Tuesday, October 31, 2017

2017.10.31 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 46

Questions for Littles: Who is our refuge and strength (v1)? When is God a very present help? If God is with us, when do v2-3 say we should not fear? What does the river in v4 do to the city of God? What does the second half of v4 call this city of God? Whom does v5 say is in the midst of the city? How long does He wait to help? What does v6 say is the effect of the nations raging? What is the effect of the Lord giving His voice? What two things do v7 and v11 call God? What does v8 tell us to do with God’s works? What kinds of works does that specifically mean in this passage (v8-9)? What does God tell these raging and warring nations to do in v10? Why should they stop? 
This week’s Invocation and Confession of Sin came from Psalm 46. This Psalm was the basis for Martin Luther’s great Reformation hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

Luther’s life was certainly full of trouble. That’s not rare for believers, as we can see from this Psalm. What kind of trouble is this? The biggest kind. The earth removing, mountain-tossing, ocean-boiling, nations-raging kind.

I’m afraid that we often want to think of the Christian life as including just enough bumps along the way to polish us up. But that’s not really the picture of what goes on around the church in this Psalm is it? As Paul said when “strengthening” the souls of believers in Acts 14:22, “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” It strengthened believers to hear about MANY tribulations?
Of course it did. Not only does God know about our trouble in advance, and bring us through it, and use it to sanctify us for glory… He’s with us in it. He is a very present help (v1). He is in the midst of His people (v5). He is with us (v7). He is with us (v11).

In times of quiet and comfort, the Lord’s being with us sweet. But in times of trouble, the glory of God’s presence with us stands out all the more by contrast. One does not know Him as refuge, unless one needs a place to hide. One does not know Him as strength, unless one feels the need of that strength.

But the Lord gives His people so much more than a little rest in the middle of the trouble or just enough strength to make it through. He makes them stunningly courageous (v2-3) and surprisingly glad (v4) in the midst of the greatest difficulty?

How does God do that? He is Yahweh of hosts—King and God over armies of angels, and the sovereign Lord over all things in all places at all times. Even when the nations are raging, they are only able to make a change here or there in the kingdoms of the earth (v6a). But as soon as the Lord utters His voice, the very fabric of this world begins to melt (6b)!

His power isn’t just contest-winning power; it’s war-ending and even world-ending power (v8-9). “Be still, and know that I am God” isn’t saying “snuggle into a chair with cocoa and meditate.” It’s saying, “let all the self-deceived superpowers of history shut up, and give up, because all of the glory on earth belongs to ME alone!”

Why does such a God help us? Because He’s merciful. And because He keeps covenant. Notice that He calls Himself the God of Jacob. Jacob had gone through a name change. “Israel” meant “God wrestles.” Much better than the original “heel grabber,” which meant something like “deceiver” or “supplanter.” But the truth is that even after a long life of growing in grace, there’s still all too much of the original “Jacob” left in us believers. But God is a merciful God who keeps promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!
What great troubles are you in now? How would more worship more sincerely lead to courage and joy?
Suggested songs: ARP46 “God Is Our Refuge and Strength,” or HB381 “God Is Our Refuge and Strength”

Monday, October 30, 2017

2017.10.30 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 58:1-12

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?
In the Scripture for the sermon this week, we heard about 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?
Does God’s goodness impress you into trusting Him and being good (as His grace helps you) to others? Or, do you find yourself trying hard to impress God with how good you are? Which of these two approaches to religion is being displayed in how you treat others?
Suggested Songs: ARP32A “What Blessedness,” or HB368 “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less”

Saturday, October 28, 2017

2017.10.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ Read Hebrews 4:11-13

Questions for Littles: What should we be diligent (or strive) to do, according to the first part of v11? What would keep us from doing so, according to the second part of v11? What is living and powerful, according to the first part of v12? How sharp is it, according to the second part of v12? To what divisions does the Word of God pierce? What does it discern about our hearts? What creatures are hidden from God’s sight, according to v13? What things are naked and exposed to God’s eyes? What will we have to give to God?
In the Scripture text for the sermon this week, we heard a strange combination of words, “Let us be diligent to enter that rest.” Diligent… rest. Those words are almost opposites, aren’t they? There is a rest that only believers will enter at the end of this life, but until then, every Lord’s Day, while we are resting from our worldly work and recreation, we are to be diligent. 

Now that’s a word we don’t often think of in connection with the Sabbath, but part of the reason for that is that, like the Pharisees, we get caught up in what we must not do on the Sabbath. But Sabbath isn’t so much about all of the lesser things that we may not do on the day, as it is about a day of fellowship that was better than six, perfect days a week in Eden, with perfect earthly work and perfect earthly pleasures. On those Sabbath days, Adam and Eve were to look forward to “entering the rest of God”—a rest that would be an eternally superior paradise by comparison even to the garden of Eden.

The day is for fellowship with the Lord. The day is for delighting in the Lord. This doesn’t end when Christ finally comes. In fact, in contradiction to those who saw Sabbath as the day of “don’t,” Jesus sharpens its focus as a day of delight, when He declares Himself “The Lord of the Sabbath.” On the Lord’s Day, we are to be diligent to delight in Christ. On the Lord’s Day, we are to be diligent to gather to worship in Christ.

On the Lord’s Day, we are to be diligent to listen to preaching. On the Lord’s Day, we are to be diligent to offer our hearts to the preaching. Tender. Teachable. Directable. But the fourth commandment’s fulfillment in Christ isn’t the only reason for us to listen to the preaching that way.

Verse 12 begins, “For.” It’s giving us another reason to keep the Lord’s Day this way, and another reason to listen to preaching this way: on these Lord’s Days, the Lord isn’t just pointing us to our Eternal Blessedness in Him; on these Lord’s Days, the Lord is also preparing us for our Eternal Blessedness in Him.

One day, we will stand before Christ and give an account for who we are and what we have done. By then, He will have used His Word, Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, to perfectly shape us into His image. By then, there will be a lifetime of good deeds that weren’t perfect, but were truly good and received in Christ. Those deeds will have been brought out of the mess of our sin by the razor-sharp, sometimes painful but always loving, heart surgery that Christ performs on us. One Lord’s Day at a time.

So, on these Lord’s Days and in these sermons… Let’s be diligent to give Him our hearts!
What does giving your heart to responding to Jesus in the preaching look like? What are some things that you can be doing to prepare you better to keep the Lord’s Day well? To listen to sermons well?

Friday, October 27, 2017

2017.10.27 Hopewell @Home ▫ Mark 3:20-35

Questions for Littles: Why couldn’t they eat bread in v20? Who go out to get Jesus in v21? Why did they? In v22, what do the Jerusalem scribes say is the reason Jesus can cast out demons? Whom does Jesus call to Himself in v23? What does He ask them? In v27, what does Jesus say that He is doing to Satan and Satan’s kingdom? According to v28, what sins can be forgiven? But according to v29, what can never be had by someone while he is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? What does v30 explain is an example of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Who finally arrive in v31? And what does the crowd tell Jesus in v32? But what does Jesus ask them in v33? And what answer does Jesus give in v34? How does Jesus say we can identify His family in v35?
In the gospel reading this week, Scripture challenged us about our response to Christ.

What Jesus was doing was so amazing that it demanded an explanation. It demanded a response. No one during His time was neutral. And it is a disease in our churches that people can sit in them week after week and remain neutral.

So far, no one in the gospel of Mark had concluded that He is God. There were multitudes who believed that He was great and were listening to His teaching. We know that they were listening, because He pretty much says that about them in vv33-35. Then there was His family. They were saying that Jesus was out of His mind (v21).

We shouldn’t pass over that too easily. Despite the lack of understanding of brain physiology, first century Jews understood the demonic component of mental illness better than many today, something ironically supported by the fact that Jesus was casting demons out of so many. Jesus’ family wasn’t responding as hatefully as the scribes, but they did draw a similar conclusion.

As for the scribes, we know already their hatred for Christ in their connection to the Pharisees who were already trying to destroy Him (v6). But their public slander of Jesus became the opportunity to highlight the fact that forgiveness comes through Christ alone.

As long as someone is saying of Christ’s Spirit that He is anyone less than God, that person cannot be forgiven. Note the present tense verbs in v29. What is wonderful, however, is that v28 is made possible by the fact that Jesus is God, and His Spirit is God. Since Jesus is God, when we reject all other ideas about Christ and instead cling to Him as our God who saved us at the cross, we are forgiven each and every sin that we have ever committed or ever will commit. Hallelujah!

Finally, when Jesus’ biological family shows up, they become an opportunity for Jesus to point out how we can identify members of His eternal family. They do the will of God. They obey the Father, the Head of the household. Once you are forgiven by clinging to Christ, He begins working out the family resemblance in you!

Perhaps you worry that you have committed “the unforgiveable sin.” There’s no such thing for those who are clinging to Christ! Two of those brothers who stood outside that door committing it ended up coming to faith in Christ and even writing books of the Bible (cf. James 1:1, Jude v1). They were forgiven when they clung to Christ as their God and Savior. Cling to Him, and you are forgiven too!
Who is Jesus’s Spirit? When you are worried that you are not clinging to Christ, what is the solution?