04/05/2020 | “Making Arrangements” | Luke 23:50-56

Jesus burial established a remarkable trajectory of hope for all who believe in him.  Had Jesus been tossed into a Roman burial pit, many clear and compelling proofs of the resurrection would not have been possible.  But in God’s advanced funeral planning for His Only Begotten Son, he is buried in a prominent place, in a grave secure from unseen access, in a new, unused tomb, and wrapped in grave-clothes that would be abandoned.  Listen to “Making Arrangements” as we examine Luke 23:50-56 and consider amazing importance of the burial of the Lord Jesus as it testifies to the certainty of Jesus’ death, the courage of those who follow Him, and a clear witness to the resurrection.   Get the Order of Service here.

“Making Arrangements” Luke 23:50-56

Making Arrangements

Making Arrangements

Gift giving at our house was never a time for surprises.   Our gifts were so predictable we would could have dispensed with wrapping paper altogether.   My parents assured me they wanted the same things at every gifting opportunity.  For Christmas, my mother received chocolate-covered cherries and a flip calendar refill and my father a new can of Borkum-Riff.   At Father’s Day, my sisters and I would collaborate on new white dress shirt.   After the presentation of home-made cards and crafts, we would present our gift.  He would shake it and feel of it, then carefully, and with great suspense, open the package revealing to no one’s surprise a white Van Heusen dress shirt.  

Though it was Sunday, my father would never wear his new shirt on the day it was received.  We would implore him to, as a matter of ritual.   But he was unmoved.  He would lovingly place the unopened shirt in a special draw in his closet and declare, “I will save that one for my funeral.”   Why he felt the need to say this, I never knew.   He would, of course, eventually wear the shirt.  But we never noticed exactly when.  As far as we knew, he had indeed saved it for his funeral.   But, if so, that would have been his only funeral plan.    

My father was not a procrastinator.  He was a planner.  He loved to plan and organize.  Long after my sisters and I moved out, he would mail us detailed agendas of any road trip he might take.  He had files of files and lists of lists.   He was always a man with a plan.  Except, that is, when it came to funeral planning.  He had absolutely no interest in thinking about those things.   Any suggestion regarding funeral planning was met with swift rebuttal and redirection.

But as a pastor I have noticed how helpful advanced funeral planning is for a grieving family.  From decisions about burial places and furnishings, to the logistics of services, down to the music and readings – all these things give you the opportunity to make sure what matters most is shared with those who matter most as they grieve.   The thoughts shared at a funeral set the trajectory of grief and establish hope beyond the grave – hope that this is not the end, but only the end of the beginning, hope that there is more to come.

At first glance, it seems that Jesus’ burial arrangements were anything but planned.  The only clear preparation the gospels refer to is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary, the sister of Lazarus.  Victims of crucifixion could be claimed by their family for burial, but if not, they were thrown unceremoniously into unmarked graves.   The circumstances of Jesus death made it virtually impossible for his family to claim his body.  But as Good Friday ebbs away toward the Sabbath, events unfold which reveal that Jesus’ Heavenly Father had providentially made remarkable plans for his funeral, plans foretold hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “And they made his grave … with a rich man in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

Jesus burial established a remarkable trajectory of hope for all who believe in him.  Had Jesus been tossed into a Roman burial pit, many clear and compelling proofs of the resurrection would not have been possible.  But in God’s advanced funeral planning for His Only Begotten Son, he is buried in a prominent place, in a grave secure from unseen access, in a new, unused tomb, wrapped in graveclothes that would be abandoned, and sealed and guarded tenaciously by his enemies.   God works through the courage of Joseph of Arimathea and the cowardice of the religious leaders to assure us that Christ is risen indeed.  Every detail of Jesus’ burial furnishes forensic proof of the resurrection and assures us of  our own redemption. 

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 5, as we examine Luke 23:50-56 and consider amazing importance of the death and burial of the Lord Jesus.  For updates on our current plans for worship while practicing social distancing go to our post, COVID 19 Update.

COVID 19 Update

COVID 19 Update

Each month as we come to the Lord’s Table we are reminded that our fellowship there extends much further than that table.   As we move out from the Lord’s Table to every other table in life, you hear exhortation from Hebrews 10:24-25.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

But in the brave new world of social distancing how can we continue to live life, “not neglecting to meet together.”  The word translated, “meet together” means to bring together at one place or time.  Yet, the origins of this word emphasize the fact of gathering and the unity of gathering, not the location of the gathering.    For this reason, the Westminster Confession and our ARP Directory for Public Worship view the “where” of worship as one of those circumstances that must be ordered in light of “Christian Prudence.”

“Certain matters or circumstances concerning worship have not been fixed by a definite rule in the Holy Scriptures, such as the order of worship which is to be followed, the appointed time or place for the gathering of God’s people … must be guided by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” ARP Directory of Public Worship, II.3

Why is the important?  Because we take seriously the importance of corporate worship in the life of the Church.   But at the same time, our elders, in exercising their care and oversight for the congregation, must weigh carefully how to balance the demands of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Commandments.   

We believe that faithfulness to these commands demands that we continue our Lord’s Day gatherings via only live streaming at least through the month of April.   All other gatherings for prayer or Bible study will take place through video or audio conference.  Our Session will meet the first week of May to reassess our plans going forward. 

We will gather each Lord’s Day at 10:30 am via Facebook Live.  This stream will be simulcast both to our River City ARP Facebook page as well as to the Pottsville ARP Facebook page (Lord willing).   If there are technical issues, the video will be posted on YouTube for later viewing.

The service will be simple.   We will have a call to worship and response, I will lead us through our confession of sin, assurance of pardon, and confession of faith.  Then we will share a time of teaching.  Our service will conclude with a pastoral prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and then the Benediction.

I will email a full order of service each week which includes the lyrics to some of the songs included on the YouTube playlist.   You may listen to these or sing them together in your home gathering.  We will not sing them together via the live stream.

Of course, some elements of gathering are hard to reproduce as we practice social distancing: fellowship, service, and giving.

Experience fellowship through the means of virtual communication.   Take time to revive the old custom of writing letters and cards to one another.  And, of course, use all the modern means God has given us.  

Serve one another.  Find out what others need.   You may be surprised by the needs of others.  Need for conversation, need for encouragement and of course practical needs.

Continue or begin your faithful giving by giving online or for other options go to the Giving link on our website. But if you prefer, you can either:

  1. Mail your tithes and offerings to:  River City ARP Church c/o Matt Wylie, PO Box 156, Pottsville, AR 72858 or
  2. Set up “Bill Pay” from your online banking to send a check to the address above.

One of the remarkable things about the church is that it is a community that creates culture, it is not a community created by culture.  It thrives and flourishes in every place, in every people and in every language.   It transcends its circumstances and creates community and culture no matter what soil it is planted in.   God has placed us here as the church in a very unique time in our history.   Graciously He has also given us remarkable means to express our community as the Church in a way that enables us to meet together even when we are not together.  

This pandemic will end.  When it does, some things will go back to the way they were before, but in God’s providence, there will be many things we learn from this trial about living life together and about engaging our world with the gospel that will change us as the Church.   Now is not the time for fear, but a time for worship.   I look forward to seeing you here, online, this Lord’s Day at 10:30.  

03/29/2020 | “Behold Your King” | Luke 23:26-49

Luke’s account of the crucifixion is remarkable in many ways.  It gives scarcely any details about the crucifixion itself, but focuses attention on the reactions of those Jesus encountered as He traveled the way of suffering.   He was met with pity, mockery and bitter anger, but also remarkable and unexpected faith.   At every turn Luke declares the Kingship of Jesus.   Yet, Jesus hardly looks like a King.  To the eye he appears to be victim, not victor. Listen as we examine Luke 23:26-49 and consider the Kingship of Christ, powerfully declared, brazenly rejected and savingly believed.  Get the Order of Service here.

“Behold Your King”, Luke 23:26-49

Behold Your King!

Behold Your King!

How many times have you misjudged someone, thinking they were weak, incapable, or a push-over? Then, unexpectedly, they act out of unforeseen strength to save the day and make a mockery of your precipitous assessment.   King George VI of England was such a man.   Encumbered with a speech impediment, a man of great natural reserve and deference, he was considered by English society to be a royal embarrassment.  He had none of the eloquence, confidence or charm of his elder brother and heir to the throne, Edward VIII.  

But for all of the appearance of strength, Edward had none.  His great love was not a love of duty or country, but a love of self.   His sordid affair with Wallace Simpson led him to abdicate the throne on the eve of Great Britain’s entry into World War II.    In his stead, the timid and unpromising, George VI ascended to the throne.   George hardly looked the part of King.  But for all his apparent weakness and inability, he had a strength none guessed.  His love of country and of duty and his strength of conviction guided Britain through its “finest hour.” 

Outward appearances never define a king.  Samuel learned this when he went to the house of Jesse to anoint a successor to King Saul.   Saul had possessed a kingly bearing.  A head taller than every other man in Israel, Saul had looked like a King.  So Samuel looked for such a man among Jesse’s sons.  But the Lord warned Samuel,

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

Samuel’s search led him to David, the smallest and least promising of Jesse’s sons, but the one who was a man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22)  Outward appearances never define a King.  

Luke’s account of the crucifixion is remarkable in many ways.  It gives scarcely any details about the crucifixion itself, but focuses attention on the reactions of those Jesus encountered as He traveled the way of suffering.   He was met with pity, mockery and bitter anger, but also remarkable and unexpected faith.   At every turn Luke declares the Kingship of Jesus.   Yet, Jesus hardly looks like a King.  To the eye he appears to be victim, not victor.  Luke uses the word ‘spectacle’ to describe the scene.   Those who looked upon this spectacle without faith saw Jesus as anything but a King.   But through faith others saw the King entering His kingdom.   Outward appearances never define a King. 

The “Daughters of Jerusalem” are warned by Jesus not to weep for Him, but for themselves.   They were looking at the cross and the Christ all wrong.   They did not understand what was unfolding before them.  They saw a victim suffering injustice, rather than a King bearing justice.  How do you look at the events of Good Friday?  What is your response to the cross?  Does it evoke pity, mockery, or despair?  Or does it call you to repentance, faith, and hope?

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, March 29, as we examine Luke 23:26-49 and consider the Kingship of Christ, powerfully declared, brazenly rejected and savingly believed.  For more information about how we are gathering for corporate worship amidst calls for “social distancing” go to our post, How to Survive the Pandemic.

On Trial

On Trial

Southerners are lousy at being quarantined.  Untrained in this discipline by a lack of inclement winter weather, we tear through our stock of quarantine supplies by noon on day one.  We love to prep for disaster, but have little patience to live within the parameters of our preparations.   We cancel everything in order to stay home, then stand all day with our noses pressed to the glass, itching to get out to see “what’s going on.”    Like school children after the first two weeks of summer vacation, we become quickly bored.

As long as our internet does not go out and take with it our Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, we may actually make it.   Surrounded by our hoarded TP, we outwait the lengthy COVID 19 incubation period by binge-watching.   For my wife and I, our nightly habit is British crime drama.  We especially like the adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ crime novels.   Her stories are complex.   The obvious culprits are never the perpetrators.   Only slowly does the truth come into focus as the “DCI” sifts through seemingly endless strands of contradictory evidence.   Cleeves’ stories give an appreciation for the complexity of criminal investigation, warning of the dangers of precipitous judgment.   To get to the truth, we cannot take a cursory look.

Perhaps we love fictional crime drama because it satisfies our need to see justice done, without complicating it with the complexities of our own sin.   In sixty minutes, confusion gives way to clarity and good triumphs over evil no matter what means it uses to get there.   But our lives are not so tidy.  In our real story, we are the fugitives who face a justice none of us can bear.   Yet the scales of God’s justice do not weigh the arguments for and against our guilt, but rather God’s justice and His mercy.

It is remarkable how much legal imagery the Bible uses to picture our condition.  The Old Testament anticipates a redeemer who will set prisoners free.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are pictured as advocates, God the Father is often likened to a judge, redemption depends upon a declaration of judicial righteousness and our condemnation is set aside in Christ.  

History’s greatest courtroom drama is recorded in the Bible in Luke 22 and 23.  Following an irregular grand jury indictment, Jesus is brought before the criminal court on charges trumped up religious rivals.  In Pontius Pilate’s courtroom we see the greatest miscarriage of justice in human history.  Everyone is guilty – the judge, the prosecutors, the jury – everyone that is except the one on trial.  He alone is innocent.  Evidence is ignored and the judge is captive public opinion and his own corrupt history.  Despite his declarations of Jesus’ innocence, Pontius Pilate condemns him to death and compounds injustice by releasing a man who is truly guilty of all the charges leveled against Jesus.

As spectators, we recoil at this apparent travesty of justice.  But we must look more deeply.   No cursory examination of Jesus’ trial reveals the extent of the guilty.   It is easy to spot the guilt of the Sanhedrin, of the crowds, of Judas, of Pilate, and of Barabbas.  But the investigation must go deeper.  For we are not just spectators of this drama.  Jesus is not a hapless victim of human injustice, but a willing sacrifice to divine justice – justice that is rightly ours to bear.   It is not just Barabbas’ cross that Jesus bore, but ours.   God is just – His justice cannot ignore our crimes or allow them to go unpunished – but in His mercy He is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.  Because of this we can have peace with God and with one another.  This my friend is good news.

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, March 22, as we examine Luke 22 and 23 and consider the greatest courtroom drama in history as it unfolds Christ’s innocence and condemnation for our guilt and pardon.  For more information about how we are gathering for corporate worship amidst calls for “social distancing” go to our post, How to Survive the Pandemic.