Acts 10:44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. While Peter was saying what things? He was preaching the Gospel. He was testifying to person and work of Jesus Christ, His life, ministry, death, resurrection and coming again in judgment. I hope you are still preaching the Gospel to yourself daily.
Today is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday before October 31, the day credited with marking the beginning of the Reformation in 1517. On this occasion we celebrate the providential goodness of God for the history and heritage that is ours because of His great grace. This evening I want to focus our attention on one of the great and central pillars of what it means to be Reformational and Reformed people. The sovereignty of God. What metaphor would you use to describe the sovereignty of God? It is the bedrock of Reformed Theology. It is the foundation and the pillar of Reformed Theology. It is the shining crown jewel, the heart, the head waters, the continental divide. It is affirmed from Genesis to Revelation in countless texts. Let’s consider one together, one that happens to be a personal favorite for some very practical reasons.
Three men came from Caesarea, sent by the Roman centurion Cornelius to find Peter in Joppa. Now ten men are on their way from Joppa to Caesarea for a historic encounter arranged by God. Why does Peter take six brothers with him? To be witnesses of God’s divine grace. Keep your eyes open and be ready to testify to the grace of God wherever you see it. I saw it yesterday. It encourages your soul and strengthens your faith and encourages the saints. May our text do all of that for us. God’s grace is all around us, live expecting to see it and testify to it. When they arrived, Cornelius was ready and waiting, he had gathered his relatives, mom, dad, wife, kids, grandparents, friends, associates, servants, and close friends. Why did they all come? No doubt Cornelius had told of his vision from God to send for a great man to come. There was great anticipation and expectation. This is truly remarkable. To invite a crowd to take up a new religion. What a risk for the glory of God. Cornelius wasn’t just interested in this for himself, he wanted it for everyone he knew. He was a beggar not interested in keeping the bread for himself. He wasn’t going to keep the treasure buried. What humility, grace, honesty, openness.
Isaiah has just seen heaven. Heaven is God, heaven is God in the fullness of His glory, God outshining ten-thousand suns. Heaven is consumed by the all-consuming glory of the one and only creator God. No eye has seen, no ear has heard what He is like in all His glory, splendor and majesty. Remember, Isaiah only saw a glimpse, only a veiled portion because no created being is able to bear seeing all of God’s glory. How would we respond to the vision of the glory of God? At first Isaiah must have been overwhelmed and intoxicated by the magnificent and majestic display. But then self-consciousness sets in. It’s like gazing in awe at a nighttime sky full of stars and then suddenly feeling very small and insignificant. Or standing in awe before the majestic beauty of the Cascades and then feeling small and inconsequential. Maybe it is a bit like Peter with his eyes fixed on Jesus walking on the water all of a sudden becoming self-aware and beginning to sink in fear. Isaiah is overwhelmed, he is undone, he is laid low. The staggering chasm between God’s holiness and his unholiness is laid before him. How many of us in hearing news about a serial killer feel this huge gulf or distance between him and ourselves? We can’t even fathom sinking that low and acting as he did. We see no comparison between him and his sin and us and our sin.
I love Isaiah’s vision. I see it as a model of what it means to be a Reformed Christian and a Reformed Church. Biblical Reformed theology is about glory and grace, about seeing the glory of God, feeling the conviction of sin and our lostness and inability to save ourselves, receiving the free gift of God’s grace and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit which leads us to be agents of God’s transforming glory and grace in a culture that desperately needs this vision. Our text offers us a very clear description both of our vision as a Reformed Church and the foundation under our vision. In a sense you could say that this text is both the house and the foundation. So, this evening we begin with the “the Glory of God,” the first tenet of Reformed Theology.
How many of you like/liked history in school? How many of you like to read history? There are a number of contrasting ideas about how we should view history. Many Eastern religions view history as circular or cyclical, a series of reincarnations. Marxists and communists understand history in terms of class struggle. In our secular West, many people assume history is aimless. In the words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. All of these views are a contrast to the Christian Biblical view of history as His Story.
There is a new bad word in our culture. It has actually been around for a while, but you may not be aware that it’s now a bad word. I’m going to say it out loud. The bad word is conversion. Conversion or the act of attempting to convert someone is now considered scandalous in our secular and pluralistic culture where tolerance is the name of the new god. Conversion is called arrogance, disrespect, thinking our way is right and their way is wrong. How dare we look with condescension on the religious views and opinions of others. Tolerance trumps truth. We can talk our truth as long as we respect their truth and consider them equal and don’t try to pull them over to our side of the truth. Some go so far as to say conversion and attempting to convert people is violence, violence to their views and ideas, their traditions and cultures and perhaps centuries old beliefs. Don’t be fooled. This is just another attack on the Gospel and on the glory of Jesus and His cross.
We spoke last Sunday of our only comfort in life and in death, in other words, in all of our existence. To talk about our comfort implies something or presupposes something. To talk about comfort presupposes what? The very idea of or need for comfort presupposes a misery. Adam and Eve did not need comfort in the garden because they had it already. Comfort presupposes a fallen, broken, needy, hurting, painful, difficult world.
Do you know how you can tell the healing of Aeneas was a really big miracle? How many of you have said to your teenager, arise and make your bed, and had no result? I have it on good authority that after about 8 years your teenager will arise and make his bed. This is real, tangible, in your face power. Who can do such a thing? How are these miracles stories relevant to us today? We have had four of our members in the hospital this week dealing with tough medical situations, two with heart issues, two with cancer. They could all use a healing. What good are these stories to us when this sort of thing seems to rarely happen now?
We began with our comfort and then looked at our misery, and now we move from misery to mercy, from our depravity or dilemma to our deliverance; from guilt to grace; from our need to our Lord’s provision. This is the main section of the catechism, the main focus or emphasis. Adam is our father, our federal or covenant head. And Adam has taken us all into bankruptcy, meaning that he has left us with absolutely nothing with which to pay our debt. In fact, the interest payments are spiraling out of control. We have debt upon debt.