The Church: God’s Blessing to the Nations

In many ways the church is a counter-cultural institution. We gather on Sunday morning when many are sleeping in or watching sports on TV. We sing. We pray. We listen to a Book being read and preached. We eat a small piece of bread and drink a small cup of wine. Is this just a strange habit we have picked up, or is there more behind it? Is this something we just do as individuals, doing our own thing, or is God doing something to us and through us in the world? The session has asked me to preach a series of sermons looking what the Bible says about the church. Our focus this morning is Genesis 12:1–3, an important passage, even though the word “church” is not used in it.

See God working out his plan. God lays a foundation for his church. You can go back much earlier than Abram to see the beginning of the church. About a month ago, looking forward to what took place with the incarnation, we looked at Genesis 3 and 4. God created mankind to have fellowship with him. Eden was a wonderful place, not only as a wonderful garden, but God appeared to Adam and Eve. He had fellowship with them. He spoke with them. Even in Eden mankind needed God’s verbal revelation. You could say that God, as a special act of providence, entered into a covenant with mankind. That is sometimes call the covenant of life or the covenant of works. Eden was not designed to be a permanent place of testing. Adam had the Tree of Life held out for him—if he obeyed. But you know that he sinned. And as our covenant representative, that impacted you and me. You, like Adam and Eve, are made in God’s image. Thus sin, at its basic level, not just something to avoid because of bad (terrible) consequences. “The downside of sin is not only its consequences, but sin itself is an act of deprivation. For me to sin is to deprive myself of the enjoyment of God.” (from a lecture by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.). The genealogy of Shem is God preparing a line. Adam and Eve had sinned, but God promised a Redeemer. Sin continued to grow. The Flood condemned sin, while at the same time it brought deliverance for Noah and his family. Babel shows that the heart of mankind continues to be rebellious. The implication of the death of each member continues in the genealogy of Genesis 11, parallel to Genesis 5. The rest after the Flood does not mean the end of sin or its consequences. The situation is bleak and God, dealing with Abram, graciously renews the promise of the coming Messiah. Continue reading

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What Simeon Saw

40 days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took him with them to the Temple. An elderly man, Simeon, took him in his arms and said some things about him that sounded strange, as Luke 2:25–35 records. What did Simeon see, and what did Luke want you and all his readers to see?

Recognize that God has given you his salvation in Christ. You have seen the Lord’s Christ. Christ was subject to the law for you. At eight days Jesus was circumcised. He was identified with his covenant people to redeem them. This is part of the background for Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:4–5 that Christ was born of a woman, born under the law. He was presented in the temple following the offering brought by his poor parents–according to the law: Exodus 13:2,12; Leviticus 12:8. The offerings were required, not because of our humanness, but because of our sinfulness. He was involved in this humiliation for you. His first appearance in the temple is not as the object of worship, first of all, but as a truly human baby, identified with us as sinners. The Lord’s Christ is Christ the Lord. The Child whom Mary and Joseph presented was identified to Simeon by the Holy Spirit as the Lord’s Christ, whose coming he had awaited. The Baby is the anointed of the Lord, set apart for his messianic work. He, the Christ, is also the Lord, the sovereign God. Note how the angel identified him, Luke 2:11. Who he is and what he came to do can be distinguished, but never separated from each other. Christ may have been brought to the temple in obedience to the law, but Simeon recognizes that this is not just a baby, he is Simeon’s Lord. He is your Lord. Continue reading

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Rejoice with the Shepherds

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” Those words spoken to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem were earthshaking. They were indeed good news. Focus on the response of the shepherds as recorded in Luke 2:15–20.

See Christ the Lord. Listen to God’s good news. After the 400 years from Malachi God was breaking the silence. Gabriel had spoken to Zechariah, then to Mary. Now an angel announces good news to a band of shepherds. The good news looks back to Malachi, to Micah, and to Isaiah and the other prophets. It looks back to the covenant promise God had made to David, to the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It goes back even further to that promise spoken in the context of the curse on sin, that one day the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. It was news that was so big that it could not be confined to one people. It is for all the people. All that the Old Testament had been anticipating was happening. It was taking place that very night in Bethlehem. “All salvation, all truth in regard to man, has its eternal foundation in the triune God Himself. It is this triune God who here reveals Himself as the everlasting reality, from whom all truth proceeds, whom all truth reflects, be it the little streamlet of Paradise or the broad river of the New Testament losing itself again in the ocean of eternity. After this nothing higher can come. All the separate lines along which through the ages revelation was carried, have converged and met at a single point. The seed of the woman and the Angel of Jehovah are become one in the Incarnate Word.” (Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology,” Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, p. 13). The identifying sign of the cloths in which he was wrapped and the manger bed implied that they would seek out this Savior, who was Christ, the Lord. Notice that this is not just the Lord’s anointed. Rather, the anointed one, the Messiah, is the Lord himself. God himself becomes man to deliver his people from both the punishment and the curse on sin. The consultation by the shepherds reveals that they cannot simply ignore what God has said. They must go and investigate. They must see what has happened, for the Lord has told them about this. They take God at his word, and act upon it. The Lord expects a similar response from you. Continue reading

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The Sun of Righteousness

Gabriel, speaking to Zechariah, uses the language of Malachi 4 to describe the work of the son promised to him. Appropriately Zechariah’s song of praise also echoes our text as he sings of the One for whom John will prepare the way, see Luke 1:78.

The day is coming. God’s judgment will consume his foes. The background is the seeming lack of difference between the lot of the righteous and that of the wicked, Malachi 3:14–18. It has seemed that God has forgotten, that there is no sign of coming judgment. That is a fatal mistake! 2 Peter 3:3–5. Paul keeps reminding us to live in view of the coming judgment. Warnings in both books are addressed to believers. We need to remember that judgment is coming. We need to be shaken out of complacency. The day that burns is coming! This is more than the refining fire of Malachi 3:2,3. This is a fire of destruction and judgment. The day of the Lord is one of fire, Joel 2:1–3. The wicked will be completely burned. Malachi strikes at the heart of the hypocritical pride of the nation of his day. Those destroyed are the proud and wicked. The destruction is complete–the burn like stubble, root and branch. This fire includes specific acts of judgment (such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) and other events, up to the great final day of judgment. “Nor, again, have we any right to exclude the whole period from the destruction of Jerusalem till the last judgment, as if in the great book of history only the first and last leaf were written with the finger of God, and the rest left vacant.” (E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, on Malachi 4:1). As we worship on this Lord’s Day near the end of 2018, remember that we are one year closer to the day when the Lord’s judgment will fall on the earth. Notice how v. 1 begins, “Surely the day is coming. . . .” Continue reading

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The Promise of the Messiah

You probably don’t need reminding that you live in a fallen world, a world under the curse that God pronounced when Adam and Eve sinned. You listen to the news and you are reminded. And when you look honestly at yourself you are reminded again. But, as Genesis 3:15 & 4:25–26 point out, into our broken, hurting world, God promises to send the Seed of the woman. That gives you hope and comfort.

God gave his promise in the context of a curse. You need God’s promise because you stand guilty before him. Although not all the problems we face are the result of our particular sins, we all are guilty because we sinned in Adam and fell with him. Adam and Eve knew that they were guilty. Satan had suggested that they would be like God, knowing good and evil—but knowing evil experientially was far different from their expectations. Fig leaves were a pathetic covering for their guilt as well as for their nakedness. God, as the righteous judge, was questioning them, not because he needed information, but to bring them to see their guilt. The question of Genesis 3:11 focuses on God’s command, and gives opportunity for clear confession and repentance. With your first parents, you are guilty. Adam was your representative. You are involved in his guilt, but you also have added to his guilt placed on your account your liability for all of the daily sins you commit. You stand with Adam and Eve. Continue reading

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