8 December 2019
Call to Worship: Psalm 100:1-5
Opening Hymn: 222 “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”
Confession of Sin
Almighty God, Who are rich in mercy to all those who call upon You; Hear us as we humbly come to You confessing our sins; And imploring Your mercy and forgiveness. We have broken Your holy laws by our deeds and by our words; And by the sinful affections of our hearts. We confess before You our disobedience and ingratitude, our pride and willfulness; And all our failures and shortcomings toward You and toward fellow men. Have mercy upon us, Most merciful Father; And of Your great goodness grant that we may hereafter serve and please You in newness of life; Through the merit and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 103:1-3
Hymn of Preparation: 224 “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”
Old Covenant Reading: Job 12:13-25
New Covenant Reading: Romans 16:21-27
Sermon: The LORD our Strength
Hymn of Response: 500 “Father, I Know That All My Life”
Confession of Faith: Apostles Creed (p. 851)
Doxology (Hymn 568)
Closing Hymn: 511 “Take Up Your Cross”
OT: Joshua 1:1-9
NT: Ephesians 1:7-14
Shorter Catechism Q/A # 13
Q. Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
A. Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.
Monday (12/2) Read and discuss Romans 16:21-27. John Murray writes:
At the beginning of the epistle Paul had stated his desire to visit Rome and impart some spiritual gift to the end that believers there might be established. There is an appropriate connection with that aim and the opening words of this doxology. It is God who is able to establish and confirm the saints and of this Paul reminds himself and the readers. But there is a more proximate connection showing the relevance of the introductory words. In verses 17-20 he had warned against the seduction of deceivers and the paramount need is that believers be so established that they would not be the victims of Satan’s craft. On God alone must reliance be placed. The confirmation which God gives will be, he says, “according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” … The gospel is essentially the preaching which has Christ as its subject; Paul preached Christ. Thus, the establishing is to be in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ whom Paul preached and there is no dissonance between Paul’s gospel and the preaching of Christ.
Read or sing Hymn 222 “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” Prayer: Please lift up our brothers and sisters in Hong Kong, as this great city lives between the hope of greater freedom and the threat of further communist repression.
Tuesday (12/3) Read and discuss Acts 1:1-11. It is difficult to answer questions that are based on wrong presuppositions. If someone were to ask you: “Have you stopped cheating on your taxes?” You probably wouldn’t simply answer “yes” or “no”, you would take the time to explain that you have never cheated on your taxes. The question that the disciples ask Jesus in verse 6 is based upon a complex mix of misunderstandings and this prevents Jesus from simply giving them a yes or no answer. Right up until Christ’s crucifixion they had thought that the coming of kingdom would primarily be about God powerfully crushing Israel’s enemies. Now that Christ had dramatically risen from the dead and had told His disciples that they were about to be baptized with the Holy Spirit they turned once again to imagining that the consummation of history must be at hand. “Is it now?” they ask. Jesus reorients them by declaring that their responsibility is not to figure out the prophesy charts, their (and our!) responsibility is to be faithful as witnesses. As R.C. Sproul points out:
The mission of the church, the reason we exist, is to bear witness to the present reign and rule of Christ, who is at the right hand of God. If we try to do it in our own power, we will fail. The reason for the outpouring of the Spirit is not to make us feel spiritual. It is not to give us a spiritual high. It is so that we can do the job that Jesus gave the church to do.
There is also a helpful reorientation for the Apostles in Christ’s response. Apparently, they continued to think of the earthly Jerusalem as being the center of the Kingdom of God. Yet, the headquarters for the Kingdom would not be in Jerusalem nor in the Vatican but in heaven where Jesus would be enthroned at the right hand of His Father. Furthermore, echoing the Great Commission, Jesus reminds the Apostles that He is sending them out. The news about the person and work of Christ would not only be declared in Jerusalem and nearby Samaria – but even to the ends of the earth. This truth is an important point of introduction for the book of Acts as a whole. To use the title of a book by F.F. Bruce, Acts is the story of “The Spreading Flame”. Read or Sing Hymn 224 “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” Prayer: Ask the LORD to give you a sharper vision for your place in the worldwide spread of the gospel.
Wednesday (12/4) Read and discuss Job 12:13-25. Christopher Ash writes:
One of the most significant features of the book of Job is that from beginning to end we, the readers, know something that Job, the main human character, does not know. Twice in chapters 1, 2 we are given a divine prophetic insight into what has happened in Heaven. We know what God has said to Satan, what the Satan has said to God, and what God has decreed for Job. We know that Job’s sufferings are not because he is an impenitent sinner but precisely because he is a real and faithful believer. We know that the sufferings of Job are in some strange and deep way necessary for the glory of God and the well-being of the universe. But Job knows none of these things.
So the question is, why are we told what we are told, and what are we to learn from the drama? For what purpose are we, the readers, privileged as Job was not? Presumably the book is not just told for us to enjoy as spectators, watching from the comfort of our armchairs. I think there are at least two answers to these questions. First, we gain from the sufferings of Job a deep insight into the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The Gospels are quite sparing in what they tell us of the inner workings of Jesus’ heart and soul. We know that His soul was sometimes troubled (e.g., John 12:27), that He shrank from the darkness of the cross in horror (e.g., Luke 22:39-46), and that He felt the pain of living in a godless world. We know from the Psalms of lament (perhaps especially Psalms 22 and 69) something of the horror of the wrath of God. But the speeches of Job give us a unique insight into what it feels like for a believer to experience God-forsakenness. And therefore they help us to understand and feel the darkness of the cross.
But I think there is a second reason. We are naturally prone to keep slipping into not knowing what we know. We know, because God has told us, that there is such a thinkg as undeserved and redemptive suffering, and that as believers walk in the footsteps of Jesus and the shadow of the cross we too are called upon to suffer. We know that as forgiven sinners none of our sufferings are God’s punishment for our sins, for that has already been paid. We know that some of our sufferings are God’s loving fatherly discipline for those He loves. But we also know that some of our sufferings … [are] undeserved with no disciplinary purpose. We know these things because God has told us.
But because our hearts shrink from this darkness, we naturally forget that we know these things and behave as if we do not know them. We slip into a practical not knowing what we know. The System of the comforters is the default assumption of all of us if we are morally serious. An immersion in the speeches of Job will help us really and deeply to know what we know. To remember our default system is not true, and so to prepare us for the realities of discipleship.
Prayer: Please pray for those you love, who are living in quiet desperation, that they might find true comfort in Jesus Christ.
Thursday (12/5) Read and discuss Joshua 1:1-9. Adolf L. Harstad writes:
The first words of the LORD to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead,” focus on the transition of leadership for Israel. The LORD here speaks to Joshua as he spoke to the former leader, Moses (though not “mouth to mouth” and visibly as with Moses), implying that Joshua, whom Moses had commissioned at the LORD’s command, is now in charge. The LORD’s words begin to reveal to Joshua that while Moses’ body lies in the ground, no promise lies buried with him. Joshua will be his new agent of fulfillment. The death of a leader does not mean that the LORD has abandoned his pledges to Israel – or to the church. That is true even at the death of Moses, the incomparable mediator of the Sinai covenant, the model for all prophets and a type of Christ. God’s entire Word is “living and active.” His promises are longstanding and still standing! Even at the passing of the only national leader Israel had even known, no pledge falls to the ground dead.
Read or Sing Hymn 500 “Father, I Know That All My Life” Prayer: Pray for those in positions of authority over you that they would be faithful to LORD as they work for the good of the people they lead.
Friday (12/6) Read and discuss Ephesians 1:7-14. James Montgomery Boice writes:
The final work of the Spirit mention here is His work of sealing God’s people. The text says, “Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (vv. 13-14).
In his commentary, Charles Hodge points out rightly that there are three purposes for which a seal is used and that each illustrates the Spirit’s work: (1) a seal is used to confirm an object or document as being true or genuine, (2) a seal is used to mark a thing as one’s property, and (3) a seal us used to make something fast or secure. The first may be illustrated by the seal of the United States which appears on paper currency or by the seal affixed to a passport. The second is like a nameplate on the flyleaf of a book. The third is illustrated by the seal of the Sanhedrin placed upon the tomb of Christ.
Each of these illustrates something important about the Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit verifies that the one receiving Him really is God’s child, as Paul says in Romans 8:16 (“the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children”). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones thinks that this is the chief point of Paul’s reference in Ephesians 1:14 and spends five chapters on it.
The Holy Spirit is also God’s claim on us that we are truly His possession. The phrase “God’s possession” is used explicitly in verse 14.
Finally, the Holy Spirit makes the Christian secure in his new faith and relationship. This comes through the idea of the Spirit being “a deposit [or down payment] guaranteeing our inheritance” until our full redemption. Like a down payment on the purchase of a property, He is proof of God’s good faith and an earnest of the full amount to come.
Read or sing Hymn 511 “Take Up Your Cross” Prayer: Give thanks that the Holy Spirit, the LORD and giver of life, has sealed us unto eternal life with His own presence in our lives.
Saturday (12/7) Read and discuss Romans 16:21-27. N.T. Wright comments:
Throughout this letter we have seen that the living God has revealed Himself in, as, and through Jesus. Jesus dies as the personal expression of God’s love; Paul draws on the messianic language of ‘son of God’ as a way of expressing this close identity while still allowing for what later theologians would speak of as differentiation within the persons of the Trinity. Jesus is both Israel’s Messiah according the flesh and also ‘God over all, blessed forever.’ Paul takes Old Testament passages which clearly refer to ‘the LORD,’ meaning YHWH, the God of Israel, and transfers them so that they now refer to Jesus. What theologians call a ‘high Christology’ – a view of Jesus which sees Him as fully and completely divine as well as fully and completely human – doesn’t have to wait for later centuries and writers. It is already fully present in Paul, not least in this, his greatest letter.
In particular, we note that Paul refers in the closing phrases to God as ‘the only wise God.’ There were many other claims to wisdom in the ancient world. There were many other gods who offered insight, of a sort and at a cost. There were plenty of teachings about how to live, how to think, what to believe, how to pray. But Paul believes – and the powerful gospel of Jesus bears him out – that there is only one God who is truly wise. He is the creator. He understands how the whole world works, what humans are and how they think, were they go wrong and how they can be put to rights, and how, when that happens, the whole of creation will dance for joy at its new-found freedom. This is the hidden wisdom which formed the secret plan, the plan now unveiled in the gospel, the gospel which now evokes as its proper response ‘the obedience of faith’ (as in 1:5), the faith which is open to the whole world. When you see the end from the beginning in this way; when you understand Romans in its grand sweep of thought as well as its smaller, dense and deliciously chewy arguments; when you glimpse even a little of what Paul has glimpsed of the wisdom, love, grace, power, and glory fo the eternal God revealed in Jesus the Messiah – then you, too, will want to join him in piling up all the glory and praise and love and adoration you can muster. And you won’t care how big a splash you make as you do so.
Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.