith and obedience?
Suggested Songs: ARP146 “Praise the Lord” or TPH146 “Praise the Lord! My Soul, O Praise Him!”

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

2020.04.21 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 53:1–6

Questions from the Scripture text: What two questions do Isaiah 53:1 ask? With what word does Isaiah 53:2 begin? So, what is this report that is the revelation of God’s saving arm? Like what kind of plant would the Messiah grow (verse 2a)? Out of what kind of ground (verse 2b)? What does verse 2 assure us would not be true about the Messiah physically? How would men treat Him (Isaiah 53:3a)? What would He experience (verse 3b)? How would we respond to His sorrow and grief? But whose grief and sorrow is He actually carrying (Isaiah 53:4)? And who, would men think, was punishing the Messiah? But for whose transgressions was He wounded (Isaiah 53:5a)? For whose iniquities was He bruised? For whose peace was He chastised? Whom did He heal by His stripes? What had we done (Isaiah 53:6)? And who was it that laid our guilt upon the Messiah instead?
Next week’s Call to Worship, Prayer for Help, Song of Adoration, and reading of the Gospel come from Isaiah 53:1–6 in order to sing God’s thoughts after Him with Man of Sorrows! What a Name.

For a few reasons, this passage lends itself well both to crying out to God for help and for confessing our sin to Him. It is easy to see why these verses work so well for both of those purposes.

First, Isaiah 53:1 is a perfect verse for a prayer for help in worship. It reminds us that in worship, when God’s Word is announced, His strong arm of salvation is being put on display. But it also reminds us that the ability to believe the Word as it is taught and preached is not something that we automatically have. In fact, God has to supernaturally give us the ability to believe!

Then, Isaiah 53:2-6 are some Scripture verses that perhaps, of the entire Bible, lend themselves most easily to a confession of sin. Look at how great our sin is, in what it cost. Sorrow! Grief! The striking and wounding and bruising of God! Chastisement! Stripes!

But don’t just look at what our salvation from sin cost. Look at Whom it costed those things!! Here is the ugliness of our sin best seen—

And what a rich mercy that we get to see our sin most clearly, precisely in the very picture of the love and salvation of Christ for sinners. For, we may gaze at this picture without minimizing the greatness of our guilt upon the one hand, but also without despairing over that greatness on the other. The Lord has laid upon Him our iniquity!
How does the cross help you face your sin? When was the last time you consciously did this? 
Suggested songs: ARP22A “My God, My God” or TPH352 “Man of Sorrows! What a Name”

Monday, April 20, 2020

2020.04.22 Prayer Meeting Folder and Webcast

The Prayer Meeting Folder for the coming Wednesday evening is now available. There will be a webcast (audio only) of the devotional and of Pastor-led prayer, beginning around 6:30 p.m. both at the webcast page and at Hopewell's Facebook Page.

2020.04.19 Morning Sermon—Genesis 24:59–67, "God of All Comfort"

As the Lord carries out an eternal plan to give His adopted children infinite and eternal comfort, He exercises the same love and wisdom and power to fill each of their lives with a multitude of other comforts. [mp3] [PDF outline]

2020.04.20 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 24:59–67

Questions from the Scripture text: Whom does Bethuel’s household send away in Genesis 24:59 (cf. Genesis 24:61)? Whom does Bethuel’s household bless in  Genesis 24:60? What blessing do they give her? Where was Isaac in  Genesis 24:62? What was he doing in  Genesis 24:63? What did he see? Who sees him in  Genesis 24:64, and what does she do? What had she asked in  Genesis 24:65? What did the servant say? What did she do? What does the servant tell Isaac in  Genesis 24:66? Where does Isaac bring her ( Genesis 24:67)? What does she become? What does he do for her? What does she do for him?   
God cannot change; He exists in an eternally perfect simplicity—an eternal, simple perfection. Therefore, He does nothing partially or by halves. He exerts all of who He is, all the time, in every action.

This is high theology that can bring us deep comfort, when we consider the closing portion of Genesis 24. God is bringing Isaac a wife who will comfort him in the loss of his mother. And He is doing so in the same love and wisdom and power in which He is bringing, through Isaac, Christ into the world to save sinners, that they may be the adopted children of God!

We are reminded that, with such a God as this, we don’t have to choose between eternal, gospel comforts and detailed situational comforts. What is He doing in my life right now? Whatever is necessary to produce in me the holiness that will both qualify me to enter into, and equip me to enjoy, the perfect blessedness that is mine in Christ!

But I have specific pains, specific griefs. And God is also addressing those. Giving me fellowship with Himself in them by prayer and the sympathy of Christ. Arranging events to produce good that has not even occurred to me at this point, and other good that I may never even discover. He is clothing flowers, and feeding birds—not one of whom falls to the ground apart from Him. But I am His adopted child in a way that they are not, and He has numbered the hairs on my head. He knows everything I need before I ask, but He loves to display Himself as a Father who is interested in hearing my voice, and responds with compassion and mercy. He has given me the privilege of my prayers being the occasion that “moves” (as it were) His almighty hand.

How blessed, then, are the prayers and efforts of believers! Here, we see Isaac out in the field in the evening, strolling and meditating. His prayers are joining in the work of God’s almighty love and wisdom and power. Here, we see the long, strenuous effort of Abraham’s servant coming to fruition. His efforts are joining in the work of God’s almighty love and wisdom and power to bring a wife for one of His sons and a husband for one of his daughters.
Dear Christian, are you growing weary in long-offered prayers or prolonged and strenuous work? Look at the cross in which we have the greatest display of God’s love and wisdom and power toward you! And know that in your prayers and your efforts, you are participating in a work of that same love and wisdom and power. For what are you in danger of wearying as you pray and work? What can refresh you in this? 
Suggested Songs: ARP45B “Daughter, Incline Your Ear” or TPH128 “Blessed the Man That Fears Jehovah”