Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Walking in step with the righteousness of Christ (3)

Bible Readings

  • Titus 3:1-11
  • Philippians 3:12-4:1

Introduction

I grew up in a house where about all of us loved pets.  We had a cat, a budgie, and at one stage even a crow.  What we did not have, was a dog.

We were driving along one day and we saw a very scruffy looking dog by the roadside.  It was clearly underfed, tired, hungry and thirsty.  He was clearly lost, but dad could not just drive past.  He pulled over and without resistance the dog was loaded it into the Kombi.  To be honest it smelled and you could see the fleas were having a field day on it.

I think the idea was to take to home to give it some food, water and a good scrub down—and then to see if we could find out who the owners were.

We never found out where it came from and it stayed with us.  He got a very apt name:  Pickup!

There was one big problem with Pickup: he was not used to be inside of the yard.  He had to be trained—as a matter of fact, he had no manners: he barked all the time, even at visitors. He jumped up onto beds and furniture.  It took a lot time before he adapted to our lifestyle, because Mom insisted that if we want him, he has to obey.

Sinners in God’s home

It had me think about me, a sinner.  God picked me by the road.  There was nothing good in me to attract his attention.  I smelled of sin and needed to be bathed in the righteousness of Christ.  God took me into his home, looks after me, feeds me and gives me shelter.

Of every sinner we can say this:  God takes us as we are, warts and all. He gives us a righteousness which is foreign to us, and He adopts us as his children.  Taking us in, He gives us a future:  heaven and all which belongs to Christ.  But, and this is where so many Christians go wrong, although He saves me as I am, He then takes me under his roof and He teaches me to live as his child.  This calls for obedience. Day by day I have to conform to his will.  This is the “now” (or presence) of my “walking in step with the righteousness of Christ.”

Living up to God’s standard

We must live in agreement with what we have come to be in Christ.

Our past

In the first delivery of this mini series we met the apostle Paul telling us about his past and what it means to come to know Christ and his righteousness.  He came to this conclusion:

It was wrong to think that one can live in the right relationship with God while trying to achieve it by keeping the Law.  What is necessary to live in the right relationship with God, is Christ who achieved what we could not. By committing ourselves by faith to Him only, God grants us what is necessary to live in relationship with Him based on what Christ did on my behalf.

That’s our past:  just as we are God takes us in, saves us, and freely declares us righteous because of Christ’s righteousness.

Our future

We also looked at the future:

but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20, HCSB)

Hebrews 12:22-24 helped us to rejoice in this our eternal home:  It’s the place of grace, a perfect city of God filled with myriads of angles doing the bidding of Christ; by faith we are already joined with those who have finished the race; we are already gathered around the throne of Christ, saved by his blood.  This place stands firm and will withstand the final shaking out the elements of this dispensation after which we will forever live in the presence of God.

The pilgrimage between our past and our future

Between our sinful past and your glorious destination we find ourselves on a pilgrimage.

Philippians 3:16:  “Let us live in keeping with”, or “let us walk in agreement”.  Where have come from?  A life outside of the right relationship with God; a life of trying and despairing DIY righteousness.  What have we come to be?  People with a hope in eternal life with Christ. How did this happen?  Christ made it all possible by achieving the righteousness acceptable to the holy Father.  We took hold of it by faith.

What difference does it make to the way we live now?

1.  Take hold of Christ because He took hold of us

Paul writes:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

Jesus took hold of him and he pressed on to take hold of the reason for Christ grace:  a life giving glory to God, determined from eternity.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)

If ever there you thought that being a Christian is to follow a set of “do’s” and “don’t’s”—in other words, moralistic living—stop doing so!  It is a lie Satan would want you to believe.

What does Paul say happened?  By the grace of God he was taken into the household of God.  In this household he receives what he needs for free.  He life was determined by the reality of eternity.  Living in God’s household opened his eyes to another way of thinking:  his thoughts, emotions and desires are now driven by a completely new way of living.  His eternal destiny shaped his present living.

This is important:  God did not invade his mind or enter into his world; what happened is that he was transplanted into God’s world and was given a new mindset.  He declares:

For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:19–20, HCSB)

You have to understand what this verse says:  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.” Passive tense.  Makes a statement; he does not imply some command somewhere.  He in no ways implies that he has been crucifying himself.  No!  When, by God’s grace he came to know Christ and put his trust in Him, by faith God united him to Christ, so that what Christ did was as if he did it himself, only that he didn’t because he couldn’t.  Therefore, when Christ was crucified, he was crucified (passive tense).  When Christ rose to live, by faith Paul rose to a new life, so that he from then on he lived by faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for Paul.  And this is true of every Christian.  It is therefore not surprising that he writes:

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24–25, HCSB)

Let’s pray that God will free us from the sin of self-centred “Christian” living; for as long as we think that we need God to come into our lives, we will struggle and stumble over the perceived need to do things in order to be saved.  We must understand that God does not enter my life to be on my side, but that the opposite is true:  God calls me heavenward in Christ—I, by grace, enter into his world, I die with Christ and I rise with Christ so that I now think his thoughts after Him, and live his life following in his footsteps; this is not to get there one day, but because I am already there.  Remember the verse in Hebrews 12:22:  “You have come to Zion, the holy city of God.”  That’s where our citizenship lies.

Like Pickup I was picked up, and living under new management my mind thinks along the new manager.

This the Bible calls sanctification.  Every Christian finds himself living out two realities: what he is in Christ, and what he is at present, wherever he happens to be in his earthly pilgrimage. The one reality is the fact of justification from the guilt of all sin and his personal union with Christ crucified, risen again, and received up into glory. The other reality is the Christian’s degree of personal sanctification.

2.  Grace is not cheap

Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18–19, NIV)

Some Christians and teachers who come on the scene after Paul left the congregation he planted, never understood what it means to live in step with the righteousness of Christ.  They spoke the same language of some who tell you that you are saved by grace, and therefore good works do not count. Paul touched on this Romans 5:20-21:

The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20–21, HCSB)

He continues:

So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. (Romans 6:11–12, HCSB)

3.  Following the example of those who finished the race before us, and of those who who mature in their Christian walk

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Philippians 3:17, NIV)

God was gracious to give us people like Paul, Silas, Timothy, Peter, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, Billy Graham, Martin Lloyd Jones, R.C. Sproul, godly grandparents and parents.  They are examples of people who knew Christ and were found in Him. But there are others, older men and women, others who have advanced in their walk with Christ, who are mature, take them as a role model, spend time with them, learn from them.

Make time to read biographies of godly men and women in Christ.  Missionaries like John Paton, Braynard, and others.  Model your walk in Christ after those who have been through the rough spots and came out on the other side as conquerers.

4.  Renounce the world

Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18–19, NIV)

The world seem be attractive, but those who are in Christ now live with a Kingdom mindset, not fulfilling their fleshly desires, with their backs on all this world can offer, with the mind controlled by heavenly principles.

Amen

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 28 January 2018

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God’s Pleasure in Jesus

Scripture Reading

  • Matthew 17: 1-11

 

Today in our message we will look specifically at Matthew 17:5 at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration which says:

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

Christ’s Kingdom

For generations the people of Israel had been waiting for their Messiah, the king that had been promised to them by the prophets of old. Matthew begins his Gospel by showing how Jesus Christ was a descendent of David. But Matthew goes on to show that God did not send Jesus to be an earthly king, but a heavenly king. His kingdom would be greater than David’s because it would never end. Even at Jesus’ birth, many recognised him as a king. Herod, the ruler of the time of his birth, as well as Satan, were afraid of Jesus kingship and tried to stop him. But others like the shepherds, and the wise men worshipped him and brought royal gifts. This is important for us as well. We must recognise Jesus for who he really is and worship him as the king of our lives.

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, with its directions for living in His kingdom. He also told many parables about the difference between his kingdom and the kingdoms on earth. Forgiveness, peace, and putting others first are some of the characteristics that makes one great in the future kingdom of God. And to be great in God’s kingdom, we must live by God’s standards right now. The purpose of why Jesus came to earth is to show us how to live as faithful subjects in His kingdom.

The glorified King 

About a week after Jesus plainly told His disciples that He would suffer, be killed, and be raised to life (Luke 9:22), He took Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. This was the turning point in Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. From then on he began teaching clearly and specifically what they could expect, so they would not be surprised when it happened. He explained that He would not now be the conquering Messiah because he first had to suffer, die and rise again. But one day he would return in great glory to set up His eternal kingdom.

While praying, His personal appearance was changed into a glorified form, and His clothing became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus about His death that would soon take place. How the disciples knew the prophets is immaterial. The point is that they did recognise them, and they knew them at once. It is amazing that although they were in that peculiar state of half-waking and half-sleeping, their senses were able to grasp and retain all the points of the picture before them.

Peter, not knowing what he was saying and being very fearful, offered to put up three shelters for them. This is undoubtedly a reference to the booths that were used to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, when the Israelites dwelt in booths for 7 days (Lev. 23:34–42). Peter was expressing a wish to stay in that place. The glory of the phenomenon was too much for the disciples—they became dazed by its brilliance. Peter voiced the opinion of the others when he cried out: Lord, it is good for us to be in this place. He desired at once to build three tabernacles, one for Christ, one for Moses, one for Elijah, that they might continue there in glory. The underlying thought may have been that it would be so much more pleasant to stay here, where the glory of heaven had been brought down to them, than to go to Jerusalem and have Jesus enter upon the way of suffering.

When a cloud enveloped them, a voice said, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him!” The cloud lifted, Moses and Elijah had disappeared, and Jesus was alone with His disciples who were still very much afraid. Jesus warned them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after His resurrection. The three accounts of this event are found in Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36.

Undoubtedly, the purpose of the transfiguration of Christ into at least a part of His heavenly glory was so that the “inner circle” of His disciples could gain a greater understanding of who Jesus was. Christ underwent a dramatic change in appearance in order that the disciples could behold Him in His glory. The disciples, who had only known Him in His human body, now had a greater realization of the deity of Christ, though they could not fully comprehend it. That gave them the reassurance they needed after hearing the shocking news of His coming death.

The King fulfilled the Law and the Prophets

Symbolically, the appearance of Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets. But God’s voice from heaven – “Listen to Him!” – clearly showed that the Law and the Prophets must give way to Jesus. The One who is the new and living way is replacing the old – He is the fulfilment of the Law and the countless prophecies in the Old Testament.

Also, in His glorified form they saw a preview of His coming glorification and enthronement as King of kings and Lord of lords. While Peter was still filled with the ecstasy of the scene, a cloud of light, surrounded them. As at other times a dark cloud will obscure the light, so here the intense brightness of the cloud of glory hindered their vision; human eyes are not strong enough to endure the light from the throne of heaven.

During their wilderness wanderings the Israelites followed the cloud provided by God as their guide which rested over the tabernacle. Here was the cloud of the New Testament covering both High Priest and altar of the New Covenant, (Exodus 40:24). The disciples had at least, up to that moment, been able to observe a few things, though their vision had not been very clear, but at this climax they are overcome. For the voice of the Father uttered almost the same words as at the baptism of Jesus: This is My Son, the Beloved One, in whom is My delight.

It was a most solemn affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, destined to sink into their hearts and minds forever. Him they should hear, to Him, and His Word, they should render unquestioned obedience. The time of the reign of the Law, as represented in Moses, and the time of mere prophecy, as represented in Elijah, was past; grace and truth, the Gospel, the Gospel glory, have come with Jesus Christ. No need to look for further visions and revelations; we have the Word of Jesus, the Word of salvation.

The glorious King

The disciples never forgot what happened that day on the mountain and no doubt this was intended. John wrote in his gospel, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only” (John 1:14).

At the time when John (The Baptist) was telling people to “prepare the way for the Lord” (Matt 3:3), Jesus was already in the world, He had become a part of the physical world as true man, He was subject to the usual laws governing man and his relation to the universe. But in spite of the fact that He was in the world and had created the world, the people of the world did not know Him, and did not acknowledge Him. The people did not recognize their own Creator, because the world is totally estranged from God. The entire world consists of people in need of redemption, and yet the majority insists upon being counted with those that are lost because they will not acknowledge and accept Him. This is explained in John 1:15 which says;

John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ “

Unto His own He came, to His own property, to the vineyard which His Father had planted, to the chosen people of the Old Testament. But those that belonged to Him, the men and women of His own race, that had received so many evidences of His grace and goodness, did not receive Him, and were far from welcoming Him. The great mass of them rejected Him and His salvation. “The rulers in the children of Israel and the greater population, would not acknowledge Him as the Messiah, much less accept Him because He did not come as the conquering king they had envisioned. Though John The Baptist went before Him and testified of Him, and though He Himself very soon came forward, and preached with power, and did miracles, in order that He would be recognised by His miracles, and preaching, but it was all to no avail. For the world crucified Him and this would not have happened if they had recognised Him for what He was.” (Popular Commentary of the Bible, The – – New Testament Volume 1.)

But there were a few true Israelites, who received Him as the promised Messiah, and therefore believed in Him for their salvation. To those who have  accepted the Word of the Cross He gives the great privilege or right to become the sons of God by adoption, (Galatians 4:4-5). He works faith in their hearts. They enter into the right, and proper relationship with Him, and they accept Him as their Father.

This process of becoming children of God is different to the process of physical birth. The children of God are produced in a wonderful way, unlike that of natural procreation and birth. In nature children are formed out of blood and body substances of human flesh and by an act of the will of man. But this birth does not make a person a child of God. The children of God are born out of God. He is their true Father; to Him alone and to no human, earthly agency, power, or will do they owe their spiritual birth and existence. Regeneration is the work of God, and it is His work all alone.

By their receiving and believing this testimony concerning Christ, as it was proclaimed by John, this marvellous change has taken place in the Christians. God has thereby made them partakers of the divine nature. Faith, which the believer receives in  Christ, is wrought by God through the Word. Thus the believers have the manner and nature of their heavenly Father: a new spiritual, divine life is found in them. And though they are not born out of the essence of the Father, like the only-begotten Son, yet by adoption they have all the rights of children. They are heirs, with Christ, with the promise of eternal salvation, (Romans 8:17).

Peter also wrote,

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

The apostle states to which event he was referring. For He received from God the Father honour and glory when he heard the voice of God say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” That was the culminating incident in the happening on the Mount of Transfiguration, (also referred to in Matthew 17:1-9: Mark 9:2-8). Jesus, the poor, despised Prophet of Nazareth, who had come into His own and His own did not receive Him, was spoken about with honour and glory from His heavenly Father Himself. And all this happened while the three disciples, Peter, James, and John, were still lying upon the ground, almost stupefied by the miraculous brightness which surrounded them from heaven. They nevertheless could hear plainly the words which came down out of the cloud, the voice of God Himself, acknowledging Jesus as His true Son, His beloved Son, upon whom His good pleasure rested in full measure. Concerning this Peter testifies: “And this voice, borne from heaven, we heard when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

Although the mountain was not in itself holy, this wonderful manifestation of the splendid glory of God, sanctified and hallowed it for the time being. What Peter means to emphasize in this connection is, that the three apostles, to whom was granted such a wonderful manifestation of the glory of God, were reliable witnesses, and therefore their Gospel could and should be accepted without question as the truth of the Lord. This is one of the reasons why we also accept the Gospel as recorded by the apostles as the truth, because God would hardly have revealed Himself in such a manner to men that were hypocrites and swindlers.

Those who witnessed the transfiguration bore witness to it to the other disciples and to countless millions down through the centuries.

Jesus himself also said in Matthew 18:16;

But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’

No doubt this is also the reason why Jesus took three disciples with him that day, in order that they would bear witness to the truth.

Obeying the King

What are you going to believe?

A person is a slave to whatever controls him or her. Many believe that freedom means doing anything we want. I heard a lady being interviewed on TV the one day saying that she felt that religion “was outdated”. If we refuse to follow God, we will follow our own sinful desires and become enslaved to what our bodies want. If we submit our lives to Christ, He will free us from the slavery of sin. Christ frees us to serve Him, a freedom that results in our ultimate good.

Jesus was born of a woman, he was human, he was born a Jew and he was subject to God’s law and fulfilled it perfectly. Thus Jesus was the perfect sacrifice because, although he was fully human, he never sinned. His death bought freedom for us who were enslaved to sin so that we could be adopted into God’s family.

So when God says in Matthew 17:5 (NKJV);

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

What are you going to do?

Are you going to believe and listen to the Word as we are instructed by God himself?

Are you waiting for God’s timing in your life?

Do you trust his judgments and trust that he has your best interests in mind?

Do you believe that as a Christian you are saved by grace through faith and that you are adopted into God’s family with its promise of eternal life?

Or do you believe that religion and God is outdated and that you are in control of your own life and destiny?

I hope that you are all like Joshua who said “…for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

We must recognise Jesus for who he really is and worship him as the king of our lives.

Is Jesus the one that you love?

Do you listen to Him?

Amen

 

Sermon preached by Elder Bob Chopping on Sunday 21 January 2018

 

Walking in step with the righteousness of Christ (2)

Bible Readings:

  • Hebrews 12:18-29
  • Philippians 3:12-21

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Our family loved picnics.  Any quiet spot where there was shade and firewood would do us.  Our first visit to a real public park included a swimming pool.

While dad unpacked the picnic gear (I always wondered what was so special about having a cup of tea before anything else!), us children made it to the swimming area.  It was my first exposure to such a big pool.  My siblings soon disappeared in the crowd.  After mustering enough courage that I tackled the cold water.  I ran, jumped and landed some distance from the edge; what I was not aware of was that I actually chose the deep end.  No one told me there was a shallow and a deep end!  With my head disappearing under the water, my legs were going a hundred miles and hour as I furiously tried to get my nose above water level. I panicked and was pretty sure I had come to my last day!

As I became exhausted, I discovered something marvellous:  when I stopped battling to stay afloat, I drifted!  In the end, I just calmly turned onto my back, paddled with my hands and feet—and breathed.  It was a wonderful feeling.

Later in life, actually quite long after I got to know Christ as my Lord and Saviour, this episode came back to me.  See, there was a time that, although I understood God’s grace in Christ, I still had this idea that I needed to do whatever I could to stay afloat. Then one day, as I was working my way through Romans,  God opened my eyes for the free gift of righteousness in Christ.  That’s when I spiritually began to stay with my nose in the life-giving air coming from the completed work of Christ.

Paul, in Philippians 3, struggled to gain his own righteousness, until he met Christ;  his righteousness then became worth nothing as he clung to God’s provided righteousness. He came to this conclusion:

It is wrong to think that one can live in the right relationship with God while he thinks that he can achieve it by keeping the Law.  What is necessary to live in the right relationship with God, was Christ, who achieved what we could not. One needs to commit oneself by faith to Him only, and God grants what is necessary to live in relationship with Him.

Faith says on my own I’m drowning, but by committing to Christ I’m swimming.

Paul says this about his past.  He then comes to this conclusion about the future:

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14, NIV)

Realised future

We will today focus on what the future holds if we have our life anchored on the foundation of righteousness of Christ.  We now move on Philippians 3:20-21

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20–21, NIV)

The experience of the Christians to whom the letter of Hebrews was addressed was that those who held fast to Jewish traditions, impressed on those who put their hope in the righteousness of Christ to return to the old understanding of works-based righteousness.  As Kent Hughes put it:

… they were hearing discordant voices: You are on the wrong path. You are headed away from Sinai and Jerusalem. You have left your heritage in Abraham and Moses. You have forsaken your nation that has had the great blessings of God. You will never make it!  (Hughes, R. K. (1993). Hebrews: an anchor for the soul (Vol. 2, p. 188). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

Let’s pay close attention to what the author of Hebrews says:

But you have come to Mount Zion… (Hebrews 12:22, NIV)

Mount Zion is different from Mount Sinai.  The vision of Sinai is extraordinary:  a mountaintop blazing with “fire to the very heavens”; a blanket of a deep darkness; bolts of lightning firing golden flashes from the clouds;  heavenly rams’ horns filling  the thundering skies with sombre blasts;  the ground was shaking at God’s voice as He reveals the Ten Commandments.

God is transcendentally “other,” perfectly good and holy. He radiates wrath and judgment against sin. God of Sinai cannot be approached. Flaming Mount Sinai reveals God to us! (Kent Hughes, ibid)

What is similar between Sinai and Zion is God, his splendour and holiness:  of both we read, “God is a consuming fire.”  The way God reveals Himself on both mountains is meant to shape our pilgrimage. God is the same, yesterday, today and into all eternity.  God is both holy and loving.  Both mountains teach us about the consuming holiness of God and the consuming love of God. What is different between Sin and Zion is the way God provided to approach Him.

But let’s consider this first:  our righteousness does not come by the Law of Sinai; it comes by the grace of Zion.  As the members of the church at Galatia and those to whom the letter of Hebrews are addressed were distracted by a self-help, DIY righteousness, we must keep our eyes on Christ who is our righteousness.

The heavenly Jerusalem

Paul writes in Philippians 3:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:20)

This is another way to say what Hebrews 12 says:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, (Hebrews 12:22)

The background for Hebrews is the journey of the people of God through the desert.  God freed them from Egyptian slavery, and miraculously rescued them from the Pharaoh’s army, leading them through the Red Sea.  On the way He cared and provided for them.  Then they arrived at Sinai where God revealed Himself to them from the smoking mountain where He gave them the Ten Commandments.  For them the Promised Land was still ahead of them.

The author of Hebrews encourages his readers by having them look forward to the eternal Promised Land—heaven where their citizenship is.

What we need to see in these verses is reality of eternity.  It is not a pie in the sky when one dies.  “You have come”—perfect past tense; by faith eternity is done deal.  In Christ the journey is completed.  Just like all those in the “cloud of witnesses” of Chapter 11 who looked forward to the city not built by hands, we who are on our journey to that heavenly destination have in our pockets a passport, stamped and sealed in the blood of Christ.

We need to keep our eyes on our heavenly address.  The moment this world becomes more real to us than heaven, we tend to think of heaven as something “on the other side”, something still to come; something which does not really impact on our living and disicions we make today.  The readers of the letter had their faith focussed not as much on what they one day will receive, but on what they already had.  Paul writes:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1–2, NIV)

We need to live, every day—as Dr R.C. Sproul made the phrase his life goal, coram Deo—in the presence of God. In this city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our Father is the living God!

Myriads of Angels

Some people don’t believe in angels (unless it is something like the tooth fairy or a gnome), but angels were not unknown to the writer of Hebrews.  He refers to their ministry in no less than 13 verses in his letter.  He links Mount Sinai and Mount Zion by referring to angels.  Deuteronomy 33:2 speaks of “thousands of holy ones”, and Stephen and Paul speaks about the Law being effected by angels (Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19, and also Hebrews 2:2).  In these cases the main point was that Christ came to be the Mediator and fulfilment of the Law.

What do angels do?  They worship Christ (Hebrews 1:6); they are God’s messengers (1:7); they are just lower than Christ, in his service; they also to serve those who will inherit salvation (1:14).

When the readers of this letter read these words they were most probably overcome by the glory and grace of God:  they understood they have an eternal home with God; they have to their disposal myriads of singing and praising angels, joyfully doing the bidding of Christ for their good—effecting His fulfilment of the Law of Sinai—by the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The Church of the Firstborn

Like them we have to have bright eyes fixed on the reality of eternity, which has already burst open over us.  We are one with those who have already departed in Christ, now praising Him with the angels.  Here we are still part of the battle; there they celebrate the victory.  Here we still struggle with imperfection—yes, we need forgiveness everyday—there the spirits of the righteous ones are perfect.  “Made perfect”? Even Paul confesses:

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12, HCSB)

But this the good news of the Gospel:  when we received Christ and put our trust in Him, God declared us righteous.  At that point we are fit to receive eternal life—purely because our salvation rests upon Christ, and Him alone.  We, through sanctification, “make every effort to take hold of it because we have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” But when the moment of our death arrives we stand as righteous, perfect people before God, who will judge us by our faith in Christ Jesus.

Together with those who have finished the race we are members of the Church of the Firstborn, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Together with them our names are already written in heaven.

God, the Judge of all men

It is not so of those who trampled underfoot the blood of Christ.  Then the godless and rebellious will understand the “our God is a consuming fire.” How terrible!

All people who have lived and will live on earth will one day stand before the judgement throne of God.

Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant

Once again we need to go back a few chapters.  Speaking of Christ’s ministry the author writes:

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15, HCSB)

We don’t have time to explore all passages referring to the excellence of Christ as Mediator, but one thing we know:  his sprinkled blood does not speak of revenge like the blood of Able, but is speaks of forgiveness and freedom.

Conclusion

As we walk in the righteousness of Christ, or keep in step with his righteousness, we:

“eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself. (Philippians 3:20–21, HCSB)

All because by faith we have come to “Mount Zion”, the “city of the living God”, “to myriads of angels”,  “to the assembly of the firstborn”, “to God who is the Judge”, “to the spirits of righteous people, “to Jesus”, and “to the sprinkled blood.” (Hebrews 12:22–24)

That’s our future—and its already here.  Have you arrived at your future?  Are you at Mount Zion?  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 January 2018

Don’t Fret

Bible Readings:

  • Psalm 37:1-11
  • Philippians 3:1-11, 4:4-13

Rather than fret over the prosperity of the wicked we must trust and delight in God.

Most of us have trouble remembering things: things such as dates and places, people’s names, your shopping list! We are forgetful. If you are like me you go off to another room or to the garage to get something and on the way you forget what you were looking for!

We also find it hard to remember what is in the Bible or where to find particular verses. We find it difficult to memorise the Scriptures.

People develop all sorts of strategies and aids to help them remember. One way to do this is by using the alphabet. Some of the psalms are written following the Hebrew alphabet. They are known as acrostic poems. The first letters of each stanza in this psalm begins with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the footnotes of my NIV Bible it tells me that Psalm 37 is an acrostic Psalm. That, of course, is lost in our English translations, but it was written like this as an aid to memory.

This psalm is similar in content to Psalm 73. They deal with the same subject. That is easy to remember – 37 and 73 – the same digits reversed.

Psalm 37 was written by David and Psalm 73 by Asaph. Both are wisdom psalms. David and Asaph compared the righteous and the wicked, those who do good and those who do evil. They puzzled over the question: why do the wicked seem to do so well? Why do they prosper? Why does life go smoothly for them, while, at the same time, the righteous are suffering? This is the issue in this psalm: why do the wicked prosper and how should a believer respond to this? This bothers us at times, especially when we see evil growing, and much unbelief, and when it seems as though Satan is winning.

Being a wisdom psalm it reads like the book of Proverbs. It explains what we should do and why we should do it. It is a psalm of instruction and comfort. It was written to help us understand this problem and to help us respond in a godly way.

Verses 1-11 contain the main argument and the rest of the psalm elaborates this. We will not go through these eleven verses exactly in order but will rather group the ideas under two headings. First we’ll consider what we should not do and then what we should do.

THE NEGATIVE: DON’T DO THESE THINGS….

 The first negative is in verse 1:

“Do not fret because of evil men”.

This is the primary negative command David wants us to get. He repeats it again in verse 7, and again in verse 8.

The Hebrew word literally means to burn or to be kindled. We have phrases in English that communicate that same idea; we talk about getting “hot under the collar”, about “boiling with rage”, about being “hot and bothered”, or we might warn someone that our “temperature is rising”!

David looked around him at those who were godless in Israel. He saw people who did not serve the Lord and who were perhaps making lots of money by exploiting the poor, underpaying their employees, and charging their fellow Jews interest.

We too fret when we observe unbelievers pursuing their lives without any concern for God and seemingly doing quite well. We see bullies holding up hard working individuals and stealing from them their hard earned income. We see the godless living selfish, self-centred lives without any concern for others and through that grow wealthy.

We can also see this godlessness on a larger scale in society. I voted a certain way at the last Federal election because I wanted to have my say through a plebiscite about marriage equality. I had my opportunity to have my say through the vote and we will have to wait and see how history unfolds from this point on.

It is easy to fret about all this, to get hot and bothered about it, or to be anxious and worried.

David warns us against this in verse 8:

Do not fret – it leads only to evil.

If you are fretting about evil doers then you will feel resentment against them; you will grumble about them and become bitter.

You will also be tempted to take matters into your own hands – to repay evil for evil, to take revenge.

David knew that from personal experience. He and his men had looked after the shepherds and the flocks of a man named Nabal. They had protected them and had not stolen anything for themselves. One day David sent some of his men to Nabal to ask for some food as a gesture of goodwill for the way they had looked after his property. Nabal gave them a harsh and negative response. David got upset about that and he and his men armed themselves with their swords and went on their way to wipe out all the men in that household! Fortunately he was persuaded not to do this by Nabal’s wife, Abigail, a wise and beautiful woman (1 Sam 25).

Do not fret – it leads only to evil.

The second negative we read is also in verse 1;

“Do not “be envious of those who do wrong.”

This is a temptation we can experience when we see unbelievers doing well. They build a larger home, buy a flash car, purchase a holiday house and a boat, make expensive holidays overseas.

You look at how well they are doing and you are jealous. Perhaps you are jealous of those who keep working on the Lord’s day, getting more done, or who use the day to head out on their boat! Perhaps you envy those who do cash jobs, avoid tax, underpay their employees, overcharge their customers and become very wealthy in the process.

Envy is an easy trap to fall into. Covetousness is a common sin. And these sins make us discontented with our own lives, dissatisfied with our situation.

David urges us not to be jealous, for, he says in verse 2, “like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”

Think of a tree that is growing well. It flourishes for a number of years; it has lots of new growth and green leaves and looks healthy and well. Then suddenly the leaves shrivel up and go brown and fall off. The branches go dry and brittle and the tree dies.

This is what will happen to the wicked. For a while they will prosper, but then “like green plants they will soon die away.” (vs 2),

First John 2:15–17 says,

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—does not come from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

We will never be deeply fulfilled or “happy” with the things this world has to offer. If we place our joy and hope in God first, He will meet all of our needs. He will even grant our wants, as our hearts’ desires begin to match up with His will. If we truly place priority on the Lord, chances are our heart’s greatest desire will not be earthly desires, but eternal treasures in Christ.

The apostle Paul wrote;

“For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Tim 6:7).

This statement is the key to spiritual growth and personal fulfilment. We should honour God and centre our desires on Him, and should be content with what God is doing in our lives.

Whether we are a millionaire or a pauper, one day we all will die and have to face the judgement seat of Christ. Everyone leaves the world as they entered it – with no earthly possessions. We all face eternity on the same level – with nothing in our hands.

One day we will all stand before God only with what we have in our hearts. For the wicked that is nothing. Do not envy them. Psalm 1 says that “they are like the chaff that the wind drives away.”

Do not fret; do not envy, and the third negative is “Do not be angry.” Verse 8:

“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath.”

Sometimes it is right to be angry. There is a righteous anger that we feel over injustice and evil in the world.

But there is also an unrighteous anger. This is that sort of anger that could be expressed in a suppressed bitterness or in open rage. Unrighteous anger is both sinful and ungodly. It is to be avoided by the Christian.

Anger and worry (or fretting) are two very destructive emotions. They reveal a lack of faith that God loves us and is in control. We should not worry; instead, we should trust in God, giving ourselves to him for his use and safekeeping. When we dwell on our problems, we will become anxious and angry. But if we concentrate on God, and His goodness, we will find peace.

We need not be angry if we remember the truth expressed in verse 9 – that “evil men will be cut off”.  David wants us to take a long term view of our situation. Look at this in the light of eternity. Look at the big picture. The wicked may prosper for a short time but, “A little while, and the wicked will be no more.” (Verse 10).

These are the negatives; this is what not to do: Do not fret, do not be jealous, do not be angry.

THE POSITIVES: WHAT TO DO.

 The psalm began with the negative; Do not fret. But right after this, in verse 3, it introduces a positive; “Trust in the Lord.” This is the key positive note. This is the main command repeated a number of times over in the psalm in various ways. To trust in God is to rely on him, to depend on him, to lean on him.

David did this for all those years when he was fleeing from Saul, avoiding capture. He trusted that God would look after him. He relied on God day by day. You can read that in many of his psalms.

You need to do the same. Trust in God. Put your life in his hands believing that he will look after you.

But you must also “do good”. Trusting in God is not a matter of sitting back and doing nothing. It is not “letting go and letting God”. Trust is not the same as idleness.

Rather, true faith is expressed in doing good. Express your faith in God in a life of active obedience.

This is the best response to evil.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21).

Forgiveness involves both attitudes and actions. If you find it difficult to feel forgiving toward someone who has hurt you, try responding with kind actions. Lend them a helping hand. Give them a smile. Say g’day to them. Many times you will discover that right actions lead to right feelings.

This is also the best remedy for fretting. If you are active in obedience to God, then that will prevent you from wallowing in self-pity and it will keep you from being discontent. We know that “the devil finds work for idle hands”, so keep busy. Do good.

This is probably the intent of that next phrase; “dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” That can also be translated “and cultivate faithfulness.” David wanted the people of Israel to remain in the position God had placed them and to do their duty, to do good and to be faithful.

So what are we to do. Trust in the Lord at all times.

The second positive is expressed in verse 4:

“Delight yourself in the Lord.”

There is a progression here: We go from trust in the Lord (v3) to delighting in him (v4).

Unbelievers find delight in wealth and riches and pleasure and fame;

believers find delight in the Lord.

To delight in someone means to experience great pleasure and joy in his or her presence. This happens only when we know that person well. Therefore, to delight in the Lord, we must know Him even better. Knowledge of God’s great love for us will indeed give us delight.

John Piper has written a book called “Desiring God“. He wrote it to encourage Christians to delight in God, to find their joy in him. He rephrases the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism;

“What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

He changes one word so it reads;

“The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”

Don’t fret about the prosperity of the wicked or envy their wealth – that will sap the joy out of your life. Rather take delight in your relationship with the Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord, wrote the apostle Paul to the Philippians (4:4). He wrote that about our joy in the Lord Jesus and in his great work on the cross. Everything that Paul had before he knew Christ he counted as rubbish in comparison with gaining Christ and being found in him (Phil 3:7ff).

Do you want to be happy? Do you want joy and delight in your life? Then trust in the Lord Jesus and follow him and rejoice in all that he promises.

For, “…he will give you the desires of your heart.” (vs 4)

The desires of the genuine believer are not casual wishes – a new iPad or a more powerful laptop, a later model car, this season’s fashion. Nor are our desires even for better health or for less trials.

The deepest desires of the Christian are to glorify God on earth, to grow in grace, to increase in our knowledge of Christ, to be more holy and useful, to have more comfort and more courage.

Our greatest desire is to anticipate the rest and glory of heaven and to see Christ and to be like him, and so to enjoy the fullness and completion of our salvation!

The closer you live to God, and the more you delight in him, the more his desires will become your desires, the more you will ask for the very things he wants to give you.

Think of Moses who wanted to see God’s glory, and of Solomon who wanted wisdom, and of the apostle Paul who prayed that we might better know the love of Christ.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (vs 4)

The third positive is in verse 5:

“Commit your way to the Lord”

 The Hebrew word for commit is literally the word “roll”. It pictures carrying a heavy burden and then rolling it off you and laying it down. In the same way we are to roll our burdens at the feet of Jesus.

This is another way of describing your trust in the Lord (cf. vs 3).

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7).

Carrying your worries, stresses, and daily struggles by yourself shows that you have not trusted God fully with your life. It takes humility, however, to recognise that God cares, to admit your need, and to let others in God’s family help you. Sometimes we think that struggles caused by our own sin and foolishness are not God’s concern. But when we turn to God in repentance, He will bear the weight of those struggles. Letting God have your anxieties calls for action, not some passive response. Don’t submit to circumstances, but to the Lord who controls circumstances.

Are you doing that? If not, will you do this?

Will you roll your burden to the Lord?

Will you cast your cares on him?

Will you commit your way to him?

If you do this “He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (verse 6).

One of the most aggravating things that can happen to you as a believer is when you do what is right and you suffer for it! When you obey God’s commands and you are punished. When you do good and you are persecuted.

Injustices like these are hard to take. David had experiences like that, so did Nehemiah, and no doubt, so have you.

But David again wants us to take a long term view of this life. One day God will make it clear what really happened; he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, he will let everyone see the justice of your cause. Everything will be brought out into the open. So don’t despair.

Trust in the Lord, delight in him, commit your way to him, and finally, verse 7,

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”

This is the answer to fretting and envy and anger: Be still; be at rest; be quiet; wait patiently.

Our lives are like watching a western movie where you know the bloke wearing the white hat will eventually triumph. You are not sure exactly how the story will end but you know that in the end all be resolved; evil will be defeated and the good guys will win. Justice will be done. Good will triumph.

This is the message of psalm 37. This final outcome of the righteous and the wicked is summed up in verses 10-11; it is the contrast between retribution and reward.

Don’t fret about the prosperity of the wicked because they will be no more; but the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.

For the people of Israel that was the promise of the land of Canaan; their own land flowing with milk and honey; every man living in peace under his own vine and fig tree.

For us it is the promise of this earth, and eventually the promise of the new heaven and a new earth.

To inherit that you need to trust in God and do good, delight yourself in him, commit your way to him, and be patient. Then he will give you the desires of your heart and one day you “will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (PS 23:6).

Amen.

Message preached by Elder Bob Chopping on 7 January 2017 (The sermon is an edited version of the original sermon “Don’t Fret” by John Haverland, 1/11/2007).

Walking in the righteousness of Christ

Bible Readings

  • Hebrews 12:22-29;
  • Philippians 3:7-4:1

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the last day of 2017.  The days of the last year made up part of the journey we are on—indeed, we are on our way to eternity.  2018 will once again add to privileges and opportunities, but it will surely present us with challenges, and, dare we say, disappointments.

Each day granted to us should ultimately be valued as another step forward, closer to our final objective: to end this pilgrimage seeing the face of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:16

The text for this morning is Philippians 3:16:

Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:16, NIV)

Look a bit closer to this verse and you will find something of the past, something of the future, and surely something of the present.

The Authorised Version translates:

Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. (Philippians 3:16, AV)

The “let us live up to” has something of “let’s live in agreement”, or “lets keep in step with”.  It has in mind a certain standard.  The expression “attain” has to do with “arriving at” or “reach”, or “come to be”.

If we paraphrase this verse it could sound something like this:  We must live in agreement with what we have come to be.

What we did not have and the standard by which we must live, has no connection with what we could not achieve in the past year on which we must improve; it has nothing to do with our desire to do better.  No, it is all about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Where we came from (the yesterday before Christ)

Chapter 3 of Philippians deals with living in the right relationship with God.  Or the technical term “righteousness”—it is what satisfies God for Him to declare us forgiven, and the ground on which we may call Him “Father”.

It is natural for sinners to think that to live in a right relationship with God we must do something to present ourselves better before God.  Somewhere in our minds we know God is holy, and we are not.  A crucial mistake anyone can make is to think that somehow God will lower his standards, turn a blind eye on sin, and excuse our sinfulness.  Another deadly mistake, which almost stands opposed to this, is to think we must achieve some level of holiness before God will even look at us.

The first assumption that God will somehow turn a blind eye on sin, and excuse us be showing lenience, is born in hell.  Fact is God is holy and we are not.  Don’t get confused between tolerance of sin and grace over sin.  God will never excuse or tolerate sin; it can only be forgiven—and forgiveness is achieved by a perfect standard of righteousness.

Paul never contemplated the attitude of God being lenient.  The opposite is true:  he threw in all he could to get on God’s right side—he came from the right family, the right clan, he followed the law to the letter, and even went a second mile by devoting his life as a Pharisee, in opposition to other sects of the Jewish faith which tried to water down the law.

But then he met Christ—and his whole outlook on righteousness changed.  In the light of what Christ achieved in perfect holiness and obedience to his Father, Paul considered his “righteousness” as rubbish.  He chucked his achievements out the window as worthless, useless as “dung”.  His own achievements stank compared to the righteousness of Christ.

When he discovered the immeasurable worth of Christ’s work and how He brought Paul into the right relationship with God, the only thing he wanted was to “know” Christ and “to be found in Him”.

He came to this conclusion:  It was wrong for me to think that I could live in the right relationship with God while I was trying to achieve it by keeping the Law.  What is necessary to live in the right relationship with God, was Christ who achieved what I could not. I committed myself by faith to Him only, and God granted me what was necessary to live in relationship with Him based on what Christ did on my behalf.

This is a paraphrase of verse 9.

Then he expresses only one wish in verse 10:  I now only desire to live in relationship with Christ, to be associated with Him, to be united with Him by faith, and to live with the understanding that He suffered and was resurrected to make it possible for me to be right with God. When He died, by faith I died. He will enable me to suffer for his sake too.

The before Christ life is a life of own achievement; own merit to gain God’s mercy in the hope to be saved.  My dear friend, this is counter-gospel.  The folk in Galatia abandoned grace and went down the track of BYO righteousness achieve by the Law.  Listen to what Paul write to them:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6–8, NIV)

Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? (Galatians 3:3)

That’s our past:  trying to achieve righteousness which would put us in the right relationship with God.

I asked members in good standing with the church about their relationship with God, and how many times have I heard this: “Well, I try my best!” Bad news—our best is never good enough, because God is holy and we are not.  Good news:  Someone else gave his best and that was enough—His best made it possible for us to live in the right relationship with God.  Forget about trying; it’s a matter of believing, putting your trust in Christ’s hand, believing He achieved the holiness which God is looking for.

Now we understand the first part of Philippians 3:16:  “What we already attained”, or “what we have come to”.

Where we are going to (the future because of Christ)

Paul writes in Philippians 3:20-21:

But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)

This is a marvellous verse.  Before Christ we had no citizenship, other than to be on our way to eternal punishment in hell.  If by faith we know Him, and are united with Him, if we understand that in our hands we have nothing to secure any life with God, we receive a new address:  eternity with God in heaven. If we continue to try our own thing we’ll miss heaven and we are without hope.  Paul writes to the Ephesians:

… remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship …, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12–13, NIV)

Through Christ we received hope, not an uncertain “I think so”, “I’ll try my best, who knows!”, but a sure destination, all based on the perfect work of Christ which put us in the right relationship with God.  He who said He is going to prepare a home for us, also gave us the promise that He will return to take us to be where He is.  He is our way, our truth and our life! (John 14:1-6) There is only one way to the Father and that is Jesus Christ; own efforts don’t count for a penny’s worth.

We trust Him and wait eagerly for his return.  He will return as King and everything will be under his rule:

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:16, NIV)

I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:8–9)

This is our Lord, our Saviour, our righteousness!  Because He conquered death and defeated this enemy, our lowly bodies will be transformed in the wink of an eye, to be like his glorious body.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55–57, NIV)

O, you want to know Him, you need to be united to Him by faith.

The pilgrimage between the past to the future

Now we come to that phrase in Philippians 3:16:  “Let us live in keeping with”, or “let us walk in agreement”.  Where have come from?  A life outside of the rich relationship with God; a life of trying and despairing DIY righteousness.  What have we come to be?  People with a hope in eternal life with Christ. How did this happen?  Christ made it all possible by achieving the righteousness acceptable to the holy Father.  We took hold of it by faith.

What difference does it make to the way we live now?

1.  Take hold of Christ because He took hold of us

Paul writes:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

He discovered the freedom of grace and the way to live in a right relationship with God, but his eyes are still set on the end goal: Jesus took hold of him, and he pressed on to take hold on to the reason for Christ grace:  eternity. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

2.  Following the example of those who finished the race before us

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Philippians 3:17, NIV)

God was gracious to give us people like Paul, Silas, Timothy, Peter, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, Billy Graham, Martin Lloyd Jones, R.C. Sproul, godly grandparents and parents.  They are examples of people who knew Christ and were found in Him.

3.  Renounce the world

Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18–19, NIV)

The world seem be attractive, but those who are in Christ now live with a Kingdom mindset, not fulfilling their fleshly desires, with their backs on all this world can offer, with the mind controlled by heavenly principles.

Conclusion

Where will 2018 takes us?  No-one knows, but one thing: if you know Jesus Christ, if your life is united in his, if you live in the right relationship with God because of Christ’s righteousness, then:  “Live in agreement with what you have become in Him”.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 December 2017

 

Advent 2 – Keep watch; the day not known

Bible readings

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
  • Matthew 24:36-51

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,

It would be very unusual if there were somebody in church today who does not have a watch.  We are creatures bound by time and space in more than one way.  Whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the reality of seconds ticking by, and the days, months and years rolling by.  God created this reality:  “there was evening and there was morning” the author of Genesis 1 repeats for every one of the six days of creation. We are bound by this rhythm.

There is another way we’re bound by time:  we keep an eye on our clocks and watches.  We are aware of what needs doing and how long we need to complete the tasks.  Some even work to be paid by the hour. Time is money.

So, why do we call the things on our wrist “watches”?  Is it because we look at it a lot?  Most dictionaries only as a last option define “watch” as a time piece; the preferred understanding of “watch” has to do with look out!, surveillance, or a period of time during which a soldier is on guard.

It is this last meaning we find in the word of our Lord, “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Mt 24:42)  In a certain sense then Jesus is saying staring at your watch will be of no help, but be on your watch!

The first advent was clearly announced

Right at the dawn of human history, right at the point of human rebellion against God—and precisely because of it—God announced the coming of someone who would crush the head of the serpent; this promise was ultimately fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

In a sense the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, was a fulfilment of the what Passover Lamb meant to those who were led out of the house of Egyptian slavery.  And after the institution of the sacrificial system the blood of every animal pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And there were the prophets of God who prophesied in fair detail about the coming of the Messiah.  Even the godless prophet Balaam, being in the grip of God, had this to say:

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17, NIV)

This prediction was meant for David who subdued the rebellious nations and led God’s people to peace, but ultimately it was about Christ who was promised as the One would reign on David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:13).  Psalm 2 talks about the Anointed One (Messiah) who would rule with an iron sceptre (Ps 2:9).

More pointed prophecy followed by Isaiah who, 700 years before Christ was born, told what his name would be (Isaiah 7:14); that He would by the Son of which the New Testament later referred to as “the Son born to us”—Wonderful Counsellor, mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6-7);  that He would by King along the line of David (Is 11:1-2); that He would be the suffering servant of the Lord:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3,5 NIV)

Daniel spoke about Him:

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14, NIV)

There are many more references to Christ’s coming in the Old Testament.  As a matter of fact, after his resurrection our Lord instructed his disciples:

Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44, NIV)

So the coming of the Messiah had been announced to hundreds of years.  The fact of his advent (arrival) was known; the hour not.  But when it happened there was no doubt that God indeed made all the prophesies true.

  • The angels sang loud and clear.
  • The message was loud and clear:

“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ [the Messiah] the Lord.  

  • The sign was clear to see:

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)

  • A star appeared in the sky which led philosophers kneel before Him
  • The old man Simeon, driven by the Holy Spirit met the parents of Christ in the temple with these words:  “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations…” (Luke 2:30–31, NIV)
  • Anna of whom the Bible records: “…she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38, NIV)
  • John the Baptist prepared his way as prophesied in Malachi 3:1, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  (Malachi 3:1, NIV)
  • John the Baptist also said: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” (John 1:29–30, NIV)

Despite the announcements through the ages, at his birth and at the beginning of his ministry about Christ, the majority were not prepared to meet Him; they were off-guard.  In the end they killed Him by hanging Him on the cross.

The second advent clearly announced

The fact

That He will return was part of Christ teaching to his disciples:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2–3, NIV)

Matthew records the instruction of Christ in the last days of his ministry on earth:  “Your Lord will come again.” (Matt 24:42)

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:30–31, NIV)

The hour not known

Noah started building the ark far away from the sea.  He did so because God made his plan to destroy the people of the earth because of their sinfulness and gave him instruction to prepare a way for his family to escape the flood.   For 120 years he was building the ark.  Many people scoffed him, especially when he told them about the impending disaster. He was a preacher of righteousness (2Peter 2:5), but they laughed about the idea of God’s punishment on sin by sending a world-wide flood.  The Bible puts it this way:

For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:38–39, NIV)

Did they know nothing?  They knew everything but they were unprepared for the event when it happened.  They not ignorant, but they did not take what they knew seriously.

And it begs the question as to what we know on one hand, and how we apply what we know, on the other hand.  Because our Lord stated, “This is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mat 24:39)

Not all will be saved

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (Matthew 24:40–41, NIV)

We are not called to stop doing our daily work.  You will still be at your desk, in the office, in the classroom, behind the wheel of the bus, to the control of the aeroplane—the work God assigned you to do.  Paul spoke about people in Thessalonica who expected the coming of the Lord to be so near that they stopped working; Paul warned them:

Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:11–12, NIV)

But not everyone busy with their work will be saved; only those who kept watch for the coming of the Son of Man.  One’s daily program can become too commanding; one’s pursuit of success in your workplace can become too consuming; one’s pursuit of happiness, or the chase after hedonistic frivolity, fun and hollow joy may suck you in to be caught unawares when that great, glorious but dreadful day of the Lord suddenly dawns like a thief in the night.

I suppose there were many scratch marks on the outside of the ark as the water of the flood kept rising.  It must have been heart-wrenching for Noah on the inside, but there was nothing he could do about it.  Listen:  “The Lord shut them in.” (Genesis 7:16)  In control of who could be in and who had to stay outside, was God Himself.  God shut Noah and his family in, but those who defied his warnings, God shut out!

Be on your guard

Jesus is coming again.  That’s a fact.  Some were unprepared in spite of all the prophesies regarding his first advent, and so they despised his appearance when He came.  They were not saved.  “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11, NIV)

Don’t stare at your watch, or try to mark the calendar a possible date for his return; no one knows the day and date of his return.

If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matthew 24:43, NIV)

Rather, in full alertness knowing that Christ will return, make the best of every opportunity—now!  Be like the wise and faithful servant whom the master finds busy when He returns.  Don’t be like the wicked servant who said, “My servant is staying away a long time.”

The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. (Matthew 24:50, NIV)

Conclusion

Let me conclude with a verse from 2 Peter 3:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8–9, NIV)

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11–13, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 December 2017

 

Christmas – God came to us

“People wish one another a ‘merry’ Christmas and a ‘happy” New Year.  But how can one be really happy?”

“Only God’s mercy in Jesus Christ can make a person really happy.  Human efforts are sure to

disappoint.

That’s why the message of Christmas is so important.

“What is grace? It has always been a bit of airy-fairy mist to me.”

Don’t allow the mist to hide the sunshine from you. God’s grace is not hidden; it is real beyond all other realities.  You can see Him in everything He created; He is also found on every page of the Bible; He came to live with us in Jesus Christ, his Son.  That’s why his name is Immanuel.

“How can I get through the mist into the sunshine.”

God made it simple and clear.  What God wants us to know about Himself, ourselves and salvation is written in the Bible.

“Surely, there must be obstacles on the way to find God!”

In one sense, a thousand; in another, none. Jesus said, ‘Come to Me, and I will give you rest.’  One can go to Him on this invitation; the rest He promises is freely available.

“I’m not sure about that!”

Jesus once said to a seeking sinner, ‘If you would have asked, He would have given the living water?’ (John 4:10).  It was a matter of asking and the Lord would give. The receiving follows the asking.   The whole transaction can be settled on the spot.

“But what about sin? That surely is an obstacle.”

That’s the point; Christ really only saves sinners.

“Is being a sinner, then, no barrier to being saved?”

No.  Being thirsty is no hindrance to drink water. In fact, when you’re thirsty, you need water.

“True, but I am not all that thirsty right now. I can get by for the moment.”

If Christ came for those who were only almost thirsty, it means they can do something for  themselves. But He did not come for DIY self-righteous people. The water is available for those who are thirsty, lost in the desert of life. In any case, halfway sinners don’t exist.

“A complete sinner! Is that really who I am?”

None of us can escape that fact. All of us are sinners; but there is a difference between saved sinn

ers and lost sinners. You don’t need a doctor when you are healthy, do you?

“A complete sinner, wow!  I think I should start living a better life before I can expect grace from God!”

No!  The man stuck in quicksand does not need to brush his hair and wipe the mud off his face to be saved, does he?  Sinful deeds don’t make us sinners: sinfulness causes us sin.  We therefore need a new heart and mind. Christ does not help you to save yourself, nor do you help Him to save you. He does not accept any BYO righteousness.

“Then I must be changed before He will look at me.”

We all deserve God’s wrath to die an eternal death, but Jesus died in our place to take away God’s judgement from us, although He never sinned.

God’s mercy is calling you to follow Him, irrespective of your past or background. Christ came on Christmas as Immanuel—which means ‘God is with us.’

“I still do not believe that I really need his  forgiveness of sins.”

We can’t be judge and jury of our lives.  God is the Judge. He knows there is no person who can claim to be without sin.  It is precisely for this reason that He gave his only Son to rescue sinners from eternal death.

In the settlement of the great question between the sinner and God, there is no bargaining

and no price of any kind other than what God stipulates. The basis of settlement was laid two thousand years ago when Christ paid the complete price. That mighty transaction on the cross did all that was needed to restore our relationship with God.

‘It is finished,’ is God’s message to all sinners. This completed transferred transaction supersedes all man’s efforts to justify himself, or to assist God in justifying him. God in Christ reconciles those who believe in Christ to Himself, not accounting to them their sins; and this non-accounting is based on what Jesus did on the cross on their behalf. There the sinners’ guilt was transferred onto Christ; He took our sin to become God’s Divine Guarantor to receive eternal life as His gift.

This transaction is “good news,”and all who  believe it inherit of all the riches secured by this transaction. At the cross that we meet the forgiving God to receive His mercy. Not only does Christ’s atoning blood cleanse, his righteousness also removes our guilt. God treats us as if Christ’s righteousness is actually ours.

Every person needs salvation, and needs to go to God for it. Every person needs forgiveness; God gives it freely.

This is grace. He loved us, even when we were dead in sins. He loved us, not because we were rich in goodness, but because He was rich in mercy. His welcomes us because of his grace, not because we are loveable.

CHRIST-mas was when God entered into our world with the good tidings of grace.

You ask how you can be happy?  Call on the Name of Christ, and follow Him! Put your trust in Him only.  Receive from Him the assurance that you may from now on live as his child, and also enter eterinty by the merits of

His finished work. Surrender the rights of you life to Him who paid the full price to save you.

“Is this really true? I don’t believe the Bible is the truth!”

I suppose you have read the Bible.  It is very unwise to reject something you know little about.  I beg you not to reject it’s message before you have read it!

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Advent 2 – the King will return

Bible reading

  • Luke 19:11-27

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Dad sometimes brought home some lollies. The lollies were nothing like a box of Cadbury all sorts chocolates, leaving it to us to pick the flavour we liked.  No, all four of us got only one sort, exactly like the other.  We understood that Dad could not afford to buy more, and we understood that it was his delight to see his family enjoy the treats he brought home.

The king of our parable gave ten of his servants each one a mina—all had the same value and the same potential.  The difference between Dad’s lollies and the King’s minas is that the lollies were to our exclusive enjoyment, whereas the minas remained the property of the King which had to be returned to Him, with dividend.

Background

King Herod the Great married all up 10 wives.  As you can imagine succession to the throne was a problem.  He ended up executing some of his sons.  In his last will he proclaimed his son, Archelaus, as successor. This will had not been ratified by Augustus Caesar, which meant that Archelaus could not assume the title of king.  His half-brother, Antipas, wanted to be king.  Eventually both brothers set off to Rome to plead their case, but before going to Rome Archelaus had killed 3000 people, trying to quench a revolution led by people avenging the blood of those killed by his father, Herod.

Upon his return from Rome, Archelaus treated both the Jews and Samaritans very brutally.  Because they did want him as their king, Jews and Samaritans to send a delegation to Rome and complain formally to Augustus, and Archelaus was deposed and dethroned.

Why this parable?

In the previous paragraph of Luke we met Zacchaeus.  Verse 9 makes this statement, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”  Zacchaeus was saved, “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (v. 10)

When our Lord then left the house of this new believer in Jericho, He embarked on his last journey to Jerusalem.  It was about time for the Passover, and “the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (19:11)

Jesus then told them the parable of a “man of noble birth [who] went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return”. (Luke 19:12)  For most who listened to Him the episode of Archelaus who was indeed of noble birth, but never became king, would be fresh in their minds.

Jesus wanted to teach this important lesson:  his kingdom could only come after his atoning death and resurrection, after his return to the Father where He would receive his Kingship based on the finished work for which He came to earth.  But there was something important which needed to be added to the “coming of the Kingdom”:  the labour of his servants, appointed as “fishers of men”, would unfinished until “salvation has come” to the houses of lost sinners who need to be sought and saved.

The King of the mission

 a. His origin

He was from a “distant land”. He was from the line of David, the Stump, the mighty King, everlasting Father, and of the increase of his government there will be no end.  John says of Him that He was with God in the beginning, and He was God.

A man who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.” (John 1:30)

The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (John 3:35, NIV)

b. His destiny 

His destiny was to sit at the right hand God.

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood You purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10)

c. His departure and return

Before He left to the distant place this Man of noble birth said:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3, NIV)

After his resurrection He appeared to many over a span of 40 days before He ascended to the Father.  On that day his disciples got this comforting assurance:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11, NIV)

The ongoing mission of the King

Before He left to receive his kingdom He commissioned his church:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:18–19, NIV)

This is why the Nobleman give minas to his servants.  This parable differs from the parable of the talents.  The talents represent ability; the minas represent investment.  Each servant got equal amounts—the power of the investment did not lie in their ability, but in the inherent growth of the investment.

So, what do the minas represent?  We understand that what the servants got did not belong to them; at the return of the king, they had to give it back.  From the context we understand that the minas were in connection with the coming of the Kingdom, with salvation, with the seeking and the saving of the lost.  It therefore points to one thing:  the Gospel of Christ—it is never ours, it has power in itself, it does not depend on ability, it brings salvation to the lost.  Kent Hughes writes, “‘Joe Christian’ receives the same as St. Paul and John Calvin and Billy Graham. We all have the good news of Jesus Christ and its marvelous effect in our lives.”

a. the calling of the servants

They had to put the money to work.  The Greek word here is from the same word “to do”, “to put into practice”.  In financial sense it means “to do business in trade”.

Our Lord said to his disciples:

Seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4:20, NIV)

A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain. (Mark 4:26–28, NIV)

The seed is the Word of God, and the servants of Christ are nothing more than sowers of the Word. Sowing this seed happens in a hostile world; there are the enemies of Christ who do not want Him to be their King; they hate Him, and will do everything they can to frustrate the growth of the Gospel.

This is the world we are called into to make Christ’s investment of the Gospel grow. Because they hate Christ, they hate us.  But let’s remember, it never depends on our ability; the outcome depends on the inherent power of the Gospel itself.  We can be like that fellow who thought to handle the Gospel with such care in this hostile world, that he buried it in a sweat cloth. He thought, “I can’t be active, but I can at least be a conservative. I can preserve the Christian tradition. I can submit to a church wedding and send my children to Sunday school. I can take a Christian point of view. I can wrap my religion in my handkerchief and conserve it.” To him the Bible is a special book, but nothing more than a book.  To him the gospel should not be public, because it puts him at odds with those who hate the king.

b. the accountability of the servants

Advent can blind us to assign Jesus only to the crib; to the singing of carols and the the bright lights on the Christmas tree.  But advent must focus our eyes on the return, the second advent, of our Lord.  We might be so caught up with the frivolous signing and the handing out of presents, that we forget about the return of Christ which will call us to account.  That is the day when we will have to stand before the Him who was indeed been crowned King and who will call us to account.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12, NIV)

This parable in one sense is comforting, but in another it frightens me.  It comforts me with the knowledge that our Lord will not ask of me more that what I could do.  But the scary thought is: With what will I stand before the King who calls me to account?  What have I done with what belongs to Him?  Will the reasons I put forward for my lacklustre investment of the Gospel then stand?

We heard the news of the passing away of Dr RC Sproul last week. I was in the process of reading up for this sermon, when I got the news.  His labour in the Gospel stood as an example of a servant who appears before the King with the “your mina” , only to hear, “Well done, my good servant.”  Note the word “my” in that phrase; it connects with the “his” of servants who got the minas.

c. their reward of the servants

Kent Hughes writes:

“Their reward is that in the end the Lord will receive them with honors, that they will be privileged to speak and to live with Jesus forever. For heaven does not consist in what we shall receive, whether this be white robes and heavenly crowns or ambrosia and nectar, but rather in what we shall become—namely, the companions of our King.”  (Hughes, R. K. (1998). Luke: that you may know the truth (p. 234). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

But this is not the case with the last servant.  Why would he be trusted with the mina after the King returned, if he was not serious about it before he was called to account.  The King demands of his servants to, in a certain sense, bring as dividend on his investment what He personally did not put in—He entrusted them with it!

Can we hinder the growth of the Kingdom?  It calls for a qualified answer:  on one hand, “no”, because the King will give what He had given to inactive servants to those who indeed obediently put it to work; on the other hand, “yes”: our inactivity and lost opportunities may be regarded as the lazy watchman who did not warn about the approaching calamity—and we may be held accountable for their blood. What a frightful thought.

The enemy of the King

Just a short word about the enemy of the King.  The efforts of them to stop Him becoming King were, and will be unsuccessful; the Father indeed made Christ King.  Even they will appear before his throne to give account for their hatred and schemes against Him.  The outcome is horrible beyond words:  they will taste death at the hands of Him whom they pierced.  It’s our job to warn them, bring the word of salvation to them, to stand in the service of the King to seek and to save the lost.

Conclusion 

There a song with these words:

Oh, ye saints, arouse, be earnest,

Up and work while yet ’tis day;

Ere the night of death o’ertake thee,

Strive for souls while still you may.

Rescue the perishing, plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently; duty demands it; strength for your labor the Lord will provide.

The King will indeed return.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 December 2017

 

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

 

Worship Services for December 2017

Welcome!


24 December

  • 09.30am, Worship Service
  • 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

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