Why I am a Calvinist

Tulip-8

It’s been suggested to me that I back down or refrain from preaching or teaching the doctrines of Grace i.e. Calvinism. I’d like to explain why these doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election/ predestination, limited atonement, effectual calling, and the perseverance of the saints are so treasured by me that I cannot back away from them even if it costs me my current job or a future job in an SBC church.

 

First, they are precious doctrines because they are biblical. That should be all the grounding that any believer needs. God has saw fit to reveal in his Word these teachings for us to study and to treasure. His word is the standard for all of our beliefs and practices. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

 

Second, these doctrines exalt God and humble men. Salvation is 100% God’s working. We contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation except the sin that makes it necessary. God will share his glory with no one. It is humbling to know that if not for the sovereign grace of God, I would take myself straight to hell. Yet it causes me to shout in praise of God that he took a dead sinner like myself and made me alive. He has lavished his grace upon one who hated him and could not and would not choose him of his own will.

 

Thirdly, these doctrines are exquisite because they reveal the love that God has for his elect. That in eternity past, God the Father chose a people for himself. He chose to reveal his love to his people by sending God the Son to the cross and dying to save them. He died not just to make salvation possible in generalities but to actually save his specific sheep.  And because God is the one who saves then those who are saved can never be lost. Those he predestines he calls, justifies and will glorify. What great comfort and assurance is found in Christ.

 

Fourthly, these doctrines fuel our evangelism and zeal good works. Because God prepared our salvation beforehand, he also prepared our good works as well. He has chosen to use saved and sanctified sinners to take the glory of the gospel into the world to reach his children. Whether I preach in the pulpit or in the street, I can be confident that my job is just to be faithful to his word and that He is the one who is responsible for the results. I can be confident that God has chosen that the power of the gospel can overwhelm the enslaved and dead will of a sinner and cause them to be born again so that they will now freely chose to obey him. I can pray with confidence for God to save my friends and family, knowing that God actually has the power to save them if he so chooses.

 

Fifthly, and related to the last, because I trust in the sovereignty of God, I do not have to resort to merely pragmatic and worse yet emotionally manipulative means in order to try and get a decision while sharing the gospel. I can faithfully preach the commands of God without being embarrassed by things that our culture finds antiquated. I don’t have to rely on half-truths or the nuancing of things to death so as not to offend. I can trust that God is sovereign and that he has determined to use the proclamation of his word to either save his sheep or to drive away the goats. Consequently, I am free to be faithful to share the gospel with my neighbor without fear that if I mess something up or if I am not the greatest communicator that my neighbor won’t be saved because something I said. Salvation is of the Lord and not of the will of man.

 

There are plenty of other reasons I can think of for why these doctrines are so amazing and precious. Hitting home for me is that God has used the preaching of these beliefs to bring me to repentance and faith in him. And because of that there is no way that I can ever refrain from believing, teaching, preaching, and celebrating the doctrines of Grace.

 

 

Additional Sources:
A Defense of Calvinism by Charles Spurgeon

John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion

Robert Dabney Defends the Five Points of Calvinism

Arminian Errors

 

Yahweh’s Restoration Movement Cult and the Trinity

Trinity Graphic

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once wrote “False teachings emerge anew in every generation it seems, but inventing a new heresy is quite a challenge. After all, once every doctrine vital to Christianity has been denied, all that remains is a change in packaging.”[i]   Old heresies once declared anathema by Christians, every so often are brought out, dusted off, and repackaged into some new cult.   Doing street evangelism and abortion ministry, I’ve recently come into contact with some of these various cults. A couple of things that most if not all cults have in common is a redefinition of God and a works-based salvation.

A New Old Heresy

One such cult that I’ve recently come into contact with is a group that calls themselves “Yahweh’s Restoration Movement (YRM).”   They are a small sect of what is often called “The Sacred Name Movement” which in turn is an offshoot of the “Hebrew Roots Movement” which developed from the Church of God (Seventh Day) in the 1930s. The movement was influenced by Joseph Franklin Rutherford who named the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult which has a long line of false prophesies including the false prediction that Christ would return in 1925.[ii] The Sacred Name Movement is essentially a cross between 7th Day Adventism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

They advocate for the use of the sacred named of God (Yahweh) and the use of Christ’s name in Hebrew.   They put such an emphasis on pronouncing these names “correctly” that salvation is dependent in part upon getting this correct. This is humorous when one realizes that there are several different sects arguing over the correct pronunciation which disagree with each other. You can find some that say that Christ’s name must be written and pronounced as Yahshua while others may say Yeshua , Yehoshua, Yahushua, Yahoshua, Yaohushua, Y’shua or Yahshuah.

While it may seem harmless enough to debate over how to properly pronounce the name of Christ in Hebrew even though the New Testament was written in Greek, these cults have other more dangerous beliefs. They reject the Christian and Biblical doctrine of the Trinity while claiming that the Trinity is an invention of the 4th Century. They reject the eternal divinity of Christ rehashing the Arian heresy that Christians decidedly dealt with in the Nicene Creed. According to the website of the “Yahweh Restoration Movement” they believe that “The Son was created by the Father.”[iii] They believe that Jesus is a lesser being than God though they would claim that he is the Messiah. To deny the eternal divinity of Christ by making him into a created being thus denying the trinity is to fundamentally get wrong the revealed nature of God. To get this wrong is to get God wrong. It ultimately results in a created false god leaving those who hold these views to be relying on a god who does not have the power to save.   Ironically, while these cults are so intent on getting the name of God right they completely get wrong the nature of the one whose name they are so worried about.

So how can we respond to these cults? I will be writing a series of articles on this blog looking at the scriptural evidence for the eternal deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Of course, Christians for almost two thousand years have been writing on the doctrine of the Trinity and yet this glorious doctrine still provides rich blessings for us to explore as we will never plumb the depths of the knowledge of who God is even in eternity. For the remainder of this article, I will provide a brief response to two challenges that these cults make towards Christianity regarding the trinity.

Those who hold to the views of YRM claim that the doctrine of the trinity is a pagan invention that the Church plagiarized into its beliefs during the 4th century. Again from the YRM website, “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it… From Egypt came the ideas of a divine Trinity.”[iv] In a recent conversation I had with a YRM follower, I was told that it was not until 381 AD that the doctrine of the trinity was created because the early church fathers never taught the teaching of the trinity.   There are two basic accusations being made here:  1. Christians stole ideas from Pagans and 2. The Ante-Nicene (Pre-Nicene) Church Fathers did not teach the Trinity.   We will deal quickly with each below.

Christianity Stole from Pagans?

It is quite the internet fad today to argue that Christianity plagiarized from Pagans. The story usually goes that there were ancient Roman, Egyptian, or Middle Eastern Cults that all had gods who were born of virgins, were crucified, died, and were resurrected. Some usual candidates identified to have been copycatted by Christians are Mithra and Iris. Tektonics has an in depth article detailing the fallacies in this accusation regarding Mithra and Christ.[v] To summarize, the comparisons between these ancient mystery religions and Christianity are not even close. For example, the claim that Mithra was born of a virgin are false. Mithra was believed however to have been born out of a rock. Mithra was not crucified but was believed to have killed a bull. The more one studies these pagan religions the quicker one finds that any similarities are completely superficial.

In his “A Ready Defense”, Josh McDowell outlines four basic fallacies that people often commit when linking Christian accounts with mystery religions:

  1. Combinationism or universalism – This fallacy basically takes all the different mystery sects from 1500B.C. to 500 A.D., amalgamating them together, and saying that they are a coherent belief system from which Christianity borrowed. Many of these religions evolved greatly over that 2000 year time span. To say that Christianity stole this belief or that one when those beliefs weren’t necessarily even regarded as part of that system any longer (or had yet to be developed) is ridiculous.
  2. Coloring the Evidence – Basically, this error occurs when a critic distorts the teaching of the mystery religion by using Christian-type language to describe a belief – and then claiming that Christianity stole from it because the beliefs read similarly. In reality the mystery practice is usually something completely different in intent or symbolism that the Christian “counterpart”.
  3. Oversimplification – Many critics will find thing such as a resurrection story and then try to demonstrate how Christianity borrowed from this type of belief. Usually, this is at the expense of many crucial details that really differentiate the myth from the historic Christian account. Also, many of these stories aggrandize the myth more than is necessary.
  4. Who’s Influencing Whom? – This error happens quite often. It consists of assuming that because there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as in Christianity, the Christians must have borrowed from the Eastern tradition since that religion’s founder lived first. The problem is that Christianity was so aggressive in its spread over the Roman Empire and Asia, many of these religions adopted Christian symbology and practice in order to make their religion look more appealing to stop losing converts to Christians. This can usually be discovered by looking into the various practices of those religions and noting that a feature similar to Christianity wasn’t recorded or mentioned in any writing until after the Christian era had proliferated.[vi]

These claims then that Christianity aped pagan beliefs are ridiculous and unfounded in history. Any similarities have been grossly exaggerated.  In particular there are no ancient religions that have one God in three persons.  Let us supposed for a moment however that there were closer similarities than what we already find. What would that mean? Walter Martin wrote in  “The New Cults: “In order to find out if the doctrine of the Trinity is true, we do not look to see if it resembles paganism, but to the bible, to see if God teaches it in his word. Pagans also believe in the concept of God. Does this mean that God must not be true? Pagans sleep. Does that mean sleeping is wrong ? We must not dismiss an idea merely because it is held in common with those whom we may not approve.”[vii]

Church Fathers and the Trinity

Scripture is our authority and to it we must look for our beliefs because it is the very word of God. It is in the scriptures where we will find the doctrine of the Trinity. I plan to write a follow up article to this one where I will show from the scriptures the doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. However, I will finish this article by addressing the second accusation that the doctrine of the Trinity was not taught by the early church fathers prior to the 4th century.

I will provide some quotes from a few of the church fathers. There are plenty more quotes to be found and read but these few will surely put to bed the notion that the trinity was a 4th century invention. You will notice that these early church fathers spoke of the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit using language reserved for God. The use of Trinitarian language is evident from the beginning of Christianity. Here are just a sample of quotes:

Mathetes 130 AD – “the holy and incomprehensible Word the very Creator and Fashioner of all things. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him the immortal One for them that are mortal” Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, ANTE Vol.1 pp.63,65

Polycarp 150 AD “Wherefore also I praise Thee [the ever-truthful God] for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen” – Epistle of the church at Smyrna Ch.14 ANTE Vol 1 p.92

Ignatius of Antioch 117 AD “We have also as a Physician the Lord our God Jesus the Christ the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’ Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passable body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts,” -Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 1, p. 52, Ephesians 7

Notice how this next quote refutes those who deny the divinity of Christ and those who would say that Christians borrowed from the Greeks and their idle tales:

Tatian the Syrian 170 AD “We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man.” – Address to the Greeks, ch. 21 ANTE Vol 2 p.149

Melito of Sardis 170-177 AD “The activities of Christ after his baptism, and especially his miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the deity hidden in his flesh. Being God and likewise perfect man, he gave positive indications of his two natures: of his deity, by the miracles during the three years following after his baptism, of his humanity, in the thirty years which came before his baptism, during which, by reason of his condition according to the flesh, he concealed the signs of his deity, although he was the true God existing before the ages.” Anastasius of Sinai’s The Guide 13

Clement of Alexandria 190 AD “I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father.” – Stromata, Book V ch. 14 ANTE Vol.2 p.970

Tertullian 205 AD “”The connection of Father and Son, of Son and the Paraclete [Holy Spirit] makes three who cohere in a dependent series. And these three are one thing; not one person.” – Against Praxeas ch.25

“The Son of God is identical with God. The Spirit of God is God.” – Against Praxeas ch.26

“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” (Adv. Prax. 23, PL 2.156-7).

 

In Conclusion:

To deny the trinity is to deny the very character of God.   It is to deny who God is and thus to make an idol for oneself.   It is an old heresy repackaged in a new cult. Yahweh’s Restoration Movement and its sister sects ultimately reject the real Christ and diminish the glory due the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have briefly looked at two fallacious arguments put forth by these heretical groups. The doctrine of the trinity was taught and believed by the early church. Because of the Arian controversy, the church convened a council to deal with this heresy in the 4th century but the teaching of the doctrine predates that council.   Not only does this teaching predate that council it can be found in both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible.   In the next article in this series, we will examine the scriptures to see what they say in regards to the Trinitarian nature of God.

[i] . “There Are No New Heresies — New Thought Isn’t New | AlbertMohler.com,” accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/03/30/there-are-no-new-heresies-new-thought-isnt-new/.

 

[ii] “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Many False Prophecies,” CARM – The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, accessed December 7, 2015, https://carm.org/jehovahs-witnesses-and-their-many-false-prophecies.

 

[iii] “Is the Messiah Yahshua a Lesser Being or Is He Yahweh?,” accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.yrm.org/onenessqa.htm.

 

[iv] “Astonishing Bible Truths That Your Church Never Taught,” accessed December 8, 2015, http://www.yrm.org/astonishingtruths.htm.

 

[v] http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.php

 

[vi] “Are There Pagan Origins of Christianity?,” accessed December 8, 2015, http://www.comereason.org/pagan-origins-of-christianity.asp.

 

[vii] Walter Martin, The New Cults (Santa Ana, Calif: Vision House Pub, 1980).

 

Books of 2014

It is now January 8, 2015 and I realize this should have happened a week ago but I wanted to take a look back at 2014.   2014 was at times stressful but for the most part it was a pretty good year.   It saw the birth of my second daughter, Arriana Liberty Spurgeon.   I also said goodbye to one church family and ministry position and hello to another. God being always faithful also provided for my family this year even when times seemed tight.  I am thankful to have been able to spend another year with my wonderful wife.   I also was able to complete another year of school work at Seminary.   Studying Hebrew this past semester was stressful but God is good.    In 2014, I was also able to read some great books, a few of which challenged some positions that I had held.    Therefore, I wanted to devote the rest of this blog post to highlighting some of the best books I read in 2014 along with pointing out a few places where some of my theological positions either changed or were clarified.  So without further ado here is my Top Books of 2014 List:

book coverindex

This year I found two books to be very helpful in thinking through student and family ministry.   The first book “Perspectives on Family Ministry”  is compiled and edited by Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.   If you are not familiar with the “Perspectives”  books, they are are a series of books put out by B&H Academic that cover a wide range of theological topics from different viewpoints.   Each book typically has three or more authors who write about the topic and then critique each others position on the topic at hand.   They are excellent little books to help get a basic understanding of the different arguments.   I had not really been aware that there was much of a debate about youth ministry and the need for family ministry.  This book presents three different ways or strategies for engaging families in ministry and how that relates to youth or student ministry.   While you can read for yourself and discover which view you think is most biblical,  in my opinion the main thing is  we as the church need to do a better job engaging, training, and leading families to minister to themselves and others.   Parents are the ones given the primary responsibility to raise and nurture their children in the Lord.   One of the authors contributing to the perspectives book, Voddie Baucham Jr, also wrote a book entitled “Family Driven Faith:Doing What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God.”  This is a wonderful book that challenges parents, fathers in particular, to take responsibility in raising their children for God.  Baucham says that “Our primary goal for our children is that they walk with the Lord.”    This means taking an active role.   Parents need to be spending time in the word of God with their children.   “If I teach my son to keep his eye on the ball but fail to teach him to keep his eyes on Christ, I have failed as a father. We must refuse to allow trivial, temporal pursuits to interfere with the main thing. Making the team is a tremendous achievement; however, it must be put in its proper perspective. No sports endeavor will ever be as important as becoming a man or woman of God.”

book cover 2

History is one of my favorite subjects especially American history.   I  enjoy reading about the founding of America up through the War between the States, the Civil War.  There is a nice series put out by Mark David Ledbetter called “America’s Forgotten History,” that I recently discovered.   Ledbetter is a libertarian and he writes a series of histories following the founding of America up through the 20 Century from this perspective.  He works to show the way that America has went from a simple Republic devoted to individual liberty to the bloated government leviathan that we have today.  Mark David’s best work is the second volume which covers much of the history leading up the the Civil War.  He is forthright about writing from the libertarian perspective.  It is refreshing to see a historian being upfront about any bias or worldview they may have.  The series was self-published at first as a Kindle ebook but has since been picked up by a publisher. You can still get it for very cheap on the Kindle.  A few criticisms that I have are that the author seems to downplay the religious understanding leading up to the founding and also seems to conflate all New Englanders with the Puritans.  Thus when Unitarian beliefs take over much of the once Puritan universities, Mark David does not do a good job of distinguishing between the two.  I would highly recommend reading this and supplementing it with work done by others especially Rousa Rushdoony.

book3book 4

Two books  that I found helpful in motivating and thinking through evangelism were J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” and John Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad.”   Both of the books are excellent in providing a clear biblical foundation for evangelism.  Some have criticized Calvinism because they think that belief in the sovereignty of God over all things including salvation can lead to a lack of motivation of sharing the gospel. Packer works to “show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks.”   Belief in the doctrine of election under-girds us as we evangelize.  We can be confident in the fact that God can overcome any resistance to the gospel.    God has chosen to call a people to himself and thus we do not need to trust in our own abilities to preach the Gospel.   We can be confident that the power of the Gospel will prevail.   Piper reminds us that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.”     Again we are motivated out by a love for God that moves us to love others.

This confidence in the sovereignty of God along with a study of God’s word this past year has led me to come to hold a Post-Mill view of the end times.   I won’t have time in this short post to go into what all this means but in short Postmillennialism holds that Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.  There is much more that could be said here but I will leave that for another post.   An excellent resource for this view is www.PostmillennialismToday.com.   

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The last two books I want to mention are ones that has helped clarify my position on politics and ethics are “Lectures on Calvinism” by Abraham Kuyper and  “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” by Greg Bahnsen.   Kuyper’s book is excellent in applying the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life.   Kuyper is famous for saying that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”  I’ve always held to the belief that our nations leaders should seek to follow and obey God. However, I was somewhat inconsistent on how this was worked out. Which brings me to the conclusion as Bahnsen excellently defends, that God’s law as revealed in the scriptures first in the Old Testament and then clarified in the New are to be the standard by which all people and nations should conform.   God moral and civil laws are binding still today and should be upheld by our leaders.   God will judge all people and nations by how they obey his commands.  Bahnsen does an excellent job laying out the case of what is called Theonomy.   He answers every objection that I have heard mentioned.  Again I will have to leave a discussion of theonomy to another post.

There are several other books I could mention but I wanted to keep this post pretty short.   I mainly wanted to highlight some good and/or interesting books that I had read this past year and recommend them to you.  I am looking forward to what 2015 has in store.   May you be blessed this year by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

 

The King Has Come

ST-christmas-star-2011

Introduction:  Several weeks ago you went into the attic or basement, searched through all the mess so you could spend the day after Thanksgiving fiddling with tangled cords, ladders, and frosty the snowman decorations.  The end result was going to be marvelous. Clark Griswold would be proud as you plugged in the lights expecting a glorious light display to be the envy of the neighborhood. Except one of the lights was out and so you had to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out which one it was.   You spent weeks looking for the perfect gift fighting off traffic to all the stores, only to find out that your brother bought the same gift. Then there are the office parties, the kids’ musicals, the in-laws and the outlaws. Wow, no wonder Elvis sang Blue Christmas.   Then just as all the anticipation leading up Christmas was building the Holiday came and went before you could even blink your eyes.   The vacation is over and you’re back to work on Monday.  For many people the days after the holidays can also be blue.   Do a quick internet search for post-holiday blues and you will find a ton of news articles addressing this “condition”. WebMD.com, the popular panic-inducing website that can convince you that your headache is a brain tumor, even has it listed as a medical condition. Thanks to a psychology professor in the United Kingdom there is an even official clinical-sounding name: acute post-bank holiday depression syndrome. Something tells me if you call in sick with that excuse Monday you might also come down with “acute looking-for-a-new-job syndrome.” So Christmas is over… now what?   I want us to look at what followed the first Christmas for the cure for the post-holiday blues. We will be able to see how the birth of Christ either brings much celebration or much sorrow.   As you read Matthew 2 you will see three things: A King has Come, A War has been Waged, and The Victory is Certain.

Matthew 2: 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

  1. The King Has Come

The first thing we see in this passage is the birth of a king. Contrary to the Christmas song “We Three Kings,” the wise men were not kings, but priests or court advisers similar to Daniel in the Older Testament. They were probably from Mesopotamia, the region of ancient Babylon. These men had seen the signs in the stars and being from the region of ancient Babylon they may have been aware of the prophecies of Daniel regarding the messiah.   They thus came looking for the birth of a king. Notice they don’t ask Herod if a King had been born.   They were certain that a king had been born. They were only uncertain on the location.   So which king were they looking for and why is the birth of this king so important?   To get this answer we need to go back to the beginning.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.   Then on the 6th day He created man and woman.   Genesis 1:26 says He created them in His image.   This little phrase “In his image” also called “the imago Dei“ packs a powerful punch but what exactly does it mean? For centuries, theologians have debated precisely what it means to be “the image of God”. On one hand it means that human life has dignity and we reflect something of the nature of God in our lives. Some recent scholarship has helped shed some light on the phrase. Comparing this phrase to other Ancient Near East documents we find the concept of “image” to be about representation.   The one bearing the image of a king or ruler is given authority as a representative of the king.  The “image of God” in Genesis is probably best thought of as God designating or calling human beings to be his representatives or agents in the world. The Image of God involves royalty and representing God’s kingship over the creation.   And that is what we find in Genesis 1.   God makes man in His image so that they can take dominion over the creation.  They are to be his royal representative in the world. However in Genesis 3, Man rebels against God and decides instead of being the loyal subject and representative of God, Man would rather be God himself.   Man disobeys God and in the process distorts the purpose of his creation.   Instead of ruling as God’s vice-regent, Adam and Eve give in to sin and thrust all of humanity into enslavement to sin.   The world is given over to a curse so that sin and Satan will rule instead.   In Genesis 3 as God gives out the punishment curses to Adam and Eve, he also makes a promise that one day, the seed of the woman will defeat the serpent.

The story unfolds in Genesis and evil reigns in the hearts of men.   God however continues to promise that one day evil will be defeated and creation restored.  God is in control and evil will not win.  God makes a promise with Noah to save him from the flood.   He then makes a covenant with Abraham that one day his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand.   There are not many things more beautiful than some of the beaches in the Philippines where my wife is from.

Most beautiful Philippine wallpaper The ocean water is a clear blue that just enticingly invites you to dive in. The trees are green and ripe with coconuts exactly like what you image when think of a tropical paradise.   And the sand…. pure white.   It’s like a post card. Some of the beaches here in America are beautiful as well.   Alright who’s up for a beach trip? My only complaint about the beach trips I have taken is that it never fails that someone wants to bury me in the sand.  I must look like someone just begging to be buried up to my neck in sand.  Here is a picture of one such trip many years ago. me at beach

It makes for a cute picture but the problem is you are digging out sand from all parts of your body for weeks.   Just after I pull the millionth grain of sand out of my hair there is another in its place.  Abraham is promised a number of descendents more numerous than the grains of sand.  What a promise!

God keeps his promise to Abraham and a great nation of people are descended from him.  Israel is told that they are to be a nation of priests.   In 2 Samuel, God promises one of the descendents of Abraham, David, that one from his family will reign forever . God says to him “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

Thus the promise of a coming King was continually made over and over again to the people of Israel.   God constantly pointed the people to one whose coming would defeat sin and bring in a kingdom of peace and glory forever.  Psalm 2 in particular reveals that God’s anointed will be given dominion over all nations and peoples while the rulers of the earth are warned to follow after this King or be crushed.

Even with these promises the people of Israel fell into sin and idolatry throughout the older testament.   God sent prophets to warn them that they would be punished for their sin.  Even in the midst of the message of judgment, the prophets also foretold of a king to come who will set things right.    Isaiah, one of these prophets, has this beautiful passage foretelling of the king.

Isaiah 9:6-8 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The prophets call Israel to repent go unheeded however and Israel is taken captive to Babylon because of their sins.   But even in captivity God does not forget his people and continues to promises them a coming King.   The prophet Daniel, one of the few who were faithful and obedient to God, was taken captive to Babylon.   In the book of Daniel, God reveals much about the coming king.   Here are just a few instances of the promise to Daniel of the coming King:

Daniel 2:44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,

Daniel 4:3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.

Daniel 7:14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’

Daniel was also given a vision that revealed exactly when this King would come. In Daniel 9, the exact amount of years is given for when the Messiah will appear. These prophesies build and point toward to this King who would save his people from their sin and who would bring Joy to the world. Then the Older Testament ends. And the years count down.

And now we are back to Matthew 2.   The wise men are here and looking for a King.   The timeline given to Daniel has come to a head.   The King, the anointed one, is born.   And with the King comes the dawning of the Kingdom.  Kingdom is the primary theme of the book of Matthew.  It is also the major theme of Jesus’ teaching as well.   The term “Kingdom of God or heaven” occurs twenty-four times in Matthew , fourteen times in Mark, thirty-two times in Luke, twice in the Gospel of John , six times in Acts, eight times in Paul, and once in Revelation .

What then does the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven mean?   First of all the Bible everywhere assumes that our Father is sovereign over the universe but this is not the concept the “kingdom of God” has in mind. More precisely, the kingdom of God refers to the visible, universal submission to His reign. As we have already stated , Adam’s sin plunged mankind into rebellion against its Creator. Yet the Lord’s prophets predicted a day when all creation would again recognize Yahweh’s authority and bow the knee to the appointed king.

The Jews however didn’t understand what this kingdom meant.   They were looking for a political and military leader who would establish a country with borders and armies.    Mark Rushdoony does an excellent job of explaining the Kingdom of God:

“Man cannot see the future, only the present and, to a limited extent, the past. He thus envisions the future within the limitations of past experience. It is no wonder the Jews expected a very political and Jewish kingdom, given their centuries of experience with a Davidic king in Jerusalem.   Unfortunately though the prophesies God gave his people pointed to the coming King being something much greater than just an earthly kingdom, the Jews including the disciples had a hard time understanding the kingdom as something more.

The Kingdom of God and its King Jesus would not be limited by the past-bound assumption of Jewish thought. His Kingdom would not be a Jewish state confined to borders on a map, but a heavenly government, a godly order. Jesus would not merely usher in religious reform. His work was to destroy the work of Satan, to crush the serpent, to atone for sin as the Lamb of God, and to bring men of all nations from darkness to light. Jesus came to do more than bring restoration and blessing to Jews. He came to bring salvation to all. Israel was always meant to include people of all nations. Jesus came to bring salvation to Jew and Gentile, to reconcile men of all nations and tongues to God. The kingdom of God would stretch over the entire world.

Jesus came to do more than bless Israel: he came to bless a new, enlarged Israel, all those made part of the covenant family by the grace of the heavenly Father. The blessing was not limited to those of Jewish blood but it was, as promised to Abraham, a blessing to all nations of the earth.”

The Lord’s chosen king is the Messiah, Jesus. Unfortunately, many Christians incorrectly believe that His kingdom has nothing to do with the present, something that comes only at “the end of time” with great natural disasters. Attempts to see the Kingdom of God as only a future event are mostly the product of a late nineteenth century.

“The Gospels tell us the Kingdom is to be sought in our lives, to be received now , that a man in Christ’s day could see it and enter into it, and that it is found among us. . . Other passages refer to the Kingdom as a progressive, developing fact. The Lord’s Prayer petitions “Thy kingdom come,” whereas we are told that “the kingdom of God is come” and that it is on earth and in heaven. Many of the parables regarding the Kingdom describe it in terms of the growth of a seed, tree, or yeast that develops over a period of time.”

His second coming is the consummation of His present reign, for He actually inaugurated the kingdom of God during His first advent. There is no denying that many references to the Kingdom are in the future as well. It is described as existing at the end of the world and after the final judgment. The angelic messenger told Mary it would have “no end” and the Epistles refer to it as “an everlasting kingdom” that is “forever and ever.” We Christians are the heralds of this kingdom. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we bear witness to our King, and through our obedience the Father will call people to worship Him. Thus, His kingdom increases in its visibility.

“God is greater than man’s mind can imagine. The Kingdom of God described in the New Testament is far more glorious than the one pictured by the Jews and even by Christ’s disciples. It is all they imagined but in a more extensive power and glory.”

When Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to ask for God’s kingdom to come. It is easy to pray a laundry list of requests for health, safety, and other provisions. But how many of us spend time in concentrated prayer that all peoples would submit to God and obey His Law?

The king was born and the wise men knew it. But we see in our passage that so did the enemy.   Sometimes it seems when read some of the stories in the bible that the enemy is more aware of the implications of Jesus coming then the others.   We see here that King Herod knew the implications of Christ’s coming and thus a War was Waged.

II. A WAR IS WAGED

Herod, interestingly enough was not a Jew but an Idumean, a descendant of Esau by ancestry.   But because of his connections with Rome, Herod was appointed “king of the Jews,” though his command was not secured until after a series of military victories which was consummated by the capture of Jerusalem in 37 B.C. One of his chief accomplishments was the remodeling of the dilapidated Jewish temple, a project which was not completed until A.D. 62/64, only a few years before that temple was destroyed by the providence of God.   Even though he started work on rebuilding the temple he also built many monuments to his own name.   He was a ruthless dictator.   Other than being called Herod “ the great”, which one wonders if he didn’t give himself that name, he has also been called “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis”,”the evil genius of the Judean nation”, and one who was “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition”.     There was a saying that it was better to be Herod’s swine than his own son.   Indeed, He killed three of his own son’s including one just 5 days before his own death.   Herod also gave orders that upon his own death several well liked citizens of Judah were to be executed so that if the people would not mourn his death they would still mourn none the less.   When we come to Matthew 2 we see that Herod continues to act in the same evil way.

The wise men come to Herod speaking of the king to come.   Herod’s own officials know the prophecies and yet Herod seems to think that he can destroy and defeat God’s anointed one.   We see here that enemy of God understands what the coming of Jesus means.   It means the end of the rule of evil.   See Herod was ruling by his own wisdom and not by God’s.  He knew that the coming of Jesus would mean the end of his rule.   The coming of Jesus means that sin, darkness, and rebellion will rein no more on this earth.   The coming of Jesus meant that a new authority was here and that Jesus must be obeyed.

As the Kingdom comes, darkness puts up a fight. It is a failing last-ditch effort.   Herod first tries to be sly and cunning but ultimately reveals his true evil in putting to death the children of Bethlehem.     Matthew in verse 18 points to a prophecy of Jeremiah which shows that amount of sorrow felt by the evil of Herod.   We will look a little closer at this prophecy in a bit but for now we will see that the coming of Jesus brings war.

And the war continues even though Jesus has already defeated the enemy on the cross.   The enemy has been trying to wipe out Jesus ever since.   And if the enemy cannot wipe out Jesus, the enemy will lash out at the Church.   Why is this?   Again, the enemy fights because the coming of Jesus means something.   It means that Jesus is King and must be obeyed.   This means that all nations, all governments, and all rulers are answerable to Jesus. The early church knew this. One of the earliest creeds of Christians was “Jesus is Lord” which means Caesar is not.  They refused to bow to human rulers and the enemy hated this.   We need to reclaim this understanding of the Lordship of Christ. Abraham Kupyer says it this way “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” This means that the Kingdom of God, and the Lordship of Christ affects all aspects of our life.   Our faith is not something that we just have at church or in the privacy of our homes.   Jesus doesn’t just want an hour on Sunday morning.   He wants 24 hour devotion 7 days a week.   This means that God’s word should rule our lives Sunday to Saturday.   God’s word affects how we work, how we raise our families, how we spend our money, how we spend our time, what we watch, what we think, how we vote, how we think about marriage, love, life, and so forth.

In our culture just as then this is a dangerous message.   Why?   Because the human heart wants to rebel against God and wants no part in his rule. So our culture tells us we can practice our religion if we just keep it to ourselves.  If you watch the news often you will notice politicians have recently started using a new phrase and stopped using an older phrase.   President Obama along with others has started using the phrase “Freedom to worship as you chose” instead of “free exercise of religion.”   It may seem like these are just interchangeable but they are not.   The constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion in America extends well beyond the freedom to worship. It includes the freedom to live out our conscientiously held beliefs even in the public realm.  Worship on the other hand is seen as essentially a private and personal process, a communion between God and an individual. No government could restrict such worship, any more than it could monitor and censor every citizen’s thoughts and prayers. Even forbidding individuals to worship together in public, which coercive communist governments like China’s have done, cannot actually prevent individuals from worshiping God in private. So a law that merely protected the freedom to worship would hardly be worth heralding in a presidential proclamation.   But it is this change of wording and thus meaning that is gaining acceptance in our culture.   You are free to believe what you like but keep your trap shut about it.

Here is the thing however, our King Jesus was not quiet and we as Christians are not commanded or allowed by Him to be quiet. Jesus is Lord over all people and governments.   The early church knew this and so did the Roman emperors and that is why they put them to death.   Yet the early church did not give up or give in. They remained strong and eventually it was the Roman Empire which fell and Christianity reigned supreme.

Again, the reason that Herod wants to kill Jesus is the same reason that the enemy is trying to shut up Christians today.   The reason that atheists want to take down the Ten Commandments at the courthouse and remove the nativity display is not because they have a problem with stone displays or a cute baby in a manger. If the nativity was nothing more than a cute baby in a manger then we would see them everywhere. The problem is the cute baby didn’t stay a baby but grew up and demands obedience from the entire world.   The cute baby is king and has given His law in the Bible and demands that all live by it.   All governments and people are commanded to obey and follow God. And the enemy is rebelling against that.

This leads us to our third and last point. The Victory is Certain.

III.   The Victory is Certain.

The victory is certain because our God is sovereign over all things and all of history.   Look at our passage again. We see four ways that God’s sovereignty is shown. First, God is in control of nature.   The wise men saw the signs in the heaven and the star that pointed them to the birth of Jesus.  Our God controls the heavens.  It is nothing for him to put a new star in place.  It is nothing for Jesus to control the winds and the waves.   All of creation is at his control.   Secondly, God even controls dreams. We see from this passage that both the wise men and Joseph were warned in dreams.   God has complete control over dreams.   That is a pretty cool thing to think about.   There are even stories today of people in closed countries who have not had access to the gospel having dreams where they are told to seek out a missionary.   You can do an internet search and there are several recent articles about Muslims in Iraq or Iran having dreams where Jesus appears to them and tells them to seek out a missionary. God is sovereign and in control of dreams.

Thirdly I want you to notice in this passage how many times that Matthew writes that something happened to fulfill scripture.  Matthew growing up as a devout Jew was very familiar with the scriptures.  He is writing his Gospel for a Jewish audience to show them how Jesus is the promised Messiah. So Matthew often works to show how the events of Jesus life fulfill the Old Testament Scripture.   We see then that God is sovereign in that all the circumstances of this story have been planned out by God way in advance.   In particular look at verses 14 and 15.   Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to Egypt and Matthew writes that this fulfills what the prophet said, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”   This is a very interesting phrase.   It comes from Hosea

Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him; and, though I loved him, I suffered him to be a great while in Egypt; but, because I loved him, in due time I called him out of Egypt.”

Hosea is referring of course to the time when the people of Israel went to Egypt to escape a famine and  became slaves.   You will remember how Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and took them to the Promised Land.   So exactly how is this verse in Hosea a prophecy about Jesus.  Kevin DeYoung explains:

“How can Matthew say this flight to Egypt fulfilled the words of the prophet Hosea when the two events seem connected by no more than the word Egypt? How can this possibly be a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy? The first step toward understanding Matthew’s purpose is to look more carefully at the word “fulfill.” The Greek word is pleroō. And it simply means to fill up. That’s what Matthew is at pains to demonstrate–that Jesus was filling up the Old Testament. Sometimes this meant very specifically that the Old Testament predicted the Messiah’s birthplace would be in Bethlehem and Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem. There you go. That’s fulfillment. But fulfillment can be broader than that. It can refer to the filling up of the Old Testament; that is, the bringing to light what previously had been in shadows. And this is what Matthew has in mind.

So what exactly is Jesus fulfilling, or filling up in Matthew 2:15? Jesus, as Matthew correctly understands the situation, is filling up the redemptive historical purposes of the nation. In other words, Matthew can claim that this Hosea passage, which talks about the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, is fulfilled in Jesus, because Jesus is the embodiment of Israel.”

This is important because it shows the sovereignty of God in History. This means that all the events of the Old Testament, the history of Israel, ever detail happened as God planned so as to point to Jesus.   God is control of the smallest detail.   Nothing is outside of his reach.   And because of God’s sovereignty over History we can be confident that the victory over evil is more than sure.

Fourthly, God is sovereign over his enemies.   They think they are raging against him. They think they are sneaky and wise. They think their plans catch him off guard.   But they are nothing more than pawns. For every move they make God is ten ahead of them.   See first how Herod’s plan to kill the infants again fulfills scripture. Verse 17 says this fulfills a prophecy from Jeremiah. Look at the prophecy of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:15- 17; 31-34 Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Thus says the LORD “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD. . .Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Even the evil put forth by Herod points to the glory of Jesus. Even though there was great sorrow due to Herod’s evil there would be great rejoicing because of the King.

Herod tried to destroy Christmas but yet the birth of Christ still brings joy.   It is as the Grinch found out when he tried to destroy Christmas.  It can not be defeated.

But this sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded glad!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing without any presents at all!

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?

The enemy cannot defeat Jesus. But Jesus does defeat the enemy. Notice how in verse 19 it simply says “when Herod died. “   The enemy is defeated in this story and it is simply an afterthought.   We know from history that Herod the great died from a horrible disease and it was a painful violent death.   A recent article describes his death: “More than 2,000 years after Herod the Great succumbed at age 69, doctors have now settled on exactly what killed the king of ancient Judea: chronic kidney disease complicated by a very uncomfortable case of maggot-infested gangrene of the genitals”

Evil met its match. God is sovereign and thus the victory is secure.  This is good news.  The birth of Christ brings real joy to the world.   A savior is born and his kingdom shall never end.   The good news is that not only has Herod been defeated but Satan and sin have been defeated.   The good news is that God has made a way for people of all nations to be a part of the Kingdom of God.   You and I are invited to the Kingdom of God and this is a kingdom without end.

So as we close there are really two responses to this message.   Will you be like the wise men who bowed their heads in worship of the King of King?   Will you submit to the Lordship of Jesus? The Bible says to enter the Kingdom of God you must be born again.   You must repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ.   Will you be like the wise men?

Or will you be like Herod?   Will you see the King of Kings and determine that it is a threat to your own self-rule? Will you decide that you prefer to be king and you will continue to rebel?

Finally if you are already a part of the kingdom of God then know that this is a kingdom that will never be defeated.   This does not mean however that things in this life will always be rainbows and bubble gum. In fact many have been called to lay down their lives for the kingdom.   When the book of Revelation says that we will overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony it is referring to the testimony of many whose heads were cut off and lives ended.   Yet these saints stood strong believing that the Kingdom of God would one day fill the entire earth.   They knew that God would use their sacrifice.     And God still calls us to sacrifice and living full on for his Kingdom.   We are not called to be the last outpost of a retreating army waiting on the rescue ship to take them out of this world.   Instead we are sent to be the army taking the battle to the world.   We do this not with weapons of this world but with the word of God and the weapons of the Spirit. God enlarges the kingdom through us as we share the gospel with our coworkers, as we teach our child about the love of God, as we help the helpless and speak out against evil.   And the Bible promises that these efforts will be honored by God as the Kingdom grows.

This is what Christmas is about. The Joy of Christmas is not over even though the Christmas lights have been taken down and the songs have stopped playing.   The Joy of Christmas continues all year.

The King has Come, the War has been Waged, and the Victory is Sure.   Will you be born again today?

No Greater Love

My mind is blown by God’s goodness to me. He has provided me everything that I have. My very breath comes from him. He has provided loving parents that raised me in a home where love was always shown. He provided me with two brothers who have become two of my best friends. He has provided me with friends who care about me. He provided me with an abundance of possessions and has never let me starve. God has blessed me with an unbelievable measure. God has given me a wife who is everything I could want in a woman. She is loving, caring, and submissive. She treats me with respect and honor and I could not be happier. Just last night, I found out that God has again blessed us by my wife being with child. I have been overwhelmed all day while thinking about God’s goodness. Yet there was a time when I was an enemy of God. There was a time when I literally said with my own two lips that I hated God. My heart breaks to think of how evil and vile I was. And yet God loved me. I can’t help but be drawn to Isaiah 52 and 53.
God loved me when I was his enemy and in Isaiah 52 and 53, it spells out the lengths that God went to show his love. While God has blessed me with many earthly things, nothing compares to what He gave for me. According to this passage, He gave his son, who grew up like a tender shoot. When I hear the word tender I can’t help but think of my upcoming baby. I think of the innocence of a small child. The tender baby who needs the protection of its parents. When something is tender it is also easily broken. God gave us his tender Son who should have been received as King and as Lord yet the passage says that He was despised. It makes me so angry at myself to think that I could tell the one person in the entire universe that has shown me the most love that I hated him. Yet I am not alone. Everyone has despised Him. In John 1 it says that the light came into the world and the darkness did not know Him.
His Son also bore my sorrow and shame. He bore the full brunt of the penalty of my sin. God caused my evilness to be put on Him. He took my sin and nailed it Jesus on the cross. I can’t help but fall to my knees in worship of Jesus who willingly and obediently bore my stain. He took it all for me. No greater gift is this that one would lay down his life for his friends. God laid down his life for me an enemy. How awesome is He. He calls me friend. I don’t deserve it. I can’t deserve it. I can however praise God forever and ever. I can give my life to Him. He has shown himself to be more than worthy. He has shown himself to be trustworthy and true.
I am grateful that God broke through the coldness of my heart and brought me to repentance. He then according to John 1 gave me the right to become God’s child. God has truly cared for me more than anyone. God has given us a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. He has bestowed up on us His love in such a great display. May God be praised.

The Symptoms of a Heart of Worship

(The following is a manuscript of a sermon I preached for preaching class in seminary.)

     Please turn with me in your copy of God’s word to James 1:26 -27. When we first started this class and found out we would be preaching a sermon, I was excited. However, when I found it was to be on a passage in James my excitement turned into dread. The epistle of James has always been a difficult book for me. I’ve struggled with understanding how James’ teachings are compatible with Paul’s teaching on grace. I would not go as far as calling it an “epistle of straw” as Martin Luther did but never the less I still struggled with the book. Thankfully through studying for this sermon I have come to a greater appreciation for James. I think it helps to examine the context into which James writes and to examine the intended recipients of this letter. James was writing early in Christian history to Jewish Christians. Because his audience were Christians, James was not writing to expound the theological significance of the Gospel but instead was writing to explain the practical implications of the Gospel. James is not primarily concerned with the “how” of salvation but with the results of salvation. Some including myself in the past have been critical of James perceived lack of theology and in particular a perceived lack of Christology. Douglas Moo rightfully argues though “Appeal to God’s person, the values taught in his Word, and his purposes in history under-girds virtually everything in this letter. And while Jesus’ person and work might be generally absent, his teaching is not.” Much of James comes straight from the mouth of Jesus. James then is concerned not with how one’s heart is changed through salvation but his primary concern is with the symptoms of a changed heart.

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:26-27

There was once a young boy who went to spend the week with his grandfather on the farm. While walking around he noticed the chickens, they were scratching and playing around. The little boy said, “They ain’t got it”. Next he saw a colt in the field playing and kicking up its heel’s to which he replied, “He ain’t got it”. After examining all of the animals on his grandfather’s farm and seeing that none of them had “it”, this boy finally found the old donkey in the barn. When he saw the donkey’s long, frowning face and the way that the donkey just stood there he screamed for his grandfather to come quick. “I found it, I found it” the boy kept yelling. When his grandfather asked what he had found he said, “Pawpaw, I found an animal that has the same kind of religion that you have.”

That boy may have not known much about his grandpa’s religion but his simple insight shows how important outward manifestations are to identifying religion. James too is concerned with how our faith is lived out. In fact the primary concern of James is how one’s faith is shown. In our particular passage James is talking about how our actions identify our worship. James uses a word in this passage that is only found four times in the Bible. Two of those usages are in this passage. That word is “religion.” In Greek it is θρησκεία which means religious worship. It is slightly different then what we may use the word “religion” for. Today when one uses the word “religion” they are using it to identify the beliefs and teachings of a particular faith. John MacArthur says this Greek word “has to do with ceremonial public worship. It is so used, for example, by Josephus when he writes about the worship of the temple. It has to do with the outward ceremony. Paul uses it in Acts 26:5 in the adjective…in the noun form of the ceremonial worship of a Pharisee. So the word “religious” here has the idea of external trappings, religious ceremonies, rituals, routines, liturgies, rites, external forms.” James’ Jewish Christian audience would have been familiar with this word. It is interesting then that James uses it to describe things that we do not usually associate with the ceremony of worship. I think then it is incredibly helpful to look at this passage as primarily explaining what true worshipers will look like. This is particularly valuable when looked at from the perspective of the so called “worship wars.” James is calling us not to look at what kind of music we will use or what liturgy but instead he is calling us to look at something completely different.

While in this passage, James is talking about worship he is also concerned with the heart. We see that it is those who think they know how to worship and think that they are religious but don’t exhibit the outward manifestations of a changed heart that deceive themselves. They are revealing a heart that has not been changed. This is important because when viewing James we have a tendency to look at everything as works and human effort but James is saying that it really is a heart issue. The heart must be first changed before one can begin worship. It is only a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel that can exhibit true worship. Once that heart has been changed then it will show signs of God honoring worship. Worship that is pure and blameless will manifest itself from the heart outward. James then is now like a doctor looking at a patient. In this passage, he is going to give us a check-up. We are going to see three symptoms of a heart that has been changed, three symptoms of a heart of worship.

The first symptom of a heart of worship is the Taming of the Tongue:

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. – James 1:26

A very important topic in the book of James is bridling the tongue. The tongue is such a small part of our body yet takes such a large role in our lives. Various studies have been done on the amount of words we speak in a day. In one such study, Dr. Louann Brizendine, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco states that “A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000.” Another study puts average word use at around 16,000 for both men and women. Even if you are on the low side, we all spend an overwhelming portion of our lives talking. Words are powerful. The bible is full examples on the power of speech. Words have the power to create. God created the entire universe with His words. Words have the power to tear down. Satan used words to deceive Eve into sin. Jesus said that it is not what goes in us that makes us unclean but what comes out of us. Our speech can be like the smooth rock that David used to defeat Goliath or it can be like the first crack in the walls of Jericho. As seminary students preparing for ministry we know and appreciate the power of words.

I may not look like it now but I was once in the US Army. At basic training, I had a certain Drill Sergeant who used to every day joke about how he hated us privates. He once said that he had to hold a gun to his head to keep from cutting his throat while shaving because he was thinking about us. He would say this with a laugh but when it came down to difficult training situations he was one of the best users of words. With his use of colorful language, he could motivate a cat to go swimming. It was on the last day of training that I really felt the power of his words. He came up to each private and said that it was an honor training us and that he would gladly serve in a foxhole with any of us. I can remember beaming with respect and honor after that.

Words also can reveal our heart. Jesus who is the master of words once said, ““You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” – Matthew 12:34 And in Luke, he said, ““The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” James echoes that here. A person who thinks he is religious but doesn’t bridle his tongue deceives his very own heart.

After I graduated basic training, I went to what is called AIT. This is where a soldier learns his particular job that he will be doing for the military. At this AIT we had drill sergeants as well. One particular drill sergeant used to brag about how she was always looking out for the best interest of us. Yet there came one day when a general was scheduled to visit. We spent the entire morning cleaning the barracks to make them spotless. However someone accidentally spilled some kind of yellow clothing detergent on the floor right as another private happened to be buffing the floor. Needless to say the floor was shining with a bright yellow stain waxed in. The drill sergeant was livid but it was what she said that undermined everything she had said before about looking out for our best interest. She said, “ I -expletive-  hate all you privates and could care less if you all died in battle.” She then went on to say that she never wanted to be a drill sergeant and that we were going to cause her promotion to be lost. It was only a few brief words but none of us privates ever looked at that drill sergeant the same. In just a few words she had revealed that she was not motivated by a desire to train us but a desire to be promoted.

Words can reveal our hearts but so can our actions. It is to some of these actions that we turn. The second symptom of a heart of worship is Taking Care of Others.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress. James 1:27 a

. Earlier in James, he talks about looking at ourselves in the perfect mirror of the law. Warren W. Wiersbe says that “After we have seen ourselves and Christ in the mirror of the Word, we must see others and their needs.” John Calvin in his commentary says, ““James does not define generally what religion is, but reminds us that religion without the things he mentioned is nothing.” James then is not saying in comprehensive detail what all of worship entails but he does give us some very practical things. These practical things are specifically to visit orphans and widows in their distress.

A heart of worship will be a heart that cares about what God cares about. The Bible is full of exhortations then to love those who are less fortunate. Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.” God has a special place for those who have no family. Deut 14:29 says “The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” Isaiah 1:10-17 says that our sacrifices, our worship is no good God because of the injustice we do to those around us. In verse 17 it says, Learn to do good;
Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” Jesus later sums up this entire approach in this way “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus did not say that by our music all men will know. He did not say that by our nice church buildings they will know you are His disciple . He did not say that by even our theology but by how we love each other.

In America, the church has given over much of its God given responsibilities to the state. We now rely on the government to take care of the elderly, the poor and the orphaned. While I do not have time here to go into the proper role of the government, it needs to be said that these things are not the responsibility of the government but of us the church. When we hand over our roll to the government then we also diminish our impact in the world. As the government has grown, the importance of church in influencing our society has diminished. It is time again that we future pastors, church leaders, seminary professors, and missionaries reclaim that responsibility for the Church. This is a worship issue. If we are going to be a worshiping Church then we have to be a Church that takes care of the needy. Great preachers and men of God in the past have understood this. One of the greatest legacies of Charles Spurgeon is the orphanages that he built. This seems to be something that our catholic friends understand more than us. I challenge each of us then as future leaders to encourage our churches to take care of the needy. The book of acts gives us a model. Those who had much sold what they had to provide for those who had nothing.

A heart of worship must tame its tongue and take care of the needy. The third symptom of a heart of worship is to Turn from the World.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27

Douglas Moo in his commentary says that “The third mark of true religion is more general than the other two and less concrete: to keep oneself from being polluted by the world… The “world” is a common biblical way of referring to the ungodly worldview and lifestyle that characterize human life in its estrangement from the creator.” Charles Spurgeon puts it this way,

“If I had a brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I …daily consorted with the assassin who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart; surely I too must be an accomplice in the crime. Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it?”

A true picture of a worshiping heart, a regenerate heart then is that it will not go back to what it once was. We were once estranged to God but by His Son, He reconciled us back to Him. Christians who have ended the estrangement by accepting the reconciling work of God in Christ must constantly work to distance themselves from the way of life that caused the estrangement which surrounds us on every side. We live in a materialistic society where advertisements and temptations to join in with the world bombard us daily. Are we caught up in the concerns of this world or are our concerns set on Jesus? How do we spend our time, money, and energy? The answers to these questions and more will reveal how friendly we have become with the world.

On the surface, it may appear that the book of James is only concerned with works. We do not believe in a works based salvation but as James says our faith will be made manifest. Our heart will reveal itself. The symptoms of a heart dedicated in worship to Jesus are the Taming of the Tongue, the Taking Care of Others, and the Turning from the World. Will we be people of God who use our words to lift up others, speak the truth, and honor God or will we be like the one who thinks he is religious yet uses his tongue to speak ill of others. Will we be a Church and people who take personal responsibility to take care of others? Will we be friends with the world and enemies of God or friends with God and enemies to the world? Do you have the symptoms of a heart of worship? I ask along with James, how’s your heart?