Sermon for Sunday, August 23rd, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Neh 8:1-8 ESV] 1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
New Testament reading:
[Mat 13:10-17 ESV] 10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘”You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Gospel reading and sermon text:
[Jhn 16:25-33 ESV] 25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” 29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I’ve titled this sermon “Speaking Plainly” which perhaps has some irony in it as the Old Testament reading contained some names anything but plain: Mattithiah, Maaseiah, Malchijah, Hashbaddanah, and Meshullam. There are five good names to recommend if you hear of anyone expecting quintuplets.
But while those names are anything but plain speech, we do also have in our Old Testament reading this verse: “8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
The people understood the reading. Those today who claim the Bible is too difficult to be understood are clearly shown to be incorrect. The Bible is clear. It is, to use the theological term, perspicuous. That is why Jesus can say “Have you not read?” And “Have you not heard?” Jesus assumes the clarity of Scripture, and argues from that basis.
The Scriptures are understandable. They are clear. They are perspicuous. And that is a major point that I want to get across today. The main message of Bible can be understood by the common man. And with effort, the entire Bible (or very close to it) can be understood by the student of the Scriptures.
To say otherwise, is to deny that God has spoken clearly. It is to deny the power of God. But we know that He speaks, and through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we can understand what God has spoken.
So we’ll look at perspicuity in the first of three points for today’s sermon.
I. From Parables to Plain Speech.
II. The Tribulation Ahead.
III. Taking Courage in the Lord
I. From Parables to Plain Speech. (Perspicuity) v. 25-30
We find in verse 25 through 30 Jesus’ promise of a transition from speaking in figures of speech to speaking plainly.
25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” 29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”
When Jesus said, “These Things” he was primarily referring to all that he spoke in his dialogue that evening. Perhaps also Jesus was to some extent referring even to everything he had taught his disciples in their time with him.
And he had indeed given many parables and used many figures of speech.
He spoke of raising up the temple in three days, being born again, drinking living water, eating the bread of life, abiding in the vine, and bearing fruit. Among many other sayings.
And, it is proper to ask, what was the purpose of his speaking in such a way?
We find the answer in the reading we had today from the Gospel of Mathew. Jesus spoke in parables, in allegories, and in proverbs so that those who are his disciples can understand him (to a degree) but that those who are not his disciples are not able to understand.
Did you catch that? The parables ARE designed to be understood but only by those who are followers of Christ. Even in his parables Jesus was successful in getting knowledge to his disciples. They understood, perhaps because they had had the truth more plainly given to them at other times, or because they knew the Scriptures, or because the Holy Spirit was working in their minds. But the outsiders and unbelievers were kept in the dark, bewildered by the figures of speech.
This had the dual impact of keeping the unbelievers in the dark but also protecting Jesus, so that he would be arrested only in the proper time. Had he spoken plainly earlier he would likely have been arrested. But that was not the plan of God. So he spoke in parables.
But to now make more clear to the disciples what he is saying Jesus promises that the hour is coming when he will speak plainly about the Father.
And the time is coming when the Holy Spirit will work in their minds to understand the things of God, not speaking any new revelation, but causing Christians to understand the things of God already spoken by Christ. That begins more fully at Pentecost.
But the hour seems also to have already begun as Jesus explains his most recent figure of speech, now in plain language. If you recall last week we read about Jesus saying “In a little while you will see me no longer, and again in a little while you will see me.”
Now he explains clearly what he meant:
28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
He is going to the father. He is going to die. In a little while they will see him no longer because he is going to the father.
And you’d think that he the disciples might be distraught! But they say “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!
They are not so upset about his pending death, but are relieved that he is speaking plainly!
But his coming death is not so alarming as it might otherwise be because they trust in God. They say “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”
Jesus has spoken plainly here and it comforts the disciples.
APPLICATION: Understanding Christ’s role in our prayers.
But let’s take a step back as we learn something about prayer from this passage. Last week we also learned something about prayer. It is to be in the name of Jesus Christ; meaning we pray directly to God “on the basis of Christ’s merits and in harmony with his redemptive revelation.”
Now we learn something else about prayer.
26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
What is going on here?
The commentator William Hendriksen well explains. He says:
“Is Jesus going to pray for them? The answer is a definite ‘no’ if by praying for them it is mean a request presented to the Father in their behalf because they themselves do not pray and because the Father would not accept their prayer if one were offered. But the answer is a clear ‘Yes’ if by praying for them is meant the unceasing intercession of the Highpriest in heaven for his people, on the basis of his atonement.”
So God hears our own prayers because of Christ. We don’t pray to Christ to pray to the Father. But we pray to Father directly in the name of Christ.
So we are to speak to God in prayer, who speaks plainly to us in the Scriptures.
And then Jesus plainly tells his disciples what is coming next: There will be tribulation ahead.
II. The Tribulation Ahead. (v. 31-32)
31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation.
There are two promises here that I want to focus on. That they will be scattered and that there will be tribulation.
The first is more of a one time event, the second a promise for all Christians of all time.
The one time event is that the disciples will be scattered. Jerusalem is a central place for the early church, but they are soon in Samaria, Antioch, Asia Minor, Rome, and throughout the world. The Christians won’t be welcome in the Synagogues, and they’ll be kicked out of Rome at one point, and generally persecuted throughout the world. But that scattering has the effect of spreading the Gospel to all nations. God uses the scattering for His purposes. But yet the scattering must have taken a toll on the disciples as they were apart from each other and apart from their friends and family. It was a tumultuous time indeed with the ever-present threat of Roman armies coming to Israel to put down any revolts.
So there is the promise that they will be scattered. And Jesus also promises tribulation. This is certainly for the disciples themselves who would indeed experience tribulation, but it is also for Christians of all eras. For the early Christians some of the worst persecution was during the reign of Emperor Nero, who from all accounts—even Roman ones—was a nasty evil man.
So there were many martyrs in the early church. And there are people still being killed for their Christian faith today. In our own lives, if we are not killed for our faith, we at least face lesser (but very real) forms of persecution. In the present day one of the biggest challenges is the reopening of churches, which some governments are opposed to. And while we are to be law abiding citizens we also must obey God above man. And God’s word clearly says “do not forsake the assembling of the brethren.”
So if there is persecution we are warned it by the Lord. We are promised that the world will persecute us.
So we are to find our peace in the world but in Jesus. He says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
III. Taking Courage in the Lord. (v. 33)
In our version it says “take heart.” In the King James this is translated “take courage.”
We are to take courage in the Lord who has overcome the world.
The world has no power over him. It “has nothing on” him. And so if the Lord be for us, who can be against us?
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Christ has conquered death once and for all in his death on the cross in our place.
So while persecution may indeed come, Christ already came and has won the victory. We must take courage, take heart, in that victory of Christ.
And in this we can have peace. Let our minds be at peace because we have the promise of Christ. If it were not for Christ we would think there is no end in sight to all of our troubles. But in Christ we take courage and in Christ we have peace.
Let us conclude with this.
Jesus speaks, clearly, of “these things” that he has told to his disciples.
Great things he has taught them, and great things he has done.
Great is our peace and our rejoicing through Jesus the son.
But even so, one day in heaven
purer, and higher, and greater will be
our wonder, our worship, when Jesus we see.
This is the promise of the Lord, plainly given and plainly received by those whom He loves and has given faith.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord. Let the people rejoice. Amen.