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.
“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias.” We have never heard of this Ananias before Acts 9:10 and we never hear of him again after Acts 9:19. From obscurity back to obscurity, a forgotten hero of the faith. This is like one of those little footnotes at the bottom of the page. We know lots of famous Christians. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, John Piper. But who knows who lead them to a faith in Jesus Christ? They are just as important. Notice how God is directing and arranging everything. He is giving visions to prepare each one for the next step. There are many visions in Acts at critical junctions in God’s plan, changes in course, when God is up to something new, when something surprising is about to happen. Sometimes God gives double visions, one to each party. This double confirmation tells us something really big is about to happen, a major shift in the heavenlies, in God’s plan of salvation. Like when both Mary and Joseph both receive a vision. Like when both Peter and Cornelius receive a vision in Acts 10. God is the God of details, of antecedents, of connecting dots. Why are we ever anxious when we have such a great and powerful God who is paying attention to every detail of our lives?
It’s been raining a lot lately. We recently had some record rains. One time it was raining so hard it prompted Lucy to ask, “What if it rains so hard that it floods the whole earth?” Linus explained, “That will never happen. In Genesis 9 God promises never to flood the earth again and he gives the rainbow as a sign of His promise.” Lucy replies, “You have taken a huge burden off my mind.” Which leads Linus to conclude, “Sound theology has a way of doing that.” Sound theology. The Christian Reformed Church has a rich and deep theological history and heritage. That history and heritage is grounded in God’s Holy Word and explained in the Reformed Creeds and Confessions of our faith. It is my humble conviction that Reformed/Calvinistic theology gives us the clearest, most consistent and congruent understanding of all that God’s Word teaches. It is the soundest of all theologies and therefore holds out the most comfort for our hearts, minds and souls. The Heidelberg Catechism holds a unique place among all the creeds and confessions because it’s written in a much more personal and experiential style. It is written in the first person. It answers the question what has God done for me, rather than just who is God. The word catechism just means that it is written in question and answer style. The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism is one of the greatest questions in all of the catechisms ever written.
In this very short letter, we are given an up close and personal, intimate look inside the life of a little church in the first century. We are given a brief glimpse through the lives of three men in the church, three different personalities, three kinds of Christians that are in every church. We can learn and benefit from each of them.
We have before us one of the most famous conversions in the history of Christianity. It is so important it is told three times in the book of Acts. One scholar said after the death and resurrection of Jesus there is no other greater event in human history than the conversion to Christianity of Saul of Tarsus. Another called him the second founder of Christianity. Paul turned Christianity from a little Jewish sect into a world religion. Without Paul’s conversion we would have no NT like we have. We would be devoid of the depths of theology and doctrine revealed in Romans. Our understanding of justification by faith and salvation by grace would be anemic. Without Paul there would not be the conversions of Augustine, Luther or Wesley. In fact, our conversion is tied to Paul’s conversion.