December 15, 2013

Scripture and Comments, Third Week of Advent

Week of the Third Sunday in Advent

Monday

Morning - Ps. 84, Is. 29:1-14, Mk. 5:1-20
Evening - Ps. 75 &76, Is 29:15, Rev. 18:11

            Most people live for what Francis Schaeffer called, "personal peace and affluence."  If they worship God, or believe in Him at all, they consider Him as one of many articles in their possession to add to their peace and affluence.  But this is nothing new; the Jews in this passage of Isaiah were doing it seven hundred years before the time of Christ.  They gave God lip service, but lived for themselves.  Yet, they believed God was satisfied with them, and that their half-hearted participation in the ceremonies and rituals of their religion was more than sufficient to appease God.  For generations God called them back to Him.  Prophet after prophet was sent to tell them of His love and warn them of His wrath.  They ignored God's prophets, preferring instead to appoint prophets of their own choosing who would tell them what they wanted to hear, rather than the Word of God.  So God, in Isaiah 29 says even Jerusalem, and even the Temple will be destroyed and leveled by military conquest, along with the people.  Ariel is Jerusalem, and God says He will cease sending true prophets, allowing the city to be continually led astray by false prophets.  He will pour out on the people a spiritual slumber.  The word of God will be unintelligible to them.  The wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent will disappear, and the people will follow fools and liars.
            Sadly, this sounds terribly like what is happening in the Church today.  Many have deserted Biblical faith and chosen to place themselves under the tutelage of false teachers.  Others offer lip service to God, while treating Him more as their servant than as their God.  If God was willing to level the Temple and conquer the Jews with war, can we expect Him to let such sin go unchastised today?
            Isaiah's news is not all bad, however.  Even in wicked Jerusalem there are still righteous people who seek and love God.  They, and many who repent of their sins and return to God, will be blessed, even amid the suffering and conquest of Jerusalem.
                       
 Tuesday

Morning - Ps. 90, Is. 30:8-17, Mk. 5:21
Evening - Ps. 91, Is. 30:18-26, Rev. 19:1-16

It seemed to the king of Judea that the whole world was at war and that his tiny country was going to be drawn into it and destroyed by it.  In the east, the Assyrians were rising to power.  Ruthless warriors, they would soon conquer most of the other nations in the area.  Syria and Israel were trying to fight Assyria, and wanted Judea to join them.  Their kings were joining forces to attack Judea in an attempt to force the kingdom to join them.  To the west, Egypt was preparing its own powerful war machine to do battle with the Assyrians.  Judea lay right in the middle of these two super powers, and both of them wanted it.  Believing Egypt would be the better ally, the King of Judea attempted to make a treaty with the pharaoh.  This was an arrangement the Egyptian king would gladly accept.  It allowed Egypt to put soldiers in Judea and use the Judean army and the Judean countryside as a buffer in case of an Assyrian attack.  To the pharaoh, Judea was useful only as a place to fight Assyria.  He would gladly sacrifice it to keep the horrors of war out of his own territory.  That is why one of the major points of Isaiah 30 is that there is no hope for Judea in Egypt (vs. 7). 
            But Judea's real problem was that they were seeking their security in the things of the world instead of in God.  They looked to the king of Egypt to deliver them, rather than to the King of Kings who holds the stars in His hand and raises or casts down nations as He pleases.  Isaiah's book has many passages beseeching the Jews to return to God and promising His protection and blessing if they will.  But this was a message the Judeans did not want to hear.  They wanted prophets who would tell them happy things and prophesy peace to them (vss.9-11).  They did not want to hear a message that required faith and holiness.  They did not want to hear any preaching that required them to turn away from sin, or required them to find fulfillment in God instead of the possessions, pleasures, and amusements of this life.  Thus, the Judeans cast God aside in a vain attempt to cling to their "happiness" in earthly things, and, as a result, they lost both (vss. 12-14).
            Yet the unfaithfulness of Judea will not annul the promise and purpose of God for Israel.  God called Abraham and his descendents to be the people through which the Saviour would come in the fullness of time.  Their unfaithfulness could not stop God's purpose, nor had everyone in Judea turned away from God.  Verses 15-33 tell of God's grace on the remnant who abides in Him, and of the fulfillment of His purpose for them in the Kingdom of the Messiah.

Ember Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 1 & 15, Jer. 23:9-15, Lk. 12:35-48
Evening - Ps. 92, Jer. 23:16-22, Mt. 28:16

            Today is a day of prayer for ministers.  The readings from Jeremiah deal with false prophets and it is intentionally chosen to amplify the Epistle for the Third Sunday in Advent, which begins in 1 Corinthians 4:1.  A faithful steward preaches the Bible.  He does not add to it, subtract from it, or alter it in any way.  As an ambassador for Christ, he delivers his Sovereign's Word, not his own.  This is not as easy as it sounds, for there is always a temptation to preach what people want to hear, and they don't always want to hear the truth.  Please pray that your minster will be found faithful. 

Thursday

Morning - Ps. 96, Is. 32:1-4, 15-20, Mk. 6:1-6
Evening - Ps. 93 & 98, Is. 33:1-10, Rev. 20:1-6

            We live in a fallen world, and the evidence of sin is all around.  Fools are considered wise. The wicked are envied and called good.  Cheaters are considered generous.  The ungodly are called spiritual.  This is nothing new.  It is the trend of mankind from the beginning, and it was true even of the Old Testament chosen people of God. But it will not always be this way. Today's reading looks to a time when a righteous King will rule a righteous people, and there will be justice, and wisdom, and generosity, and godliness.  In one sense Isaiah 32 and 33 look forward to the end of time, when God's people dwell with Him in a place where they will see and know God face to face, where the desire to sin is gone forever, and  where the peace of God will shine like a thousand suns.  In another sense these chapters look to the era of the New Testament Church.  In the Church we live in the Dominion of the King of Righteousness, and everything the Old Testament says about a future of peace and blessing is fulfilled in the Church.  She is that new humanity, a people restored to God's original purpose for mankind, a Kingdom of peace, generosity, respect, wisdom, and love.  This is what makes the local church so important.  Through it we participate in the new humanity.  Through it we live in the new Kingdom.  Judea learned there was no hope in Egypt, and the Church must learn there is no hope in the world.  We must stop looking to "Egypt" and start looking to Christ.
            There is also chastisement in these chapters, and just as God chastised Israel He will not hesitate to chastise the New Israel.  Remembering that all Holy Scripture was written for our learning, let us make every effort to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" the message of these chapters.   

Ember Friday

Morning - Ps. 40:1-15, Jer. 23:23-32, 2 Cor. 5:2
Evening - Ps.51, Jer. 26:1-13, 2 Tim. 3:14-4:8

            The faithfulness required of God's ministers is absolute.  No man is to take the office of the ministry of his own accord, nor is he to speak his own ideas to the people.  It is not his calling to tell people what he would like God to say or the way he would like God to be.  Such preaching is only the deceit of their own heart (Jer. 23:25).  Yet the Bible seems to imply that the majority of ministers are of this type.  How can a minister know he teaches God's Word rather than his own views?  He must ensure that he teaches and believes what the Church has always believed.  This is not as difficult as it sounds, for there is a very visible body of Biblical doctrine that has been held by all true ministers of God from the Apostles to this very day, and, no matter what other credentials he may have, a man who teaches or believes contrary to this body of doctrine is a false minister.  So ember Friday affords ministers the opportunity to examine their core beliefs and practices.  If they find themselves out of accord, they have a chance to repent and return to the truth.
            The faithfulness required of the people is also absolute.  Ember Friday also gives the "laity" a chance to ensure that they are hearing the Word of God.  God would not call and equip ministers if He did not want people to attend the services of the Church and hear the Word.  God would not be against those who preach false doctrine if He didn't want people hear and do the truth.  So the message of Ember Days speaks to everyone on both sides of the pulpit. To the preacher it says, "Speak Truth." To the congregation it says, "Hear Truth."  Let us all do whatever is necessary to obey.. 

Ember Saturday

Morning - Ps. 42 & 43, Mal 2:1-9, Mt. 9:35-10:15
Evening - Ps.103, Mal. 3:1-6, Heb. 4:14-5:10

            There is a tendency to belittle authority today, and this tendency finds its way even into the Church.  People want to be their own authority, sometimes even placing themselves above the Bible.  There is a growing trend toward Churchless Christianity and a growing trend toward Creedless Christianity, in favour of self-directed "Christianity."  This goes against everything the Bible teaches, and we must all make the decision whether we believe the Bible or our own ideas.  Remember what God said of those who believe their own way in yesterday's reading (Jer. 23:25).  In Malachi God reminds His priests of Levi.  Levi loved and respected God.  The truth was in his mouth.  He walked in the ways of God with peace and equity (2:4-7). All ministers must strive to be like Levi.  Their lips should keep knowledge.  People should be able to hear the word of God from their mouths, for they are called to be messengers of the Lord of Hosts 2:7). The priest who departs from God's word corrupts the faith and causes people to stumble.  What a sad day it will be when a priest stands before God only to find those who followed him followed the wide road that leads to destruction. How bitter his eternity will be knowing he led people into hell.


Third Sunday in Advent Sermon

Ministers and Stewards
1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 11:2-10
Third Sunday in Advent
December 15, 2013

            In 1 Corinthians 4:1 and 2, the Bible addresses the issue of the nature of the ministry in the New Testament Church.  Written by the Apostle Paul under the direction of the Holy Spirit, these verses help the Corinthians, and through them, all Christians, understand who and what a minister is.  The Corinthian Christians were not Jews.  Therefore, they were not raised in a home or culture that worshiped God.  They did not know the Old Testament.  They did not know the synagogue.  They knew only the pagan temples and the rudimentary understanding of the Gospel they were able to learn during Paul’s two year ministry in Corinth.  And they knew Christ. I admire them for trying to be faithful to Christ in a hostile culture, with very limited understanding of the Scriptures, and with only novice clergy to lead them in the faith and worship of God after Paul left.  But I have to recognize the fact that the Corinthians compromised the Faith.  They mixed Christian doctrine with pagan mythology, and they tried to worship God the way they formerly worshiped their pagan idols. This brought them into serious trouble, so serious the Apostle Paul, referring to their corruption of the Lord’s Supper, wrote, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (1 Cor. 11:30).  Many are dead because of their abuse of the things of God.
            A big part of the problem in Corinth was the large number of self appointed apostles teaching and leading people into wrong and heretical doctrines and practices.  Paul has spent much of the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians addressing this problem.  He started in the very first verse, saying, he is “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God.”  From there he defended and explained his calling and ministry.  He was not boasting.  He was not claiming to be a great man or trying to force the people to honour him.  He was simply telling them he was a real apostle, called and commissioned by Jesus Christ for this ministry, and the others in Corinth who claimed to be apostles, were not.  In chapter two he said the Corinthians can tell a true minister of Christ by the way he builds upon the foundation Paul laid when he was preaching and teaching in Corinth.  That foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11, 12).
In chapter four he returns to the issue of his true apostleship and what that means in the way the people of Corinth should think of him and the other true Apostles.  How should they account the Apostles?  How should Christians account any real minister of the word?  The first thing he says is “let a man so accounts us, as of the ministers of Christ.”  It is interesting to read this verse in the original Greek. We all know that the Latin word from which we derive our English word “minister” means “servant” or “slave,” and I expected to find the Greek equivalent for it in 1 Corinthians 4:1.  I was shocked (again) to find that the Greek says, “let a man so account us as official representatives of Christ.”  Paul is saying something similar to what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:20, where, again, writing about the Apostles and their relationship to the Church he said, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.”
There was something special and unique about the ministry of the Apostles.  They occupied and performed a unique ministry in the Church and their office ended when the last one, probably John, died.  There are no more Apostles.  There is an apostolic ministry in the Church, and listen very carefully to what I am saying here, because the apostolic ministry is different from the office of an Apostle.  The apostolic ministry is the ministry that continues to preach and teach the Faith and Practice given to the Church by Christ through the Apostles.  There is much more that I want to say on this subject, and I hope to return to it soon.  For now I must simply say that a man who is dully called and ordained, and who preaches and teaches the Apostolic Faith and Practice, is to be regarded as an official representative of Christ.  He is called and ordained to his ministry by God through the Church, and God Himself uses that man to lead His people.
There is another word in 1 Corinthians 4:1 I want to talk about for a moment, and that word is “stewards.”  A steward is a person who cares for some one or some thing for the benefit and in the service of another.  In Roman times, which is when the New Testament was written, it usually referred to a slave who was put in charge of his master’s property.  A steward had authority from the master to direct the property, and other servants, for his master and according to the master’s directions.  A steward could be in charge of the kitchen, the house, the estate, or several estates.  There are four main points I want to make about a steward.  First, he was installed in his position by the master.  Second, he acted by the authority of the master.  Third, the property and other servants did not belong to him.  Fourth, he was accountable to the master for his actions. “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.”
I want to turn quickly to what the Apostles and those who carry on the Apostolic Faith and Practice are stewards of.  We are stewards of the mysteries of God. That, in its purest sense, means the Faith.  It is our task to “preach the word,” as Paul wrote to Timothy.  It is our task to guard and keep the Faith pure, to defend it from enemies.  It is not within our authority to change the faith in any way. It is not ours to change.  We preserve it for our Master.
The Apostolic Faith and Practice is given to us in the Bible, so we are stewards of the Bible.  We are to proclaim its message and to preserve it unaltered for future generations.  We are to teach all of what Jesus commanded.  That is the Apostolic Faith.  We are also stewards of the Apostolic Practice.  We are called to preserve the practice of the Apostles in worship, Church ministry and organisation, and public and private life as followers of Christ.  We are stewards of the Apostolic Practice, not innovators and inventors of new and better things.
We are stewards of the Sacraments. The sacraments are not given to individual Christians; they are given to the Church.  When a person is baptized he is baptized into the Church, and especially into the local manifestation of the Church, which is the local congregation.  He is not baptized to be a Christian at large.  Sometimes there is no viable church to attend where a person lives.  Such a person can be a member of a believing church outside of his area, as many of our Anglican Orthodox members are.  But church membership and participation are important parts of following Christ.  The Lord’s Supper is given to and celebrated by and in the context of the Church.  It is not to be celebrated by random groups of Christians who happen to meet at the RV park or at the beach.  It is celebrated under the authority of the Church.
Finally, we are stewards of the Church herself.  We are responsible for leading and teaching the Church in the things of Christ.  We are responsible for ordering and organizing the Church according to the pattern given in Scripture.
I know this is a brief and sketchy presentation, and each of the points and sub points I have made today could be a sermon, or a book, or a library of its own.  I hope to preach more about them in the future, especially those which may be easily misunderstood, such as the point I made about the Apostolic ministry.  But I want to hurry on now to another important point, namely that clergy aren’t the only ministers and stewards in God’s house.  There is a sense in which the Bishop is the head steward of the Church, and the priest or deacon is the head steward of the local congregation.  But there is another sense in which all Christians are ministers and stewards of the mysteries of Christ.  Let’s go back to the Roman slave who was the head steward of, say, the master’s house.  Was he the only one charged with seeing that the house ran the way the master wanted it?  No.  Every servant in the house was a steward of something.  One may have been steward of the kitchen.  One may have been steward of the stable.  Another was steward of the furnishings.  And all were required to work together to keep the house for the master.  We are all stewards of the Lord’s House.  We are all ministers in His Kingdom.  Let us be found faithful.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.