Archive for October, 2013

Sermon Notes – Exodus 20.3

You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20.3, ESV

In the prologue to the Ten Commandments, God sets the stage for the giving of his law. He reminds Israel of his name, his nature, their relationship to him, and his work to redeem them from Egypt. In short, the prologue announces that God has the right to give laws to his people, even laws that demand absolute loyalty as does the first commandment. Yahweh rightly commanded Israel to honor him and him alone as God.

As Israel journeyed through the wilderness and into the promised land, they would be tempted to violate this first commandment numerous times. In the coming years they would face, Baals, Asherahs, Ashtoreth, Milcom, Moloch, Dagon, Chemosh, and likely many other false gods who remain unnamed in Scripture. In addition to these named idols, we see that Israel is held accountable by God for treating money, power, politics, and self as gods to be served. In short, anything (a named idol, an object, an idea, a relationship, etc.) could be exalted in such a way that as to violate the first commandment by bringing another god before Yahweh.

When the various violations and potential violations are all brought together, we can organize the violations of the first commandment into four categories:

1) Denying the existence or attributes of Yahweh;

2) Ascribing to any false god other those attributes which belong uniquely to Yahweh;

3) Ascribing to any false god the works which belong uniquely to Yahweh; and

4) Seeking from any false god the fulfillment of the promises given by Yahweh.

The New Testament, unsurprisingly, presents a similarly broad understanding of what  it means to have a false god, or be an idolator. The New Testament adds to the list of abstract gods already mentioned – possessions, pleasure and entertainment, and food. In addition, we see that Jesus is God, and he must be worshipped as God. Therefore, the four categories of idolatry apply to our thinking about Jesus as well. So, to seek the promises secured for us by Christ (promises of forgiveness, hope, security, inheritance, identity, righteousness, etc.) in any place other than Christ, whether a named idol or a speck of dust, is to violate the first commandment.

At this point, if we are honest, we find ourselves guilty of violating the first commandment in numerous ways; therefore, lest we end in despair, let us recall the work of Christ. Recall that the Father sent the Son in order that in Christ “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8.4, ESV). We see this fulfillment clearly in the temptation of Christ. When Satan tempted Jesus with finding his comfort in the world, Jesus resisted Satan saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4, ESV). When Satan attempted to get Jesus to presume upon God’s protection, thereby exalting himself above his Father and making God his servant, Jesus resisted Satan saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4.7, ESV). When Satan commanded Jesus to bow down before him, Jesus rebuked Satan saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4.10, ESV). From these verses, and other like them, we see clearly why the author of Hebrews wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15, ESV). As Paul reminds us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21, ESV). Christ perfectly obeyed the law then suffered a sinner’s death in order that we sinners for whom Christ died might be accepted by God as if we had perfectly obeyed his law.

The first commandment unveils our idolatrous heart and drives us to Christ where we find the One who obeyed in our place and bore our sin on the cross.

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Sermon Notes – Exodus 20.1-2

“And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’” (Exodus 20.1-2, ESV).

In the ancient near east many covenants between a sovereign and his subjects had a common form consisting of four parts: 1) the introduction of the sovereign; 2) a brief rehearsal of the history of the sovereign acting on behalf of his subjects; 3) the stipulations of the agreement; and 4) the consequences, blessings or curses, for obedience and disobedience to the covenant. Not surprisingly, a similar structure is found in the biblical covenants such as the Mosaic Covenant recorded in Exodus 20.

Exodus 20.1 announces to the people of Israel that it was God who spoke his Law. Moses had not gone up on the mountain, scratched a few rules in some stone tablets, and brought them back. Rather, God had revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai by way of giving the law. The divine origin of the law is important to keep in mind. If the Law is indeed from God, then we do not have the freedom to treat the Law as if it is not from God. Of course, the critic may say, “Well, if I was going to try and subdue a people with my own made up law, I would tell them that it came from God as well.” However, the critic’s objection is addressed by the Law itself, for the Law is introduced by a preamble that announces both who God is and what he has done for his people in recent history. In other words, the Law is announced in such a way that its divine authorship can be verified.

The preamble to many covenants in the ancient near east include an introduction of the sovereign and a rehearsal of his action toward his people, and Exodus 20.2 includes both of these covenantal elements. The phrase, “I am the Lord your God,” introduces the sovereign by announcing 1) the name of the sovereign – “the Lord” or Yahweh, 2) the nature of the sovereign – “God”, and 3) the relationship of the sovereign to the subjects – “your God”. The qualifying clauses, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” recount Yahweh’s recent history with his people. He was not only the Israelite’s God, but their God who had heard their cries for help and delivered the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. It is on the grounds of both who God is and what he has done for his people that he expects obedience to his Law. The people of Israel could not treat the Law, delivered to them by Moses, with anything less than the utmost gravity, by introducing his Law with this preamble, the Lord had not left that option open.

As we come to God’s Law, we also must remember that it is in fact God’s Law, not man’s. Therefore, like Israel, we must come to God’s Law as God’s Word directs us. First, we come to God’s Law as God’s Word. Too often, we effectively approach the Law off as if it is simply the invention of the more scrupulous religious people. Second, we don’t seek from God’s Law what it was not intended to provide. In Scripture we find that the Law has three purposes. 1) The Law shows us our sin, thereby driving us to Christ under the conviction wrought by the Holy Spirit that we might find mercy. Romans 5.20 states, “The law came in to increase the trespass…” 2) The Law restrains (it does not eliminate) sin many by fear of punishment. Paul writes to Timothy, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1.9-10, ESV). 3) The Law, with all of God’s Word, for the one who has been united to Christ and so justified before God – that is to say, by God’s free grace pardoned for all sin and accepted as righteous in God’s sight, only because the righteousness of Christ, which is received by faith alone, has been credited to his account (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #33) – is the rule for holy living. 2 Timothy 3.16-17 state, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, or reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

With the rest of God’s Word, the Law of God announces to us “what man is believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man” (WSC #3). Though separated by many years and cultural considerations, the Law is still valuable for the people of God when appropriated according to his Word.

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Adoption and the Church

Currently, in our church, we have at least two families who have adopted children, one family whose final approval for adopting two girls is imminent, at least one other who has thought very seriously about adopting, and two families who have adopted grand-children. Yet most of us have probably given very little thought as to how to pray and care for families who are showing forth the gospel through adoption. Christianity Today recently posted an article titled, “How Can Churches Best Support Parents Who Adopt from Overseas?” This article is wonderfully helpful. While the focus of the article is on supporting families through overseas adoptions, there is much that would be applicable in any adoption. In fact, in so far as the article is really only telling us to love our neighbors as we have been loved by Christ – laying down our lives for one another, there is much that is applicable for any local church seeking real christian community.

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Doctrine and Life

How doctrine relates to life is a topic of much debate. It is not hard to find Christians who doubt, or even deny, the value of sound theology at all, much less the relevance of doctrine for everyday life. For those who question its relevance, “doctrine” is one of the lengthier four letter words. Likewise, there are some for whom theology is merely pedantic. For those who treat theology as only an academic endeavor, theologizing is simply fun. These two positions seem miles apart, but neither camp is particularly concerned with theology as something vital. Church history provides a different perspective as it is rife with evidence that doctrine is neither properly left in the ivory tower nor properly decried as a fool’s errand. The martyrs of the church knew what they believed, and they stood in their beliefs to the very death of their mortal bodies.

When we do enter into the discussion of how doctrine relates to life, we often jump immediately to the “big issues,” the life-and-death issues. We speak in extremes and hypotheticals, and while these situations can be helpful in setting boundaries and dealing with outlier situations, our success in transferring what we learn in hard cases to common cases is often paltry, making room for various inconsistencies.

Take for example the case of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakastani girl who survived being shot for seeking an education, and a recent slideshow on The Log Cabin Democrat website titled, “Booked’s Most Memorable Mugs,” an online slideshow of mugshots of those arrested in Faulkner County that someone deemed “memorable” (of course this begs any number of other questions regarding Booked). For American Christians (if we are honest about how we think about the situation), Yousafzai is an outlier case to which we rightly apply doctrine of the imago dei to decry this injustice on the basis that, by virtue of being image bearers of the most high, all people should be afforded a basic dignity that is often withheld from women in certain cultures. Yet, when we come home, we are perfectly happy getting a laugh at the expense of those who face the unfortunate situation of having their photo taken at one of the lowest points of their life. Obviously, there are many ways in which the gravity of these two cases cannot be compared, but on the most basic level, the issues at play are the same, leaving us asking, “What happened to our commitment to human dignity?”

Doctrine is vital. Theology matters. Let us sit with one another and the Word of God and work out what we believe. As the people of God, let’s do theology. Let’s struggle, and as we struggle, let us bring what we believe to bear on life with one another and the world around us. Let us be precise with truth and with how we live in light of that truth. Let us know God and glorify him as such that the world may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven.

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