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Sunday Service – Christ Church Downtown (9:30)
March 15 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Announcements & Meditation
– Call to Worship –
Minister: Bless the Lord who forgives our sins.
Congregation: His mercy endures forever.
Minister: Lift up your hearts!
Congregation: We lift them up to the Lord!
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, p. 315
– Confession –
I Waited for the Lord, p. 74
CONFESSION OF SIN
Congregation is invited to kneel if able
+ ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Minister: Your sins are forgiven through Christ.
Congregation: Thanks be to God!
Minister: Christian, what do you believe?
Congregation: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Minister: Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
Congregation: But to Your name give glory,
Minister: For Your mercy, and for Your truth’s sake.
Congregation: Why should the heathen say, Where is now their God?
Minister: Our God is in the heavens:
Congregation: We will bless the Lord
Minister: From this time forth and forevermore.
Congregation: Praise the Lord.
Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above, p. 324–325
– Consecration –
+ SCRIPTURE READING
Jeremiah 20:7–18; Mark 8:31–38
Reader: The Word of the Lord.
Congregation: Thanks be to God!
Lord, from the Depths to Thee I Cried, p. 167
Opening: Psalm 30:1–3
Thanksgiving: Psalm 30:11
Petitions: Psalm 31:1–2
Be Thou My Vision, p. 342
CC: Notes on Reformation (Toby Sumpter)Sermon
Many of us recently read through Ezra and Nehemiah in the Bible Reading Challenge, and these books have a lot to say to us about the work of Reformation, which is what we are about.
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia… Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah…” (Ezr. 1:1-2)
Summary of the Text
Ezra and Nehemiah take place after the 70 years of exile foretold in Jeremiah (Jer. 29:10), beginning around 539 B.C. While modern Bible commentators tend to date Nehemiah much later (100 years!) because he calls the king “Artaxerxes,” I’m inclined to read that as a throne name (like “Caesar” or “Pharaoh”) because Nehemiah refers to Ezra the Scribe being there with him (e.g. Neh. 8). Ezra also references Nehemiah (Ez. 2:2), which verse incidentally also mentions Mordecai, strongly suggesting that the “queen” in Neh. 2:6 is none other than Esther (making Ahasuerus, Darius, and Nehemiah’s “Artaxexes” all the same king). Regardless of how one takes the chronology, the books record the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra) and the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah), the blessing of God on their work, the challenges they faced, and provide us a number of lessons on the work of Reformation.
The goal in both books is the rebuilding of the temple and the city (Ez. 9:9, Neh. 12:27, 40), but both books make it clear that worship is central and drives the whole project. This is why we have said for years that worship is at the center of what we are about, but the reestablishment of faithful worship is always related to (re)building cities (Tit. 1:5, Rev. 21:2).
Ezra describes the reestablishment of worship in two stages: first is the altar (Ez. 3:2-6), then the rest of the temple (Ez. 3:10, 6:15). In the New Covenant, the altar roughly corresponds to evangelism and conversion (Mt. 28:19). True worship is in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23), which means that the only kind of worship that God receives is the kind offered with clean hearts and lips (Heb. 13:5). And the only way to have a clean heart is by the blood of Jesus Christ washing it clean (1 Jn. 1:9). The temple roughly corresponds to corporate worship (1 Pet. 2:5). When people gather together for worship, there must be an order that everyone can follow. We see in Nehemiah’s covenant renewal service many of the same elements of worship we use: there is a platform/pulpit where the Scriptures are read (Neh. 8:4), there is time for explaining what the Scriptures mean (Neh. 8:7-8), all the people stood for the reading (Neh. 8:5), the people respond with “Amen” (Neh. 8:6), and worship includes lifting hands as well as kneeling/bowing down (Neh. 8:6). Worship is ordered according to Scripture not according to our preferences.
Expect Enemies & Detractors
“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel; then they… weakened the hands of the people of Judah and troubled them in the building, and hired counsellors against them to frustrate their purpose…” (Ezr. 4:1, 4-5). There is also a progression of resistance in Nehemiah: from grief (Neh. 2:10), to scorn (Neh. 2:19), to indignation and threats of violence (Neh. 4:1, 8). They not only sought to work political trouble, but they also successfully turned some prophets against the work (Neh. 6:10-14), including the corruption of the High Priest (Neh. 13:7-8). Jesus told His disciples to expect the same: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matt. 5:11). “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Lk. 6:26). Paul warned the Corinthian elders that “savage wolves will come in among you” (Acts 20:29). “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:3, cf. 1 Pet. 4:12). The presence of enemies is not a sign something has gone wrong; it’s a sign we’re doing something worth fighting.
Varying Degrees of Understanding
In the work of reformation there will be those who don’t fully understand what we are up to, but who are still trying to help. “And next unto them the Tekoaites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their lord” (Neh. 3:5). This is like the time the disciples saw someone casting out demons who was not with them, and Jesus said to leave him alone: “he who is not against us is on our side” (Lk. 9:50). Likewise, Paul rejoiced that the gospel was being preached even by those who did so out of envy and strife and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15-18). Others will really put their backs into the work: “After him Baruch the son of Zabbai earnestly repaired the other piece, from the turning of the wall unto the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest” (Neh. 3:20). Paul was a Johnny-come-lately, but he saw that God had allowed him to far outstrip all the other apostles in terms of work accomplished (1 Cor. 15:10). We should glory in our varying gifts, and not worry too much about the messiness of people.
Both Ezra and Nehemiah end addressing marriage problems (Ez. 9-10, Neh. 8:23-31). Marriage and family are not just one of the things that Christians do, it is right at the center of human civilization. It is always high stakes, but when you are trying to rebuild a civilization, you cannot be working off of different sets of blueprints and this relates more broadly to the problem of worldliness (Js. 4:4, 2 Cor. 6:14-18). Many people object to the idea of applying biblical law to society, and they often point to Old Testament laws that sometimes allowed for the death penalty for adultery (Lev. 20:10) or a rebellious son (Dt. 21:18-21). The problem with this objection is that it assumes the relative insignificance of the family. But marriage and family are like a civilizational nuclear plant, and God’s sanctions match that volatility.
Ezra and Nehemiah remind us that our task is to build on Christ the solid rock, the only foundation stone that can never be moved. But another way to say this is that Christ is the Chief Builder. We want to build what He is building, and nothing else. Otherwise all of our work is in vain (Ps. 127). But if the blessing of God is on it, nothing can stop it. How do we seek that blessing? Clean hearts, full of joy worshiping the Lord. That joy is only possible if we are walking in the light of forgiveness and fellowship (1 Jn. 1:4-7). And that joy is our strength (Neh. 8:10).
CCD: Cheerful Hearts and Good Words (Douglas Wilson)Sermon
We need to begin with the obvious, which is that Scripture teaches that our words affect how we are doing, not to mention those all around us. But this “obvious” truth can, if unattended, deteriorate into the vagaries of generic uplift. When we speak the good word, it must be a word that is truly wise and good.
“A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13).
“Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad” (Prov. 12:25).
Summary of the Texts
We begin by juxtaposing two proverbs, asking each of them to illumine the other one. The first tells us that there is a link between the condition of the heart and the condition of the countenance. A merry heart results in a cheerful countenance, just as a man speaks out of the abundance of his heart (Matt. 12:34). The heart is a thermostat, setting the temperature of the rest of your activities. If the heart is sorrowful, the spirit is broken, and if the heart is merry, then the countenance shows it.
So, then, how do we adjust the thermostat? When a man’s heart is heavy, then his heart stoops. He becomes discouraged. He cannot carry the weight that providence is asking him to carry. When someone wants to help, what they need to do is come in order to speak a good word. A good word makes his heart glad.
Timing is Everything
But this is a good word, not just any word, and not any old word that somebody thinks is good. “He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him” (Prov. 27:14).
Suppose your roommate, or your spouse, or somebody in your house, comes staggering out to breakfast, and pours himself a bowl of Grumpy Nuggets, with no sugar. Is that the time to wave your spoon in the air in time with the old gospel song you start to sing in a raucous manner? “Cheer up, ye saints of God, there’s nothing to worry about/Nothing to make you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt./Remember Jesus loves you so why not stand up and shout?/You’ll be sorry you worried at all tomorrow morning.”
And the word of Scripture is fulfilled; you are reckoned as one who curses.
The words you speak should be true, of course, but they need to be more than true. They must also be relevant, and in addition to being relevant, they must also be timely. As it has been well said, the only difference between salad and garbage is timing.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear” (Prov. 25:11-12). So don’t be like Mary Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, saying true things all day long, in wildly inappropriate ways.
And your words should also be kind. The lock on the door of your mouth should have three keys—is it true? is it kind? is it necessary?
There is more involved in this than just heeding an exhortation to “be nice,” or to “say nice things.” If we need to do this kind of thing in wisdom, and we do, we need to do it in imitation. What we do, we are to do as children, as imitators or followers of God (Eph. 5:1). We worship God through the Word, and so it is not surprising that we are logocentric, that we are people of words. We serve and worship the God who is love, and so we are to walk in love (Eph. 4:15). And, in the same way, we worship the God who spoke the perfect word, the fitting word, into our hearts, and so we are to do the same to others, by imitation and by analogy. Our words are to be gospel, and our words are to be gospel-like.
We want to take it apart in order to find out how it works. But we need to begin with the reality that it works. The Bible calls the preaching of the cross “folly” to the worldly-wise. Why should we be surprised when they come up to us and say that what we are doing doesn’t seem relevant to them. Of course it doesn’t. That is a design feature. God defines what a word fitly spoken looks like. God defines what a perfect setting of silver should be.
God defines truth. God defines necessity. God defines kindness.
Need and Grace
We learn how to speak to others, speaking the good word, by observing closely how God speaks to us. And when the gospel comes to us, what is it? We have human need on the one hand and divine grace on the other.
The good word spoken is therefore the intersection between need and grace. The good word that preaching brings is this—it is the declaration of the grace of God, addressed to human need, and the declaration is backed up with the authority of God’s throne.
So when you come to encourage someone, what is it that you are imitating? It is not a hollow appeal that glibly says, “don’t worry, be happy.”
The Declaration of Christ
Christ, then, is to be preached. By that we mean Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ buried, Christ risen, and Christ ascended. When He is declared in this way, the pattern of death, resurrection, and ascension is not put out there to complete an argument in your intellect, although it may do that. Neither is Christ over all to be preached in such a way as to soothe or excite your emotions, although it may do that as well. We are to love God with all our minds, and we cannot do that without the preaching of Christ crucified. We are to love God with all our hearts, and we cannot do that without the preaching of Christ risen and ascended. But something more is necessary.
No, the faithful declaration of this gospel is always aimed at the citadel of the human will. You are not here as spectators, or observers, but rather as worshipers, and this means that you are on the mountain of decision. And when you go down again, into your day-to-day activities, you will be in the valley of decision.
Here you are, and here is the Word declared. What are you going to do?
Ending with The Lord’s Prayer
Cast Thy Bread Upon the Waters, bulletin p. 10
– Communion –
I Bind unto Myself Today, v. 1–5, p. 349–351
I Bind unto Myself Today, v. 6–9, p. 349–351
– Commissioning –
+ CLOSING DOXOLOGY
The congregation may raise hands
Doxology, p. 437
CHARGE & BENEDICTION
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Numbers 6:24–26