New Temple

Jesus’ visitation of the Temple in Jerusalem in John 2 marks a significant transition in the life of Israel. As with his miracle at Cana, during which Jesus changed the water “…for the Jewish rites of purification” (v.6) into the wine of the New Covenant, Jesus continues fulfilling Jewish rites and institutions and doing away with the Old Covenant order.

Raymond Brown describes this transition well in The Gospel and Epistles of John: A Concise Commentray: “In the outer court of the Temple Jesus finds a virtual market where visitors could purchase the animals necessary for sacrifice and change their money for Tyrian half-shekels (coins religiously not objectionable). In attacking this commerce, Jesus is doing more than purging an abuse; the animals are the coins were necessary for Temple worship. In this cleansing Jesus is attacking the Temple itself. He has replaced Jewish purifications at Cana; now he shows that the very center of Jewish worship loses its meaning in his presence. The glorious presence of God, once confined to the Temple, has now become flesh in Jesus.” (p. 30)

The Lord has surely come to his temple. “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? … he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to Yahweh. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Yahweh as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Mal. 3:2-4)

Jesus judges the Jerusalem temple and sets himself up as the true Temple. John emphasizes that his historic body is the Temple that, though destroyed, will rise “in three days.” (Jn. 2:19) Paul draws this out in 1 Corinthians 13 to tell us that, with Christ as our head, the ecclesial body, the Church, is “God’s temple” in which he dwells. “The glorious presence of God”, as Brown says, formerly housed in the Temple, incarnated in Jesus, is now with us. 

On Liturgical Worship

My household and I are members of a liturgical church in the CREC. Being liturgical, we follow a biblical and historical pattern of worship that changes very little week-by-week. Liturgical worship is the Church’s way of worshiping in spirit and in truth, decently and in good order, that both glorifies God as well as disciples the Church.

The pattern of worship used by our church has been described as “Covenant Renewal” worship. It follows the layout of offerings and covenant renewals in the Old Covenant (see Leviticus 9), and is the basic liturgical structure that the Church catholic has followed and built upon for centuries. In Covenant Renewal worship, God calls His people into His heavenly presence; we confess our sins and receive assurance of pardon through Christ; God reorders and consecrates us through preaching and reading of Sacred Scripture; we commune with Him at the Lord’s Table; and He commissions us to make disciples of all peoples.

Historic biblical liturgy functions as a guide for the Church as we enter the throne room of God. To come before the Almighty, we have to come on His terms; we can’t worship Him however we want. God has outlined for us in His Word the acceptable way to come before Him, and the tradition of the Church guides us in how God’s people have appropriated that biblical pattern throughout history and gives us direction for the future. However, in modern evangelical Christianity, liturgy is often seen as being lifeless, rigid, and restricting. Real worship, many might think, happens when the worshipper is ‘free’ to express themselves to God their own way. Besides, it’s hard to learn how to follow the liturgy.

I want to show that, rather than being lifeless and restricting, robust liturgy gives life and freedom to the worship and the Church; and, though learning the liturgy is not very difficult, it does take time. But then, anything that is worth doing well takes time, like dancing.

liturgy2

Liturgical Discipleship

Biblical liturgy is one of God’s means of discipling His Church. Through the liturgy, we are shone the proper way to come before God, being cleansed from sin and called up into the heavenlies to worship God “with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, and all the Church on earth.” More than that, the worshippers are taught who they are and what our purpose is. We are children of God by grace, cleansed of our sin through Jesus’ blood; we are ordered by His Word through Scripture read and expounded in the Consecration and fed at His table in Eucharist; we are blessed and sent by Him on mission to bring to rights the fallen world through the gospel in the benediction and commissioning. The Church’s liturgy communicates the answers to the ultimate question of life, and in fact sets the worshipper in their proper place within God’s story.

One of the ways God’s people are discipled through the liturgy is the shaping effect it has on our character affections. Not only does the liturgy tell us what to say and do in worship, but also how to think and feel towards God worshipfully and reverently. Liturgy creates holy people.

The liturgy gives form to the worship and affection of God’s people, and in fact gives direction for obedient worship when those affections may not be there. In our ritualized lives, we know better than to only show love to our family and neighbors when we feel like it; we demonstrate love through actions whether or not we feel the right emotions because we know it is right. In the same way, in the Lord’s Service, we might come in not feeling worshipful, but we step into the liturgy nonetheless, praying that God will grant proper affections of worship; we sing the psalms, we confess our sin, we give our thanks to God, we sing the Sanctus, and our hearts are directed toward proper God-pleasing feeling. And, in fact, God is pleased when we come to Him in this kind of faith that His Spirit will fill up what is lacking in our hearts.

In liturgical worship, we are discipled to reflect the God in whose image we were made. God is a god of ritual and liturgy. Look at the creation week; look at how He interacts with His people and with the nations; look at how He has arranged the universe, the stars, the seasons, even day and night. He is a God who does not tire of repetition but delights in it. When we worship Him liturgically, we do so not only because He has laid the pattern out for us, but because we are learning to reflect Him.

Learning to Dance

C.S. Lewis once compared worship to dancing: with both worship and dancing, learning the steps takes time and effort, but once the proper motions are learned, the dance becomes second nature. If you are trying to learn a dance, only to find that the steps change every time you come to practice, you will likely never become an apt dancer. Similarly, in worship that is characterized by “spontaneity” or elements that change every week, worshippers will always be awkwardly trying to figure out what’s next. These churches may boast of worship that is “free,” but there is little freedom to truly worship when one is constantly worried about the changing steps. When we are a part of a set form of worship that changes little week-by-week, though, we don’t have to be distracted by what is coming next and instead we may freely focus on the content and Object of our worship.

In liturgical worship, when someone comes in from a non-liturgical background (really, every church has a liturgy of some kind), the liturgical “steps” may seem foreign or awkward, but following and learning the liturgy is rather simple. In fact, the common liturgy of the Church is one of the most accessible “worship-forms” there is. For centuries, all classes of people have been able to follow the liturgy, chant the psalms, memorize calls and responses as well as canticles, and find their place in worship. Whether literate or illiterate, rich or poor, young or old, the liturgy of the Church can be learned and followed.

Ideally, however, learning the liturgy is done as a child. Christian children learn and become accustomed to the rituals of worship from their earliest days. A child who has not yet learned to read or write can yet learn the Nunc Dimittis and Gloria Patri, or know to kneel to confess their sins and declare “Thanks be to God!” after the reading of His Word.

Ritualized, liturgical worship is worship that is accessible to the common man (and child!) The steps of the liturgy can easily be learned and memorized. And at that point, God’s people are able to engage with Him in the beautiful dance of worship.

So, in conclusion, we worship liturgically because God’s Word has laid out for us the Covenant Renewal pattern. We worship liturgically because through the liturgy we are shaped and discipled. We worship liturgically because we worship a liturgical God. The liturgy of the Church creates Christian culture. It shapes us into a people ready to obey Jesus’ commission. It anchors us in God’s Word and gives us our battle songs as we spread the Kingdom around the globe.

 

Smite Us and Save Us All

This past Sunday, the Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, my church sang G.K. Chesterton’s hymn, O God of Earth and Altar. It is a beautiful and powerful hymn, especially appropriate for our current political situation, I thought. And thus I share it here:

O God of earth and altar,
    Bow down and hear our cry. 
Our earthly rulers falter,
    Our people drift and die; 
The walls of gold entomb us,
    The swords of scorn divide, 
Take not thy thunder from us,
    But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
    From lies of tongue and pen, 
From all the easy speeches
    That comfort cruel men, 
For sale and profanation
    Of honour and the sword, 
From sleep and from damnation,
    Deliver us, good lord.

Tie in a living tether
    The prince and priest and thrall, 
Bind all our lives together,
    Smite us and save us all; 
In ire and exultation
    Aflame with faith, and free, 
Lift up a living nation,
    A single sword to thee.

The House Yahweh is Building

[This sermon preached at Providence Church of Caro, MI (CREC) on July 15, 2012. I am indebted to friend and former professor, Jeremy Farmer, for my interpretation of this psalm.]

Our sermon text this morning is the 127th Psalm, a psalm written by King Solomon. Let’s look to the Word of the Lord:

Unless Yahweh builds the house,

Those who build it labor in vain.

Unless Yahweh watches over the city,

The watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early

And go late to rest,

Eating the bread of anxious toil;

For He gives to His beloved sleep.

 

Behold, children are a heritage from Yahweh,

The fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

Are the children of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame

When he speaks with his enemies in the gate. 

Introduction

As we look to this psalm, we will be seeking to hear all that is being said by the psalmist. We will be looking at the greater biblical themes that come out in Solomon’s writing as well as the way that those themes and this psalm are fulfilled in Christ and His people. In so doing, we will find that this psalm speaks of the mission of God to build His kingdom, and how He uses us in His kingdom-building.

Contextual Themes

This psalm finds its place in the context of two particular (and interwoven) themes that run throughout the Bible. To understand the full meaning of the psalm, we must understand these big-picture themes. They are the themes of the promised offspring who would save the world and the house of David.

God has set Himself to carrying out a certain agenda in redeeming His fallen world. He has committed Himself to, as we see described in this psalm, a building project; the house that He is building is the house, or dynasty, of David, the house over which His Son rules eternally.

In 2 Samuel 7, we find the story of how God established His covenant with David and promised to build the house and line of David forever. In fact, during this interaction, God has turned the tables on David; David expressed his desire to build a house for the Lord, but God told Him that He would instead build a house for David, “a house for my name.” This house is not simply a dwelling, but a dynasty. God is establishing not only David himself, but His line. He tells Him that one of David’s offspring will rule on the throne forever, and He will be to God a son.

(Already, we can see that this son of David is no normal son. He will rule over His kingdom forever; God is His father, and He is God’s son.)

This covenant God has made with David finds its place in a string of promises of a coming offspring who would be the hope and deliverance of the world. The first promise is given immediately after the fall of man; in Genesis 3:15, Yahweh God promises that the offspring of the woman will crush and defeat the serpent, thus restoring God’s creation and bringing the world to rights. The promise is narrowed, and our eyes are on Abraham’s line, as God has promised him that his offspring will mediate blessing to the nations. Now, David’s line has become the hope of the world; David’s son will rule, save, and bless the earth. God’s intention is to bring salvation to the Gentiles, to the nations, through the line of David.

Thus, when Solomon writes a psalm about building a house and about the Lord giving children, it is clear that he is speaking of more (although not less) than simply any house and simply an children. (I say “not less” because Psalm 127 does teach us how to build our households, and it does teach us about the blessing of children.) Psalm 127, then, is about the household of David, and about the offspring of David who will be the hope of the world. Ultimately, Psalm 127 is about Christ and His body.

Exposition

Solomon organized this psalm into two main sections; one speaking of the attitude of builders and watchmen, and the other speaking of God’s gift of children. The psalm is about establishing a house for Yahweh, and a family who seeks after God’s glory. It is about God’s driving mission to build a house where God and man may dwell together.

Part One (vv. 1,2) –Make God’s Agenda Your Agenda.

“Unless Yahweh builds the house,

Those who build it labor in vain.

Unless Yahweh watches over the city,

The watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early

And go late to rest,

Eating the bread of anxious toil;

For He gives to His beloved sleep.” 

This text teaches us that all of our working and striving, however much effort we give, is in vain unless we are working within God’s will and by His might. As we build up and guard our households, as we set to our life work, we may give our best efforts, but if we are not seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, our efforts are in vain.

“Unless Yahweh builds the house…” (v.1)

Solomon first addresses the agenda of workers in the kingdom of God.

The psalmist uses language of building and guarding to describe the agenda to which our lives are set. “Unless Yahweh builds the house,” or “Unless your goals are aligned with Yahweh’s goals,” your work will be in vain. The work depends on God, and our goals must be aligned with His. This psalm speaks to the goals of God’s people. Through this psalm we are called to check our goals with the goals of God.

            God’s agenda, as we have seen from the background of the psalm, is establishing the kingdom of Christ, the Son of David, and building His house. Solomon would naturally have in mind the house and city of David as he penned this psalm.

God is incorporating into His house people from every tribe, tongue, kindred, and nation (Gen. 12:3; Is. 66:18; Rev. 15:4, 21:24), and He has commissioned us to make this our agenda to, as we go making “disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19) The goal of bringing glory to Himself through the growth of His kingdom; the goal of the salvation of all nations is what drives God’s mission; this same goal must be the driving force of our lives, as well.

God has committed Himself to the building of the house of David and that commitment has implication for us and for the whole world. So, we must check our priorities with God’s agenda. How are we doing? What is the agenda of our church? What is the agenda of your household; of you, personally and vocationally? Does this mean that we all must leave our careers and go to the mission field? Perhaps that is what God is calling some of us to do. That certainly is not what God has for all of us to do. However, whatever our vocation may be, whether plumber or career missionary or mother or pastor or computer technician, it must be a means to an end; namely, the end of bringing glory to God by spreading His kingdom, by spreading the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to our community and to all nations. As we engage in our labor, if our goals are in line with God’s goals, we can be assured that God is with us in our efforts. We are assured of ultimate (though not always temporal) success.

“…He gives to His beloved sleep…” (v.2)

In v. 2, Solomon warns us against a certain mindset that is inappropriate on the part of the builders and watchmen of the city of God: the mindset of anxious toil.

Worry and anxiety will accomplish nothing; if Yahweh is in our work, our anxious toil is in vain. If our goals are aligned with God’s, we can rest assured of His blessing and presence; we know that He will accomplish what He has set out to do. We have no need for worry.

The mindset of worry and anxiety creeps in when we come to believe that accomplishing God’s will is up to us and within our power. However, in ourselves we are wholly unable to carry out God’s commands; He is the one who works in us, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) Knowing that God is carrying out His purposes in and through us, when we are doing what He has told us in obedience, we can rest in the knowledge that He gives to us even in our sleep.

Part Two (vv.3-5) God gives the means for accomplishing His agenda.

“Behold, children are a heritage from Yahweh,

The fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

Are the children of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man

Who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame

When he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” 

If David is going to have a dynasty and an offspring that will bless the earth, the most fundamental thing he needs is obvious: he needs sons. In this text, we see that God, who has committed to establishing David’s dynasty, is the one who gives children; they are a heritage and a reward.

This second part of the psalm lays out to us the truth that giving children is in God’s hands alone. In His sovereignty He opens and closes the womb. Children are a gift that He chooses to give or withhold according to His wisdom.

For David, children were the building blocks of the promise of God: if God’s promise of a house and dynasty of David is to come true, then children will be the means by which that promise comes to fulfillment. Children are described here as “arrows in the hand of a warrior” because children, especially in Old Testament culture, provided security to the future of their families.

God provided offspring for David so that he would always have a son on the throne, ultimately providing Jesus, the Son of David who is the Son of God. So He provides for us the means to accomplishing the ends of building His kingdom. We can rest assured that He will provide all we need as we pursue His agenda.

 Christological Application

Each one of the major biblical themes mentioned that inform our understanding of Psalm 127 are, of course, fulfilled in Jesus. He is the promised offspring of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent. He is the son of David who rules from his throne over His people, and is the head of the household of David.

The promise of the coming offspring who would bring to rights God’s good world that had fallen is a major focus of the whole Old Testament; but, is this offspring a group of people, or an individual? We find now that the answer is “both.” Throughout the Old Testament, it looks like Israel as a nation is this offspring who will bring blessing to the world; the prophets and the life of Christ, however, teach us that Jesus Himself is the true Israel, the real promised offspring. Yet, we become a part of this offspring as we are united with Christ, born of water and the Spirit. The Christ who fulfills these themes of Scripture is the whole Christ: it is not just Christ Himself, but the whole body. He is the head, and we, His people, are His body.

St. Peter tells us that that the house God is building is built with living stones:

“As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:4-5)

We are a bricks in this building; God is building a house made of people. And our call, as living stones, is to go and bring in more people to become disciples and be incorporated into this spiritual building. The Lord has told us “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18)

In Christ, we are brought into the mission that God is working out through His Son. As we have been baptized into union with Christ, we become, in our new birth, offspring of the Spirit. Christ is the promised offspring through which the world is blessed, and so we, in our new life in Christ, mediate His blessing to the nations. His mission has become our mission, to do battle with the forces of sin and death and to bring the gospel of peace and salvation to the nations.

Conclusion

We are to embrace God’s agenda of building the kingdom of God, trusting that He will accomplish the work and provide the means to do His will. May God grant us grace to lay down all to join in His work of bringing salvation to all nations.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bound By So Many Favors

Calvin’s Prayer ending his lecture on Jeremiah 10:1-6:

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast made heaven and earth for our sake, and hast testified by thy servant Moses, that the sun, as well as the moon, to which foolish heathens ascribe divinity, are to be serviceable to us, and that we are to use them as though they were our servants,- O grant that we may, by thy so many blessings, have our minds raised upwards and contemplate thy true glory, so that we may faithfully worship thee only, and surrender ourselves so entirely to thee, that while we enjoy the benefits derived from all the stars, and also from the earth, we may know that we are bound to thee by so many favours, in order that we may be more and more roused to attend to what is just and right, and thus endeavour to glorify on earth thy name, that we may at length enjoy that blessed glory which has been provided for us by Christ Jesus our Lord. -Amen.

-John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and Lamentations.

Saint Stephen’s Day

The Collect

Grant, O Lord, that, in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of they first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for thee, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen

Epistle

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Messiah Part III: Defeat of Death

Part III, the shortest of the three parts, begins with Job’s declaration that “My Redeemer liveth, and… in my flesh I shall see God.” This shows an intensely personal side, a relationship with the now reigning Messiah. Bringing a New Covenant perspective, included in the song of the chorus is 1 Corinthians 15.20,

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

This functions now as confirmation that our Redeemer reigns, that we shall see his face. His resurrection is the garuntee of ours. For “since by man came death,” so Christ, the second Adam, brings life to all who are in him. Those who are in Christ by faith are federally his new humanity, a new race. As the human race is naturally under the curse of death because of our own sin and the leading of our federal head, Adam, so Christ gives new life, resurrection, the reversal of the curse, to those who are federally his.

We believe in “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” as the Apostles’ Creed says. What power does death have now? “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.”

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Looking to the risen Christ gives great confidence to the believer. Who can be against us? It is God who has justified us, and it is the risen Messiah who now intercedes for us before the Father! The only proper and logical response to this truth is to fall before the throne and cry out “Worthy is the Lamb!”

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.