Archive for January, 2014


Psalm 148

A Meditation for the Lord’s Day

In the Book of Psalms, there is a category of Psalms known as the “Hallelujah Psalms.” This term comes from the use of the Hebrew word halel in each of these . This word means “praise, glory, most, celebrate, and shine.” In its various grammatical constructions, this word is rendered “to be praised, to be made praiseworthy, to be commended.”

The most well-known of these Hallelujah Psalms is the collection that ends the book of Psalms, that is, 146 through 150. Each of these five Psalms begins and ends with “Praise the LORD.” Writers have referred to this collection of Psalms as the “Hallalujah Chorus” to this book of praises, that is, the whole book of Psalms.

Let’s consider Psa. 148:

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! 2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! 3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! 4 Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created. 6 He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, Sea monsters and all deeps; 8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word; 9 Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars; 10 Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl; 11 Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; 12 Both young men and virgins; Old men and children. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. 14 And He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise for all His godly ones; Even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD!

The writer calls for praise for the LORD from the heavens and the heights, from His angels, from the sun and moon, and all stars of light. He commanded, and they were created. Further, God has established them forever by a decree that will not pass away. God’s making and sustaining of creation are to be the basis of praise from the very things made and sustained.

In verses 7-10, the writer provides another list of sources from which God should be praised. Praise should come from the earth, sea monsters, from fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind, mountains and hills, fruit trees and all cedars, from all beasts, creeping things and winged foul. Once again, all of creation is exhorted to praise its Creator in light of His power to make them and maintain them.

The writer concludes this Psalm of praise with reference to man. In verse 11, he calls upon the kings of the earth and all people to praise the LORD. Princes and all judges are included. With these references, the writer indicates that even those with great authority among men are obligated to recognize a greater authority, which is the LORD.

Mentioned next are young men and virgins, old men and children. At no stage of life, does the obligation to praise God cease. From the beginning of life to its end, we are to praise the LORD for His greatness. Children are to be instructed in the praise of God, both by word and deed. They learn about this universal beauty through the teaching and example of adults.

Young man and virgins, who have entered the most active part of life where the tendency is to think primarily of self and plans for the future, are reminded that before all else they have a responsibility to praise the LORD. All listed are exhorted to praise the name of the LORD because His name alone is exalted and, as has been stated previously, His glory is above earth and heaven. And He is to be praised, as well, for His rescue of His people.

As noted, this Psalm ends with that wonderful declaration “Praise the LORD.” Let us, therefore, enter His presence with gladness and humble thanksgiving so that we might join the ranks of those who have gathered to Praise the LORD.

 

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The Gospel

2014

 

Introduction

Several years ago, on the first Sunday of the new year, I began a tradition, which I have repeated each year since. I spoke on one particular doctrinal issue in order to set the course for the coming year and remind us all of what really is the most important matter we handle as a congregation (All Saints Parish Church in Vancouver, WA). All that we believe, practice, and hope to become is grounded in one issue. It is essential, obviously, and due to the essential nature of this subject, I want to revisit it this afternoon as we begin a new year. I’m referring, of course, to the gospel.

The beginning of a new year is a time for reflection. People think about the state of their lives, what they wished they had accomplished, what they hope to accomplish, and so forth. The gospel is the heart of the Church’s life and, therefore, serious reflection on the gospel and the state of our ministry is both edifying and advisable.

I want to explain what I mean by the term “gospel.” When I use this term, I have in mind what God has revealed to us about our redemption. Therefore, I’m using the word “gospel” in a broad sense to include all that the Bible has to say about our restoration as a fallen race. The manner in which the gospel is understood and taught is the life-blood of any congregation, as I’ve already stressed. What is believed about this subject determines the spiritual character of a church; in fact, it determines whether we really are a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If a church believes and teaches what the Bible proclaims on this issue, then that church is bound to have a good apprehension of everything found in God’s word. On the other hand, if a church does not understand, believe and teach what the Bible says about man’s salvation, that congregation is bound to have defective doctrine across the board. Command is illegal

First, we will consider the necessity of the gospel. If the gospel, broadly defined, has to do with the restoration of man, we must know what it is about man that requires a restoration. Second, we will look at the provision of the gospel. Under this point, we will see what God has done in response to man’s need. The third point will be the exclusivity of the gospel. Here, I will concentrate on the unique nature of God’s provision for our need.

01. The Necessity of the Gospel

We are all aware of the event that occurred early in the history of our race which unalterably established our need of redemption. I’m referring, of course, to the fall of Adam and Eve. This is such a familiar portion of Scripture that I’m sure I could just mention it and proceed without much elaboration. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, I will review this story briefly.

As we know, the Biblical description of man’s origin is composed of two primary elements, his creation and his disobedience. The Scripture tells us that God created the first man and he was perfect. In addition, because this creature was made in the image of the Creator, he was morally upright. In the beginning, therefore, Adam, the first man and father of our race, existed in a state of innocence.

All was harmonious in this setting. God was recognized and served as the almighty Creator; man recognized himself as one that came from the hand of this almighty Creator and was, therefore, bound to relate to God as the thing made should relate to the sovereign Maker. In this state, Adam enjoyed communion with God and was at peace and able to pursue his calling.

In this original environment, God designed a circumstance in which Adam would be tested regarding his willingness to abide by the implications of the Creator-creature relationship. God granted Adam access to all that the Garden of Eden had to offer with one exception. Adam was forbidden to eat the fruit that was found on one particular tree.

This was a simple arrangement, yet one with profound implications. This circumstance declared that this was God’s world and, therefore, His will was supreme. It taught Adam that he had to submit to the Creator in all things. The point of this test was not the fruit of that particular tree, but Adam’s willingness to abide by the command of the Creator.

After receiving instructions, Adam also received Eve, a creature like him. Together, Adam and Eve were commissioned to multiply, subdue the earth and rule it under God. Together, as man and wife, our first parents were to serve the Creator and thus enjoy His blessings.

As we know, however, things changed drastically:

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

These few verses record the most tragic event that could be imagined. Here is the ruination of our race! That which was perfect is perfect no longer. The relationship between the Creator and the creature is horribly disrupted and the narrative hardly reveals the devastation which resulted from this episode. It is this one incident which determines the nature of our existence from that point forward. This act forever changed all of creation.

Consider the manner in which this story is given to us. The writer records the facts in a simple, straight-forward manner. I have already rehearsed the background for this story. We know that this was a perfect environment; we know that God and man existed in harmony; we know that all of God’s creation was what He intended it to be; and we know that Adam had been given a command that epitomized his relation to God. But into this picture came the deceiver, the enemy of righteousness.

The woman was questioned by the serpent: “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (v. 1) And the woman captured the essence of the command when she repeated God’s prohibition (v. 2) Clearly she knew that the Creator had forbidden her to eat from that particular tree; she was not ignorant of the law that governed her relationship with God. Nevertheless, instead of ceasing contact with the serpent immediately, she continued and heard these words: “You surely shall not die!” (v. 4)

And, as we know, Eve considered the words of the deceiver and “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (v. 6)

If we ask, “What happened in the Garden of Eden?”, the uncomplicated answer is that the command of God was broken—and this is the fundamental definition of all sin. Perhaps this is why this important event is recorded in such a simple fashion. Perhaps it is so that any child can read this account and understand what happened. God gave a command and it was not obeyed. Anyone can listen to these words and know that Eve and then Adam disobeyed the Creator.

This brings me to a second question: What is the meaning of this event? We get a symbolic answer to this second question in our passage: “7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

Consider how awful it was for the creatures made in God’s image to sense the need to hide themselves from Him! Clearly, something horrible occurred. When they broke God’s commandment, they immediately sensed that what they had done was unnatural; they immediately realized that the peace of the Garden had been disturbed.

For Adam and Eve, the repercussions began with their instant realization that they were transgressors and could no longer appear in God’s presence without shame and guilt. Adam and Eve attempted to avoid confrontation with God because confrontation with God would require them to own up to their disobedience. They did what they could in those circumstances to evade the Lawgiver.

Adam and Eve did what they were forbidden to do and, as a result, their relationship with God was ruined. This is the story of the beginning of our race. From this time forward, Scripture teaches, every descendant of Adam and Eve is conceived in the state of alienation; every descendant is born in that state of estrangement from God. At its core, the action of Adam and Eve was rebellion. They both substituted their will for God’s will; they both ranked their wisdom above the wisdom of God.

We know from later revelation that the transgression of Adam and Eve had a most extreme impact upon their natures. Soon, we are told about the banishment of our first parents from this place of fellowship with God. Life in the Garden meant fellowship with God; it meant that all was right and that all relationships were what they should be. Banishment from the Garden meant just the opposite; it meant that fellowship with God had been broken and that things were not right and all relationships had been adversely affected.

From a blessed existence to a cursed existence; from peace to disorder; from fellowship to antagonism. Now man is at odds with God, now he is God’s enemy, now he struggles under the weight of guilt for having disobeyed. Man comes into existence now with a rebellious heart and throughout his miserable life, he gives continual expression to the corruption of his soul.

This is the doctrine of man’s total depravity. Every facet of his existence, every faculty of his soul, is marred by sin. Depraved man will not and cannot restore what has been lost; he knows only the way of defiance because his soul carries in it the seed of corruption. This is fallen man; this is man before the gospel.

Returning to the Genesis record, we know that something else was said between God’s cursing of the parties involved and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden. When God came to Adam, Eve and the serpent, each party was cursed and bound to live with certain temporal consequences of this incident. And the consequences went well beyond temporal considerations; the very nature of man was affected.

However, following His denunciation of the serpent, the woman and the man, God gave that wonderful promise of a coming restoration: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (v. 15) Here is the first indication that God, the One offended, would undertake the rescue of His special creatures.

This is the promise that unfolds throughout the rest of the Bible and throughout the rest of history. This is the first announcement of the gospel and it comes here in Genesis, in the midst of man’s ruin. The gospel that we love and cherish cannot be rightly understood, believed or taught apart from an understanding of its origin. A plan of restoration was necessitated by the events that transpired in the Garden of Eden.

02. The Provision of the Gospel

We have seen what necessitated a plan of redemption; now we can see what God meant by His promise to send a Deliverer. What must be kept in mind is fallen man’s need. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, that spot which symbolized fellowship with God and harmony in relationships. After disobeying God, they lacked the quality of moral uprightness, which is defined by God’s character alone.

Man’s need, then, is great; it is almost beyond comprehension. However, God’s provision is also great. The provision of God in the gospel centers upon one concept: substitution. For fallen man to be reconciled to God, two things had to happen: one, fallen man had to render unto God a perfect life and thus do what Adam failed to do; two, fallen man had to provide a payment for his sins. The problem, of course, is that fallen man is incapable of providing what is absolutely necessary for his redemption.

Without going into great detail, let me state that one aspect of man’s total depravity is his inability to do anything about his condition. Man was not just wounded, spiritually speaking, he was killed. A sinner is a walking dead man when it comes to spiritual matters. He can do nothing about his circumstance and does not care to do anything about his circumstance. What, then, is the solution? It is what I mentioned earlier. The solution, the only solution, is substitution.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: “2:13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Here is the substitutionary payment for our sins; here is the satisfaction of our debt before God. Notice that Paul reminds us that we were “dead” in our fallen state; however, God made us alive in and with Christ.

Jesus Christ is the provision for our salvation. He is what God had in mind when that glorious promise was made in the midst of the ruin of the Garden of Eden. According to these verses, God was willing to let Jesus Christ take our sin-debt to Himself and bearing it, be nailed to a cross where He gave His blessed life in our place. So great was the quality of that life, Paul teaches, that the debt we owed to God is “taken out of the way.” It is not forgotten nor is it ignored for a time—our sin is paid for by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in our place.

When Christ paid for our sins, that was one component in our restoration. The second component is something I mentioned already, namely, a righteousness of our own. Having our sins paid for does not, at the same time, make us righteous in the eyes of God. Therefore, a second component in man’s restoration—or the sinner’s justification—is the provision of a righteousness. Once again, let us hear from Paul:

Phil. 3:8… I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…

After his conversion, Paul understood that the needed righteousness cannot be earned, but must be imputed. The sinner’s hope is not only that Christ will pay his sin-debt, but also that Christ will credit to the sinner the perfect life He lived while on this earth. Therefore, Paul rejects the notion of self-justification or any idea that the sinner can restore himself. Instead, Paul embraces and teaches the idea that the righteousness that the sinner must have is not his own and cannot come from himself.

The needed righteousness must come from One able to provide it and that One is Jesus Christ. Not only does Christ become our Substitute in His death, He also becomes our Substitute in His life. All that is required of the sinner is supplied by the sinner’s Substitute. Payment for sin is made and righteousness is given and both things are grounded in the Savior.

This brings me to the third point of this sermon, which has to do with an aspect of the gospel that needs to be stressed frequently. Man’s need necessitated a particular provision, which God supplied in Christ. This means that the manner in which fallen man is restored to God’s favor is singular, narrow and restricted.

03. The Exclusivity of the Gospel

By this heading, I mean that there are not many avenues to restoration; there is only one and that is the one designated by the offended Party, namely, the God of this creation. The fact that the way of reconciliation for sinful man might be singular should come as no surprise. Therefore, I will not spend a great deal of time on this third point. Let me refer to a definitive statement made by Paul in 1 Tim. 2: “5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.”

In the context of these verses, the apostle is urging believers to pray for all who are in authority, regardless of rank. His reasoning is that God would have all classes of men, the rulers and well as the ones ruled, to come to the knowledge of salvation (cf. v. 4). Then Paul makes a restrictive, intolerant declaration: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Two parties are envisioned here, God and fallen man. Standing between the two, as it were, is a Mediator, One who is able to bring the two together. To be more precise given all the Biblical data, this Mediator is bringing the one party, man, to the other, God. It is man who needs reconciliation and this reconciliation is achieved by One and only One Mediator, Jesus Christ. He is the One, Paul notes, “who gave Himself as a ransom” for all men.

The need of men, all men, was determined in the Garden. The singular provision of a Substitute for those in need was determined by God. That provision was His Son and that provision is exclusive in the sense that it is the only provision given and accepted by God. As Paul implies here, if a man is to have fellowship with God, it must be by way of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. The sinner cannot go to God on his own, nor can he devise some way that might gain him access to God’s blessed presence.

What Paul teaches here is repeated throughout Scripture. God promised a Deliverer at the time of Adam’s fall. That promised Deliverer was the focus of all prophecy and expectation. No other means of restoration for fallen man is ever mentioned in God’s word because no other means of restoration exists. God accepts sinners in His Son and only in His Son. Since all men are in a state of condemnation, this means that all men either have Christ as their Mediator, and therefore enjoy God’s saving favor, or they remain in their fallen condition and await the day of God’s wrath.

To all sinners, Christ declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6) This is not a debatable issue! There are sinners and there are saved sinners in this world and the only thing that separates one category from the other is the Substitutionary mediation of Jesus Christ. There are not many gospels, there is only one gospel and this one gospel is from God and makes known to us our need, God’s provision and the exclusive nature of that provision.

Application

One purpose I had in mind in preparing this sermon was to declare the essentials of the Biblical gospel. While much more could have been said about the gospel, I do believe that an outline of the gospel has been presented and in this outline, I have touched upon the primary elements. Explaining the gospel consists of two chief facts: man’s need and God’s provision.

The gospel is a simple message; it is one easily understood by all who hear it. We were in need and God provided what we needed. In a day when the churches of Christ are dabbling in so many things unrelated to the true ministry of the gospel, we would do well to meditate upon the gospel as it is found in the Bible.

Another purpose for this sermon was my desire to “go on record” regarding my own beliefs and the beliefs of this church where the issue of salvation is concerned. What I have related to you is what I believe Scripture teaches. I believe that man is conceived in a state of alienation from God and that his only hope is the substitutionary life and death of Jesus Christ.

Further, I believe that fallen man is incapable of doing or desiring any good whatsoever as far as his restoration is concerned. He is a creature absolutely dependent upon the grace of God. This is what I believe and this is what this church believes, by which I mean that this is the doctrine that we hold and teach.

As I noted, these convictions about the nature of man and the nature of salvation will influence everything you will hear taught from this pulpit in the coming year. You will hear statements indicating our utter dependence upon God in all things; you will hear statements ascribing all glory to God and statements urging complete devotion to God and His holy will.

All these things and more are grounded in what the Bible teaches about our need as fallen creatures and God’s response to our need in Christ. Whether we are talking about salvation or our ethical obligations or our vocations, all that we are to know and do is traced back to man’s fall in the Garden and God’s merciful restoration of man in Christ.

And a final purpose for this sermon was my desire to encourage you to consider anew the glorious work that God has done for us. Let us begin the new year with a fresh perspective on what God has accomplished for us. In connection with this purpose, I want to emphasize to our young people their responsibility to consider the gospel of our salvation. You are privileged to be growing up in an environment in which we all are attempting to serve God and communicate to you the knowledge of the Bible. Understand, however, that the gospel that I have described is just as relevant for you as it is for anyone else.

When the Bible describes the miserable state of fallen man, it is describing your state apart from Christ. When it speaks of the condemnation of all who are descendants of Adam, it is speaking of you. Give thanks to God that He has placed you in the community of believers—this is no small privilege—but also know that you are a sinner and you must own Christ as your Substitute if you are to escape the inevitable end of God’s enemies.