The Sacrifices of God

Sermon Text: Psalm 51:15-17

O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51 is King David’s famous prayer of repentance after Nathan the prophet convicted him of his sin with Bathsheba. The psalm is an important penitential prayer, but it also provides a very important observation about the true understanding of the old covenant worship. David clearly states that the true worship of God and the true sacrifices are not the external forms and offerings of bulls and goats, but rather the sacrifice of praise coming from the human heart. “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” (vs. 6). “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (vs. 10). “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise” (vs. 16-17).

Those last lines about brokenness are what I wish to discuss with you now. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. This is how we must come to God. As strange as it may sound, we have to learn how to be broken and contrite. We must cultivate a sense of brokenness in order to worship God in the only way that He finds acceptable, with true sacrifices. Continue reading

Where You Goin’ With That Gun In Your Hand?

This morning I preached for the Pro-Life MS sidewalk counselors in front of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, or as the folks who work there call themselves “The Last Abortion Clinic.” I have done this a few times in my life, and while I know that street preaching and sidewalk counseling and protesting is not everyone’s style, I believe that this is something that I need to do from time to time. I think it is important. It is important for me to make a sort of witness, but I think what is even more important (for me at least) is for me to know what the reality of the abortion crisis is like. Obviously, the sidewalks outside the JWHO are only a small part of this reality, and they are extreme, to be sure, but they are still real. Real people go in and out of that clinic, and real decisions are made about real lives. It is important to know what the people are like who engage in pro-life activities, and it is important to know what the pro-abortion advocates are like. This morning had a particularly harrowing effect upon me.

As I was leading the morning liturgy, a service that included the singing of psalms and hymns, the reading of scripture, a confession of our sins, a homily, and praying for the clinic and world, the escorts (that is what the security guards and supporters of the JWHO call themselves) began to play the radio loudly. I understand why they do this. It’s within their rights and has its own sort of logic, but the song they played cut me to the heart. It was “Hey Joe.” Continue reading

The Light of God

Text: John 1:1-18

Christmas is a story of enlightenment. This concept presupposes a situation of darkness, a need for new light. The secular world is familiar with this idea, but its take on the story tends to be all about education. Much like Prometheus bringing down fire from the gods, they say that human race is slowly being elevated through the accumulation of knowledge. The darkness was ignorance, and the light is progress. There are some parallels with this and the Christian gospel, but on the basic level Christianity is something very different. It tells a story of an original light— righteousness and communion with God— which was lost through man’s sin, the misuse of his will. This original light is brought back, not by man or some intermediary between God and man, but by God himself, through the person of His divine Son, Jesus. We find out that Jesus’ light is not a new light at all, but rather the old light, the original light of God which made all things. And it is because Jesus is the light of creation that he can also be the light of recreation, which is what He has come to do. Salvation means that Jesus came to make us new.

Jesus is God Come into the World

John’s prologue is clear that Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Continue reading

The Friendly Beasts- A Brief History of a Delightful Carol

beastsI have to admit that the first time I ever heard “The Friendly Beasts” was on Sufjan Stevens’s Songs for Christmas. I assumed that he was simply having fun with a children’s song. Still, the song was a great hit, and it has become a sort of classic fixture since then. But to my surprise, “The Friendly Beasts” dates back at least to the 12th century and has a rich history. It reflects an odd but intriguing liturgical practice, the details of which can be found here and here. Equally as impressive and unexpected is the fact that the famous composers Richard Redhead and Ralph Vaughan Williams had a hand in the creation of the modern tune.

The tune name gives us the best clue to this carol’s history. Orientis Partibus reflects the original first line which said, “From the East the donkey came.” The original chorus was then, “Hail, Sir Donkey, Hail!” This strange custom reflects the medieval Feast of the Ass, a mostly French celebration where the donkey who carried the Holy Family to Egypt was praised. From here, the tradition developed further, with the donkey taking on a first-person speech. As this carol moved into England, it was changed more radically, the lyrics were re-written, and the focus was moved to the Nativity rather than the flight into Egypt. The current version of the song has each of the animals singing a verse about their contribution to Jesus’ birth scene.

Here are the recreated original lyrics:

From the East the donkey came,
Stout and strong as twenty men;
Ears like wings and eyes like flame,
Striding into Bethlehem.
Hail! Sir Ass, oh hail!

Faster than the deer he leapt,
With his burden on his back;
Though all other creatures slept,
Still the ass kept on his track.
Hail! Sir Ass, oh hail!

Still he draws his heavy load,
Fed on barley and rough hay;
Pulling on along the road –
Donkey, pull our sins away!
Hail! Sir Ass, oh hail!

Wrap him now in cloth of gold;
All rejoice who see him pass;
Mirth inhabit young and old
On this feast day of the ass.
Hail! Sir Ass, oh hail!

And here are the modern ones:

1. Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

2. “I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.”
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

3. “I,” said the cow all white and red
“I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”
“I,” said the cow all white and red.

4. “I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

5. “I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.

6. Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.

7. “I,” was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

The Judgment is Now Salvation

Sermon Text: Isaiah 35

Our text today is a beloved Advent prophecy. Isaiah foretells the great restoration which the Messiah will bring, and yes, this is one source for the famous Christmas hymn Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming: “The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing.” We are told that the messiah will bring about a great reversal, turning the desert into a garden, the desolate place into a new Eden. But it is very important to see that this great reversal does not come about in spite of the judgment of the Lord but precisely because of it. Indeed, these blessings are the result of divine judgment. 

Isaiah’s Prophecy

The first question we should ask is what this text meant originally, in Isaiah’s own context. It very clearly fits in with the larger message of Isaiah that the Lord is bringing judgment upon Israel and upon the world. This will eventually result in a worldwide transformation, with all things being healed and made holy. All of Israel’s enemies will eventually be put down. But this will begin with Israel itself being judged, and the judgment of God which falls upon Israel will be the very instrument of Israel’s salvation. Continue reading

Christ the King and Our Heavenly Citizenship

Text: Philippians 3:17-4:1

This Sunday is sometimes called “Christ the King Sunday.” It commemorates especially the kingdom of God and the kingship of Christ. Originally it was meant to emphasize the unique nature of Christ’s kingdom. That kingdom is not of this world, and thus it transcends racial, ethnic, and national boundaries. All Christians have a shared citizenship, the citizenship which is in heaven. But this can be and has been misunderstood over the years. What does it mean for Christ to be our king? Does it mean that we cannot have any other earthly kings? What does it mean for our citizenship to be in heaven? We will turn our attention to this question with our text this morning, and we will see that the apostle Paul connects our heavenly citizenship with the future resurrection of the body and glorification of all things.

Our Citizenship is in Heaven

The Apostle Paul says that the Christian has an alternative citizenship to that of this world. This alternative citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. “For our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). Earlier in Philippians he had also said, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). The English expression “let your conduct be” is a translation of a Greek variation of the term πολιτευμα which means citizenship. He is thus telling us to live like a citizen of the gospel, like a citizen of heaven. Continue reading

The Antichrist

Text: 1 John 2:18-23

Today we come to one of those passages which all respectable pastors try their best to avoid. The biblical teachings on matters relating to the end times are tricky enough on their own, but these days bible teachers have to overcome the sensationalism of Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye, and, believe it or not, Nicholas Cage. It would be so much easier (and better for my ego) to just not talk about this kind of thing.

But alas, if one commits to preaching through the Bible and not simply skipping the verses he doesn’t like, then he is going to have to talk about these sorts of things from time to time. Now, contrary to many folks’ assumptions today, the Bible does not say all that much about “the antichrist.” The word itself only appears 4 times, always in John’s writings, and while the concept is a little broader, it only occurs a handful of times. It is certainly not a major theme. Still, it does appear, and our sermon text happens to bring us to one such instance. John says that he is writing in “the last hour,” and just as his audience has heard that the Antichrist will come, he is telling them that many antichrists have already come. Continue reading

Loving the Lovely

Text: 1 John 2:3-17

Earlier we mentioned that John’s epistle is characterized by its steady critique of false teachers. These false teachers denied that Jesus was God incarnate and they denied that Christians needed to live holy lives and to put away sin. If these false teachers were indeed gnostics, then they also would have taught that only those especially enlightened Christians, possessing secret knowledge, could be saved. In the second chapter, John seems to critique this notion as well, saying that the only true knowledge of God is that which brings obedient love and the only people who should have assurance of their salvation are those who love God by obeying His commandments.

How do you have assurance?

John begins this section with the topic of assurance. He calls this “knowing God.” To know God is to both know about God and to experience Him in your personal spiritual life. And John tells us how we can know that we know God (vs. 3). We can have assurance if we keep His commandments: Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (vs. 3). Continue reading

The Fellowship of Light

Text: 1 John 1-2:2

1 John is written by John the beloved disciple, one of the original 12 Apostles and the same author as that of the Gospel of John and Revelation. His writings are some of the most theological in the New Testament, by which we mean they have direct statements concerning the deity of Christ, his incarnation, and the implications of that for Christian living. Some even believe that 1 John was written with the primary goal of rebutting an early church heretic, one of the first Gnostics. Whether or not this is the case, it is clear that the Church was confronted with heresy and false teachers from very early on and that John is attempting to rebut them in his letter. We will see him write about “antichrists” in chapter 2. These antichrists “went out from” the apostles, but were never truly apostles. John does not want Christians to listen to the false message of these antichrists nor to be led astray into sin or idolatry. Throughout 1John, the Apostle directly criticizes the views of these antichrists and explains the true Christian gospel and its implications for righteous living.

Incarnation and Fellowship

To begin, John reminds his audience about the incarnation. This is an essential part of his gospel. “That which was from the beginning… the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (vs. 1-2). On this point there can be no innovation. Any denial of the person of Christ will necessarily involve a denial of his work. Continue reading