Reflecting on the Passage:
Here at East Point Church, we have begun a new sermon series entitled “Acts: The Spirit and the Church in the World“. This week’s sermon expands on the declaration of the Jerusalem council. Pastor Carter contends for the declaration of integration, which states Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone. The focus of this sermon is on the three instructive elements (a Pronouncement of Unity, a Denouncement of Error, and an Encouragement to All) of the letter the Jerusalem council wrote to the Gentile believers.
Pronouncement of Unity
“Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings (Acts 15:22-24;ESV).”
Ethical and racial lines should not divide the Church. Pastor Carter explains the significance of the Council addressing Gentile believers as brothers and sisters rather than strangers (cf. Leviticus 19:34). God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham to bring forth a Seed who would inherit the earth, who would be a blessing to the nations, namely, Jesus Christ (cf. Genesis 15; Galatians 3). Perhaps, the Council at this moment contemplated the faithfulness of God in sending His Eternal Son to conquer not with sword or spear, but by doing the unthinkable and unexpected, laying down His life to unite His people, a treacherous people, unto Himself (John 12:23-32; Ephesians 2:1-9). In other words, the Council realized that their brothers and sisters were not those who looked to Abraham, but looked through Abraham to see the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus and place their faith in Him alone (Matthew 12:46-50; John 5:39-47).
Denouncement of Error
“Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell (Acts 15:24-29; ESV).”
The greatest temptation to gospel proclamation is to complicate the Gospel with the philosophy and tradition of men (Colossians 2:6-23). Ironically, Jesus faced this same error in His ministry, when the religious men of His day elevated the tradition of men higher than the Word of God, to which these men laid heavy burdens on those who followed after them (cf. Matthew 15:1-14. 23:4, 13). Now, the Council had to address this same anti-Christ spirit in their letter to the Gentiles by warning these believers not to take heed to these false teachings, considering those who taught these things did not have any authority. Interestingly, in this letter the Council’s main concern was to not only rebuke these men who sought to sow discord among the body of Christ, but to make sure these Gentile believers were on one accord. In fact, to assure these believers of their unity in Christ, the Holy Spirit led them to send Paul and Barnabas, men who risked their lives to guard the good news of Jesus Christ, to deliver this letter personally.
Encouragement to All
“So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also (Acts 15:30-35; ESV).”
The Law of God is good, and if used lawfully it should humble sinners before the sheer holiness and righteousness of God (1 Timothy 1:7-17). Apart from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, humanity is left in a most miserable state, without hope, and under the wrath of God (John 3:36; 1 Corinthians 15). However, God being rich in mercy, sent Christ to die for sinners, raised Him from the dead, and gave all authority unto Him, so that all who place their trust in Him would inherit eternal life. This is amazing news for the Jews and Gentiles because Jesus has made a Way for them both to partake in His benefits. Therefore, these Gentile believers need not be dismayed or discouraged by those who are troubling them, but remember they too received the same Spirit, when they heard and believed His Word (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Do you have Jesus Christ?
The great deception is to equate our preferences, opinions, and traditions to the Word of God. By doing so, we not only deceive ourselves, we offer men and women the bread of deceit, a gospel without the power to save, instead of the Bread of Life (Proverbs 20:17). If the Gospel we preach is not one that declares humanity’s need of a risen Christ who continues to unite His followers through the proclamation of His Word and the power of His Spirit, we are blind to the Truth and lead others to fall in the ditch of hell fire (cf. Matthew 15:12-14; Galatians 1:3-12).
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Reflecting on the Passage:
This week’s sermon brings in the New Year pointing resolutely to Christ. Pastor Duncanson encourages believers to strive to be better Christians this year. The aim of this sermon is to help the Christian become better Christian by understanding their Source of Strength, the Subtly of Sin, and the Supremacy of Love.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4;ESV).”
The tendency and temptation for the follower of Christ is to place too much focus on earthly matters, such as current circumstances rather than continually fixing their eyes upon their glorious Savior. Christ used Paul mightily throughout his epistles to remind believers of their baptism in Christ (Romans 6:4). Christ took their sin, nailed it to the cross, so that all who believe in Him can now experience new life in Him and all of the benefits that accompany this heavenly union (Colossians 2:13-15). However, familiarity often breeds neglect. In most cases, it results in believers falsely believing they no longer have to wrestle with sin.
Subtly of Sin: Put to Death Sin
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:5-11;ESV).”
Pastor Duncanson passionately contends, if a Christian wants to be a better Christian, they cannot allow sin to run rampant in his or her life. He gave two prescriptions from Scripture as to how to put sin to death. First, the Christian must fight against sin (both hidden and blatant), honestly, immediately, ruthlessly and consistently (cf. Matthew 5:29-30; Romans 13:14; Hebrews 12:1). Secondly, the Christian must put on the Lord Jesus Christ by trusting in His Word. Christ says He has set them free (John 8). More importantly, because of He has laid His life down for His people, they need not fear His displeasure when they fall, His mercy awaits them because they are His (cf. John 17).
Supremacy of Love: Put on Love
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:12-17;ESV).”
The great mystery of the Gospel is the love of God to an undeserving and unlovely people (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Luke 6:35). Similarly, as the Christian understands their union with Christ and their sinfulness apart from Him, they began to see this love is the reason why the peace of Christ rules in their hearts. Christ is a faithful, loving, generous, King, who does not abandon His people, instead He allows them to partake in His royal provision (Colossians 2:2-3). He gives them a new name and a new life. The life they now live is one they have by an increasing love for God and a love for others, especially those who bear His Name (John 13:12-17, 14:1-4, 15:7-27; Revelation 3:12).
Does your life testify that you are a Christian?
If you are a follower of Christ, in 2015, you ought to resolve to be a better Christian. Fix your eyes upon Christ this year to walk worthy of His calling by renewing your affections for Him, ruthlessly dealing with sin, and resolving to display His love toward others, especially those who are fellow-heirs of Christ.
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Reflecting on the Passage:
During this Christmas season, here at East Point Church, we have begun an Advent series entitled “Christ, God with Us“, to which we reflect on historical hymns in light of the Gospel. This week’s sermon wraps up this series with a hymn of glad tidings, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”. Pastor Carter expounds on the goods news of Jesus Christ coming into the world to bring comfort and joy. The focus of this sermon is on how the coming of Christ is the coming of rest from all that wearies us, namely, work, worry, and waiting.
The Coming of Rest: Work
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear (Luke 2:8, 9).”
The angels announce the contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Pastor Carter asks the question, “Why do the angels come to the shepherds at night?” Perhaps, to illustrate the amazing truth of the Gospel, Jesus Christ is the light, which shines in the darkness (John 1:1-13). Ultimately, the coming of Christ is the coming of rest, for He came to bring comfort and joy by destroying the works of the devil and to reconcile men unto God, according to the promise (Jeremiah 24:7; Romans 5; 1 John 3:8).
The Coming of Rest: Worry
“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people (Luke 2:10).”
Rest belongs to God (Genesis 1-2). After He accomplished His creation and saw that His work was good, He rested. Unfortunately, through Adam, sin entered the world and sin rested that rest. However, the good news to which the angels bring is the same news God gave Adam even when he deserved death, “the Lord will keep His promise to restore rest” (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 40:1, 49:13, 51:12-13; John 14:18). For this reason, the Scriptures testify to the faithfulness of God despite the faithlessness of the world, which is why He has the authority to tells us not to worry or fret seeing that He has conquered all of His enemies and all who come to Him find rest (Jeremiah 6; Matthew 11:25-30; 1 John 5:4-5).
The Coming of Rest: Waiting
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:11-13).”
Work was not designed to be burdensome, nor were we designed to worry, but the testimony of Scripture encourages us to wait upon the Lord (Psalm 27:14; Isaiah 40:31; Luke 24:49). Instead, when we get tired of waiting, we tend to take matters into our own hands. Pastor Carter identifies the root of weariness in waiting is our tendency to lose hope in the process of waiting. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is the hope of humanity. In Him, our work is not in vain; in Him, we need not worry about tomorrow, for He is Lord of all creation; and in Him, we can rest in His Word, since He is the fulfillment of all the promises of God (Matthew 5:17-18, 26:52-56; Luke 24:44).
Are you seeking rest apart from Christ?
Sin has not only ravaged the world, but due to our rebellion against God, sin also wearies the world. Everyone wants rest, but it is only for those who are in Christ (cf. Revelation 14:11, 13).
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My God! How Perfect Are Thy Ways!
I’ll never forget being at a pre-show Q&A for a band that plays hymns. I asked what they thought was a good biography of William Cowper and they promptly corrected me that his last name is pronounced “coo-per” not “cow-per”, as I had said. I also learned that George M. Ella wrote an excellent biography of Cowper.
Following the trade of his family, Cowper started out his adult life in the field of law, but when nominated to appear before the House of Lords and show himself qualified, he panicked. Not wanting to shame his family, he did not voice his fear but instead attempted suicide – several times – the night before he was to appear. I guess “panicked” is an understatement. The sound of his body collapsing to the floor drew his uncle into the room where he found Cowper on the floor at 3:00 in the morning with a sheet around his neck. At the request of his family, Cowper agreed to move to an asylum run by Dr. Cotton who would leave Bibles around the campus.
At this point, Cowper was not truly converted though he had attended Westminster, and his family, though mostly nominal, were confessing Christians. He opened a Bible on the campus and fell upon Romans 6 when the seed of his true conversion was sown and soon after his sanity began to restore. He eventually moved to a community called Olney where he and John Newton became great friends. They served in ministry together and wrote many hymns published by the namesake Olney Hymns, where in the preface, the hymn book is compiled to be a monument to their friendship.
There was a second time, while at Olney, Cowper began to feel insanity and depression coming back on him. At these times, Newton would give Cowper electric shock therapy to treat his depression! I was shocked when I learned this (insert rimshot)! I enjoy learning about these events in the lives of historical figures that so often are made out to be larger than life. Cowper’s hymn, My God! How Perfect Are Thy Ways! is an example of honest experiences Christians have to deal with:
My God! how perfect are Thy ways!
But mine polluted are;
Sin twines itself about my praise,
And slides into my prayer.
When I would speak what Thou hast done
To save me from my sin;
I cannot make Thy mercies known
But self-applause creeps in.
Divine desire, that holy flame
Thy grace creates in me;
Alas! impatience is its name,
When it returns to Thee.
This heart, a fountain of vile thoughts,
How does it overflow?
While self upon the surface floats
Still bubbling from below.
Let others in the gaudy dress
Of fancied merit shine;
The Lord shall be my righteousness
The Lord for ever mine.
This hymn is titled “Jehovah our Righteousness” in Olney Hymns. Here, Cowper is expounding Jeremiah 23:5-6, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” This is Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant in which God’s children will be saved through the Lord’s righteousness alone and through none other.
The sin that Cowper is here confessing is that of self-righteousness. It is a sin that lurks in our flesh and stays as long as we are in the flesh. Ralph Erskine once said, “It is not easy to get the law killed. Something of a legal disposition remains even in the believer while he is in this world. Many a stroke does self and self-righteousness get, but still it revives again. If he were wholly dead to the law he would be wholly dead to sin; but so far as the law lives, sin lives. They that think they know the gospel well enough betray their ignorance. It will take all his lifetime to get a legal temper destroyed.”
Cowper speaks of how our sin corrupts everything we do. It is what bubbles from below and floats on the surface. Christ is our sole righteousness, the redeemer of even our prayers, praise, and testimonies. This hymn leads us to confess and repent of specific sins rather than settling for a general, “I’m sorry that I sinned again”, or jumping straight into, “Thank you for forgiving me” without ever mourning our sin. This hymn models for us a deeper repentance. Real talk: there are sins we repent of one day then commit the next. God grant us all deeper repentance!
May we rest assured that once we are the Lord’s, the Lord is forever ours!
Another Year is Dawning
Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was widely known in England as “the consecration poet”. She had many other talents. She was an accomplished pianist and vocalist, proficient in seven languages, and had memorized the entire New Testament, Psalms, Isaiah, and the Minor Prophets (put that in your 2015 Bible reading plan!)
In January 1874, she sent letters to her friends and titled them, “A Happy New Year! Ever Such May it Be!” Below the title appeared her hymn:
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.
Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.
Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.
I think we too can receive this hymn today and read it thoughtfully as a prayer of consecration. After all, it is the Lord who teaches us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).
Happy New Year! Ever such may it be!
I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow
John Newton (1725-1807) is a man most notable for all he did to forward the evangelical spirit of the church in his time. He is known to many today for his hymns, though, in his time was mostly known for his preaching ministry. In fact, Newton wrote many of his hymns for the purpose of supplementing his sermons. The most characteristic of his hymns are those which depict, in the language of deep humiliation, his mourning for the abiding sins in his life and the sense of the withdrawal of God’s presence (a theme we see in scripture but isn’t often sung about), yet never losing assurance of his acceptance in Christ.
One of the remarkable hymns from Newton’s pen is, I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray;
And he, I trust, has answered prayer:
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he’d grant me my request;
And, by his love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds*, and laid me low.
“Lord, Why is this?” I trembling cried;
“Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
To break thy schemes of worldly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in me.”
Newton’s prayer was answered not in a way he expected, but in a way that did him the most good, for sure. In Paul Miller’s A Praying Life, he says, “We know that to become a Christian we shouldn’t try to fix ourselves up, but when it comes to praying we completely forget that. We’ll sing the old gospel hymn, ‘Just as I Am,’ but when it comes to praying, we don’t come just as we are.” Sin gave Newton (like it does us) the illusion that it is small, but the Holy Spirit laid him low.
This hymn is in some places titled, “Prayer Answered by Crosses”. You can hear the brakes screech when in verse four he writes, “Instead of this he made me feel / The hidden evils of my heart”. I’m sobered every time I read this hymn as it wells up within me the seriousness of sin and reminds us how the Lord afflicts us that he might comfort us.
If I had to guess what passage Newton was preaching on when he wrote this hymn, it would be Hebrews 12:7-11:
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
What humbling grace is given to us! May we seek God to restore us in this way so that we can live in line with the truth of the gospel rather than in accordance with a fantasy world in which we must earn God’s favor and manipulate Him to do whatever we want. May God destroy our idols and restore our sanity by showing us that we already have what we are trying to get from our idols!
* “Blasted my gourds” has been revised to “humbled my heart” in modern uses.
Reflecting on the Passage:
During this Christmas season, here at East Point Church, we have begun an Advent series entitled “Christ, God with Us“, to which we reflect on historical hymns in light of the Gospel. This week’s sermon invokes great emotion with “O Come, All Ye Faithful”. Pastor Carter cheerfully exclaims that the reason is Christ saving sinners. The focus of this sermon is on our need to come to Christ, for He is our King, He is our Salvation and He is our Satisfaction.
Jesus Christ: Our King
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him (Matthew 2:1-2).”
Why do we come to Jesus Christ? The first reason is simply because He is our King. These wise men come to Jerusalem, to which King Herod was given authority. However, unlike those within this region, these men recognized that there was a King in Jerusalem and kings do not come to you, they do the inviting. How much greater was this King in Jerusalem, to whom even Gentiles come from different lands to worship Him?
Jesus Christ: Our Salvation
Secondly, we come to Christ because He is our Salvation. He did not come to give this world a holiday. He came into the world to save sinners (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15). He was born to die, so that those who are dead might live (John 12:23-28; Romans 5:8). Sin in the world and in us has no solution apart from Him (Acts 4:12).
Jesus Christ: Our Satisfaction
Not only is Christ our King and our Salvation, but He is also our Satisfaction. He is the truest friend ever known to man, providing a listening ear in the time of need while fully able to meet the need (cf. Proverbs 18:24; John 13:15). He is a faithful brother, who will bear with us even in the stormiest of times (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 2:10-13). Above all, He is a tender Lover, who is able to see the unlovely and proceed to love them unconditionally (Isaiah 1:18; Zephaniah 3:17; John 3:1 6-21, 17:23; 1 Corinthians 13).
Why do you come to Christ?
Christmas means nothing, if it is not Jesus saving from sin. Christmas was announced because of the ugliness of sin; and sin does not take a holiday. The promise of Christmas is Christ is coming again!
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