Saturday, September 23, 2023

Jesus Loves You SO Much, and You Should Obey God [2023.09.23 Pastoral Letter and Hopewell Herald

Hopewell Herald – September 23, 2023

Dear Congregation,

I asked 5yo S- what to write you, since I’m running on fumes. She said, “Jesus loves you SO much, and you should obey God.”

She’s not wrong. Of course, we would want to clarify that Jesus is God, and that He is both the One Whose obedience has been counted for us through faith, and the One Whose life in us is the only way that anyone can ever come to love or obey God. But one could almost summarize the teaching of the morning sermon passage for tomorrow (Mt 3:1–12) in her words.

Jesus does love us SO much. It is His everlasting love that refused to let us perish in our sins (v3 in light of Hos 11, Jer 31, Isa 53 from last week and Isa 40 this week). In everlasting love, He came into the world to save us from them (v12). In everlasting love, He pours out His Spirit, not just to give us the life that we desperately and urgently needed, but to dwell in us as our Helper and Hope (v11).

And you should obey God. Participating in religious movements about salvation (v7a), or receiving sacramental signs of salvation (v7b), or membership in a people of salvation (v9) are not such indicators of union with Christ or the indwelling of the Spirit as bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (v8).

As those who sometimes feel our desperate need of conversion, we need to hear, “Jesus loves you SO much,” and to hear what He has done (and is doing) for us in that love. And as those who sometimes feel self-assured in externals, we need to hear, “You should obey God,” and to hear that Jesus Himself, by His Spirit, is our hope of that as well.

Looking forward to gathering to Him together tomorrow,


Christ's Spirit Is Our Hope of Necessary, Urgent Conversion [Family Worship lesson in Matthew 3:1–12]

What has King Jesus come to do? Matthew 3:1–12 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twelve verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us King Jesus has come to fit His people for glory with Him before pouring out His wrath in unquenchable fire.
(click here to DOWNLOAD mp3/pdf files of this lesson)

2023.09.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 3:1–12

Read Matthew 3:1–12

Questions from the Scripture text: To what days does Matthew 3:1 fast forward? Where was John the baptizer preaching? What did he command to do (Matthew 3:2)? Why? Who had talked about John (Matthew 3:3)? What had Isaiah called him? What would this voice command that they prepare? How was John dressed (Matthew 3:4)? What did he eat? From where were people coming to him in Matthew 3:5? What was he doing to them (Matthew 3:6)? Where? What were they doing as they were being baptized? Whom does John see in Matthew 3:7? What does he call them? What does he say is coming with the kingdom? What does he ask them? What does he tell them to do in Matthew 3:8? What mustn’t they think can be a substitute for repentant works (Matthew 3:9)? How do children of Abraham arise? What picture does Matthew 3:10 use for the coming of the kingdom? How are the trees that are going to be burned identified? With what did John baptize (Matthew 3:11)? Unto what? Who else was coming—of what power? Of what worthiness? With Whom (!) would He baptize instead? What is the difference in source of power and likelihood of success? What else does the One Who baptizes with he Spirit have in His hand (Matthew 3:12)? What will He do with it? What does He gather? What does He burn? With what fire?

What has King Jesus come to do? Matthew 3:1–12 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twelve verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us King Jesus has come to fit His people for glory with Him before pouring out His wrath in unquenchable fire. 

Humility. Hosea 11 (cf. Matthew 2:15) and Jeremiah 31 (cf. Matthew 2:18) had prophesied a return of the Jews from exile and a reunification not only of Israel and Judah but more importantly of God’s people with God Himself. Now, Matthew takes us to another passage that had promised the same. John came preaching in a literal wilderness (Matthew 3:1) as the one prophesied about in Isaiah 40:3. There, YHWH Himself was coming to show His incomparable glory by gathering His people to Himself through His Word. He brings the “great” ones of the earth to nothing, but sustains His flock with enduring strength.

So, there is this building theme that whatever national expectations Israel might have had, what the Lord had actually promised and intended was not on a national scale but a cosmic scale. The sort of scale that makes us say, “God alone is glorious! No man is anything compared to Him!” (cp. Isaiah 40:12–26). John himself, YHWH’s herald, is an example of this humility. Jesus Himself makes this point in Matthew 11:7–10. John’s location and clothing (as well as his diet) are lowly in the eyes of men (Matthew 3:4), and this highlights (by contrast) the infinite greatness of the King and kingdom: what are fine clothes and a king’s palace next to YHWH the King?

If we are going to heed John’s message in Matthew 3:2, we are going to need humility. “Repent” is literally “be changed in the substance of your mind.” He is not just saying “feel more correctly” about your sin, or even “do better.” He is saying “be changed from the inside out!” Some have well-translated it, “Be converted!” This requires humility on two counts: the humility to admit that we ourselves need to be fundamentally changed to be saved, and then the further humility to realize that this is something that we cannot do for ourselves.

Of course, there is the danger of thinking that making public display of humility is a substitute for genuine internal transformation. This is the problem with the Pharisees and Sadducees—theological opponents who had in common that they loved appearances. But John compares them to snakes slithering out of Jerusalem (Matthew 3:7), and tells them that their lives must genuinely change (Matthew 3:8), for which external/visible covenant membership is not even a substitute (Matthew 3:9). Wanting to appear humble before men is no substitute for actually being humiliated before God!

John is announcing that conversion is necessary. In God’s great mercy, crowds flock to him (Matthew 3:5), confessing the great necessity of their conversion (Matthew 3:6). 

Urgency. The need for repentance has been occasioned by the nearness of the kingdom. When we come to Matthew 4:23, Matthew is going to tell us that Jesus preaches the “gospel” of the kingdom. But the kingdom is only good news for you if you have the favor of the King! John’s message is not one of sweetness and comfort but alarm and terror! The nearness of the kingdom (Matthew 3:2), becomes the wrath that is coming (Matthew 3:7), and then an ax the is already mid swing (Matthew 3:10a), and fire follows the death-blow (verse 10b). The King Who is coming separates those who are His (His winnowing, His hand, His threshing, His wheat), because He is ready to burn the rest with an unquenchable fire.

Hope. John pressed the urgent need of conversion, but he could not offer hope for that conversion from himself. He administers the sign, but we desperately need the One Who can apply the thing signified. And this One is the One in Whom John proclaims hope. Jesus is not a mere man. He is YHWH of Isaiah 40, before Whom the voice in the wilderness cries out. He is YHWH of Ezekiel 36, Who puts His own Spirit into people to change them (cf. Ezekiel 36:26–27), something that He illustrated by the sprinkling of water (cf. Ezekiel 36:25; Hebrews 10:22). By His Spirit, Jesus will change sinners’ hearts, join them to Himself through faith, and make them the good grain that He is cleansing to gather to Himself. 

By right, Jesus the King destroys His enemies. But by His pleasure, and by His plan, He gives His Spirit to redeem us, so that we are indeed changed by the time the kingdom itself has come.

What do you need, in order for the kingdom to be good news for you? How does this conversion happen?

Sample prayer:  Father, thank You for giving Your Son to be our King, Who first subdues us to Himself by His Spirit, before destroying His enemies. Grant that by the Spirit, we would believe in Christ, we ask in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP98 “O Sing a New Song” or TPH391 “Come, O Come, Thou Quickening Spirit”

Friday, September 22, 2023

Uncommanded Worship Is Christless Worship [Family Worship lesson in Leviticus 10:1–7]

What can turn God’s glory from a blessing into a curse? Leviticus 10:1–7 looks forward to the evening sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that when we approach the Lord in our own way, His glory becomes a curse to us rather than a blessing.
(click here to DOWNLOAD mp3/pdf files of this lesson)

2023.09.22 Hopewell @Home ▫ Leviticus 10:1–7

Read Leviticus 10:1–7

Questions from the Scripture text: Who act in Leviticus 10:1? Whose sons are they? What does this make them? What do they take? What do they put in it? What do they put on it? What does the Holy Spirit call this fire? Before Whom do they offer it? What had He not done? What comes out in Leviticus 10:2? From where/Whom? What does it do to Nadab and Abihu? What happens to them? Before Whom? Who speaks in Leviticus 10:3? To whom? Whose words does he deliver? Concerning what group of people, or what action, is the Lord speaking? How must those who draw near regard the Lord? Before Whom does He insist upon being glorified? What does this imply that Nadab and Abihu were not doing? How does Aaron respond to Moses’s statement? Whom does Moses call in Leviticus 10:4? What relation are they to Aaron? Where does Moses tell them to go? And carry what? Where? So where do they go (Leviticus 10:5)? How do they carry them? Where? What important qualifier ends verse 5? To whom does Moses now speak in Leviticus 10:6? What does he tell them not to do to themselves? What will happen to them if they do? What will happen to all the people? Who must mourn this new burning? How many of them must do so? Who has kindled it? But where mustn’t Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar go? What would happen to them? Why? What does the end of Leviticus 10:7 say that they do?

What can turn God’s glory from a blessing into a curse? Leviticus 10:1–7 looks forward to the evening sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that when we approach the Lord in our own way, His glory becomes a curse to us rather than a blessing. 

It must have seemed like a good idea to Nadab and Abihu. God has just displayed His glory. His people have just worshiped Him. Why not offer some burning incense in front of the tabernacle for all the people to rejoice in before Him? 

Deadly worship. But in the worship of God, it is never a good idea to do anything that isn’t God’s idea for us to do that in His worship. Leviticus 10:1 calls the fire strange (NKJ “profane”) and explains that by saying, “which He had not commanded them.” 

Here are 40% of the priestly family. On the first day after their ordination had been completed. Seven days’ worth of special sin offerings have been made for them. “The anointing oil of YHWH was upon” them (cf. Leviticus 10:7). If anyone could ever have been permitted to offer just a little of their own addition to the prescribed worship, it would be they. 

But that’s part of the point, isn’t it? YHWH says that if we come in our own way despises His holiness and denies His glory (Leviticus 10:3). And no amount of seeming worshipfulness or sincerity can compensate for that.

Christless worship. Indeed, we have been hearing for months, from the beginning of Leviticus, that all that the Lord has given as the way of worship is really coming through Christ. The tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrifices—all were shadow-pictures of Christ. To come to God in any other way than what He has commanded is to come without Christ!

This explains a shocking detail in Leviticus 10:2. The fire comes out from YHWH to devour them. It passes over the mercy seat, out of the holy of holies, past the altar of incense, past the lampstand, past the table of showbread, out the front of the tent, and consumed them. Even the mercy seat could not save them. Without Christ, the glory of God is a curse, not a blessing. 

And the supernatural nature of this cursing fire is all-the-more highlighted by an easy-to-miss detail in Leviticus 10:5. The fire that consumed Nadab and Abihu was focused so particularly upon them that their holy clothing is so intact that it can carry their corpses out of the camp. This was a display of God’s glory like in Leviticus 9:24. But without Christ, the glory of God is a curse, not a blessing.

Mournful worship. What a mercy the end of Leviticus 10:3 is: “so Aaron held his peace.” Many have responded with indignation at the idea that sincerely offered worship deserves God’s wrath and curse if it comes in actions not commanded by God. But God gives Aaron the grace to hold his peace, even when it has cost his sons their lives. He, Eleazar, and Ithamar can’t go out mustn’t follow ordinary mourning rituals, because their hats and garments are holy (Leviticus 10:6). They must all hold their peace.

So the providence of God requires others to do what Aaron and his remaining sons would otherwise do. Aaron’s cousins are permitted to come and retrieve the bodies (Leviticus 10:4-5). And it leaves the mourning to their “brethren, the whole house of Israel” (Leviticus 10:6). In this way, the passage teaches us how we should all respond to manmade worship and God’s curse upon it. Not with indifference or complacency. Not with self-righteousness. But with humility and mourning that the Name of God would be defamed in the midst of His people’s worship. 

Our patient God. The Lord is a merciful God. Slow to anger. Longsuffering. One need only to look at the mess of manmade worship that is offered in the church—from the papists and the eastern churches, to the worldly (“relevant”?) worship of so many evangelicals, to the liturgies full of supposedly wise “instructive” additions by some who even call themselves Reformed. When God does not incinerate all these worshipers, we do not conclude that they are somehow not committing the same sin as Nadab and Abihu. Rather, we conclude that God is merciful and patient! And therefore, He is all the more worthy of being worshiped only in the way that He has commanded.

How do we treat God as holy in the actions of worship? How do we treat Him as holy in the manner in which we do the actions? What place does mourning over worship sins have in your thoughts and prayers for the church?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You that You have made the way to Yourself in Christ. And we thank You that You have given us the actions of worship by which we may know that we are coming through Him. Grant also that Your Spirit would give us true faith in Him to come to You sincerely from our hearts in those actions that You have commanded, which we ask in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP51B “From My Sins, O Hide Your Face” or TPH274 “Jesus, My Great High Priest”

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Praying By and With the Spirit [2023.09.20 Midweek Sermon in Romans 8:26–27]

The Spirit, who helps us pray in a godly manner, also prays for us as God Himself.

(click here to DOWNLOAD video/mp3/pdf files of this sermon)

The High Calling of Godly Women Who Don't Cause God's Word to Be Blasphemed [Family Worship lesson in Titus 2:3–5]

How should an older woman conduct herself? Titus 2:3–5 looks forward to the second serial reading of in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these two verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that an older woman should conduct herself with such holiness and gentleness as encourages younger women to devote themselves to their crucial character and work.
(click here to DOWNLOAD mp3/pdf files of this lesson)

2023.09.21 Hopewell @Home ▫ Titus 2:3–5

Read Titus 2:3–5

Questions from the Scripture text: Whom else is Titus to exhort (Titus 2:3)? In what are they to have the holy carefulness of a priest (translated “reverent” by NKJ)? What aren’t they to be (i.e., ‘accusers’ always accusing like a devil)? To what are they not to be in bondage? Of what does this make them teachers? Whom are they to help to be temperate (Titus 2:4, where NKJ “admonish” is from the same root as “temperate” in Titus 2:2)? What are the two great loves of a temperate/sober-minded young woman? What is she to be, generally (yet another instance of that temperate/sober-minded/self-controlled word)? And what else? Where is her work? How else is she generally characterized? How does this goodness express itself in relation to her husband? What is at stake in young women’s conducting themselves this way?

How should an older woman conduct herself? Titus 2:3–5 looks forward to the second serial reading of in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these two verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that an older woman should conduct herself with such holiness and gentleness as encourages younger women to devote themselves to their crucial character and work. 

In making application of sound doctrine, Titus was to begin with the older men (Titus 2:1-2), who were an example for the congregation. Now, he turns to the older women (feminine version of the same word, Titus 2:3) for a similar reason. Their godly life is to be instructive to the younger women (Titus 2:4-5). 

An older woman’s example, Titus 2:3. There is a great spiritual danger for an older woman: live in pleasure (cf. 1 Timothy 5:6). Particularly if they have lived in service of others for decades, they may view old age as the time when they finally have the chance to live for themselves a bit. (Some even refer to this approach to life and “retirement” as “the American dream”!). But Titus is to exhort older women to a life that is exactly the opposite of living for pleasure. The word translated “reverent” is built off the root for a priest. Similarly to the widows of the roll in 1 Timothy 5, all older women are to live a life of consecration like the priests who had to be careful and wise to be always ceremonially clean. 

So, let older women live in holiness. There are two things they are especially to watch out for: being slanderers or given to too much wine. “Slanderers” is “devils”—it indicates backbiters or opponents, but it is the word devil. What a danger there is in becoming one who drops negative things about others into our conversations… the danger of becoming a devil! “Given to too much wine” is “slaves to much wine.” Alcohol has a particular enslaving power that makes it a representative of all earthly pleasures: to live for pleasure is to become its slave. 

A younger woman’s lesson, Titus 2:4. The older women’s consecrated behavior makes them a “teacher of good things such that they admonish.” The idea is not that they hold classes for younger women, but that their conduct is itself a masterclass. And what do the younger women learn to do? Love their husbands and love their children. More properly to the grammar in the original, they are to be husband-lovers and child-lovers. 

We live in a world that tells us to find our identity in ourselves, and the world finds a willing listener in our flesh. But the believer’s great identity is in the Lord, and that means embracing from the heart the roles into which He puts us. For a wife or a mother, this is to be her identity, earthly-speaking: not just that she devotes her time and effort to wife-ing and mother-ing, but that her earthly identity be that of a husband-lover and child-lover.

A younger woman’s conduct, Titus 2:5. “discreet” is sober-minded, self-controlled. She is theologically sound, and she lives not by impulses or emotions but by that sound doctrine. “Chaste” is holy, pure. She doesn’t muddle up her life with sin or competing interests. “Homemakers” is “workers at home.” She is a worker, and she has made her home the object of her labors. She is “good,” not just well-behaved but beneficial. She seeks to benefit all around her. She is subject to her own husband. That’s language that cuts against our flesh and very much against the mind of our age. So the end of Titus 2:5 presses the importance of wives submitting to their husbands: “that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” If we claim to hold to His Word, but then we live according to our ideas instead of His design and His commands, we bring shame upon the Word.

What does our culture expect older women to live for? What does it expect younger women to live for? What can you do to support a biblical culture? How can you honor and encourage the women who live according to these verses?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for Your design for marriage and for the household. Truly, You have made these beautiful and beneficial unto Your own glory. So forgive us for when we live selfishly—not only failing to serve others, but not being mindful of how we might cause your Word to be blasphemed. Grant unto us instead to love You with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Specifically, grant unto us to love those nearest and dearest neighbors—those in our homes. We pray especially for the young wives and mothers that they would be husband-lovers and child-lovers. Bless their labors and grant that their lives would adorn the gospel, we ask through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP128 “How Blessed Are All Who Fear the Lord” or TPH548 “Oh Blest the House”