A Reformed Congregation. Sierra View Presbyterian Church, Fresno, California

Month: March 2015

Passion Week – Tuesday

Tuesday: To Make Things Alive

 Take an afternoon sometime and write down all the reasons you can think of for Jesus’ life and ministry. I suppose we could fill innumerable pages. To bring light out of darkness. To fulfill the Law of God. We could go on. Today, as we get one day closer to the resurrection, I want us to remember that Jesus came to make things alive.

In His final days on earth, He chose to teach that lesson in the most unusual way conceivable: by cursing a fig tree so that it will not ever bear fruit again. Confused by that? You’re not alone.

The fig tree in question was symbolic of the religion the Pharisees would kill, and did kill, to protect. Theirs was a lifeless religion, the worst kind of all, based on a show of doing good things according to their laws and customs, while looking down their noses in judgmental hypocrisy at all others. Just as the fig tree bore no fruit or green leaves, so the Judaism of Jesus’ day, centered on the Pharisees, was a dead religion stuck in dry ground. The imagery of fig trees and vines was a common allusion to Israel in the Old Testament. More often than not, much to the Pharisees’ disgust, the allusion is to a vine that dies and gets trampled. It’s what happens when we lose sight of the mercy and joy of God. Psalm 105:33 serves as a clear example, “He struck down their vines and fig trees, and shattered the trees of their country.” See the symbolism, there? The fig tree represents the Jews and their religion.

Come back to Jesus passing by that fig tree. Matthew tells us that He was hungry and looking for something to eat. He might have expected to find fruit on the fig tree, but when He found none He cursed the tree and said, “May no fruit come from you again,” (Matthew 21:21). He didn’t curse the barren tree because He was crabby or throwing a fit. Like a hunger-inspired temper tantrum you might expect from a toddler. Instead, He was tipping off His disciples, and anyone who would hear Him, that a spiritual revolution was afoot. He was making a final break with Judaism and declaring Himself to true King of the Jews who is after a ‘heart religion’ that bears a fruit of joy, mercy and righteousness.

Naturally, the Pharisees ask Him about authority. We might like to see a reaction along the lines of, “Is something deeper going on, here? What does this all mean?” But no. Not the Pharisees. They refuse to look at the heart and instead ask Him who gave the authority to do these things! The tragedy of the Pharisees’ interrogation is that their lips make a profession of holiness, while their hearts are free from such concerns. They hunger for power, not holiness.

It’s the last week of Jesus’ life. It’s a matter of days before He will be crucified. And He goes out of His way to teach what we must receive as the single most important lesson of Passion Week: Jesus has come to make dead things alive in Him! The contrast couldn’t be brighter. Jesus is Life, the fig is death. Death is overcome by Life!

Life in Christ, the kind of life that Jesus promised and secures, always bears the marks of being once dead, but now alive to God. The fig tree represents the kind of religion that once was alive, but is now dead. Religion that is centered on the self, on the works of the flesh and on a show of spiritual superiority. And so it’s dead, and will always be dead. The events of Passion Week, from the Triumphal Entry, to the Fig Tree, to the Cross, remind us that Jesus came to overcome darkness and open the way of salvation. The salvation that belongs to the Lord always bears a fruit of righteousness in the soul of a man that is no longer dead.

Why did Jesus come? He came to make dead things alive. Will you present yourself to Him this week as one who bears all the marks of the new life He came to give? It’s a holy week, this Passion Week. It’s the kind of holiness that leads to lasting joy because in Him death is overcome and heaven is won. Let us be the children of Easter, then. Let us bear the fruit of His Spirit and be consumed with the praise of Life!

 Hymn for Tuesday: Welcome, Happy Morning

 

“Welcome, happy morning!” age to age shall say,

Hell to-day is vanquished, heaven is won to-day!

Lo! the dead is living, God, forevermore!

Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!

 

Maker and Redeemer, life and health to all,

Thou from heaven beholding human nature’s fall,

Of the Father’s Godhead true and only Son,

Manhood to deliver, manhood didst put on.

 

Thou, of life the author, death didst undergo,

Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show;

Come then, True and Faithful, now fulfill Thy word;

‘Tis Thine own third morning: rise, O buried Lord!

 

Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan’s chain;

All that now is fallen raise to life again;

Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;

Bring again our daylight: day returns with Thee!

 

 

Passion Week – Monday

Monday: Passover

As we begin this Passion Week, it’s important to keep in mind the significance of Passover for the Christian’s celebration of the empty tomb. Passover, after all, is about a perspective on God’s covenant love. Without a Passover comprehension, we lose the heart of the week.

It all began with the Triumphal Entry. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem aboard a lowly donkey, He knew the adoring crowds were, for the most part, looking for deliverance from something. They craved freedom from the despotism and tyranny that marked their lives. And they saw Jesus as the means to their end. The Hosannas that went up that day were misplaced. They sang to exalt the agenda they believed Jesus was inaugurating. What they missed was that Jesus was coming to deliver them TO something as much as He was coming to deliver them FROM something.

A little background is in order. Jesus often had crowds that travelled with him. But do you wonder why such a large crowd assembled at the Triumphal Entry, seemingly out of nowhere? Where’d they all come from? Answer: It was Passover week. Don’t miss that. This annual feast was one of the “Pre-exilic” celebrations that belonged to the Jews, because it was established to remind them of the great Exodus out of Egypt.

On the night the exodus began, the Lord instituted this sacred moment of Passover. “Tell all the congregation of Israel that every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household…and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the month, when the whole assembly of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” (Exodus 12:3, 6). The blood of the sacrificed lamb was then to be spread upon the doorposts of the homes of God’s people. Those ‘under the blood’ (so to speak) would be passed over when the Lord came that night to slay the wicked. On that night, Passover was established, and central to it was the Passover lamb to be slain.

Soon, there became two related feasts: the Passover followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a weeklong celebration. The two are so closely related, in fact, that they are often cited as the same thing (Luke 22:1, for example). This is why the crowds were so large the day Jesus came to Jerusalem. They were there to have Passover and take part in the Feast of Unleavened Bread. If they had only known that the One riding on the young colt was the Lamb their fathers had looked for.

Back to the crowds, then. Actually, I want to go back to another crowd, back to that first Passover night. That crowd of Hebrews left its Egyptian captors by the hand of a loving God. They left with haste, sure. But the bigger point is, they left. It was deliverance from bondage. But soon they died. They died spiritually because they failed to lay hold of a greater joy in what they were delivered to. They celebrated their freedom from bondage. Over time, they missed the blessing of God’s redemptive love for them. That’s what they were delivered to. A life bound up in the redemptive love of God.

True also of the crowds at the beginning of Passion Week. They celebrated their soon-to-be-realized hopes of being delivered from bondage. By week’s end, they betray their heartless religion, and they died. They died because they were unwilling to inherit the thing they were delivered to. The missed the Kingdom of God, because they missed the Passover Lamb. It was Jesus who was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is His blood spread over our hearts that delivers us FROM captivity to sin and judgment, and delivers us TO fellowship with God.

This Passover Week, amidst all the noise, will you miss the inheritance to which you’ve been delivered? If you feel yourself fading under the shadow of heartless religion, then remember that the very blood that was shed for you forgives even that, and calls you back into fellowship with God. More than that, the blood of the Great Passover Lamb invites you back into the loving arms of the God who keeps His covenant.

Let the beginning of Passion Week be for you a bridge. One that is built on the eternal magnificence of Christ and reaches from Him to you. Passover is the week that reminds the elect of the Kingship of Jesus Christ. Will you take your place in the fellowship to which you have been delivered? Will you come this week to bless the King of glory?

 

Hymn for Monday: At The Lamb’s High Feast We Sing

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing

Praise to our victorious King,

Who hath washed us in the tide

Flowing from His piercèd 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!

Hell’s fierce powers beneath Thee lie;

Thou hast conquer’d in the fight,

Thou hast brought us life and light:

Now no more can death appall,

Now no more the grave enthrall;

Thou hast opened Paradise,

And in Thee Thy saints shall rise.

 

Easter triumph, Easter joy,

Sin alone can this destroy;

From sin’s power do Thou set free

Souls new-born, O Lord, in Thee.

Hymns of glory and of praise,

Risen Lord, to Thee we raise;

Holy Father, praise to Thee,

With the Spirit, ever be.

If the Foundations are Destroyed

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

I once sat under the most intriguing sermon series. It was called, “Psalms for the Postmodern Man” through a collection of the Psalms, naturally. I must confess that at the time, it didn’t really resonate with me. Probably because I was insulated by my books on Hebrew and History. Recently, however, I read through that same collection of Psalms and came to the same conclusion: they speak directly and almost impatiently to the crying need of the hour.

Psalm 11 begins the inquiry with a question in verse 3, “If the foundation are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The rest of Psalm 11, along with Psalms 12, 13 and 14, outlines the disaster that comes when the foundations are destroyed. But first things first, what are the foundations? The Old Testament concept of ‘foundations’ refers to the truth that forms the support structures of society. Like a pillar that holds up the building. Charles Spurgeon comments, “Can God be so long asleep, yea so long a lethargy, as patiently to permit the ruins of religion?” That’s what is in view here, the ruins of biblical religious exercise. If the foundations are destroyed, what happens?

Psalm 11:5-7 tells us what happens: men grow to love violence. David is seeking to take refuge in the living God, but his friends are compelling to him seek revenge upon his oppressor. Everywhere the gospel has gone, the peace of that society has increased. Conversely, where the gospel is absent, violence reigns. That’s what natural man does, he loves violence.

Psalm 12:2 tells us, ‘every man utters lies to his neighbor.’ When the foundations are destroyed, every man does what is right in his own eyes and therefore, he lies to neighbor. This becomes the native tongue of the world, because the world, dwelling amid the rubble of foundations, speaks the native language of the ruler of the age.

Psalm 13:2 tells us that wickedness will be exalted over righteousness, “…how long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” In Romans 1 the heart and mind of sinful man is revealed insofar as he not only goes along with unrighteousness, but he gives his hearty approval of those who do so. To many, wickedness prevails over righteousness. Far more Americans, for example, give themselves to the women of the Internet than the Christ of the church. That’s the enemy exalted over righteousness when the foundations are destroyed.

Psalm 14:1 completes the descent of foundationless postmodernity, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’

But if you were to look at the same Psalms in order, and I hope you will do so, you will also find that each Psalm comes packaged with the power of God in His victory. “The Lord is in His holy temple” (11:4), “You O Lord will keep [Your pure words] and will guard us from this generation forever.” (12:7), “I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.” (13:6), “The Lord is his refuge…the Lord restores the fortunes of His people.” (14:6-7).

When the foundations are destroyed and the entire culture seems to have its feet planted firmly in mid air, What can the righteous do? They can fix their eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of their faith who, for the joy that was before him endured the cross, despised its shame and sat down victoriously at the right hand of God. If that is true, then we have a foundation that can never be destroyed. It belongs to us, then, to build His church through His word and spirit, to restore the foundations and advance His purposes.

The Divine Logos

“In the beginning was the Word…”

       In the opening sections of John’s gospel, there are a number of staggering claims made about or by Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, for example, makes the soaring claim, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). A short time later, still in chapter 1, Jesus goes to Galilee and finds Philip. He says simply, “Follow me,” and he does! Only the voice of God can generate such a response. Soon in chapter 3, John the Baptist will again exalt Jesus and say, “I am unworthy even to untie His shoes!”

But of all the lofty things said of Jesus, none is more so than the very first words of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The original readers of this gospel might have expected John to simply quote the opening words of the Hebrew bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Instead, John surprises them and advances the Lordship and the preexistence of Christ. “In the beginning was the Word.” Jesus is the eternal Word of God.

Hebrews 1 picks up this theme and advances its clarity even further, “But in these last days (God) has spoken by His Son whom He appointed heir of all things through whom also He created the world.” (Heb. 1:2)

The witness of the scriptures is that Jesus is the eternal son of God, through whom God not only made the world, but also meets mankind in his (our) condition.

The theologian Andreas Kostenberger reminds us that here in the opening of John’s gospel is the only time the word “Logos” is used in such a clearly Christological sense. In other words, God wants to communicate that Jesus is the ‘divine self expression’ of God.

For that reason, the designation of Jesus as the eternal, divine ‘logos’ (self-expression of God) encompasses the entirety of Jesus’ life and mission.

The Logos became flesh and made His dwelling among us (1:14). The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not (could not!) overcome it (1:5). He came to give those who receive Him the right become children of God (1:12). He came as the only Son of God, full of grace and truth (1:14). All of this ministry of Jesus Christ is summarized in that remarkable opening verse of John’s gospel: In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the logos was with God, and the logos was God.

This divine Logos of God knows you by name. He knows your frame, that you are but dust. He lays bare the deepest recesses of your heart and soul and examines you as a Physician. He also knows your doubts and fears, hopes and failures. He knows your sin. He lays that bare, too. But His grace is sufficient for all these things, and indeed abounds all the more. And He communicates this all-sufficient grace to you through His Word. The Logos of God.

My brethren, take your place among the saints and adopt a posture of worship and adoration for the divine, eternal Logos of God. Let your life reflect His lordship over you, because His love is perfect and delightful. Let the Logos of God dwell richly within you today, that His power may be made perfect in your weakness.