Wednesday, January 31, 2024

2024.01.31 Midweek Meeting Live Stream (live at 6:30p)

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2024.01.31 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 41:8–20

Read Isaiah 41:8–20

Questions from the Scripture text: Whom does the YHWH now address in Isaiah 41:8? What does He call Israel (verse 8a)? Jacob (verse 8b)? Abraham (verse 8c)? From where does He describe Himself as having taken them (Isaiah 41:9a–b)? What did He say to them (verse 9c–d)? How did Israel become the Lord’s servant (verse 9e)? Of what does He assure them (cf. Romans 11:1–6)? What does He tell them not to do (Isaiah 41:10a–b)? Why not? What will God do (verse 10c–e)? With what will He uphold them? What will ultimately come of the efforts of those who strive against them (even though they are used by God, for a time, to chasten them, Isaiah 41:11)? What won’t Israel be able to do, then (Isaiah 41:12a–b)? Why (verse 12c–e)? What does the Lord call Himself in Isaiah 41:13? What will He do (verse 13a, cf. Isaiah 41:10e)? What will He say (Isaiah 41:13b, cf. Isaiah 41:10a)? What does Isaiah 41:14a command? But what does it call them? And what does verse 14b call them? How will these worms and mortals be able to “fear not”—Who will be their help (verse 14c–d)? Into what does Isaiah 41:15a say the Lord will make them? How sharp and effective will it be (Isaiah 41:15-16b)? With what blessed result (Isaiah 41:16d)? About whom does v17Isaiah 41:17a speak? What are they seeking? With what success? And what result (verse 17b)? But Who will heart them (verse 17c)? What won’t He do (verse 17d)? How will He respond (Isaiah 41:18)? Even in what sorts of circumstances? Where will He make what sort of life to thrive (Isaiah 41:19)? In order for what to happen (Isaiah 41:20a–b)? Of what does YHWH thus convince them (verse 20c–d) His making His strength perfect in weakness?

Why does the Lord bring even His elect through suffering and weakness? Isaiah 41:8–20 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these thirteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God gives His people weakness to make them rejoice in His strength, as those who know that it was God’s own hand that saved them and made them thrive. 

The Lord’s pleasure as the cause, Isaiah 41:8-10Isaiah 41:10a concludes the opening section with one of the chief applications of election: “Fear not […] be not dismayed.” Having come to chapter 41 through the rest of the book of Isaiah, we know that Israel are just as guilty of the sin in Isaiah 41:5-7 as the nations are. 

What, then, has made the difference? It’s a “what” question with a “Who” answer: the Lord! This section is full of wonderful personal possessives: “My servant” (Isaiah 41:8a), “My friend” (verse 8c), “My servant” (Isaiah 41:9d), “your God” (Isaiah 41:10b, cf. Isaiah 41:13a). It also begins with a crescendo of intimacy with the Lord, from “servant” to “chosen” to “friend”(!). 

Simply because it has pleased Him to do so (“chosen,” Isaiah 41:8b; “taken,” Isaiah 41:9a; “called,” verse 9b; “said to you,” verse 9c; “chosen,” verse 9e), the Lord has taken those who were every bit as much enemies to Him as the nations and lifted them all the way up to being called His friend (cf. John 15:15–16)! As we learn from other Scripture (cf. Romans 8:29, Romans 9:6, Romans 11:1–5), this choosing was not an election of a generalized nation in a nebulous sort of way, but very particular of particular Israelites. It is to these, whom He would eventually bring to faith, that this is especially written. And, if you are a believer, it is by the same election that has grafted you right into receiving this passage very personally, particularly, specifically from the Lord (cf. Romans 11:17, Romans 11:24)!

I have sometimes pointed out how blessed our lives would be, if we could obey this one, simple, generous command: “fear not” (Isaiah 41:10a). Behold that the reason for doing so is not in our circumstances, but in our Savior. He is with is! He has taken us to be His own and given to us to call Him our own (verse 10b)! And His strength (verse 10c) and help (verse 10d) come in that intimacy pictured in verse 10e, with His own right hand holding us up.

The Lord’s prevailing for the oppressed, Isaiah 41:11-13. This section begins with a command (“Behold,” Isaiah 41:11a) that cannot be obeyed (“You shall seek them and not find them,” Isaiah 41:12a). Praise God! There were those who harbored hostile affections against the Lord’s people (verse 12b) that overflowed into hostile actions against the Lord’s people (verse 12c). But when this prophecy is fulfilled, the hostiles will be nowhere to be found (verse 12d–e)! The Lord’s right hand from Isaiah 41:10e is now laying hold of His people’s right hand (Isaiah 41:13a), and the command to “fear not” appears a second time (verse 13b)! The Lord’s people are unable to resist, but because the Lord is their help, their enemies will vanish. This is true on a cosmic and eternal scale (cf. Revelation 20:10–15; Revelation 21:4, Romans 21:8, Romans 21:27)!

The Lord’s power for the weak, Isaiah 41:14-16. The fierceness of their enemies isn’t the only trouble for the Lord’s people. It is accompanied by their own weakness. Now, in Isaiah 41:14-16, YHWH’s help is to endue them with such power that carries them into praise. Though in themselves they are but worms (Isaiah 41:14a) and mortals (verse 14b), the Lord actually gives them ability to slice through anything (Isaiah 41:15-16b)! Knowing what they were, apart from Him, makes their great success a cause not for pride but for praise. When we find ourselves weak, let the certainty of final victory be a means that takes our eyes off of ourselves (whether for pride, or also for anxiety/dismay) and sets them upon our glorious God in Whom we rejoice and glory!   

The Lord’s provision for the needy, Isaiah 41:17-19Isaiah 41:17 now identifies the Lord’s people not with reference to others’ hostility, or their weakness against that hostility, but with their neediness in themselves. They are “poor and needy” (verse 17a), who are parched with thirst (verse 17b). Just as with their oppression and weakness, their neediness becomes a context in which the Lord shows the infinite greatness of His mercy and His power. The places where He makes the water flow (Isaiah 41:18) or the great and precious trees to thrive (Isaiah 41:19) are the most difficult. In this way, He shows both the greatest power and the greatest generosity. 

So it is with our lives. When believers find ourselves needy, let us remember that our neediness comes in the providence of our gracious, merciful almighty Redeemer! He has not exposed our neediness to humiliate or destroy us, but so that we might find greater life in Him in the midst of it than we had known in easier or better circumstances.

The Lord’s praise as the outcome, Isaiah 41:20. Again, what we have seen in Isaiah 41:16c–d is presented as the great reason for everything in this section. The hand of YHWH from Isaiah 41:10e is brought up again at the end of the passage (Isaiah 41:20c)—a literary device pulling the whole thing together. The one, true, living God has created men to know Him. As we see throughout the back and forth in the first third of Exodus, He makes Himself known both to His enemies whom He is humiliating and defeating, and to His people whom He is exalting and redeeming. This is what His people are not only being redeemed, but gathered (verse 20a–b!) to do: to know YHWH. To know His power (verse 20c) and His covenant love as our Holy One, Who has “created out of nothing” all of this to bring us into this knowledge of Him!

From whom are you experiencing hostility? How are you experiencing weakness, and lack of ability, in the face of the obstacles in your life? How are you experiencing the parching thirst of your own neediness and lack of resources? Who has brought you into all this? How will you come through it? What is His purpose for the outcome? How does this help you relate to Him rightly now?  How is His Word, and this specific considering His Word with Him and before Him, the tool by which you can do this?

Sample prayer:  Lord, forgive us for missing and forgetting how much You have loved us in order to choose us and make us Your very own. Forgive us for losing sight of what a privilege we have to be Your friends. Forgive us for disobeying Your merciful command not to fear and not to be dismayed. Grant unto us to know You as holding our right hand by Your right hand, and enabling us to thrive in the most difficult of places. Forgive us for how many opportunities we have missed to rejoice in You and glory in You because our eyes were set upon ourselves in pride, or upon ourselves in anxiety. Turn our eyes to You, to know that You have done all of this, so that our hearts and minds will be full of praise for You, rather than pity for ourselves, we ask through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP18A “I Love You, LORD” or TPH228 “Hast Thou Not Known, Hast Thou Not Heard”

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

The Liberty of Being Owned by the LORD [2024.01.28 Evening Sermon in Leviticus 25]

When the Lord takes a people to Himself, their sojourning with Him ultimately secures to them their inheritance, and their subjection to Him ultimately frees them from all other slavery.

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Married for the Lord (and Refusing to Divorce Against Him) [2024.01.28 Morning Sermon in Matthew 5:31–32]

Marriage is for Christ, so Christians mustn't end their marriages. A lesson in Jesus's hermeneutics, showing that God hates adultery and divorce because He loves godly marriage, godly seed, and the glory of His Son!

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God's Battle Plan for the Mind 11: Enemies of Meditation (1) [2024.01.28 Sabbath School lesson]

Six enemies/excuses against biblical meditation: It's too hard; I'm not into intellectual things; I'm too busy; I'm easily distracted; It makes me feel guilty; It's too painful.
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David's Lord, King, Priest, and Avenger [Family Worship lesson in Psalm 110]

Who is the Messiah? Psalm 110 prepares us for the opening portion of public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Son of David is David’s Lord, extremely exalted King, eternally effective Priest, and effortlessly executing Judge.
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2024.01.30 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 110

Read Psalm 110

Questions from the Scripture text: Who wrote this Psalm (superscript)? Who did David say spoke (Psalm 110:1a)? To Whom? What did YHWH tell David’s Lord to do? What will YHWH do while He sits there (verse 1b)? Who extends the scepter in Psalm 110:2a? Whose strength does it represent? Form where does YHWH extend it? What does YHWH command David’s Lord to do in verse 2b? Into what will David’s Lord transform some of His enemies (Psalm 110:3a)? What will accomplish this (in what day, verse 3b)? How does this free-will-offering-people’s King appear to them (verse 3c–d)? How does the introduction in Psalm 110:4a–b compare to the introduction in Psalm 110:1a? What does He declare David’s Lord to be (Psalm 110:4c)? For how long? From what order (verse 4d)? Where does David now observe/prophesy his Lord to be in Psalm 110:5a? What will his Lord do (verse 5b)? In which day? What else will his Lord do on that day (Psalm 110:6a)? With what result (verse 6b, cf. Revelation 19:17–18)? Who are among the executed kings from Psalm 110:5b (Psalm 110:6)? How does Psalm 110:7a express the Lord’s refreshment/freshness? How does verse 7b express His readiness/continuing action?

Who is the Messiah? Psalm 110 prepares us for the opening portion of public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Son of David is David’s Lord, extremely exalted King, eternally effective Priest, and effortlessly executing Judge. 

David’s Psalm, superscript. It is important for us to remember that “A Psalm of David” is Hebrew Scripture. Indeed, it is part of Psalm 110:1, closely tied to the immediately following phrase. The Lord Jesus emphasizes David’s authorship, by the Spirit, in Mark 12:36–37, twice intensifying it by saying, “David himself.” There is an important lesson here about inspiration: the Spirit’s use of David makes the Scripture the sure, true Word of God. But David’s instrumentality is important, because so much rests upon the topic of the psalm being his Lord.

David’s LordPsalm 110:1. In the Mark passage above, with its parallels, the Lord Jesus challenges His hearers to meditate upon the reality in Psalm 110:1. In other Scriptures, the Holy Spirit does that for us. Acts 2:34–35 proclaims that “Sit at My right hand” exalts Christ above David, who did not ascend into heaven. Hebrews 1:13 proclaims that it exalts Christ even above the angels, none of whom are ever invited to the right hand of the throne (cf. Hebrews 1:5–14). Acts 5:30–31 proclaims that Jesus’s seat in glory empowers His saving us as Prince and reconciling us to God as Priest. Hebrews 10:11–14 proclaims that Jesus’s taking His seat confirms that His sacrifice was complete and infinitely effectual. Hebrews 10:13 emphasizes His patient waiting for the final surrender. 1 Corinthians 15:25–28 emphasizes that Jesus’s patient waiting is not a passive waiting but a destroying of enemies from His royal throne—including even death itself, which is an enemy of the King of life! 

Each of these passages are rich with more fruit for our meditation upon the glory of David’s Lord and ours, Jesus Christ! (men and boys who participate in the monthly breakfasts have just done so in Gouge, volume 1, where we considered the benefits that belong to the bride, when she is the body of Him, and united to Him, Who sits on the throne!)

David’s RedeemerPsalm 110:2-3. David, like we, was conceived sinful and born sinful (cf. Psalm 51:5). But here, we learn of the first great exercise of the power of Christ as mediatorial King—not the day of His pouring out wrath, which will come at the end (cf. Psalm 110:5-7), but that day of His power (Psalm 110:3b) in which He rules enemies (Psalm 110:2b) by redeeming them into those who offer themselves as freewill offerings (Psalm 110:3a). 

YHWH stretches out His scepter from Zion (Psalm 110:2a), but it is Christ, Whose scepter it is, and Who wields the authority (verse 2b). Here, He is not only exalted above David and exalted above angels, but exalted as One with YHWH; Jesus is the one, true God! But how does He obey the command to rule? By bringing His people to be volunteers (as implied above, the word is “freewill offerings,” as we have just seen it used three times in Leviticus 22). 

And one of the reasons for their delighting to serve Him is how He has enabled them to see Him in Psalm 110:3c–d. The word picture is, literally, beautiful. His people see the beauty (more literally, “majesty” or “majestic beauty”). The picture is of the sun rising upon Him but being outclassed by Him, or perhaps of Him Himself as the sunrise, in that majestic beauty that is His holiness. His life, His vigor, is not something that is spent as He expends it. He is in the continual state of freshness and vigor, like a young warrior-king, risen early in the day, the dew glistening upon Him as He is the picture of life and strength and vigor and action. And all of this is just a metaphor that falls short of its object! 

We must not be surprised, then, that when His power enables people’s faith to see Him in that power, to see Him in His divinity, to see Him in the majestic beauty of His holiness, to see Him in the everlasting dawn of His perpetual vigor and strength… that they gladly offer their whole self as a freewill offering (cf. Romans 12:1)! O, dear reader, God grant that you would have had a glimpse of Christ as He is described here, and that this glimpse would be clarified and crystalized and with increasing fidelity and resolution forever. And that your view of Him would compel your offering yourself continually to Him in all that you do!

David’s Intercessor, Psalm 110:4. Here is another text that finds much exposition in the book of Hebrews (cf. Genesis 14:18–20; Hebrews 5:5–11, Hebrews 6:19–7:28). It is your author’s conviction that Melchizedek was, in fact, a Christophany, literally “being the likeness” of the Son of God (cf. Hebrews 7:3). This King did not participate in the world war of Genesis 14. In Hebrew, His Name is literally, “King of Righteousness,” and Genesis 14:18 also calls Him the King of Peace (cf. Hebrews 7:2). He taught Abram (cp. Genesis 14:19 with Genesis 14:22) by way of divine benediction, bringing Abraham under the divine smile of God’s favor (cf. Genesis 14:19–20) and into the divine sharing of God’s fellowship by bread and wine (cf. Genesis 14:18). 

Here is a mediatorial representation that predates and then supersedes not only Aaron (cf. Hebrews 7:3, Hebrews 7:11–17) but also Abram and all creation (cf. Jn 8:58). From the eternal covenant of redemption, in which the Son committed to save those whom the Father gave Him (cf. John 6:37–40; John 17:1–10, John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4–5), the Son was already representing us. And He took to Himself a true humanity so that He properly might be both our priest and our substitute (cf. Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 5:1–6; Philippians 2:5–9). 

Now, His exaltation to the right hand of God comes by the oath of God that we see in Psalm 110:4, and by the virtue of His indestructible life (to which Psalm 110:3d has just alluded). This assures us that His priesthood, which is from eternity, is also unto eternity; He will never stop being our Priest (cf. Hebrews 7:20–28). In Psalm 110:1, YHWH had spoken to our Lord. Now, in Psalm 110:4, He swears an oath—not as if His Word could ever be made more true, but making it more sure to us, despite the weakness of our faith, by compassionately providing for us more reason to believe it. O that we would believe this truth about the priesthood of Christ with all our hearts!

David’s AvengerPsalm 110:5-7. There’s a bit of a scene change in these last three verses. We have moved from the revealing of God’s decree in Psalm 110:1-4 to David’s prophetic glimpse of the outcome in Psalm 110:5-7. In the flow of our devotional, we are moving from the Exalted King and Forever Priest (as seen especially in Hebrews) to the Avenging and Victorious Judge (as seen especially in Revelation). David now looks up, as it were, and sees his Lord (Jesus!) at the right hand of YHWH (Psalm 110:5a), as commanded (cf. Psalm 110:1a). 

It is no longer that day of power to redeem (Psalm 110:3a–b) but now the day of His wrath (Psalm 110:5b). The “executing” with which Psalm 110:5 and Psalm 110:6 both conclude is a word that means to strike or smite right through. It conveys both the complete devastation that comes to His enemies and the sheer ease with which Jesus does it. We are reminded of the sheer ease conveyed by Revelation 19:21 and the entire horde of all of the armies of all of the enemies of Jesus being summarily executed by the sword that comes from His mouth. So also the filling with dead bodies (Psalm 110:6b) is reminiscent of the great slaughter in the valley of Armageddon (cf. Revelation 16:13–16, Revelation 19:17–21). 

Even one who is head over many lands (Psalm 110:6c) cannot stand up to Him. Christ’s people needn’t fear any tyrant, however great upon the earth; He will slaughter all enemies, small and great, in the last day! But there He is in Psalm 110:7, still refreshed, not exhausted, head lifted up not only in victory but also in joy. An everlasting joy in which His “volunteers” participate, hallelujah! Serve the Lord with fear, rejoicing, trembling, and submission now, in the day of redeeming power, before the day of wrath comes (cf. Psalm 2:7–12)!

How have you experienced Jesus’s power to make you love His holiness and life? How have you been availing yourself of His intercession as your Priest? What comfort and joy do you take in the certainty and finality of His vengeance? 

Sample prayer:  Lord, we praise Your Son, Who sits enthroned. Continue to make His enemies His footstool, we pray. Extend His scepter from glory, and display that power by which He turns enemies into freewill offerings. Help us, by Your Spirit, to offer ourselves to You. Grant unto us to delight in Christ’s majestic beauty in holiness and life. Receive us through His eternal and effective priesthood. And make us to kiss the Son before His wrath is kindled even a little. Give us life in Christ, Who has life in Himself, and grant that we would worship You forever, and today, through Christ Himself, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP110B “The LORD Has Spoken to My Lord” or TPH110A “The LORD Said to My Lord” 

Monday, January 29, 2024

The Demise of Our Chief End [Westminster Shorter Catechism 17—Theology Simply Explained]

Pastor walks his children through Westminster Shorter Catechism question 17—especially explaining how the sin and misery into which we fell is the opposite of glorifying God and enjoying God.

Q17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind? The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.
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Electing Grace vs Righteous Blinding [Family Worship lesson in Romans 11:7–10]

What has happened to Israel? Romans 11:7–10 prepares us for the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the blinded are receiving, even by hearing the Word, as they deserved for rejecting God and His Anointed (Christ).
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2024.01.29 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 11:7–10

Read Romans 11:7–10

Questions from the Scripture text: With what question does Romans 11:7 begin? What hasn’t the nation of Israel obtained? But which Israel has obtained it? And what has happened to the rest? What had told about this already (Romans 11:8a)? Who gave them over to what (verse 8b, cf. Isaiah 29:10)? Of what did this stupor consist (Romans 11:8c–d, cf. Isaiah 6:9–10)? When does the apostle say that this continued to happen (Romans 11:8e)? Whom does he quote now in Romans 11:9 (cf. Psalm 69:22–23? Who had written that Psalm about whom? How does it relate to Isaiah 6:9–10?

What has happened to Israel? Romans 11:7–10 prepares us for the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the blinded are receiving, even by hearing the Word, as they deserved for rejecting God and His Anointed (Christ). 

Israel vs Elect Israel, Romans 11:7. Back in Romans 9:6, the apostle’s first explanation for so many Israelites not being saved was that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Now, Romans 11:7 clarifies the distinction: Israel (the nation generally) has not obtained what it seeks, but the elect (the Israel of promise, cf. Romans 9:8) have obtained it. Election is the difference-maker—not heredity, not effort, not sincerity, nothing at all in the man himself. The difference is unearned, contra-deserved, “election of grace” (cf. Romans 11:5). 

God Intentionally Hardening the Blind in Their Blindness, Romans 11:8. Apart from election, “the rest were blinded” (Romans 11:7). This is true of every sinner. Apart from electing, redeeming grace, they have an incurable blindness. Even the same Word that God uses to give faith to the elect (cf. Romans 10:14–17) actually solidifies (hardens!) the blindness of sinners apart from grace. 

The apostle now quotes from the woe upon Jerusalem in Isaiah 29. There, He calls them Ariel (lion of God), but announces that both they and their preachers are spiritually blind and spiritually drunk (cf. Isaiah 29:9), because YHWH has (righteously, of course!) poured out upon them a spirit of stupor (Romans 11:8, cf. Isaiah 29:10). The next two lines of Romans 11:8 quote from Isaiah 6, where the prophet is told that his ministry of the Word will actually harden Israel (verse 8c–d, cf. Isaiah 6:9). God intentionally, and righteously, blinds the reprobate. Let those whom He brings to faith remember that this is what they deserved for Him to do to them as well.

God Righteously Hardening the Blind in Their Blindness, Romans 11:9-10. How can it be right for God to give them over to such a thing? It is what they rightly deserve for rejecting Him and His Anointed. The apostle now quotes from Psalm 69:22–23. In that Psalm, the Lord’s anointed (David) is overwhelmed by enemies, and he sings and prays Romans 11:9-10 (among other things). For the Israelite, food on their table was to be received as an indication of God’s favor. In this case, those who hated David were self-deceived to think that they had the favor of God. Many today, not understanding the things that we have seen in the last several passages, think of ethnic Israel as being a nation under the special favor of God. But just as Elijah had prayed in Romans 11:3 (cf. 1Kings 19:10, 1Kings 19:14), so now David from Psalm 69 prayed against Israel as a nation for their rejection of the Lord. 

In this, David was a type (a divinely appointed forerunner and example) of Christ. It was righteous of God, on account of their rejection of His Anointed, to give them over to self-deception to believe that they were under God’s blessing when they were not. And yet, there is grace in God to be righteous and to redeem at the same time. And we will see the apostle’s right response to that and imitation of that in the next passage. But for now, let us just consider that it is righteous of God to harden the unbeliever. It is righteous of God to act always for the sake of His Son, His Anointed (cf. Psalm 2). So, let us trust in that Son and be saved from the hardening and wrath that we so rightly deserve!

If you are a believer, what has made that difference? What might God intentionally, righteously have done instead? What does His mercy toward you encourage you to pray and hope for others? 

Sample prayer:  Father, thank You for Your eternal, electing love, in which You determined to save us from our sin. Thank You for taking away our blindness and deafness. Please spare those dear ones of ours who have thus far rejected Christ. Indeed, grant that a great multitude from the nation of Israel would be saved by Your grace, through faith in Christ, in Whose Name we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP69C “O Let Their Table Be a Snare” or TPH517 “I Know Whom I Have Believed” 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

2024.01.27 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 5:31–32

Read Matthew 5:31–32

Questions from the Scripture text: How is the introduction of Matthew 5:31 different than that in Matthew 5:21 or Matthew 5:27? How had the Pharisees (cf. Matthew 19:7–11) interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (Matthew 5:31)? Who gives a different opinion now (Matthew 5:32)? To whom does this apply? What is the only exception that the Lord gives? What other exception is assumed (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10–15)? What does an unlawful divorce do to the spouse? And what happens when someone marries an unlawfully divorced person?

What was wrong with thinking that Deuteronomy 24:1–4 validated divorce? Matthew 5:31–32 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these two verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we must read Scripture according to its own intent, not ours, and that divorce is not something that Christians may rightly do.

The introduction to Matthew 5:31 informs us that the Lord Jesus is improving their understanding of the law in a different way. In the previous two sections, He had taken good instruction that they had received and added to it. This time, Jesus doesn’t refer to what was said to those of old; instead, He addresses what “has been said” to His hearers themselves. He exposes that the teaching that they have received is almost entirely incorrect.

How NOT to read the Bible. The issue is what to do with Deuteronomy 24:1–4. In it, Moses warns against the perversion of divorcing a woman, and then remarrying her after she has married another. In that passage, divorce is done by writing a certificate of divorce. What did the Pharisees take away from this? Their takeaway was that divorce was being validated (Matthew 5:31, cf. Matthew 19:7–11)! 

Here, we can already be learning what not to do with the Bible. Deuteronomy 24 was obviously speaking against perversion, not for divorce. They could easily have avoided their mistake, by interpreting Scripture with Scripture. The God Who created the one-flesh-ness of marriage for producing godly offspring (cf. Malachi 2:15) hates divorce (cf. Malachi 2:16). The Spirit Who carried Malachi along to write that did not carry Moses along to validate divorce. 

Let us come to the Scriptures in submission to their agenda. Let us seek from each passage what the passage itself intends for us to take away. That does not mean that we cannot also learn the many further implications that those truths have for other subjects. But it does mean that we only take them away as implications under the Spirit’s teaching of the main subject. And we do well to remember that God Himself is the main subject of all of His Word, and especially as He declares Himself in His Son (cf. John 5:39, Luke 24:27). 

How to read the Bible. Over-against their false interpretation, notice how the Lord Jesus is almost directly, simply explaining what Deuteronomy 24:1–4 was teaching. Divorcing a woman so that she goes to another man makes her to commit adultery. And if she commits that adultery, she defiles herself (cf. Deuteronomy 24:4). The Spirit is so far from validating divorce in Deuteronomy 24 that He is actually warning of how divorce tends to perversion!

Jesus teaches us how to read our Bibles. Consider the intent of the passage. Consider how this applies to instruct and correct us over-against how our flesh would otherwise think. Don’t come to the text looking for what the boundaries permit; come to the text looking for the point that God is making, so that we can most please Him! Don’t come to the Bible hoping to get to do what you want; come to the Bible assuming that you need to learn, that you need to be taught by God, Who so generously and graciously comes to teach you.

Divorce is not something that Christians do; it is only something that is done to them. With our eyes open to that, we can see what Jesus is teaching about marriage and divorce. Ending a marriage simply is not something that Christians do. Rather, it is something that is done to them. Notice that the Lord Jesus gives the exception of sexual immorality. In such a case, the spouse has already ended the marriage by joining with another. 1 Corinthians 7:10–15 gives the additional exception of if the spouse departs. Again, divorce isn’t something that Christians do; it must only be something that is done to them.

We must say something here about abuse. If a spouse must flee to preserve his (or her) or his children’s physical lives, this obviously constitutes desertion, but not by the one who is compelled to depart. The one who is physically leaving has been compelled to do so in order to keep the sixth commandment. Much that is styled emotional abuse, however, is not actually life-threatening and should be treated as a providential opportunity to practice much of what Scripture teaches us about loving enemies, blessing those who curse us, doing good to those who abuse us in that way. 

Even more, struggling through a painful marriage can be an opportunity to grow in resting upon the Lord alone and finding Him sweet in all of the sourness of life in this fallen world. These questions can be difficult, and it is good that a spouse in a hard situation have access to his elders to shepherd him (or her) through the situation. If he (or she) is denied that access, he (or she) is not being permitted to live as a Christian in the home and has good cause to be counted free to depart as departing an unbeliever (a 1 Corinthians 7:12–16 situation, rather than 1 Corinthians 7:10–11). 

Marriage is too important to treat as discardable. It is worth exploring, briefly, why marriage is so final that divorce just isn’t something that Christians may do. First, it is a creation ordinance. In Genesis 2, we see that it is for the mutual help of the man and his wife; and then, when she has been created, we learn that it is also for being fruitful and multiplying. In the Malachi 2:15–16 passage referenced above, we see that this becomes even more important among believers after the fall, for marriage among them is designed now produce godly offspring (note the implication here that covenant children should be produced and brought up under the expectation that they will believe and be godly). We must make the similar post-fall application to the reason of mutual help; it is especially a mutual help in godliness.

Second, unbreakable marriage prevents impurity among God’s people. A commitment to marriage is a hedge against adultery in Deuteronomy 24:1–4, as we have been considering. The same point is made by 1 Corinthians 7:3–51 Corinthians 7:9. Not everyone has the chastity that the apostle calls his gift in 1 Corinthians 7:7

Finally, most of all, marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. The Song of Songs is not primarily about earthly marriage, for the song of songs is about the love of loves. It is an extended and glorious version of Psalm 45, in which the great King is obviously the Messiah, and He raises up His bride to a shared life and glory with Himself by marriage. This, the Spirit further affirms by the apostle’s pen in Ephesians 5:22–33; the mystery of marriage is the mystery of Christ and the church (cf. Ephesians 5:32)! 

Especially considering this last, it is no wonder that God hates divorce. For, marriage is intended to declare and glorify His Son as the great Groom. Christians, therefore, ought to hate it, too. A Christian husband should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. Divorcing her is not an option; his whole life is a union with her now. A Christian wife must forget her father’s house and commit herself, entirely and unbreakably, to her husband. Divorcing him is not an option; her whole life is a union with him now. 

When you are committed for life, and for Christ, there is no room for complaining or self-pity. Rather, every marriage difficulty is a new opportunity to depend upon the Lord, to delight in the Lord, and to devote one’s efforts to the Lord. And of course, this dependence may mean making good use of the undershepherds you’ve been given for all of your Christian walk (cf. Hebrews 13:4–7). In that way, each difficulty becomes the fertile soil in which one grows as a spouse—even if the other spouse does not, which is truly rare if both are believers. For the believer, putting the hand to the plough for marriage is similar to putting the hand to the plough with Christ; there can be no thought (and certainly no action) of turning back.

How have you grown in reading Scripture in its context, and as controlled by its own intent? What are you doing for the protection of your own marriage (or future marriage)? What are you doing for the help/protection of others’ marriages as well? How do your goals for marriage line up with the three goals presented from Scripture in this devotional?

Sample prayer:  Father, thank You for giving us Christ Himself as an example for how to read our Bibles. Grant that the Spirit by Whom You gave us the Scriptures would also carry us along in making right use of the Scriptures. Thank You for the help of marriage, the opportunity that it gives us for serving spouse and children, and the glory of Christ that it makes our lives to declare. Grant that we would treat our own marriage this way, and other believers’ marriages this way, we ask through Christ and for His glory, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP45B “Daughter, Incline Your Ear” or TPH548 “Oh, Blest the House”

Friday, January 26, 2024

2024.01.26 Hopewell @Home ▫ Leviticus 25

Read Leviticus 25

Questions from the Scripture text: Who spoke to whom (Leviticus 25:1)? Where(!)? To whom was he to speak (Leviticus 25:2)? About the time that they came into what? And what would that land then keep? In what way (Leviticus 25:3-5)? What could everyone eat (Leviticus 25:6)? And what else could eat that (Leviticus 25:7)? What does v8 describe a “sabbath” of? What would be sounded on what day of that year (Leviticus 25:9)? And what would the next year be (Leviticus 25:10-11)? What would be repeated (Leviticus 25:11-12)? What unique action would be taken (Leviticus 25:10Leviticus 25:13)? What instruction do Leviticus 25:14-17 give, in light of this 50-year “reset”? Why, ultimately (end of Leviticus 25:17)? What will come by following these instructions (Leviticus 25:18-19)? How (Leviticus 25:20-22)? Who owns all the land and is its only true Owner (Leviticus 25:23)? What does this mean for buying and selling it (Leviticus 25:23-24)? In what ways does a piece of land come back to the one to whom the Lord assigned it (Leviticus 25:25-28)? What about when it is property not assigned by the Lord, as in Leviticus 25:29-30? What is the difference between that house and the houses in Leviticus 25:31? Which specifically assigned houses, even in walled cities, are subject to the land redemption/jubilee laws (Leviticus 25:32-34)? What should the attitude and actions of a brother be, when his brother becomes poor (Leviticus 25:35-37, cp. Leviticus 25:23b)? Why (Leviticus 25:38)? What is the ultimate reason for delivering them and settling them (end of verse 38)? And what if borrowing doesn’t remedy his poverty (Leviticus 25:39-41)? From Whom is this indentured servitude really being purchased (Leviticus 25:42-43Leviticus 25:55)? To whom did these redemption/jubilee rules not apply (Leviticus 25:44-46)? To what might a brother resort if there is no kin to sell himself to (Leviticus 25:47)? But what must be permitted as soon as one is able (Leviticus 25:48-50)? What governs the price (Leviticus 25:51-53)? Why (Leviticus 25:54)? What relationship establishes all of these laws (end of Leviticus 25:55)?

How did God communicate to Israel the great liberty of their holiness to Him? Leviticus 25 prepares us for the evening sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these fifty-five verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that in His holy land, for His holy people, the Lord gave a rhythm of seasons of life, and even of generations that proclaimed liberty in Christ. 

Holy Liberty, Leviticus 25:1–22. We have just seen how the favor and fellowship of the Lord in the midst of His people (Leviticus 24:1–9) extends itself to the holiness of the people as a whole and even their land into which they are coming (Leviticus 24:10–23). Now, in chapter 25, the Lord communicates the holiness of the land and of the people by way of sabbaths of years for the land, and even sabbaths of sabbaths of years! 

One of the things that we can see here is how important is the weekly Sabbath from the creation. Man was created to enjoy God’s favor and fellowship, and God assigned holy time—an entire holy day—consecrated to only that enjoyment. But when God redeems for Himself a people from Egypt, and brings them into the land, He uses that Sabbath as a template for the rhythm of seasons of life (every seven years) and even generations (every 49+1 years) for both the land and the society. And what is it that the Lord thus communicates in His society? Liberty! 

There was liberty every seventh year, where this agrarian society would basically get an entire year off (Leviticus 25:4). The Lord would make the land so productive in the sixth year that, without putting in the work, it would bridge the no-work year, and the year following it, since nothing had been planted in the seventh year (Leviticus 25:20-22)! He is still the same Lord, and we must trust Him to bless the other six days sufficiently to liberate us for devoting the Lord’s Day entirely to enjoyment of Him.

What was this liberty for? Primarily for worship. Unlike the weekly Sabbath, only particular activities were forbidden (Leviticus 25:4-5b). But exactly like the weekly Sabbath, the purpose of the Sabbath is given as “unto YHWH” (Leviticus 25:4b). It was especially to be a year of worshiping the Lord—opportunity for more fellowship with Him, a reset and renewal of spiritual life.

It was also a reminder that they were sojourners with Him, that they were all “the poor.” For a year, they would leave old produce from the double-yield of the sixth year to be eaten in the eighth (cf. Leviticus 25:22), as they ate gleanings in the seventh year. For a year, they would all be the poor who eat gleanings (cf. Leviticus 19:9–10, Leviticus 23:22; Exodus 23:11) left for them by the rich Landowner, the Lord Himself!

But this sabbath of liberty wasn’t even to be the liberty-climax in the Israelite’s life. For, every seven sabbath years, there would be a sabbath of sabbaths of years (Leviticus 25:8). And then would come the trumpeted year! The sabbath (seventh) month always began with a trumpet (cf. Leviticus 23:24). But in the 49th year the tenth day of that month would be full of these trumpet blasts (Leviticus 25:9). This would announce the trumpet year (Leviticus 25:10-12, “Jubilee” is actually a transliteration of a second Hebrew word for trumpet in Leviticus 25:9).

And this would be especially a year for proclaiming liberty (Leviticus 25:10). The land would be freed back to those to whom the Lord had originally assigned it (Leviticus 25:13), and the Israelite slave would go free (Leviticus 25:40-41Leviticus 25:54). There would even be an extra year of gleanings (Leviticus 25:12). This all anticipates the great proclaiming of the great liberty (cf. Isaiah 61) that would finally and forever come in the Lord Jesus (cf. Luke 4:16–21).

The great point of the Jubilee is that God is liberating sinners into His favor and His fellowship forever in His Son, our Lord Jesus. He takes the weekly Sabbath of the creation and incorporates into Israel’s life these rhythms, of the seasons of their life and even their generations, that make liberty in Him the great theme of their existence. Now for us, dear Christian, the place to which we are tied is glory itself (cf. Ephesians 2:6), and our people are His kingdom/temple/bride/body the church. Our very existence is all about the Lord Jesus’s having liberated us. 

Similar to the administration under Moses, the church under Him has been given a rhythm of life to experience this and be refreshed in it. No longer tied to land ownership or indentured servitude, our jubilee comes not once in a lifetime, but every week (cf. Hebrews 4:9, Hebrews 12:22–23; Revelation 1:10)! Like Israel of old, whom we do not know ever to have followed this (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21), there is an epidemic in the churches of those who do not keep a completely consecrated Lord’s Day as an enjoyment of the Lord’s liberty. 

Holy Property, Leviticus 25:23-34. “The land is Mine,” says the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). “You are strangers and sojourners with Me” (verse 23). The land would be allotted to families by the Lord Himself, and these allotments could not be permanently lost (verse 23, until the Lord expelled the people as a whole from the land). Even if hardship forced them to sell, it had to be sold back if the redemption price could be paid (Leviticus 25:25-27). And if it couldn’t, then it would still return to him in the trumpet year (Leviticus 25:28). 

There were houses that were not part of allotted land, and the Lord gave a year to redeem (Leviticus 25:29) before losing one of those permanently (Leviticus 25:30). But since the Levites had only cities and not farmland, their houses in the cities were to be treated as permanent allotments from the Lord (Leviticus 25:32-34). 

Though we do not have land prophetically assigned to us for a permanent allotment, let us remember that all that we have in this world is a temporary provision from God. We will not take it with us or repossess it in the new earth. Let us enjoy it as a gift from Him and employ it for His service.

Holy Poverty, Leviticus 25:35-55Leviticus 25:35 mirrors Leviticus 25:23. The whole nation are sojourning with YHWH in His land. And, if the Lord’s providence brings a brother into poverty, it is to be seized as an opportunity to imitate the Lord’s grace with their brother. “Fear your god that your brother may live with you” (Leviticus 25:36). If he needs to borrow, it is not a capital opportunity (like when someone borrows for business or for a large purchase) but a charity opportunity (Leviticus 25:37). 

Borrowing didn’t always resolve the issue. If that didn’t work, a brother might sell himself into slavery (throughout the passage, “servant” and “slave” are, somewhat unhelpfully, translating the same word). Anyone who bought him had to reckon with the fact that, just like the land, YHWH claimed every Israelite as His own (Leviticus 25:42Leviticus 25:55) in distinction from other nations (Leviticus 25:44-46).

The first choice would have been to sell yourself to a brother, but as a last resort an Israelite might sell himself to a stranger (Leviticus 25:47). In this case, he would seek to have his redemption purchased as soon as possible, whether by a kinsman redeemer (Leviticus 25:48-49) or even somehow by himself (end of Leviticus 25:49). But whatever the case, the Lord would “redeem” him in the trumpet year (Leviticus 25:54). 

These two options (redemption by a brother/redemption in the jubilee) are both ultimately fulfilled in Christ. By His incarnation, He became our Kinsman(!) Redeemer, Who is also our Redeeming God by virtue of His divine personhood. A brother’s poverty was an opportunity to imitate and participate with the Lord in showing him grace. But one’s own poverty was an opportunity to remember that the Lord, Who redeemed him, refuses to let him go. The Lord has liberated him to be His own, forever! Isn’t that a great comfort to you, dear liberated ones of the Lord Jesus Christ?!

How is being liberated to enjoy the Lord’s smile and the Lord’s fellowship the great theme of your life? What rhythm has He established for you, as a New Testament believer, for the enjoying of this reality? How could your use of His day be brought into better, sweeter enjoyment of Him in the way for which that day has been set apart? How are you treating your property as entrusted to you by God to steward for a season? How are you treating believers as His people and His servants?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for liberating us to enjoy the shining of Your face and the sharing of Your fellowship. And thank You for the rhythm that You have established, by way of the Lord’s Day, to make us to enjoy that liberty as the great theme of our life. Grant that we would delight in it, so that we might delight in You. Please make us to enjoy and employ all property as a gift from You. And, grant that we would treat our brethren as belonging to You. Make us to treat all poverty, whether ours or others’, as an opportunity to glorify and enjoy Your abundant generosity. Grant it all, we ask, through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP197 “Christian Unity” or TPH409 “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Amazing, Unchanging, Electing Grace [2024.01.24 Midweek Sermon in Romans 11:1–6]

Salvation has always been a remnant who are saved, over-against their hell-deserving wickedness, according to the election of grace.

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What Strife and Spiritual Adultery Have to Do with One Another [Family Worship lesson in James 4:1–5]

Why is strife so bad? James 4:1–5 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these five verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that strife exposes that we have placed desires not only above other people but above God.
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2024.01.25 Hopewell @Home ▫ James 4:1–5

Read James 4:1–5

Questions from the Scripture text: What do believers have among themselves (James 4:1)? What question does v1 ask about these wars and fights? From what desires do these wars and fights come? Where do these desires war? What happens when we lose the war (James 4:2)? What happens to this lust? What else comes out of their heart? Resulting in what actions? But why don’t they have—what would have been the right way to obtain? When they do ask, what happens (James 4:3)? Why? What is amiss about their asking? What does James 4:4 suddenly call them? What is another name for putting our pleasures first? And what would this friendship with the world make us? With what does James 4:5 now back up this point? 

Why is strife so bad? James 4:1–5 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these five verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that strife exposes that we have placed desires not only above other people but above God. 

The closing section of chapter 3 strongly emphasized that a teacher in the church should not be a man given to strife: meekness, no bitterness, no envy, no self-seeking, purity, peace, gentleness, willing to yield, full of mercy, and then the double emphasis upon peace in James 3:18. Now, in James 4:1–5, we see why this is so important. Strife belongs to those who have put their own desires not only above other people, but above God Himself. 

Self-seeking against men. The wars and fights are coming among them (James 4:1a), because of desires to indulge themselves (verse 1b). This means that one battle as already been lost: the war within their members. There is a holy war within each believer, as the Spirit leads his new nature to war against the flesh and its remaining desires (cf. Galatians 5:16–18; Romans 8:13; Romans 6:11–14). So when we find in ourselves a quarreling and battling spirit against our brother, and find ourselves in actual quarrels and battles with our brother, we have already lost the first battle: the war within. 

And if we are losing that war within, we can expect things just to get worse if we indulge a hostile spirit toward our brother. In James 4:2, desire is joined by murderousness and covetousness, inwardly and outwardly, and yet the flesh continues to be unsatisfied. O miserable man who puts indulging himself above pleasing God and finding pleasure in God! And he makes others miserable as well. 

Self-seeking against God. But something worse is happening in the heart of the one who wishes to indulge himself—and not only in his heart but in his life. Whatever it is that he is battling others to have: control, credit, esteem, praise, influence, possessions, relationships, enjoyments… he isn’t bringing his desire to the One from Whom all things must come (end of James 4:2). Why not? Quite likely because the thing for which he is asking is something for which he would be rightly embarrassed to ask! Or, as in James 4:3, perhaps he is asking, but he should have been horrified to ask for such a thing or in such a way. 

It is a wicked, horrible thing to treat God as a means to our end. Will we, the creature, come to the Almighty and seek to indulge ourselves? Will we ask Him to accommodate the things that please us, rather than learning to desire things that please Him? Even for many good things, we might ask in this wretchedly wrong way. God give us grace by His Spirit, that not only would we desire good things according to His Word (and a good name, and even much in the way of earthly resources, are often good gifts from Him)… but that we would desire them because He has taught us that they are good. God give us grace to desire them that we might enjoy His goodness in them, and that we might employ them in His service and for His glory! 

Spiritual adultery. Now we are getting to the true vileness of the self-seeking and self-indulgence that is being expressed when believers are quarrelsome and contentious. We were created for the Lord. We were redeemed for the Lord. We were created and redeemed to find Him incomparably pleasant and satisfying, to see and receive all other goods as a part of enjoying Him and His goodness. But when anything in the cosmos (“world,” James 4:4James 4:5) becomes something that we use God to get by “prayer” (if such a prayer can even be called that), or something that we disregard God for altogether, then we are adulterers or adulteresses. 

God has given us the great covenant promise, “I will be your God, and you will be My people. ”He has put this covenant relationship into our mouths in the words of the song of songs, which is about the love of loves, “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine, and His banner over me is love.” And now, after He has done that, will we find pleasure instead of Him or even apart from Him? Such love of the cosmos is adulterous and even enmity against God (end of James 4:4). 

The Spirit Who leads us in that battle in our members (James 4:1, cf. Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:16–18) is the Spirit Who pours out in our hearts God’s inexhaustible love to us (cf. Romans 5:5). And, in our hearts, He yearns jealously for the love between us and God (James 4:5). This is the love that is behind God’s demand in the second commandment (cf. Exodus 20:5), requiring that we have Him in His way, and not according to our own imaginings that find pleasure in something that is not actually Him. 

Are you miserable? Against whom are you most in danger of indulging hostility and even expressing it? How are you training your mind and heart to enjoy all good things as gifts from the Lord and employ them all in service to the Lord? 

Sample prayer: Lord, thank You for giving us every good and perfect gift. Forgive us for when we live to indulge ourselves. Forgive us for how this produces strife within Your dear bride, the Church. Forgive us for the adultery of desiring anything apart from You, enjoying anything apart from enjoying You, or doing anything apart from serving You. Grant that Your Spirit, Who pours out Your love into our hearts, would continue yearning jealously for the love between us and Yourself, we ask through Christ, AMEN! 

Suggested songs: ARP73C“Yet Constantly, I Am with You” or TPH73C “In Sweet Communion, LORD, with Thee”

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Midweek Prayer Meeting Live Stream (live at 6:30p)

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God's Gracious Invitation and Man's Grievous Innovation [Family Worship lesson in Isaiah 41:1–7]

What are we to think when great powers arise? Isaiah 41:1–7 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we must remember that the Lord is sovereign over all and praise Him Who is our hope.
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2024.01.24 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 41:1–7

 Isaiah 41:1–7

Questions from the Scripture text: What does the Lord command whom in Isaiah 41:1a? And what does He invite the inhabitants to do (verse 1b, cf. Isaiah 40:31b)? To what sort of gathering does He call them (Isaiah 41:1b–c)? From what direction is the person in the question of Isaiah 41:2a raised up? What do verse 2a–b ask about him? In what did the Lord call him (verse 2b)? What did He call him to do (verse 2c–d)? With what effect upon them (verse 2e–f)? And what effect upon himself (Isaiah 41:3)? What else has the One Who called him ordained (Isaiah 41:4a–b)? What answer do verse 4c–d give to these questions? What does He remind us about Himself, that should have made this obvious? Who see the summons and answer in Isaiah 41:5? But with what attitude? In whom do they try to find comfort (Isaiah 41:6)? What solution do they come up with for this courage (Isaiah 41:7)? But whose skills make it? And how does the last line mock this?

What are we to think when great powers arise? Isaiah 41:1–7 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we must remember that the Lord is sovereign over all and praise Him Who is our hope. 

Divine Invitation. Many believers memorize Isaiah 40:28–31, or even just Isaiah 40:31, and well do they do so, for it is full of the comfort of faith in such a God as we have! But let them respond to it by heeding the invitation that we find now in the very next verse (Isaiah 41:1). Isaiah often uses “coastlands” to refer to the farthest reaches (cf. Isaiah 41:5a–b); the Lord is inviting the people of all the earth to enjoy the renewed strength of those who wait upon Him (Isaiah 41:1c). 

Divine Initiative. But men do not like God’s way of salvation. For He raises up a great king to rule over all others (Isaiah 41:2a–d). From where Israel sat, “one from the east” was generally bad news. That’s the direction from which Mesopotamian conquerors come—most recently Assyria, and soon Babylon. 

In the near history of this passage, however, the Lord would raise up Cyrus the Persian from the east, and he would act as deliverer for Israel and executioner of Babylon (chapters 45–46). Ultimately, Cyrus is a type (forerunner, foreshadowing) of Christ; but, his conquest would be frightful (much as the Lord’s second coming will be)!

The conquests described are devastating: sword and bow bringing enemies to dust and stubble (Isaiah 41:2e–f). But the conqueror is untouched: passing safely (Isaiah 41:3a), seeming not even to leave footprints (verse 3b). This is reminiscent not so much of Cyrus’s victories, great as they were, but of the One on the white horse, Who slaughters all the hordes of the enemy by Himself, with just the sword which proceeds from His mouth (cf. Revelation 19:21). 

At that time, the Lord will glorify Himself in His Son. At this time, He glorifies Himself as the sovereign God of history. The big question is: who has raised him up (Isaiah 41:2a)? Verse 2b has a dead giveaway (similar to the clue “in hope” in Romans 8:20), for this conqueror has been called “in righteousness.” There is only One who could have done that! 

But the Lord adds to the “whodunnit” question (Isaiah 41:4a), including now not only Cyrus but all the generations of history from the beginning (verse 4b). It can only be YHWH: Alpha and Omega. There (and sovereign, of course!) at the beginning (verse 4c), and there (and sovereign!) at the end (verse 4d), and there-and-sovereign everywhere in between. What a God! And what an invitation to wait upon Him and have strength renewed! Wonderfully, Jesus identifies Himself as YHWH God from Isaiah 41 (cf. Revelation 22:13).

Human Innovation. But the response of the nations is to tremble at this conqueror (Isaiah 41:5a–b) and draw near (verse 5c)—not to God but to each other (Isaiah 41:6)?! How dreadful is the sin and folly of the unbelieving world, that they hope in each other rather than God, Who has invited them to have Him as their hope! Unity for unity’s sake is worse than worthless; it is wicked. True unity comes from that true reconciliation in which men are brought near to each other by being brought near to God in Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:11–18). In a season in the church in which much nonsense and evil parades itself as a virtue in the name of “reconciliation,” we desperately need to learn the lesson of Isaiah 41:6, in context.

And it is weak. Pathetically, ridiculously weak. For help, they go to what they can construct. It’s a group effort: craftsman and goldsmith (Isaiah 41:7a), hammering smoother and anvil striker (verse 7b), rounded out by the fifth man: soldering man who fastens it with pegs (verse 7c–d). The worthlessness of the wickedness is completed with the comical “that it might not totter.” Dear reader, are the days of such idolatry ended? Behold how now, more than ever, men trust in their togetherness and look to the work of their hands for help! But the Lord continues, even now, to beckon to the people to come to Him, even from the ends of the earth. Come, and renew your strength!

In what ways do you need your strength renewed? What has the Lord invited you to do for that? What powers have arisen in the world that threaten to terrify? What does this passage remind you about their rise? What is wrong with unity for unity’s sake? 

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for the glorious invitation to have You alone as our strength. And thank You for the reminder that You are Alpha and Omega and rule over all of history and this moment of history. But forgive us, O Lord, for we much more easily draw near to each other than to You. And we much more easily trust in the work of our hands than in Your almighty hand. Turn us from such worthless wickedness, we pray, through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP18A “I Love You, LORD” or TPH228 “Hast Thou Not Known, Hast Thou Not Heard”

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

We Sinned in Him with Whom We Fell [Westminster Shorter Catechism 16—Theology Simply Explained]

Pastor walks his children through Westminster Shorter Catechism question 16—especially explaining how federal headship is the key to understanding our own participation in the fall.

Q16. Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression? The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.
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Strong Arguments for Weak Saints in Urgent Prayer [Family Worship lesson in Psalm 109:22–31]

What strong arguments can a believer plead when he feels like his enemies and circumstances are killing him? Psalm 109:22–31 prepares us for the opening portion of public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these ten verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that a believer has strong arguments before God in his own poverty and in God’s praise, even as he gives himself to God’s praise.
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2024.01.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 109:22–31

Read Psalm 109:22–31

Questions from the Scripture text: What condition of the psalmist (Psalm 109:22a) appeals to the steadfast love of God? How has his heart responded to this condition (verse 22b)? How closely does he feel like he is to death (Psalm 109:23a)? What is his strength level (verse 23b)? What, especially, has contributed to this weakness (Psalm 109:24)? In addition to hating him, how do his enemies think of him (Psalm 109:25)? But to Whom does the psalmist cry for help (Psalm 109:26a)? What does he have hope to be saved (verse 26b)? What does he want out of salvation (Psalm 109:27)? What makes the cursing of the enemy tolerable (Psalm 109:28a)? What (verse 28c) will put the enemy to shame (verse 28b)? How shameful (Psalm 109:29)? What will the psalmist do (Psalm 109:30a)? How much? With what? With whom (versev30b)? What does the Lord do, for whom, to elicit this praise (Psalm 109:31a)? From whom does he save them (verse 31b)?

What strong arguments can a believer plead when he feels like his enemies and circumstances are killing him? Psalm 109:22–31 prepares us for the opening portion of public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these ten verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that a believer has strong arguments before God in his own poverty and in God’s praise, even as he gives himself to God’s praise. 

Strong arguments from God’s people. Psalm 109:22 begins, “For I.” What sort of argument can God’s people make with Him in hope of being vindicated from the accusations that the wicked lay against them? Our God has saved us in compassion, loving us from before the world began with the love that He has for His Son (cf. Ephesians 1:3–4). He is immovable by what we call emotion, but that which is properly in Him toward others, according to His pleasure, goes out to us. 

Dear, “poor and needy” (Psalm 109:22a) believer, whose “heart is wounded within” you (verse 22b), your weakness and woundedness is a strong argument with the almighty and good God! Behold, how David continues to show the extent of his weakness. How do we think of David? The mighty warrior and stealthy strategist? Here is his strong argument with God: he feels that his shadow is lengthening (Psalm 109:23a, a Hebrew metaphor for being a the point of death, cf. Psalm 102:11), and he feels like a husk of a man like a locust that is easily “shaken off” (Psalm 109:23b). 

David’s response was to fast, but this expression of weakness before God made his “knees weak” (Psalm 109:24a) and his “flesh feeble” (versev24b). His enemies saw this and thought they had won against this pathetic weakling (Psalm 109:25).

Strong arguments in God Himself. Psalm 109:26-31 take us back to the point introduced in Psalm 109:21. YHWH is our Lord; He is our covenant God (verse 21a). He acts for the praise of His Name, which He has placed upon His elect (verse 21b). His covenant love is good, and He is pleased to display it (verse 21c). I hope that the Spirit will write this lesson on our hearts, dear reader: let us not only plead on the basis of ourselves (our weakness and neediness) and our circumstances, but especially let us plead that which is in God Himself!

  • Psalm 109:26a appeals to the covenant relationship between us and the Lord: “YHWH my God!” Note both the covenant Name and the possessive pronoun.
  • Verse 26b appeals to the ḳessed of God (“mercy” in NKJ).
  • Psalm 109:27 appeals to the giving of praise and honor to God: “that they may know” implies a display of God for praise. “Your hand” points especially to God’s power, often represented by His “hand.” “You, YHWH, have done it!” emphasizes the identity of the powerful Doer Who has done the powerful deed.
  • Psalm 109:28-29 appeals to the sovereignty of God. There is a competition between David’s enemies and David’s Lord; the one curses, but the Other blesses. Who will win? God will be glorified if blessing prevails; let the enemies be put to shame.

Strong praise. When all is said and done, David will be praising YHWH (Psalm 109:30a), so he uses his mouth already as it is intended to be used. Do you know the purpose of your mouth, dear reader? Do you use it for that purpose, with all your heart and strength? David says “I will greatly praise YHWH with my mouth.” Greatly! He will approximate now, as well as possible, the way that he will praise in the great congregation, “the multitude” (verse 30b). It will be a multitude of “poor” at whose right hand the Lord stood (Psalm 109:31a). It will be a multitude of those who were saved from condemnation (verse 31b). Believers who are in times when praise is harder do well to remember that coming time when glorious praise, of an innumerable multitude of redeemed, is certain. 

What situations have felt the most unbearable to you? How does this part of the psalm teach you to cry out to God when things are like that? Who have accused you and cursed you? Who are likely to do so to you in the future? But Who has blessed you? How can you appeal to what is in Him? How does praising Him now help you lay hold of a certain future?

Sample prayer:  O Lord, our God, we are poor and needy, but You are compassionate to the poor and needy. Your covenant love is good; help us, now, according to that love! Show the power of Your hand to help us worship, so that all may see that You have done it. By Your Spirit, make us to praise You greatly with our mouths in the assembly of Your people in Your Son, through Whom we ask it, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP109D “I Am Very Poor and Needy” or TPH236 “To God Be the Glory”

Monday, January 22, 2024

A Holy Name upon a Holy People [2024.01.21 Evening Sermon in Leviticus 24:10–23]

Those among whom the Lord communicates His holiness, and upon whom the Lord places His holy Name, must reverence the Name and the Lord Himself

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Hearts and Hands in a Holy War for Heaven [2024.01.21 Morning Sermon in Matthew 5:27–30]

King Jesus requires our heart, eye, and hand. He is taking our whole self into the kingdom of heaven, and He enlists us in the war of preparing us to enter.

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God's Battle Plan for the Mind 10: Benefits of Meditation [2024.01.21 Sabbath School lesson]

Eight benefits of Christian meditation: deeper repentance, strengthened resolve, inflamed affection, increased growth, comfort, joy, depth of maturity, and improved retention of God's Word.
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A Remnant According to the Election of Grace [Family Worship lesson in Romans 11:1–6]

Has God cast away Israel? Romans 11:1–6 prepares us for the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these six verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God reserves for Himself a remnant of Israel (and of every nation) according to the election of grace.
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2024.01.22 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 11:1–6

Read Romans 11:1–6

Questions from the Scripture text: Who now says something (Romans 11:1, cf. Romans 10:19a, Romans 10:20a)? What does he ask if God has done? How does he answer? What evidence is there that Israel has not been cast away? Which, specifically, of His people has God not cast away (Romans 11:2)? To what does he now refer? Of whom did the Scripture speak? With whom did he plead? Against whom? What did Elijah say about Israel at that time (Romans 11:3)? Who responded (Romans 11:4)? What had God done? For Whom? How many had He reserved? In what did this reserving result? At what other time had God reserved people for Himself (Romans 11:5)? What does v5 call these reserved people? According to what had they been reserved? What does election by grace exclude as a cause for election (Romans 11:6)? Why? What two types of election are mutually exclusive?

Has God cast away Israel? Romans 11:1–6 prepares us for the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these six verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God reserves for Himself a remnant of Israel (and of every nation) according to the election of grace. 

Amazing grace. We are not like God in our view of sin and sinners. With our remaining flesh, we find it difficult to say “let God be true and every man a liar” (cf. Romans 3:4), so that God is still good even if He saves none (cf. Romans 3:3). So, we are not amazed enough by His grace in saving just one. That’s why we might ask a question like “has God cast away His people?”

Paul adds his voice (“I say then,” Romans 11:1) to the voices of Moses (“First Moses says,” Romans 10:19) and Isaiah (“Isaiah is very bold and says,” Romans 10:20). He knows that he is writing by the Spirit as they did. But he also knows that he is writing under marvelous, saving grace. His answer to the question is “Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite” (Romans 11:1). What an Israelite he was! The rest of verse 1 is an abbreviation of Philippians 3:4–6. There, we remember that he wasn’t just the prototypical Israelite, but also the prototypical sinner. He had persecuted the church. 

God certainly hadn’t cast away Israel, if He is saving such sinful Israelites as Paul! The real question is, “why is He saving any?”—especially any like Paul? And Romans 11:2 answers, “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” The answer is that electing love that we considered in the same words in Romans 8:29, “those whom He foreknew.” 

Unchanging grace. The apostle, then, has us open our Bibles to 1 Kings 19 to see that it has always been this way. Elijah’s own assessment of the situation is in Romans 11:3, “I alone am left.” He had pretty convincing evidence for that: “they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and […] they seek my life.” Our knowledge is finite, so it’s too easy for us to draw conclusions based upon what we see and what we think we know. But even if we knew everyone and everything on earth, and all that is done, we would still be missing data that dwarfs all of this: what is in the mind of God. 

“divine response” here translates an unique word that borrows from classical Greek works to refer to an oracle: speech that is absolutely true and beyond man’s reach (even above their false gods). Why was there “a remnant” (cf. Romans 11:5) of “seven thousand men” (Romans 11:4)? Because God says, “I have reserved for Myself” (verse 4). They don’t continue to be His because they “have not bowed the knew to Baal” (verse 4). They have not bowed the knee to Baal, because He has reserved them for Himself! 

Electing grace. Paul knows this doctrine quite personally. He had turned from persecuting the church to preaching the gospel because God had reserved and saved him for Himself. This is the story of every Israelite at the time who was believing in Christ: “even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5). Indeed, at that time, many tens of thousands of Jews had converted (cf. Acts 21:20), and each and every single one was a marvel of amazing, electing grace.

Finally, the apostle reminds us that this is the case with not only Jews but also Greeks, and not only at that time but at all times. Election by grace and election by works (let alone salvation by works) are mutually exclusive: if it is the one, then it cannot be the other, and if it is the other, then it cannot be the one. We had seen this about Jews and Greeks together back in Romans 3:29–4:4. Now, the Spirit emphasizes it all the more, “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Romans 11:6). 

O, dear reader, if you are saved it is because God decided to know you and love you before He made the worlds. And, in that love, He has determined that by His grace (what is in Him, over-against what fails to be in us!) He would reserve you for Himself. This is the story of every believer. God has not rejected His people, for He is still saving among them by election-driven grace! And He has not rejected the nations, for He is still saving among them by election-driven grace. This should open our mouths to God in praise for our redemption and to others in preaching of that grace by which He might save them.

Have you come to faith? What determined that you would? How were you brought to it? For whom are you praying to believe the gospel? To whom are you telling the gospel? How can they come to faith?

Sample prayer:  Lord, truly You are faithful to Your people. After all that Israel had done, You have not cast them off but continue to save according to amazing, electing grace! And how abundant is the generosity of Your goodness! For, You send Your gospel to the nations, because You have reserved for Yourself a multitude among them according to the foreknowledge of electing grace. And, by Your almighty power, You bring that multitude to faith by redeeming grace. Thank You for our salvation, Lord. Grant it to those specific ones for whom we have been praying, and to whom we have been telling the gospel. And gather in the whole remnant of those whom You have foreknown, that Christ, Who is glorified in them, may return, and the whole of Your work of salvation be completed. For, we ask it in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH438 “I Love to Tell the Story” 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Hearts, and Whole Self, for Heaven or Hell [Family Worship lesson in Matthew 5:27–30]

What does God want from us? Matthew 5:27–30 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that believers owe the Lord their heart, their hand, and their everything, with which they hope to enter heaven.
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2024.01.20 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 5:27–30

Read Matthew 5:27–30

Questions from the Scripture text: What have they heard (Matthew 5:27)? To whom was it said? What was said? But Who else speaks (Matthew 5:28)? About whom does He speak? With what in his heart does this hypothetical man look at the woman? What has he already done with her? Where? What might cause a man to sin (Matthew 5:29)? What should he do to it? Why—what is more profitable to him than what? What might cause a man to sin (Matthew 5:30)? What must he do to it? Why—what is more profitable than what?

What does God want from us? Matthew 5:27–30 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that believers owe the Lord their heart, their hand, and their everything, with which they hope to enter heaven.

The Lord Jesus Speaks His Law to Us. As we noted in Matthew 5:21, what they have heard in Matthew 5:27 is that something else was said to someone else. The “something else” is the seventh commandment. The “someone else” is the Lord, and now He stands before them in true humanity. It is the Lord Jesus who spoke the seventh commandment to those of old. 

Their rabbis had repeated to them what was recorded in Scripture. But it was the Lord who had thundered it from Mount Sinai, and it was the Lord who had recorded it by His Spirit in the Scripture, and it is the Lord Who is now speaking it to them face-to-face. When He says, “But I say to you” (Matthew 5:28), He is obviously inviting a contrast between how their teachers address them, and how He addresses them.

In every sin, we sin against the Lord. Those in front of Him, hearing Him, had sinned against Him in every lustful look. There is interaction with himself, with the Lord, in the seventh commandment just as there had been in the sixth commandment in the prior passage. The Lord Jesus is teaching us to think of the second table of the law, not first and foremost in terms of our relation to one another (although that is the context that is being governed) but in relation to Himself. Even in loving our neighbor as ourself, we must think first and foremost of But our relation to God—of what happens in our hearts, and of whether what we do with our hands is honoring Him.

The Lord Requires the Heart. Recent versions have used the phrase “lustful intent” to translate Matthew 5:28, leading some to make the mistake of saying that desire in the heart is not a sin, but only becomes sin when intent to act is added. This isn’t just a grammatical mistake; it is a grave error that threatens to destroy souls, obscure the gospel, and turn denominations apostate.

The language in Matthew 5:28 indicates not only intention to act, or intention to lust, but literally the propensity to lust for the woman. The presence of lust in the heart is sinful, needing atonement and cleansing. Looking at, or facing, a woman with lust is adulterous. But the reason for this is not in the man or in the woman, but in the Lord, Who created man and woman. The Lord created covenants. The Lord created marriage as a covenant. So, it is especially against the Lord that our heart is idolatrous and adulterous, whenever we lust.

The Lord Requires the Rest of Us, Too. Just as—and even more than—a man is one flesh with his wife, the believer belongs, body and soul, to the Lord Jesus. Matthew 5:29-30 are not so much about the removal of physical eye and physical hand as they are about what we call mortification. If we shrink from language of plucking eyes and cutting off hands, what will we think of offering our body as a living sacrifice (cf. Romans 12:1; Romans 6:11–22) or crucifying ourselves (cf. Galatians 2:20, Galatians 5:24; Romans 8:13; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:5–10)?  

The only eye that should remain in a believer is the eye that is offered to the Lord as a slave for righteousness. The only hand that should remain in a believer is the hand that is offered to the Lord as a slave for righteousness. The former self should have been crucified. The lusting eye or the adulterous hand should be crucified with it, and when it makes an appearance, it should be destroyed. 

The Lord Sanctifies Us unto Salvation from Hell. Matthew 5:20 spoke of the righteousness we need to enter heaven. Now Matthew 5:29 and Matthew 5:30 warn against entering hell. Either our sinful self was crucified with Christ at His cross, or it will be cast entirely into hell. And not just the whole body but the soul with it. 

King and kingdom are at war with our sin. If we are not at war with all that remains from our original self, from our original nature, then we do not have good reason to think that we belong to King or kingdom. 

Jesus literally warns us here about being in the church, but being in danger of our whole body being cast into hell. These verses are not given to us so that we can nuance ourselves into excuses. They are given so that we would not merely self-identify as Christians, but be identified (by tangible fruit!) as those who are actually united to Christ.

Salvation is real! And real sanctification, with real mortification, always accompanies real justification, which comes through real faith in a real Christ. We must come to define profit in heavenly and eternal terms. Let us be so sure of spiritual and eternal things that we consider these the truly “profitable” things. 

How are you presenting your members as slaves unto God for righteousness? How is this profitable to you?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for creating marriage. Forgive us for corrupting it. We thank You all the more for saving us from the guilt of our sin in Christ. By His grace, save us also from its presence, we ask in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP24 “The Earth and the Riches” or TPH538 “Take My Life, and Let It Be”

Friday, January 19, 2024

Everyone Hears (but Only the Elect Know) the Lord [2024.01.17 Midweek Sermon in Romans 10:18–21]

Everyone has heard the Lord through general revelation, and many hear the Lord repeatedly through special revelation, but the Lord is actually known only by those whose contrariness the Lord has decided to take away.

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Holiness That Impacts Everyone and Everything It Touches [Family Worship lesson in Leviticus 24:10–23]

How does what happens in the Holy Place work itself out among the holy people? Leviticus 24:10–23 prepares us for the evening sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these fourteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Lord’s congregation are a holy people, coming to Him in His own way, and therefore must reflect that holiness in the keeping of all of His commandments.
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