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!


Our Best Days our Ahead! H.C. Lord's Day 22

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 22

Q 57. How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?
A 57. Not only will my soul be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head, but also my very flesh will be raised by the power of Christ, reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.

Q 58. How does the article concerning “life everlasting” comfort you?
A 58. Even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, so after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God forever.

The Apostles’ Creed ends with two eschatological statements about our Resurrection and the Everlasting Life we are promised in Jesus Christ.  Eschatology is the study of the last things, focusing itself, at least in the realm of Christianity, on the return of Christ and the ultimate fulfillment of God’s will in the world.  Much of this is derived from the book of Revelation as well as Jesus’ teaching on the subject matter.  Both of the belief statements at the end of the Apostles’ Creed, though intimately tied to Jesus’ death and resurrection, are actually directed at Jesus’ second coming.

So what do we mean when we say that we believe in such things.  Scripture promises that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will we be raised on the last day, when Jesus comes again.  This resurrection will be a physical, literal, bodily resurrection in which our current flesh will be raised, renewed, and glorified in the same way that Jesus was after His resurrection.  Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 15, says that,

“The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power…”

We will still be us in every respect of what makes a person unique, however, everything will be glorified and perfected, the way we were meant to be in the beginning.  Our experience will also be glorified, returned to a perfect relationship with God who will dwell eternally with us here on earth.

The eternal nature of this relationship and dwelling is the subject of the final statement of the Apostles’ Creed and the second question of this week.  There are two ways in which we talk about and experience this eternal life.  First, and likely most obvious, is exactly what we are referring to here: Eternal Life in Paradise living with Jesus after His second coming and the final consummation of all things.

However, the second one is something that is important for us as Christians to remember as well.  We begin the experience of eternal life with God when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  The joy of renewed life is experienced in part already in this life when we come to faith.  This joy is built through the work of the Holy Spirit and increases as we are continually sanctified and built up in Christ.  Much of this happens as we grow deeper in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, receiving a deeper revelation, understanding, and experiencing greater freedom in Christ from the bondage of sin.

As we grow in this joy and freedom we also grow in our anticipation of the life to come when all things will be made new and no more will be the effects of sin in our lives and in the world around us.  This is the hope to which we profess and the great expectation of things to come!



Everlasting Life: H.C. Question 58

How does the article concerning “life everlasting” comfort you?

Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

John 17:3 – Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

1 Corinthians 2:9 – However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—



Bodily Resurrection: H.C. Question 57

How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?

Luke 23:43 – Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Philippians 1:21-23 – For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;

1 Corinthians 15:20 – But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:42-46 – So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.

1 Corinthians 15:54 – When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Philippians 3:21 – who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

1 John 3:2 – Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.



Revelation 12 – The Woman and the Dragon

Read Revelation 12

As the vision continues to unfold before John, He sees a “great sign” that appears.  When Scripture says this, it is an indicator of something that is pointing to a much deeper meaning.  The woman that John sees has consistently been identified as representing the people of Israel with the twelve stars around her head being one of the chief indicators of that.  Her pregnancy most likely represents the time in which God was working through Israel to bring about the coming of the Messiah, her male child.

The next thing John sees, which is equally as spectacular, is a seven headed dragon which he identifies as Satan, the devil himself.  Whereas the beast of chapter 11 represents the antichrist, the major opponent to God’s people, the dragon much greater and scarier in appearance.  Seven is, as we have said before, the number of the divine, and ten the number of completion and strength.  The dragon comes forth with divine strength and the power to rule as is signified by the crowns.

Satan has always been opposed to the plans of God, attempting to thwart God’s redemptive work at every possible change.  Here we see him seeking to destroy the male child, the Messiah, right as he is born.  However, God protects Him, taking Him into heaven, an act which infuriates the devil.  At the same time, the woman also finds divine protection from the dragon for a period of time which is the same as that of the oppression and persecution mentioned in chapter 11.  Whether or not these are the same times or things that happen sequentially is not necessarily specified.  It is important to keep in mind, as we look at the symbolism of this, that John is experiencing a vision of God’s work on a cosmic scale.  Whereas we tend to think in a linear fashion, as is our way in this life, God stands outside of time and therefore what John is seeing does not necessarily indicate a timeline of events.  This, in particular, is why those who look at the founding of the modern day nation of Israel as being a focal point for end-times interpretation have little credibility (that and the fact that Jesus Himself said that no one knows when He will return except for God).

After this, a war breaks out in heaven.  This is a rather peculiar happening as we often view Satan as not being in heaven.  John’s vision here draws on a great deal of Old Testament understanding of the spiritual realm as well as New Testament language of Satan as “the accuser.”  Heaven, for us, has often been considered to be the place that we go to when we die.  However, Scripturally speaking, heaven is the dwelling place of God.  In heaven are the angels, all that is described throughout the book of Revelation, and, if you read the book of Job, Satan is sometimes there as well, accusing the people of God before God.  I can’t necessarily explain this (nor would I dare try), but what it does do is give us a picture of a much more active place than just cherubs playing harps on clouds.

Whatever the explanation, there is a point at which Satan is permanently expelled from heaven, thrown down by the Archangel Michael, in what was (or is) probably one of the most epic fights of all time.

Satan’s expulsion from heaven, though, seems to bring a much greater anger that is then taken out first on Israel, though God protects here, and then on the rest of God’s people.  How and what this looks like as it unfolds in history is rather unclear.  It begins to unfold over the next couple of chapters as being a systematic persecution of the church and deceiving of the nations of the earth both through physical and spiritual means.  The devil will seek to draw as many away from God as possible and will “wage war” on the people of God through the work of the beast of chapter 11 and those in the coming chapter as well.

Once again we can find ourselves looking for dates and events that coincide loosely with what we are reading here.  Certainly, Israel has been a persecuted nation throughout history as has the church from time to time.  Different religions have and continue to rise up to challenge the people of God and lead the people of the world astray.  Persecution continues to this day in many parts of the world as it has for the past 2000 years against the people of God.  What is important to read out of this too, however, is the announcement once again that salvation and power and the kingdom of God have come to and through the Messiah.  Scripture is clear that the people of God will face persecution; it is equally clear that none of that can hold a candle to the strength and power of God and the hope that we have for eternal salvation in Jesus Christ



1 Peter 3 – Eager

Read 1 Peter 3

I don’t wish to ignore a portion of today’s reading, but we have talked about the language that is used here, the language of submission, in other portions of our walk through the New Testament.  It is important to note here that, on top of using this “submission” language, which we have said could be replaced with the word “value,” and should always be read with the idea that husbands and wives are called to mutual submission in the same way that they submit to Christ, here Peter takes it a step further to talk about the potential benefits and outcomes of acting in this way.  Our spouses could be won over, coming to know Christ, because of our actions!  As always, it is important to say here that this is not an encouragement to stay in abusive or dangerous relationships.  I do not believe that Scripture ever meant for that to happen and that those who twist Scripture for their own defense in this matter are wrong.

Aside from, but related to that is the following topic on “doing good.”  Peter encourages his readers once again to continue to do good in the midst of whatever suffering that they might encounter.  He even goes so far as to suggest that we should be “eager” to do good.

As I continue to think about the election this week and the results that have come from it, I wonder about what we are “eager” to do.  It seems like a lot of us are eager to get into meaningless arguments on social media, publically injuring our own witness and that of the church through unfriendly, unloving, and divisive speech.  It seems that we are eager to judge our friends and neighbors for their political affiliations and reactions to the events of late.  It seems that we are much more readily willing to allow the things of this world dissuade us the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.



1 Peter 1 – Living Hope

Read 1 Peter 1

Peter opens his letter with a customary thanksgiving statement that praises God for all that He has done and continues to do in the lives of His people.  As he does this, he references the hope that we have, a “living hope” that is in Jesus Christ.  This, for Peter, is the foundation for all that is to come, for our whole lives as those who are “in Christ,” who have been “given new birth.”

This is an important place to start for Him, given all that is going on in the context of this writing.  Peter, along with the whole Church in the Roman Empire, has been facing dramatic persecution, the likes, and duration of which they had not yet seen since Jesus was taken into heaven.

In the face of this, where people were having to worship in secret, hide their identities, and were likely watchings friends and neighbors arrested and even put to death, Peter encourages them in the same way that Paul does: “Hold on to your faith.”  Peter reminds the of the Gospel, of the true hope that is found in Jesus Christ and the nature of that hope as well.  There is nothing that humans can do to take that away from them.  No matter how bad it gets, God is greater.  Even death cannot put an end to this hope.

With all of us waking up “post-election” today, whatever the results are (I’m writing this having just voted), and wondering like the rest of the U.S. what the results are going to be tomorrow when this is being read.  There is a lot of opportunity for fear, doubt, and disbelief.  I’m sure there was back then as well.  But Peter’s words here, and all throughout Scripture reminds us that our true hope does not lie in things in this world and that nothing in this world can take the true hope, the hope that lives eternally in us through Jesus Christ.



Hebrews 6 – Moving Forward

Read Hebrews 6

There are some difficult sayings in this chapter that, when we read them, don’t always jive with what we think we know about Scripture and what we know about God’s grace and salvation either.  The author says that it’s impossible for those who are of the faith and then turn away “to be brought back to repentance.”  How does this stand up next to Paul’s words in Romans 8, that nothing can separate us from the love of Go that is in Christ Jesus?

Considering these words, and looking at those around them, and the context in which the author is writing, it doesn’t seem so much that the author is trying to set down some sort of new doctrine where salvation can be lost, but rather to cast a warning about falling away from the faith and the impact that it can have both on the life of the believer and on the church as well.

None of this, however, negates the promise of God, originally made to Abraham, to be God to His people.  Because of God’s mercy, love, and enduring faithfulness, we know that God will always be with us and never turn His back on us.  No matter what we do, God promises to be faithful to us.

This promise was confirmed to us in Jesus Christ, who came to the earth as a human to make a way for us to be in a relationship with God.  As Jesus eternally fulfills the role of “priest,” as the writer of Hebrews says, He eternally intercedes for us before God.  As the sacrifice for our sins, He washes us clean so that we have the hope of salvation which can never be taken away.

Here the writer of Hebrews encourages us to move forward, deeper into this relationship.  As we realize the love that God has for us, we respond in relationship with God, growing closer to Him and taking greater hold of our hope and salvation.



2 Thessalonians 1 – Now and Then

Read 2 Thessalonians 1

Paul holds a very interesting tension as he opens his second letter to the church in Thessalonica.  As they are facing persecution from the Roman Empire, the church is faced with a theological crisis.  What are they to do and what does faith look like in the midst of such horrible backlash and trouble.  Yet what we don’t hear from Paul is an ardent plea to “hold on to their faith,” but rather a thankful praise to God for their perseverance in the midst of all this.

He is thankful for what he has heard about the church and its work through this time, but he also wants to encourage them because he knows that the longer it goes on, the harder it becomes.  It is to this end that Paul looks to the Gospel message of strength and hope for both now and in the future.

Far too often, when we face troubles, we look to future hope for comfort.  We find solace in knowing that someday everything will be made right.  This is true; Jesus will come again and all things will be put in their rightful place.  Yet a Gospel based solely on future events actually minimizes the Gospel message.

Indeed much of the power of the Gospel message comes in the reality that the Kingdom of God is here and now!  Jesus Christ ushered in the Kingdom on earth through His life, death, and resurrection.  From that time on, the Kingdom of heaven has been expanding throughout the world.  Paul celebrates this very thing with the church in Thessalonica.  Despite all of the enemy’s attempts to stop them, the believers of that city continue to grow, adding to their number, and persevering through all the hardships the world throws at them.

We can learn from this too.  The church in North America  can face anything that comes our way, not through the power of lobbying groups and political work, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives working in and through us to expand the Kingdom of God.



Introduction to 2 Thessalonians

Like his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Second Thessalonians addresses questions concerning the Lord’s return and is meant as a pastoral encouragement to a body of believers facing persecution.  Given these similarities, it is likely that Paul wrote this letter not too long after the first.

It may have been that, after Paul’s first letter, there was still some confusion about elements of the Second coming, especially given the persecution that as going on.  More clarification was needed and so Paul addressed both of these subjects again.

As was true with 1 Thessalonians, and all other subject matter pertaining to the second coming, it is important to read this not in a vacuum but rather in the context of the other teachings regarding the end times, or what we call “Eschatology.”

The driving force behind Paul’s words to the persecuted church then and now is hope.  While circumstances in life ebb and flow, going from good to bad and bad to good, there is an element of the Gospel that transcends all of it.  We already know the end; we know that there is a greater future in store for us.  We know that there is nothing on earth that can separate us from that truth, from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus and sealed in us from now until eternity.

Whatever you are facing, whatever trials and tribulations come your way, we have the hope for something greater when this all comes to and end.  Yet, Paul doesn’t simply speak in terms of future hope.  We have hope for the here and now as well because the Kingdom of God is present, it is close, and it is expanding throughout the world.  The words of encouragement that come to us in Scripture are as much present-oriented, giving us the strength to endure hard times and the vision to see God’s work now, as they are future-oriented, giving us a hope for things to come when all things will finally be made right and find their fullness in the coming of Jesus Christ.