Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Banner of Truth 2009 -- Opening Sermon by Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson – Conference Sermon – Hebrews 11:1-16
Text Hebrews 13:8
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

It is rather incongruous to have a whole conference devoted to someone like Calvin in light of the fact that in part the Reformation sought to remove this sort of honoring of people. However, it is still something worthwhile, but some caveats.

1)We need to be honest. Show the truth including the weaknesses of those we remember. None of them are perfect
2)Realize that the faithful labor of the multitude of faithful pastors is high in the estimation of God.
3)Heb 13 calls for us to consider our leaders. The focus is not on living leaders, but those who have gone before, perhaps who had been martyred.

We do well to recall them, consider them, and imitate them in how they have been commendable and avoid their mistakes. So how do hey and John Calvin in particular help us.

1)As an encouragement to persevere.
Persecution was a reality to the believers this letter was written to. They faced huge pressures to the point that some were tempted to leave the faith. The letter was a call to persevere. From chapter 11 on the author puts forward a very human face – naming names, pointing to examples. Highlights the fact we often respond more, are effected more by people than propositions. Help is found both in the teaching of conferences such as this and the fellowship found there.
We find here in Hebrews also that we are to remember in particular those leaders who spoke the word of God to us. Others help us in many ways, but those who do so through the ministry of the word do so in an enduring manner lasting through every age to the end of life.
In this day and age when many are remembered for their charisma, the trends they start in the church, that those who have left an enduring mark at those who have left a mark of bringing deeper, clearer understanding of the Word building on those who came before. It has always been through the advancement of the understanding of the word of God that the church has grown.
Often this increase has been found in the face of great struggle. See this throughout church history. Someone like Athanasius comes to mind. John Calvin did so as well. Opposed by secular authorities, fellow ministers, fellow Christians, and plagued by personal sufferings, Calvin persevered. He could have walked away, but as the Lord had called him he served the people faithfully until the day he died.
What an encouragement in the face of our struggles, especially as ministers of the gospel. It is a call to labor in the word. To keep going in the face of illness and distress. To peresever in the face of troubles and opposition. If such things happened to him, should it surprise us to face similar struggles. As the Lord gave strength to those who came before us, so the Lord gives strength to us. It is encouraging to see how they as men were kept by God even more than they kept going.

2)Model of faith and life
The writer calls us to consider them as an example of truth faith and a true Christian life. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. This is not a call to some mere memorial day for John Calvin or others, but to weigh them and learn from them.
It is much to easy to turn reformed heroes into protestant saints. We need to remember the cultural distance, the historical distance, and their own weaknesses, but there is still value in learning from them. We are to look at the legacy they left behind on the church after they have gone.
John Calvin is appropriate for this as he has left such a large effect. There are no less than 10 major areas where he has left a lasting imprint not just in the church but in the world as well since then. Looking back shows us men who made a “splash in their present” but left no enduring legacy, but others did.
As we consider them we need to recognize those elements in their lives worthy of being emulated. This leads to a consideration of their way of life. How is made them men of substance. How truth was at the core of who they were. The great mistake many make in entering into ministry is that as long as they have good theology they will have an effective ministry. There is much more to it than this. Watch you life and your doctrine. When doctrine is effecting your life properly is that is will be reflected in your life.
One of the great dangers in reformed theology is that its intellectual rigor can attract people who use it as a cudgel. Instead it is to be truth that shapes heart and mind and life. So we see in Calvin in his teaching and the godliness that characterized all of him. He could have been proud, but he was humble and gracious and loving and catholic spirited. He was truly a man of God.
The faith we are to emulate is the faith seen in a godly life. Let us follow that example.

3)The are men who lead us to Christ
This is the preeminent reason. These leaders the author Hebrews mentions were leaders who lead them to Jesus. That is why we have this seeming random verse 8. It flows naturally out of what comes before because it is him who they lead us to. They pointed us to our Saviour. It is not what they were in themselves, but what they were in Christ. How they were used by him.
Looking at the list in Hebrews 11, and looking at church history it becomes readily apparent how very different they are. What is constant in all of them. It is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. Through it all Jesus remains the same. Both in his deity and as mediator between God and man. That is unaltered from the Old Testament (yesterday) the New Covenant time (today) and forever (into eternity.)
These people point us to Christ by what they teach and how they display Jesus in how they live. There is a derivative sense in which every faithful minister will be a suffering servant like their master. Some in extremity as the server God faithfully. Serving at great cost to themselves and those they love. They do not walk away when the going gets tough. The do not lose heart when they are made aware of their weakness, but in faith keep serving.
So is it appropriate to have a conference about John Calvin. Yes because he is one of those men.


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