Closing Prayer: H.C. Lord’s Day 52

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 52

Q 127: What does the sixth petition mean? 
A 127: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” means:
By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment.
And our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—never stop attacking us.
And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.
 
Q 128: What does your conclusion to this prayer mean?
A 128: “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever” means:
We have made all these petitions of you because, as our all-powerful king, you are both willing and able to give us all that is good; and because your holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise, forever.
 
Q 129: What does that little word “Amen” express?
A 129: “Amen” means: This shall truly and surely be!
It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.
 
The closing of both the Lord’s Prayer and the teaching of the Lord’s prayer represent three things, a recognition of God’s presence in our daily walk, a reiteration of God’s sovereignty, and a trust in God’s faithfulness.
 
First comes the phrase “save us from the time of trial,” an update from the traditional “lead us not into temptation.”  The original texts of Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s prayer were never meant to give a false indication that God is the one who either prompts or creates temptation.  God’s presence in the midst of our trials and temptations, however, is a gaurantee in Scripture.  He promises to never leave us or forsake us; He walks every step of our lives with us, sustaining us even when He doesn’t approve of our actions or the things we get ourselves into.  Even when we are clearly in over our heads, there is nothing that God cannot save us from.
 
When we find ourselves in the midst of these times, Jesus reminds us of two things.  First, that we are indeed not alone.  We are not caught in temptation because God has left us, but rather because we are walking away from Him.  Even then, however, when we are faithless, He is faithful.  And second, He reminds us that we can always call to Him when we are lost.  There is nothing that we can get ourselves into that discounts us from turning back to God and God receiving us with His full love and open arms.
 
Second in the closing phrases of the Lord’s prayer is a sort of reprise and a reminder of the whole purpose and goal of prayer in the first place.  Prayer is an act of worship, and through it, we see a transformation in us that prompts us toward desiring and enacting God’s will and purposes in the world.
 
This is also a declaration of the state of our hearts.  Saying, “The Kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,” means that, for us, those things belong to God and as such they are not ours to control.  Rather, we are placing our trust once again in Him and recognizing Him for who He is: God.  
 
Finally, the prayer is ended by the word “amen.”  This word is not just a nice Christian word for “prayer done.”  It carries with a very real and very specific meaning: “this is sure to be!”  When Jesus is talking to His disciples about things that are sure to be, He says in the Greek “amen, amen,” or “truly, truly…”  The emphasis here points to the certainty of God’s actions in our lives and in the world.
 
Have you ever prayed and felt like your prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling?  Have you ever felt alone and not sure if what you were praying would even come to be?  The word “amen,” is a statement of trust.  We say this because we believe, deep in our core, that God hears and answers prayer.  In one of the closing statements of his book, Kevin DeYoung says this, “God is so gracious that He is more willing to hear our requests than we are sure that we actually want what we pray for.”  God’s desire that we come to Him, even in the midst of our doubts, is so great that we are assured that no matter the state that we are in, God will always here and answer. 
 
DeYoung finishes by saying this, “How Liberating!  Go ahead and pray to God better than you feel and you may just find that in His mercy you end up better than you deserve.”  How wonderful and true.  God is able and willing to do far more than we could ever ask or imagine, even at our best.  So the invitation of God is to come… no matter where you are or what is going on… go to Him!


Amen: H.C. Question129

What does that little word “Amen” express? 
 
Isaiah 65:24 – Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
 
2 Corinthians 1:20 – For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
 
2 Timothy 2:13 – if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.


Here, There, Everywhere: H.C. Lord's Day 18

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 18

Q 46. What do you mean by saying, “He ascended to heaven”?
A 46. That Christ while his disciples watched, was taken up from the earth into heaven and remains there on our behalf until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Q 47. But isn’t Christ with us until the end of the world as he promised us?
A 47. Christ is true human and true God. In his human nature Christ is not now on earth; but in his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us.

Q 48. If his humanity is not present wherever his divinity is, then aren’t the two natures of Christ separated from each other?
A 48. Certainly not. Since divinity is not limited and is present everywhere, it is evident that Christ’s divinity is surely beyond the bounds of the humanity that has been taken on, but at the same time his divinity is in and remains personally united to his humanity.

Q 49. How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
A 49. First, he is our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge. By the Spirit’s power, we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.

The ascension of Christ is not something that falls under anyone’s “first things I think about in the morning” list.  This event is treated by Christians and the Church in most places as an afterthought, almost like it seems to appear in Scripture, the segway between Christ’s death and resurrection and the beginning of the Christian movement.

But the reality of what the Ascension of Jesus Christ accomplishes for us is quite important.  It also raises some important questions that we also should consider as we think about such things.

The first has to do with the dual natures of Christ, being both fully human and fully God.  As we have talked about before, Jesus has to be 100% of both to accomplish the work of salvation that He did.  It is an important point to make, though, that while Jesus is indeed fully God and fully human, these two natures are never separated.  It was not the human Jesus that died while God the Son looked on.  Neither was it God the Son that endured the wrath of the Father while the human Jesus was somehow unconscious.  Both endured, both died, and both were raised; never are they separate.

Why does this matter?  Well, two main reasons are brought up in the Heidelberg Catechism and therefore deserve mentioning.  First, it is important to know that Jesus, being now in heaven and seated at the right hand of God is both human and God.  His human presence in heaven is a guarantee that we too, as humans, will be welcome into heaven.  His presence as God ensures that He can and will rule and reign over the entire universe as the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords.

The second is brought up by questions 47 and 48 have to do with Christ’s presence here with us.  We often talk about how Jesus is with us always, He even states that at the end of the Great Commission: “Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  But, how is this possible if Jesus Christ is in heaven and His natures as both God and human cannot be divided.  Human Jesus is not sitting up in heaven while God Jesus is floating around the earth.  Does this make Him a liar?  Or is our theology incorrect?

The answer to this question lies, quite perfectly, in the nature of the Trinity.  God is one God in three persons.  Jesus speaks a lot about sending the Holy Spirit, something we will talk more about in the coming weeks, and it is through the Holy Spirit that the things of God continue to be revealed to us.  It is also through the Holy Spirit that, as Scripture says, we are “united to Christ.”

God’s spirit is implanted in our hearts and on our minds, a gift and a deposit which guarantees our inheritance in Christ.  Because the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son, though being distinct in person, Christ is with us and we are united to Him, and He to us through the Holy Spirit.  And through Him, we participate in the united life of the Trinity and God fulfills His promise moment by moment, faithfully walking with us through every experience of our lives.



2 Timothy 2 – A Trustworthy Saying

Read 2 Timothy 2

Paul offers a number of “trustworthy sayings” to Timothy and other recipients throughout his career.  In each of these situations, Paul is encouraging the reader to remember the truth of the Gospel, simplifying it into something that was easy to remember.  In our chapter today, he does this for what would likely be his last time.

The truth of this statement is telling, though, because of how it both addresses the situation that both Paul and Timothy are in, and it also acts as a reminder for both of them given the trials that are to come for them.  Because of the work of Jesus Christ, we have hope in every situation, a hope that extends beyond any physical trials or tribulations that we could ever endure.

We are called to perseverance through the difficulties of life as well.  Scripture often refers to this as part of our “sanctification.”  God doesn’t cause our trials, but He is always at work in us and through them to build us up and shape us into the image of His Son.

A lot of emphasis, in the midst of the persecution of the church in this time, was placed on staying true to what you claim to believe.  Though Scripture’s theology throughout the New Testament is that, once you receive salvation, there is nothing you can do to lose it, there is something to be said for the importance of not disowning Christ publically.  Doing so brings into question everything we claim to believe.  The prospect of disowning Jesus should be a gut check for us as to whether we are fully committed, or whether we are just trying to get our “get out of hell free” card.

No matter where we fall on this spectrum, though, Paul points out in the last phrase that Jesus is always faithful to us.  The promise of salvation is extended to all and there is nothing that we can do to preclude ourselves from it.  Thanks be to God that His Love and Faithfulness know no bounds!



Romans 3 – Faithfulness

Read Romans 3

Paul makes a serious contrast between humankind and God here, both in faithfulness and in righteousness.  God’s people were given the Law, a description of how they were called to live in the covenant relationship they had with God.  They, however, were unfaithful time and time again.  Yet, in spite of this, God was always faithful to them, never abandoning them to their own depravity.  Thankfully, He doesn’t leave us in ours either.

Out of Israel’s unfaithfulness, though, we see a much clearer and greater picture of God’s work, His true love and commitment to His people, and His righteousness.  Paul makes sure that we know and understand that there is nothing we can do to nullify God’s righteousness or His plan of salvation.  In fact, our sinful nature makes God’s work all the more amazing.

From a human perspective, if there was a person in our lives who continually hurt us, talked bad about us, and betrayed our relationship over and over again, we would end that relationship.  It wouldn’t be healthy for us to stay in it.  Yet this is what we do to God repeatedly, every day, and He continues to be faithful.

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul makes the case for human wickedness.  He points out that the condemnation that we deserve is completely just.  However, as he does this, Paul is also building the case for the magnitude of God’s actions in Jesus Christ culminating in 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.”

This is the good news of the Gospel friends!  Because of God’s faithfulness and Jesus’ righteousness, the way has been reopened for true relationship with God!

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 2, 5, 21, 37, 60, 62, 115, 

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 20 – 24



Acts 27 – The Journey to Rome

Read Acts 27

Paul’s journey to Rome is not an easy one.  He traveled as a prisoner, which meant that little care was given to him.  Yet the centurion that was in charge of Paul seems to have some compassion for him, at least at first.

As the journey continues on, things get rougher for Paul and for all who are on board the ship.  Against Paul’s warning, they decide to leave the relative safety of one harbor for another that would be better for the ship.  This turns out to be disastrous.

Yet in the midst of all of this, the prisoner Paul becomes the voice of calm reassurance and salvation for all those on board this ill-fated voyage.   Ironically, this isn’t the first time a prisoner saved his captors.

Paul tells them the angel’s message, an encouragement if there ever was one in that moment, and then beckons them to eat, breaking bread in the same manner Jesus did at the last summer.  Though the situation seems bleak, God is abundantly present, protecting and providing for Paul and those traveling with them.

We are all called to different journeys in life as we follow God and live out our faith.  Some of these journeys are physical, some are spiritual, but all require us to listen and to obey.  Too often, when we run into difficulty, we think that we might be on the wrong track or that God has somehow abandoned us.  Yet it is clear here that Paul was right where God wanted him to be.

In our faith journey, we can take our cues from Paul here.  I’m sure he didn’t enjoy being tossed about in the boat, much less traveling as a prisoner.  However, he remained faithful through it all, trusting in God’s wisdom and providence.



Acts 21 – Faithful Return

Read Acts 21

Paul’s return to Jerusalem was not simply a stubborn desire of his own heart, but a directive by the Holy Spirit that he faithfully followed.  As he made his way home, many people warned him to stay away and begged him to not go.  They all knew that if he did show his face in Jerusalem, his “fate” would be sealed.

This really came as no surprise to Paul, though.  He was very aware of what would happen to him and actually welcomed it.  That is not to say that Paul welcomed death, but that he trusted God to faithfully be with him through whatever he would experience as he followed God’s calling on his life.

So what can we learn from Paul’s actions here?  If we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to us through all Scripture, which God does do, then even in a historical account of Paul’s travels we can learn something.

Ultimately, Paul’s return set in motion a series of events that leads to his death in Rome.  Yet Rome was the end goal of Paul’s travels, as he attests to in both Acts and Romans.  He felt strongly that God was calling him there to witness, to strengthen the church there, and to present to Gospel to the highest governmental seats in the known world.  He knew that it wouldn’t be comfortable, but he was willing to go the distance for the sake of Christ.

How about you?  Typically God’s calling on our lives ends up making us uncomfortable; more so than we would like.  We talk a good “following God” talk, but in the walk that we walk we avoid situations that are uncomfortable, especially when it involves sharing our faith.  Perhaps we can learn from Paul’s trust and God’s faithfulness here?



Acts 14 – Credit Where Credit is Due

Read Acts 14

When Paul and Barnabas get to Lystra they preach and perform a number of signs and wonders in the name of Jesus.  The healing of a crippled man gets the attention of the crowds, but their reaction is not what they wanted.  Rather than giving glory to God, they give glory to the Greek gods who they thought had manifested themselves as humans.  This wasn’t abnormal in this day but was nonetheless disheartening for Paul and Barnabas.

Having been present for the things that had happened when others took credit for God’s work (Herod a couple chapters ago), Paul and Barnabas knew what it meant for the people to give credit to the wrong places, and what it meant for them if they accepted it.  Instead they use this as a teachable moment… even if it didn’t entirely stop the people from doing what they were doing.

God knows the hearts of His people though and it is pretty clear where Paul and Barnabas landed when it came to the desire of their heart to see the Gospel spread.  Their experience in Lystra is contrasted at the end of this chapter with their return to Antioch where they testify to all that God did on their journey.

I wonder if we don’t give God enough credit in our lives.  When we think back over a vacation or even a difficult time in life, do we look to see where God has worked and testify to that before others?  Or do we look to see that everything “just worked out” and move on with our lives.  God is active in every step that we take, not a hair can fall from our head without His will.  Perhaps it is time that we start giving credit where credit is due.



Matthew 1 – Past Faithfulness

Read Matthew 1

Advertisements for Ancestry.com and other genealogy tools have risen in recent years.  People seem to be quite fascinated with the past and where they come from.  Yet, even knowing the many generations and some specific events that had to take place to bring about current reality, among the infinite amount of events that could have taken place, amounts to some “fascinating” research.  The past seems to have little to do with where we are and practically nothing to do with where we are going.

However, for the Hebrew tradition, a genealogy is not simply interesting research, it is a recitation of God’s faithfulness throughout history.  Whereas North American culture points us to the future as a way of “creating” our identity, Hebrew culture looks to the past for theirs.  We tend to look to who we are becoming as our identity (what do you want to be when you grow up?); the Hebrew people look back, through time and generations, to their creator for theirs.

I wonder if this is a better way to look at life and gain perspective on God’s faithfulness.  We always look to the future and find ourselves wondering, struggling with doubts about whether God will show up.  But what if we turned ourselves around?  Rather than focusing on an unseen future, what if we focused on a certain past?  God has proven Himself faithful throughout history, since the very beginning.  Like a child that, while venturing out, always looks back to her parents for reassurance, might we as Christians focus less on the unknown future and more on God’s faithful actions in the past to give us assurance?  Perhaps this is what David meant when he wrote in Psalm 37, “Commit your way to the Lordtrust in Him, and He will act.”



Day 365: Revelation 20-22; The New Heaven and The New Earth

As we close this journey that we began a year ago, we come also to the final scenes of John’s vision in Revelation, and the final goal of what God has been working towards since the very beginning of this story.  This vision, this end purpose, the final will of God which we see in Revelation chapter 21, is that which we are told about in both our reading today and also that which we have heard about for for the past 364 days.  God’s ultimate goal, God’s overall will for creation has always been reconciliation… and that is what we see here today, reconciliation and restoration… a return to Eden, to paradise, to a time when all of creation lives in the presence of God for all time.

You see, what we read here today is the second high point of salvation history, the first being the salvation brought through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To think, though, that the scope of this salvation is limited simply to humans would be a gross understatement.  Sadly, however, this understanding of salvation is that which runs rampant in the church today and is perhaps a symptom some of the greatest misunderstandings of discussions about the end times and all that will take place.  For too often we’ve pared down Jesus’ salvation work to the saving of human souls so that they can go to heaven when they die.  Again, this is a sad understatement of God’s plan of salvation throughout the Bible.

This thinking, as I said, is held by many people and often leads to an “escapist” mentality of the end times.  Whether it be from natural death or the second coming of Christ, the prevailing opinion that seems to have taken mainstream Christianity by storm is that of the hope of “getting out of here” to be with Jesus.  Thinking like this has become rather prevalent in the idea of the rapture, the idea that Christian’s somehow get to be taken away from the earth in these last years so that they don’t have to endure the awful judgments and trials that are described in Revelation.  While one can understand the desire to not be around destruction of that magnitude, if indeed these are literal things that are going to happen on earth.

However, what is very clear here at the end of Revelation is that this escapist mentality is not what is described in the vision that is given to John.  In fact, it is not what has been shown for us throughout the whole of Scripture.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was affected, and the effect was systemic.  From that point on, God has been working His will through the people that He has called, to bring about the restoration of all creation, so that all things would be reconciled to Him.  How do we see this?  Because what is described to us in these final chapters is that of Heaven coming to a renewed and restored creation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

There are several characteristics of this New Heaven and New Earth that we see here.  We hear the voice from heaven saying that “The dwelling of God is with men.”  More than this, in the words that follow John describes the New Jerusalem as being without a Temple.  This is interesting because the Temple was THE center of Jerusalem and the center of all religious life for the Hebrew people.  However, when the New Heaven and the New Earth are present, and God is dwelling with people, there is no need for a center of Worship because God will be the center of worship.  Jesus is the light and there is no need for the sun.  In short, God is the source of everything, the sustaining force of all that will be present in this new Eden.  I think this is even more interesting because this has been the Hebrew view of reality all along.  God is the center, the source, the completion of all being.  As John writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

From the beginning to the end, all things have been and continue to be through God.  He is the sustaining force of all creation and at the same time is working to redeem it, restore it, and reconcile it back to Himself.  This is the end of the story, the true end of all things… the conclusion of our journey both through Scripture and in life.  This is the fulfillment of the Covenant, the completion of the people being God’s people and He being their God.  This too is the truest and fullest realization of the Kingdom of Heaven as it comes to earth when the true King comes in all of His glory, splendor, and majesty on the day that only the Father knows.  Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)