We are continuing to learn how to preach the truth of the Gospel to ourselves in the on-going battle with our flesh and the voices in our heads and the lies of Satan and the world around us. We have before us two opportunities to fine tune our preaching in two specific areas of the Gospel that have much to say to us, the Ascension of Jesus and the Pentecost of the Holy Spirit which is in two weeks. This morning we will focus on the ascension of our Lord. Imagine a Memorial Day in the Christian Church. Imagine that Jesus died and wasn’t raised from the dead, or imagine that Jesus died, was raised from the dead, but then years later died like all the other people raised from the dead. Imagine a great memorial place in Israel somewhere that you can visit and linger and pray and pay your respects to a great fallen hero and warrior. Imagine a dead Jesus. That’s why the ascension is so important. Jesus wanted to make it very clear to the disciples and to all who follow Him that He is no longer here, His body cannot be found on earth. He has ascended back to heaven were He came from and now He sits on the throne at the right hand of the Father and from there He rules and reigns in power and authority. We worship a risen Savior and Lord and ascended king.
Last week on Cadet’s Sunday we talked about getting into the game and running the race and fighting the good fight of faith. We talked about setting joy before us as the goal and following Jesus and the great cloud of saints to that reward. We talked about how the race is made harder by obstacles in our way, and weights and baggage that we carry and sin that clings so tightly to us. I announced then that we are going to spend the next couple of months doing this very thing, putting off weights, shedding a few pounds, to help us run the race better, with greater hope for greater joy. We are going to look at seven serious weights or obstacles, seven serious sins. What I really want to talk to you about is the joy that is set before us. I want to talk about the pleasure that is ours in God through Christ, kept in heaven for us. I want to talk about the grace that is ours because of the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. But we can’t know the joy until we know the sin that clings so tightly to us and we throw off its weight. I take up this topic of the seven serious sins to fight for and advocate for our joy. Our best pleasure and our greatest joy will only be found in Christ and in the paths of righteousness and holiness. As our text says, so as your brother, I am calling us to examine our hearts to see if there is any secret or hidden or overlooked sin in us and to turn to the living God and our Savior Jesus Christ. Until we really grasp our sinfulness, we cannot grasp how great is God’s love and grace and forgiveness and salvation. Everything we hold dear in our Christian faith depends on our understanding our sinful hearts.
It seems especially appropriate to consider the theme the Cadets are focusing on this year, getting in the game, at the time America also celebrates the biggest game of the year, the Super Bowl. The Cadet theme verse is a great verse with great challenges and implications for all of us. Or not. Is it for all of us? What about those with walkers or wheel chairs? How is Jeannie Bakker supposed to get in the game and run the race at 101? Or Mary K.? Is this verse just for young Christians like the cadets? Just for those who are in shape? The Bible uses athletic analogies that could sound like Christianity is a younger persons sport. Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots joined Peyton Manning as the oldest quarterback to win a super bowl at age of 39 (Brady is four months younger than Manning). Tiger Woods is trying to make a comeback at 41 and it’s not looking too good. After shoveling this week, I’m not sure how fast I could run today. Is it possible for a person confined to bed to run the race set before us? Does this verse apply to all of us, no matter our age or our health? The answer is yes, because this race doesn’t require getting out of bed, it isn’t run with our legs or bodies, but with our hearts by faith. The weak and the aged among us not only run this race, they can win this race, because it is won by keeping the faith.
Most of us like to think of ourselves as pretty independent, we are autonomous individuals that don’t really need much help from anyone else. That’s the American spirit, we are rugged individualist, we pride ourselves on being self-sufficient. Yet with a few moments reflection I can show us we can’t accomplish anything in life without help, without mediators, arbiters, go betweens, intermediates, middlemen, and representatives. We could not function or get anything done or get what we need without mediators or go-betweens, someone helping us. We can’t get a hamburger at McDonalds without a person standing between us and the cooks making it possible. Lots of people at Safeway stand between us and the farmers and producers. We can’t get money from the bank without someone being a mediator or channel between us and the vaults full of money. None of us can buy houses without a go-between, a realtor who stands in for the seller, and a mortgage company, someone stepping in and making available to us someone else’s money. Ticket agents and bus drivers and pilots are between us and where we want to go. Teachers are the mediators between us and the knowledge we need to function in society. Lawyers mediate the law to us and represent us in court, judges stand between us and the justice we seek. Umpires and referees stand between us and the rules of a fair game. Doctors and nurses stand between us and our healing, giving us the knowledge, skill, treatment or medicine we need. The greater our sense of need, the more we need them, the more we appreciate them, value them and honor them. And as much as we need all these intermediaries in the physical world, we need them even more in the spiritual world, which brings us to the importance of the OT.
Our Constitution of the United States of America and the first seven articles and 27 amendments are the shortest constitution in force in the world today. Its first three articles secure the doctrine of the separation of powers. Our federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative; the executive; and the judicial. Articles Four, Five and Six establish the concept of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments and of the states in relationship to the federal government. The Constitution and the form of government that was established by it was written and instituted based on a very strong understanding of the sinful nature of mankind, that men are totally fallen, that sin permeates all we think and do, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Our founding fathers set in place policies and principles that had checks and balances; with built in accountability. This was meant to limit government, to limit the powers of any one individual and to limit the power of the federal government over state’s rights. Our founding documents sought to carefully walk a balance between tyranny and anarchy, between the abuse of the rule of one person, and the rule of the mob. Human nature being what it is needs structure, discipline and accountability. To do that you have to have laws and the force of discipline behind the laws to enforce them. Where there is sin there is a need for rules and laws and obedience, and when this is broken, there is a need for discipline. This is true in our nation and in our cities and communities, this is true in the military, in schools, in all our homes and in our churches. Article 32 of the Belgic Confession addresses these issues and principles in our churches under what we call church order and church discipline. The officers or spiritual leaders of the church are responsible for the life and doctrine of the church, they are responsible to maintain peace, unity and order. They are to see that the Word is faithfully preached and the sacraments are faithfully administered and received. In order to do all this they must be able to use the tool of good church order to keep order and the tool of spiritual church discipline when something is out of order.
Our text in Hebrews was written sometime in the late first century. The Church has only a few decades old and already people were neglecting her. From the very beginning there have been those who have thought negatively about the church and about the necessity of being a part of a church. Today is no different. There is no lack of those who hold the church in distain, and feel free to criticize or attack her. And unfortunately there are many grounds for criticizing the church today. Scandals abound, money, sex, power, meddling in politics, strive and conflict. But it’s not just the stuff that makes the headlines. There are the petty complaints we all have heard. The church is too old, too irrelevant, too stuck in her ways, or out of touch. The church is too cold, too unfriendly, too cliquish. The pastor is too loud or too boring or too hard to understand. Or the classic, the church is too full of hypocrites. So the conclusion of many is that they don’t need the church, because they have a personal relationship with Jesus. They find God in nature, on the golf course or at the mall. All of this says that we come to the church with a list of expectations or demands; what it needs to measure up to our criteria. This is a byproduct of looking at the church as a human institution, of looking at the church with the eyes of sight and not the eyes of faith. As a human institution the church is filled with sinners and completely stained with sin. But that is not the only perspective or even the best perspective to have of the church. It’s not all about us. The Church of Jesus Christ is built entirely by Jesus Christ and on Jesus Christ. He is the foundation and the corner stone. The Reformers in the time of the Reformation were being accused of tearing down the church and encouraging people to leave the church. Article 28 of the Belgic Confession was written to state just the opposite.
Articles 22-23 dealt with Christ’s work of justification. Article 24 dealt with Christ’s work of sanctification. Article 26 will deal with Christ’s work of intercession. So what’s up with this little article about OT ceremonies and laws? It doesn’t seem to fit, so why did Guido de Bres insert it? There was something going on in the history of that time that prompted de Bres to say something about Christ’s work on the cross being so perfect and complete that the OT ceremonies were fulfilled and obsolete. To understand the history we need to back up to the beginning of the church. Soon after Pentecost the church of Jesus Christ began to differentiate and separate itself from the Jewish customs and ways. Worship became much simpler. The trappings of temple worship were replaced with worship that centered on preaching, prayer, Lord’s Supper and fellowship. But as the centuries progressed new rites and rituals and ceremonies began to be reintroduced into worship. Fancy vestments, altars, images and icons. Before long additional sacraments were added. Then more and more emphasis was placed on the sacraments as the primary means of God’s grace and preaching began to take a back seat. By the time of the Reformation worship was exceedingly elaborate, full of much pomp and display. The attention of the people was drawn away from Christ to holy things, holy places, holy days and holy people.
Now I can imagine some of you are thinking & asking: “Why celebrate the Lord’s Supper at Christmas?” “For after all, Christmas is a joyful day to celebrate with excitement about angels & shepherds, the Christ-Child & Wisemen. “But the Lord’s Supper is more solemn & sacred to be celebrated with more dignity, for it is all about the cross & blood & death.” But really that’s wrong to think that. Because without the cross Christmas wouldn’t be a day of joy & glad tidings. We should never see the Lord’s Supper as a funeral, but as a wedding reception. o we must then celebrate it with joy & excitement that Jesus Christ came & died & arose to save us from sin & death. o & to give us everlasting life with God: something to really rejoice about!. Th’fore, its proper to celebrate Christmas with Communion & the celebration of Jesus’ death on the cross. For we must not just read the Christmas story according to Matthew, Luke, & John. o or only hear it from those familiar persons associated with Christmas. o Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, & Wisemen. O, yes, their story is important & beautiful & stirring. o but they don’t contain the full message & meaning of Christmas. And so we must also read the Christmas story according to Jesus Himself. We must listen to what He has to say. For that would be more important & significant, wouldn’t it? Well, we have Jesus’ own words & version of the Christmas story in Heb.10. For here we see the author of Hebrews indicates the words of Ps.40 are Jesus’ words about Christmas. And we notice Jesus’ story about Christmas has the CROSS in it.