“You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel”

In my daily Bible reading this morning I came across this passage in 1 Kings 2:

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man,  3 and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn,  4 that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 2:1-4)

When one looks at the track record of Solomon and his descendents, one finds that David’s commands were habitually ignored. There was very little keeping “the charge of the LORD [their] God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies” in the lives of the kings of Judah and Israel, and it must be said that the practice of ignoring God’s commandments is not strictly confined to the Old Testament kings of God’s people.

It is a way of life for all of mankind. As Paul reminded us in Romans 3:9-12: For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.  12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’” The description of the heart of man that is found in the Westminster Confession in Chapter 6, paragraph 4 definitely describes my heart apart from Christ: “we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.

I must say, however, that I am forever grateful that there was one king who did not follow this pattern, and is still reigning today: King Jesus the Righteous. As the angel said in the Book of Revelation, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15) Our hope is not to rest in our actions but in the life of the one who perfectly fulfilled God’s Law on our behalf.

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Tuesday Hymns: “By Grace I Am an Heir of Heaven”

Although I am a day late publishing my Tuesday Hymn, I did want to take the time to post this great hymn by German composer, Christian L. Scheidt (1709-1761) entitled, By Grace I Am an Heir of Heaven. I have found very little information about him anywhere, but two of his hymns are in the Trinity Hymnal; the one I just mentioned and another song about God’s grace, By Grace I’m Saved, Grace Free and Boundless. Although many (actually, most) Christians would not recognize Scheidt’s name, he is still being used 250 years after his death to be a vessel in God’s sanctification of His people. The hymn is normally sung to the tune Neumark.

By grace I am an heir of heaven: why doubt this, O my trembling heart? If what the Scriptures promise clearly is true and firm in ev’ry part, this also must be truth divine: by grace a crown of life is mine.

By grace alone shall I inherit that blissful home beyond the skies. Works count for naught, the Lord incarnate has won for me the heav’nly prize. Salvation by His death He wrought, His grace alone my pardon bought.

By grace! These precious words remember when sorely by your sins oppressed, when Satan comes to vex your spirit, when trouble conscience sighs for rest; what reason cannot comprehend, God does to you by grace extend.

By grace! Be this in death my comfort; despite my fears, ’tis well with me. I know my sin in all its greatness, but also Him who sets me free. My heart to naught but joy gives place since I am saved by grace, by grace.

Tuesday Hymns: “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder”

Whenever most people think of John Newton (1725-1807), they think immediately of Amazing Grace, which would only make sense because it is one of the most beloved hymns ever written. However, one will miss out on a great blessing if he neglects to pay attention to Newton’s other writings. The former slave trader wrote many marvelous hymns such as Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder which is our Tuesday Hymn for this week. Newton clearly portrays for us the truth of Christ’s Substitutionary atonement on our behalf. Notice especially that line in the fourth verse that says, “when through grace in Christ our trust is, justice smiles and asks no more: He who washed us with his blood has secured our way to God.”

Let us love and sing and wonder, let us praise the Savior’s name! He has hushed the law’s loud thunder, he has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame: he has washed us with his blood, he has brought us nigh to God.

Let us love the Lord who bought us, pitied us when enemies, called us by his grace, and taught us, gave us ears and gave us eyes: he has washed us with his blood, he presents our souls to God.

Let us sing, though fierce temptation threatens hard to bear us down! For the Lord, our strong salvation, holds in view the conqu’ror’s crown: He who washed us with his blood soon will bring us home to God.

Let us wonder; grace and justice join and point to mercy’s store; when through grace in Christ our trust is, justice smiles and asks no more: he who washed us with his blood has secured our way to God.

Let us praise, and join the chorus of the saints enthroned on high;here they trusted him before us, now their praises fill the sky: “You have washed us with your blood; you are worthy, Lamb of God.”

Salvation: Our Sanctification

Tuesday I posted about the aspect of our salvation that we call our justification. Justification is the act of God whereby He pardons our sins and declares us righteous in His sight with the righteousness of our federal head, Jesus Christ, through faith in Him alone. The second aspect of our salvation which has to do with our being “saved” from the power of sin in our daily life is called our sanctification. It is defined by the Shorter Catechism as “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” (WSC Q. 35)

That definition reminds us of several important facts. First of all, the catechism calls sanctification a “work” of God’s grace, rather than an “act” of God’s grace. In other words, this event does not take place at a point in time such as our justification, but it is a work of progression throughout our life here on earth. Granted, it sometimes seems to us to be three steps forward and two steps back, but through the work of the Holy Spirit the general trend will be in the direction of the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:14)

It is also a work of “grace” which connotes that its foundation is the finished work of Christ, and that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) Furthermore, God has “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29) and by the ordinary means of grace (the Word, Sacrament, and Prayer), He continually is enabling us to a greater and greater degree to “die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

Sanctification is not justification and the two should never be conflated into one, but all those who have been justified, will be sanctified. So, saint of God, take comfort in the fact that God is working in you and that He will finish the work that He has started: 

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Sin’s Power, and Sin’s Weakness

While studying for tonight’s Bible Study from the Book of Acts I ran across this short sentence from the Westminster Confession of Faith (XV.iv). It says simply, “As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.”

This reminds us to be humble and take seriously the hideous nature of our sin. If for “every idle word that [we] shall speak, [we] shall give account thereof in the day of judgment,” how much more will we be judged (apart from Christ) for our willful rebellion against a holy and just God. However, we also see the glorious promise that “there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent,” because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross for sinners. 

11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you  to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14)

Salvation: Our Justification

Salvation is one of those all-encompassing words. It can speak of our salvation from the penalty of our sin (which would be an eternity in hell experiencing the wrath of God), our salvation from the power of sin in our daily life, or our salvation from the very presence of sin upon reaching the new heavens and the new earth. These three aspects of salvation are called our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification, and it is the context of the conversation that determines the meaning. The foundation of each of these benefits is the finished work of Jesus Christ. Salvation is not something that can be earned, but can only be received by the glorious grace of God alone. I would like to spend some time over the next few days discussing these three aspects of our salvation; beginning today with justification.

What is justification? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines it as “an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” (WSC Q. 33) This definition tells us several important facts about our justification. First of all, it is an act of God’s free grace. This is something that God does at a point in time, not because of anything that we have done, but all because of His gracious choice. This is the reason theologians can say that our justification is monergistic (It is the work of God alone).

Second, it is the salvation event in which all our sins are pardoned, and we are declared righteous in the sight of God. How could this possibly be since we are sinners and will continue to battle sin as long as we live on this terrestrial ball? Paul tells us succinctly in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In other words, at the cross God placed the sin of all of God’s elect people on Christ in order that He could endure the wrath and curse of God that all sinners deserve, and at that same time, all of the righteousness of Jesus Christ (who kept God’s Law perfectly) was credited to the lives of His people. It has been called the “Great Transaction.”

Last of all, this salvation becomes ours through faith alone. It is not ours through faith + our good works, or faith + our covenantal faithfulness; no, it is ours through faith alone. Paul spells this out clearly in Romans 3:20-28: 

20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it –  22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

It is important to note that even the faith with which we believe is not something that we work up from within. No, even that faith “is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) This is why I often sound like a broken record (if you are old enough to the sound of a broken record) as I repeat the same refrain again and again: “Man is justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”

So my exhortation today is simply to put your trust in Christ alone, for it is only in Him that you can be justified and find rest for your soul.

Tuesday Hymns: “God, My King, Thy Might Confessing”

Richard Mant 1776-1848) was a Church of England clergyman who was gifted at taking the Hebrew Psalms and paraphrasing them into English verse. Our hymnals are full of such compositions such as our Tuesday Hymn, God, My King, Thy Might Confessing. Mant published this hymn in his 1824 edition of The Book of Psalms as an English Metrical Version. It is usually sung to the tune, STUTTGART. It is a paraphrase of the 145th Psalm which praises God for His glorious attributes.

God, my King, Thy might confessing, ever will I bless Thy name; day by day Thy throne addressing, still will I Thy praise proclaim.

Honor great our God befitteth; who His majesty can reach? Age to age His work transmitteth, age to age His power shall teach.

They shall talk of all Thy glory, on Thy might and greatness dwell, speak of Thy dread acts the story, and Thy deeds of wonder tell.

Nor shall fail from mem’rys treasure works by love and mercy wrought: Works of love surpassing measure, works of mercy passing thought.

Full of kindness and compassion, slow to anger, vast in love, God is good to all creation; all His works His goodness prove.

All Thy works, O Lord, shall bless Thee; Thee shall all Thy saints adore. King supreme shall they confess Thee, and proclaim Thy sovereign pow’r.

“They say a man should always dress for the job he wants…” (feel free to hum the tune)

Last night I sat down to watch a little football on TV and noticed something that started the neurons flying around in my brain. Both sets of football announcers, one on ESPN (calling the college game) and the other on NBC (calling the Steelers and Titans), were apparently required to wear shirts and ties to provide play-by-play and color commentary for their respective networks. What made this interesting to me was the fact that we are living in a world where pastors (apparently to relate to their congregations) are more apt to be found in a polo shirt, or some ghastly Hawaiian shirt to preach the Gospel.

My question is: Don’t NBC and ESPN desire to relate to their viewers? (Granted, Keith Olbermann works for NBC and can only relate to the few people who believe that ACORN is a politically non-aligned public service organization, but I digress.) These networks must relate to their audiences so well that they can sell advertising, and yet no Hawaiian shirts are ever seen except at the Pro Bowl (which no one watches anyway).

Why do the networks require a shirt and tie? My guess is that they want to leave the impression that what the announcers are saying is important. Don’t misunderstand what I am trying to propose. I am not saying that pastors need to have hair like Benny Hinn and a $1200 suit like many of the televangelists wear, but I would like to remind every pastor that we are representing the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and that since we “preach Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God,” (1 Cor. 1:23-24) we should dress accordingly when we do so.

Preaching Through Books of the Bible

Pastor Mark will be taking some vacation time this week so I will be preaching for him on Sunday morning (and Sunday night, also). Every time I do this I am reminded again of the wisdom of preaching through books of the Bible. Why is this a good idea?

First of all, it is a good idea because a pastor doesn’t have to spend precious time during the week seeking out a text from which to preach. Do I preach from the Old or New Testament? A narrative passage or a doctrinal passage? The Gospels, Acts, or Epistles? Major prophets, minor prophets, or Psalms? The questions and deliberations can go on and on ad infinitum. (I have finally decided that since Pastor Mark has been in the New Testament on Sunday mornings for a while, I would go to the Old Testament, and finally settled on Isaiah 53 as my text. On Sunday night I will just jump in and take the next passage in Matthew as he has been going through the Sermon on the Mount. However, making decisions such as that is difficult and time consuming.)

Second, the people listening are able to get a good idea of the context of the passage because they have heard messages about all the preceding material in the book. For example, at the prison I have been preaching through Romans and since I am now in chapter 12, they all have a reasonable idea of the theme and message of the book. Of course, one does have to lay some context every week for new people, but it doesn’t take much time to review in one’s introduction what has already been presented.

Third, the church gets a clear picture of the whole counsel of God. Pet doctrines and favorite topics are pushed aside to deal with the next text in the book. Plus, there is the added of advantage (although it makes things difficult sometimes) of not being able to skip over complex or unpopular passages. It is good for everyone to look, struggle, and strive to understand all of the Word of God, even those passages where we have to say, “I am not sure about all of this, but I believe the Scriptures are saying….”

Last of all (although there are many other strengths of expository preaching), people know that you are not “picking on them” when you preach passages that contain strong Biblical rebukes. I was once preaching through the Book of Malachi and entitled a Sunday night message, “God hates Divorce.” A couple going through a difficult time in their marriage was present, and when she saw the bulletin whispered, “Look at that! He is preaching at us tonight,” and he responded by simply saying, “No, he preached on the preceding verses last week.” (By the way, that was almost twenty years ago and they are still together and doing well from all that I know.)

Preaching on “felt needs” is seldom a good idea, because most people have the wrong idea about what they really “need” in life. Pastors need to preach the whole counsel of God and allow God’s Holy Spirit to apply that Word to the hearts of all that are present. Balanced preaching from all of the Word of God is as important spiritually, as a balanced diet is important physically. People don’t need to hear what we think, they need to hear what God says. I will close with the words of Paul to a young pastor: 

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound1 teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1)

Tuesday Hymns: “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”

This past Sunday we shared the Lord’s Supper together as a church body and our offertory hymn was this Tuesday’s Tuesday Hymn. At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing was written in the 6th century by an anonymous author and not translated into English until 1849. This particular hymn reminds us that the Supper is a sign and seal of the following: “His [Christ’s] death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q#96) It is good to sing a hymn that connects one to his forefathers in the faith. It is sung to the tune, St. George’s, Windsor (the tune of Come Ye Thankful People Come). 

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing praise to our victorious King, who has washed us in the tide flowing from his pierced side; praise we him whose love divine gives his sacred blood for wine, gives his body for the feast, Christ the victim, Christ the priest.

Where the paschal blood is poured, death’s dark angel sheathes his sword; Israel’s hosts triumphant go through the wave that drowns the foe. Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed, paschal victim, paschal bread; with sincerity and love eat we manna from above.

Mighty victim from the sky, pow’rs of hell beneath thee lie; death is conquered in the fight, thou hast brought us life and light: hymns of glory and of praise, risen Lord, to thee we raise; holy Father, praise to thee, with the Spirit, ever be.

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