Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

The new creation in Christ (Advent)

Scripture Reading

  • Isaiah 11:1-9

Introduction

The prophet Isaiah opens his prophecy with these words:

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me… Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (Isaiah 1:2–3, NIV)

In the vision Isaiah saw of the Lord, he heard that his sin was atoned for, and immediately he was compelled to be God’s spokesperson.  He commissioning was not exciting at all:  God send him with these words:

Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:10, NIV)

For how long?  Until there’s nothing left and the land Isaiah “utterly forsaken” and “everyone is sent far away.” (6:12)

But there was a promise:

“But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” (Isaiah 6:13, NIV)

The blind did not see, and the deaf did not hear

Isaiah stood before King Ahaz and declared God’s offer of grace to him, but he did not hear and he did not see.  He was not healed!

God sent the Assyrians against the northern kingdom, also known as Israel, and their homes and cities were “devoured with open mouth” (9:12).  But arrogantly they just made plans to rebuild what was destroyed, without even thinking of repentance.   “But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty”. (9:13)

They did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

God was not finished with them.  He struck their leaders, elders and prophets alike—even young men, widows and children did not find mercy in God’s eye.  Why?  “Everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks folly.” (Isaiah 9:17, NIV)

They did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

God was not finished with them.  Widespread bloodshed, born out of hatred for one another, devoured the country. Civil unrest led to unbridled violence in which people were “fuel for the fire” (9:19).

Yet, they did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

God was not finished with them.  When they deprived the poor of their rights and the innocent was oppressed, they did not thing about the justice of God, his law, and the justice He demanded.  The word of God came to them:

What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? (Isaiah 10:3, NIV)

Yet, they did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

Judgement

God then sent the king of the Assyrians, as it says in 10:6, “I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” (Isaiah 10:6, NIV)

But, as God’s promise to David and his house stood firm, He did not allow the Assyrian king destroy unbridledly.  There was a limit to how far he could go; for his arrogance God held him accountable—his heart was driven by premeditated pride.  “By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.” (Isaiah 10:13, NIV)  He had to deal with the living God:

The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers. (Isaiah 10:17, NIV)

Oh, the mercy of God!

“My people who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians… Very soon My anger against you will end and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.” (Isaiah 10:24–25, NIV)

Application

For hundreds of years God’s grace went out through the prophets to God’s people, calling them to repentance; for the same length of time they rejected that grace—only a small group of faithful believers served God with a pure heart and believed in his promise as they kept looking forward to the birth of the Messiah.

When the time of grace ran out God used kings to remove his people from the Promised Land to serve as slaves. But, a remnant did return.  They rebuilt the city and the temple, but they soon again forgot.  They did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

Darkness fell upon the people of God.  The people lived in distress and in the shadow of death. After the last prophet of the Old Testament and the opening verses of the New Testament there were 450 years of silence.  The nation was plundered by foreign kings and empires. Every form of rebellion against these empires led to further destruction and loss of lives.  Their temple was destroyed, and eventually a godless king, Herod (the same Herod who wanted to kill Jesus), offered to build them another!  What a shame!

History repeated itself:  a rebellious godless people hung onto outward formal religion, but there was no hope, no life.

The holy seed sprouted!

Trampled by the Roman Empire, and paying taxes to the Caesar became a lifestyle.  Godlessness abounded, and Satan had a field day, even being present in the synagogues.

It all called for a new beginning, almost like the first creation.  Genesis 1:2 tells us—

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2, NIV)

An angel appeared to a young girl in Nazareth in Galilee, part of the area described by Isaiah as the “people who lived in darkness”.  She was pledged to be married.  The angel said to her,

The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35, NIV)

Now we hear the fulfilment of the promise:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32–33, NIV)

John writes about Christ:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1–5, NIV)

Do you see the connection with Genesis 1, with the announcement of the birth of Christ, who He is and how it ties in with Isaiah 11?  The promise of God to create a new mankind, not an earthly kingdom, but a kingdom of God’s people.  All other kings failed; the priests and the sacrifices of the old covenant were mere shadows of the real which was to come; the prophets pointed forward to this King.  Someone had to come to be perfect sacrifice, the perfect king, the perfect prophet—to prepare the perfect people for God.  Who was He?

The One promised 700 years before He was born.  Isaiah spoke of Him:  He was like the shoot of the terebinth and the oak.  Yes, when there seemed to be nothing left, when it seemed all was over and forgotten, that shoot shot up:  he was more than David, but He was along the line of David.

Born of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God rested upon Him.  When he was baptised, “the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:22, NIV)

Like the wisdom of God when He created everything “very good”, Christ received the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. Christ declared in Luke 4:18 about Himself:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18, NIV)

He is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, He would not speak anything else than what the Father commanded Him, He would delight in doing the will of the Father.  This word delight is connected with a fragrant aroma.  One can think of the words of Paul in Ephesians 5, “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Be not mistaken:  He is indeed the promised Messiah.  In Galilee of the nations He took the verse from Isaiah’s prophecy upon Himself:  “… the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16, NIV)

A new creation

In the beginning God created through the Spirit. He then spoke a word and called creation into existence.  Now He is recreating through the Spirit:  Christ is the Word through whom He creates.  In the beginning God said, “Let there be light!”; now He gives his Son as the light.  The same Spirit declares that He is the Son of God.  The scope of the first creation was the whole world; so it is with the second:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10, NIV)

Who then are his children?  Listen to John 1:12-13:

Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12–13, NIV)

That’s why He declared, “You must be born again.” (John 3:5)  The apostle Paul writes,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

A warning

Those who do not bow before Immanuel, the Child who is Mighty God, “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:4, NIV)  As Revelation puts it,

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron rod.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Revelation 19:15, NIV)

Conclusion

Not all in the time of Isaiah were saved; most did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed—they were lost in sin.  Then there were others who lived “in Zion”, expecting God to fulfil his promises; they heard, they saw, and they believed.  What about us?  How many times have you heard the Christmas story?  Maybe today you will really hear, and you will really see the light—and live!

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 December 2017

 

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Worship Services for December 2017

Welcome!


24 December, 5.30pm

  • Carols in the Car Park.  Come enjoy singing carols.  Sausage sizzle at 5.30pm

25 December, 07:30am

  • Christmas Service

31 December, 09.30am

  • Morning worship
  • No evening worship

All Sundays through January 2018

  • Morning worship at 9.30am
  • Evening worship (5.30pm) will be in recess till 21 January 2018

SaveSave

To us a Child is born

Scripture readings

  • 1 Peter 2:4-8
  • Isaiah 8:11 – 9:7

Introduction

Our Moderator-General published a letter this week.  He states:

There’s never been a better time than now to be a Christian, and to offer to our world the way of hope. God encourages us to shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life (Philippians 2). And it’s never more timely than now.

It’s official: the trifecta is in.The unborn child has no protection – it’s legal to take his or her life up to 24 weeks gestation and beyond that if two doctors agree (in Victoria). Though fearfully and wonderfully created in the image of God (Psalm 139), the unborn child is not safe even in the womb.

The national same-sex marriage poll will soon deliver a fundamentally different view of what a marriage can be. In rebellion against God’s creational design and purpose for man and woman, sinful desires and unnatural relationships between persons of the same sex (Romans 1) are now given dignity through the redefinition of marriage.

With Victoria leading the way, it will become legal to allow and assist people facing the prospect of a painful end, to take their own life. No longer content to rest in providence that God gives life and God takes away (Job 1), the state has become God.

Whether we’ve expected it, or been caught by surprise, we Christians belong to a distinctly minority group and our beliefs are increasingly marginal.”

It was not much different in the time when Isaiah wrote chapters 8-9 of his prophecy.

The billboard with your son’s name on it

Prophets had to some extraordinary things.  The Lord ordered Isaiah to write on a large tablet, “Maher-Shala-Hash Baz”.  It means “The plundering is coming soon, and those who look for the leftovers will be quick.”  This is not good news.  Once again the church can be tagged being spoilsports (pardon the punt!)

Later, Isaiah’s wife gave birth to a son, and he got the name which was on public display.  Imagine this poor little boy and the bullying he had to endure!

But let’s put the record straight:  the message on the billboard was primarily aimed at Judah’s northern neighbours.  Can you remember the two shouldering stumps of last week—Rezin and Pekah—the kings of Israel and Damascus? This message was meant for them, but Judah would also be dragged into the messy war, because their king, Ahaz, rejected the offer of the Lord to ask for a sign.  Isaiah then gave him a sign:  a son would be born and his name would be Immanuel.

Ahaz sold his soul to the king of Assyria (Nineveh) and rejected to grace of God.  For this he and his people would be punished.

The Bible uses two rivers to describe the situation.  Shiloah was the gentle stream which flowed into the pool south-east of Jerusalem. It was not grand, but is was steady and life-giving to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  Euphrates was the big river which flooded after good rains and provided water for irrigation to thousands of people along its banks.

Now, which one of these rivers will you choose:  the one near the city of God, or the one under control of heathens?  Ahaz, in selling his soul, despised God’s provision and thought the big one will be better for protection.  But his problem was that this river could not be trusted:  it can overflow all its channels and bring destruction, wiping out crops and dashing all hopes.  Our farmers know that all too well.

Symbolically then,  the king of Assyria would sweep over the kingdom of Pekah and Damascus, but he will invade Judah too, be cause they rejected their God!

But what this bloodthirsty king did not keep in mind was the power of God Almighty. Just when he thought he had everything in his pocket, God stood up and stretched out his wings of protection over the land of—Immanuel!  God did promise that the destruction of Assyria will not reach Jerusalem, and his sign was the boy Immanuel. The Church is Immanuel’s people whom He will protect against any enemy.

Do you feel overcome by all that is happening in our country and the world?  Have we indeed come to love death more than life?  Marriages without a father or a mother? So-called “Safe Schools”demanding that school kids not be addressed as boys and girls, because it might remind them of what they were before they decided they are now something else.  Schools that will have the right to assign to underaged students a temporary legal right to bypass their parents if they want to undergo gender reassignment procedures.  Late term abortions?  Assisted suicides paid for by our tax money?  Where is all of this going to end up?  And then we have not contemplated the flow-on effect of new laws:  will the promises of today to exercise one’s choice of religion (think of Christian schools and the right to exclude from our church buildings what is against one’s Christian conscience) be honoured in a generation or two?

Don’t throw your hands in the air and walk away.  Listen to verse 9-10:

  • Those who start the war will be shattered
  • Those who prepare for battle will be shattered
  • Those who devise strategies will find their plans to be dashed
  • Those who put their plans forward will not stand

Why?  God is with us, or to translate the last line of verse 10 very literally, “Immanuel”!

A very strong warning

One might fall in the trap of universalism:  this is the idea that all mankind will one day go to heaven.

Isaiah felt the heavy hand of God on him to warn the people to fully rely on Him and on nothing or no-one else.

The people try to understand what was going on around them from a purely political prospective:  they looked at what they heard about Rezin and Pekah, and also Assyria and their plan to invade Jerusalem and called it conspiracy.  The result was that they trembled like reads in the water.

What do Christians do when they see the dark clouds form on the horizon?  What do they do when they listen one news cast after the other, telling them that the days of the church are over?

The conspiracy of the evil one is not the real decisive danger for the fate of God’s people. The Lord of hosts is the real and the all-decisive factor in the situation.  David, who for the best part of his life had to live like a refugee, knew this.

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in his dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:1, 5, NIV)

In another Psalm David sings:

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. (Psalm 65:3–4, NIV)

In another he sings:

My salvation and my honour depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:7–8, NIV)

Isaiah himself declares:

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defence; he has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2, NIV)

God is the place of refuge for those who trust Him and Him alone.

But this is not the case for those who do not trust, love and serve Him.  To them He will be a stone which causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.  We learned about this in 1 Samuel 2:30

But now the Lord declares: Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained. (1 Samuel 2:30, NIV)

A Indonesian commentator writes:

Such is the basic message the prophet has to proclaim; it is intended not just to please his hearers, but to make them realize the reality they face. In many parts of the world today the full gospel message and the whole word of God are facing the danger of mutilation. In the church to which I belong in Indonesia, people like to hear pleasant and humorous sermons when they can feel happy and enjoy themselves, laughing at the many anecdotes and illustrative stories (many of them artificially out of context) proclaimed from the pulpit. I wonder whether there is still a place for a real message of the Lord’s holiness at all. (Widyapranawa, S. H. (1990). The Lord is Savior: faith in national crisis: a commentary on the Book of Isaiah 1–39 (p. 49). Grand Rapids; Edinburgh: Eerdmans; Handsel Press.)

Oh, the trap of watered-down Gospel! It brings false hope, it preaches peace when there is no peace, and hope when there is only hopelessness. As long as you are baptised, you’re okay, Mate.  You’ve got you name on the role, so why worry?  After al, God is a God of love, He will not send you to hell?  Really!

The Son who brings light

What is the Hope for those in distress?  God’s answer his his Messiah.  We are now in Chapter 9 which refers to Zebulon  and Naphtali.  These two tribes were the most northern of the tribes between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. They suffered greatly from the invasion of the Assyrian armies and had become an Assyrian province. Some had been taken into exile and new peoples from other areas of the Assyrian Empire had been brought in to replace them; that then was why it was known as “Galilee of the nations.”

They walked in darkness; they were in distress! Yes, they lived in the land of shadow and death.  But something wonderful was going to happen, which would not only be to their benefit, but the benefit of all whom God will call to Him.

See how the roles are reversed:  first their land was taken from them and the enemy took what was left over as loot.  But now their land is enlarged and they would divide the plunder.  It like the joy of bringing in a harvest.

Why this reverse in situation?  One word:  God.  It’s like in the day of Midian: Gideon and his men were just onlookers as the enemy started to attack and destroy one another.  But this time the commander was not Gideon, it was—and will be—a Child born from the Father, sent by the Father, powerful as the Father, a Counsellor as the Father, everlasting like the Father, a real King like the Father!

He is the fulfilment of the promise made to David; He is the true Son of David.

His name is “wonderful”—and it means  “beyond human capabilities”, let’s say it:  He is out of this world! There is none as wise as Him, because He is wonderful counsellor!

He is mighty God:  The divine nature of the Son shines in this name.  He is the victorious hero, defeating all enemies.

He is everlasting Father:  his reign will be based on fatherly love and care. His is that faithfulness which is everlasting.

He is Prince of Peace:  He rules by making things whole, taking it to completion, and bringing harmony.  The people He will rescue and to whom He give light, will be living in harmony with God, with each other, and with nature. This is the “kingdom of peace”.  And when He returns one day, and everything will be made new, everything we know now about Him, will stand in complete glory and we will worship Him as the One who took away the darkness, and then will be

“… no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”  (Revelation 22:5, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 December 2017

 

Immanuel – God’s sign to save

Bible Readings

  • John 1:12
  • Isaiah 7:1-17

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Robert Robinson had been saved out of a tempestuous life of sin through George Whitfield’s ministry in England. Shortly after that, at the age of twenty-three, Robinson wrote the hymn “Come Thou fount of every blessing”

Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, 

Call for songs of loudest praise. 

Sadly, Robinson wandered far from those streams and, like the Prodigal Son, journeyed into the distant country of carnality. Until one day—he was traveling by stagecoach and sitting beside a young woman engrossed in her book. She ran across a verse she thought was beautiful and asked him what he thought of it.

Prone to wander— Lord, I feel it— 

Prone to leave the God I love. 

Bursting into tears, Robinson said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” She reassured him that the “streams of mercy” mentioned in his song still flowed.

Robinson turned his “wandering heart” to the Lord.

Godliness spurned

Let’s say you were privileged to grow up in a palace where you could drink from the “fount of blessing”.

Your great-grandfather was king for 29 years; your grandfather was king for 52 years, and your father took over from him and rained 16 years.  So, when you took over the reigns there were just three years short off a century of rulers, of which the Bible records, “they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (2Chronicles 25:2, 26:4, 27:2).

Of your great-grandfather you could learn this lesson:  bring the gods of other nations to Jerusalem to worship, and God will not tolerate it (2Chronicles 25:14-16). As soon as your great-grandfather divided his loyalty between these goods and the God of Israel, God sent another king against him who raided Jerusalem.  So that’s a big lesson to learn:  follow the Lord with all your heart.

That’s what your grandfather did. He worshipped God who gave him one victory after the other. That’s what the bible says, “God helped him…” (2Chronicles 26:7)  He ended up having an army of 307,500 men (v. 13).  But, alas!, he became proud, and presumed upon the office of the priests, and God struck him with leprosy.  So that’s a big lesson to learn:  remember who you are in the presence of the Lord.

Then your father became king.  To secure the city, he build the Upper Gate and restored the city wall.  He built along the border of Judah with the northern kingdom, subdued the Ammonites who paid him tribute.  He was a successful king.  The Bible teaches:

Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 27:6, NIV)

Your father taught you to walk steadfastly before the Lord.

Then it was your turn.  What sort of king are you going to be?

Let’s fill in the picture of what is happening in other kingdoms around you.  Over the border, just to the north, an unknown fellow, Pekah was his name, assassinated the king of his country (Israel) and crowned himself as leader.  But he found himself in deep waters, because to the north-east there was a mighty king—the leader of the Assyrian Empire—who wanted to expand his kingdom.

To the north-west, the king of Syria, felt the pressure from the Assyrians too, and was looking for a partners to halt the imperialistic aims of this mighty king and recruited the help Pekah.  The two of them though it might be a good idea to get your help—the young king of Judah in Jerusalem.

You resist. You’re in trouble and you start looking for help elsewhere.  Where do you go?  Just follow the example of your great-grandfather who taught you to follow the Lord with all your heart; your grandfather, who taught you that pride is something deadly; and your father, who set the example of following the Lord steadfastly.

So ask God for help?  Instead, you lose your head and you make metal images of—??—Baals! You even went as far as to burn your sons as offerings to the gods of the nations around you!

What happens next?  God turns against you.  You could expect it, couldn’t you?

One of the kings who asked for your alliance attacks from the west and carries off a great number of your people.  As if this is not enough, the Edomites in the south, attack and take some captives. And then, your immediate neighbour, Pekah of Israel, decides to get into the act and attacked, killing 120,000 men on one day, and stealing 200,000 women and children (2Chronicles 28:5-8).

But God comes to your aid by sending a prophet as mediator to send the women and children home.

Why does all of this happen to you and your people?  The Bible helps us:

The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord. (2 Chronicles 28:19, NIV)

What now?  Where do you go now that your kingdom is falling apart?  Return to the God of your fathers?  No! Headlong in stubbornness!  Listen:

Ahaz gathered together the furnishings from the temple of God and cut them in pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. (2 Chronicles 28:24–25, NIV)

The more one turns away from God, the more absent He becomes; the more absent He becomes, the greater the hopelessness and bewilderment and confusion in man.

Is there any hope? One very interesting thing has not happened:  Jerusalem has not fallen! The Lord prevented it (2Kings 16:5).

This is where we pick up the story in Isaiah 7.  The people were in distress, dismayed and without hope.  “… the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2, NIV)

Then God sent his prophet Isaiah, whose name means “Yahweh is salvation”.  With him, according to the command of the Lord, was his son, Shear-jashub, which means “some will return”.  It’s a vivid picture.  “Good morning, your majesty.  My name is Yaweh-is-salvation; and I want you to meet my son, Some-wil-return.  The Lord sent us. He says: Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel.  They are like smouldering stubs of firewood.  They will try to overcome you, and they want to kill you and put their own king on your throne.”(Isaiah 7:4, NIV)

Your majesty, listen to what God says:  This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“It will not take place, it will not happen.  [But] If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:7–9, NIV)

What is the message based on?  The kingdoms Rezin and Pekah are of people, but the kingdom of Judah is “the house of David” (v. 2)  God has not forgotten his promise to David to establish his kingdom forever!

King Ahaz was unsure.  Perhaps he looked down, kicking with his sandal in the sand and looked away.  “Why would God do this after all I have done?  Why does this prophet say ‘your God?’  I hate Him. I don’t deserve grace.  How would I know this is true?”

The sign of grace

Then the prophet appeared again, most probably in the palace itself. This time Isaiah brought this message from God:

“Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” (Isaiah 7:11, NIV)

The king surprises everyone:  “I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test.”  What Ahaz forgot is that the whole situation was in the first instance and ultimately not about him; it was about the house of David (Isaiah 7:13).  The king had already decided to sell his soul to the king of the Assyrians: he had stripped the temple of all gold and silver, his palace of all gold, and sent a message to that king:

“I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” (2 Kings 16:7, NIV)

He had made up his mind:  He can’t trust God; He can’t help.  And he sold his sould to the devil.  In the end he lost his kingdom. He forfeited grace!

Where do we stand this morning?  Where is your heart this morning?  Do you trust God with a steadfast heart?  Or have you taken out an insurance policy underwritten by the enemy of you Lord?  To make the message clear:  the devil can only promise you things which he doesn’t have, and therefore cannot give you.  He promised our Lord the kingdoms of the world which he himself did not have—those kingdoms belong to Christ.  Satan might promise you bread, but Christ gives the bread of life.

Ahaz did not ask for a sign, but he did get one.  God gave “the house of David” a sign.  Did the prophet perhaps point to one of the young daughters of the king who fell pregnant without any knowing it?  She would have a boy, and she would call him Immanuel. Every time Ahaz would want to call his grandson to sit on his lap, he would think about God, his promises, and how he forfeited them.

The Bible writes about Ahaz that he worshipped the idols of Aram and sacrificed to them as he sought for help, “but they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel.” (2Chronicles 28:23).  He died lonely.  This is written about him: “… he was not placed in the tombs of the kings.” (2Chronicles 28:27)

What Isaiah prophesied indeed came true.  That boy was born; he was called Immanuel, the two smouldering stumps did die only some years afterwards, and king of the Assyrians came upon them something terribly.

Immanuel—the Messiah

Then, about 700 years later, after 450 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments, when Judah was under the burden of Roman oppression and about all hope was lost, an angel appeared to a young girl.  She was not married.  She would become pregnant without being married.  The Son she would give birth to would not be the son of an earthly father, but born of the Holy Spirit.  Her fiancé married her after he thought to leave her alone because of the disgrace of being engaged to a girl who is pregnant with a child out of wedlock.

But an angel of God told him to take Mary as his wife, and name the boy Jesus—a second Joshua who would take his people into the final Promised Land.  He would be far more than young Immanuel of 700 years earlier, who was a sign that God has not forgotten his people; He would be the Lamb who took away the sins of the world.  Into this dark world of sin He came to bring light and to purchase the children of God with his blood.

He was with the Father when everything was created, equal with the Father.

You have to meet Him.  He has to be your Immanuel, your light who led you out of the  darkness of sin; the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. “Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing.”  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 26 November 2017

 

Dying in darkness

Bible Readings

  • John 13:18-30;
  • 1Samuel 28:4-19;
  • 1Chronicles 10:13-14

Introduction

What is hopelessness?  What is despair? One can reach a point when nothing seems to be positive, everything is dark and deep, distant and impossible. That’s depression. But there is another form of hopelessness and despair.  Paul writes to the Ephesians:

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ … without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12, NIV)

Sir Harry Lauder was a British entertainer who proved highly popular throughout the English speaking world both before, during and after World War One.

During World War One Lauder worked tirelessly to organise and recruit performers for shows given to troops serving abroad.

When Sir Harry Lauder’s only son was killed in WWI, he said to a friend:

“When a man comes to a thing like this, there are just three ways out of it—there is drink, there is despair, and there is God. By His grace, the last is for me.”

Was king Saul accountable?

Just this week we heard of the coup d’etat in Zimbabwe and the house arrest of the 93 year old President Robert Mugabe.  Some reports say he is senile, others say he could not retain his anger, while others claim that he could not stand opposition.  Now at 93, can he be held accountable for corruption, torture, murder, theft and bad economical management which impoverished his people?

How would psycho-analysists describe the behaviour of Saul?

We’ve been studying the life of Saul, the first king of Israel. He seems to be a man with a complex personality.  He almost had his own son killed because he dared to dip the tip of his sword in honey to refresh himself in the midst of battle.  Sometimes he needed David to play on the lyre to calm him; other times he wanted to pin David to the wall with his sword; there was the time that he almost succeeded in killing David.  He once wanted to kill his own son, and called him “the son of a perverse and rebellious woman” (1Samuel 20:30-33).

Saul was anointed as king by Samuel and soon after that he found himself in the midsts of a group of prophets singing the praises of God.  When he was inaugurated he singed on the dotted line to rule according to the stipulations of God’s Law.

Saul had one major victory, but soon after that he was overcome by fear; he became directionless.  When he felt that God and Samuel left him alone, he committed the sin of assuming the office of priest.  After the next battle he built a monument is his own honour (1Samuel 15:12). When Samuel announced that God would tear his kingdom from him, he pleaded with Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command…” and asked Samuel to not leave him alone.  “I have sinned.  But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.”  (1Samuel 15:24, 30) And so he did; he worshipped the Lord.

Jealousy got hold of him  and the rest of his live he fluctuated between deep sorrow and flagrant hatred.  He would say, “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.” (1Samuel 19:6); but the next moment his anger would erupt and he would send soldiers to kill David (19:11).

In a fit of rage born out of jealousy, he called his men together and said:  “Why you have all conspired against me? No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse [David]. None of you is concerned about me or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does today.” (1 Samuel 22:8, NIV) He then ordered that the High Priest and his family be killed: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.” (1 Samuel 22:17, NIV)  if this was not enough the whole town where the priests lived was destroyed, with only one to escape.

David spared the life of Saul and Saul had this to say,

“You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. (1 Samuel 24:17–18, NIV)

Their paths parted and later David spared Saul’s life again.  Although Saul had 3,000 men to help him find and kill David, David did not repay evil with evil.  And Saul said (you guessed it!), “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.” (1 Samuel 26:21, NIV)

What is going on in the life of Saul?  Was he depressed?  Maybe he suffered from bipolar disorder.  Maybe he should have been institutionalised.  The main question then, could he be held accountable?

Saul and God

Not all Saul did was bad.  We read,

Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land. (1 Samuel 28:3, NIV)

This probably happened not long after he became king.  That was a good thing. It was in accordance with the Law of God,

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18:14, NIV)

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:31, NIV)“ 

I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people. (Leviticus 20:6, NIV) 

A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’ ” (Leviticus 20:27, NIV)

Necromancers, mediums and spiritists were occultists.  They claimed to, through rituals and muttering, have contact with the dead who had knowledge about the future.  They were the modern day crystal ball readers, carrot cards readers, palm readers, psychics, and star sign readers.  It was against the law of God then, and it is still the case.  Don’t dabble in these things; it is a terrible sin which invokes the wrath of God. Stay away! Christians trust and know God holds the future, and that’s enough!

Three tings help us to understand what leads to Saul’s dark and despairing end:

  • The prophet Samuel died.  Saul could not ask for his advice anymore
  • Saul killed all priests though whom he could enquire God’s will; the one who escaped Saul’s sword was with David
  • The Philistines in their thousands gathered for war and scared the daylights out of Saul. “When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart.” (1 Samuel 28:5, NIV)

Saul was terrified.  Why?  Listen:

I am in great distress. The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. (1 Samuel 28:15, NIV)

That’s loneliness; that’s hopelessness!

He disguised him, he disrobed himself so that he would not be recognised as the one who expelled the spiritists and mediums, he sneaked through enemy territory by night to get to a witch who camped in a cave with her crystal ball; and he begged her to get Samuel.  When she objected, listen to what he said:  “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.” (1 Samuel 28:10, NIV)

Really?  How could he give her the assurance?  He abused and misused the holy Name of God to justify his transgression of God’s law in order to see if he could get something from the man of God to bring some calm in his soul! How deep can a man fall?  This is a picture of the anguish of a soul who knows what it means to see only the back of God.

I must admit, the whole episode with the witch is puzzling, and no commentator come up with absolute answers.  Let’s just make these observations:

  • There is indeed an underworld which is dark, sinister, and frightening
  • God’s command to not be involved in the occult implies that agents of occultic activities are enemies of God in service of Satan
  • Occultic activities are sinful and are a trap to Christians
  • The episode of Saul and the witch is by no means an example; it serves as a warning
  • The witch in Saul’s case was a powerless medium:  she might have thought otherwise, but she was an instrument in God’s hands.  She was frightened to the extreme herself
  • Saul was not consoled by what he had hoped to hear; in fact, he lost all hope
  • Saul had no opportunity to repent.  He died the next day.

What made Saul fall to the ground, was confirmation what he expected:  The Lord has turned away from him (1Samuel 28:16).  This is confirmed in Chronicles:

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. (1 Chronicles 10:13–14, NIV)

He left the witch and stepped into a ferocious battle with the Philistines. Israel fled and the Philistines pursued Saul and first wounded him critically.  He then committed suicide by falling on his sword.  With him his three sons died; Jonathan, David close friend and confidant,  was one.

Saul’s life was wasted.  He was supposed to drive out the Philistines, but the day he died things were just the same, apart from the shame that head of Israel’s king was hanging in the temple of Dagon (1Chronicles 10:10)

Conclusion

Was Saul accountable, or could he be excused on account of the fact that he seemed psychologically disturbed?

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. (1 Chronicles 10:13–14, NIV)

In darkness Saul died, almost like Judas.  A man with so much privilege, so much grace, so much opportunity.

And it begs the question: what about us? What about you? Do you live to die in darkness, lonely in despair and hopelessness?

I close to tell you about another King:  His name is Jesus Christ.  He did everything his Father sent Him to do to set sinners free and bring them  eternal light; and after He did so, He died lonely—“Why have You forsaken Me?”—but He conquered death and He now stands before the throne of God.

If you want to see life, you have to meet Him, you have to trust Him, believe in Him and love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  Don’t face death without Him.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 November 2017

 

Why Christ “alone”?

Sermon delivered by Dr Mark Baddeley, lecturer at Queensland Theological College, as part of the 500 Reformation Celebrations at Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Scripture Readings

  1. Psalm 29
  2. Ephesians 1:1-114

Introduction

Reformers coined the idea of life “solas”.

  1. The Bible alone
  2. By grace alone
  3. By Faith alone
  4. Through Christ alone,
  5. The glory of God alone.

How can you have five “alones”?

The importance of a package deal

You need to have all in order to have any.

See this in today’s passage, but see also that this isn’t just ideas in a lecture. This is music for a song, marching orders for soldiers, is the very skeleton and flesh of our relationship with GodPaul expresses it in prayer, in a hymn of praise to God.

1.  The Grace of God is the well vv2; 5-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, (Ephesians 1:2,5–8, NIV)

As Paul looks at the believers in Ephesus at their faith in Christ and their love for God’s people and offers up a long statement of blessing to God.

Not just the Ephesians but all of us

Sees their existence as believers as the work of God, as the expression of the power of God. God’s hand stands behind them coming to faith and going on in faith.

Not just God’s power, but God’s generosity, God’s kindness, God’s love. God’s grace.

There is something free and altruistic in God’s work of saving people.

God is infinite, God has no limits. God is not bounded like we are. God is inexhaustible. And similarly God’s grace is a bottomless well. The riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.

So God is not stingy in the things he does for us when saving us. Paul doesn’t just list one or two things but a long list of stuff that God does for us: chosen, predestined, adopted as sons, forgiveness, redemption, giving us the knowledge of his will and more. Before that in v3 tells us that has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing. Even if you give me a stick I can’t point it at all the things.

All of this is taken back to the grace of God as its source. Not God’s grace plus some kind of contribution from believers. Just the grace of God alone.

2. Christ is the one in and through whom salvation comes

All of these things are given to us freely and generously. More things than we can count. Yet over and over and over again Paul says that they are given to us through a very narrow path. A small focus to God’s actions. All fhis narrows down to just one person.

Over and over again Paul says that these things are given in Christ and through Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:3–10, NIV)

Often we think of salvation as like a trading card game. A trading card game is a business model in search of a game. You buy packs of cards and there might occasionally be a good card in the set. But if you want an advantage in the game have to buy lots of packs to get a wide range of cards. Nothing that links the cards together except your, or your parent’s wallet. Pokemon – gotta catch them all.

Salvation is like this. All these things we might potentially receive, and we have to catch them all, gather them all together.

Not like that at all. God only gives us one thing, not lots of things. He gives us his own Son. He gives us the Lord Jesus. Married, head and body, vine and branches. Real connection, deeper and more profound than anything that joins us to each other.

In Christ are found all of these things that we need for our salvation. Our being chosen, our predestination, our forgiveness, our redemption, our adoption, our knowledge of God’s will and the like. They aren’t a whole bunch of stuff. They are simply the effects of having Jesus. Jesus doesn’t give us a salvation the same way that a milkman gives us milk. He gives us salvation the same way a friend gives us friendship or family member gives us family. He gives us himself, and in having Christ, we have so many more blessings than you could imagine.

God’s plan is that everything will be summed up in Christ. That he alone will be Lord of all, the head over heaven and earth, over everything that is or was or will be. Begins by ensuring that everything he has to give us is given in Christ Jesus.

There is just the one present wrapped up under the Christmas tree. But that one present contains a whole world of blessing. God doesn’t do some things through Christ, but then other things through us, or through great Christians, or through important Christian leaders, or angels or Mary. It is all given to us in Christ. Christ alone is the one in whom we are given everything God has to give us.

3.  Faith is the way that we receive God’s work in Christ vv12-14

And so if it salvation is simply a work of grace, and God gives it to us in Christ, what then is our part to play? How do we receive this work in our lives?

Faith. You believe it. You accept it. You recognize it as reality. You entrust yourself to it. You put all your eggs in this basket.

You hear the message that God has done everything to rescue you from judgement, to make you able to stand in his presence, to give you the title deeds to eternity, to make you part of his family, t forgive you, to rescue you from death itself and give you life that will never end. You hear that message from God and you believe it. You might do it with great excitement and joy, with tears in your eyes. You might do it very thoughtfully and consideredly. But you build your life around that message. Your hope and expectation for the future is now based on what God has promised to do for you in Christ.

And so your faith isn’t just in the message, isn’t just in the gospel, it is also in Christ himself. V15. You trust him. He is the one whose blood was shed for forgiveness, the one in whom all the blessings are given. You look at him and what he’s done and say, yes, I am confident he is up to the task. He is able to be the one who bears all the gifts of God, who can take away the judgement and condemnation of God and pour out the riches of God’s grace into my life. The Lord Jesus is trustworthy. And so you trust him. You entrust yourself to him for this life and the life to come. If he comes through you are fine. If he doesn’t you have no plan b. All your hopes are with Christ.

And that is the one and only thing you do to receive the grace of God. It’s not that plus your prayer life. Not that plus your efforts to be a good person. That plus your repentance even. It is faith alone.

God doesn’t ask you to do something grand, or even something small. He says, this task is so hard, so impossible, so beyond your comprehension, that there’s nothing you can do. I have done it all because of my generosity. And it has all been done already in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Your job is now to receive that, to accept that, to rest on that. It is to trust my word and trust my Son and what he’s done for you. It is to not to try and do anything but accept that it has been done for you.

4.  All to the praise of God’s glory

And so if all of this is the work of God’s grace in Christ, and we just receive it by faith, then all of this points to God and gives us reason to praise him. Salvation showcases God’s glory, shows us just how great and good that he is, that only he can do this, and that he has done this so freely and so generously.

He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves… in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory… who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:5-6, 12, 14, NIV)

Praise is the natural thing when faced with excellence. Great kick. Amazing mum. Brilliant singer.

God does things to display his excellence, his glory. As we see his salvation, and how it is so clearly the power and riches of God’s generosity that stands behind it all. How it is all done in Christ and given to us by giving us the Lord Jesus, it is all so that we praise God’s glory, and the glory of his grace. That we acknowledge and highlight the excellence that is on display.

And it is only God’s excellence on display. No-one else gets the glory, gets the praise. You don’t think the believers are amazing for having faith. Or that preachers are great for making faith happen. Or that someone has the ability to make the Spirit work in people’s lives. It is just the glory of God on display. And so just God alone gets the praise for his excellence. He stands alone.

And this too is for our good. Hard to trust someone you don’t have confidence in. Hard to trust their word, hard to trust their work. You only trust them to the degree you judge them trustworthy. Which is the degree to which they are excellent in the thing you need them to do. God displays his glory and his excellence so that we will praise it. As we praise it, his excellence sinks down into our bones, and into the bones of those who hear it. Ceases to be something in the head, and becomes something we feel in our gut. And so it becomes easier to trust God because we have a greater sense of how trustworthy he is.

5.  God works by his word: Psalm, v13

Final thing is that God works by his word alone.

… in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:12–14, NIV)

Not God’s word and other wordswords by church leaders, or prophets, or special words to you. No, just the message of salvation, the word of God, the word of the gospel. That is the word that when you hear it, changes everything in heaven and earth. And that word alone.

God’s word has a power like no other word. Psalmit’s like a nuclear bomb going off. The same power that created the world and everything in the world, now acts with all that power on the world and everything in the world. If you want the power of God in your life, you open yourself up to the word of God. To the message of the gospel, the message of salvation. And with that, the whole of the Scriptures where God speaks his word to his people in all places and all times.

That is where the power of God is to be found. God saves people, and changes people by his word.

Final Reflection

A work of God from start to finish, something worth trusting.

What we have here is a package deal. All these things go together. Need them all to have any of them. And all of them are a reason to praise God, to praise God’s glory, to praise the glory of his grace. To say blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing.

This is a work of God from start to finish, a display of the glory of God, the excellence of God, the greatness and goodness of God.

It is all given to us in Christ Jesus. The only thing we need to do is entrust ourselves to it, and believe the message and trust Christ. Behind it stands the infinite riches of God’s grace, of his generosity and kindness and love.

This is something worth praising. This is something to acknowledge as greater and more excellent than anything else. This is something worthy of your trust, that will not let you down. You can entrust yourself—your past, your present and your future. Yourself, your friends, your spouse, your children and your grandchildren to this and it will not betray that trust.

We need to receive this by faith. But at all points it is worthy of that faith.

Sermon preached by Dr Mark Baddeley on Sunday 5 November 2017

 

Living dangerously

Scripture Readings

  • Matthew 10:32-39,
  • 1Samuel 19:1-23

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

The first salvos of the war of the evil against God were fired in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and so plunged all creation in sin.  But God promised ultimate victory over his enemy:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)

Christ indeed crushed the head of that serpent; Revelation teaches us about him that he is “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray”. (Revelation 12:9, NIV)—he was overcome.  The victory of Christ will finally be acknowledged by all people and “every knee will bow” before him (Philippians 2:9-10).

In the meantime the battle continues.  The dragon has his agents, but God empowers his people to overcome.  Just as actual war is dangerous, so is this battle dangerous. The events in 1Samuel 19 tells us of the ongoing battle, and those involved in it.

Let’s therefore right in the beginning stress the truth of the Scripture: being a Christian does not mean easy living.  Our Lord made it clear:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34,39, NIV)

The choice to follow Christ, has consequences; and no Christian is exempt. But we are not in it on our own; our Commander-in-Chief is with us, and his Spirit leads us all the way.

The topic for this sermon in “Dangerous living”.  Let’s follow the lives of the main characters in this drama who lived dangerously.

  • Jonathan—loyal could-be-king
  • David—the fugitive anointed king-to-be
  • Saul—the embittered king-that-was

Jonathan—the loyal could-be-king

We learned about Jonathan last week.  Although was the natural successor to the throne of his father, he abdicated in favour of David.  The could-be-king bowed to the anointed fugitive king and met the full force of the embittered king-that-was.

Can you imagine the tension in the household of Saul:  his son pledged allegiance to his father’s enemy, and his sister was married to his father’s enemy.  On top of that the king-that-was went through bouts of personal disturbances in which he actually attempted murder on the best friend of his Second-in-Command, and did not even contemplate the pain it could bring in the life of his daughter.

By blood Jonathan had to be loyal to his father; by faith he chose to be loyal to the anointed king-to-be.

All palace personnel had to attend a meeting Saul called.  The king entered the room; his face was somber; his speech was short: “Kill David!

This meeting were preceded by important statements:

  • Saul knew that the Lord was with David
  • Saul knew that Michal, his daughter, loved David
  • David had more success that all Saul’s servants
  • Saul saw David as an enemy

Kill David!”  And Saul left the room.  I suppose you hear a pin drop.

The text helps us to understand what was going on in the mind of Jonathan: the fact that he was Saul’s son is prominent. When Saul issues the command to kill David, he as most probably looking Jonathan in the eye, because he was the only other person who was supposed to have a sword.

Now the text continues: “But Jonathan, Saul’s son, had taken a great liking to David. The Hebrew word expresses favour.

When Jonathan saw David the next time he told him that “his father” issued a command for his death. The plan Jonathan worked out would be next to his father, speaking about David who was declared free game.

Do you see how the battle which started in Eden is now unfolding?  Do you see how dangerous it is to side with the One promised to crush the head of the serpent?

Jonathan faces the agent of the serpent—his own father.  A son pleading with his enraged father not to sin.  A son who gave up his rights to the throne pleading with his father to see the big picture:  if you kill David you will spill innocent blood—that’s murder which God will revenge.

What if Saul then had another explosion of hate and bitterness like he later had.  1Samuel 20 informs us of what Saul was capable of. Let’s read verse 30:

Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?

In his irrational rage Saul hurled his spear at Jonathan to kill him (20:33).

You just don’t want to show up for work the next day.  In our day it would be enough to take out an AVO against your father.

Yet Jonathan’s loyalty was with the anointed king-to-be, because “the Lord was with David.” (18:28).

It takes us to the teaching of Jesus:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ (Matthew 10:34–36, NIV)

There’s a price to pay in following Christ. John Knox knew this very well, and so did Martin Luther—and hundreds of thousands after them.

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:38–39, NIV)

O, my friend, where do we stand with Christ? Surely we would plead with those closest to us to follow Christ, we would pray for them—and yes, we would love them.  And there will be agony in our souls when we need to take up our cross to love Christ more should circumstances call for it. Because,

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32–33, NIV)

Let’s be like Jonathan, the loyal could-be-king.

David—the fugitive king-to-be

Not only did David face the giant Goliath, placing himself in utmost danger in doing so, but he looked sure death in the eye in the person of his father-in-law.  Even before these events Saul wanted to kill him with his spear. Now, temporarily restored into the family of Saul he was once again calming the unsound king.  In his latest campaign against the Philistines he struck them with a great blow, which stirred jealousy in old Saul who once again flung his spear at David, almost killing him.

David fled to his own quarters, probably in the hope that Saul will calm down.  Yet, a few hours later there was a thundering bang on his door.  It was a detachment of soldiers under the command of the king to kill him.  But, under God’s providence, his wife let him out the window before she made it look that David was sick in bed. The soldiers reported back to Saul, who then ordered to them that David is sick in bed. Nothing would stop Saul, “Bring him and his bed!” He escaped, and God gave him protection.

Years later David wrote a Psalm based on this event:

I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies. (Psalm 18:1–3, NIV)

David fled to Samuel.  His life was on the line.  He was as good as dead.  It was full-on war.  But there was safety in the presence of God.  There was peace.  In one’s mind one can see how old Samuel buried him in his arms and assured him that he was the man after God’s heart who will lead the people as king. There, in the fellowship of other prophets they were safe in the protection which the Holy Spirit gave them.

I would be no surprised if, like in 1Samuel 10, when Saul himself met the prophets singing and making music to the glory of God, the group was singing about the grace and of the God of salvation.  This was what Paul and Silas did in the dead hours of the night with their feet in stocks.  We need to sing, and more so the  Psalms, in our hours of trouble; its when we look away from our troubles to look unto the majesty of God, that we can find strength.

Saul—the embittered king-who-was

Saul was consumed by hatred, envy and bitterness.  He would only rest if David was dead.  He was living dangerously.  Thinking he was calling the shots, he sent his men to Ramah to capture David.  They couldn’t.  They were under the spell of the Holy Spirit and couldn’t lay hands on David.  Momentarily they were part of the prophets.  Saul made another attempt, and another, but the same thing happened.

In his pride he went himself.  He must have thought he was stronger than the Spirit of God. He was made a spectacle.  Approaching the place where David and Samuel were, the Spirit overpowered him.  The stripping of his robe is symbolically important:  Samuel earlier tore a part off his robe and told him than God has taken the kingship from him; here the Sprit stripped him of everything. Disrobed and naked the Holy Spirit overpowered him and made a spectacle of him.

It is indeed a dreadful thing to fall in the hands of the living God.

Powerless Saul, instead of capturing David, was the captured and could not lift a finger against the anointed of the Lord.

It is a dangerous thing to oppose the anointed, Christ, the Son of God.  The Pharisees tried by rejecting Him and calling Him Beelzebub.  This was against the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven—ever! (Matthew 12:32).

In closing

The anointed king, David, lived dangerously; our King Jesus entered a hostile word, all his life they plotted against Him, but He gave his life freely to save us from unrighteousness. All to give us peace.

Giving our lives to Him calls us to stand firmly as we side with Him in the cosmic war in which Satan seeks to destroy Christ’s church.  We need to take up our cross and follow Him—and so we might even become enemy of family and good friends.  He who is a friend of this world, is an enemy of Christ.

Reject the Anointed Christ and life is even more dangerous; the outcome is irreversible and the condemnation fearful.

Who is on the Lord’s side?

The king is dead; long live the King!

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 October 2017

Jesus Christ: King of Rival?

Bible readings

  • Matthew 6:19-24
  • 1 Samuel 18:1-16

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

We are still in our series, “The king is dead; long live the King”.  In this series of sermons we learn that all earthly kings are human beings; we can not put our trust in any earthly leader.  and Even when Israel asked for a king, history teaches us that their exceptions for their king came to nothing but disappointment.  Saul, their first king, was a disaster.

The Israel monarchy serves as a pointer to Jesus Christ, the One born as a the descendant of David,  whom God called “for Himself” (1Samuel 16:1).  God made Christ king.  Of Him the Bible teaches that He is Kings of kings.  What does it entail, what does it mean, when we call him our King? Hear this illustration:

From boyhood, one of my favourite stories has been the forty martyrs of Sabaste. These forty soldiers, all Christians, were members of the famed Twelfth Legion of Rome’s imperial army.

One day their captain told them Emperor Licinius had sent out an edict that all soldiers were to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. These Christians replied,

“You can have our armour and even our bodies, but our hearts? Allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ.”

It was midwinter of A.D. 320, and the captain had them marched onto a nearby frozen lake. He stripped them of their clothes and said they would either die or renounce Christ.

Throughout the night these men huddled together singing their song, “Forty martyrs for Christ.? One by one the temperature took its toll and they fell to the ice.

At last there was only one man left. He lost courage and stumbled to the shore, where he renounced Christ. The officer of the guards had been watching all this. Unknown to the others, he had secretly come to believe in Christ. When he saw this last man break rank, he walked out onto the ice, threw off his clothes, and confessed that he also was a Christian.

When the sun rose the next morning, there were forty bodies of soldiers who had fought to the death for Christ. (Good News is for Sharing, Leighton Ford, 1977, David C. Cook Publishing Co., p. 16)

If Christ is our King it means He has our total allegiance.  To be a follower of Christ means that as soldiers we go where He commands; what He desires becomes our command.  What we say, think and do are under the control of his will.  Our reading this morning taught us:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24, NIV)

With this in mind the Bible puts the question to us:  What is Christ to you, King or rival? If you call Him your King, what do you mean by that?

The in-between background 

We have the Bible neatly divided into chapters.  We heard about Saul and his disastrous initial years, but the flow of the events are broken with the introduction of David as God’s choice for Himself to be king.  We today read of the defeat the David Goliath, and we understand that he could do so because God had chosen him, but at the time David had probably not been anointed, his brothers did not know, Jonathan did not know, and Saul had no idea who this young boy was.

Somewhere in-between, chronologically, Samuel anointed David as king in the presence of his father and brothers (1Samuel 16:13)  The story was out:  the new king was anointed.  Jonathan, his sister and the people loved David, but Saul hated him.

Jonathan, a servant of the future king

Jonathan was the logical choice to succeed his father as king.  His heart was in the right place as he feared the Lord; He was second in charge of the army; he established himself as a natural leader; he lead the army into at least two battles and defeated the enemy. Then he met the future king.

The Bible tells us that his heart was “knitted to the soul of David”.  This expression is also used in Genesis to describe the Jacobs love for Benjamin (Genesis 44:30).

The Bible further tells us that Jonathan loved David as his own soul (18:1, 20:17).

Jonathan bound himself in a covenant to David.  This was a covenant of allegiance that he would protect David’s life (20:16), even if it meant that it called him to turn against his father should circumstances call for it.

And we read that he did nothing short of abdication in favour of David.  He stripped himself of his royal robe and gave it to David; he gave his armour to David, and he handed him his sword, one of only two in Israel.

His love for David went to the extend that he dethroned himself and put his full trust in David.  When he further appear before his father, Saul, he would do so without his sword and without his royal robe.  This was a clear message to Saul: his son’s allegiance was with another king.

The sad fact of history is that, although David was extremely successful, he also failed.  After all, he was just a human being. David by faith understood one thing clearly:  from his loins would come the ultimate King, Jesus Christ.

We should learn from Jonathan as to how we should live before this King:  his desires must be our command, our souls must be knitted to Him, before Him we should be stripped of ourselves; our earthly standing and who we think we are, and what we have is nothing in comparison with service to Him.  Yes, we must take the crown from our hearts, from where we want to reign and control our own lives, and place it at his feet and declare our will to serve Him and Him only, we need to crucify ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.  That’s the price of discipleship.

Horatius Bonar writes about people finding it difficult to come to Christ.  He says the essence of the problem lies in self-righteousness. Man clings to self.

It is man’s determined self-righteousness that really constitutes the difficulty. He is unwilling to let this go; and he says “I can’t!” to cover over the guilt of the “I won’t!” Deep down in man’s depraved being lies this awful evil, which only God can remove, this determination not to give up self.

He deceives himself sadly in this matter, in order to cover his guilt and to cast the blame of his unbelief on God … He wants to do the great thing, and to get the credit of doing it; and because God has declared that the great thing is done, “once for all,” never to be done again, he retires into himself, and tries to get up another great thing within himself, by the right doing of which he will please God and satisfy his own conscience. (Bonar, H. (1881). How Shall I Go to God? And Other Readings (pp. 52–53). London: The Religious Tract Society.)

Is Christ your King?  Have you surrendered your throne, have you abdicated, do you love Him more than anyone or anything?  Give Him what you might consider as your royal robe, and clothe yourself with his righteousness.  And when anyone or something else demand your loyalty, do as Jonathan, serve the King.

Saul, rival of the future king

After Saul’s acts of disobedience, as we have learned from the previous chapters, God instructed Samuel to tell Saul that his kingdom will be given to a man after God’s own heart.  Samuel had to anoint David as the king God provided for Himself (16:1), because God said:

“How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Samuel 16:1, NIV)

The Spirit of God departed from Saul and “rushed” upon David (16:13-14).  Saul was plagued with and evil spirit from God and became suspicious, paranoid and embittered.  He was not only rejected by God, but his people was terribly disappointed in him who was supposed to rout the Philistines.

It was without knowing who David really was that his servant employed him to calm down the king with his lyre during his bouts of rage.

After David’s victory over Goliath, Saul “took him”.  Can you remember how Samuel warned that they king would take the children of Israel to work for him?  We see this happening now, and also as described in 1Samuel 14:52:

…whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service. (1 Samuel 14:52, NIV)

Jonathan gave himself away into the service of the future king; Saul owned him.

Saul hear the women sing: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Saul was very angry, because this song displeased him no ends.

“They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” (1 Samuel 18:7–8, NIV)

He openly treated David as a rival:  he first wanted to personally kill David with is own spear, but was unsuccessful.  He worked out another scheme.  He made him commander of a thousand to fight against the Philistines in the hope that Israel’s enemy might kill his enemy.  God was with David and he only went from strength to strength.  On top of that, the people loved David.

Saul came up with another plan:  if David could pay him a bride’s price of one hundred Philistine foreskins he could marry Saul’s daughter Michal who was madly in love with David.  You can just imagine the danger in the task—no Philistine would willingly donate a foreskin.  David brought 200 foreskins, he himself unharmed!

Saul’s whole life afterward was consumed with one purpose:  to get rid of David!  He and the Philistines were not on the same side, but he became their partner in killing God’s appointed king.

To what lengths would a sinner go in his effort to get rid of Christ!  Why?  Christ is in essence his rival.  Instead of abdicating in favour of the King, the battle of control for one’s own life becomes all consuming.  Look at the apostle Saul: he had one thing in mind and the was to destroy the church of Christ.  He thought he could control his destiny, but then there was this day on the way to Damascus.  Christ knocked him out and helplessly he was in the hands of others who led him to Christ.

Conclusion

What is you attitude towards the King:  does He have the control of your life, your love, your mind, your soul, your money, your future plans, or do you see Him as your rival?  Are you willing to abdicate the power of your life, or do you still want to cling to control of your life?  My friend, this can be a life-long battle which no sinner will ever win, and in the process you will remain restless and your heart disturbed.

Christ invites you:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28–29, NIV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 October 2017

 

Choose your man!

Bible Readings

  • Hebrews 11:32-40
  • 2 Samuel 17:8-11, 32-37, 45-51

Introduction 

There was nothing usual about the Philistine, called Goliath, the champion.  He was the go-between for his people who represented them and dictated the terms of engagement:

Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” (1 Samuel 17:8–9, NIV)

This giant was more than nine feet tall. His bronze helmet protected his head.  His upper body was covered with a coat of scaled armour weighing fifty-seven kilograms.  His legs were also protected by bronze armour. In other words the man’s defences gave all the appearance of being impenetrable. He was a one-man army.

He carried a large curved sword across his shoulders. His spear was “like a weaver’s beam”. Its iron head weighed more than 7.5 kilograms. A servant carried a big shield before him, providing complete protection.

Why do we battle?

Some weeks ago I told you of the rugby match between a team of our insignificant school against the champions of the big school.  The pure sight of the size of our opponents made us ask ourselves, “Why are we here?”  “Remember, you do it for your school,” were the words echoing in your ears.  On the pavilion was draped the banner with the embroidered Crest of the school.  That spurred us on.

It was a different story with Israel on the other side of the Elah valley.

This giant shouted with a chilling voice his thunderous words echoing over the valley. Shaking in their boots on the other side were the Israelite army.  Saul and his men were terrified and dismayed.  The Hebrew word used in verse 11 tells us that the voice of the giant made them fall apart.  They were demoralised and scared stiff.

“Why do you come out and line up for battle?” 

Israel’s eyes were on the Philistine giant.  They took their eyes off God.  They wanted to have a king like the other nations, but now that king was terrified, maybe even sitting in the shadow of his tent well behind the battle lines.  So they forgot why they went up for battle.

Goliath distracted them, and they fell for it.  “Are you not the servants of Saul?” (v. 8)  You’re in the same boat as your shaking king, stricken with terror, in distress.

Once again the giant thundered:

“This day I defy the armies of Israel!” (1 Samuel 17:10, NIV)

He scorned and despised God’s armies.  Do you remember the school yards fights where a line was drawn in the sand, and the aggressor would spit on the ground and then tread on it with a turning ankle to send the message, “So I will trample upon you!”  It was only the brave who would dare to overstep that line.

That day in the Valley of Elah the people of Israel with their very eyes saw and with their very ears heard the enemy. They saw him spit on the ground as he drew the line in the sand.

In the Valley of Elah we see the important reality of which the Bible often speaks—the enemies of God and his people.  What we need to understand by faith is that the enemies of God and his people are more terrifying and powerful than even the menacing giant Goliath.

All of us face an enemy, an army of enemies, as real, powerful, and terrifying as Goliath. Death wields its terrible sword and mocks us all. Sin threatens to bring us down. Satan himself seeks whom he may devour.

(Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader (p. 309). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

Paul writes:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

Peter writes:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

Paul further makes this statement,

having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; Christ has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:14–15, NIV)

The only threat which Satan can hold against us is not that we sinned against him; he can only accuse us for what we did against God—but that is what Christ cancelled on the cross, where He made a spectacle of Satan.

My dear friend, are you a Christian?  Are you on the Lord’s side?  Have you left the world’s side? Do you understand that the conflict might be fierce and the foe be strong? Are you sure you want to be the soldier in an alien land?

On what grounds and why have you come to the battle line?  I am not asking; your enemy wants to know.  He wants to scare you, he wants you to turn around and run?

Not for weight or glory, not for crown or palm,

enter we the army, raise the warrior-psalm

but for love that claimeth lives for whom He died

he whom Jesus is calling must be on His side.

Round his standard ranging victory is secure

For his truth unchanging make the triumph sure

If you can not sing this song, the fear of Satan will overcome you; but then the salt has become useless, and it is only good to be trampled upon. Unfortunately many Christian soldiers have put down the armour out of fear; they also believe the deception of those who keep telling them there is not really any war raging; all will be conquered by love! “Peace! Peace!”, while there is no peace—that was the message of the false prophets of all time (Micah 3:5).

Choose your man!

Let me tell you about another hero.  He captures the minds of millions of people, adults and children alike.  He possesses the ability to fly under his own power, incredible strength and near impossibility to be harmed by anyone. His eyes can emit bursts of heat, while vision ranges from the microscopic to the telescopic. His vision is also capable of a broader spectrum than human eyes, able to see x-rays and radio waves. He can hear faint sounds amongst a bustle of noises by concentrating. His lungs are capable of holding air for long periods of time in environments without oxygen, and the ability to compress this air and exhale it in a freezing capacity.

In many ways, he is the most human of us all. But when he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. After all, he is the protector of Earth, living and working as a normal man. When disaster necessitates it he would tear his normal work clothes off him, only to reveal his true colours.  He is your man in times of need.  You can rely on him. His enemy should not pick a barney with him. And he only does good things. He is the legend, Superman!   Would our enemy stand against him?

Our chapter shifts to a newcomer on the scene.  He was the youngest of his brothers, small in stature, ruddy, but handsome.  His was there on his father’s command.  With him he had roasted grain and bread.  He arrived when Goliath thundered another warning across the valley.  The armies of Saul were shuddering with fear and ran for shelter. He left the proviant with his side-kick and ran closer.  His eldest brother belittled him for even being there, but he did not give up.  In the end he was right in the presence of the king.

“Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” (1 Samuel 17:32, NIV)

Don’t be silly, you need protection;  you need armour.

Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. (1 Samuel 17:36, NIV)

Notice the perspective of David:  no uncircumcised (heathen who oppose God) has the right to disparage the people of God.  God made a promise to Abraham, whomsoever curses him and his descendants, God will curse. (Genesis 12:3)

Goliath regarded the Israelites as the men of Saul; and so did the Israelites. David saw himself as a man belonging to the family of the God of Armies (God of Hosts).

With only five stones from the brook, David approached Goliath and his shield bearer.  The giant despised him.  David saw the spear, the javelin and the shield, but by faith he saw God Almighty and said to the Philistine,

I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. (1 Samuel 17:45, NIV)

Don’t mess with Almighty God.

“All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:47, NIV)

David took the initiative; he ran up to the giant. The giant fell because of the stone, and David finished him off with his own sword. There was nothing magical about the stones in his bag; it was not his skilful swinging of the sling; it was God’s power at work.

The man of God’s choosing

Let’s go back to the challenge of Goliath. “Choose your man.”  The Israelites did not even move a finger to do so.  But one chapter back (and we will go there in time) God made a move.

In Bethlehem Ephrathah, the place where also Samuel’s ancestors came from, was a man with eight sons.  God had sent Samuel to him because “I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (16:1)  David was not the eldest, not the tallest, not the smartest—like his father and the others he was insignificant in the big scheme of things.  From the Psalms he wrote, and from his testimony before Saul we understand that his wholeheartedly trusted God.  This is a man of God’s choosing.

And David was a forerunner of our Saviour, the Man of God’s choosing.  Christ was despised and derided, and even Pilate scoffingly presented to Him as “your man” (John 19:5).  With his face marred by blood running from the crown of thorns, and gaping wounds on his back because of the flogging, they mocked Him as king as they hanged a purple robe around Him. Our Lord declared to Pilate, “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above.” (John 19:11)

Then they crucified Him.  And so He achieved victory of Satan, sin, hell and death.

Conclusion

You might hear the hellish taunt of Satan when you enter the battle under the banner of Christ, but then you have to tell him boldly, “I chose the Chosen One who forgave me and gave me his righteousness.  I’m not strong, but He is.  Every knee shall bow before Him and acknowledge that He is Lord.  And you, father of the lie, will spend all eternity bound up in the pit. Mess with me, and you have to deal with the Son of God.” You might shiver saying words to this effect, but the Holy Spirit of God will be with you till the end. That’s Christ’s promise.

Have you chosen Him to be your King?

The king is dead; long live the King!

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 15 October 2017