The Blessed Zion

By / Jan 20

Please take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Psalm 48.  Psalm 48.  As you are turning, I just want to say it’s a great privilege to be with you, a great privilege to come and talk a little bit about Blessed Zion and explain why I titled the history of First Pres. Blessed Zion.  I hope what we’ll find as we come to God’s Word tonight is that First Pres., and all of our outposts of Zion, are blessed not because they are strong and beautiful and powerful, but they are blessed because we have a great King who delights in us and sings over us and rejoices over us and is in fact in the midst of us tonight.  But before we read this portion of God’s Word we need His help so please pray with me.

Almighty God, we come now, as we have many, many times before, and we ask once again that You would grant us Your Holy Spirit that our eyes of faith might be opened and that we would see glorious riches in this portion of Your Gospel.  Lord, may we not be like Samson who roused himself thinking that he could rise in the face of the Philistines once again not knowing that the Spirit had led him.  Lord, grant us Your Spirit this night so that we might read and hear and apply and believe and see the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Psalm 48:

“Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!  His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.  Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.

For behold, the kings assembled; they came on together.  As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight.  Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labor.  By the east wind you shattered the ships of Tarshish.  As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish forever. 

We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.  As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.  Your right hand is filled with righteousness.  Let Mount Zion be glad!  Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgments!

Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever.  He will guide us forever.”

This is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Camelot: A Picture of Kingly Power

This past November, as you know, our country remembered the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and as you paid attention to the news report undoubtedly you heard reference once again to the Kennedy years and the Kennedy White House being compared to Camelot.  Of course it was perhaps inevitable that the Kennedy years would be called “The Camelot Years.”  Most people don’t realize that JFK and Jay Lerner, who was one of the two authors of that musical, were actually roommates at Harvard.  And of course the Broadway show, Camelot, came out in fall 1960 as Kennedy was winning the election and beating Richard Nixon. And of course the Broadway cast album was actually the billboard number one album for nine straight weeks.  And when Kennedy was killed it was revealed that the Camelot cast album was one of the family’s favorite and the last lines of the show were especially prized which went, “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” 

But the Camelot mythology goes far beyond the 20th century and the president.  It goes all the way back to the 12th century, we think.  The mythology connected to Camelot, Camelot being a symbol of King Arthur and Arthur’s world, of a world of feudalism and honor, a world in which stability came from this central location, this place where there was security and safety.  And by the time one reads Thomas Malory’s, The Death of Arthur, in the 15th century, Camelot becomes central, central to the story. It’s not only a castle and not only a fortress but it’s a symbol.  It’s a symbol of a place where all that is right and good dwells.  It’s a place where the knights are around the round table and where Arthur reigns with justice and goodness.  But it was more than just a place and more than a symbol; it was people as well.  Those knights at the table, Lancelot as the great hero, Guinevere as the beautiful queen, and, of course, Arthur above all ruling over his kingdom.  And so from the 12th century to the 20th century this image of Camelot has proved potent.  

Longing for a Better Kingdom 

And I think part of the reason why that’s the case is that there is something our hearts, something in our souls, something deep down in our bones that longs for a place and for a people that are safe and secure, a place where there’s peace and justice, a place where there’s glory, a place where the king rules with justice.  In other words, our hearts actually long for Zion, for blessed Zion as described here in Psalm 48.  We don’t long for mythology, we don’t long for Camelot, we don’t long for a place where Arthur rules, we long for what’s described here in Psalm 48 because what’s described here is far more real than any mythology and it’s far better, far greater and far more powerfully pictures the justice and goodness and peace for which we long.  We long for this place and these people and this safety and this security.  

And Zion first shows up in the Bible in 2 Samuel chapter 5 when David goes to conquer Jerusalem.  When he finally just establishes his claim upon the city it’s called the stronghold of Zion, the city of David.  And when Solomon builds the temple and the procession comes and they enter into this holy place that Solomon has constructed in 1 Kings chapter 8 the Bible speaks of the city of David, which is Zion.  And when God’s people would go to worship there in Jerusalem as they sang the Psalms of Ascent from Psalm 120 to Psalm 134 they sang often of going to Zion, of the place where God dwells and the people with whom God dwells so that the place there in Jerusalem came to be identified as the place where God’s people would gather but it wouldn’t simply be localized to Jerusalem.  By the time the Zion imagery makes it to Isaiah it’s no longer a city but an entire mountain.  Isaiah describes it this way.  “Zion is the mountain of the house of the Lord which shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be lifted up above the hills and all the nations shall flow into it and many people shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.’”  It’s not simply the place for the Old Testament saints; the New Testament saint goes to Zion as well.  In Hebrews chapter 12 we’re told that “you have come to mount Zion and to the city of the living God and to the heavenly Jerusalem.”  And so Zion, over and over again, is described throughout the Bible as a place where God’s people come together and worship and to find security and to find safety.  It is described over and over as a blessed place.  

I. Zion: Blessed because the King is Present

But why?  Why is Zion a blessed place?  Well what I hope you’ll see tonight is that Zion is not a blessed place because it is a strong and powerful and beautiful place, though it is, and Zion is not blessed because it is filled with strong and beautiful and powerful people.  Zion is blessed because the King dwells there, and not David the king, God the King. Our God dwells in the midst of Zion.  And that’s why, friends, this imagery of Zion is so appropriate for you and for all the outposts of the city of God because when you gather in this place as God’s people you come to meet with the King.  You don’t come with an appointment for a pastor and you don’t come for an appointment with elders and Sunday school teachers; you come to this place, blessed Zion, gathering with God’s people, to meet with the King and that’s why you are blessed.  You’re blessed because here in Zion you know the King’s presence.

That’s ultimately what the first three verses describe for us when the sons of Korah sing, “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!  His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.  Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.”  Now to be sure, as Zion is described here it has many natural advantages.  It’s set on a mountain.  It is beautiful and high in elevation.  It is the far north.  Whether that’s describing heaven or whether that’s describing an elevated place, it’s hard to get at.  It has natural citadels that make it a defensible fortress.  All these things are true but the real reason why Zion’s blessed is because the King is there.  The psalmist speaks of his holy mountain.  This is God’s mountain, His place where He dwells to make His people secure.  

Indeed throughout the Bible the great blessing that’s held out to God’s people is that God would dwell in their midst.  All the way back in the Garden of Eden, what was it that was particularly special about that garden?  It was the fact that God walked in the midst of that garden in the cool of the day and Adam and Eve saw God face to face and enjoyed fellowship with Him.  And even after the Fall the promise was continued to be held out that God would meet with His people.  And so in the Old Testament the people of God had the tabernacle where the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night would rest over the tabernacle and God’s presence was there and Moses would go in and out and would meet with God face to face and God would speak to Moses as a friend.  And then when God’s people get to Jerusalem, there in the center of the city, the temple is built and the shekinah glory of God filled the temple and dwelt in the midst of His people.  And of course Jesus came among His people and tabernacled among us and His people beheld His glory; they met with God face to face.  And then finally in the garden of God, at the very end of the Bible in Revelation 21 and 22, what’s particularly blessed about that place is that God would come and well in the midst of His people and the throne of God and the Lamb will be there and we will see Him face to face.  All throughout the Bible, the promise is that God will dwell in the midst of His people and we will behold Him.  

But that’s not just true in the past and that’s not just true in the future; that’s true now.  It’s true tonight.  God dwells in your midst.  This is the place and you are the people with whom God meets.  God comes to dwell powerfully in your midst as the mighty one who will save and particularly by His Spirit and through His Word He comes to meet with His people because Jesus has made sure that God will come among us not as a judge but as one who sings over us with great joy.  In Jesus Christ, Zephaniah 3 has come true – “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.  The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”  That’s why you’re blessed tonight.  You may not have heard Him while you were singing, but God by the Spirit of Jesus is in your midst and He was singing. He was singing great songs of joy.  Our singing Savior, delighting in His people, as Zion is gathered together on this night.  The King is present and that’s why you’re blessed.

II. Zion: Blessed because the King is Powerful

But you’re blessed not only because the King’s presence is with you but also because our King is powerful.  Ultimately that’s what verses 4 to 8 describe for us.  While this city stands as a fortress, our security in the face of adversity and attack, rests in the fact that our God is present, yes, but not only that He’s present, also that He’s powerful.  In fact, verses 4 and 5 describe the kings coming together.  “Behold the kings assembled; they come on together.”  It pictures Zion being surrounded, even the ships of Tarshish are brought in to lay siege to the city of God.  but even when the enemies of God’s people gather around Zion, the city of God, the fortress of God, are they able to attack it?  Are they able to withstand it?  No.  What does the psalmist say?  Verse 6 – “Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labor.”  Verse 5 – “As soon as they saw it they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight.”  As soon as they saw Zion in all her glory with the King in the midst of His people the enemies of God took flight because God is powerful.  Our King is great and strong and mighty.  “There is nothing our God cannot do,” as our children say.  

That’s true for you tonight.  I don’t know what situations you face or what you bring into the sanctuary tonight, but if you’re like my people back in Hattiesburg I can probably hit some of them.  There are some of you who are struggling profoundly with depression and despair.  Even this past week you have thought to yourself, “I don’t know if I can go on any further.  I have never felt like this before.”  There’s others of you who have been struggling with a besetting sin – perhaps it’s lust – and you cannot stop clicking on the computer screen.  Or maybe it’s rage where you can’t seem to get a hold of the anger as it bubbles up inside of you.  Or perhaps it’s deception and lying because you have so lived a double life that you are now two people and you’re scared to death what will happen when one comes back together.  I don’t know if it’s a situation in your workplace where you’re not able to get along with your coworkers or your boss and you wonder how in the world this is all going to straighten out.  I don’t know what you’re facing tonight but what I do know is this.  When you come to meet in Zion, in this place with this people, the blessing that is held out for you, whether demons and devils are shouting in your ear or whether it’s your own heart screaming at you, the blessing that’s held out to you is that the King is here and He is powerful and He is able to deal with whatever you are facing.  In fact, Luther teaches us to sing as much.  “And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear” – why?  “For God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.  The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him.  His rage we can endure for lo, his doom is sure.  One little Word shall fell him.”  What’s that little Word?  Jesus.  Jesus is the mighty King who gained His great victory at the cross, who crushed the serpent’s head right there, who’s already won the victory and made it sure.  He is the powerful King in our midst.  He dwells in the midst of Zion so that whatever you’re facing tonight you can take to Jesus, tonight, right now, in your pew.  You don’t need an altar call.  You can ask Him right now to deal with whatever it is that you find yourself wrestling with. That’s a blessing.  This is a blessed place – when you can come and meet with the King knowing what He is here in your midst and He is powerful, that should draw forth from you the King’s praise.

III. Zion: Blessed because the King draws forth Praise 

That’s certainly what happens in the psalm, isn’t it?  The King’s praises are drawn forth because Zion has such a great King in their midst.  Verse 9 – “We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.  As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.  Your right hand is filled with righteousness.  Let Mount Zion be glad!  Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgments!”  As we gather week by week in our outposts of Zion, singing the songs of Zion, hearing the Word that comes from Zion and to Zion, we sometimes wonder, “Does it make any difference?  Does anyone here – why should we be glad?”  Well according to what the psalmist teaches us here there’s plenty of reason for us to be glad.  And yes, someone hears.  Why should we be glad?  Because of the steadfast love of God.  “We have thought on your steadfast love, O God.”   Well where was that displayed?  Anytime you wonder why you should praise, anytime you wonder why you should lift your voice in song, it’s because the King is not simply the King, the King is the King who suffered for you.  Where was the steadfast love, the hesed love of God most clearly displayed?  It was displayed in the cross, so that anytime you doubt whether God loves you with a steadfast and abiding love all you have to do is look to the cross and there see a Savior who died for you, who bled for you, who suffered for you, who bore the wrath and curse of God for you.  And there you see the steadfast love of God.

But more, this Savior and King who was crucified is the Savior and King who was raised from the dead and rules powerfully at the right hand of the Father and dwells in the midst of His peoples week by week, receiving the praises of His people and mediating His Word to us.  Surely this should cause Zion to be glad and the daughters and sons of Judah to rejoice.  Yet how often we have looked at the weakness of our efforts and the struggle of our own hearts instead of the glory of our King.  There is nothing more mystifying to me than worshiping with friends, not saying this group of friends but the other group of friends that I worship with, and to see men and women standing in the midst of the congregation not singing.  Friends, if you could have your ears opened tonight and to hear God in Jesus Christ singing over you, and if you could have your ears open tonight so that you could hear the angels singing tonight, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is filled with the glory of God!” you would want to join your voice with them.  If you had a sight of the steadfast love of God tonight, this love that was displayed in the cross and the empty tomb you could not stop from singing.  You would say to one another, to the brother or the sister who’s not singing tonight, who’s not bringing the King’s praise, you would want to say to Him, “Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known.  Join in a song of sweet accord and thus surround the throne.  Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God, but children of the heavenly King may speak their joys abroad.”  Why?  “Because we’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion!  We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God!”  If that’s your heart tonight then you must sing with great praise the praises of the King who suffered and bled and died and rose again for you and you would join your voice with His voice and the angels voice to sing your praise.  

III. Zion: Blessed because the King has a Posterity 

And yet that’s not all the reasons here.  Those are not all the reasons here why Zion is blessed.  Not only because of the King’s presence, not only because the King is powerful, not only because the King receives praise, but also because the King has a posterity.  That’s what the final verses speak of.  The psalmist urges us to walk around Zion.  Do you see it?  Verse 12 – Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels” – why?  “That you may tell the next generation.”  And so it always is.  God’s grand design is for the next generation to hear.  It’s wonderful to be a people like we are at First Presbyterian Church Hattiesburg and like you are here at First Presbyterian Church Jackson – it’s wonderful to be a mission-minded people and to go to the uttermost parts of the earth preaching the Gospel of our King to see generations yet unknown to us coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  But God’s great discipleship mission is for you to tell your next generation, to tell your next generation about the King, to usher them as best you can, God helping you, into the kingdom of God.  That’s the great discipleship mission that God has for you. 

So what do we tell them?  Do we tell them how wonderful the ramparts are and how beautiful the buildings are and how great our programs are and how exciting our ministries are?  No.  What do we tell the King’s posterity?  Look at it.  Verse 13 – “That you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God, forever and ever.  He will guide us forever.”  An alternative reading there – “He will guide us through death itself and through the other side.”  That’s what you need to tell your children.  That’s what the King desires in order to have a posterity for Himself.  Remember what He told Abraham thousands of years ago?  He told Abraham that Abraham would have a posterity of faith that would be numberless.  You couldn’t count all the stars and you couldn’t count all the sand on the seashore.  That’s how great Abraham’s posterity would be.  And how does the King accomplish this?  Through His Son, Jesus, through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  Jesus died for His church, for the church yet unborn as well as the church that’s already been.  

And Hebrews 2 tells us that there’s coming a day when Jesus shall gather all His children and will stand before the Father and will say, “Here I am, I and the children God has given Me.”  He’ll gather all His posterity and bring us to the Father so that there will come a day when we will gather around the throne of God there in the garden of God and as we do we’ll look to the right of us and we’ll see generations upon generations who have come before us in this place and in other places who have loved Jesus with all of their hearts and all their strength and all their mind and all their soul.  And if Jesus tarries we’ll look to this way and we’ll see generations of generations yet unborn who will be gathered around the throne because they love God with all their heart and all their soul and all their strength and all their mind.  And we will gather around the throne with all of these generations, the King’s posterity, and we will say, “This is God, our God, forever and ever.”  And this is why Zion is blessed.  There are thousands gathered in stadiums today that will know nothing of this joy, nothing of this joy.  To be gathered with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands from every tribe and language and people group and generation and generation, gathered around the throne singing, “This is our God, our God, forever and ever.  He will guide us forever.”  That’s why you’re blessed.  That’s why you’re blessed.  You’re blessed, First Presbyterian Church, not because you’re beautiful, not because you’re strong, and not because you’re great; you’re blessed because you have a great King and that’s why this is a beautiful, wonderful spot to be in, a spot that’s far greater than any Camelot.  This is a place that’s a blessed Zion.  Amen.

Please pray with me.

Father we do ask that You would drive all of this deep into our hearts.  Lord, we know this intellectually.  Lord, grant that we can feel it in our affections so that if we would be drawn out this new sense of the heart might respond to the reality that You are pure and that You are powerful and that You delight in our praises and Your steadfast love is real and true and abiding and that You have a posterity even in this place and in generations yet unborn who will name the name of our King.  Lord, please, please, please, please, help us see just a glimpse of how blessed we are to be part of this people and to be here in this place to be part of Zion.  We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Would you please stand with me to receive the Lord’s blessing?

And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, the peace that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord, may that peace guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.



The Stones Cry Out: Sir, We Would See Jesus

By / Apr 29

The Lord’s Day Morning


April 29, 2012



“The Stones Cry Out:
Sir, We Would See Jesus”


John 12:20-26


The Reverend Mr. Claude E. McRoberts III

Please turn in your Bibles to the gospel of John, chapter 12.
You’ll find this on page 899 in the pew Bible so you are without excuse.
If you don’t have your own copy, then if you would, please reach for one
in the pew so that you’ll have this reading before you.
It is the very mind of God in print.
It is infallible and inerrant and we are the privileged ones to have it,
so may we all have a copy open before us.
And before we read, let’s ask for God’s help in understanding it.

Father, we bow ourselves down before you as even we have this morning already,
prostrated ourselves before our King and our God, the One with whom You have now
given us a relationship through the Lord Jesus.
And we pray that You would, by Your Spirit, give us now the eyes to see,
that You would give us ears to hear.
We pray that we might hear truth, some of us for the first time, others many,
many times before, with a heart that can hear truth and be set free.
We ask that our eyes, especially this morning, especially in this text
and in one verse in particular, that by Your grace You would have us to see the
Lord Jesus. And we make our prayer
in His name alone, amen.

In John chapter 12 beginning in verse 20.
We’ll read through verse 26:

“Now among those who
went up to worship at the feast some were Greeks.
So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida
in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we would to see Jesus.’
Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be
glorified. Truly, truly, I say to
you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will
keep it for eternal life. If anyone
serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.
If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

Thus ends the reading this morning.
All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of our God shall stand
forever.

There’s no way I can adequately express appreciation to be standing here this
morning. I thank Ligon, I thank the
session for the invitation, the honor itself to stand here behind what we
affectionately refer to as “the sacred desk,” and so in any pulpit, the pulpit,
but in particular this very influential pulpit.
It’s a great honor for me to be standing here.
When I first thought of any kind of message or thoughts, just to scratch
the service, to sit down and start thinking about this morning, I wrote down
that celebration is good. It is.
Celebration is a wonderful thing.
We’re in the midst of a celebratory thing right now in our lives with
graduations and milestones. It’s
that time of year. We celebrate
everything from graduations, maybe with some older children, to perhaps even no
conduct marks with the smaller children.
You know, that’s time to celebrate — you know, no conduct marks this
week! Victories, touchdowns, even
though now we’re told by the powers that be that there is such a thing as
excessive celebration and it’s a penalty, and we Presbyterians are not too
guilty, or are very guilt of that very often anyway, of excessive celebration.
But we have reason, certainly, and I’m presumptuous to say “we” and “our”
this morning. I’m with you in this
as this being my home church, sending church in a sense.
I’m very grateful for that.
We celebrate these events like this — birthdays, anniversaries as well — and if
done properly, which is another good Presbyterian word, then it can be quite
convicting. When celebration is done with
integrity, when celebration is done with honor, and when it’s done with
humility, rather than the eyes being on myself and seeing from whence comes my
blessings, in all of life but particularly in a celebration of 175 years, as I
said when it’s done with integrity, and done with dignity, then it can be quite
the reality check.

I’ll tell you who knew how to celebrate in the Bible, and one among many, the
one was King David. When David felt
reason to celebrate, David would dance, we know.
David would pray; David would worship.
David would pray; David would sing.
David would write — David would write poetry, read poetry.
And when we so often think of David our first impression, the first thing
we conjure up in our mind is what David did for Israel and we think of the
shepherd-child made king, we think of the obedient son made king, we think of
the young man, the child actually, the one who slays the giant.
And we say the one who became the king of
Israel, we think of those — I mentioned the
musician, the poet — we think of the man after God’s own heart.
We think of the one who had the courage — he had the courage in battle,
the sword in his fist, and he was the shepherd that brought security and peace
to Israel which they so desperately
needed and prayed for rest and peace and a joy.
And they had it in this king, David.

But you know what really made David special?
It really was not what David did for Israel.
Dare I say, that what really made David special was not what David did
for God. What really made David
special, it’s a good reminder this morning, what made David special was what God
had done for David because in 2 Samuel 7, where He makes this covenant — if
you’re not familiar with 2 Samuel 7, jot that down and say, “I’m going to go
back and read the entire chapter this afternoon.”
It will bless you. It is
beautiful. And God says to David, as
David has said to God, and he says, “You know, I want to build a house for You.
I want there to be a place for Your presence.
I want it to be beautiful. I
want to be the one to do this.” And
via the prophet, Nathan, God says, in essence, to David, “David, you’re not
going to build My house for Me. Now
your son, he’ll build the house for Me, but you, David, are not going to build a
house for Me, rather I’m going to build a house for you.”
What God was saying through Nathan was, “I’m going to make you a dynasty.
You talk about a house? I’m
going to make your whole family, I’m going to make your whole lineage, I’m going
to make it so there is someone from your descendants that will be seated on your
throne forever and ever and ever.
Now your sons, in particular, your sons will mess up.
Your sons will sin and I’ll discipline them; I’ll deal with them.
But not one year will go by forever and ever that you will not have one
of your descendents on the throne.
And not only in this world but in another world, in another place, there will
always be one of your descendents.”

You know how David celebrated? And
maybe we need to be reminded of this too — it wasn’t an end-zone, touchdown kind
of celebration, not that that’s unbiblical, or maybe it is if it’s against the
rules! But David sat before the ark
of God in all of his humility. You
know what he said? “Who am I, O LORD
God, and what is my family that You have brought me thus far?”
That’s celebration. That’s humility mixed with celebration.
“Who am I, O LORD, and who is my family that You have brought us thus
far?” Same tenor as Psalm 8 when he
writes, “O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”
And he later says in that psalm, “What is man that You are mindful of
him?” That is celebration.
And that’s what we’re doing.
When David had an event like that it swelled his heart with dancing, it swelling
his heart with praise and gratitude.
And that’s what we’re about here in the last month and this morning, is to
celebrate a grand event, 175 years no less.
But it causes our hearts to dance and swell but not with pride, God
forbid. There’s no reason to be
prideful. But because of what He has
done for us that it would swell with gratitude — 175 years.

So there’s a group of people — I’m not sure exactly how that group started, but
they would call this man named Peter Donan and say, “We want you to plant a
church for us in Jackson, Mississippi in 1837.
Speaking of having done this properly, I’ve read in
The First Epistle and I’ve talked to my family and I’ve heard the
various celebrations that have gone on and a lot of it has been historical but
let me just mention a few. The fact
that there was Donan, and then when Hallsy, as we read about him and his life
was a dynamic individual, and it was under his leadership and his preaching in
particular that First Presbyterian began to really grow and see some life there.
And then Lowry – I was interested in reading about L.A. Lowry, only two
and a half years or so who died of yellow fever.
John Hunter, again, a vigorous, very faithful, able preacher.
Now what’s been talked about and what’s so encouraging is, and it’s
something again that you can be so thankful, twelve ministers in 175 years.
What can you say? But do you
realize that in the first eighteen years there were already five ministers?
So it makes it even more impressive to realize that once you get to
Hutton in 1895, you’re already talking about a generation that some who are even
sitting here who knew his ministry.
That is phenomenal. That is again
the grace of God. A generation — I
think a generation is officially twenty-seven years, so we’d say twenty-seven,
thirty years that you have only known now five ministers over 4.3 generations.
A gift from the Lord.

Hutton, and if you go back and read you see the consistency of calling men who
were dedicated to God’s Word, preaching, prayer, and pastoral care — Gerard
Lowe. I didn’t know Gerard Lowe.
I wasn’t born yet but I was frightened by his portrait nonetheless
because I ate lunch in Lowe hall for six years and would look at that portrait
and — now it was a Lucille Ball show, actually.
I don’t know if you remember this portrait.
I think it was of Mr. Mooney if I’m not mistaken, but there were eyes and
it followed you wherever you went.
And as a child I had really bad nightmares about that episode of the Lucille
Ball show. And so this morning when
I came in, I tried to get here just a little early because I wanted to go to
Lowe Hall and see his portrait hanging there and I couldn’t find his portrait.
And low and behold, Ligon and I are walking down the hall going to the
eight-thirty service, and down at the end of the hall just in a prominent
position, there’s Gerard Lowe looking at me all the way as I came in!
It’s like, “I remember you as a child!”

John Reed Miller, I slept through his last four years of ministry here on the
back row in the balcony up there. My
mom would let me – I said this at eight-thirty too – that my sisters, I doubt
they were allowed to put their head on their mom’s lap and stretch out but
“Prince Claude” (laughter) was allowed to do that and so I slept during John
Reed Miller’s ministry here. But by
God’s grace and His providence, moved in across the street in seminary from John
Reed Miller. My dad said, “You know
who that is, don’t you?” And so I
went over and got to know him, actually, and he gave me books and encouragement
and advice as a seminary student.

Don Patterson, I slept the next thirteen years — I’m just kidding.
That’s not a joke against him; that’s my own heart!
My dad would pinch me and leave bruises.
I’ll speak to the young people — if you ever want to stand up here one
day just sleep through church and time the morning prayer.
I did all of that. Actually,
Dr. Patterson, who prayed beautiful pastoral prayers as I recall, he discipled
my dad. He, in a way that my dad
wouldn’t realize what Don Patterson was even doing.
And what I see, in the benefit for me in my life, was that God was
preparing my dad to have a minister-son.
We’ve talked about that a number of times.
He ministered a lot to my mom, pastored her in her illness, and then even
as the later years when I was in Clarksdale, he came and did a missions
conference. He brought Faith Promise
to Clarksdale at First Presbyterian there and his son, Jim, and I are friends
now and through ministry and missions. I’m
very, very thankful for Dr. Patterson’s life.

When I wrote down James M. Baird, I was going through this history and I wrote
his name down, honestly I began to sob, in my office, alone, I don’t cry that
often, but boy, it was one of those shoulder-shaking cries because for one thing
I wouldn’t be where I am today, ministry I’m in today, if it hadn’t been for Dr.
Baird. He also ministered to my
mother. He buried my mother; he did
her funeral. He hired me to do the
junior high work here and when he did I can remember him sitting down across
from his desk and his saying, “Love God and love people.”
Almost as if, “That’s all I’m asking you to do.
You’re going to be on staff here — I’m just telling you, love God and
love people.” And I never forgot
that and I saw it in his life. And
I’ve seen him and you know him well enough to know he’s really a man; he’s a
man’s man. And he taught me a lot in
ministry about the fact that you can be a man and be a pastor at the same time.
And not only so, you can be a man and talk about your quote-unquote,
“Mrs. Jane,” you know, meaning your wife and family.
You can actually be in the ministry and put your family first.
I took that from Dr. Baird and his life.
And he did, literally, the church in Montgomery had already been turned
down three times if that tells you anything, they had offered, extended an
invitation to three other ministers and so they prayed and fasted, the pulpit
committee did, and at the end of their fast they received a letter from Dr.
Baird about me, undeserving as I am. And I’ve been able to rear my children
there in a Christian education for twelve years and just absolutely love where
we are.

And I have to really watch the time but at eight-thirty I did my impression of
Dr. Baird so I’ve got to tell you, because — there were actually two instances
in particular besides the voicemails he would leave me, we’ve since laughed
among friends that will remain nameless here, who’s left many voicemails.
I’ve left many a voicemail as Dr. Baird and people thought Dr. Baird had
called them. But what you have to do
when you do an impression, you have to be able to say, “Men, we need men, men!”
It’s just this one after the other fragmented sentences!
But he left, well besides the fact I was in the youth house one time on
Christmas Eve, I don’t know why — I was single and in seminary and I guess
that’s what single, seminarians do on Christmas Eve — and my light lit up on my
phone and I knew it was him because it was an internal phone deal and I picked
it up and I said, “Hello,” and he was like, “Hey, big guy!”
I was like, “Yes, sir,” “You
lead worship tonight, my office, five-o’clock.”
So that frightened me to death!
But the other messages that he would leave on my machine were these, “Big
guy! Jim Baird! You call me!
You call me!” Click!
You know! So I’d call him
back, fear and trembling!

J. Ligon Duncan III — you know, what do you say with a guy who’s got 175 years
behind him in a church situation and a friend and a mentor too?
But the fact that God has given you a man that is, just the privilege —
it is Ligon but it’s the sense of the history too, that you’re part of this
history and God has given you a man that is committed to the Word and prayer and
preaching and the sacraments and God’s means of growing a church and piety and
training up elders, training up leaders in the church so that his aim is that he
leave the church better than he found it.
What a gift. What a blessing.

So what do you say? How do you
charge him, or charge us, or you as a congregation?
I was reminded and read in my study in Bismarck who was a very cunning
German statesman in the 19th century, he said, “We cannot create the
stream of time, we only navigate upon it.”
We don’t create the stream of time, that’s God.
We only navigate upon it, so that when we celebrate 175 years the posture
before the ark, before the presence of God in Christ Jesus, that I prostrate
myself before Him and I say, “Who am I, O GOD, who is my family, that You are
mindful, that You have brought us thus far?”
That’s a sense of deep, abiding humility, to understand that whether my
name is Ligon Duncan or someone who just shows up and maybe you wonder if even
you’re known by anybody else in the church, that you are still, no matter who
you are, this little miniscule part of God’s stream of time, that First
Presbyterian Church is just a blip, it’s just a little blip on the screen of
God’s timeline, of His history.

You can mention, as we’ve done, and just through seven or eight of the twelve
ministers and be thankful for that and you think about the ruling elders and the
deacons and the WIC presidents and the Sunday School teachers and seminary
professors and you just think, “Well these are the high profile of First
Presbyterian Church.” What about 175
years of widows, constantly, faithfully, pouring into First Presbyterian Church
to put their widow’s mite in the plate to find peace?
What about faithful prayer warriors for 175 years who have been nudged in
the night by the Spirit of God to wake up and pray that — did I say Trinity at
one point? I don’t know – but First
Presbyterian Church, to pray for the church.
What about those, and this has happened in Montgomery at Trinity, where
someone’s nudged by the Spirit in the middle of the night to get out of bed and
actually go to the physical campus of the church and put their hands on the
bricks of the building and pray out the spirits of evil and pray in the Spirit
of God, pray down heaven upon that church?
Who’s to say 175 years, how many prayer warriors, how many people have
prayed and fasted and nobody knew it but God and that individual?
The ministers who’ve walked the pews before the sun comes up, maybe a
Saturday morning, maybe a Sabbath morning, and they’ve walked down, they walk
through and they remember where you sit, and they pray for you by name, and they
know what you’re going through and they’re praying.
The ruling elders, the teaching elders who have lost sleep because they
didn’t want to lose that unrepentant member.

175 years of constant, unmitigated, irrefutable spiritual warfare, not to
mention physically, when you think of those who flooded into the sanctuary of
First Presbyterian Church between 1861 and 1865, 1914, to 1919, 1941 to 1945,
1950 to 1953, the early 60’s through mid 70’s, the 1990 and 1991, 9-11, where
they come into the present, praying for our sons, praying for our daughters,
praying for our husbands, our wives, our parents, to come home, to get home safe
and sound, victorious. 175 years.

The woman who attended over all these years and she cried sitting in the pew
because her non-spiritual husband had missed yet another sermon she knew he so
desperately needed. For 175 years
there’s been people like that who have come and sat here sick and lonely and
depressed, and children who have sat in these pews disillusioned by their mom
and dad’s last argument, scared to death, or who have perhaps even did, endure a
divorce in this sanctuary. This is
the only place they felt safe, the only place they were secure.
Living stones in a spiritual house.
You see, it’s so much bigger, so much grander, it’s more sacred than this
sanctuary, it’s more intriguing than what’s written on paper about 175 year
history. It’s about the Holy Spirit
and the work of the Holy Spirit building up this spiritual house of living
stones, some with great gifts, very strong, some weak, some frail, some with
many flaws and yet they join this cloud of witnesses that we read about in
Hebrews 12 — “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us
lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with
endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and
perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the
cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father on
the throne of God.” This cloud of
witnesses that are making up this spiritual house, and some of them now are dead
but they are alive spiritually, and some are sitting here right now.

And the message to Ligon and the message to the ministers and the message that
this church will send for another 175 years is, “Sir, we would see Jesus.
We’re not interested in you.
We want to know about Jesus. I’ve
come here to hear about Jesus.” You
know in this passage we read, this is post-anointing Jesus with the oil, Mary
wiped the expensive perfume with her hair and even post-triumphal entry, these
Greeks come and they have this request of Philip, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”
And Philip went and told Andrew and Andrew and Philip went and told
Jesus.

If you walk into the pulpit area in Trinity in Montgomery we have an area — it
used to be the Flower Room, we still call it the Flower Room, and there’s not a
lot of traffic in there and I go that way to get into the pulpit.
And so it’s easy for me to be alone there before I open the door to go
in. So I like to — I’m very
ritualistic, especially on Sunday mornings.
And so I’ll get on my knees and I’ll pray as Spurgeon did, “I believe in
the Holy Spirit. I believe in the
Holy Spirit. And only God can change
the heart of a man.” And then I will
physically make myself smile, not that I don’t love where I am, I just want my
countenance to be a certain way. You
know when you walk in and I put my things in the pulpit so that I’m ready when
it’s my turn there, and then I sit down.
I have the bulletin and I put my hands under it.
You know Presbyterians don’t lift their hands up in public so I keep it
under the bulletin and I ask God to take it one more time, “This is for You.”
And then the first thing, and Ligon’s been there and knows, but the first
thing that a minister sits down and looks up is this framed calligraphy of,
“Sir, we would see Jesus.” I try to
smile again, you know, and say, “This is it.”
It’s a reminder that they’re not here to see me, it’s not about my
personality or my agenda or my philosophy or how-to’s.
People are saying, “I have gotten here because I need Jesus.
I want, I want to see Him crucified.
I want you to preach Him, I want you to preach the foolishness of the
cross to me.”

Professors James Denney of Glasgow actually has these sentences framed and put
on the wall of the Presbyterian vestry.
He said, “No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same
time.” Second sentence, “No man can
give the impression that he himself is clever and Christ is mighty to save.”
It’s impossible. You cannot
draw attention to yourself and Jesus at the same time.
These Greeks, they didn’t want to, they weren’t just looking to see Him
at a distance or be introduced, they wanted an audience with Jesus.
They wanted to sit down, they wanted time, they wanted to find out what
He was about and possibly be a follower.
So if we were doing a straight exposition of this you’d learn a lot more
about the text but you’d learn that actually the answer was, “Yes, but…Yes, you
want to be a part of Me, yes you want to embrace Me, yes you want to be a
Christian, you want to be like Me, yes you can, but you must join Me in this
hour, this hour that is at hand, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, the
ascension.” And He says, after that,
“I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains
alone. But if it dies it bears much
fruit.”

If ministers today in our pulpits would heed just the one request, just the one
little simple request, “Sir, we would see Jesus,” we might see revival in our
lifetime, maybe. If we could just
have ministers that it’s not about them but it’s about Jesus, it’s not about
their stories but it’s about the Word of God.
And we could have ministers that fill our pulpits that it’s not about
flattery and it’s not about prestige and it’s not about some position in the
church or the community or even sharing my Christian experiences with you, but
rather Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
As foolish as it seems, if we could just have that and have a life that
backs that up, it’s what I know Ligon’s committed to.
That’s what I love about that and his pursuits is that it’s a lifestyle
behind the Gospel of prayer and fasting and spiritual warfare and praying down
heaven, praying down the Spirit of God and embracing the loneliness of the
ministry by embracing the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ as my all in all, perhaps
then we’d see Holy Ghost revival.

It’s easy especially for you to sit where you’re sitting and say, “You know,
that’s where, it needs to start in the pulpit; it needs to start in the pulpit.”
And that’s true, I don’t deny that, but it starts with the Christian, the
real Christian, people that understand.
It’s not about, as Ligon prayed a moment ago, it’s not about this world
it’s about another world. My
citizenship is in another place.
Some of those people. When they hear
the Word and they join this kind of minister, they don’t critique by the way he
dresses or the way he parts his hair, articulates things or how long his sermons
are, okay, that’s the unspiritual man.
Let’s just say, that’s the unspiritual man.
We’re talking about revival, we’re talking about a congregation who prays
and fasts and joins in that spiritual battle and wants to do warfare with that
minister and is willing to walk that lonely road and be different and be counted
strange and unusual in this fancy, Disney world in which we live so often, only
then will we see revival.

And those of you who are sitting in the pews demand that we see Christ and you
ask, you say, “You know, I asked to see Jesus, what did I get?”
And be honest. The minister,
the minister is just the conduit.
He’s just a tool, he’s a mouthpiece.
It’s the Word and the Spirit, so what the minister — and I’m not a walker, by
the way and I never get away from my notes, but a minister that we’re describing
wants to get as far over here as he possibly can because there’s nothing about
him that he wants in his flesh, in his pride, he doesn’t want to somehow hinder
the light of the Bright Morning Star who is Jesus Christ.
And so here’s the minister.
We don’t call this a stage, I know, but if it were liken to a stage and there
was a curtain, the minister’s back here.
I mean, he wants all the attention on Christ.
He wants to be like John the Baptist and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who
takes away the sin of the world.” He
wants to be like Peter who says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living
God.” He wants to be like Thomas and
say, “My Lord and My God,” and bow down to Christ.
He wants to be like Nathaniel, the same thing.
And you know Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?”
We always think she’s scurrying around before she had faith.
She said, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah
who was to come.” It’s what you
demand of this person who stands here, that you’re saying with boldness to Ligon
and others to say, “Unto us a Child has been born, a Son is given, and the
government will be on His shoulders, and His name is Wonderful and Counselor,
and Mighty God, Prince of Peace.
Preach Him! Preach Him to us!
We desperately need Jesus. We
need rest. We need peace.”

That’s where I’d like for us to go, well, we don’t have any time left but the
remainder of time that I will monopolize this time, is that I would like to go
through about fifteen different scenarios and I would like you to think to
yourself, “Is he talking about me?”
And I want to give you Jesus. I want
you to say to me, “Sir, I am really,” and you fill in the blank, and I want you
to say, “I want to see Jesus.” And I
count this the greatest privilege in all the world.
And I’m going to invite you, though it may not be the typical practice at
First Church to get on your knees because I’m going to do it right here.
Anybody that feels uncomfortable, I’m going to set your mind at ease.
This is not strange; it’s very Biblical.
Those who are physically able and willing who want to, to get on your
knees, and let me lead us through some scenarios, you asked to see Jesus, and
you find healing, you find hope.

You may be here this morning and you are, you are flat out a notorious sinner
and everybody knows it. You know it,
your family knows it, this church knows it, Jackson may know it.
You’re stiff-necked and you’re very hardened.
And I want to remind you, you think I’m fixing to hellfire and brimstone
you, I’m not. I’m going to tell you
what Jesus said to the woman who committed adultery.
“Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus
said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go,
and from now on, sin no more.”

Maybe you’re very, very moral, very decent, you do everything right in Jackson
to be considered one to be respected but you don’t understand the Gospel, you
never have. You wonder, in your
heart of hearts, you really, really wonder if I’m truly saved.
Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.
Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of
life.”

You may be in bondage to self today.
You may have a certain appetite, a lust, an addiction, some bad habit, you know
it’s bad. You long to be free.
You know what Jesus said?
“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Maybe this morning you’re in need of guidance.
You need to make a decision.
You want care. And you know what He
says? “I’m the Good Shepherd.
I know My own and My own know Me.
Just as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father, I lay down My life
for the sheep.”

You may have come to church today and admittedly you really wonder if you’re
going to make it. You wonder if
you’re going to be able to finish well.
You don’t want to be an embarrassment to your family.
You wonder if you’re going to persevere.
You know what Jesus said? “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and
they follow Me. And I give them
eternal life and they will never perish. And no one will snatch them out of My
hand. My Father, who has given them
to Me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s
hand.”

You may fear what’s on the other side, you may fear dying, you’re afraid of
death. And Jesus said, “I am the
resurrection and the life. No man
who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.
And everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Do you
believe this?

Do you doubt His love for you this morning?
Have you ever wondered, “He could never love someone like me”?
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe also in Me.
In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told
you. I go to prepare a place for
you. If I go to prepare a place for
you, I’ll come back. Again, and
receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also.” You say, “I don’t
know how to go there.” He says, “I
am the way and the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father but through
Me.”

You say, “I wish I knew I had eternal life.
I want to be free from this.”
“This is eternal life that they may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom
You have sent.”

You say, “I want an advocate. I
don’t have anyone standing beside me.
John says for Him, “My little children, I am writing these things to you
so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin we have an Advocate with the
Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins
of the whole world.”

Are you tired and worn out? The
world just won’t do it for you, will it?
We try. Oh how hard you try.
I know because I live in Montgomery and I grew up in Jackson so I know
what it’s like. You know what Jesus
said? “I am the Bread of Life.”
You’re not going to find it anywhere but in Him. Quit running. He says, “I am
the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to
Me shall not hunger and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

Do you feel alone? Do you even
wonder if this body is really your family?
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear and Son and you shall call
His name, Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’”

Are you sick? Prognosis ominous?
We have a thirty-six year old daughter of our church eaten up with cancer
right now. She’s at UAB.
You know what Jesus says?
He’s the Physician.

Has depression set in? The cloud
that’s so thick? Promises of God
seem unattainable? He says, “I’m the
Prince of Peace. I’m the Prince of
Life.”

You feel off balance? You think the
ground underneath you is shaky? He
says, “I’m a Rock. I’m a sure
foundation. I’m the stone.”

Are you a skeptic? He’s the Messiah.
Are you a skeptic? He’s the
Rabbi.

You say you wish to see Jesus? You
want to look in the rearview mirror of 175 years and look forward to another 175
for this place? He’s the Alpha and
the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the glory of Israel, the head of the
Church, the Bright Morning Star, the Amen, the Passover, the Resurrection, the
Lamb of God, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Savior, Lord, Friend, Master,
the Gate, the Door, the Fountain, the Gift of God, the Author of Salvation, the
Blessed and only Ruler, the Branch of Jesse, the Bridegroom, Chosen of God,
Consolation of Israel, the Cornerstone, my Deliverer, Desire of all the nations,
Faithful and True, the Firstborn, the Foundation, the Fountain, the Gift of God,
the Good Shepherd, the Head of the Church, the Heir of all things, the High
Priest, the Hope of Glory, the Great I Am, the Judge, the King, the Lamb of God,
the Lord of the dead and the living, the Lord of the Sabbath, the Master, the
Mediator, the Messiah, the Mighty God, the One and Only, the Son of Man, the
Resurrection, the True Vine.

If we might, before we sing, just remain in this posture before Him and I’ll
quickly close to say to you — do you realize how privileged you are?
No one hardly has the privileges that you have and that I have to be a
part of a dimmer switch ministry, which is a ministry that sheds light brighter
and brighter and brighter as the years go by upon the only one, true, strong,
loyal, wise, Friend who can give what Jackson, Mississippi so desperately needs
and that is rest and peace.

We will stand together and sing 353, “For All the Saints.”

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, the fellowship of the
Holy Spirit, descend and rest in your hearts until the day breaks and all these
shadows flee away. Amen.



God’s Word Proclaimed: The Beauty of Zion

By / Apr 29

The Lord’s Day Evening


April 29, 2012



“God’s Word Proclaimed:
The Beauty of Zion”


Isaiah 2:2-5


The Reverend Mr. Joshua M. Rieger

We’re going to come to Isaiah 2.
Over the course of the last month we’ve been celebrating our 175th
anniversary as a church and as we come to the close of this month, we’re
certainly still going to be looking in the coming weeks at some of the issues
that are facing us as a church in this our 175th year, but this
evening is the final sermon on the month that we have set aside for the
celebration for our 175th anniversary.

As I began a couple of months ago to begin to get sermon titles and texts and
things like that from the men who were going to be preaching to us this month
and I began to be thinking about preaching tonight, I began looking at what they
were going to be preaching to us about.
And I began thinking about what they were going to be preaching to us
about and then listened very carefully over the last several weeks.
As we heard people who came from our history, people who had grown up
here, people who had partnered with us in the Gospel, people who had studied our
history, and the amazing thing is that in every sermon that we’ve heard this
month, one thing had been central, and it’s been the Word of God.
Not just because that has been what has been preached in every sermon but
whether it was somebody telling us about their partnership with us in the
Gospel, whether it was Brister telling stories to us about John Reed Miller’s
ministry to us here at the church, or whether it was this mornings’ message on
John 12 where we heard the response to, “Sir, we would see Jesus,” we have heard
over and over and over again about the Word of God and the Gospel that is
preached into it.

And so as I looked at that I thought that there’s probably no lesson or no
exhortation that we can take away from this month more than that we must
continue to minister, we must continue to worship with the Word of God begin
central in our worship. But tonight
before we come to Isaiah 2, before we read Isaiah 2 together, I want you to bow
with me in prayer as we seek help from the Lord.

Heavenly Father, we are so grateful to be able to come to You as sons and
daughters for You are the Almighty God of the universe, You are perfect in Your
holiness and Your Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all
creation. He is the One in whom we
have hope. But tonight as we come,
Lord, we know that were it not for our hope in Christ we would be doomed, for we
know the sin of our hearts, we know, Lord, that our hearts indeed are
desperately wicked as the Scriptures tell us, they’re deceitful above all else.
We know that, Lord, we have no hope of finding salvation.
We have no hope of understanding You apart from Your holy Word, apart
from Your holy Son and Your Holy Spirit who enables us to understand Your Word.
Lord, we pray that Your Spirit would work in our hearts tonight to
prepare us to hear Your Word. Lord,
I pray that Your Spirit would work in our hearts to learn from Your Word and
that Lord, tonight, we would be transformed by the power of Your Word, that we
would be pointed to You and to Your Son through whom alone comes salvation. I
pray, Lord, as we read Your Word that You would work in us, in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

If you would read with me in Isaiah 2 we’ll be reading verses 2 through 5.
If you’re using your pew Bibles tonight, that’s found on page 567.
Again, Isaiah chapter 2 verse 2:

“It shall come to pass in the latter
days thatthe
mountain of the house of theLORD

shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up
above the hills; andall
the nations shall flow to it,andmany
peoples shall come, and say: “Come,
let us go up to the mountain of theLORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
Forout
of Zion
shall go the law, and the word of theLORDfrom
Jerusalem. He
shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning
hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn
war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk inthe
light of theLORD.”

As we look at this passage tonight I want us to look at four specific things
that we see in this passage. I want
us to look first of all at the sovereign Lord of Zion.
As we look at this passage about the Word of God I want us to see first
the sovereign Lord of Zion. The
second thing that I want us to see is found in verse 3 and that is that, “out of Zion goes forth the law.”
The third thing that I want us to see is that the fulfillment of
Zion’s mission brings transformation.
And finally we’re going to consider the fact that Israel was not yet perfected and
neither are we.

But first let’s look at the sovereign Lord of Zion.
In this passage we see God’s sovereignty up close and personal.
We see it really in two ways.
First of all we see a God who establishes Zion.
Now we usually refer to ourselves as First Presbyterian Church in
Jackson,
Mississippi, and sometimes maybe
as Christians or as the Church. We
don’t regularly refer to ourselves as
Zion, but as we come to this passage we see a passage
that is about the church. We see a
passage that is a prophecy. Isaiah
is in the middle of just having told the Israelites about how God is going to
destroy other nations and he’s getting ready to tell them about how God is going
to destroy them. And in the middle
you have a few short verses where he tells them about the hope that they have in
the future. And that hope that they
have in the future is a hope that is found alone in Christ, a hope that is found
alone in the church. And as he tells
them that hope, he tells them of Zion, because
their hope is Zion.
As they’re about to lose what they see as Zion, which is really just a
small forethought of what Zion will really be, they’re using that as a picture
of what Zion truly is, which is their hope.
All the promises that they’ve received through the Scriptures — the
promises of greatness, the promises of peace, the promises of holiness, the
promises of blessing – all of these
things they are being told are going to be found in the church.

Now as this passage tells us, God is going to establish Zion.
It tells us that He is going to, “in the latter days, establish the
mountain of the house of the Lord,” and He tells us that He is going to
establish Zion
as the highest of the mountains.
This is not talking about literal height.
You know, Zion, MountZion
where the temple was built was only about 2400 feet tall.
It wasn’t a terribly tall mountain.
By contrast, Mount Hermon in the north of Israel was actually about 7400 feet tall, even
Mount Sinai was significantly taller than MountZion.
There are other mountains in Jerusalem that are taller,
much less in the surrounding nations, but the import here is not the height.
The import is actually pointing to something more spiritual.
In the ancient world, at the time that Isaiah was writing this and then
far after that, even into the present with some religions, mountains are a place
where God’s live. And we know this.
Mountains are the place — we have the capital where Jupiter lived.
We know Mount
Olympus
where Zeus and the other gods lived. We have MountAlborz where Chamrosh lived or MountMeru
where Lord Brahma lived, or even MountZaphon which is just north of Israel in Syria where Baal lived.
Even as Isaiah was writing this, that was what people believed.
But the problem was, all of those gods are false gods.
None of those gods are true.
None of those gods actually lived on those mountains, but this passage tells us
that in the last days when the Messiah comes, God will establish MountZion
as the highest of all the mountains.
He will live there; He will dwell there in the midst of His people and a real
God will live on a real mountain and He will no longer just be a God for a small
nation in the Middle East but He will be a God
for all peoples.

And so he’s telling them the sovereign God of the universe will make all of
these other gods negligible, and He will reign, He will establish His people, He
will establish His mountain, and He will live there.
The mountain of the house of the Lord will be the only place where
salvation is to be found and we will see that God is sovereign in the world and
He will overcome and overrule nations and kings and peoples.
God will be sovereign over history.
He will be the One who decides to send His Son to bring about this
blessing. God is sovereign over
salvation. He is the One who will
establish His people, who will establish His church, and who will establish
Mount Zion. God is sovereign.
We are the creatures, He is the Creator, and just as Romans 1 tells us,
every individual who has ever lived has worshiped the creature rather than the
Creator. We have all sinned and God
is the One who rules and God is the One who deserves sovereignty and God is the
One who is sovereign and God is the One who deserves worship.
And He is the One who will set up His kingdom and everyone will worship
Him. He will be sovereign over
physical and spiritual realms.

But the second thing we see about the sovereign Lord in verse 2 and 3 here is
that God will draw all peoples to Zion.
Edward Young says, “This last clause in verse 2 must be one construed as
one which expresses result. As a
result of the establishment and exaltation of Zion, all nations will flow under
her. It is the reversal of the
dispersion at Babel. At the city of
confusion, Babel, mankind was dispersed, so at the city of peace, Jerusalem,
mankind is to be united.” This
passage tells us not only will God establish Mount Zion, not only will He
establish His people, but He will also draw peoples unto Himself.
He will draw people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

And the thing that you may have noticed in this passage is that the people will
be flowing uphill. This isn’t
accidental. Notice in the end of
verse 2 it says that “all the nations shall flow to the mountain.”
In case you haven’t done much mountain hiking, usually streams and rivers
don’t flow uphill. That’s not the
way things happen. He’s pointing us
to His sovereign, drawing power.
He’s pointing us to the fact that this is His work.
He makes the people flow uphill to the mountain of the Lord.
Edward Young again says, “Note how clearly the doctrine of grace is
present in this passage. It is not
in their own strength that peoples resolve to flow unto Zion.
They act only because God has worked in their hearts making them
dissatisfied with their present condition and inclining them to seek Him.”
This passage is reminding us both of God’s sovereignty in establishing
His people and in His sovereignty in bringing His people together.
We cannot do anything to come to God on our own.
He is sovereign in salvation.
As Ephesians tells us, salvation is taking the dead and making them alive again.
It’s not something we can do.
This passage is telling us that salvation is taking a river and making it flow
uphill. It’s something that only God can do.
And so he points us to God’s sovereignty.
God Himself points us to His sovereignty.

The other thing we see though here is that the church is something that no one
but God can build. We can’t build
the church. There’s nothing we can
do to make it successful. We aren’t
here celebrating our 175th anniversary because we followed the right
formula and because we followed the right formula this is what came to pass.
There are many churches through the ages that have faithfully preached
the Gospel and have not seen the blessings that we’ve seen.
Jeremiah, a great prophet of God, preached the Gospel faithfully.
He never saw results of mass conversion.
God is the One who builds His church.
There’s no tool or method that we can invent to make the Gospel or the
church appear wise in the eyes of the world.
God is the One who builds His church.
He is the One who is sovereign in salvation.

And He tells us in verse 3 that one of the results of that is that “out of Zion
shall go the law.” That comes at the
very end of verse 3 but right before it there are two things that He tells us
are results of the law going forth out of Zion.
First of all, God teaches His ways through Zion.
Through God’s people and through the church He teaches His ways.
Zion is the center of the truth, so as God begins drawing people to
Himself, as He begins working in people’s hearts and giving them a desire for
His Word, the place they look is to Zion.
It’s the only place where the truth is.
It’s where they must go to find the truth.
Anybody who wants to know about God, as God draws them to Himself, must
go to the church, they must go to the people to hear His Word preached.
And so it’s where they turn.
It’s to the church of the living God.
And He tells us that as a result of His salvation that He has worked in
us, we are to be a people, a church, we are to be Zion who proclaims His work.
We are to proclaim the Word that is a source of God’s salvation.

The power of the Gospel brings us salvation but it’s not just a few words
written down on a piece of paper or a magic formula that somebody shares and
that’s what it does. It’s God’s
Spirit working through God’s Word to transform hearts that teaches people His
ways, and the only place that is found is in Zion.
If we as the church don’t love and teach and proclaim God’s Word, no one
else will do it. People come to
Zion, they come to the church, to find what is found nowhere else and God will
be proclaimed. And don’t forget,
Jesus, as He prepared to go into Jerusalem in that last week, He said, “If they
don’t worship Me, the stones will cry out.”
That was in the title of this morning’s sermon.
Christ will be worshiped, God will be proclaimed, and the church is what
He uses to do that. We are a people
who are to teach and preach the Word of God.
We’ve heard this month over and over again about how God has used men in
the past, some of us are related to them, some of us have heard all kinds of
stories about them. We’ve heard
about these men who impacted our lives, about these men who transformed things,
but it wasn’t ultimately they who made a difference; it was because they
preached the Word of God and it was God’s Spirit at work through God’s Word.
And the reason that God has blessed us is because we’ve been faithful to
His Word. And the only hope that we
have is to continue to be faithful to His Word.
Salvation comes in response to the Word of God proclaimed.
And this passage tells us that the result of salvation is to then
proclaim God’s Word. It’s kind of a
loop.

The other thing, though, that this passage tells us in verse 3 is that Zion is
not only a place where people come to hear God’s Word because that’s what
salvation produces, but also they come to seek holiness.
They come to look for ways, it tells us in verse 3, “that they may walk
in His paths.” Because a result of
God’s Word being preached, a result of salvation, is transformation of life.
A result of God’s Word is holiness.
“Out of Zion,” Psalm 50 verse 2 tells us, “Out of Zion, the perfection of
beauty, God shines forth.” What do
you think that means? God doesn’t
shine forth from impurity, from filthiness, from immorality.
God shines forth from Zion because of the purity and beauty of holiness
that is produced by the Word of the Lord.
And this passage tells us that the result of salvation is holiness.
The result of salvation is a changed life and God uses His Word to bring
about all of these things.

And actually that brings us right to verse 4 where we see that the fulfillment
of Zion’s mission, the fulfillment of the church’s mission of spreading forth
God’s Word is that He will bring transformation and ultimately He will bring
ultimate transformation. The peace
this passage speaks of in verse 4 as it says, “He shall,” speaking of God, “He
shall judge between the nations and decide disputes for many peoples and they
shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn
war anymore” is not talking about a peace that comes about if we just practice
pacifism. If we just all become
pacifists and we all do everything we can to fight war, that’s not what this
passage is talking about. This
passage is talking about a peace that only God can bring.
It’s talking about the blessed result of the Gospel, peace on earth,
through a common faith in God the Lord.
It’s not talking about a peace that God brings with Him because certainly
one of the things we see in the Scriptures over and over and over again is that
in salvation God makes peace with us.
We see in 2 Corinthians 5, “God, who through Christ reconciled us to
Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, and then that causes us to
implore others on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God” — you know, these
are real truths. We are at war with
God and the Word brings peace with God.
As God uses His Word in our hearts by His Spirit, He brings us peace with
God.

But that’s not what this passage is talking about.
This passage is talking of a peace on earth.
It’s talking of a peace that came about in Acts when Saul, who had been
killing the Christians, was suddenly transformed into Paul.
And overnight he went from somebody who persecuted the church to somebody
who loved God and loved God’s people.
He came to be a person who realized that he had been persecuting Christ.
As the Lord said to him, “Why do you persecute Me?”
And it transformed him. No
longer was he a Jew fighting Gentiles, no longer was he a nationalist or
somebody who was fighting for his religion, he had a new citizenship.
This passage speaks of a peace on earth that God brings.
This is a peace between men because our citizenship changes.

And he points us to this peace and it’s the hope that we have.
We are no longer, as Christians, a part of the nations that this passage
talks about. At the end of verse 2
and the beginning of verse 3 we see that we were all once all the nations who
were flowing to Zion and we were the many peoples who would come and say all of
these things. Once we were a part of
the nations. Once we were a part of
the many peoples. Once we were all
of those out there, yet God has acted in our lives.
Through His Word He has transformed us and He has made us a part of
the nation.
He has made us a part of Jerusalem.
He’s made us a part of Zion.
And now we have a new citizenship and that citizenship brings peace with all of
those who trusted in Christ. What we
see here is that God has drawn us into the fold, we are a part of the people of
God, and we have peace with people from all the nations, with people from all
over the world, because our peace is not on the basis of what nationality we are
or what country we’re a part of or what race we are or anything else.
Our peace with them is on the basis of a shared and common faith in Jesus
Christ. We are more closely bound to
people who speak different languages in Africa than we are to some of our own
kindred spirits here at home who inhabit the same nation we do, maybe even the
same state, because we have a shared faith in Jesus Christ.

And God tells us about a transformation that ultimately is going to be the hope
that we have. What we see here is
that the ultimate result of the church’s fulfillment of God’s Word at the end of
the day, at the end of the age, when every single last person that God has
called as His elect has come into the fold, is going to be a peace that God
makes, it’s a hope that we have in heaven.
It’s a hope that we’re looking forward to.
As we look around, you know one of the things that struck me this morning
as I was listening to the sermon, was Claude speaking about the ways that people
had prayed in this church in the 1860’s or 19-teens and in the 1940’s and in the
1950’s and the 1960’s and so on and so forth as sons went off to war and they
prayed for their safety. You know,
that should give us a desire to see the day when that’s no longer necessary,
when there’s no more war. And the
amazing thing about this is that it’s not like they just sign a peace treaty and
get rid of their weapons where they can make them once more.
You know, if you can turn a sword into a plowshare you can turn a
plowshare right back into a sword.

But what He actually does is He so transforms them that they don’t even learn
war anymore. They don’t know how to
do battle. And this isn’t
specifically talking just about physical warfare.
This is something that God does in our lives as members of the church.
He transforms us and brings about peace, peace with our brothers and
sisters in Christ. There shouldn’t
be argument and tension between us because God brings peace.
We have a greater hope than we can hope to come to from some argument
that we win. You know the motive in
winning an argument is to get your way, but the fact is, God has already gotten
His way in all of our lives and Christ is the One we are living for, and if He
is our greatest priority we have nothing else to argue about.
He brings peace in His church.

And He calls us to the hope of heaven.
He calls us to the hope that Paul talks about in Philippians 3 as he
says, “He has suffered the loss of all things that by any means possible He may
attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Isaiah is pointing the people of Israel who are living shortly before the
exile where they are to go into exile, they’re about to lose their nation, he’s
pointing them to a hope that they’re going to have in the Messiah.
But even as they look at the Messiah, they’re seeing an ultimate hope
that they’ll only have in heaven and that’s a hope that we still look for.
We look back with thanksgiving on the blessing that we have in God’s
Word, on the fact that He has established Zion.
He has established the mountain of the house of the Lord as the highest
mountain. He has already done this.
We have the blessing of going to a Messiah through a Spirit that lives in
us. God dwells in the midst of His
people and His mountain is taller than all the rest. And we have a blessing in
thanking God for these things, but we also have a hope in things that are yet to
come.

I threw verse 5 in here which is really more of a transition into the next
section because I think verse 5 shows us something about this prophecy.
In verses 2 through 4, he shares a prophecy that was actually a common
prophecy at the time. Micah, who was
ministering in Israel at the same time as Isaiah actually has almost word for
word this exact prophecy in Micah 4:1-3.
This is something that was a hope of the people who were about to go into
exile and a hope that they would continue to have when they were in exile.
But as Isaiah comes to the end of this future prophecy of the Messiah’s
kingdom, he turns to the people of Israel who are right in front of him.
And he says, “O house of Jacob come, let us walk in the light of the
Lord.” Now there’s one thing that
that implies. It implies that
they’re not already walking in the light of the Lord.
He’s calling them to walk in the light of the Lord.
He’s calling them to something that this prophecy will draw them to.
He’s calling them to walk in the light of the Lord in a way that they’re
not already doing so.

And we have this holy hill, and Christ has come, but we know that at this point
we are not yet perfected either, because how many of the things here can we say
of ourselves are not true. We know
that there’s not truly peace among us.
We might put on a smiley face for church and act nice to people on Sunday
morning, but what’s really under the surface?
Is there really peace with our brothers under the surface?
Are we really, in the words of Philippians, seeking others above
ourselves? Are we actually
accounting our brothers and sisters in Christ as if they’re more important than
we are? If we’re not, then there’s
not real peace among us. That’s the
only hope we have and peace, is to come to Christ and be humbled as He took
humility on our behalf. Are we a
people who truly love His Word more than anything else?
There’s no doubt that we have been faithful to His Word in this church
for 175 years. There’s no doubt that
we have had minister after minister in the last 150 years or so who have
faithfully preached the Word and it’s had a blessed effect among us.
It’s brought about things in this city and this church that are amazing.
And we can look to those things and we can look to God and say, “He is
blessed for doing this work.” But I
doubt that there are many of us who could really say that on a day by day basis,
hour by hour, minute by minute, God’s Word and the truth that it proclaims, the
God who is told of in His Word and the Messiah that we have hope in, is our only
passion above all else and everything that we do is to see Him magnified.

That’s what this passage tells us is the effects of the law of God going out
from Zion. The effects of salvation
in our life is that we will be transformed.
No longer will our passions be to accomplish comforts and find success in
employment, to do all of these things.
It’s not that God won’t bring us many of these things.
But our ultimate joy and our final hope will be in seeing Christ
glorified, in seeing Him lifted above all else, in seeing the mountain of the
house of the Lord lifted up as the highest mountain, as God is glorified for
what He has done among us because we’re remembering there is a sovereign God.
He is the One who has established Zion.
He is the One who has done this work in us.
He is the One who has transformed us.
He is the One who has drawn us to Himself.
We have no part in it. He has
all of it. And so what the Scriptures call us to is that He must increase and we
must decrease. That doesn’t mean
that we want to see God increase and maybe ride along on His coattails.
That doesn’t mean that we want to see Him increase but we’d like to stay
right where we are because we’re very comfortable right now.
That means we live lives actively seeing God promoted and ourselves
actually demoted. We want to see
Christ magnified and we want to see ourselves be less and less and less of the
picture.

This morning, as he was preaching, Claude stepped over here and told us about
the fact that the ultimate goal and what we should pray for in this pulpit is
not that we would have men here who would be great preachers and would be
greatly honored, but that we would have men here who would point us consistently
to Christ, consistently to the Word, and that there would be nothing that is
great among us at First Presbyterian Church here in Jackson but God’s Word and
God who has preached through it and Christ who is our only hope and salvation.
We have to have a passion for seeing God’s Word proclaimed among us, we
have to have a passion for proclaiming God’s Word ourselves, we have to have a
passion for holiness that only God’s Word can produce in us, and we must be a
people who are truly at peace with one another because we’re treating one
another and counting one another as if they are more important than we are.
We’re looking out for one another’s interests above our own.
We’re living a life that is founded on the Word, that cannot be founded
on any human wisdom, that cannot be looking wise to the world.
We can’t establish a church that people look at and say, “That looks like
a pretty reasonable religion. I want
to go over and have that.” We’re
talking about a Word that is foolishness to the world and it’s what has to be
the heart of our life as a church.
And we won’t be here another 175 years from now, certainly not looking like
this, if that’s not how we live, if that’s not our priority, if God’s Word is
not what shapes us, if we don’t teach our children to hold God’s Word high above
all else and love the Savior that is proclaimed therein.
If we don’t teach the way of salvation that is found in His Word, this
isn’t who we’re going to be 175 years from now.
This is the hope we have — to hold up God’s Word, to raise up men,
elders, and ministers who proclaim God’s Word; to proclaim God’s Word ourselves
at church to one another because this is where people come to hear God’s Word
proclaimed; in our workplaces as we take our kids to play baseball games and
soccer games and football games; as we go wherever the Lord takes us we should
be proclaiming His Word because we are Zion and He has established us and so He
is the One who deserves all the glory.

Let’s close in prayer.

Heavenly Father, we love You very much.
We love that You have allowed us to come to a saving knowledge of You.
We love that You have brought us to a place, drawn us to Yourself where
we do love Your Word and we want to see it proclaimed.
And yet Lord, we know that we do not want to see it proclaimed enough.
We are not passionate enough for Your Word.
We don’t love You as much as we should and we don’t hate our sin like we
ought. God, we’re not even aware of
our sin as we ought to be. Lord, I
pray that as we continue from this day forward to hear Your Word proclaimed,
that Lord, it would continue to transform us and transform our lives even as it
has already done. Lord, I pray that
we would not be a people who would be content to rest on our laurels, that we
would not be a people who is content with how far You’ve brought us, but that we
would be a people who are always seeking to be more like You, to share in the
sufferings of Christ, to love Him more than any other, to be more like Him, to
be united to Him, to see others united to Him.
God, I pray that as long as this church is here, until You return, that
You would protect Your Word in this pulpit, that You would give this church
elders and members who love Your Word and who desire to see it proclaimed above
all other things. Lord, I pray that
even as we celebrate this month and look gratefully at the things that You have
done among us over such a long period of time, that God it would give us a
passion to see You continue to do the same thing, that we wouldn’t bask in
self-adulation but Lord that we would give You glory and that we would give You
honor, and that You would be the One who is magnified among us.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

I’m going to give the benediction and then we’re going to sing the fourth stanza
of hymn number 150 which is in your bulletin.
If you want to come speak to me I’ll be down here at the base of the
pulpit.

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who
love our Lord Jesus Christ with an incorruptible love.
Amen.



The Shape of Pastoral Ministry at First Presbyterian Church

By / Apr 25

Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting


April 25, 2012



“The Shape of Pastoral Ministry
at First Presbyterian Church”


The Reverend Dr. Sean Lucas

Well good evening. It’s a great
pleasure once again to be with you all.
I was going to mention once again some of those connections between Dr.
Hutton and William McIntosh who was the long-serving pastor at First Pres.
Hattiesburg. We actually are
celebrating our 130th anniversary this year so we are remembering you
all as we all down south have been celebrating as well.

One of the things that I wanted to talk to you all about tonight was the shape
of your faithful ministry at First Presbyterian Church Jackson.
Really for over 175 years the keynote of your church has been a faithful
ministry, throughout the history of the, Southern Presbyterian Church in all of
its manifestations. Whether the old
school Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Church in the
United States
or now in the Presbyterian Church in America, First Presbyterian Church
has been known as a church with a faithful ministry.
And this faithful ministry has been exemplified most obviously in its
pastors but also in your elders and in your Sunday School teachers, or as they
were called back in 1848, your SabbathSchool teachers.
Your youth directors and Christian education directors, your camp
directors — all along the way, among all the people who have served your church,
it’s been shaped and offered a shape of what a faithful ministry looks like.

Now we often think we know what we mean when we say those words, faithful
ministry. But I think it would help
us tonight, briefly, to think a little bit about, “What is the shape of a
faithful ministry?” When we look for
a faithful ministry, what is it? How
do we recognize it? And particularly
for you, First Presbyterian Church, as you celebrate 175 years, what is the
shape of your past faithful ministry that will direct you into your future as
you seek a faithful ministry? Well,
I think the reason this church’s ministry has remained faithful throughout its
history is that it’s been committed to the ordinary means of grace and its
ministry and to Gospel ministry as its spiritual mission.
And specifically there are three things that I want to mention tonight
that provide the contours or the shape of what faithful ministry at First
Presbyterian Church Jackson has looked like.


THE CENTRALITY OF THE MINISTRY OF
THE WORD

First of all, and you’ve heard all of these in the vignettes, which were
wonderfully done, first of all the centrality of the ministry of the Word,
second, a dedication to pastoral care and discipline, and then third, a
commitment to evangelism and missions.
So first then, think with me about a faithful ministry as being centered
on the ministry of the Word. I think
if there has been a most important mark of your congregation’s 175 years it
would be the centrality of the ministry of God’s Word, and particularly the
pulpit ministry of this church, but also in the Sabbath School that was started
in 1848 and the Bible studies for men and women that have been a keynote of your
church from the Civil War forward.
All along the way the centrality of the ministry of the Word has been a central
characteristic of your church, even in times of difficulty — Civil War and
reconstruction, yellow fever, financial or political panic, world wars, civil
rights unrest. Throughout its time
of difficulties, the church has maintained a regular, consistent, focused
commitment to the ministry of God’s Word.

For example, the commitment was clearly displayed in the reconstruction period,
particularly when other congregations, most notably First Baptist Jackson — it’s
always good to run down the Baptists!
But particularly as First Baptist Jackson during the reconstruction
period really, really struggled, First Presbyterian Church maintained throughout
the Civil War and the reconstruction period, a regular ministry of God’s Word.
For example, in his diary, which is a real treasure in your all’s history
room, John Hunter noted when political visitors showed up but also how the Word
of God dealt with his congregation in the midst of all the crises of the
reconstruction period. So in a one
month period he wrote some of these things:

On August 20, 1865 he observed that, “a congregation large.
Members of the 1865 Constitutional Convention present.
I spoke with interest though using an old sermon.”
(laughter) It’s good to know
that he did that too! (laughter)
Two weeks later as Hunter preached on Acts 10 he noted, “The congregation
tolerably large and attentive. May
God increase household religion, a subject too large to be fully treated in a
single discourse. It is undoubtedly
one of great interest and importance.”
When the church observed communion in mid-September 1865, he said he,
“spoke with ease and some tenderness on 1 John 3:2.
Service solemn and impressive.
Some federal officers communed, one a Presbyterian from
Chicago.”
Such was a typical month in Hunter’s ministry as he watched God at work in the
congregation’s life. It was a month
that would be replicated time and time again over his thirty-seven years as
pastor of this church. As a preacher, Hunter was remarkable.
According to one remembrance, “As a minister, Dr. Hunter was always
earnest and attractive, carrying conviction by his logic and sledgehammer blows.
He was always straightforward, pointed and directed, believing that
language was intended to express thoughts rather than to cloud ideas.”

R. Q. Mallard who was a minister from
New Orleans noted that, “As Hunter preached he would
begin in a low, deliberate, almost hesitating tone with his eyes fixed on his
own feet, nervously rubbing his hands together.
But then Hunter became like a locomotive,” Mallard claimed.
“Directly the piston rod began to pulsate, gradually increasing its speed
until the form became erect and the eyes squarely faced the audience as he
plunged along a line of well-formulated thought with force and directness of a
steam-charged engine.”

Now Hunter’s approach to preaching, both earnest and Bible-centered, has
typified the ministry of the Word from 1858 on here at First Presbyterian
Church. From J. B. Hutton’s almost
lyrical style thrown into a kind of verse by his son in a collection of Hutton’s
sermons, to Gerard Lowe’s winsome expositions that were featured on
The Presbyterian Hour, and Wednesday night Bible studies that
offered overviews of the Bible long before Mark Dever was alive (laughter), from
John Reed Miller’s determination to win people with Gospel preaching Sunday
morning, engage people for the Gospel on Sunday night, and teach people the
Bible on Wednesday night, on through Ligon Duncan’s consecutive expositions
through Bible books, the shape of the ministry at First Church has focused on
the earnest preaching and teaching of the Bible as God’s inspired, inerrant
Word.

And because this is the case,
FirstChurch’s ministers prayed
that God’s people would gather regularly so that the church’s ministry would be
effective. Every minister in this
church’s history could echo the words first spoken by J. B. Hutton in his
inaugural sermon at FirstChurch in 1896.
In applying Acts 10:29, the text in the King James Version goes, “I ask
therefore for what intent ye have sent for me,” in applying that text to the
congregation, Hutton said this:

“If I am to come here
to speak to empty benches, it will not only be of no special inspiration to me,
but of no profit to you. If I am to
come to prayer meetings and to Sunday preaching services and you were to remain
at your homes, at your places of business, or at other places, your call to me
to be your minister cannot mean good to you.
For a minister to do effective service, regularity in attendance upon the
ordinances of God’s house is essential.
Nothing can be more discouraging to a pastor than irregularity of
attendance on the part of those who have called him to preach.
But aside of this discouraging of the pastor, irregularity of being in
your place at the Lord’s house is hurtful to the life of individual Christians
and is disastrous to all helpful working in this church.”

A faithful ministry of the Word required a faithful hearing and obeying of God’s
Word by God’s people to be fruitful.
And by and large throughout your history, First Church has demonstrated both a
faithful preaching of God’s Word and a faithful hearing of it as well.
So that’s the first mark, first contour, first line of the shape of a
faithful ministry that’s been your blessing — the centrality of the ministry of
God’s Word.


A DEDICATION TO PASTORAL CARE

But the second mark is this — a dedication to pastoral care and discipline.
Throughout the church’s history there has been a profound dedication to
this, to this pastoral care, to this discipline.
One kind of faithful pastoral care, one that ministers from the very
beginning of this church to its present day have done, is to be with people as
they are dying. In March 1867, the
session convened at the house of Susan Saunders in order to hear the profession
of one J. H. Young, a dying man who had been confined to his bed with a
protracted illness. And the session
minutes recorded, “After free conversation and examination in which J. H. Young
made a satisfactory expression of his repentancy and faith in our Lord Jesus
Christ, he was admitted to membership in this church.
They served him communion that same day; he died the next.”

Several months later, Hunter was by the bedside of his father-in-law, Stephen
Perar. He recorded in his diary,
“After the room was cleared, I sat down by him and asked him about his hopes in
Christ. They were firm.
No cloud rested upon his mind.
He said that he was unworthy has a Christian and hoped for acceptance
through the merits of Christ. After
this profession and a time in prayer Perar sank into a lethargic state and
several hours later he calmly fell asleep in Jesus.”
A month after Perar died, Hunter went to the home of a Mrs. Hawkins who
was dying after delivering her son, Milton.
That Saturday night attended a dead bed for Mrs. Hawkins, baptized her
child, Milton, whom she dedicated to God in her last moments.
She died at midnight hoping for a blest resurrection.
This is the shape not just of Hunter’s ministry but of all your ministers
throughout your history.

Sometimes faithful pastoral care meant intervening in difficult interpersonal
relationships. Duling in particular,
wrote significantly during the reconstruction period and caused the 1868 State
Constitutional Convention to make it a significant crime.
Sometimes though, more severe consequences were unavoidable.
Hunter recorded on January 8, 1866 in his diary, “A sad difficulty
occurred between Erskine Helm and Pembrook Garland.
They used pistols and wounded one another mortally.
A few days later as he was dying, Pembrook desired to make a profession
of faith in Jesus and the church’s elders went to his house and after a full
length conversation and examination in which Pembrook Garland made a
satisfactory expression of his repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ he
was admitted to membership in this church.
The man died an hour later.
Erskine Helm followed him in death three days later.”

While the church’s leaders were unable to prevent the Garland-Helm duel, they
were able to stop another one involving J. L. Power who would serve this church
as an elder for over thirty-five years.
Then, though, Power was a deacon and the co-founder of
The Jackson Clarion Ledger.
And he and a man named Edward M. Yeger, Edward M. Yeger, who would later
gain distinction by stabbing the active mayor of Jackson to death in 1869, got
into some measure of conflict in August 1866.
In fact, that month the session received news about a proposed duel to be
fought between the two men in Vicksburg.
They were able to meet with Power and discuss the matter with him.
It was a serious matter as the session believe that, “Dueling is a
practice utterly antagonistic to the letter and spirit of the Gospel.”
No duh! (laughter) Sorry,
that was an editorial comment! “A
practice wholly inconsistent with the conduct of a Christian professor,” and on
they went. Thankfully Power saw the
error of his ways and confessed that in the acceptance of said challenge, he
grievously sinned against God, that in so doing he forfeited his right to the
privileges of God’s church and also his position of superintendent of the
Sabbath School. And in response, the
session accepted Power’s repentance and did not remove him from his positions of
service within the church. Even
more, in light of Yeger’s later actions, they probably saved Power’s life.

Often though, faithful pastoral care involves church discipline, not just for
fantastic sins but for more common ones as well.
In 1874, the session had to deal with a woman who had, at various times
within the past year, had lived in fornication with a man at her home in Rankin
county. Twice they cited her to
appear before the session but she failed to do so.
And so on July 19, because she had failed to appear and because she had
admitted the act previously to Hunter, “It is therefore judged by this court
that she, for her said violation of the seventh commandment, be and she is
hereby excommunicated from the visible church of Christ.”
A few months later the session had to deal with a man who had engaged in
disorderly conduct. He was cited to
appear before the session to answer to the charge of drunkenness and other
unchristian conduct. The man wrote a
letter to the session in which he admitted to the charges of intoxication and
conduct on becoming a Christian and member of the church, and in response
through Hunter, the session admonished him against a repetition of the offense
and urged him to greater Christian faithfulness.

This was true of the church in the 19th century and continues on to
this day. Your church, like First
Church Hattiesburg and other faithful churches practices pastoral care and
sometimes has to practice church discipline.
It’s a mark of the true church, not just of First Presbyterian Church but
of any true Gospel church that She practice church discipline. And throughout
your church’s history, pastoral care and church discipline has not been punitive
or harsh but restorative and gracious.
To use the language of the PCA Book
of Church Order
, throughout its history the First Church session has played,
“the part of a tender mother correcting her children for their good, that
everyone may be presented faultless in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Such is the heartbeat of true pastoral care and discipline, and such has
been the commitment of a faithful ministry here at First Presbyterian Church.


A COMMITMENT TO MISSIONS AND
EVANGELISM

So two marks — centrality of the faithful ministry of God’s Word, commitment to
pastoral care and discipline. The
third is a commitment to missions and evangelism.
While some Presbyterian churches have moved away from the spiritual
mission of the church to be involved in political or social causes, First
Presbyterian Church has demonstrated a consistent commitment to the church’s
spiritual mission. And this has been
particularly seen in your commitment to evangelism and missions.
From its earliest days, the church has focused especially on evangelizing
young men. In 1870, the sessions
submitted a report to the central Mississippi presbytery in which they observed,
“with sorrow that a very large proportion of the male population of our
community are seldom seen in the sanctuary on the Sabbath and never in the
prayer meeting. This portion
embraces numbers distinguished for educational talents and influence.
They seem to live only for the world and tend only on temporal things,
regardless of the future life.” The
session was determined to reverse this negative trend through a renewed emphasis
upon outreach and discipleship of men.
They said, “It calls for increased effort on our part to secure a learned
and efficient ministry and greater zeal in the enlargement of our Sabbath
Schools and Bible classes.”

And so in order to meet this need, the church not only placed emphasis on Bible
study but they began sponsoring evangelistic meetings that focused on reaching
young people with the Gospel.
Starting in the 1880’s the church held meetings with such noted evangelists as
Sam Jones, the Presbyterian evangelist, El Gurrant, J.S. Hillhouse, and C.P.
Bridewell who was one of the great preachers of his era.
In the new century the church would join in union meetings with the
Baptists and Methodists in order to reach the city with the Gospel. They
sponsored Samuel D. Gordon who was the author of the widely read,
Quiet Talks, series.
He came in 1915. Gypsy Smith
in 1922 and in 1928. G. Campbell
Morgan came under the auspices of the church in 1923 and Billy Sunday in 1924.
First Church also sponsored Presbyterian evangelists such as William
Crow, who pastored the Idlewood Presbyterian Church in Memphis and later the
wonderful Westminster Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.
And Weightsy Smith who was a former First Church deacon who entered the
evangelistic ministry and who preached twice here at protracted meetings.

Now this commitment to mass evangelism was about reaching young men and young
women with the Gospel. And it
continued throughout the church’s history in the 20th century,
sponsoring twice Billy Graham in 1952 and again in 1975 and sponsoring a ten day
crusade with Billy Graham’s then twenty-four year old associate and
brother-in-law Layton Ford in 1956.
The church’s commitment to evangelism sprung from the realization that men and
women were saved primarily when they heard God’s Word read and God’s Word
preached. It was that same
realization that fueled the church’s passion for international missions.
For First Church, your commitment to missions began in November 1897.
That month, J. B. Hutton advised the session that he wished to begin two
new departments — the women’s missionary department and the men’s missionary
department. These two departments
were to select, equip, and maintain a missionary who would go to another part of
the world to share the Gospel. In
the following year, the session wrote to S. H. Chester who was then secretary of
the foreign missions committee for the PCUS, the Southern Presbyterian Church,
requesting his assistance in selecting a missionary.

And Chester suggested that the church assist Annie Rowland Houston Patterson who
served with her husband Brown Craig Patterson in China.
And not only was supporting the Patterson’s amenable because Brown
Patterson had been J. B. Hutton’s classmate at Union Seminary in Virginia, but
it also energized the congregation to get to work.
And what was even more amazing was that Annie Patterson didn’t simply
assist her husband by loving him and caring for their children, she was a
full-fledged licensed and degreed medical doctor herself.
So their ministry in China was actually pioneer mission work.
She would treat the women’s physical ills and sometimes would do surgery
with another doctor on staff. And
the medical work provided an opportunity for the Gospel.
The Patterson’s would go to various towns around their home base for a
day to a week, do medical work, share tracts, offer the Gospel.
There was house to house visiting, periodic protracted meetings.
The Gospel fruit that they had was small and yet provided the foundation
for the modern day explosion of Christianity in that country.
Who’s to know that the hundred million Christians that they think there
are in China do not have some small root in the ministry of the Patterson’s and
in your ministry through the Patterson’s.

In order to support Patterson, the women raised two-fifths of her salary and the
men and the children raised the rest.
By focusing on this one missionary – and her name was listed on the
worship bulletins through all the years the church supported her as the church’s
missionary. By focusing on this one
missionary the beginning of First Church’s international mission outreach was
born. Not only did the church
maintain relationship with the Patterson’s until their retirement in 1940, but
the church began to raise money above and beyond what was necessary to support
the Patterson’s to begin to support others.
Of course you know that your commitment to missions has flourished
through the years, especially with John Reed Miller’s leadership in developing
the world missions conference beginning in 1960.
And also vital has been your commitment to developing giving to missions
which has allowed you to expand your missions ministry exponentially.

But it was all rooted in a commitment to the ministry of the Word.
It was rooted in a commitment to send people with the Gospel because the
Gospel is life giving and it is rooted in and inspired in an inerrant Word that
much be read and preached for men and women to be saved so that there might be
further pastoral care and discipline so that men and women might make it home
safely. Now there’s a great deal
that could be said. You’ve got to
read the book in order to find our more, but these three marks of First
Presbyterian Church’s ministry should be enough to give you a sense of what your
ministry has been for 175. The
centrality of the regular ministry of the Word, dedication to pastoral care and
discipline, commitment to evangelism and missions, these emphases continue today
with the result that your congregation is a blessed Zion.
For tens of thousands in Jackson’s history and hundreds of thousands in
this country and who knows the countless thousands around the world.
As such, your congregation has reason to say in the words of Psalm 48,
“Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!
For within her citadels, God has made Himself known as a fortress!”
Thanks be to God.

Would you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, we do thank You for this wonderful time of reflecting on Your work
because after all, this is Your ministry that You have done in and through all
those saints who have been in this place through 175 years.
This is Your church, it’s Your Word, it’s Your covenant, it’s Your
Spirit, it’s Your glory, it’s Your Spirit.
It’s all Yours, Jesus. You
use us as Your vice-regents in this work, as stewards of this ministry ,but it’s
Your ministry. Jesus, we praise You
tonight for Your faithfulness over 175 years to this people called First
Presbyterian Church. Surely it is
right for us to sing Your praise.
Surely it’s right for us to raise our voices with the angels and praise the
Triune God for Your faithfulness.
And so Lord, give us hearts and voices to sing Your praise now.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.



Gospel 101

By / Apr 22

п»ї

Untitled 1



A Major Point from a Minor Prophet

By / Apr 18

Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting


April 18, 2012


A Major Point From A Minor
Prophet


The Reverend Dr. John Blanchard

I’ve had the privilege over the years of preaching in considerably over five
hundred churches on this side of the pond but there is none which I hold in
greater esteem or to which I count it a greater privilege to return than here at
First Presbyterian in Jackson, Mississippi, and especially in this year of all
years, celebrating the 175th anniversary of the founding of the
church. So it really is for you a
milestone year. As it happens and by
another lovely coincidence, this has been, still is, a milestone year for me.
Just a couple of months ago my publishers held a dinner in my honor in
London
which marks fifty years in the fulltime preaching ministry.
That was a very special occasion.
It also happened to be the 25th anniversary, virtually to the
day, since the first publication of
Ultimate Questions
, a booklet that I know you’ve used many thousands of
copies here at First Pres. over the years.
And if the Lord spares me for about another eighty-five days, it will
also be another milestone in that I will celebrate, or whatever you do with it,
my eightieth birthday! Oh, they’re
looking shocked! I know I don’t look
quite as young as that, but anyway, eighty is what it will be and so it is a
milestone year for me too.

A number of years ago a friend of mine stood up to preach and began, startled
the congregation by saying, “Please turn with me to the clean pages in your
Bible.” For a moment they didn’t
have a notion what he was talking about until he said, “I mean the Minor
Prophets.” I think that was a very
clever introduction because I’m going to guess that for the majority of
Christians that portion of Scripture, the Minor Prophets, the last twelve books
in the Old Testament, are those that are least read and least studied, and are
for that reason, the cleanest pages in their Bibles.
And we’re going to look at one of those tonight.
For several years my wife had urged me to write a book on the Minor
Prophets. I resisted simply because
there always seemed to be a more urgent need to be writing another of the
evangelistic booklets in which I’ve been involved over the years:
Why Believe the Bible? Why
On Earth Did Jesus Come? Jesus –
Dead or Alive? Why the Cross?
Can We Be Good Without God?
Is Anyone Out There? Where Is God When Things Go Wrong?
and so on.
But eventually, last year, I gave some protracted attention to it and the
book was published just a few weeks ago and as you’ve heard, there are some
copies available in the bookstore and others can now be had because they have
reached across the Atlantic and are now here in the United States.

Just to give you the briefest of timeframe here, although your women I’ve taught
in this church know this already, the Minor Prophets flourished roughly from the
year 800 B.C. to the year 400 B.C. when the last of them, Malachi wrote, some
prophesied to the nation of Israel before its exile to Assyria, others to Judah
before its exile to Babylon, and some, the last three to Judah after its return
from captivity in Babylon. So that
gives us the background. I should
also say this. That although they
are called the Minor Prophets, I think it was Augustine who first came up with
the title, it doesn’t mean that their message is less important than what we
call the Major Prophets because God doesn’t do small talk.
And the message He gave through the Minor Prophets is just as important
as the message He gave through what we call the Major Prophet’s life — Isaiah,
Jeremiah, and so on. So we must bear
that in mind. These are not just
unimportant and conspicuous parts of God’s Word.
They are just as important as the bits with which we are more familiar.

So we are going to turn to one of those tonight.
I’ve been asked several times which one it’s going to be.
I can tell you it’s, well, it’s the one that in
England
we call Habakkuk. I understand that
on this side of the Atlantic you call it
Habakkuk. I’m not about to take
lessons on pronunciation from a country that parks its cars on the driveway and
drives them on the parkway, and so Habakkuk it is!
But then again I may generously slip into the wrong pronunciation of it
as we go along just for your benefit.
So if you can find it, please, we’ll proceed with our study this evening.

This prophet is something of a mystery man.
We know nothing about his background, his hometown, his tribe, his
family, or his occupation. But if we
have problems with him, they are nothing to the problems that he had with God.
Now you haven’t misheard me.
He had problems with God. Look at
verse 2 of chapter 1:

“How long, O LORD,
must I cry for help but You do not listen?
Or cry out to You ‘Violence!’ but You do not save?
Why do You make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted.”

Who said that the Bible was out of date?
You’ll be able to read that in tomorrow’s newspaper.
You’ll hear that kind of thing on tonight’s television newscast.
It is hugely up to date because that is exactly the kind of situation
that we have today. Habakkuk
ministered to Judah and it was in a spiritual and
moral tailspin at that time. But his
problem, Habakkuk’s problem was not with man’s actions but with God’s inaction.
Look again at verse 2. “How
long, O LORD, must I cry for help but You do not listen?”
And the word, listen, means “Why don’t You reply by doing something?”
We’re all familiar with the phrase, and may have used it many times,
“Prayer changes things.” Please
don’t try to find it in the Bible because you won’t.
Those words don’t appear in the Bible.
I understand what people mean by saying them.
Things seem to be going a certain way and then we pray about it and then
sometime later things seem to move in a better, more hopeful, more positive
direction, and we say, “Prayer changes things.”
I don’t much like the phrase because I think it’s must inferior to the
phrase, “God changes things,” and sometimes does so in response to our prayers.
It would have been no good saying, “Prayer changes things,” to this
prophet because his problem was that it seemed to change nothing.
And verse 2, to just look at it one more time, is one of the most honest
verses in the Bible. “How long, O
LORD, must I cry for help and You do not listen?”
Which means, as I say, “You do nothing.
You are not hearing our prayers in the sense of hearing them and then
doing something in response to them.”

Well, the Lord’s answer to the prophet comes in verse 5.
“Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed.”
Now at this point I just want to take what God says to the prophet, very
slowly, just one phrase at a time.
Firstly, “I am going to do something.” So there is a glimmer of light at the end
of the tunnel. So God has heard the
prayers of the prophet and others with him.
And God says, “I am going to do something.”
Indeed, in some translations it says, “I am doing something.”
Either way, there was a first rising of the heartbeat, of the pulse rate,
of the prophet as he hears God say, “I am doing something,” or at least, “I am
going to do something.” And then it
gets even better. “I am going to do
something in your days.” And you can
just imagine him getting more excited when he hears that.
And surely we would feel the same in similar circumstances, whether we
are praying for revival in our nation — and your nation and mine both need that
— or in our state or city or area or neighborhood or church or in our family.
We pray for God to intervene, to work, to move in our family, in our
church, in our city, in our state, in our nation.
And if we were in some way to hear from God that He was going to do
something, we would begin to get very excited.
God was going to do something.
“I am going to do something.”

But how much more excited would we be if God told us, in some way, “It’s going
to happen in your days, while you are still alive”?
Now it would be one thing if God were to tell you, “I am going to do
something. Your prayers have not
fallen on deaf ears. And I am going
to do something. I’m going to act in
that very situation that concerns you but I’m going to do it after you’ve died.”
Well, we would rejoice in that, in some sense, that would be a win-win
situation. God was going to do
something and we’d be in heaven anyway so it was win-win.
But if God were to say to you, “And it’s going to happen while you are
still alive,” you can imagine how our excitement would grow and so of course did
that of Habakkuk.

And then He went even further than that.
“I’m going to do something that you would not believe even if you were
told.” So what God, if I may dare to
paraphrase, was saying is, “I’m going to do something so stupendous, so immense,
I’m not just going to give a slap on the wrist to disobedient Judah; I am going
to do something so immense that if anybody else told you I was going to act like
this you simply wouldn’t believe it.”
Well I think my now the prophet was hyperventilating at the prospect of
what might happen.

And then comes the crunch. “I am raising up the Babylonians.”
If Habakkuk had been a tennis player and his name was John McEnroe he
would have said, “You cannot be serious,” because that must have been his
feeling. “Look, I am going to do
something in your days you would not believe even if you were told.”
Verse 6 — “I am raising up the Babylonians.”
And we’re not left in any doubt as to, “Well, what does that mean?
Are these people good, bad, or indifferent?
Are they going to bring great blessing to our nation?”
Look what follows:

“That ruthless and
impetuous people who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not
their own. They are a feared and
dreaded people. They are a law to
themselves and promote their own honor.
Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong.
Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like a vulture swooping to
devour. They all come bent on
violence. Their hordes advance like
a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand.
They deride kings and scoff at rulers; they laugh at all fortified
cities. They build earthen ramps and
capture them. Then they sweep past
like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own strength is their god!”

Was the prophet hearing right? In
answer to the prayers of a godly remnant in disobedient, backsliding Judah, God
said, “This is what I’m going to do.
In answer to your prayers I’m going to send you the Babylonians.
The terrific, powerful, violent, ruthless people.”
Now do you see where the prophet had the problem?
And in a nutshell, his problem was this.
How could God deal with His covenant people by punishing them at the
hands of a people with whom He’d never even established the covenant, a pagan
people? He was going to unleash them
and set them onto Judah. So God’s
answer to the first problem raised an even bigger problem in its place.
And listen to why it was such a massive problem for Habakkuk.
It was for this reason. That
the prophet knew so much about the character, the essence if you will, the
nature of God. You and I are glad to
belong to a confessional church, and over the years, over the centuries we have
cause to be grateful for creedal statements that have crystallized fundamental
truth in Scripture. Whether we think
of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the
Westminster Confession of Faith, the
1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, the
Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of
England
, and so forth. Hugely
important creedal statements that settle and make clear for us the nature of
God.

Well, look at verses 12 and 13. Here
is the prophet’s creedal statement.
Notice the things that he says about God.
He speaks about His eternality – “Are You not from everlasting?”
He speaks about His holiness – “My God, My holy one.”
He mentions His faithfulness – “We will not die.”
His sovereignty – “O LORD, You have appointed them to execute judgment.”
His justice — “It is to execute judgment that You have done this.”
Your justice again — “Our sins will be punished.”
And then His faithfulness — “But we will not die.”
And then His purity — “You are too pure to look on evil.”
Now that is good, sound, solid doctrine but it didn’t solve the prophet’s
problem. The fact that his doctrine
was so clear and so full and so accurately reflective of the nature of God,
didn’t make his problem go away, there’s a sense in which it made it worse or at
least it caused him to think seriously about what was being said.
The fact that he got his doctrine right was not the end of his problem.

Biblical doctrine is not like a jigsaw.
We all have known times when we’ve loved doing jigsaws.
In the early years of our marriage and indeed well beyond that and when
we were raising the family, we loved doing jigsaws.
And in a sense, the bigger and the more difficult they were, the better.
You know, thirteen ghosts in a snowstorm.
That was a great jigsaw to do; that kind of thing.
Joyce, in fact, at one point belonged to a jigsaw club or society so we
would get these jigsaws coming through the mail.
And you know how you do them.
You get the straight edges first or the corner bits first and then they’re
filled in and gradually you go on and on until the magical moment arrives,
weeks, months, and sometimes years later, you say, “It’s finished.”
That is all solved. We’ve
solved all the problems. All the
pieces are in place. Now we can fold
our arms and say, “That’s great. No
more problem.”

Doctrine is not like that. It’s only
the person whose doctrine, whose understanding of the nature of God is Biblical
that has problems in this kind of situation.
Let me be as dramatic as I can about this.
For the person who doesn’t believe in God, 9-11 was nothing more than a
spectacular arrangement of atoms and molecules.
Did you hear that? You see,
the atheist’s creed, he has a creed, and his creed is, “We began as a fluke, we
live as a farce, and we end as fertilizer.”
That’s atheism’s creed. “We
were not created by God. Life really
doesn’t have any ultimate purpose.
We’re here for a little while and then, in Bertrand Russell’s words, ‘When I die
I shall rot.’ And we’re not going
anywhere anyway. So 9-11 was a
spectacular rearrangement of atoms and molecules but nothing that should concern
us about the meaning of life and the dignity of man and all the rest of it.”

But once we believe in God, a God who is our Creator, and Sustainer, and once we
read in Scripture and have a good handle on the truths that God is sovereign,
that all things are accomplished in accordance with His will and that He is a
God of love, don’t you see that suddenly we have questions to answer when this
kind of thing happens on God’s watch.
There are answers. There is a
way of applying Biblical truth to that situation.
But I hope you can see that the person with no idea of God can’t complain
that something is beyond understanding because how can a God who is loving and
all powerful allow that to happen.
That, in a nutshell, is the kind of problem this prophet had.
We must begin to tackle that kind of situation by saying something that
has become a mantra of mine over the last ten or eleven years of doing, what I
call, popular Christian apologetics, and it’s this.
The Bible does not tell us everything we want to know, but it does tell
us everything we need to know. I
think to bear that in mind is to help a great deal.

Well, God’s response at the beginning of verse 2 comes to us and the key phrase
is, “It will happen at the appointed time.”
Look at verse 3. God is never
in a hurry. He’s never caught on the
hot. He’s never up against a tight
schedule. Whenever God does
something it is never a moment too soon or a moment too late.
And this was the message to Habakkuk.
But what should he and other believers do in the in between time?
Yes, God was going to act, He was going to answer prayer, He was going to
deliver His people, even though it was in this most extraordinary and unexpected
and violent way. But that was
apparently of some time in the future.
What should they do in the meantime?

Well, that brings us to what God says about the matter.
And what He says is this.
Look at verse 4 of chapter 2:

“See, he is puffed
up.” This is Babylonian.
“He is puffed up; his desires are not upright, but the righteous will
live by his faith.”

That’s it. That’s the, if you’ve
been waiting for it, that’s the major point from this minor prophet.
“The righteous will live by his faith.”
I believe this verse has a claim to be the greatest verse in the entire
Bible. I don’t think that’s the kind
of discussion that needs to be carried on very long because it can never
ultimately be proven popular but surely there’s a case for it.
It’s so important that it’s quoted three times in the New Testament —
once in Romans, once in Galatians, and once in Hebrews.
The Romans and Galatians are virtually identical, so what I’m going to do
now is to concentrate, draw your attention first to where it occurs in Romans
and then in Hebrews and then we’ll come back to where it occurred in Habakkuk as
we close.

So turn with me please to Romans chapter 1 and verse 17.
Romans chapter 1 and verse 17.
In the 16th century the continent of Europe was in desperate
spiritual darkness, dominated by the Roman Catholic Church with horrendous
unbiblical practices, including of course the scandal of indulgences whereby
people could pay money and visit relics in order to shorten their time in
purgatory and alleviate the punishment of those they believed were already
there. In Germany at that time there
was a young monk who’d been wrestling for years with the problem of how to get
right with God. He was so desperate
about it that he joined the hermits of Saint Augustine, one of the most strict
order in the whole of the Roman Catholic Church.
He poured himself into study and prayer and meditation and rituals and
sacrifices and ceremonies. He said,
and I quote, “I was a good monk and I kept the rule of my order to strictly that
if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkary it was I.”

He fasted for days on end. He slept
with virtually no bedclothes at night, even in the depths of winter, and almost
froze to death. He had an
overwhelming sense first, of God’s holiness, and then of his own sinfulness.
And he knew that if he was ever to get right with God his sin would need
to be forgiven. But if these sins
were to be forgiven they would need to be confessed.
But if they were to be confessed they would need to be remembered.
But what if he didn’t remember them all and some of them slipped through
the net? Surely that would find him
condemned. And so he spent endless
hours going to a confessor, sometimes up to six hours at a time.
He drove his confessor crazy.
The confessor said to him, “For goodness sake, go away and do something worth
confessing!” He said, in his torment
of guilt and fear and despair, and I quote, “I was more than once driven to the
very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created.
Love God? I hated Him!”

And believe it or not, when he was in that position, the Roman Catholic Church
appointed him as lecturer in the Bible at the local university.
And now for the first time he seriously had to read the Bible.
And two years later he came across Romans chapter 1 and verse 17:
“For in the Gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed.
And those words crushed him because what he took them to mean was this.
This Gospel, about which of course he had no idea, what is this Gospel
doing? It is revealing — this was
his thinking — the righteousness of God.
It is a description, it is a picture, it is a lens into the righteousness
of God. And he took that to mean
that the Gospel was putting into capital letters what he already knew in
lowercase – the righteousness, the holiness, the purity of God, the very thing
that lay at the heart of his guilt and despair.
And so his situation got even worse.
It crushed him even further.
He was in a dreadful state of fear and despair.
He believed that the Gospel wrote his death sentence in even larger
letters and that drove him to even deeper despair.

And then one day, the truth of these words broke in on him and he saw that the
righteousness of God was not a description of God, it was the righteousness
from God – God’s righteousness, the
way of righteousness, the way of being right with God, that God had provided,
and that he had done so himself in the person of Jesus Christ – hat the
righteousness of God was a gift from God granted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ
who had fulfilled every requirement of the Law and so was without sin and then
having lived a sinless life He offered Himself in death on the cross and
fulfilled the requirements of the Law in that regard too.
And he said this, “When I saw the difference that the Law is one thing
and the Gospel another, I broke through.
I felt myself to have gone through doors into paradise!”
The monk’s name was Martin Luther, and the rest, as we all know, is
history.

This is the key of salvation. Jesus
has fulfilled all the demands of God’s Law in His life and in His death and the
one who puts his or her trust in Jesus Christ and doesn’t put his or her trust
in themselves, the person who trusts in Him is declared right with God, not on
the basis of his or her own merits but on the basis of Jesus Christ.
So that Edward Mote, the English hymn writer can say these words, “My
hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
It’s the key to salvation and I dare not before going a moment further in
this service tonight, I dare not fail to ask whether each and every one of you
here tonight is clear about this.
Not only clear about it intellectually and seeing, “Yes, this is the key to
salvation. The righteous, the person
who is right with God, is right with God by faith, by faith in Jesus Christ, by
trusting Him and knowing Him as one’s own personal Savior.”
Let me ask you then, as if you were the only other person in the room
tonight, are you trusting Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior?
When you look back to the cross and can you say, “Bearing shame and
scoffing rude, in my place, my place, condemned He stood.
Sealed my pardon with His blood”?
Can you say that? Do you know that, not only in your head, “Yes, I know
that Jesus died on the cross for sinners, rose again from the dead,” but can you
say, “He stood there in my place. He
bore my sins. I know that I am
forgiven. I know that I have eternal
life because my trust is solely, only, totally in Him”?
If you can, you’ve discovered the key to salvation.

But secondly, it’s the key to perseverance.
So go on further into the New Testament please to the book of Hebrews and
to chapter 10. Now what we call
Hebrews was written to converted Jews, possibly living at Rome, and they were
caught between a rock and a hard place.
They were hated by the Jews, you’ll find that all over the book of Acts
and Romans, and they were hated also by the Romans.
And so they endured a great deal of suffering.
Look at verse 32:

“Remember those
earlier days after you had received the light when you stood your ground in a
great contest in the face of suffering.
Sometimes you were publically exposed to insult and persecution, at other
times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.
You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the
confiscation of your property because you knew that you yourselves had better
and lasting possessions.”

So this was the situation they were in.
It was a very difficult situation.
They were, as I say, between a rock and a hard place.
So what were they to do?
Well, the writer tells them in modern-street language to “hang in there.”
Look what he says in verse 35:
“So do not thrown away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded.
You need to persevere.”
That’s it, hang in there. “You need
to persevere so that when you have done the will of God” — and now there are two
promises; notice them. “You will
receive what He has promised” — there’s the first.
And the second is – “In just a very little while, He who is coming will
come and will not delay.” So he says
to them, “I know the going is tough, I know there are things you can’t
understand, but here are two things I want you to cling on to.
Don’t let them go, whatever happens.
You will receive what was promised; you will, at the end of this life,
whatever it may hold for you, you will receive the fullness of salvation in
heaven. Here’s the second promise —
Hang onto it. ‘He who is coming will come.’”
So they were to hold on to these two great promises.

But as with the verse in Habakkuk itself, that was in some time in the future.
In some time in the future they would find themselves by the grace of God
in heaven and at some time in the known, unknown,
Jesus is going to return. But
what should they do in the meantime when the going was so tough and they were
suffering so greatly. Well look at
exactly what the writer says to them in verse 38.
Well he quotes Habakkuk. “But
My righteous one will live by faith.”
Now what a word for us today because we have the same two great promises
of which the writer reminded the Hebrews.
We have the promise of the fullness of eternal life in heaven; we have
that promise. And we have the
promise that Jesus will return. It’s
mentioned three hundred times in the New Testament, once in every thirteen
verses from Matthew to Revelation.
We have that promise. And we must
cling onto those two promises but we are in the in between time, between the
giving of the promises and the fulfillment of them.
We don’t see heaven with the eye of the flesh, we don’t see the Lord
Jesus returning with the eye of the flesh, but we are to see them both with the
eye of faith. The righteous one
shall live by faith.

That is exactly what the writer tells the Hebrews and it is precisely the same
for us today. It’s a foundational
principle of the Christian life.
Brilliantly summarized by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:7 — “We live by faith, not by
sight.” You see, we simply don’t
know how the swirling circumstances of life that so trouble us at times perplex
us, confuse us, throw us off balance at times — we don’t know how those fit into
God’s plan and we don’t need to know.
In some Christian circles today there’s a craving for signs and wonders
and words of wisdom and extra Biblical revelation and sudden and dramatic
solution to our problems and so forth.
But that kind of emphasis is unhelpful and it’s eccentric because it
dismantles the principle of faith.
Think about our trials and tribulations and traumas and pains.
Now the only answer that makes natural sense is to get rid of them, have
them solved, and the sooner the better, in fact immediately.
And there are practitioners on so-called Christian television who would
in fact say that, “All we have to do is name it and claim it.
God is a loving and powerful heavenly Father.
If we have a situation like that, a financial problem, a health problem,
a relationship problem, all we have to do is claim deliverance from it and it
will be given. Oh, and by the way,
here’s the address to which to send your check,” which is very helpful of them.

But again, that dismantles the principle of faith.
You see, faith has another option.
Think of Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni Eareckson as she was at the time when
she dived into that river, that water, and came up out of the water
quadriplegic. She went through a
tough time after that. There was a
time when she nearly let her faith go, but read her whole story and read these
words from her later: “When we learn
to lean back to God’s sovereignty, fixing and settling our thoughts on that
unshakable, unmovable reality, we can experience great inner peace.”
Now hear me carefully, or rather hear her carefully.
“Our troubles may not change, our pain may not diminish, our loss may not
be restored, our problems may not fade with the new dawn, but the power of those
things to harm us is broken as we rest in the fact that God is in control.”

So what should we do when we feel at times that we’re between that rock and hard
place, when we can’t understand what’s going on?
Well, we’re given three times, as we’ve discovered in Scripture, in fact
quoted three times in the New Testament from Habakkuk’s statement in the Old,
“My righteous one will live by faith.”
We are called upon throughout Scripture to trust God even when we cannot
trace Him. And I’ll confess, it is
difficult at times to trace God.
It’s not easy to reconcile the dreadful thing that may suddenly or gradually
happen to us. It’s not easy, it’s not simple, it’s not the snapping of the
finger to reconcile that with a powerful and loving God but we’re to work
through it in prayer and the study of God’s Word until more and more we learn to
trust God even when we cannot trace Him.

So the righteous will live by faith is the key to salvation as we saw in Romans,
it’s the key to perseverance as we have just seen in Hebrews.
Now turn back to Habakkuk himself and to chapter 2 and verse 4 and see
with me that it’s the key to understanding history.
Now you remember the situation.
God is about to execute judgment on a nation that’s dishonored His
covenant and He’s going to do so by the violent means of a nation with which
He’s never established a covenant in the first place.
A bunch of pagans are going to be unleashed on them.
The Babylonians, which incidentally in modern geography would be the
Iraqis, which is not a political statement but just a matter of geographic fact.
And it sounded preposterous. What
was a believer in God meant to do in that kind of situation and what should
believers do if God insisted on going through with this preposterous plan as it
must have first flush to have seen?
The answer is, live by faith.

And nothing could be more relevant to us today because again, we live in the in
between times — between the giving of the two great promises in Hebrews, “We
shall receive eternal life,” and “The Lord Jesus is going to return.”
We live in that in between time and the in between time is tough.
It’s tough on an international, global level if you think.
Many of us have lived through all or part of WWII and the Cold War that
followed it and the Cultural Revolution in China, the murderous escapades of Pol
Pot in Cambodia, the apartheid upheaval in South Africa, the turmoil in many of
the African countries, the thirty years of the troubles in Northern Ireland with
thousands killed, the crushing of human rights in one country after another, the
persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, the martyrdom of
Christians — Christians suffering to the point of death for their faith and more
in the 20th century than in all the previous nineteen put together.
The era of martyrs within the Christian church was not in the 1st
century but in the 20th.
And almost everywhere, moral standards seem to be in free fall.
The spiritual temperature seems to be dropping.
And then there are all the heartaches and disappointments and
difficulties. Yes, and failures that
we endure at a personal level. What
are we to make of all of that and how are we to live in the light of all of
that?

And it would not be unusual for people to say, “What’s happening?
What’s happening in the world?
What’s happening in my family?
What’s happening in my life?
I just don’t understand how all of this fits in.
What’s happening? What’s
going on?” Here’s the answer to the
question. The answer is that God is
working out His eternal and unchangeable purposes to the glory of His name and
the eternal good of His people.

My father was a laborer and his hobby was repairing watches.
And I mean real watches. And
he took the back off and it was full of sprockets and wheels and coils going
this way and that, big ones and little ones, some appearing in total conflict
with each other. It all just looked
an incomprehensible and pointless mess.
But when you turned over to the other side, now you were able to see that
all of those conflicts and little wheels and big wheels and levers and sprockets
going in this and that direction, they were all contributing to those hands
moving in one clear, sure way. And there are times in our life when things seem
to conflict and to baffle us, puzzle us, disappoint us, throw us down, but when
we get to the other side we will see that every single one of them was part of
God’s perfect plan to achieve His perfect purposes for all of His perfected
people.

And we know Paul says that, “In all things, in all things,” — oh and he’s just
been writing about everything collapsing.
If you read the early part of Romans 8 it’s the second law of thermo
dynamics put in theological language.
The whole creation is groaning like a woman in travail, of childbirth,
and it’s following that that Paul said, “And we know that in all things, yet
including all the things I’ve just mentioned,” says Paul, “God is working for
the good, that is the eternal good, of those who love Him, those who are called
according to His purpose.” Yes, and
even when there is the temptation and sometimes the successful temptation to
feel that the devil is doing this; the devil has got into this situation.
Oh, that’s one of the old things.
The puritan William Gurnall once said, “God puts His eggs under the devil
for him to hatch.”

And you know, the prophet Habakkuk eventually got the message.
Turn over to the end of the book, chapter 3, the last verses. Don’t you
think that verse 16 is wonderfully honest?
Look. “I heard.”
Now you know what the message was.
“I am going to send the Babylonians.
They’re going to tear you apart.”
“I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept
into my bones and my legs trembled.”
He would never have gotten a program on Christian television.

The olive crop fails, the fields produce no food, there are no sheep in the
field, no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will be joyful
in the God of my salvation.” How can
he do such a thing? How can he react
in that way to that kind of situation?
Well, the answer’s in the next verse, the final verse.
“The sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a
deer; He enables me to go on the heights.”
So the prophet is saying, “Things are beyond my understanding but my
trust is in God and it is His faithfulness that is enabling me to have unshaken
faith in Him.”

William Cowper was a great friend of John Newton, the English minister, best
known at a popular level these days for writing his hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
William Cowper had terrible sessions of depression and on one occasion he
decided to end his life. So he
called for a coachman and he got on board the coach at night and asked him to
drive to the banks of the River Uz and his intention was to get out of the
coach, throw himself in the river, and drown.
And the coachman got lost and asked Cowper what he should do.
And Cowper said, “Well, see if you can find a light somewhere out there
and make for that light and then we’ll see where we are.”
So they made for the light and found that they were back home.
And some time later Cowper wrote these words:

“God moves in a
mysterious way, His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread, are
big with mercy and will break with blessing on your head.
His purposes will ripen fast unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”

The righteous live by faith. Let’s
pray together.

Our sovereign God and Father, we thank You for giving us these precious moments
of quiet, withdrawn from the business and busyness of a confusing, conflicting
world. We seek now, with the
Spirit’s help, to lay ourselves before You and to pray that we might have the
faith that conquers, the faith that trusts You, even when we cannot trace You.
Lord, enable each one of us to live in the good of Your Word, for Jesus’
sake, amen.



A Faithful Partner in the Gospel

By / Apr 15

The Lord’s Day Evening

 

April 15, 2012

 

“A Faithful Partner in the Gospel”

Philippians 1:3-6

 

The Reverend Mr. Michael A. Campbell

 

Good evening everyone. It is so good to be here tonight and to have the privilege of opening God’s Word with you. It’s always a special honor and privilege for me to preach in this pulpit, and tonight is especially so because of what you are celebrating and what you are focusing on, 175 years. And so I want to thank Dr. Duncan, I want to thank the session of First Pres. for considering me and for inviting me to be a part of your anniversary and your celebration.

 

If you have your Bibles with you tonight I’d ask that you please turn in them with me to Philippians chapter 1. Philippians chapter 1. And we are going to look at just a short passage from Philippians chapter 1 verse 3 through verse 6 and I encourage you to turn to it. I’m reading from the English Standard Version of God’s Word. Philippians chapter 1 verse 3 through verse 6. The apostle Paul here writes, and this is the introduction really of this letter:

 

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

 

Let’s pray together.

 

Father, as we now have read and are preparing our hearts to hear the Word of God preached, we want to thank You for Your Word. We thank You, Lord, that it is true in all that it proclaims. We thank You that it is good. We thank You that it is helpful. We thank You, Lord, that it is the rule of faith for all of our lives and certainly for Your church. We pray that You would bless tonight as the Word of God is opened before Your people. I pray that You would use this servant that’s standing here. I pray that You would bless me and enable me to faithfully proclaim the Word of truth. And I pray that You would give to all of us, Lord, hearts that are open to hear, to receive, and to apply Your Word. Thank You for Jesus, our dear Savior. Thank You for what He has done for our salvation. Thank You, Lord, for the Spirit of God who is at work even now in our lives. Lord, help us to know You better. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Several years ago I was invited to preach at one of our sister congregations, the First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia. And so I flew over to Augusta and one of the young men in that congregation picked me up at the airport, he was a ministry intern at the church, and as we were driving to my hotel we got into a conversation, just kind of getting to know each other a little bit better, and he told me that he had just gotten back from celebrating his grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary. Seventy-five years. Now I will tell you, up to that point, and I haven’t heard anything since, I have never heard of anybody being married that long. I’ve never met anybody who’s ever been married that long. And so if there just happens to be someone in this congregation who has been married for seventy-five years, would you please come at the end of the service up to me so that I can meet you because I would love to meet you!

 

I’ve never heard of anybody being married that long, and so because of that, I inquired a little bit about his grandparents because I would want to know — I mean, man, how in the world do you stay married that long and have a marriage that long? And I was utterly stunned by what he said to me because he replied to my inquiry about his grandparents by saying, “Pastor, they absolutely hate each other. And it wasn’t that they just started to hate each other,” he said, “for most of the seventy-five years they were married they hated each other, couldn’t stand each other for almost seventy-five years.” So I had to find out more. I mean, what in the world is going on here? And he went on to tell me that they had done their responsibilities toward one another. The man of the home, he provided for her and the woman of the home, she took care of the home and they had a couple of children together but they never treated each other with any love, they never cared for each other. They never liked each other; they said awful things to each other all the time. And so I had to know, “Why did they stay together?” He said, “Because they were of that generation when you make a word or you commit yourself to something or you pledge yourself to something, when you make a vow, you stay together.” Which, by the way, is very different than a lot of people today. And they just lived long enough to be married for seventy-five years.

 

Now as I thought about that story, one of the things that I thought is the amount of time that they were married was impressive. That time was impressive. You just have to give it to them. I mean, seventy-five years is an impressive amount of time to be married, but what they did with that time wasn’t. The time was impressive but what they did with it most certainly wasn’t. They didn’t honor God in their marriage. So here we are, 175 years. Brothers and sisters, that’s just incredible. And from a pastor who is at a church that’s now been in existence for a little over seven, that’s pretty amazing! 175 years — Wow! Congratulations! I almost don’t know what to say to something like that. And praise God, though, that you’ve used the time well. You’ve used the time well.

 

Now in saying that, I do want you to understand something. My purpose with you tonight is certainly not to stand up in front of you and flatter you. That’s not what I think ministers of the Gospel are ever called to do. And I fully well recognize that as you look back on the history, 175 years, that your history isn’t perfect and no church’s is. There are certainly, along the way in this journey, a lot of mistakes that I know you’ve made. I don’t know all of them. I don’t know all of the history of First Pres. I’m sure Ligon knows a lot and I look forward to reading the history of First Pres., that Sean Lucas is writing. And so I understand that. I understand it’s not a perfect history. Our confession, it speaks to this in a way that I think is very helpful and very practical and very realistic. When our confession says that “the purest churches under heaven are subject to both mixture and error,” that’s true, that we are not yet in the church triumphant, that none of us yet are in glory. And so no matter what, no matter how good a church may be, I mean, you’re always going to have mixture and error and faults and all of those things. But you have been faithful and you have been an incredibly important congregation to our denomination and you are an incredibly important congregation in our city. God has been at work here and that’s why you have every reason tonight to be thankful to God, to be responsive to God, and to be confident in God. And those are the three points that I want to make this evening with you from this passage. I want to draw them out of this passage and show you what Paul is doing here and then specifically apply these things to what you are dealing with right now as you are thinking about and celebrating 175 years as a congregation.

 

A MINDSET OF THANKFULNESS

 

And so firstly I surely hope your mindset right now is through and through that of thanksgiving to God, but the fact is, it’s at times not easy to be thankful. And I think that’s part of the reason why you see in the Scriptures so often this encouragement, this nudging towards thanksgiving because it is very easy for us to not be. It’s very easy for us to not just stop and be thankful for all that God has done and is doing because other things get in the way, because other things become sort of priorities in our hearts and our minds and our thinking. And I know that when a church has been in existence for this long, I mean a thing that can happen to you, easily happen, I hope that it hasn’t, but one of the things that can happen to you when you’ve been going for a while is you can become somewhat jaded in the way that you’re thinking about things.

 

I can give you a couple of ways that that happens, things that sort of get in your heart and get in the way you’re thinking so that you’re not in any way nearly as thankful for what has happened here and what is happening here as maybe you should be. One of the things that can happen is you can spend your time grumbling and complaining a little bit too much. And that can happen after a long history in the church. You can grumble and complain and here’s what you can do. You can do one of two things. There’s two sides of this coin. On the one hand you can grumble and complain because, “Well, we’ve been here this long and we’re still not doing…” Whatever. You fill in the blank. Or then you could flip the coin over on the other side and you could go, “Well, we’ve been here this long and why are we doing…” And so some of us are grumbling who are here because we’re not doing enough and some of us are grumbling who are here because, “Well, we’re doing way too much. I wish we weren’t doing all of those things.” And as a result of that, your mind is being sort of consumed with the complaints, “It’s not quite where it should be” kind of thinking that prevents you in this moment to be as thankful as you should be right now.

 

Another thing that I think can happen that can prevent you from being as thankful as you should be is you can find yourself at times more in a defensive posture as you think about your church than you are in a thankful posture. And here’s how that can happen. I mean, you are a large and influential congregation and that is true in so many different kinds of ways. You are. And when you are a large and influential congregation and you stand for something, which First Pres. does, and you have a senior minister who stands for something, which Dr. Duncan does, then as a result of that what can happen is you can end up being hit by all kinds of things. You’ll kind of become a lightening rod, if you will. And so you end up being hit by, you know, this person and that person and this particular camp and that particular camp and as a result of that, because all the things, everybody’s firing at you because you have influence and everybody’s firing at you because you stand for something. And as a result of that you find yourself spending most of your time defending yourself or you find yourself spending most of your time guarding yourself and protecting yourself and you become consumed with that so that you are not able to do that which is most important. And I think that is being thankful to God for what He’s done here and thankful to God for what He’s doing.

 

And to be honest with you, this is part of the reason why I chose this particular letter and why I chose this particular section of this letter. It’s because of what Paul does here. Paul, here, he emphasizes some things that are pretty extraordinary when you consider the setting. Remember, Paul is writing from prison when he writes this letter and Paul is writing this letter to a struggling congregation, to a congregation that’s facing persecution, a congregation that is facing all kinds of suffering, and yet Paul, who writes from prison to a suffering congregation, he writes a letter that overflows with thanksgiving and joy. And you see that if you notice again with me verse 3 and 4 where he says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you, all making my prayer with joy.” Notice he begins it, “I thank my God for you with joy,” and so what you’re seeing here is that Paul, he’s writing a letter and he starts it out this way where he’s thankful with joy for the Philippians. And to consider that a man could actually write that, that he’s thankful and write that with joy from prison, he writes that in the introduction to a congregation that is struggling and suffering and that sets up the introduction of Philippians, it sets up the theme that Paul’s going to come back to over and over and over again because what Paul is doing is he’s modeling for them. He wants them to understand this is the Christians life. This is how we are to be. This is how we are to think — that “I’m in prison and I’m thankful for you. I’m in prison; I’m rejoicing over you. Now this is to be your life. It is to be a life of thanksgiving and joy.” You see that here so clearly.

 

Now Paul goes on and he fleshes out the specific reason for that which we are going to come to in just a moment, but to express thanksgiving, I want you to consider this, to express thanksgiving with joy from prison and model that for a persecuted church, that has to mean that the reasons for being thankful must go way beyond the things that we may be experiencing in the moment. It has to. Whatever those things may be, good or whatever, it has to go beyond that. It’s deeper than that. 175 years is an amazing milestone, it is. And I am certain that over 175 years you have had many ups and many downs. Because I am the pastor of a sister congregation here in this city I know that your last year has been incredibly difficult. You’ve had to deal with some hard stuff over the last year. I know that. But there is an ultimate reason why you should be thankful even beyond those identifiable things that you could look at and go, “I’m thankful for that” or “I’m thankful for that” or “I’m thankful for that.” You know, those sayings we often look at. And then we may not be thankful because if you look at too many bad things, the bad things outweigh the good things, you see? See how that works? That’s not it. That’s not what it’s ever to be based on. There is a reason why you are to be thankful tonight, there is a reason why I stand before you as a pastor of a sister congregation, and I can say, “I’m thankful to God for you!” Why? Because for 175 years God has been at work here. For 175 years God has had a people here. For 175 years God’s Word has been faithfully preached and taught and shared and lived here. Now when you consider that, how could you be anything but thankful? And so that’s the first thing, thankful to God.

 

RESPONSIVE TO GOD

 

The second is responsive to God. And this is something that Paul is clear about the Philippians, that they were responding to the grace of God that was at work in this particular church. And so Paul, then, he moves on in verse 5, if you notice the text, and he gives them reason why he — this is the specific reason why he, Paul, is thankful for this church. In verse 5 it says, “Because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.” And you notice that word, “partnership,” that he uses here. That word is a Greek word. There are a few Greek words that are so often used in Bible-believing churches that we kind of know these words even if we’ve never studied the language. You know, agape, would be one of them, but the one that’s used here is one of those words and it’s the word, koinonia. Koinonia, normally when you hear that, you’ll think koinonia is fellowship, right? It’s translated “partnership.” And there’s a reason this is translated “partnership” because I think Paul is getting at more than what we normally or typically think about when we think about fellowship, especially within our culture today. Often times when we think about fellowship it’s become so watered down that fellowship is basically when Christians socialize and have food. And so I could give you a math equation for fellowship. It’s Christians + socializing + food = fellowship. Okay? That’s kind of the way that most of us will think about what fellowship is, but it’s obviously so much more here in this particular passage to the apostle Paul.

 

The New Testament scholar, D. A. Carson, when he writes about fellowship he says this, that “the heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision.” In other words, it’s a commitment to something — when you sacrifice yourself to a shared vision. He goes on and says, “Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the Gospel, that there may be overtones of warmth and intimacy.” In other words, it can include all our socializing and relationships and so forth, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. In other words, there is something of transcendent importance and we are together in that. We have bound ourselves together. We are committed in that together to the point where we are willing to sacrifice to that.

 

When the Philippians here experienced the grace of God, it wasn’t something they experienced lightly. It wasn’t something they treated flippantly. They experienced the grace of God and they responded to it. And so what Paul is saying is that part of that response is that they went deep in the Gospel but they did more than that. They bound themselves with others in this thing of transcendent importance. So what did they do? They became Paul’s partner. That’s what he’s saying. The Philippians were his partner. And that partnership, according to verse 5, was Gospel-centered, it was practical, and it was on-going. Notice Paul again. He says, “Your partnership in the Gospel.” That’s it. That’s where it rests. That’s what’s most important. It is the Gospel. It is about our Savior. It is about One who came and took on flesh and lived obediently to the Law and died a sacrificial death on the cross and rose again. It is about One who is righteous and His righteousness was imputed or counted to us and our sin was imputed or counted to Him and He died paying the penalty for that sin. It’s about justification by faith alone that salvation is through grace alone in Christ alone by faith alone to the glory of God alone. It is the Gospel that we hold. It’s dear to us. It’s been dear to you.

 

That the Gospel has been what has been preached and taught and lived here. It’s the Gospel in which we battle over. If there is a hill that we would die on, the hill that we would die on is the hill of the Gospel! If there is a line that we would draw and say, “We will not cross that line!” it is the line of the Gospel! And that has been you. And I can stand here and I can say something to you that I cannot tell you how much of a privilege it is for me to say this because I have never been able to say this ever in my whole life and it is this. For almost two centuries, this congregation has been faithful to the Gospel. Now you talk about something moving! You cannot say that very often. For almost two hundred years you have been faithful to the Gospel. Praise God for that. And you have partnered with others that have defended the Gospel and taught the Gospel and proclaimed the Gospel and spread the Gospel.

 

You know in Philippians, this partnership that the Philippian church had with Paul, I mean it was a partnership in the Gospel and it was a partnership that was real and tangible and practical. In other words, when they partner with Paul in the Gospel they didn’t say, “Well, go and do well.” This was a partnership of commitment. It was a partnership of prayer. It was a partnership of care. It was a partnership of concern. And it was a partnership that even gave them to open up their wallets and give to him. That’s part of the reason Paul writes this letter, to say thanks to them for their financial gift to them. They gave in all kind of ways to the Gospel and it was on-going, he says, “from the first day until now.” Now has that been you? Well think about it. I don’t even know all the details. I just know these things are true that I’m about to say to you.

 

Think about the missionaries that have come up out of this congregation and have gone all over the world to spread the Gospel. Think about the mission agencies and organizations that actually exist because of members of this congregation that have been involved in starting them and support that you have put around them. Think about the critical and key role that this church played in the establishment of Reformed Seminary and of the Presbyterian Church in America.

 

And let’s bring this closer to home. Let’s talk about Jackson a little bit. Let’s talk about the demographics that make up the city of Jackson and some of the things that you have done, and I know this history, that you have done in relationship to this city – the significant role that some of your members and that you as a church had in the founding of Mission Mississippi, an organization that has had a profoundly important role in changing race relationships in this city and state through the Gospel. And you were there. Think about the role that you had in the planting of Redeemer Church, the church that I pastor. I say this to our people all the time that the reason Redeemer Church exists is because God established Redeemer Church, but there are people, there were churches that were a part of that work and I can honestly say to you, I believe this with all my heart, that part of the reason Redeemer Church exists today is because of the partnership of First Presbyterian Church. It was because your minister and some of your elders stood for a church like this. It is because of the resources that you put behind this, it was because some of your elders that were actually on the commission at the very beginning. And what about the first RUF on a historic black college campus, Jackson State, and the role that First Pres. had and has in that ministry?

 

You know, the other day we just completed our new building. The other day we had a little small opening, it was real small, but the mayor was there. And I took the mayor through our facility. And we have a Sunday School class that we have for Jackson State, RUF Jackson State ladies. About fifty ladies come and participate in this Sunday School class. And as we were walking through the building he saw the sign on the door, “JSU RUF Sunday School Class,” and he was really taken by that. And he was like, “Wow, you guys have this.” And then as we talked about it a little more he said this — this is amazing! He said, because he knows about RUF because everybody knows about RUF at Jackson State because that thing is huge and massive and incredible. He said, “Is RUF Presbyterian? Is it PCA?” And I got to say —“Yes! It is part of the Presbyterian Church in America!” And now our mayor knows that! These are ways that you have responded to the grace of God and partnered in the Gospel with others who embrace that Gospel. We praise Him for it.

 

CONFIDENT IN GOD

 

Thankful to God, responsive to God, and then the last thing, confident in God. Confident in God. And I know that you have been and I hope that you continually are confident in God. In verse 6 Paul says, “And I am sure of this that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The Philippians had every reason to be confident, didn’t they? They had every reason to be confident because God had been at work. They had every reason to be confident because God had established this church, and the same God who established this church is the God who is going to finish this work. That’s what he’s saying. This was not about him, it’s not about you, it’s not about you, it never is. It’s not about Ligon. It’s not about your ministers. It’s not about your elders. I know we all have responsibility, we all have a calling — things we are to do, gifts that we have been given, we are to be faithful. But at the same time, what a joyous thing it is to know, to kind of step back for a moment and be able to actually say, “This belongs to God! God’s done this! God started it and because God started it I can have confidence to know that the God who began this good work is the God who can bring it to and will bring it to completion.”

 

And that was the Philippians’ story. You remember that story. I mean, it was one of these great stories about God working and God sent Paul there. You remember how the Philippian church was planted. It was planted on a riverbank by a woman who sold purple goods and her name was Lydia. And Paul was led to that riverbank, Paul was given the Gospel by God, and it actually says in Acts chapter 16 verse 14 that “God opened Lydia’s heart.” Now you know what you’re seeing all the way there, it’s tracking all the way through? God did this, God did this, God did this, God did this. It’s all about Him, right? And when we know that from the beginning that it’s all about Him, that’s one of those things that gives us great confidence. There is no question that the reason why this church is here is because of God. That’s why you’re here.

 

Now earlier in the week when I was trying to think through what to say to you guys I went on your website and I looked at your brief history. And I came across something at the very beginning of your brief history; it was just really moving to me. I love to read it because it made me just think about God and how incredibly wonderful He is. But here’s what the beginning — if you haven’t read it in a while — here’s what it says. This is the beginning of your brief history, right on your website. “There were no elders for two years, no deacons for six years, nor a Presbyterian house of worship for nearly nine years. In the first two years of existence, the church had but three new members.” Can you imagine that’s how you started? Now what a great thing to put! I’m so glad you put it. Whoever wrote that history, I’m so glad you put that on your history right at the top because it says so much about our God and how He works. He takes something that can be so small and at first struggle for even existence, and turn it into something so wonderful. That’s our God.

 

But here’s the thing. We don’t just live in the past, that’s not it. I mean, Paul goes on to say, the One who’s done this, God, our great God, “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And so we don’t live in the past. It’s not just, “God has done something He’s going to complete at the day of Jesus Christ.” God is going to do something; God will do something. But it’s more than “God has done something; God will do something.” It’s “God is doing something,” that He is at work in the midst of all of this leading to the day of Jesus Christ. As one commentator in looking at verse 6 says that “Paul’s confidence is that their lifelong participation in the Gospel from the beginning until now will continue until the day of Christ, but this confidence has very little to do with them and everything to do with God who both began a good work in them and will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.”

 

Paul’s point is that God is at work. He’s been at work; He will be at work; He’s at work in your life now. I mean, I can say this to you with absolutely truthfulness not knowing what your days ahead, immediately ahead are going to be. I don’t know what they are. I mean, all of us run through times of great difficulty. Paul was writing to a church that was suffering and yet I believe this is what he’s saying. He’s saying, “Your brighter days are not behind you. That’s not your brightest days. Your brightest days are always ahead of you.” Now how do I know that’s true? Because I know that the eschaton is before me, I know that glory is before me, I know that the church triumphant is before me. That’s why I know! It doesn’t matter the bumps in the road, it doesn’t matter the knocks that you’re going to have, it doesn’t matter what hardships you may face, it doesn’t matter when people mess up! Ultimately your brightest days are in front of you! Why? Because your God, who has brought you this far, He’s not going to let you go. He’s not going to let you go. He’s going to keep you and hold you and protect you and love you. That’s what’s yours.

 

You have been blessed, First Pres., with so much. And so I hope, and I’ll wrap up with this, that what you’re doing right now is that you are considering all that God has done and will do and is doing, that you’re looking around and you’re looking outside of your doors and you’re looking at your Jerusalem and your Samaria and to the ends of the earth and here’s the question you are asking — “Lord, until we’re finished, until You complete this work, what do You want us to do now, and what do You want us to do next, to His glory?” And may the Lord God continue to bless you as you carry on, on this incredible journey. First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi, congratulations on 175 years. May it continue on until Jesus comes. Let’s pray.

 

Our Father and our God, we are so thankful for this time in Your Word, so thankful for what You’ve done in this congregation and I do pray, Lord, that this time in the Word has been encouraging to Your people and that Lord, they would leave even tonight praising You, thanking You, and seeking ways to live more faithfully to Your glory. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

 

Would you please stand as you hear God’s good word as I pronounce the benediction?

 

The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

 



Looking Forward, Looking Upward -Luke 24

By / Apr 8

The Lord’s Day Evening


April 8, 2012



“Looking Forward, Looking Upward”


Luke 24


The Reverend Dr. James M. Baird

(Dr. Duncan) It’s our joy tonight to
hear the Word of God from the former shepherd of this congregation, the senior
minister, James M. Baird, one of the founding fathers of our denomination,
beloved to us. Thank you, Jim, for
being with us on this anniversary Sunday.

(Dr. Baird) Thank you, Ligon.
It is so very unusual today because it is a day of double, double
blessing. This is a day when we
remember not only the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this is an anniversary
of it, this is also the day of the starting of this congregation. And the more I
looked at our Scripture, the more I saw a correlation.
Somehow there is, in an amazing way, a coming together of what happened
on first Easter and what happened 175 years ago here in
Jackson. And
this is a great day of celebration.
Unusual, both on the same day.

Now I’ve never been much in celebration, I just never have.
I wish my wife was a preacher.
She loves celebrations! But I’ve always celebrated a birthday.
We had cake for breakfast and ate it all day long, but I want to tell you
I have gotten excited over this celebration.
It is highly unusual, highly unusual.
Now I said there was a correlation, a coming together.
I’m going to ask you to open up your Bibles to the gospel of Luke and the
twenty-fourth chapter of the gospel of Luke, but first let me give you a little
background and why I think and why I chose this passage.

Number one, the great celebration of the first Easter did not begin at dawn, did
not even begin in the morning. You
know when it really took place?
About this time of night. That first
Easter, it wasn’t until the evening hour, such as we are experiencing, or even
later, that everything came together.
Christ takes His time, takes His time.
And so it was also, I understand, that the gathering of the five folk to
start this church did not take place early in the morning.
It was again in the evening.
And I thought it was always significant that this church kept evening services,
evening services. That’s when the
first great coming together of the things of God on the Easter Sunday took
place.

Now here was the background. The
background takes place after some understanding and misunderstanding.
The folk, on that first Easter morning, they were confused.
There were women and they just weren’t taken seriously.
Two men are leaving Jerusalem,
they’re walking to Emmaus, a village seven miles away.
They are discouraged and they are filled with doubt.
They’re leaving. It’s all
over with. What kind of a day do we
have? Eight days ago I was with Doug
Kelly, Dr. Doug Kelly, in North
Carolina. I
asked Doug, he’s beloved of this congregation — taught all of you in Sunday
School and when he was at seminary here he worshiped in this congregation with
his family. I asked him, “Tell me,
Doug, in your opinion, what is the nature of the day in which we live?”
And he told me. And I said,
“What is the nature of the church?”
And he said, “It has been effected by this world.”
And he used two words. The
two words were, disturbed — the church — and filled with doubt.
That’s the way we are in our nation. We are disturbed.
These are not happy days in this nation.
And we fear for the future.
We are very, very fearful of what’s going to happen.
That’s exactly the nature of those two men as they walked away.
We’re in the same kind of a situation.

Now Christ is going to turn those two men around.
He is going to bring revival in their hearts.
And I suggest that the way Christ handled that first Easter evening is
the way that we ought to handle things in our day, similar troubles, and also in
our lives. There is a three-fold
step that He took. Let’s watch it
and see what it is and let us, if you will, let us follow Jesus, follow Jesus.
He did three things. Number
one, He turned the people back. He
said, “Look back.” Michelangelo
said, “All of life is perspective.”
It’s how you look at things, your life and everything else.
The first thing that He did was ask you to take a look, Jesus did, He
said, “Let’s look back.” The second
thing he said was, “Let’s look at the present.”
And the third thing He said was, “Let’s look at the future.”
And I believe that’s exactly what this church has done through its
history and that’s why God has blessed it.

With that in mind, let’s have a prayer.

Heavenly Father, help us to see as You see.
Help us to see and follow Christ because that’s what we want to do, and
therefore we look at the Scriptures.
And Lord Jesus, as You have Your way and as You did marvelous things on that
first Easter evening, do it again, in our lives, not only for the good of this
church or the good of these great people here, but for the glory of the eternal
God. Lead on, O King eternal, as we
ask in Your holy name, amen.

Okay, we look at the first thing that Christ did.
These two men are walking away and Christ is going to turn them to look
back at history. Notice how He does
it. We are in the thirteenth verse
of the twenty-fourth chapter of the gospel of Luke.
Hear the words:

“That very day, two
of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each
other about all these things that had happened.
While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus Himself drew near
and went with them. But their eyes
were kept from recognizing Him.”

Please excuse me, but let me say, I don’t know how you handled that, Ligon a few
weeks ago. I don’t know.
It’s always been a mystery to me.
I would say it was just a miracle.
These men, I know that Christ had a resurrected body, but they didn’t
know that it was Jesus who had joined them.
Let me read that verse again.
The sixteenth verse:

“But their eyes were
kept from recognizing them.” (a miracle)
“And He said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding
with each other as you walk?’ And
they stood still, looking sad. Then
one of them, named Cleopas, answered Him, ‘Are You the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that
have happened there in these days?’
And He said to them, ‘What things?’
And they said to Him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet
mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests
and rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.
But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem
Israel.
Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things
happened. Moreover, some women of
our company amazed us. They were at
the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find His body, they came
back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that He was
alive. Some of those who were with
us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but Him they did
not see.’”

I’m going to pause right there.
Discouraged, dismayed, filled with doubt as well as discouragement.
Much the spirit of our day.
What does Christ do? He does a very
unusual thing. It would seem to me
that if I were Christ in that day I would have said, “Hey man, I’m alive!
Take a good look!” That’s not
what He did, not at all. Look what
He does, how He takes them and asks them to look back.
But the process of how they were to do it, that’s the thing I want you to
see. The next verse is verse 25:

“He said to them, ‘O
foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter
into His glory?’ And beginning with
Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them, in all the Scriptures the
things concerning Himself.”

I’m going to stop right there. What
did He do? To their dismay at what
had happened on Sunday, triumphal entry, on Friday, crucifixion, and now we
don’t know but we are just dismayed, discouraged, and filled with doubt.
We’ve said it is all over with.
Christ says, “Let’s look at the Scriptures.”
He takes them to the Bible.
What does that say to this great congregation?
Over 175 years, if there was a characteristic to this congregation it’s
the Scriptures, the Scriptures.
Ligon said it the other night.
Everything we know, from 1857 to the current day, every pastor of this church,
and there’s only been seven, seven since 1857, every pastor of this church has
believe in the inspiration and the infallibility of the Scripture.
Every one has turned to the Scripture, Scripture, and believed it and
preached it. I have not known an
elder in this church or anybody on the staff of this church, everybody I know in
this church that has been in the role of leadership has believed in the full
inspiration of Scripture. Is that
unusual? Yes, it is unusual in a
congregation, for all those years since 1857.
I’ve known four of the pastors.
I’ve known many of the elders.
I’ve known some of the elders, men from the, pastors from the 1930’s and
’40’s. And it was always the elders
and deacons of this congregation and the women who taught the children and in
the Sunday School, they all believed what Jesus just did there.

Let’s look back and see. He said to
these men, “Look back at the Scriptures.”
In our day of trial and trouble, the first thing we ought to do is look
back to the Scriptures. And the
Scriptures say, “What does God say about the day in which you live?”
Has God lost control? Oh no.
God has not lost control.
That’s the first thing that we think.
Now somebody may say to you in this day, as I saw not too long ago on
television, one of my favorite sports shows, my favorite sports magazine, and
I’m going to tell you those people just don’t believe.
And they make it their point to tell you they don’t believe in the
Scripture. And in that magazine, I
enjoy so many of the stuff that I read in that because I love all about it, and
I don’t know who won the Masters either (laughter) but I want to tell you that
it’s good stuff until they get spiritually minded and then they go way off.
And it usually goes like this — How can you believe a Book that old has
any relevance to today? And here we
are saying Jesus took them back. We
say we have always gone back, gone back.

Let me give you an answer. This is
what helps me. Why do I believe the
Bible is the Word of God? Four
thousand times in the Bible, four thousand times it say, “God said,” or “the
Lord said.” Four thousand in the Old
and New Testament. Here’s another
one. The Bible was written over a
period of 1,500 years. 1,500 years
the Scripture was written. It was
written by forty different authors.
Not like some religious books and not like the book that is being touted in our
day. One God, period.
Over a brief period of his life and he changed it up and down.
Written over a period 1,500 years by forty different authors, many of
them who had not only never known each other, saw each other, or had read each
other. And it was written in three
languages, different languages. And
it was written in three different continents.
And it all fits perfectly together.
How in the world can that take place?

And it is not a few laws like most religious books.
It is a Book of history. And
not one archeological dig has ever disproved one fact of the Bible, not the
first. Yes, you’re not throwing your
mind out in the bushes somewhere when you say, “I believe in the Bible.”
There’s no other book like it, not even close.
So that’s where we begin.
When our Westminster divines wrote The
Westminster Confession of Faith
where did they start?
With the doctrines of God?
No. You know where they began?
The first chapter is the finest description of the Bible.
That’s where they began, the final authority.
That’s what Christ always does.
He brings you back to the Bible.
Young people, you better study that Bible.
You better get in it. You
better get your kids in it. You’d
better read that Bible. That’s
exactly where Christ spoke when He spoke to the men on the first Easter evening
about this time when they were discouraged and walking away from Jerusalem.
He said, “Let’s go back to the Old Testament.
Let’s go back to the Bible.
That’s the first step. That’s the
first thing we do.” That’s what this
church has always done — look back, look back on the Scriptures.
What does the Scripture – ? That’s all it’s ever done.

The second thing that Christ does, He finally says, “I’m alive.”
He says, “I’m alive? I’m
still dealing with things.” He
didn’t say that first, He said that second.
He says it in a very unusual way.
They get to the village of Emmaus.
By this time, by the way, these men are changing their attitudes.
He’s given them the Scriptures.
He indicates, “I need to go on a little bit further.” “No, we’re at our
destination. You’d better come on
in. Come on in and eat with us.” And
so He does. And then He leads in
prayer over the food and when He does their eyes are opened, another miracle,
and they see who He is and they recognize Him and they are turned on.
Let me read it to you. This
is the Scripture again. We’ll take
up the reading where we left off.
We’re in verse 28:

“So they drew near to
the village to which they were going.
He acted (Jesus) as if He were going farther, but they urged Him
strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far
spent.’ So He went in to stay with
them. When He was at table with
them, He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.
And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him.
And He vanished from their sight.
They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He
talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?’
And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem.
And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together
saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’
Then they told what had happened on the road, and how He was known to
them in the breaking of the bread.”

The second step that Jesus did was bring them to the present tense.
He looks back and He has them looking back to the Scriptures.
We look back and then He says, “I’m alive.
I’m not dead. I’m not only
alive, I’m working.” And they are
amazed and He vanishes out of their sight.
I don’t think they walked back to Jerusalem.
I think they double-timed it.
And when they got back to Jerusalem, they’re in that Upper Room again.
When they got to the Upper Room they said, there’s the other eleven, and
they all said, “He’s alive!” And
they said, “Yeah, we met Him too, we met Him too.”
The second thing that Christ does to bring people who are discouraged and
dismayed living in a tough time such as we are is to say, “Are you alive, with
us, working in and through and with us in the ministry? Are you alive?”
How about this church? On a
day after this, on a night like this, we look back over 175 years and we ask
that question and reasonably so.
“Lord, have You been with us? Have
You worked in and through and with us?
Are there any signs?”

Bear with me now. Bear with me.
I know this doesn’t sound very important but it is.
I’m going to give you four or five or six different indications that the
Lord, this last 175 years, has not only been alive in this congregation but He
has worked in and through this congregation and the first thing is church
property. Now what’s that got to do
with it that God is working in this congregation?
It was mentioned last Wednesday night about Benjamin Palmer.
Benjamin Palmer was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New
Orleans at the turn of the century.
He was a giant. And when he came up
to Jackson to preach they made a big thing about it.
If you go to New Orleans today — and he had the biggest funeral ever in
the city of New Orleans — and if you go to New Orleans today and say, “Tell me
where the First Presbyterian Church is,” nobody can tell you, not a soul.
They don’t even know where it is.
And here we are, just a few blocks from where the church’s physical
property, where they worshiped on Sunday and during the week.
You can walk to it. We
haven’t moved hardly at all. How
many places in the South, just the South, could you go and find a First
Presbyterian Church in a capitol city that has remained true and faithful to the
Scriptures and believes the Scriptures and is not, and not only that, has a
congregation like this one and a sanctuary like this one and everything else
that this church has. How many can
you go to? Let’s say, Arkansas?
Tennessee? Not the capital
city. Alabama?
Florida? Georgia? South
Carolina? North Carolina?
No. Virginia?
Kentucky? I tell you, it is a
remarkable thing that this church is in this place in the same place for 175
years and is going strong, stronger than ever.

And then you have Twin Lakes — church property.
I asked Mark May — Mark McGee, haha, good old Mark. I asked Mark, I said,
“Mark when you were in your conferences with all these people in conferences,
how many other churches are there like ours who own the property, an individual
church owning a property like you’ve got down in Florence, twenty-six miles from
here. How many churches like that do
you know of?” He said none, not a
one. And he goes to national
conferences. Oh there are big
conference centers owned by groups but not one with a single congregation
totally in charge. And I want to
tell you the ministry that’s going on — this, for instance, this summer we’re
going to have more children at Twin Lakes over the summer months than we’ve ever
had before. It’s not waning, it’s
growing. It is remarkable.
Do you know how that property came to First Presbyterian Church?
In the 1960’s one hundred men got together because one guy found out that
a man, a wealthy man, wanted to sell that property and the one guy said, “How
much do you want?” And he told them,
“A hundred thousand dollars.” And he
got a hundred men together. How much
each one of them? How much Orrin?
A thousand dollars. And what
did they do? They deeded that
property that they had purchased over to this church.
That’s how the property was purchased.
What a marvelous — that’s just one thing.
Has the Lord been at work in the property of this church?
I’d say you could go thousands of miles in any direction and never find
anything like this.

How about this — Christian Education.
A Day School of 700 kids in
the church. How about in
Mississippi? There’s not a better
Day School, a better grammar school, in the state of Mississippi.
One other rivals it but it is not a Christian School but it is not owned
by one church and it is more than twice the tuition.
What a ministry that Day School has been over — there are mamas and
daddies in this congregation who came to the Lord because their kids were coming
home and telling them what was going on.

And then how about this, in Christian Education — a few years ago in our
denomination there was a study made of the Sunday Schools, adult Sunday Schools,
of churches over 150 members. What
percentage of the adult congregation was in Sunday School?
And out of all the churches in the PCA guess who had the highest
percentage? First Presbyterian of
Jackson, Mississippi. Your Sunday
School is a powerhouse. There’s no
question about it. In fact, that
Sunday School has about as much power as any other ministry in this church.
How’s that for Christian Education for adults and how about a Day School
for children?

And how about this one — there was a time when Sam Patterson said, “We need a
new seminary. We have four
seminaries” — this was in the 1960’s — four seminaries in our denomination and
not a one of them held to the inerrancy of Scripture.
Not a one. He wrote the
presidents. We’ve got to start a new
seminary. Sam goes to five men.
He says we’ve got to start a new seminary. They said, “There’s no way we
can do it.” And Sam says, “How big
is your God? Is He at work?
Jesus, are You at work in this congregation?” Out of those five men, four
were elders in this church. And so
Reformed Theological Seminary was started in the 1960’s.
When they said it was impossible and we tried to put it in any other
place — can you think 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi?
We went to Atlanta, Memphis, Jacksonville, Miami.
Nobody would have it, impossible.
So it was started. It is now
the tenth largest seminary in the United States. It does not own one dime, it
doesn’t own a dime. Not only that,
it has campuses in Jackson — beautiful, Orlando — beautiful, Charlotte —
beautiful, Washington, D.C. — beautiful, Atlanta — beautiful.
I may have forgotten one or two.
And is associated overseas with campuses in Indonesia, Brazil, South
Korea. That whole thing would never
have happened. The board of
directors of that institution is still, in many and most ways, influenced by the
elders of this church. They’ve got
about twenty but I’ll bet you about either or nine of them are elders in this
church. That institution has had
three CEO’s. All three of them have
been elders of this church — Bob Cannada, Jim Moore, and Richard Ridgeway, the
current one. Hey Jesus, have You
been working in this congregation?
Lord Jesus, have You? And He says,
“I’m alive and I’m working in First Presbyterian Church.”
Just in Christian Education alone.

How about the PCA coming into existence?
How did this denomination come into existence?
They chose twelve men who worked two years to prepare for a new
denomination. Of those twelve men,
one church had two men on that number of twelve.
The only church that had two men, this church — Don Patterson and Judge
Leon Hendricks. And Don Patterson
was the chairman of that twelve man committee that produced the PCA.

How about in terms of education — a group of people getting together to start
collegiate ministries – Reformed Theological Ministries?
We are now in 190 universities and colleges.
You know where it all began?
In this congregation. In this
congregation. Lord Jesus, Mighty
God, have You been alive and at work in this congregation for these past 175
years? Oh, in Christian Education,
it is amazing. And you’ve got
Belhaven College right down the street here and no church gives like this church
and has given and influenced like this church.

How about this — mercy ministries.
We’re looking back, Lord, over 175 years.
We’re looking at the second great step You had us in the Scriptures,
Lord. The second step — are You
personally alive and working in this congregation?
And Lord, how about as intellectuals, how about mercy ministry, mercy
ministry? There is not a mercy
ministry that preaches the Gospel in this city that this church — and you don’t
hear much about mercy ministry because it’s handled very humbly in this
congregation. We don’t blow our own
horn. You name it and I’ll tell you
on the board of directors and I’ll tell you in the past history the influence
that this church has had on those mercy ministries.
And some of you people out there know exactly who I’m talking about and
what I’m talking about and you’ve been involved.
Mission Mississippi, Mission Mississippi, in all trying to be humble, it
came right out of this church to try to bring folk together.
And the Neighborhood Christian Center.
Who brought the Neighborhood Christian Center to the state of
Mississippi? One congregation — this one.
And it is probably as good or the finest of all the mercy ministries in
this city.

How about church planting? It has
been said that there is not a single Presbyterian church in the city of Jackson
that did not come from the plant of this church, not a single one.
And they’re not all PCA now, but it came from this congregation.
Church plants. And not only
that, how about those who have worshiped in this church and then gone out?
I guess the finest church planter that I know was on the staff of this
church, Bill Whitworth. By the way,
we need to pray for Bill. Bill’s in
the hospital. He’s having a hard
time; he fell. Well, you know he was
up in the attic, he was getting ready to go hunting, and he’s in his good suit
and he comes down and he’s really hurting though.
We need to pray for Bill.
Bill’s the finest church planter I know anything about.
He’s planted churches through this church over the years and he
influenced so many young men in seminary who have gone out.
One of them, I think, has a congregation, a very large congregation, in a
major, major city in the south and that one man has as his goal to plant in that
city and in the environments of that city alone 100 PCA churches, 100.
How many have you got already, fella?
Fifty. Right out of this
church, influenced by this church, church planting.
And not only that, across the United States and how many overseas, who
knows. Church plants — Lord Jesus,
have You worked? Are You alive and working for 175 years in the life of this
congregation? That’s the second
great point that we are making.

And all that the Lord Jesus has done in this congregation He’s done very quietly
and very humbly and very sweetly and very nicely and it is done right.
It’s done correctly. And I
won’t even mention a few of the favorites.
Who’s got music like this church?
I think there’s a choir in Utah.
I’ve never heard it personally and I don’t think they can be any better.
And you’ll be kind right now, sweet ladies of this congregation, how
about the men? In a day when men are
falling away from the church in droves, Lord Jesus, have You ever worked in this
congregation? Are You alive and
working in this congregation with the support of ladies?
And as often said, look around folk, there are more men worshiping than
women and you can go a thousand miles in any direction.
The Lord, and you know, I never hear complaining from the women, not a
complaint once. Go get those
double-minded men! Because women are
better spiritual people, that’s why, and they want to reach those men.

Well all of this is to say, have You been at work in this congregation, Lord
Jesus? And I guess I’ve missed out
on a hundred other great ministries, but I want to tell you, Lord Jesus has done
remarkable things through this church. Believing
in the Scriptures, that’s the first thing Jesus did to those men.
The second thing was say, “Here I am!
I’m alive and I’m working!”
And the third thing He did was show them the future.
After he showed who He was — by the way, I had lunch with a man in this
congregation because Miss Jane was with his wife off somewhere and he said,
“I’ll buy you lunch.” I said,
“Alright.” And so I asked him the
question, older man, has some physical problems but he worships.
I even mentioned, I had to remind him, “How about that television?”
Do you understand they’re throughout the whole state of Mississippi?
The influence that this church has through television — unbelievable!
This man watches on television, gets dressed up and watches.
I said, “How did you come to First Presbyterian Church and how did you
become a Christian?” He said, “I was
in New Orleans and business moved me up here.
We looked around and we were Presbyterian and we so we went to the First
Presbyterian Church.” I said, “What
happened?” He said, “I became a
Christian.” “How?”
“Listening,” get this — “Listening to the way Dr. Miller read the
Scriptures.” He saw reverence for
the Word of God just in the way the pastor read the Scriptures.

The Lord Jesus has worked in this church and it leads to the future.
You see, the future is what Jesus did on that first Easter.
When they’re in that Upper Room He goes back over two things.
He repeats good education, number one; He repeats He is alive and He is
among them and He is ready to do ministry.
He says, “You got anything to eat?”
They think, “He’s just suddenly come through.
This is a resurrected body.”
Isn’t it exciting to think about when you die and we get our resurrected bodies?
Boy, they must be something!
And He is just there in their midst and they are once again frightened and they
don’t know and they are dismayed again and He says, “I’m real.”
And He says, “Here’s the signs in my hands and my feet.”
And He says, “You got anything to eat?”
A real body. He said, “I’m
not a ghost.” “Here’s some fish,”
and He ate it. And He gave again a
description in the Scripture. He
goes back to the Scripture with the eleven all together and goes through the
same thing about prophecy fulfilled through His suffering, that He is the
Messiah, that the Old Testament is all about Him, and then He says, “And now I
look to the future with you.” And
this is what He says about the future.
We’re reading again and this is in verse, it’s in verse 46:

“He said to them,”
verse 46, “He said to them, ‘It is written, that the Christ should suffer and on
the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins
should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.
And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you.
But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’”

He gets two things — the Gospel for all the world and the ministry of the Holy
Spirit. You know this man I was
telling you about, who said, “I heard the Scripture just being read and it
changed my life”? That man said,
“You got any books on the Holy Spirit?”
And I said to him, “Forgive me, forgive me.”
Beloved, we do have to teach, and in Presbyterian circles, it seems to
me, from the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the power of ministry that He gives
and He alone. And the Gospel.
As this church looks to the future I would say – Al Jolson said this.
He was the blues singer in the 1920’s and they used to meet every once in
a while at about three o’clock in the morning.
After everybody else had gone, they’d meet in some place and he’d get up
and start singing and they’d go wild.
And one time he got down on his knees singing, “Mammy,” and he said, as
they went wild, “You ain’t heard nothing yet!”
That’s the way it is about this church.
You ain’t heard nothing yet.
You ain’t heard nothing. That’s what
the ministry of this church is going to be.
You’re poised; you’re poised for the greatest ministry you ever imagine
as long as you hear Him and are directed by Him.
The Gospel and the Holy Spirit — share it.

Does this church do that? Oh yeah.
We can do more. We can do
more. Peru?
Yes. To all the world?
Do you know what? When the
wall came down in Berlin and Eastern Europe suddenly opened up to Christianity,
the denomination of which we are a part had no place to go behind the Iron
Curtain, no place, except for one guy out of what church?
This church. Larry Thompson.
One guy. And where did we
begin? This church had been sending
for — we had thought maybe we’d do it for years — just for a couple of months
we’d been sending elders into what was then called Czechoslovakia in Prague to
show them ministry. And we had
linked up — it’s a long story. Jane
and I went too. It’s a long story.
But I want to tell you who opened up Eastern Europe to our denomination?
This congregation and the elders of this congregation.
The only place. And they
poured in. And I can tell you the
names — Pratt and Sproul and all these other guys poor in.
World missions and the Gospel and the evangelism of the Gospel.
Who brought Billy Graham to Jackson, Mississippi in the 1950’s?
The pastor of this church, Reed Miller, the pastor of this church.

Well I’m going to close and when I close I’m going to say this.
So what? So what?
Because I ask myself that question every sermon I preach.
So what? So we had the
Scriptures at the very beginning and have.
So we believe He has worked I our midst.
(tape ended)

His name was Thomas. Thomas did not
even show up. But the Lord Jesus
came to Him and in my lifetime I stood at his grave in the state of Madrong,
India. Doubting Thomas went all the
way to India preaching the Gospel and was martyred in India.
They all were martyred except for John who at the age of ninety-five was
imprisoned. They turned this world
upside down and they were men who were hurting.
Don’t believe because you are hurting that this message is not for you
and the future of this congregation is not in your hands.
Humanly speaking, it is. And
I want to speak to the fella who’s saying, “Boy, this is a great church and boy
I’m glad I’m here and this is wonderful!” Be careful.
Be very careful. You see,
this church comes across as being, out there, arrogant and know-it-all.
You’ve run into that. The
young people have run into it. Jesus
was humble. What this church has and
has had for 175 years is by the grace of God.
It is a gift. Be careful, if
you’re pleased to be a member of this congregation, that you’re not arrogant but
that you’re humble and give God the glory.

And one last thing. And this may be
the most important. As an
illustration that comes from my life when I was not a Christian, I got called
into the army, went into the, became a first lieutenant, and on my way to
infantry, an infantry officer in Korea, stopped briefly at Fort Rucker, got
married to Jane — oh boy! Bored to
death, waiting, saw a sign-up:
Football, post-football try-outs. I
was ready to do anything. I go out,
I make the team, one week later the team, the coach, he quit — previous coach
from there. The material was so bad
I was the quarterback. That’s how
bad it was. And he just quit.
And none of us knew that and I was called down to the general and I said,
“I’m on my way.” This was the
commander of the whole camp! “I’m on
my way to Korea but I don’t know what I’ve done but he’s sending me off and he
says, ‘Major so-and-so has quit.
He’s gone back and taken early retirement.
You’re the only officer out there; you’re the coach.”
And I said, “Yes, sir.” I
walked out and I said, “Good gracious.”
Well I told those men that from that day I’m the coach.
I thought the rest of them were going to quit too!

And then one week later, to the utter surprise of everybody, almost a thousand
trainees poured in unexpectedly. And
I went down there and I went through their records and I found them – “Whew!”
And I’m thinking, “We’ve got a team!
I won’t get to play but we’ve got a team!”
And it got better and better and better.
And I came to the “S’s” and I got a guy who had been – the last
experience he had had he was the junior varsity defensive line coach, coached
the defensive line and the offensive line, junior varsity of Ohio State under
Woody Hayes. And so I said, “Whew!”
And there was another guy we had.
He played half-back for the Chicago Bears the previous year.
He was 205 pounds and he was 6 feet 2.
That was a real man back then.
And I said, “Man!” But I
asked this guy who coached under Woody Hayes who would later go on and become a
famous coach at the University of Michigan, Bo Schembechler.
I said about Woody Hayes before our first game, “What did he do in a pep
talk?” “The pep talk,” he said,
“went like this: Forget everybody
else and what they’re doing and what they’re supposed to be doing.
You do one thing. You beat
that guy in front of you, 100% every play, because it’s your responsibility.
Forget everything else out there, what they are or not doing.”
I said, “Did he give that?”
He said, “He gave that almost every game.”

I want to give it to you. Is there
anybody out there who’s saying, “Gee, I hope my husband is waking up and he’s
hearing this sermon about what God is going to do with this church and what he’s
supposed to be doing.” Is there any
woman like that? And so you’re
misdirected. Or is there a young
person saying, “Wow, I wonder if the old people of this congregation —“?
Or is there a man saying, “John ought to be here because John’s got it
all. He’s got the talent, he’s got
the treasure, he’s got money, and he has got the time.
John ought to be here.” Quit
thinking about John. Quit thinking
about your husband. And quit
thinking about the older people, young people.
God has given you time. This
church has got money — treasure. And
talent. It’s in you.
Give it to Him.

The man who started this church was named John.
There wasn’t five; there was one.
His name was John Calvin.
Died in 1464 I believe. He had a
coat of arms that he made for a letter with his palm, like this.
In the middle of his palm was his heart and the heart was on fire.
And inscribed underneath were these words:
“This I give unto Thee, promptly and sincerely.”
He got that right out of this chapter.
“Did not our hearts burn within us?” said those two men.
That’s what this sermon is all about.
That’s what this day is all about.
Will you say that? Don’t be
thinking about anybody else. This I
give unto Thee, promptly and sincerely, on fire.
As we pray together.

Thank You, heavenly Father, thank You heavenly Father for being good and kind
and thank You for teaching us once again on this day two thousand some years
ago, the wrong shall fail and the right prevail, that the devil has been
defeated once and for all. He fights
but God, through Jesus Christ, will win.
And thank You for this church.
Now use this church with all that it has to offer, amazingly so, use it
more than You ever have before for the sake of Jesus, the great and true Christ.
Amen.

If there is anybody at the end of this service that wants to see or talk to
somebody, I asked Brister and there will be some elders down here.
Someone may want to talk — some young man called to the ministry, come,
come. Now we’re going to sing a hymn
and the hymn is to the sung with great vigor.
“Lead on, O King Eternal, we follow not with fears.”
Connie.

Well, I was supposed to pronounce the benediction.
I’ll pronounce it right now!
The benediction is the blessing of God and boy does it come down and rest upon
believing hearts. For it is now unto
the Lord Jesus who is able to keep you from falling.
It is now unto the Lord Jesus Christ who is able, at your death, able to
present you sinless before His throne of grace in heaven with exceeding great
joy to the only wise God who is our Savior.
Under Him, in our hearts, may He have glory, majesty, dominion, and
power, both now and forevermore.
Amen.



Blessed Zion: Lessons From the History of FPC Jackson

By / Apr 4

Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting

April 4, 2012

The Reverend Mr. Sean Lucas

I’ve titled this talk, “Blessed Zion — Lessons from the History of First Pres.
Jackson,” and that’s because the story of First Pres. Jackson is one of God’s
grace, preserving and growing a congregation in a small frontier town, which is
what Jackson was in the 1830’s, into one of the leading churches of evangelical
Presbyterianism. In many ways, the
church’s growth mirrors the demographics of Jackson.
Particularly starting in 1900, Jackson would double in population every
twenty years. The church’s growth
mirrors the demographics and yet demographics alone cannot really explain the
growth or the impact of First Pres. Jackson.
After all, Central Presbyterian Church in Jackson, which at one point in
1930 actually had four times the number of members as First Presbyterian Church
Jackson in the then-fashionable section of town, West Capitol Street, no longer
exists. And so demographics alone
can’t explain how it is that First Presbyterian Church here in Jackson has
continued. In fact, the fact that
Central Presbyterian Church no longer exists actually serves as a sobering
reminder that our congregation’s futures are not guaranteed.
God’s covenant promises extend to the Church universal, both visible and
invisible, but the conditions of the covenant are actually realized in local,
congregational life. And so as First
Presbyterian Church here celebrates its 175th anniversary, I thought
it might be helpful to share a few lessons that I learned writing a history of
the church. I’m sure there are other
lessons that could have been learned.
The lessons that I’m going to mention tonight are the ones that most
impacted me personally, both as a historian by training but also as a pastor by
calling. My eye is constantly on our
people in Hattiesburg and on the life of local churches, and so these five
lessons were things that particularly impacted me as I studied your story.

IT ONLY TAKES ONE GENERATION FOR A CHURCH TO DIE

And the first lesson in simply this.
It takes only one generation for a church to die.
As part of the research for the book, I tracked down a number of churches
that were mentioned in biographic sketches or represented in various events.
And one day working on the chapter on John Reed Miller, who pastored in
the 50’s and 60’s, I tried to find information about several churches — Point
Breeze Presbyterian Church in Pittsburg where Harold Ockenga and Reed Miller
himself ministered, Central Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga where Wilbur
Cousar pastored, United Presbyterian Church in Wheeling, West Virginia where
John Reed Miller served for a time, and Central Presbyterian Church in Jackson.
What do those congregations have in common?
Well, they were all large, thriving, significant congregations pastored
by conservative, talented men, and they no longer exist today.

Now the reasons why these churches no longer exist are as various as the
congregations themselves. Still, as
late as the 1950’s they were thriving congregations and if a congregational
death can happen to those congregations it can happen to any congregation.
God’s mercy has been evident in the life of your church, First Church, a
downtown church, in the fact that your congregation has continued to thrive and
foster in the city of Jackson even as the city has transitioned several times
through the decades. But it would
only take a generation for a congregation to show signs of decay, perhaps a poor
pastoral choice, perhaps a failure to preach God’s Word faithfully, or a
transition in the church’s understanding of mission, or an inability to see and
adapt to the neighborhood around it.
Of course, these reasons suggest that we often think of congregations dying
because of unfaithfulness, either doctrinal laxity on one side or evangelistic
laziness on the other. But often the
reason is not unfaithfulness but simply that the church’s covenant children move
away and they don’t come back. Well
such transitions can happen in the span of thirty or forty years.
One generation may be all that’s necessary for a congregation to begin
the process of dying.

One of the things I know for us at First Pres. Hattiesburg we’ve thought a lot
about over our anniversary celebration, and I would challenge you to think about
it as well, our futures are not guaranteed and though God has shown great
faithfulness in the past, over 175 years, we need to continue to ask Jesus to
preserve His lamp stand here and not to take it away, either through our own
unfaithfulness or for His own good pleasure.
One of the prayers I know I prayer regularly in our pastoral prayer is,
“Jesus, just as You have given us generations here for 130 years, raise us
generations after us that will love the name of Jesus Christ here in this church
and in this place.” And that is, I
think, something that all of us should pray, particularly you in your
anniversary time as members and leaders, to pray regularly that the Lord would
not remove His lamp stand from this corner of North State and Belhaven Street,
that He would remain faithful by raising up the next generation who will love
Christ and His covenant. So that’s
one lesson.

A FEW GOOD MEN

But a second lesson that I learned from your history was that it really is
necessary to have a few good men. One of
the outstanding features of First Presbyterian Church has been the quality of
men who have served as its ruling elders.
Even when Jackson was a small, struggling town in the mid 19th
century, First Church had remarkable men as elders — Joseph Copes and William
Lemley and J.L. Power just to name three.
Copes was a doctor who would later move to New Orleans and start the
medical school as what is now Tulane University.
Lemley was a leading merchant here in town and J.L. Power was the
longtime owner of what became The Jackson Clarion Ledger and served for a
time as Mississippi Secretary of State.
And from that time to this, the church’s elders have included State
Supreme Court Justices and Federal Circuit Court Judges, prominent lawyers,
leading merchants, hardworking doctors, who have all taken their turns working
in the nursery and teaching Sunday School and caring for the sick and struggling
and visiting the lost and the lonely.
Indeed, what has marked First Church’s elders is not only that they were
talented, but that they were also godly.
It’s that combination, talented, godly men, that sustains influential
congregations over the long haul.
Churches that lose the faith have talented men, lots of small churches have
godly men, but churches that have served as leading churches in the formation of
institutions and impacting cities and towns over generations, inevitably have
talented and godly men. By God’s
mercy, First Presbyterian Church Jackson has had more than a few good men to
serve this church as elder. Indeed,
heaven’s roll call is filled with the talented and godly men who have served
this church, not just Cops and Lenley and J.L. Power, but also Thomas Helm and
J.D. Power and all the Wells’ from the first William Calvin Wells to the
present, and Leon Hendrick and Robert Cannada and the Stokes Robertson, senior
and junior, and Erskine Wells and Russ Johnson and R.G. Kennington and on and on
and on to the present session. My
great regret in writing “Blessed Zion” was that I could not highlight all the
good men who have served as elders and deacons here at First Church.

But the reason why there have been so many good men as leaders here is that
there has been an intentional focus on ministry to men.
Jim Baird would periodically observe from the pulpit, “If you look around
yourself today you’ll see more men present than women and you could travel a
thousand miles in any direction before you would see the same thing in a church
this size.” But from John Hunter’s
ministry starting in 1858 to the present day, the church has focused
intentionally on ministry to men, whether the Brotherhood Sunday School class or
the Men’s Bible Study taught for a year by the Alexander brothers, or the
Mid-South Men’s Rally or many other ways beside, reaching men with the Gospel,
teaching them God’s Word, and involving them in ministry has been an important
focus of your congregation’s life.

This ministry to men has been complimented by having strong men as pastoral
leaders. For example, Gerard Lowe
who was the pastor here from 1941 to ’51 was described this way.
“He has the rare combination of broad scholarship, deep spirituality, an
attractive personality, and at the same time is a hail fellow well met with a
positive genius for making and holding friends and meeting and mingling with the
masses.” Likewise, all who knew John
Reed Miller remember him as a strong, masculine presence. In particular, one man
recalled, “While not seeking to be universally loved, Dr. Miller was and is
respected by all and truly revered by many.
In a day when the average preacher based his personality on how to win
friends and influence people, Dr. Miller concentrated on how to speak the truth
in love and was not in the least taken back by the opinions of men if his own
conscience was in clear alignment with the Scripture.”
What was true of Lowe and Miller has been true of all the men who have
served as pastor here at First Presbyterian Church.
They surrounded themselves with godly men and sought to reach men because
they themselves were men who loved Jesus and loved to be with men who loved
Jesus. That’s an important lesson to
learn, that it takes more than a few good, godly men.

LONG-TERM PASTORATES

A third lesson that I learned was a lesson on long-term pastorates.
One of the trends in missiology over the last twenty years in the study
of missions has been the promotion of short-term missions, whether going to the
mission field for two weeks or two years.
And undoubtedly this is valuable but one of the lessons of First
Presbyterian Church Jackson has been the long-term mission work of its pastors.
Since 1858, the church has only had seven pastors.
Think of that. John Hunter,
1858 to ’94, J.B. Hutton, 1896 to 1940, Gerard Lowe, 1941 to ’51, John Reed
Miller, 1951 to ’68, Donald Patterson, 1969 to ’83, James Baird, 1984 to ’95,
and then Dr. Duncan himself from 1996 to the present.
The longevity of these pastors has shaped the congregation’s life in
significant ways. First, there’s
been profound stability. Consider
this — for the eighty years between 1858 and 1939 there was only one pastoral
search. There were only two pastors
in eighty years. Think of the
stability that provided for the congregation as they went through building
programs, yellow fever, tragic deaths, church discipline, four church plants,
and countless efforts to reach Jackson with the Gospel.
Whole generations in this congregation had lived their lives with only
two pastors, not just the Hunter/Hutton generation but the Miller/Patterson
generation. Two pastors in
thirty-three years between 1950 and 1983, or even between Baird and Duncan, 1984
to 2012 and continuing. Such
stability has children who were baptized being married and then counseled and
see their own children baptized and married by the same men gives a great deal
of stability and strength to a congregation.
That’s been your story.

But not only this, the commitment to long-term pastoral care and missions in
long-term pastorates has allowed for the sustained impact of pulpit ministry.
A long stay in the same place allows these men to shape the theological
but also the piety perspective of the congregation in favor of the grand,
winsome, evangelical truths of reformed Christianity.
So each minister has had his own unique ways and plans for preaching,
there was a common thread in all of them of Gospel-centeredness, and evangelical
commitment that made First Church a powerful advocate for evangelism and
missions, for discipleship and theological education.
For ministers that have been in the front and center of many of the key
institutions that have furthered this work but the groundwork was laid through
the regular, sustained, long-term pulpit ministry of these men.

And finally, the pastors’ long-term stays allowed them to gain great trust.
Though each of the men had other opportunities both coming to First Pres.
Jackson and then even while here, they remained at their post, earning the
long-term trust of the church. A
great example of this was J.B. Hutton.
As the Jackson Kiwanis Club recognized on his fortieth anniversary here
at First Church, over the years Hutton had transitioned from Mr. Hutton to Dr.
Hutton to Brother Hutton. They said,
“People in recent years had called him Brother Hutton because they had found
that not only was there strength in his body and brains in his head, but despite
a seeming reserve, there was a warm and loving and tender heart for his people
and for the people of his adopted state and city.”
There’s the trust. And so
then this lesson – when difficult times come, it’s not only the power or the
wonder of one’s preaching that holds a congregation, but it’s the trust built up
over long-term pastorates. And
you’ve been blessed with that.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

A fourth lesson that I’ve learned that kind of goes with the previous one is the
lesson of the road not taken, and it’s a lesson that comes again to ministers.
In each point along the way in the church’s history, the church’s pulpit
committees could have made different choices and the future of First Church
would have been dramatically different.
For example, before the church called J.B. Hutton in 1896 when he was a
little-known twenty-nine year old pastor of a parish in the town of Durant, they
had tried to call A.J. Mckelway who was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in
Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Mckelway actually came and preached, investigated the call, but in the end
decided not to come. And that was a
huge blessing for the church because Mckelway would become one of the early
proponents of the social gospel in the southern Presbyterian Church, while
Hutton would become known as one of the staunch defenders of evangelical and
Presbyterian faith. Imagine how
different your history would have been if you had the proponent of the social
gospel preaching from your pulpit at the turn of the last century.
Indeed, several points in the churches history, many of them are in the
book — similar roads not taken occurred.
And while it raises questions about how churches do pastoral searches and
calls, one thing seems clear — churches that stand faithful to the generations
are those that seek men who are faithful to the Scriptures, true to the reformed
faith, obedient to the Great Commission, men who are winsome pastors and
faithful leaders, and men who stay in a little while at least.
But to find men like this as pastors they must be given to the church by
Christ as grace gifts. In God’s
mercy, Jesus gave you great gifts in pastors through your 175 years.
You should rejoice in the men that God has given you as well as in the
roads not taken.

But the fifth lesson I learned, and to me the most important, has been the
blessing of evangelical Presbyterianism because to me, what has marked out First
Presbyterian Church throughout its history, is that you have been a congregation
that’s been committed to evangelical Presbyterianism.
From the earliest days the congregation has sought to preach the Gospel,
to win men and women to Jesus, to present the reformed faith in a warm and
winsome fashion, and the value of this is two-fold.
On the one hand, such evangelical Presbyterianism prevented the church
and its leaders from majoring on minors.
Rather, your pastors and elders have led with the Gospel and have led
with the fixed points of our doctrinal system — the inspiration and inerrancy of
the Scriptures, the reality of God’s sovereignty, the covenants of work and
grace, the Redeemer’s person and work, justification by faith alone, the means
of grace, and the reality of Jesus’ soon return and judgments.
And because they majored on the majors as it were, they were evangelical
protestants first and then Presbyterians.
That was true from John Hunter’s day all the way down to Ligon Duncan’s
day.

For example, J.H. Alexander, a 19th century minister in Yazoo City,
remarked of Hunter that, “It is pleasant to note that while Dr. Hunter was
devoted to the tenets and polity of the Presbyterian church, he had a heart and
a hand for all who loved and served the Master.”
And the same could be said of J.B. Hutton who regularly shared in the
organization and execution of evangelistic campaigns to Jackson with Baptist and
Methodist ministers. When buildings
were dedicated by the church, all the other congregations would shut down and
worship with First Presbyterian Church because there was a heart for evangelical
Christianity. John Reed Miller
started the Winter Theological Institute in the late 50’s and he invited the
luminaries of American evangelicalism to come and speak to you.
Carl F.H. Henry, Kenneth Cancer, Harold Ockenga, and of course your own
Ligon Duncan has been heavily involved in The Alliance of Confessing
Evangelicals and Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition.
And all these ministers did this because the Gospel-centeredness of
evangelical Christianity was at the very center of their passions and their
heart and at the very center of your passions and your heart.

However, though the church was committed to a full-hearted and full-throated
evangelicalism, you have been committed evangelical Presbyterians.
And this was true throughout First Church’s involvement with the
Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old southern Presbyterian
denomination. John Hunter, after
all, signed the original address to “The Church of Jesus Christ throughout all
the world,” the manifesto of the southern church when it was formed in 1851.
This church hosted the General Assembly of the PCUS in 1902.
And from the 1920’s on, the ministers and elders took a leading role in
trying to preserve a Presbyterian denomination that would be evangelical and
Presbyterian in the best senses. And when rescuing the old southern church
failed, your church, First Church, was willing to commit everything in
preserving a congregation and a denomination that stood for the fundamentals of
our Presbyterian system of doctrine and polity.
In an era when denominations have been viewed as the dying dinosaurs of a
previous era, First Church took a leading role in forming and sustaining the
Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination committed to the Scriptures and
the reformed faith and the Great Commission. In addition, this congregation has
provided significant leadership to the PCA having three pastors, Drs. Baird,
Patterson, and Duncan, as well as an elder, Leon Hendrick, serve as moderator of
the PCA General Assembly. You’ve had
countless ministers and elders serve as chairmen of committees and permanent
committees and members of committees both at General Assembly and in presbytery.
This has been a church of Presbyterian church men.
All this to say that First Church has gloried in being evangelical first
and Presbyterian second but in being evangelical and Presbyterian together.
And this has been and will continue to be what shapes this and all other
leading Presbyterian churches.

These are some of the lessons I’ve learned in writing your anniversary history
but there’s one more thing to mention.
In thinking about First Church over 175 years, my mind has come over and
over again to the image of Zion, an image of God’s collective people, an image
of God’s Promised Land, an image of the Church as His cherished prize and
peculiar possession. Over and over I
came back to the title, even as I dallied with other titles, I came back to the
title of “Blessed Zion” to describe this book and this people for whom God has
cared for as First Presbyterian Church Jackson.
In 1806 the hymn-writer Thomas Kelly paraphrased Psalm 125 for a hymn
collection that he published. In
reflecting on the words from the first two verses of that psalm, “Those who
trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people
from this time forth and forevermore,” Kelly wrote this:
“Zion stands by hills surrounded, Zion kept by power divine, all her foes
shall be confounded thou the world and arms combine.
Happy Zion, what a favored lies in Zion.”

My prayer for you as you celebrate your 175th anniversary, is that
you would see yourself as God sees you, as blessed and happy in His love, as
precious in His sight, as attended by the light of God, and protected by His
grace all the way to the end of the age.
Surely First Church you have been blessed, a blessed Zion indeed.
Would you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, we do thank You for these lessons that You teach us as congregations
through the history of our churches.
Lord, I particularly thank You for the history of this church, not only in
getting the opportunity to study it over the last couple of years but indeed,
all the way back to 2002 reading session records.
Lord, I thank You for the way this church has stood for Gospel truth and
has stood for Gospel passion that You would be glorified in seeing lost men and
lost women come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Lord, I pray as they go through the various activities of this month, I
pray that You would encourage this congregation.
May they know that You are with them, that they belong to You, You know
them by name, and they are Yours.
Grant them Your grace, we pray. We
pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.



Remembering All the Way

By / Apr 1

The Lord’s Day Evening


April 1, 2012



“Remembering All the Way”


Deuteronomy 8:2; 2 Timothy 1:1-12


The Reverend Mr. Brister H. Ware

Could we pray?

Lord, we thank Thee for a hundred and seventy-five years, this church.
So many other churches, Lord, go on; they’re closed.
We thank Thee, Father, for strengthening this church.
And we give Thee praise and glory and pray that we might honor Thee as we
begin this month of remembering Thy faithfulness.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

I am reading from Deuteronomy 8 verse 2 and then we’ll read from 2 Timothy 1.
This is in a verse to help us as we remember this entire month:

“And you shall
remember the whole way that the LORD Your God has led you these forty years in
the wilderness that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your
heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

And then from 2 Timothy chapter 1:

“Paul, an apostle of
Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in
Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my
beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and
peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God whom I
serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you
constantly in my prayers night and day.
As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with
joy. I am reminded of your sincere
faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice
and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is
in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear
but of power and love and self-control.

Therefore do not be
ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in
suffering for the Gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a
holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace,
which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been
manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death
and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, for which I was
appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.
But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced
that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

The children of Israel were
getting ready to go into the Promised Land and they were solemnly, seriously,
emphatically instructed to remember all they’d been through as they traveled the
last forty years out of Egypt,
across Canaan, into the Promised Land.
Matthew Poole says – the King James says, “I shall remember all the way
which the Lord thy God has led thee these forty years in the wilderness to
humble thee and prove thee and know what is in thy heart, whether thou wouldst
keep My commandments or no.” Matthew
Poole says:

“What does ‘all the
way’ mean? All the way, that is, all
the events which befell thee in the way — the miraculous protection,
deliverances, provisions, instructions, which God gave thee and which all the
frequent and severe punishments of thy disobediences to know what was in thy
heart that thou mightest discover to thyself and to others that infidelity,
inconsistency, hypocrisy, apostasy, rebellion, and perverseness which lay hidden
in thine heart. The discoveries,
thereof, was of singular use, both to them and to the church of God
in all succeeding ages.”

Remember all the way. The Scripture
says “Remember all the way which the Lord thy God has led thee.
And there’s a warning we’ll look at, at the end, for those who forget.
And as far as Timothy is concerned, Timothy is like many of us.
He was raised in a great church, in a Christian family, with a godly
grandmother and mother. And because
of that, he may have been somewhat sensitive, tenderhearted, and he might have a
tendency to be afraid, not to speak the name of Christ.
And now his mentor, Paul, is in prison, he might be afraid to go to Rome to see him.
And Paul wanted to see him, to be refreshed by him.
Paul was warning him and instructing him, “Don’t be ashamed of the
Gospel. Don’t be afraid.
God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love and power and a sound
mind. Don’t be ashamed, whatever.”

As I think about our church, one thing about our church, I don’t think we have
been ashamed of the Gospel very much.
I have at times. Some highly
intellectual, prominent, distinguished person, when I presented the Gospel,
said, “That’s the most arrogant, selfish, bigoted thing I ever heard in my
life,” and it took me twenty minutes to regain my coverage and my strength.
There’s a temptation to be ashamed.
Listen, Ligon is bathing you, week after week, he’s saying we’re moving
into an era when every power that can is going to try to make us ashamed of the
Gospel, to make us consider the Gospel hate-speech, and to shut us up.
And that’s what Paul is begging Timothy not to be ashamed, to be a
partaker of the sufferings of the Gospel.
“Come to the prison perhaps and comfort me.
Risk your freedom to some extent, not presumptuously but prayerfully.”

Just thinking about some of the distinctions of our church, there’s the
affirmation of the full inspiration and infallibility of the Bible.
There’s the theology of The Westminster Confession of Faith and the catechisms emphasized in
its pulpit, its officers, its teachers, its Christian Education program,
encouraging memorization of the catechisms and the Scripture passages.
There is the fearless preaching of the whole Word of God from the first
word in Genesis to the last word in Revelation.
We don’t leave anything out. This pulpit covers every single word of it.
In the Bible, some of them are hard and difficult but this pulpit will
present it faithfully. There’s a
proclamation of the Gospel at home and around the world with the accompanying
medical and educational ministry.
There is a demand and full commitment of disciples through serious giving,
submission, obedience to God through Christ as our Savior and Lord.
There’s a demand of discipleship from this pulpit and from this church
and from our Sunday School classes.
And some people don’t like it. They
don’t. They leave!
Okay. The Bible says beware
when all men speak well of you.
That’s true!

And then there’s the full dedication and involvement of church officers in the
shepherding of the flock of God.
Erskine Wells told me, ah I love Erskine!
I miss him. He said, “You
know, after the Lord brought me through Iwo Jima and all those places and men
were shot and stabbed on either side of me and I led the last official bayonet
charge in the history of the United States military, I told the Lord that when
He got me back I would do anything, anything, anything if my church asked me to
do.” And he did.
Towards the very end he said, “Brister, you know I told you I’d do
anything physically. I can’t
anymore.”

Well, in the early 30’s, a young physician and his wife moved to Jackson and
they had one child and he was from Capitol Street Methodist Church and he grew
up next door to West End Presbyterian Church which became Central Presbyterian
Church and is closed today, has been for years.
He was a good friend of R.E. Huff, the pastor of Central Presbyterian,
and of Mark Wiersing, who was a pastor back during in those days.
And the church was still pretty strong evangelically in those old days.
But one day in 1936 when J. B. Hutton was preaching in his fortieth year
— and there’s a beautiful paper I have on my desk telling about his forty years
here and accolades of praise from all over the city.
One day my father simply turned to my mother and said, and they were at
the old church here down on North State Street,
“Today we join this church.” It set
the whole course of my life and destiny.
I praise God for it. I don’t
know why His sovereignty did it but I sure praise God for it.

In the old church when I was baptized J. B. Hutton was there and my mother said
I took his fountain pen out and stabbed him in the heart! And everybody said,
“Well one thing about old Brister, he’ll never be a preacher!”
He finally, in his — ’73 I think he died, but he was still serving
faithfully. In those old days in the
old church down there we had no air conditioning.
We had windows with large slanted panes and fans.
As a little boy, I’d get a little bit bored during the service.
We sat on the aisle so that my dad could get out and make his calls if
there was an emergency at the hospital, but I found an infallible way to tell
how near the service was to getting over.
There was a man in front of me with a full undershirt, shirt, and coat.
All the men wore it. I don’t
care how hot it was; they wore it in those days.
And I watched the perspiration fall on his shoulder blades.
And I could watch that perspiration move across his back until it met and
when it met church was out!

On a more serious note, Gerard Lowe came about 1940.
He’s been a semi-pro baseball player and everybody loved him.
He was a great Gospel preacher.
One day I was going out with my folks and he was standing there in his
frock-tailed coat, suit. He wore a
morning suit; a very handsome, distinguished gentleman.
And he looked at me and he got down on one knee and he put his arm around
me and he said, “Brister, we love you here.
This is where we want you.
This is another home for you. We
love you here, son, and we need you here to serve the Lord.”
I never forgot it. I wasn’t
but two or three and it stamped on my soul — a love for the ministry and for
First Presbyterian Church. What a
blessing it was in those days.

And a couple of other things. Down
in, well, during the service sometimes they had a basement and you could go down
there with a speaker and listen to the service.
And one of our current ruling elders and I used to go down there
sometimes. And Orrin Swayze and I
were there and sometimes we’d sneak out, but not too often, because I’d start to
get up and Orrin would say, “No, Brister, we can’t go because my mother and
father are going to ask me about the beginning, middle, and end of the sermon!”
(laughter) His parents were
serious about his getting the message.
And we’d listen and try to get something, you know.
We’d go out for five minutes and come back!
(laughter) He had dedicated
parents. Later on, Orrin taught me
how to fold papers because I took over his paper route.
I’m always grateful for his friendship and love over all these years.

In that old church it came time to do memory work from the catechism and I
didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t
particularly interested in that. I
got through The Child’s Catechism and
maybe a third of the way through The
Shorter Catechism
and I just said I’m not going to do it.
And my mother said, “Son, what can your daddy and I get you to motivate
you to learn it?” And I thought,
“Well, you know I’m going to one up them.
I’m going to give them something I know they won’t get.”
So I said — I’d already gotten a baseball and a glove and a bat.
I said, “Okay, but you won’t get it.”
“What is it?” “You won’t get
it.” “What is it?”
Now bear in mind when I was seven years old, Fred Yerger who became a
leading doctor, internist, died at age sixty-five and kin to the Yergers in this
church, was on a dollhouse in my sister’s backyard, on the top, he was
hammering. He dropped the hammer and
he told me to throw the hammer back to him and somehow the hammer described a
perfect arc and the claw caught him in the eye and took his eye out.
My folks later bought him a microscope and he became a very outstanding
internist out in Arizona.

I knew that if I said what I wanted my folks wouldn’t get it, so I said, “Okay,
I’ll learn it if I can get a Benjamin pump air rifle” — the most powerful and
dangerous BB gun in the world.
So I turned and walked away and just laughed and my mother said, “Son,
you learn it, we’ll get it.” I said,
“Aren’t you afraid I’m going to shoot somebody!”
She said, “We’ll pray about it.”
And right before my mother died at age ninety-two, a last glimmer of
clarity of mind, I said, “Mother, weren’t you afraid I was going to shoot
somebody’s eye out? I’d already
knocked Fred’s eye out!” She said,
“Yes, I prayed about it every day. I
was more concerned for your spiritual underpinnings than for anything else.”
My mother loved the Lord. She
was married on Sunday, my older sister was born on Sunday, I was born on Sunday,
my next sister was born on Sunday, my last sister was born on Sunday, my dad
died on Sunday, and my mother died on Sunday.
And she loved the Lord’s Day and we thank the Lord for it.

And then on February 24, 1952 John Reed Miller preached his first sermon here.
I’m not sure if it was his trial sermon or if it was part of his coming
permanently but I do remember it and I do remember that afternoon at three
o’clock that my father died at age forty-six of his third heart attack.
And I do remember at nine thirty that night we’d turned all the lights
out of the house and my mother was crying and I was lying in the back there
trying to figure out what the Lord wanted me to do.
And I went in and I just simply walked in the bedroom and these words
came out of my mouth: “The souls of
believers, at their death, being made perfect in holiness, do immediately pass
into glory and their bodies, being still united with Christ, do rest in their
graves till the resurrection.”
That’s all I said. And my mother
later said that was the greatest comfort she’d ever had and it got her through
that terrible night. In about fifteen or twenty minutes there was a knock on the
door (knock, knock, knock) and I opened the door and there was Robert Mims.
He had come to comfort me because he had just lost his father.

Later on, Robert and I, well, we were going to a show one night on the bus and
the bus picked up the DCE of our church, Nancy Lipscomb.
And I remember Robert Mims said, “Brister, we’re going to prayer meeting
now and then we can go to the show!”
(laughter) We did, we went to prayer
meeting, and we started coming to prayer meeting more regularly.
It was great when Dr. Miller was preaching it — strong exposition.
The church was in bad shape, the church PCUSA.
Dr. Miller had come from the north and he knew how focused and determined
the liberals were to take control of the entire Presbyterian heritage of this
country. He knew it better than
anybody else and he knew it would require a determined focus, all our effort if
we were going to stop it. So he
organized the entire presbytery and he preached strong sermons and with the
backing of a strong session we took control of this presbytery and that enabled
many of our churches to withdraw from the PCUS with our property.
He, before that, he would, and while he was here, he taught the women in
the church. A lot of people
wondered, “Well why does he take the time to teach the women in the church?
Why don’t they use an assistant for that or somebody else?”
He told me one day why. He
said, “Brister, there’s someone that’s been trained to keep this church in line
with the denomination, to keep us in line with them, and I have to do this.
They know they can’t do it through the session, it’s too strong, nor
through the pulpit, and I think they may try to do it through the women in the
church. We have such outstanding,
powerful, wise ladies. They’ll go
after them so I’m going to teach.”
It never happened. He taught and the
women in our church are stronger than ever and we thank God for it.

The Columbia Theological Seminary president, J. McDowell Richards, in the early
60’s, was trying to raise money. And they came over here and met with our elders
and with Dr. Miller and they said, “We want money for the seminary.
Some of you have students who are going to be going to the seminary.”
And our elders and Dr. Miller, particularly Dr. Miller, sent him a
message. “We’ll be happy to fund a
chair on the campus of the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia
providing you get a genuine, Bible-believing, evangelical professor.”
J. McDowell Richards wrote back and said, “We can’t be bought!”
And Dr. Miller said, “Very well, we’ll just take that money and put it
aside and when you make up your mind otherwise we’ll give it to you.”
Well, that money stayed in an account for five years and it became the
seed money for Reformed Theological Seminary.
Praise God for it. We praise His name.
Dr. Miller, he used to quote things.
I’ll try to remember some of them.
I can’t remember the first part of the couplet but the second part is,
“Nor that standing room be priced, but when I voice the message, may men see
Christ.” He used to quote, “Men heed
Thee, love Thee, praise Thee not, the master praises.
What are men?” And he used to
quote from Shakespeare. “There is a
tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leadeth on to glory.
Omitted and all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in
miseries and we must take the current what it serves or lose our ventures.”
In other words, opportunity, when it comes, you’ve got to grasp it.
And he felt like this was the opportunity here.
He organized the presbytery and he became hated and maligned but God
greatly used him so that when the time came for us to form the PCA there were a
number of strong elders and ministers in place in this presbytery so that when
we withdrew in 1973, many of the churches were able to withdraw with their
property. What a blessing.
What a blessing.

He used to take me around on Sunday night, Dr. Miller did, and he had some
printed brochures of his sermon series.
And we’d go into hotels and he’s say, “Brister, go in there.
I drink coffee in here, they know me.
Say, ‘Dr. Miller would like to put these on the place where you sign in
to register.’” And people would pick
them up. They had interesting
titles. He always had two titles to
his sermon. And sure enough, there’d
be one or two every Sunday that would be at the local hotel, pick this thing up,
and come in here on a Sunday night to hear the sermon series. It was a blessing.
He’d pick me up and walk around with me.
And when I was walking around he’d talk to me about serious, theological
things. Well, didn’t understand much
of it but I was so honored that he thought that this little teenager could
understand and grasp these great concepts.
I studied hard and listened hard when he preached.
I was so honored that he didn’t talk down to me.
And I praise God for it. Mrs.
Miller died at eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning.
He was praising Betty toward the end of his life to me when we’d go out
to eat. What a blessing.

And then Don Patterson came and by the grace of God was able to formulate with
others the Declaration of Commitment and lead us out of the PCUS into the
continuing church which became the Presbyterian Church in America.
His passion not only was the PCA but missions.
He loved missions so greatly.
I thought of Alexander Pope.
Alexander Pope said, “A master passion in the breast like Aaron’s rod consumes
the rest.” And one day he stood up
here and said — there was a missions conference, everybody walked forward who
was going to the mission field and he got out of the pulpit and walked forward.
He gave himself to the Lord and spent the last years of his life, took a
tremendous cut in salary, to serve the Lord.
I was with him right before he died.
The family gave me Gene’s Bible.
I found she’d prayed for me many a time.
He hired me on May – I came here on May 1, 1983.

And then after Don, Jim Baird came and which we built the Fellowship Hall and
the Study Center and Miller Hall.
Jim started these Mid-South Men’s Conferences, a huge blessed thing that
attracts many people from several states, all over the state; a great blessing.
He was the first one to take a group of people behind the Iron Curtain
into missions work. What a blessing.
What a blessing Jim has proved to be to me and he’s still active.
He’s still preaching. He’s
preached all over the world and we thank God for him.

And then Dr. Duncan has been with us, the youngest moderator of the General
Assembly, internationally known author, leader of conferences such as Together
for the Gospel, started the Twin Lakes fellowship for where two weeks men from
all over the United States will come to Twin Lakes to be strengthened in the
Lord. What a blessing he has been —
his sermons, his friendship. And
under his ministry the officers of our church have become real shepherds.
I was interviewing one of the ladies who recently joined our church.
And her elder who was interviewing her with me, after we finished going
through everything, leaned out and looked her in the eye, and he said, calling
her name, “I am your shepherd. Call
on me for anything, anytime. It will
be my privilege to serve you faithfully.
Call on me. I am your
shepherd.” It touched my heart
because this guy really is a shepherd, better than most of us preachers.
Seriously, he is.

I’ll just sum up by saying a few things.
Had not our people of a long history given sacrificially to fund this
church, had not Dr. Miller organized the presbytery, had not the session of this
church established Reformed Theological Seminary that sent men out so that they
could get into churches and so they’d be willing, most of them, to move into the
PCA, had not Don Patterson led the way, had not the Declaration of Commitment
been presented on October 4, 1989, a great challenge was laid down, had not
Morton Smith and Bob Cannada not written
The Book of Church Order
, had not this church stood with its session and
pastor in those great days, how different, how different history of the
Presbyterian Church in this state and the world would be.

Both chapters, Deuteronomy and 2 Timothy chapter 2, end with a warning.
Deuteronomy 8 ends with a solemn warning.
“If you forget, if you don’t remember but forget, then what’s been done
to the nations that you invaded and that I enabled you,” God says, “to conquer,
will be done to you if you don’t remember.”
And then the apostle Paul warns Timothy that some of his converts, some
of the ones that he trusted, had turned against him.
He says, “You are aware that all who are in Asia” — that’s the western
part of the Roman Empire then — “all who were in Asia turned away from me among
whom were the jealous but the Lord granted mercy to the house of Onesiphorus for
he refreshed me and he was not ashamed of my chains.
He came to Rome and found me and comforted me but I lost a whole lot of
them. They turned against me; they
rejected me.” Let me tell you, if
the apostle Paul had people reject him, should we be that surprised?
No, the Lord Jesus, one of His Twelve, rejected Him.

Who would have thought that God, in His sovereign mercy, would have taken a
church from the poorest state in the Union, from the most belittled state in the
Union and somehow caused it to be the catalyst, maybe the indispensible
catalyst, of a great denomination, or a glorious seminary, or a mission program,
of a Day School that reaches, to strengthen our college nearby, our college
ministry. We think of the days of
Jimmy Turner here with the great youth program and of so many others.

Two weeks from today we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of a
great historical event. On April 15,
a huge magnificent vessel was coursing through the Atlantic Ocean seven hundred
miles east of Halifax, Nova Scotia in two and a half miles deep water.
We don’t want to blame all of this on captain E.J. Smith because it was a
standard procedure when you saw an iceberg you went around it; you didn’t slow
down. You just evaded it.
Even though he had had seven warnings of the danger of icebergs he was
following the standard procedure of the White Star Line and the Kinard Line of
those days. They put a lookout up in
the front of the ship way up on a pole in a crow’s nest.
His name was Fredrick Fleet.
There was another man with him. It
was a beautiful night, starlit. It
was very unusual because the sea was as smooth as glass, not a ripple.
Nobody could ever remember seeing it so smooth.
How nice. Nice? No, it
wasn’t, because that deceptive smoothness, calm, would cost the lives of over a
thousand people very soon because standard procedure was to rely upon the eyes
of the lookouts to see the iceberg but they couldn’t see it that night because
the sea was so smooth the breakers around the bottom, which form the white,
frothy surf, could not be seen because it was so smooth; there were none.
And so when they saw it, it was too late.
They struck the iceberg. It
was at twenty minutes to twelve on April 14th and it sank at twenty
minutes after two on April 15th.

So when God puts storms in your life, don’t fight Him.
Better stormy seas with Christ than clear sailing without Him.
As the young people were singing tonight, “God will bless our troubles
and sanctify to us our deepest distress.”
What a blessing. As we look
back over the 175 years, I remember the words of Andre Crouch:

“I’ve had many tears
and sorrows; I’ve had questions for tomorrows.
There’s been time I didn’t know right from wrong, but in every situation
God gave blessed consolation that my trials only come to make me strong.
Through it all, through it all, O I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve
learned to trust in God. Through it
all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.
My Father’s way may twist and turn, my heart may throb and break, but in
my soul I’m glad I know He maketh no mistake.
My cherished plans may go astray, my hopes may fade away, but in my heart
I’m glad I know He maketh no mistake.
There’s so much more I cannot see, my eyesight’s far too dim.
And so I’ll simply trust and leave it all to Him, for by and by the mist
will lift and plain it all He’ll make, through all the way, though dark to me,
He made not one mistake.”

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace all sufficient shall
be thy supply. The flames shall not
hurt thee, I only design, thy dross to consume, thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I will not
desert to its foes. That soul,
though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never,
forsake.”

Thank God for 175 years which we begin celebrating this night.
May we be faithful to remember and to not be ashamed of the Gospel of
Christ. May we pray.

Lord, we thank You for Your Word. We
thank Thee for Your promises and for the 175 years here and for our pastors and
our leaders in this church. What a
privilege, Lord, to be here. May we
be faithful to Thee and to Thy Church until death.
For Christ’s sake, amen.

The benediction and then the hymn.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, the communion
and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with you now and forevermore.