Lent and the Sacrifices of God

Text: Psalm 51:15-17

Today marks the first Sunday in Lent, and many Christians who did not grow up practicing the liturgical calendar are now becoming very interested in it. Some are madly in love with all things liturgical, seeing Lent as one way to rediscover lost roots. Others are critical of it as faddishness, a sort of picking and choosing of one’s piety according to whatever seems interesting. And then there’s always the perpetual fear of subtle Romanizing. Lent can be abused in a legalistic way. I would be more than happy to talk about each of those concerns at another time, but it is my belief that each of those conversations actually distract us from the real point of what Lent is supposed to be. Like all forms of liturgy, Lent is meant to be an aid in worship, a way of assisting our thoughts and devotions in focusing on God’s majesty, our sinfulness, and the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.

What would you think if you saw a man staring at his own glasses? He might be adjusting them or fixing something that had broken. That would make sense. But what if he never seemed to finish? What if he just kept staring and commenting on his glasses, asking other folks to admire his glasses, but never got around to actually wearing them? You’d think he probably didn’t know what glasses were for in the first place or that he had some other serious disorder. You certainly wouldn’t be inspired by wonderful blessing of cured vision! Liturgy works the same way as a pair of glasses. You are not supposed to look at it. Instead you are supposed to look through it to see something else, namely Jesus. Lent is a waste of time and spiritual failure unless it points us to Jesus. How should it do that? During Lent, we ought to remember the significance of our sin, the guilt which we bear before God, and the great price paid by Jesus on our behalf. We have no thought of atoning for own sins at this time. That would be insane, an impossibility that would only leave us in perpetual despair. No, instead we remember the death of Christ, the curse which he bore for us, and, in response to that saving act, we put to death the remaining sin within us in order to show our gratitude towards Jesus.

Psalm 51 is particularly fitting in this light. Continue reading

Advertisements

What is Man For? The Dominion Mandate

Text: Genesis 1:26-31

It is plain that there is a problem with dominion today. We hear a lot about a “jobs crisis” in America today, but we ought to instead call it a dominion crisis. As of 2013, 26% of men in Polk County between the ages of 26 and 54 were not working. Nationally the percentage is 16%. Something is wrong.

In addition to a jobs crisis, there is another crisis. The marriage rate of Americans is 50.3%, the lowest since official statistics have been kept. The birth rate is also at its lowest ever, lower than both France and Great Britain and no longer at replacement rates. This is particularly striking in light of the fact that American culture is more explicitly sexualized that any prior point in its history. Why is this happening? In some ways marriage is simply not desirable. It often doesn’t make good economic sense, especially in big cities, and concepts like family solidarity, male headship, and female submission strike the modern ear as backwards or even immoral. Yet the evidence also shows that low birthrates make the economy worse not better.

These problems are connected. We do not work, and we do not see fruit. This is not simply because men don’t take initiative. They often do fail to take initiative, but more than that, men are by and large bewildered and confused, not knowing what initiative even looks like and not having a clear desire to seek dominion. Instead of occupying our world, we are occupied by it. Continue reading

Remembering the Covenant of David

Text: Psalm 89

Have you ever been disappointed by God? Have you ever asked Him for something and not gotten it? Are you ever let down by His providence? We probably feel like we’re not allowed to admit to these kinds of feelings, even though we have them from time to time. But what if I told you that the people of God had these very feelings, and that, in fact, there is a whole psalm devoted to this feeling? That’s what Psalm 89 is. It is a song, meant for use in corporate worship, where God’s people lament the fact that it looks like He has not kept His promise to send them a faithful king.

The Covenant With David

Psalm 89 begins by praising God’s covenant. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations” (vs. 1) This is not just any covenant, but the specific covenant made with the house of David:

I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn to My servant David:
Your seed I will establish forever,
And build up your throne to all generations.” (vs. 3-4)

Continue reading

Wilderness Baptism and the End of the World

Text: Mark 1:1-8

The gospels begin in a time of anticipation. Things are not quite as they should be, and we are told that something big is on the way. In Mark’s gospel, this point is made through the strange imagery of a new sort of wilderness prophet. John the Baptist calls Israel to repentance for their sins, but he also says that his ministry is not the main attraction. The baptism for repentance is not the last word. Something else is coming, something bigger. In fact, someone else was coming. That person, the messiah, would bring in the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. He would reverse the way things were, straightening what was crooked and raising up what was low, and he would finally reveal the glory of God on earth.

Wilderness

We shouldn’t miss the fact that John the Baptist is in the wilderness. Mark 1:4 says that “John came baptizing in the wilderness,” and in Matthew’s gospel we are told, “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1). This is especially significant when we remember that John’s parents were temple servants who lived in a city in the hill country of Judea (Luke 1:39). That means that John chose to go to the wilderness. It was a conscious decision for his special ministry of prophecy. Continue reading

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Advent

Text: Isaiah 64:1-4

My wife hates it when folks play Christmas music before Thanksgiving. And so you can imagine how it has been to learn that people here in Central Florida begin celebrating Christmas on the second week of November. Lights are up and trees and wreaths are hung all over town well before Thanksgiving. And the really remarkable thing is that nobody feels at all bad about it. You people are totally unapologetic in your Christmas creep. And you know what, I’m kind of ok with that. That’s right, I’ll come out into the open with my secret. I’ve been quietly singing Christmas carols to myself for weeks now. One of my favorites is “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” You know how it goes:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go. Take a look in the five and ten, glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, toys in every store. But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door.

The song goes on to mention “A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots” as well as “Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk.” It concludes by saying “Soon the bells will start, and the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart.” That imagery reflects the classic Americana Christmas. It’s all about shopping, sweets, and feeling that warm spirit down in your heart. And I don’t mind this sort of American Christmas too much. It’s a lot of fun, and it reminds me of my childhood. But you know, none of those things have much to do with the Biblical picture of Christmas. Now, I’m not talking about the problem of consumerism or greed. I’m sure we could talk about those things some other time. I’m just talking about the general picture. What I’m talking about is Advent. Continue reading

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

A Conspiracy of Bitterness

Text: 2 Samuel 15:1-12

Our text this morning tells the story of Absalom’s revolt against David. Most people know Absalom because of fabulous hair, weighing between 2 and 6 pounds, depending on which commentaries you read. Tradition says that this glorious hair eventually became his downfall, as it got caught in the limbs of a terebinth tree. But he had a significant life story before all of that. Chapters 13-18 of 2 Samuel are concerned with Absalom, and he did briefly manage to win over the hearts of Israel. He led a major revolution and forced David to flee Jerusalem, providing the context for at least two of the psalms. So we should know a little more about him, as well as how he was able to start his insurrection.

Absalom

Absalom was David’s third son and the likely heir to the throne, at least for a while. He had killed his older half-brother, Amnon, and as no mention is ever made of David’s second son (David had quite a lot of sons, as it turns out, see 1 Chronicles 3:1-9 for the 19 who are mentioned by name.), it seems likely that the succession would have naturally fallen to Absalom. His good looks and popularity also signify that he was an important figure in the political life of Israel, and 2 Samuel 8:18 says that David’s sons were leading political ministers. His father-in-law was also the king of Geshur, and so he would have been an obvious political star.

But Absalom turns against King David. Continue reading

My Soul is Satisfied

Text: Psalm 63

The psalms are the Manna of the Church. As Manna tasted to every man like that that he liked best, so do the Psalms minister Instruction and satisfaction, to every man, in ever emergency and occasion. David was not only a clear Prophet of Christ himself, but a Prophet of every particular Christian; He foretells what I, what any shall do, and suffer, and say. And as the whole book of Psalms is… A Balm that searches all wounds; so are there some certain Psalms, that are Imperial Psalms, that command over all affections, and spread themselves over all occasions, Catholic, universal Psalms, that apply themselves to all necessities. This is one of those. (John Donne, sermon on Ps. 63.7)

The wilderness of Judah

The context for writing this sermon is most likely 2 Samuel 15, when David had to flee Jerusalem from the forces of his own son Absalom. We know that the psalm is written by David when he was in the wilderness. When we look through his life, we see that he was in the wilderness on two occasions. The first was when he lived as a political exile from Saul in 1 Samuel 23-26. But he was not yet king then, and this psalm seems to indicate that David is already king when he is writing it. Thus the the occasion is David’s war against his own son, Absalom, who has temporarily taken possession of Jerusalem. This is a time where David is in danger of losing both his throne and his life. Yet he doesn’t seem to be concerned with these matters as much as he is concerned with something higher. Indeed he is most concerned about being separated from God’s sanctuary, and he writes this psalm to express his desire to be reunited with God’s holy place. Continue reading

Hope Deferred

The_Fall_of_Man_by_Lukas_CranachProverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

There’s a certain lyrical quality to this proverb which makes it beautiful, but there’s also an intriguing ambiguity about its meaning that makes you read it over and over again.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When your dreams do not come true, it is easy to become depressed. But notice, the hope is not necessarily failed. It is only deferred. The Hebrew word in this place means “to drag.” And so the Proverb is saying that when your hope takes a long time to come to fruition, when it drags, the time of waiting can be very sad and disappointing.

You can imagine how it feels to wait for something, something that you believe to be very important, even the realization of your dreams. You start to wonder if God is ever going to give it to you. You start to wonder why He’s taking so long. Does He really love you after all?

And this is where the second half of the Proverb comes in, and it seems to cut both ways. “But a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” A tree of life– that’s an interesting metaphor. A fulfilled desire is like one of the trees in the Garden of Eden, the one that granted immortality. What could this mean?

There’s a simple contrast at work. The fulfilled desire is very good, whereas the deferred hope was sad. I think there’s something else going on, though, and I think the Eden imagery is an important clue. You see, Adam and Eve’s sin was a sin of false hope. Instead of trusting in God’s timing and being patient and content with His plan, they decided to take the object of their desire, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Genesis 3:6 says that this fruit was “desirable,” and so we can see that the original sin was a false desire fulfilled.

Thus while the fulfillment of our desires can be a very good thing, the pursuit of this fulfillment can always also be a temptation to sin. Are we allowing our heart to become sick because of our desires and our expectations about when and how they should be fulfilled? Are we, like Adam and Eve, trying to grasp now what might be given to us at a later time, on our own terms rather than on God’s?

“Heart sickness” is a very complicated thing, but it always takes us to an encounter with God. What do we think about Him and what He is doing in our lives at this moment? Do we place our hope, as well as our faith, in Him or are we still hoping for something else?

We must make sure that our desire for the Tree of Life does not become a desire for something more, for something that is not ours to take on our own terms. We must learn to wait on the Lord, to trust that He knows best. And as we trust Him, we will find that He is the true fulfillment of our desires.

All of this should drive us to the Cross. Jesus Christ must finally be our Tree of Life.

12 Days of Christmas Carols- Joy to the World

watts-santaToday we’re going to cover what is perhaps the most popular carol, “Joy to the World.”  But did you know that it actually isn’t a Christmas carol at all?  Written by Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World” originally appeared in his 1719 The Psalms of David, and it was Watts’s unique take on Psalm 98.  The full title of Watts’s song book is The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship, which sounds like a noble effort, but in reality most of the words bear only a slight resemblance to the Biblical text.  Watts began his project in a time when many Puritans only allowed for the use of the Psalms in worship music (no other songs of any kind), and his title makes it clear that the goal was to “Christianize” the psalms, making the person of the Savior explicit.  In retrospect, Watts actually managed to supplant the use of Psalms in worship altogether, as most of his hymns are paraphrases at best and their popularity cleared the way for even less-textually based worship songs in the future.  As an extended result, there aren’t many psalm-singing churches left at all, not even among the Presbyterians.  But that is another conversation for a less happy occasion.  Today we’ll stick to the fun stuff. Continue reading