Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

The witness of countercultural living

Bible readings

  • Psalm 34
  • 1 Peter 3:8-22

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

One thing about a Christian, is that the direction of his/her life completely changed when Jesus Christ became their Saviour and Lord.   One day the apostles were professional fishermen, the next they became followers of Jesus Christ, leaving everything behind.  On one day Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, the next he was worshipping the same Jesus he persecuted.  The disciples in the end chose to die for the One who saved them from eternal hell to bring them to God. It still happens today.  I want to read parts of a report I read.  It’s about Christians in Syria.

I asked them to leave, but I gave them the freedom to choose.  Every time we talked to them, they were always saying, We want to stay here—this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do. They just wanted to stay and share the gospel.

“All were badly brutalised and then crucified.They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them. The women, ages 29 and 33, tried to tell the ISIS militants they were only sharing the peace and love of Christ and asked what they had done wrong to deserve the abuse. The Islamic extremists then publicly raped the women, who continued to pray during the ordeal, leading the ISIS militants to beat them all the more furiously.  

As the two women and the six men knelt before they were beheaded, they were all praying.  One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!'”

She knew her hope.  These people knew Christ, and they knew their hope.  They died with honour, and the doors of heaven were opened for them in the same way as Stephen died, 

They stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59–60, NKJV)

Pardon and acceptance with a reconciled God; fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and constant grace and peace out of his fulness; the preserving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit; victory over death and hell; and an everlasting possession of heaven as a inheritance gift. All is understood and fully believed by the Christian as his position in Christ: by hope, he surveys it all, anticipates it all, enjoys it all. The life of the Christian is countercultural!

Unbelievers do not comprehend Christian living 

Why does the Christian turn his/her back on this world?  Why allow good prospects of career advancement pass you by just because you are a Christian?  Why does the Christian choose to be the odd one out to not laugh when bad jokes do the round, or when the outcast is ridiculed?  Why not grab the bribe and go on the promised holiday?  Why give some of your income to support the poor or missionaries far away, while you can enjoy it yourself?  Why not allow the white lie to go through if the truth is going to hurt your chances in life?

These questions and the answers and Christians give stuns the world.  Are you out of your mind?  Carpe diem! Grab the day!  No one is going to pick you up when you have fallen.  No one is going to stand in for you when you tell the truth and get fired.  Wake up to yourself!  Get real!  

The Christian answers, not with any smugness or self-pity, but with gentleness and respect,  “I have never been more real in my life!  See, the difference in Christ!”

For this the Christian is more often than not excluded from friendship circles; they are not invited to parties anymore; they are not included in deals anymore; they sometimes become lonely; they become the outcast, the weird, the dumb, the stupid.  When they resist temptations to immoral activities, when they stand up for the sanctity of marriage as God intended it to be, when they speak up against abortion and one night stands or any alternative  definition of marriage, they are condemned as unloving, bigots and downright evil.  That’s when we know that evil has become good and good has become evil.  “Woe to you when men speak well of you”, our Lord said.

Christians are not welcome in the world

Our Lord said:  

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19, ESV)  

Our chapter takes us to Psalm 34 to teach us how we should react to the hostilities of this world and even those who proclaim to be Christian, who are not.  

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:12–14, NIV)

Who said these words?  David.  When?  Although Samuel anointed David as king, he was nevertheless forced to become a refugee before Saul. David, the elect of God, was forced to suffer on the earth as an exile.  Twice during those refugee years David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life. On the first occasion David cut off a corner of Saul’s robe when Saul unknowingly had come into the cave where David was hiding. After Saul arose and left, David called to him from the opening of the cave, and Saul replied: 

“Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.  When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. (1 Samuel 24:16-17, 19, NIV)

On the second occasion David spared Saul’s life while he slept in his own camp. He did not take Saul’s life.

Our chapter from 1 Peter says of those who are wronged by this world while they submit to the Lord:  

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:9, 12, NIV)

God knows our struggle and our loneliness when we are rejected and would, if things were in our hands, love to see retribution:  His eyes are upon the righteous, and his ears listen to our prayers.  He will vindicate those who belong to Him.

When the time comes and people want to know why we act differently, and why it sometimes looks as if we don’t have any backbone to stand up against those who would love to tread us underfoot, we regroup, we fix our eyes upon Christ, we reaffirm our submission to Him – we set Him apart in our hearts as our Lord – and we take his Name as the sweetest of all names on our lips as we stand firm for his glory; we pray that He will give us his gentleness, and we look at those who want to ridicule us as God’s own creatures – with respect -; we pray that Christ will keep us from falling and so defile our own conscience before Him and those who falsely accuse us – because we only want to see glory of our Lord on display – and we tell them of Him who called us our of darkness into his marvellous light.  That is to give reason for the hope that we have (1Peter 3:15).  The hope God gave us cannot fade, it’s about an inheritance which cannot be spoiled, now already put away in heaven for us whose hope is in Christ.  And we leave it to God to use our testimony to the salvation of the lost, or to the hardness of heart of those who revile our Lord. 

The example of our Lord 

Peter continues in his letter:  

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NIV)

He was reviled and denounced, mock and spat upon.  They hated Him to the point that they stripped Him naked, put a crown of thorns on his head and nailed Him to a cross with criminals, mocking and jeering the Son of God!  He was willing to take this treatment to bring up to God.  So, why we should be surprised if those of the same spirit do the same thing to us.

But, and this is the great but, Christ was made alive.  Peter records something which is hard to understand because it is only here we read about Christ preaching to the spirits of the disobedient.  We don’t know when it happened, and we don’t really know who the disobedient spirits were.  What we know is that their disobedience is connected to Noah and the flood.  These people probably thought old Noah was some stupid and off his mind when he, the righteous preacher warned them of the pending judgement of the Lord upon their sin – they thought they had the last word – but they were wrong!  the victorious Christ who was raised by the Spirit of God did not go to preach to them any message of hope as Noah would have done; no, his message as the Victor over death, hell, sin and Satan was to seal their condemnation – forever! The righteous Noah and Enoch were vindicated by the victorious Christ. Let’s take courage from this. 

And, united by faith to Him through baptism, and by the sacrament of wine and bread, we humbly but joyfully proclaim that we share in his victory.

How do members of the congregation care for one another in times of persecution?

Verse 8 gives us direction:

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; (1 Peter 3:8, NKJV)

In the time when Peter wrote this letter, Christians were violently mistreated.  They were beaten and regarded as second class citizens.  But we would be living in fool’s paradise to think that persecution against Christians were only happening then, or are only happening in the middle east or in China and Pakistan.  Indeed, in those places persecution is brutal and violent—may our Lord protect his people—and may He guard us living in this part of the world such brutality. But persecution happens here, right under our noses, it just operates under a different cloak. 

Reality is that none of us here today can boast that being treated like dirt will leave us untouched.  It hurts when people spread unfounded rumours about you; it hurts when one applies for a job and loses out because you are a Christian; it hurts when you are made a public spectacle because you stand by your principles in Christ; it hurts when those whom you rub shoulders with in the workplace abuse the Name of your Saviour and ridicule you for defending his honour.

Peter in 3:8 these terms to describe a family unit which stands together and takes care one for the other. 

  1. Be of one mind.  When persecution and victimisation becomes the experience of one member, the last thing he or she needs is a divided church family.  The most natural attitude within the church family would be to care and defend. We need to stand together and defend the honour of our brother and sister.  Touch him, and you touch me!” In the Name of Christ, we owe it to one another to encourage one another by being one in mind and purpose.
  2. Having compassion for one another:  This expression is the opposite of being unmoved and cold towards the hurt of the next member of God’s family.  Not only will I defend you, but I will weep with you as we both work through the hurt of being ill treated. I will pray for you and with you. And if needs be, my home is your home; if you need food and shelter, what is mine, is yours. 
  3. Be tenderhearted:  When your fellow Christian feels the psychological and physical hurt of discrimination and victimisation, he would know there is a church family who feels for him/her.  You’re my brother, you’re my sister, I’ll look out for you, because as Christ loved us, I need to have the widest room for you in my heart. What happened to you could just as well have happened to me.
  4. Be humble, or to self-abasing:  When someone hurts, the last thing needed is someone who takes a “holier-than-thou” attitude which sends the message, “I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me. You must have known better to not instigate the situation.” Christians don’t do that; the world does, but we are not from this world.  It is by our love for one another that the world will know we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

So, my dear friend, when the hard times come, or when you face the ridicule of this world because of your testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, follow the example of David’s Son – Jesus Christ.  Take it on the chin, but never, ever forget this:  victory is yours through Jesus Christ.  We have a hope which cannot spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us, shielded by the power of God.  Look to your left and your right, you will find a fellow brother or sister to help you in your hour of need. Follow in the footsteps of our Saviour:  submit to all authority, but never disobey or disown your Lord. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 June 2018

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Being married in an ungodly world

Bible readings

  • 1Thessalonians 4:1-8
  • 1 Peter 3:1-7

Introduction

A wool growing farmer on an outback station once made this remark about Christians and effective evangelism (and he probably just applied some principles of breeding and selecting stock to build up his sheep):  Pastor, there’s one sure way for Christians to get the upper hand over non-Christians – we need to start breeding Christians!  He went on to say, “If every Christian marriage can be successful in raising Christian children, and they  then do the same thing, before long we would populate this planate.”

His premise is probably somewhat naive and simplistic, but there is something about the truth in it.  Can you for just one moment let your mind go and work out how much different this planet would have been if every child growing up in a Christian home, would continue to do the same – generation after the other.

Biblical framework:  Three Marriages

Right at the beginning the Bible states that God created animals and made it possible for them to multiply – and this was possible because there were generally two opposites, male and female.  When He eventually made man to rule over what He had made, He gave him a helper of the opposite sex—both of them were created in the image of God.  This way creation was blessed by the first marriage mentioned in the Bible – it was a work of God’s hand.

When Jesus began his ministry on earth, He chose to perform his first miracle at a wedding celebration.  It was as if Christ knew the importance of marriage as a way of building the kingdom of God.

The last few pages of the Bible again take us to a wedding:  this is the wedding of the Lamb, Christ Himself.  Right now He is preparing the rooms and the mansion of his Father, and when the fulness of time arrives, He will come back and take his church to be with Him.  The marriage will be consummated when He purifies his church, being washed clean from all sin in the blood of the Groom Himself and his bride will be dressed then with fine linen; then, bride and groom will be united forever—that will be the last and final marriage of all time.

Three images of marriage;  right in the beginning with creation, right at the beginning redemption in Jesus Christ, and then the image of and eternal union with the Groom at the end of time.

When God “took” a wife

The Bible is full of images of a marriage relationship between God and his people.  Some might find it offensive to think about our relationship with God is this way, but we cannot escape the expressions pointing to this in the Scriptures.  Let’s listen to a few Scripture passages:  

For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:5)

As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)  

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. (Jeremiah 3:14)  

It all began when God rescued his people out of Egypt.  The very same word the Bible uses for a man who “takes” a woman in marriage is used in Exodus when God rescued his people from sin.  For instance:  when Abraham pretended that Sarah is his sister and give her to Abimelech the Lord appeared to Him with these words:  But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” (Genesis 20:3)  

Deuteronomy 24:1 uses the same expression.  When Boaz married Ruth, he “took her”. 

Now, let’s go to Exodus.  God sends Moses to his fellow Israelites with these words:  

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6–7)

Ezekiel chapter 16 in very explicit way describes the relationship between God and his people:  God took a young girl, Israel, who was rejected by everyone else and took her to be his wife.  The book of Hosea is all about the marriage relationship between God and his people.  Their unfaithfulness is expressed as adultery.

Now, what was God’s purpose of taking Israel as his wife.  We can only look at one passage:  

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My-Delight-Is-in-Her (or Hephzibah) , and your land Married (Beulah); for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:3–4)

In this sense God is the husband, or the Lord and owner of his people:  He bought them in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  The world Beulah in the verse in a way refers to the other partner of the marriage:  the woman, or the bride.  The whole picture is so beautiful:  the tiara, the beauty, and the lonesomeness which changed into the delight of the groom.

The point to make further is this:  

The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. (Isaiah 62:2)

The relationship between God and his bride-church is to display to the nations who both the Groom—God—and the bride—the church are.  The whole idea is that this attractive and beautiful marriage will draw people to be part of it, seeking the God who so loves and cares for his bride that they too will want to be part of it.

The husband under God

With all of this in mind, we now go to 1 Peter 3:7  

Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honour to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, NKJV)

This is not the easiest verse in the letter of Peter.  But a good way of interpreting Scripture is to have other passages help you.  Now, quite often in the Old Testament where the wife is referred to as “vessel” it has in mind the marriage relationship.  The husband, the “lord” “took” his “vessel” and cared for her and loved her.  In a sense, both of them are “vessels” in the hands of God as part of his bride-church, but the husband caring for his “vessel”, his wife, cares for her using the relationship of God between Him and his people as example:  he cares for her as he cares for his own body.  As a matter of fact, this is what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5:  

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (Ephesians 5:28-29)

She was made from the man, in a sense he is not complete without her, and she is not complete without him.  So is the wife always part of her husband, and the husband always part of his wife.  The husband acts like the Lord God, who will do everything to see that his “weaker vessel” is cared for, that she is loved.  

Commentators see the resemblance between this verse and 1Thessalonians 4:4  

that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, (1 Thessalonians 4:4)

The Greek in this verse uses the word “vessel” (translated here as “body”), and adds the word “own” (translated as “control”).  The context here is very clear:  live holy, avoid sexual immorality, no passionate lust like the heathen; add to this that no-one should wrong his brother (which in the context means to not defile the marriage of another).  Another translation of this verse can then go like this:  

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you keep yourselves from fornication, that every one of you know how to hold his own vessel in sanctification and honour (i.e., live with his wife in sanctification and honour), not in passionate lust like the Gentiles who know not God.

This corresponds with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:2  

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2)

Unfaithfulness to God and spiritual adultery of God’s people stood in the way of the nations to seek God.  In the same way, unfaithfulness in the marriage will stand in the way of outsiders seeking the Lord.  But on the contrary, the faithful and godly marriage reflects something of the relationship between Christ and his church, and it’s at this point that marriage is such a mighty tool for evangelism:  it is not only an example to your children to love the Lord, but it is attractive to outsiders.  It becomes one of the best and successful tools for evangelism.  

Understanding and knowledge

A translation of 1 Peter 3:7 reads:  

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way  (1 Peter 3:7)

Most of us will never know how to understand our wives!  So, what does this verse tell us?  I know one can stretch the point a bit, but “know” and “knowledge” in the Scriptures very often refers to the intimate relationship between husband and wife.  In the same way do we find the word in Hosea – the book about God’s marriage relationship with his people – and brings out this charge against the people:  

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you …(Hosea 4:6)

Of course this knowledge implies knowledge, but the lack thereof stems from their poor relationship with the Lord.

In the same way, it is possible to understand the words in 1 Peter 3:7 that the husband’s relationship to God is somehow conditioned by or dependent on one’s relationship with your wife, and vice versa.  If husbands do not apply everything they know about God and his Word in their marriage relationships, marriage will suffer.  The verse says:  both will receive the gift of life.  It is God who gives it, and He is most pleased when husband and wife live in a relationship which reflects his relationship with his church.

A good marriage and answered prayers

A crippled marriage relationship has a result a crippled prayer life.  A healthy marriage has a result a healthy prayer life.  A husband who does not know Christ and his redeeming love for his church, which is his bride-church, will not know how to pray for his family, or even the word around him.  We cannot try to get around this.  We may say how many prayers, and we might even be serious about it, but according to this text, we will have unanswered prayers if there is something wrong in our relationship as marriage partners.

I think the same applies for the wives:  if they do not understand their relationship with Christ correctly, and live in perfect submission to Him as the Bible says, they prayers will remain unanswered.

A house that prays together is a house that stays together.  I wonder if our stale prayer life as a church can not be taken back to unfulfilled marriage relationships.

May God give us the grace to live as godly husbands and wives so that our married lives can indeed be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his Church.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 June 2019

 

Kammerphilharmonie, Cologne visits Hervey Bay

Chamber Philharmonia Cologne 2018

After several successful european tours in 2017 and 2018 the Chamber Philharmonia Cologne (Germany) is coming back to Australia in winter 2018 with a powerful and lovely new programme. 

“Classical music the world over” – this is the motto of the Chamber Philharmonia Cologne. It is irrelevant for our musicians whether they are playing in a little village church, in the open air, in Cologne Cathedral or in the Sydney Opera House – their enthusiasm to play music is the same every time.

The objective is simple – we want to inspire as many people as possible across all generations to enjoy classical music. The popularity of our ensemble is reflected in the fact that the Chamber Philharmonia Cologne gives around 300 concerts a year around the globe and listeners throughout the world look forward to a musical encounter with our exceptionally talented musicians.

The Chamber Philharmonia Cologne was founded in the city whose name they bear: Cologne. The city that is famous throughout the world for its University of Music and its musical and instrumental teaching. Generations of musicians have been trained here for many decades who, in terms of their musicality, are unparalleled around the world. Taking advantage of this pool of talent, a stock of outstanding musicians has accrued that in a changing cast of musicians take our motto across the world. 

Since November 2009, the Chamber Philharmonia Cologne has a very special partner at their side – the Mercedes-Benz Centre in Cologne. As part of a creative cooperation, this world renowned company, via its branch in Cologne, thrilled by our musical concept provides the Chamber Philharmonia Cologne with a comfortable tour bus. It enables our musicians to travel quickly and comfortably to the many varied concert locations. In return, the Chamber Philharmonia Cologne, in close cooperation with the Mercedes-Benz Center Cologne, organises special concerts for the car company’s special customers. The remarkable construction of the Mercedes-Benz Center is transformed in the process into a really top-class concert palace. This results in the smell of new cars mixing with the sounds of classical music. 

The Chamber Philharmonia Cologne is at home all over the world. Our tours regularly take us to New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Great Britain, Ireland and many other countries – and of course to Germany. In this context, the selection of works and soloists takes on a special significance. The multifaceted composition of the ensemble provides every member of the Chamber Philharmonia Cologne with the opportunity to perform as a soloist.

The permanently expanding repertoire of the Chamber Philharmonia Cologne consists primarily of hand-picked pieces. The real appeal of our programme lies in the meeting of popular and unknown works from a wide variety of musical epochs. This sees familiar greats like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Vivaldi in dialogue with works from people such as Sergei Prokofieff through to the “King of Tango” Astor Piazzolla. This mix promises great diversity of the very highest order, without us having to preach to the audience in the process. After all, music is for entertainment and not for instruction.

To inspire people across the world to enjoy classical music – that’s what we view as our maxim!

Quite simply:

Classical music the world over!

Prices for tickets for are Adults:

  • $40.00
  • Seniors/Pensioners $35.00,
  • Children/students $30.00.

Tickets will be sold at the door, but may be purchased at Mary Ryans Books, Musicand Coffee, 414B, Esplanade, Torquay (Telephone: 4194 21111)

 

Christians and Industrial relations

Bible Readings

  • Philemon 1
  • 1Peter 2:18-25

Introduction

Our study of Peter’s first letter taught us these things:

Christians are people who once were lost, but:

  • who received a new life from God by grace
  • who come to Christ and honour Him
  • who spiritually sacrifice praise to God
  • who draw from eternal hope to overcome present suffering
  • who now live as aliens 
  • who are now satisfied in Christ, and say “no” to sinful desires
  • who now freely submit to worldly authority for the honour of God
  • who respect worldly authority because kings are under God 
  • who only fear and ultimately obey God as their highest authority

Today

Holiness in the workplace:

  • Christians are always mindful of their salvation in Christ Jesus
  • Christians always follow the example of Christ Jesus
  • Christians always respect those in authority over them
  • Christians demand no right other than what they enjoy in Christ

 Introduction

It is reasonable to think that all politicians, once elected into parliament, would aspire to become a minister of some department, or even become Premier of Prime Minister.  In Australian politics, especially in the current climate, there are two departments considered to be prickly ones:  Industrial Relations and Immigration.  Both departments can prove to be full of land mines; think about dealing with Unions on one hand, and refugees on the other hand.

Our text deals with both:  we are refugees on a working visa, without any right or citizenship; and we find ourselves in the workplace every day, either as employer, or as employee.  The question is, how do Christians live as employers and as employees – sometimes in hostile environments?

Christians belong to Christ

In a seminar I recently attended the question about what the church has to offer to this world was on the table.  The short answer was:  the greatest gift the church of Christ can give to this world is to live like the church of Christ.  if we apply this to the workplace we can sum it up by saying that Christians need to radically live out who they are in Christ in the way they do their work, and in the they they treat their workers.We are Christians because we belong to Christ; our very name connects us to Him who we serve – we slaves of Christ, and we need to seek his glory in anything we do because Christ connected us to Him.  How?

Let’s begin at the end of this chapter, verse 24-25:

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24–25)

Verse 25:  We were like lost sheep, going our own way. We faced danger and death and, like the lost sheep, we could not find our home back to God.  We were not born with spiritual compasses to find our way back home.  Delivered out into the snares and pitfalls of our archenemy, the devil, our life was hopeless, without sense and meaning, without future.  Paul puts it this way:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10–18)

But God…

But God … The grace of God in Jesus Christ is this:  Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree – and if we skip a few words in this verse – by his wounds we have been healed.  These words come from Isaiah 53, that wonderful chapter in the Old Testament referring to Christ as the suffering Servant.  When Philip explained to the Ethiopian in his chariot (Acts 8) the meaning of this chapter about the promised Messiah who is Jesus Christ, he was saved.  He was made a new man in Christ.  He became a servant of Christ.  He became a Christian.

This is what happens to every Christian: out of the darkness, as Peter puts it earlier in this chapter, God calls us into his marvellous light.  His call is based on the work of Christ who is the Cornerstone once rejected by the builders.

What now?  No-one walks away from Christ the same way he or she came to Him.  Listen:  “So that we might die to sin and live for righteousness”.  We are united with Christ, we are forgiven and healed, we return to Christ on the calling of God through the Gospel to die to sin – and live for righteousness.  The Bible calls it first of all repentance, and repentance for the Christian never stops – it continues in the daily repentance of sanctification:  to more and more say “no” to the world” and say “yes” to Christ.

With this in mind let’s go to the second point.

Christians need to live like Christ

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21, NIV)

There is not an moment in the life of a Christian that he or she should take his eyes off Christ.  In every situation, under all circumstances, by and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we must follow Him.  A true disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who walks with Christ and learns from Him.  I find it interesting that Jesus demanded of his disciples to follow HIM, not in the first instance remember his words.  How important that might be to know the Bible, read it and even drill into our memory some verses of the Bible, these things cannot take the place of our complete submission to Christ and to walk with Him.  Listen to John 15:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4–5)

O, may we as church of the Lord Jesus Christ understand these words – it will make all the difference.  This is exactly what Peter wanted those who read his letter wanted to understand:  Christian living is not memorise and a set of rules; Christian living is to walk in the shadow of Him who healed us by his wounds.  At his command we do, and for his sake we follow his example.

What does all of this to do with the workplace and the way we are good employers and employees?   In short, we need to do as He set the example.

Respect for bosses and labourers

As workers

Submit to your masters in all respect.”  Another way of translating this is “Show your bosses all the respect possible.”

When Peter wrote this letter working as a slave was very common.  Slaves outnumbered free people in cities like Rome. Not all of the slaves were uneducated; in fact many of them had a very fine education, so much so that the majority of the teachers, doctors, and so-called professionals belonged to this class. Can you remember how the old Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey sneered at the young lady teacher, saying that education is of no use to high society for as long as there are people of the lower classes who know how to do arithmetic and can write? 

Slaves had no rights; they were completely owned by their masters, who did with them as they pleased.   And some master were horrible.  The text in 1Peter 2 refers to “crooked” masters; they were unjust and treated the slaves harshly.  

Some of Peter’s readers became Christians after they had been bought as slaves.  If they were free in Christ, and if they now belong to another Kingdom, did that imply that they were free from their masters, even the bad ones?  No, Peter said, take your salvation as Christian into your workplace and live as Christian by the example of Christ, as someone saved from the slavery of sin.

Christians are not called to be Christians only on a Sunday; that’s where we make a big mistake.  The way we do our work every day is in itself an enormous witness.  Paul writes: 

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, (Ephesians 6:5–7)

Colossians 3 puts it this way:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23–24)

The worker on the workshop floor, the mechanic under the oil-dripping car, the office worker trying to make the books balance, the effort of the teacher to instil some knowledge into their students, do what they do for Christ.  Yes, our trustworthiness, punctuality, honesty, integrity, self-control, endurance, kindness, patience, goodness, joy, and reliability are things that adorn our message of Christ.  Not all kind and loving people are Christians, but Christians surely are kind, trustworthy and honest. We need to do what we do very well; if we did, talking about Christ becomes so much easier.  If the attitude of Christ is reflected in our everyday work, then there is something of a holiness in the workplace.  Even if it means that we take it on the chin when we are treated badly – because this says our text, is what our Lord did, and have have to emulate the attitude of our Lord.

As employers

Not all of us work for someone – we have people working for us.   We don’t always have paid employees, but there might those who come into our homes who are employees who deliver services to us — they might be cleaners, people doing the ironing, or shower those who can’t do it themselves anymore, other may cook or deliver meals.  

Our text in 1 Peter does not deal with it directly, so I am not going to elaborate on the subject, other to mention what Paul writes to Philemon:  A slave-worker who became a Christian – and all Christian employers should pray for, and work towards the salvation of their employees just we need to pray for those delivering the services into our homes: Paul says a Christian worker is better than a slave, he is a dear brother.  If they are not there yet, treat them as Christ would have in love and respect. Pay their wages or their services on time, and don’t expect more of them than what you would do if you were in their shoes. Always remember your Saviour and display your salvation by your care for those in your employment. 

One “right” – my standing in Christ

I think we would understand the Bible wrongly if we think it endorses the practice of slavery – especially as it was practiced in the time of the Roman Empire.  What the apostles wanted the new Christians to understand very clearly, is that they did not become Christians to overthrow all laws and customs.  Surely the outcome of their testimony and the way they practiced their walk in the Lord did call for better work practices, and rightly so did Christians take the lead in the abolition of slavery, while the rest of the world clung to it purely to exploit their labourers.

So, ultimately, for the Christian at least, we do not claim as absolute standard and rule our rights under present governments.  My worth does not lie in my rights; my worth lies in my standing before God who called me to be his own through Jesus Christ who took my sin upon Him.  Therefore, in some cases Christians might work the extra hour or two without pay; they might need to take it when they are not treated according to the standards of this world.  Christians take into consideration that those who deliver services are human beings with every-day needs;  for example, they might not be as good one day as the rest, just because a loved one lies sick in hospital, or they just experience a bad hair day.  They way we can accomodate that as Christians will go a long way to support our testimony that we want to be like Christ to them.  

Christians should always approach their labour as service, first of all to God:  it is He who enabled us to work and to earn a living.  If things are going hopelessly wrong for Christians in the workplace, their first port of call is not industrial action, but a bended knee before the Saviour.

Amen.

Summary

  • Christians are always mindful of their salvation in Christ Jesus
  • Christians always follow the example of Christ Jesus
  • Christians always respect those in authority over them
  • Christians demand no right other than what they enjoy in Christ

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 June 2018

Free servants of God submitting to earthly authority

Bible readings

  • Psalm 45;
  • 1 Peter 2:13-17

Introduction

Some of us might remember Kim Davies who served as county clerk in the state of Kentucky in the USA. She was supposed to issue marriage certificates to same sex-couples.  Kim Davies said:  

“I promised to love Him [God] with all my heart, mind and soul because I wanted to make heaven my home,” 

She described how she became a Christian and said she is unable to believe anything else. The court ruled that her good faith belief is simply not a viable defence.  She was then jailed.

Should she rather have resigned from her position knowing that her faith dictates that she could not bow to earthly laws?  It is perhaps easy for us to say.  But what is clear from all of what transpired we know that it is surely far more difficult to be a Christian in a world which is hell-bent on destroying Christians values.  

The Christians to whom Peter wrote became citizens of a new kingdom.  Their highest allegiance was to God and not to the Caesar.  He presented himself as god and they worshipped him as god. Everyone else saw him as the one who made life possible for them.  But Christians did not bow to him.  Therefore caesar-worshippers looked at Christians are citizens who turned against the gods of old who had made Rome strong. Therefore Christians were made responsible for the disasters which were slowly overtaking the Roman world.  

Westminster Confession of Faith

How do Christians live in the world hostile to the Gospel and Kingdom of Jesus Christ? Our Confession helps us.

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil authorities, to be, under Him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good. And, for this purpose, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them who are good, and for the punishment of evildoers.  It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people.

Submission with the purpose of doing good

Peter writes:

Is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (verse 15)

We get our directions for living and conducting our lives in a pagan culture from the Bible where the will of God is revealed. Remember, we are aliens and strangers. We follow the terms of God’s covenant as the way how to live in this world. He tells us what is right and what is wrong through his Book.  The Bible is our supreme authority for daily living. 

But we are not called to a sort of Christian jihad: we are not persecuting others because they don’t believe as we believe; we don’t behead those who pass rules and laws which do not reflect our understanding of the Bible. It would be nice if all laws were Christian laws; but this is unfortunately not the case.

God’s purpose for his for us as his church – just like it was for the people of Israel – is that we live out such a joyful, sacrificial, humble, fearless life of goodness to others that their vilification of Christianity will finally be silenced. Remember what the verse says:

“By doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” 

Foolish people, as we heard it this morning in Proverbs, are not those who are intellectually backwards, but those who do not believe in God.  On average non-Christians do no know the God of the Scriptures and then form their ideas, make pronouncements, and judge Christians accordingly.  

Christians in the time of Peter were distrusted in part because of their so-called “secret” meetings; they misunderstood nature of Christian worship. Words like “love feast” and talk of “eating Christ’s flesh” sounded understandably suspicious to the pagans, and Christians were suspected of cannibalism, incest, orgies, and all sorts of immorality. Many stories even today are spread against Christ, Christians and the church.  Many of them are true, because Christians don’t live holy lives.  

In a discussion of Facebook about what has happened to Kim Davies someone wrote:

If you choose to fashion your belief system around a collection of bronze-age goat-herder fairy tales, edited, redacted and thoroughly bastardised in the Middle Ages, now used to suck money out of the poor and ignorant by Calvinist televangelists, fine. But don’t expect the rest of us who live here in the 21st century age of Science and Reason to be bound by your ghastly primitive prejudices and predilections.

Unfortunately what Christians sometimes say they believe and what Christians live out, don’t always add up.  That is a sin in the eyes of God.  Unholiness brings dishonour to the Name of Christ.

When Christians can’t love one another, when Christians drag one another before the civil authorities, when Christians lie and swear and drink and cheat like the rest of the world, it brings dishonour to the Name of God.  In short, when Christians feel at home in the world and start loving the world, and when they forget that they have heavenly citizenship, the world rightfully judge the church. 

A.W. Tozer once wrote:  “Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more that the Christ within us.” This is true about all aspect of Christian life and witness.

But if by our lives and example we truly live out what we believe, the uninformed world will be informed and their ignorance may be contradicted.

Let us take an example:  Any good Christian parent, who wants to glorify God in the upbringing of their children, will know that God demands us to discipline our children.  The general picture the world has about a disciplining parent is one who walks around with a long stick, hitting his children into submission.  But discipline is far more than the rod.  Upbringing under God for his glory is what counts.  If we are successful in this, the world will look at children of Christian parents and they will notice a difference.  They already see the difference as they in droves enrol their children at Christian schools.  Of course, if we fail in doing what God says and we follow worldly standards in raising our children, we have nothing to silence them with.  We failed and brought dishonour to the name of God.

In everything we do, we get our strategy and the strength, and guidance to live, it from God. 

Submission to authority as bond slaves of Christ

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God (verse 16).

We belong to God and not to any government or human institution. We are slaves of God and not man. We do not submit to human institutions as slaves to those institutions, but as God’s free people. We submit in freedom for his sake. Not in bondage for the king’s sake. 

Our society is full of examples of people who are not free, although boasting in their freedom.  However, immorality and ungodliness leads to slavery and bondage – just ask the alcoholic and the drug addict; just ask the parent who could not care less about the upbringing of his child, and now spend endless nights crying themselves to sleep. 

We are aliens in this world.  We have passed from death to life. But in the in-between God sends us back into this world – not as we once were – but as free people, as aliens who live by other values and other standards and goals and priorities. We do submit; we are not Christian jihadists. We submit freely, not shrinking before human authorities, but gladly obeying our one true King – God. 

Because we belong to God, our whole nature of freedom and joy and fearlessness and radical uniqueness from this world is founded in Him – which in one sense is slavery (because his authority over us is absolute) but in another sense is glorious freedom (because He changed our hearts so that we love doing what He commands us to do). As Martin Luther said in his wonderful little treatise called “The Freedom of a Christian”: 

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

The key to that paradox is God. Freed by God from slavery to all human institutions; and sent by God freely and submissively into those institutions – for his sake! 

Submission in order to honour

Honour all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honour the king.

Maybe there is a progression here. 

  1. First give to all human beings (good and bad) a basic respect and honour. The way you respect a murderer and the way you respect a saint like Billy Graham will be different. But both need respect as people created by God. 
  2. Then, beyond that common respect and honour of all humanity, there is a special love that is to be given to “the brotherhood, that is, to fellow Christians. 
  3. Then beyond that common respect for all and that special love for Christians there is a special fear appropriate to God, and no one else. We are not slaves of men, and so we do not fear men. We give them honour freely. And we love Christians freely. And we bow to God’s absolute authority reverently. 
  4. Then, back to the basic honour — “Honour the king” (include here in the honour and respect given to all). If the king is not a Christian, he is not to be feared and he need not be loved as Christians are loved. But he—or more so—his office must be honoured. 

First comes our absolute allegiance to God. Next comes our affectionate love for other believers. Then comes our honour to the king and other unbelievers. The king is not God. Only God is God. 

Respect and honour

What happened to respect in this world?  But more important than that:  Do Christians show respect?  Do Christian parents teach their children to respect their parents?  And their neighbours? And above all God?  Listen to the Word of God in this respect:

See if you can pick up the context in Leviticus 19:2-3:

Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. ‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:2-3)

All respect and honour to all forms of authority begins with God:  He is holy, He is our God.  Then parents under God respect God by respecting their parents.  Parents need to set the example of respect and honour before their children in the way the honour and respect God.  Once children pick this up they will be able to honour God, respect their parents and honour all other forms of authority flowing from it:  this means that they will see other as created beings of God, including teachers, the police, governments who over us for our own good.  Children who grow up in this understanding that all authority begins with God who loves sinners to the point that He gave his Son to pay to forgive them, will ultimately understand that when earthly authority demands of them to love institutions and people more than Him, they will know to make the right choice:  they will obey God more than people.

Conclusion

  • The demand to to submit to worldly authority does not rule out exceptions, for God is the ultimate authority.
  • Believers should be inclined to obey and submit to, and not disobey, rulers. 
  • The authority of worldly rulers is not absolute.  
  • We always need to distinguish between the office and the person holding the office. Even the police are under the law, and so is anyone in office:  all are under God.
  • Believers are to submit “for the Lord’s sake”; the Lord’s honour it always at stake. 
  • Authorities should be resisted if commands were issued that violated the Lord’s will. 
  • “Doing what is right” means that Christians behave as good citizens.  
  • All believers should do what is right to strengthen the social fabric.  (Think for example of hospitals, care for the elderly, Christian schools, the involvement of Christians in benevolent societies, etc.)
  • The good behaviour of Christians will lessen slanderous attacks on believers, revealing for example that charges of moral failure have no basis.  
  • Believers do not enjoy unrestricted freedom. Their freedom is exercised under God’s authority.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 May 2018

 

God’s holy aliens in a dark world

Scripture Readings:

  • John 17:6-19
  • 1Peter 2:11-14

Main thoughts

  • Who/what is “the world”?
  • Christians are sojourners/pilgrims
  • Why abstain from this world?
  • Why engage with this world

Introduction

Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, is indeed a light on the dark pages of war history. She wrote in her diary, “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”  In 1850 she visited a Lutheran religious community working for the sick and the deprived. She regarded the experience as a turning point in her life.  She gathered around her volunteer nurses who dedicated themselves to caring for British soldiers in the Crimean War. 

During her first winter ten times more soldiers died from illnesses than from battle wounds. Although Florence’s immediate tasks was to care for sick British soldiers, she understood that God called her to core for all who were sick: when circumstances called for her to do so, she then cared for the wounded of the enemy.

Florence stood in solidarity with her own people, but she in a different way engaged with the enemy for their good. Something of this attitude should be in the heart of every Christ.

Peter pleaded with the Christians he wrote to:  

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11–12, NIV)

If we listen carefully to this urgent call we hear two things:

  • You are foreigners – abstain
  • You are foreigners – engage

What/who is the “world”?

Christians are not from this world, but they are part of this world; this is the basis for the Bible to call us to abstain, but to also engage.  So what or who is the “world”? There is probably more uses of this term “world” in the Bible.  Let’s get three.

What God created

God created this world/universe and everything on/in/above it.  All things seen and unseen He made.  When Christ returns to give us a new heaven and new earth, God will demand from us accountability of how we cared for it.

The people

The nations, tongues and tribes living on earth are also referred to as the world.  They received their languages and their territories to live and have children from God.  If we do not have love and concern for their spiritual well-being, we do not understand the Gospel and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He sends us out to the ends of this world.

The evil/morally corrupt/those who oppose God

When Christians are called not to love this world, they should not identify with the enemy of God.  Sometimes the Bible uses another word within the same context:  it talks about the flesh, or things of the flesh.  Paul writes:

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. (Romans 7:5, NKJV)

  He also states: 

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:6–7, NKJV)

James  writes: 

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NKJV)

 John writes:  

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 John 2:15–16, NKJV)

Jesus prays for his disciples the night before He was arrested:  

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (John 17:14–19, NIV)

Not from this world

When Peter writes to the scattered Christians, he over and over again calls them strangers or aliens in this world. Our home, address, new nature because of our new birth by the Holy Spirit gives us a new identity.  The cross of our Lord is the place where it all changes.  Paul writes:  

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NIV)

So we ask ourselves, “Whose side am I on?  Where do I belong?  What is my hope?  Where is my home? Where do my priorities in life lead me?” The way we live is the tell-tale of where we come from and where we are going.  Richard Sibbes, one of the godly people of his time, was known as a man  who had heaven in him before he went to heaven!

Abstain from this world

The text for today calls us to abstain from this world.  Why?

We are sojourners

We are from a foreign country, we live here temporarily, and here we don’t have citizenship rights; we are passing through.   

What is it to “abstain”?

This is a very interesting Greek word.  It has in its root the word “to have”.  In some contexts it means to have enough.  When someone paid you for the debts he owed you, your account is settled – you have had enough; you should abstain from taking more of that person.  Mom taught us to say no when we had enough pudding; only gluttons would have more.

What is it that Christians already have in full so that they should say “no”, or refuse this world?  Let’s see.  

“In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4, NIV)  

That’s not all.  

“You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)

More than that a Christian does not need.  In fact, anything of this world will tarnish and corrode that hope.  You’ve had enough!  Hands off!  Your satisfaction is the cross of Christ and his free offer of grace and salvation.  The Israelites looked for more that God.  Jeremiah cries out: 

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13, NIV)

It’s war!

This morally corrupt world has nothing to offer Christians.  This world is under the control of Satan, the prince of this world (John 14:30).  He is the father of the lie, he was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. (John 8:44, NIV).

The world’s friend is God’s enemy.  The spirit of this world opposes the Spirit of God.  There is the Kingdom of light, and the kingdom of darkness, complete opposites, ruled by opposite principles, practices and ends.  If we set our hearts on the things of this world we will necessarily find ourselves turning our back upon God and abandon his people. 

Abstain from this world!  It will destroy you.  

Engage with this world

Verse 12 of 1 Peter 2 continues:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

Yes, Christians find themselves in a hostile world.  But we can choose to lock ourselves up against the sin of this world to remain untouched by its sin, like those who lived in cloisters and monasteries – and have no impact on this world – and in the process be disobedient to the command of our Saviour to go into the world.  Or we can maintain a distance ignorance:  we would bother you as long as you don’t bother us, and in the process disobey the command of our Lord to be light and salt of the world.  Or we can be so occupied with the world that we want to do everything the way they do, as long as we sugarcoat it with a Bible verse.  That way we have become worldly.  This not God’s plan for his church.

Like Florence Nightingale we need to be engaged, without becoming sick ourselves.  We need to serve this world by Christian and holy living so that they might see our good deeds and glorify God.

Yes, we might get the blame for every thing wrong in this world.  There are those who blame Christians for the wars in the worlds; other blame us for not being loving, hanging around us the tag of bigots and homophobes because we stand by the Word of God about sexuality;  they will blame us for all evil if stand on the Word and oppose same sex marriages or expose the evil of abortion.  In Caesar Nero’s time Christians, who were covered in porch to serve as human torches, even got the blame for the fire that destroyed Rome.

Christians are not called to go out and pick a fight with the world; they only need to keep doing what they are supposed to do and persecution will come.  If we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, they will hate us for it.  If we proclaim that God is the creator of the world and that things did not happen by evolution, they will hate us for it.  If we proclaim that people are born sinful and need redemption, they will hate us for it. Today one many disobey the laws of the land it you dare to hold out hope to homosexual people, (it may now even be against the law to offer new hope in Jesus Christ to those who in because of sinfully blinded minds, misunderstand human sexual behaviour!) because they are perfectly normal as they are, and we are not suppose to tell them otherwise. We need to do so, because we understand the horror of sin; to us applies the truth of verse: God called us out of darkness into His marvellous light; we ourselves once were not a people but are now the people of God, we once had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10, NKJV)

But these things we need to do.  We are the priests between God and the lost.  We need to love with the love of Christ.  We need to engage in a world full of misunderstanding and opposition, because there are scores who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.  They hurt, they search, they are alone.  If we shine the light of the Gospel in this dark world, the Bible says, they will glorify God the day He visits them.  This should be understood in a positive way:  when God reveals Himself in grace to the lost, there will be those who will thank God for the faithful witness of his people, who in spite of persecution and opposition did not compromise the Gospel – and that Gospel and witness will lead them to salvation.

Conclusion

Joseph understood something of this when he became ruler of Egypt:  he was never at home in the palace of the pharaoh, but he was a blessing to the Egyptians.

Daniel too understood this principle well; he served his God under the king of Babylon and was a blessing to them, but he never worshipped their gods – he was willing to spend time in the lion’s den to not compromise his principles.  In the end Nebuchadnezzar believed.  Daniel’s friends did the same.

Through Jeremiah God commanded his people who were taken into captivity:  

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. (Jeremiah 29:7–8, NIV)

May God help us to abstain from this – it’s war against our souls.  May He give us the grace to engage in this world, so He will receive the glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 20 May 2018

 

God’s brand-new house

Bible readings

  • Psalm 118:17-29
  • 1 Peter 2:4-8

Introduction

We understand that to build a house the new owner needs money, he needs a plan (or an architect), the house must need his needs, and he needs building material — and then, most of all, he must have the ability to finish the work.  Only then can he live in his new home.  We could add something else:  he wants to be proud of his home.

When God did skilled craftsmen have his temple build, He used building materials He himself created:  tall cedars, huge blocks of stone, gold, silver, bronze.  The craftsmen could not use their own design: God was the architect who gave them instructions to the finest of detail. His house was build for a specific purpose:  He chose to dwell with his people, and He created a way for them to approach Him and have communion with Him.  And surely, the work was finished on time!  Then, God moved in, first in the temporary Tabernacle, and later into the temple in Jerusalem.  We read:  

Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34–35, NKJV)

When Solomon completed the temple we read:  

And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:10–12, NKJV)

Did it meet God’s purposes?  Yes.  Solomon prayed:  may “…all the people of the earth know that the Lord is God and that is no other.” (1 Kings 8:60) 

Right in the beginning when God met with his people at the foot of Sinai after they were freed from bondage and slavery He made it clear to them:  

If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5–6, NKJV)

The temple was the meeting place between God and his people, but in essence the real temple was God’s presence with his people:  they had to display the glory of God, even more brightly than the glorious building of Solomon.

Let’s look at God’s design.

The foundation –  or cornerstone.

God did the unspeakable by taking as cornerstone for the building, a stone rejected by the builders. This stone is Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. Other builders rejected Him. He just did not fit their expectation.  Isaiah said about Him:

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 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.” (Isaiah 53:2–3, NIV)

Of Him John said in his Gospel:

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10–11, NIV)

The vineyard had bad managers who said: 

‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Luke 20:13–15, NIV)

He was sinless, perfect, the Lamb without defect; He was the one the prophets prophesied about, the Messiah;  He was the one John the Baptist preached about, “The lamb that will away the sin of the world.”  The angels sang at his birth, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests!”  When He was baptised, the heavens opened and the voice of heaven proclaimed, “You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.”

Yet, the builders rejected Him.  They had cried out, “Crucify, crucify Him, let his blood be on us and our children.” Peter preached to them, “You, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One … You killed the author of life…”.  They stumbled over Him and now they fall. Jesus Himself said, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Luke 20:18, NIV)

Peter says,

“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. (1 Peter 2:8, NKJV) 

What word?  The one the prophets of old carefully researched (1:10); the one about the Christ (1:11), the word the Holy Spirit inspired (1:11) and still employed to bring about the birth (1:23) which makes us children of God through Jesus Christ (1:21)  It is the same word which builds us up in our salvation (2:2).  

Don’t stumble over this Stone, don’t disobey this Stone – He is your only hope.  When God builds his spiritual temple your are either build into it, or you are out.  There is no halfway.  

The church in Loadicea was half-way church. However rich and powerful, of them Jesus said, “But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17, NIV)

The building material and the price

The Stone rejected by many is precious, He is God’s own workmanship.  After He had done what his Father required of Him, He prayed: 

“While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” (John 17:12, NIV)  

For them He died and paid the price of God’s righteousness with his own blood, death and resurrection; He is their atonement;  they know this promise, “The one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”

They were not perfect from Him to choose them;  He made them perfect in his own righteousness.  He picked up his stones where the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the outcast of the world gathered.  He stopped when He saw the devil-possessed living in the cemetery, the touched the leper, He broke his journey to listen to the blind man cry out for help.  Yes, He looked for stones to build his temple on the ash heaps of the world.  Of such Paul writes:

“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10, NIV)

They who belong to Him are not wise, but fools in the sight of the world.  They are not strong, but powerful in the hands of God. They don’t bring their gold or money to buy membership, and they don’t use the influence of friends in high places; their riches are in the mercy of God. In the sight of God a sinner is a sinner.  Besides, God does not look at the person and He does not show any favouritism.  He says,

“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)

So, Christ builds his spiritual temple, calling people who know the dark side of sin.  He shows them the marvellous light of his grace.  

The house

He makes saved sinners part of this royal priesthood – yes, you come to Christ and in the eyes of God you look like the High Priest, dressed in a robe that cannot be torn, made of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen – this is the righteousness of Christ which covers your sin.  You look around you, and you see a multitude of others who did not reject the Stone of Zion, you take hands, and you may enter into the Most Holy of God’s presence in the Name of Christ – you are a royal priest!

When God rescued his people from Egypt they were just Egyptian slaves with no address, with just a miserable past.  They had nothing, no land, no possession, no name, no identity. At the foot of Mount Sinai, saved sinners became his treasured possession, his own nation, and they lived in a relationship with Him who called them his own.  It applies to us who live this side of the cross of Christ too.  At the foot of the cross this is true of us: 

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors …” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8, NIV)

When the grace of the Gospel of Christ came to us, we become part of this holy, blessed nation.  We’ve got a name, we belong, we have a home – a heavenly Canaan.  Peter says we became a “people belonging to God”.

God’s house for his glory

The stammering voice of the sinner who comes to Christ, becomes an angels’ voice “proclaiming the praises of Him who called out of darkness into his marvellous light”.  Some might even have raised their voices once in service to darkness, but now all is new; it’s different.  In Christ we are new creations.  Like Paul, who once locked up Christians, who became an apostle proclaiming the wonders of God’s grace, we too proclaim the wonders of God’s grace, although we have a terrible past.  In Christ that past is covered.

That is exactly why we are saved: to proclaim, like prophets and priests and kings, the wondrous grace of the saving, merciful God.  We are not saved for ourselves; we are saved for Him, and to be useful in his spiritual temple.  Yes, we attract attention to the Architect and the Builder – to Him be the glory!

We take hands as priests in the Kingdom, we stand together as members of God’s holy nation, we encourage one another as brothers and sisters of God’s holy nation – and we march forward under his command.  Never do we do this as if we are of this world – we have turned our backs on this world – but we do so as people who expect a heavenly kingdom.  We are aliens in this world, and we display the character of God who saved us and made us holy (different, set apart).  

Conclusion

The church of Jesus Christ is not a building, but a spiritual temple.  Christ is the Head, the only Cornerstone.  To trust Him is to become a building block in this temple, and to be a building block is to shine forth the glory of the God who saved you. He saved you from utter darkness and brought you into his glorious light.

John writes of the ultimate meeting place between God and his people, the city we will live in when  everything will be completely new.  

But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. (Revelation 21:22-23, 22:3–5, NKJV)

What a place to look forward too!  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 13 May 2018

Live as adopted child in the holy family of God (3)

Bible readings

  • 1 Corinthians 13
  • 1Peter 1:17-2:3

Introduction

Brothers and sister in the Lord,

Our society is made up of different general collections:  there is the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Y and Z.  These divisions of course are artificial and ostensibly used to excuses certain age groups for acting decent and civilised.  The mindset of our time is post-modernistic.  We moved through the scientific age, where science was the norm for truth, into the post scientific age, the age of modernism, into post modernism.  What is the norm for truth in our age is not the Scripture which gives us a Biblical worldview, based on absolute truth centred in the immutable (unchanging) God as expressed in his Word; the norm for truth is now squarely centred in us—and more so in the individual “me”.  Every individual is now the norm: it does not only have an immeasurable impact on how we determine absolutes; the individual has now become the centre of his or her universe, and rights and wrongs are based on personal preferences, and not on objective truths. 

This has rubbed off on church people and how they look at the church:  church should meet individual expectations, individual truth, and individual lifestyles.

Every Christian will understand that this means dangerous waters for any church to be found in.

Our study of 1 Peter up to this point taught us:

  • We are brought into the family of God by an act of God:  new birth.  This new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit, which also gave us the Scriptures—and all of Scripture is focussed on the redemptive work of Christ. This new birth means that we have now become foreigners to the world we live in; the way we live is determined from heaven and not from this word.
  • Being redeemed by grace through Christ Jesus, every individual member of the church of Christ is called to live according to the  holy standards of Holy God:  because God is holy, so should his church be.  Our lives are Christ-focussed, we are ready to serve as God’s people, having crucified the principles of our former hollow and meaningless lives.  

But this us not where we may stop.  See, it is not about “me” and “I”.  This idea is not in agreement with the Scriptures.  Our text this morning helps us to understand.

The holy family of God

Verse 17 introduces us to the reality that believers who are living lives which are determined from above, by the Father thought the Holy Spirit, based on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, are members of a bigger family.  

And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; (1 Peter 1:17, NKJV)

The “you” and “your” in this verse is not the singular, or individual “you”; it is the plural—and this refers to the fact that “I” and “you” are not part of a group of individuals who happened to be in church;  no, we are part of the covenant family.  This takes us to verse 22: 

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart. (1 Peter 1:22, NKJV)

Uncommon love

The culture of the Roman Empire in which Peter lived did not understand Christian love, which is sacrificial dedication to one another.  The culture of the time considered putting others before yourself as weak and undesirable:  one had to fight a hard fight to get into the higher echelons of society, and giving too much time and effort to those who struggled stood in the way of getting to the top.

That’s why, even in our society, so infiltrated by individualism, Christianity almost does not have any place anymore.  It’s everyone for him or herself.  Life’s too short to waste time on strugglers.  They had their opportunity, just like me, and they missed the boat; too bad!

This was not how our Lord looked at the world which He came to serve: it was precisely the outcast, the struggler, the sinner, the ones who missed the boat, whom He poured his love out on.  Who cares about the hungry in our society with all its opportunities?  Who cares about the thirsty?  Who cares about the stranger to invite them in?  Who cares about those in need of clothes when everything is so cheap at the opp shops?  And what about the prisoners—they got what they deserved and they live in upper-star hotels these days.

And yet, our Lord was quite clear in his parable of Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40, NKJV)

Conditioned love

Peter writes to the elect of God:

love one another fervently with a pure heart. (1 Peter 1:22, NKJV)

Three attitudes must qualify our brotherly love:  

  • It must be from the heart:  the heart is the fountain of all we are, think and act.  We even use an icon of the heart to indicate love.  May of these are carved out on tree trunks and painted on concrete bridges.
  • Genuine:  this is the opposite of being hypocritical.  Another expression here is holier-than-thou, insincere or dishonest. Saying one thing and doing the other.  That’s not genuine.  Such an attitude is contrary to Christian love.
  • Pure:  this attitude describes a love which is unfailing and undiminishing, irrespective of how circumstances may change.  One commentator puts it this way:  in view of the approaching end Christians should see to it that their love for one another endures against self-seeking.  The Apostle Peter, in chapter 4:8 come back to this:  

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NKJV)

It takes us to the reading from 1 Corinthians 13 this morning:  

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, NKJV)

How does love look like in practice:  Lets listen to how Peter understood it:  

Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:9–11, NKJV)

Paul, in Romans 12 spells it out:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another… distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:9–19, NKJV)

O, we need this on the church today.  As it is, we don’t always need an enemy to destroy us, we are just doing a fine job ourselves:  we can so easily gossip, spread stories, sow doubt, slander—sometime just to keep a “delightful” story going.  Christians must always speak the truth, and if they don’t have the facts, they should find where a story comes from and verify the facts from the source; if they can’t, they should withhold themselves from destructive gossip, and also intervene to stop gossip.  

Love founded on the Scripture itself

Peter continues his line of love towards other Christians by giving us two very good reasons why we should love one another:

We have become members of the family of God based on the same grace

 Verse 23 also uses the plural “you”:  

You have been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, (1 Peter 1:23, NKJV)

All Christians have exactly the same standing in birth and in grace before God.  It is by the Word, through the Holy Spirit, based on the redemption of Jesus Christ and by his righteousness, that we all are saved.  There was no merit on which we could boast; no one was better or worse than the other; no one deserved more or less than the other; no one had a better chance based on a better heritage, and no one can actually boast in being worse than other and therefore should receive more grace than the other.  We are all just children of God; saved sinners, saved by grace!

We have become members of the family of God based on the same standard

All Christians have only one basis on which they can grow, and to which standard they should grow:  the Word of God.  Therefore, to all applies this command:  

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, (1 Peter 2:1–2, NKJV)

The expression “spiritual milk”, or “milk of the Word” is insightful.  If we have to paraphrase it, it could read like this:  Like newborn babies desire what comes naturally for people who know that the Lord is good.  Paul uses the same word in Romans 12:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1, NKJV)

We have the work logical from this word:  it describes a consequence of something rational:  the point being a new birth, by the Sprit through the Word, based on the righteousness of Christ, by the grace of God.  

If that is what you say happened to you, the logical consequence  should be that your love towards other Christians should be based on the same Word which gave you life.

Conclusion

I find it amazing that new born babies have no regards for place, time or surroundings to make known its craving for milk.  When hungry, it demands a drink, irrespective fo who they might upset.  So should our hunger for the Word also be:  nothing should stop us for our next time of nourishment to grow in Christ and to serve one another. 

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 6 May 2018

 

Life as adopted child in God’s holy family (2)

Bible Readings

  • 1 John 4:7-21
  • 1Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, let’s just quickly recap what we have learned over the last few weeks from 1 Peter 1. 

  • The elect of God, in Jesus Christ, through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, received a hope which is anchored in heaven, guarded by God till the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • We know this is true because the prophets of the Old Testament wrote down what they researched—driven by the Holy Spirt—and all of what they prophesied focussed on Jesus Christ.  The apostles continued in this line and preached from those prophesies because Christ Himself taught them the meaning of the prophesies:  they saw Him, walked with Him, listened to Him saw Him die, and met with Him after his resurrection.
  • The Holy Spirit uses this holy inspired Word of God about Jesus Christ to create new birth: undeserved sinners are born into the heavenly family of God.  They are rescued from the emptiness and hollowness of not knowing God, into a relationship with Him through the preaching of the Word through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

We continue today with more marvellous news.

God’s redemptive work endures forever 

This is a glorious truth of the Gospel:  not only is the Gospel by nature the enduring Word of God, it’s effect is enduring.  Simply speaking:  The new birth brought about by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is not fleeting with short-lived effects.  

When the Spirit has given a sinner new life, that sinner can bank on the fact that the Spirit will sustain that new life till the end of time.  This is what we refer to as the perseverance of the saints.  For this we must give God all glory.  No matter how severe the test, how dire the refining, how dreadful the persecution, how terrifying the opposition, God will not withdraw the grace He once poured out by his Spirit: it is based on the eternal redemption of Jesus Christ.  To sustain us in times of trial and tribulations, his enduring Word—the Bible—is our bread, our light, our lamp, our compass, our comfort, and indeed a hammer to crush the hardest of heart.  That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and live by it.  

What Paul says about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church, and even have their names written on the rolls of the church:  

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:16, NIV)

My dear friend, has the Gospel come to you in a saving way, giving you new birth and new hope?  Then cling with all your life to this truth:  What God has begun, He will complete.  The words of this Hymn might be yours:

What from Christ that soul shall sever,
Bound by everlasting bands?
Once in Him, in Him forever,
Thus th’ eternal cov’nant stands;
None shall pluck you,
None shall pluck you
From the Saviour’s mighty hands.

With all these glorious things in mind the Word calls us to live as adopted children in his holy family

Verse 13 begins with “therefore”.  The good news of grace and new life we spoke about up to this point in time from the basis for what follows—“therefore”.

Prepare your minds for action

To “gird the loin” was a metaphor the people in the Middle East at that time understood well. These people normally wore long gowns, and when someone prepared for any strenuous activity, he tied his robe securely (by using a belt, for example), to make sure that his robe would not be in the way. The metaphor therefore came to mean “be ready for action”; or these days we say, “Be focussed!”

After the new birth and the outpouring of the grace of Christ righteousness, new Christians begin living a new life.  Their thinking is now different.  

The old mind was in control of the worthless things of this world.  Some translations use the word “sober-minded”; this is the opposite of being under the influence such as the sinful mind.  Other translations choose the expression “self-controlled”.  

The idea is something like this: the army officer is addressing the soldiers.  The command is always, “Attention!”  The mind of the soldier should be fixed on the officer, because his command is important.  How many times did you hear your dad say, “Do you understand?”  Your mind needs to be in the right place.

The same applies to the Christian.  When God speaks, we jump to attention and pitch our ears with focussed minds to what He says.

A hope which sees the end from the beginning

Peter then uses very interesting words one following the other.  The first describes completeness or something final.   Our Lord used this word when He said, “It is finished. 

Sometimes we need to very careful with Greek words and avoid similar sounding words in English as if it always means the same; yet, this Greek word finds its way into the English language in words like tele-vision, tele-phone and tele-gram.  What the “tele” in these words does is to connect two things which are far apart with one another, to mean completeness:  one speaks the other listener, and although they are not with one another they share in the same conversation. 

When Peter uses the next word, “hope”, we begin to understand what he has in mind.  It is as if he says: make your hope a reality.  Be so attuned to what your Officer-in-Command says that what he is talking about will control your life from beginning to end, and from the end to the beginning. Our minds needs to be so attuned and focussed on the Good News of the Gospel that our hope for the day of the return of Christ actually shapes our daily walk, now and here.  

This is where Peter is going in the next phrase:  not only did we received grace when we received “great mercy” by receiving a “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1Peter 1:3); but Christ will return (He will be “revealed”- 1 Peter 1:14) and give us even more grace!  This must drive us; our minds must be focussed in Him, our hope.

The reason:  we must be obedient children

To be born again, to be given a new life, is the language of the Bible to describe adoption into the family of God.  Once we were not children of God; our minds were shaped by our sinful, corrupted heart; we were controlled by the desires of fallen nature, we lived in ignorance, our lives were meaningless and hollow.

We need the say more about the reference to “when we lived in ignorance.”  We know an expression, “Ignorance is bliss”; but, there is another, “Ignorance is no excuse.”  Peter uses this word not be mean “innocence”; he uses it in the same sense as the prophets who referred to stubbornness.  Ignorance in this sense implies knowledge, but a stubbornness to turn one’s ear from the knowledge and continue living as if you did not hear it.

But grace changes everything:  those who are receiving the Gospel call to receive Christ, also receive the grace of the Holy Spirt in spiritual new birth.  The hollow life of what lies behind is changed into the life of an obedient child.

A homeless person who lives on the streets has the right to make his own rules:  he can sleep in when he wants, he determines if he wants to take a bath, shave his beard or comb his hear.  He even has the freedom to have a meal when he wants and where he wants.  But is a filthy life, the food is poor, and his clothes smell. 

But once he is taken in and cared for by someone who cares for him, someone who is even willing to adopt him as his own child, he understands that what he considered as freedom, is what made him a beggar.  Now in the new household, he lives according to do the bidding of his new father who took him in.  

Our old sinful life was unholy, because our owner then was the father of sin.  Under God there is a radical change:  the sinful life is traded in for a holy life.  Because our Father is holy, his household must be holy; his children must be holy.

Living as aliens and strangers

This, then, leads to the logical conclusion: we are born from above, our hope is from above, our grace is from above, our home and address is in heaven—therefore, we have no place in this world anymore.  We are strangers and aliens.

Right in the beginning of this letter Peter alludes to this fact:  he writes “to God elect, strangers (aliens) in the world.” (1:1)   

This world is not our home.  Your new home is where God reigns.  And we have the privilege to talk to our Father.  This is a beautiful expression:  we may call on God who is our Father.  “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  If He is in heaven, and our hope is in heaven, and our Lord Jesus Christ will be revealed from heaven, and we have the grace so see our present life as being governed from heaven, our lives now will be a life of “reverent fear.”  Being God’s child is always to have respect for Him;  He is your holy Father, and He is after all also our Judge.

Conclusion

This is only one part of our life as adopted child in the holy family of God. Next week we will, Lord willing, continue in this chapter where it talks about our relationship with other sinners who have been adopted as children.

I’m thinking of the words in Psalm 123:1-2 

I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy. (Psalm 123:1–2, NIV)

He has shown us mercy in Jesus Christ.  So, gird up your mind for action.  Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 April 2018

 

Life as God’s adopted child (1)

Bible readings

  • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • 1 Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

The Bible, in our reading this morning, refers to being “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18)

Don’t we just all remember the joy of blowing and chasing bubbles? All the expensive toys could not compete with the exhilaration of try to catch and hold a bubble.  In the end everyone one of them bursts and disappears into thin air. And what about the balloons?  How long do they last?

We have examples of ostrich and emu eggs which we keep in a safe place in our home.  From a distance they look like the real thing — and they actually are; but look closely and you will see the holes on each end, made to blow out the contents.  It is impossible for those eggs to produce chicks.  They are empty and hollow.

I remember the first Easter egg  my neighbour across the street gave us soon after we arrived in Australia.  Where we come from, chocolate was a rarity, and our culture never took the story of the Easter chocolate eggs seriously.  Soon after church we got stuck into it and ripped the shining foil off it.  How big was my disappointment that the egg was nothing but a shell of a thin layer of chocolate! I thought we were going to have chocolate till Christmas.

Peter writes about a life outside of Christ.  It is a hollow, empty life.  It was worthless, and can only promise the joy of the moment.  In contrast, the Christian life is rich, and it is determined by the best of all riches, now kept and sealed up in heaven.

Up to this point in time we learned from Peter that Christians live this life with their eyes focussed on a hope, guarded by God in heaven.  This hope is anchored in the faith that Jesus Christ will be revealed then in more splendour that He had when He first came into the world to work out our salvation.

We also learned that this salvation had its roots in all of God’s revelation through the Scriptures and promises of the Old Testament, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, whose ministry it is to, through the preaching of the Gospel, constantly help us to understand an apply the salvation of Jesus Christ.

God’s children are Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ

It is fair to say that the message of the Bible would be hollow and meaningless if the concept and reality of redemption was not central to it.

Let’s try to sum it up:  God made a covenant—a solemn agreement—with Adam and Eve.  They sinned against God and dragged all of their descendants into sin.  God promise them a Redeemer who would trample upon and crush the head of the serpent.  

In and through Abraham God made another covenant—a covenant of grace— with his people to be their God.  Through sinful covenant breaking, the people walked away from God and under satan became slaves to idols which could not save them.  Although God punished them, and even had them do slave labour in distant countries, He remained faithful to his promises and He Himself became their Redeemer.  “Redeemer” is a legal term, and meant that some close family member had to pay a ransom to get those under the curse of the law out of that curse, out of slavery into freedom.  This are classical verses to illustrate this:  

But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? (Hosea 13:14, NIV)

It is this act of saving grace Peter is referring to when he says that we are redeemed:  the two components of saving love and the ransom price are prominent here.  In Christ Jesus the love, justice and righteousness of God comes together in the act of redemption.  The ransom price which would satisfy the wrath of God upon sin was the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  The reference to “the Lamb without blemish” not only points back to Passover night and the miraculous redemption out of Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:5), but to all offerings which had to do with satisfying God’s righteousness over sin and broken relationships.  Christ was that ultimate perfect Lamb without blemish.  His blood not only washes away our sins, but it is the ransom, the price, which satisfied the righteousness of God. Of this sacrifice the writer to the Hebrews writes: 

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11–14, NIV)

Christ brings us to God so we can believe in God.  Why?  Not only because He died for us, He also rose in our place to overcome death.  

Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21, NIV)

Christians are redeemed people.  They are not sinless, but they are saved sinners.

God’s Children are born by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God

We have to take a small step backward into Peter’s first chapter, verses 10-11.  These verses refer to the Old Testament, which pointed forward to Christ.  The apostles preached what the prophets prophesied;  it was “the Gospel” of Jesus and about Jesus “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 12).  There is an extremely close relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word regarding Jesus Christ’s work and ministry.  To see this we go to verse 3: 

In his great mercy He [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)

  How did this come about?  Let’s read verse 23:  

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)

The imperishable things refer back to the blood of Jesus Christ, our redemption and ransom price.  How do we know about this redemption?  Through the enduring Word of God.  The new birth of every Christian, without which our Lord declared that no one can enter or see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3,5) is the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which applies the redemptive work of Christ to our souls through the preaching of the Word.  The preaching of the Word is always connected and undergirded by the ministry of the Holy Sprit.  It is always related, and it as such the only God-ordained way by which sinners hear about redemption.  

Peter knew that very well.  He therefore declares the enduring  work and certainty of the outcome of the ministry of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word: 

For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24–25, NIV)

When Paul writes to the Romans he said exactly the same thing:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17, NIV)

To apply this we can draw a few conclusions:

  • The most important activity of the church is to make available the Word of God.  It happens through translation, printing, preaching and studying the Word of God.
  • Ultimately the fruit and growth is not in our hands, but it is the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
  • The message the church should keep itself busy with the message of the redemption from of sin, and the restoration to God through the redemptive work of the Lamb without blemish, Jesus Christ. Nothing more will do; nothing less will do.
  • When the Gospel is twisted to only present Christ as a example of moral living, it has forfeited the privilege of being servants in the hands of the Saviour.
  • Where this message is traded for social gospel, property gospel or feel-good pop-psychology, and when worship services have become therapeutic self-improvement sessions, the church stands condemned before her Saviour.
  • When the Gospel message has been reduced to a dry theological discussion which is aimed at discrediting the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures, the church has failed its mission.  Souls will not be saved because it is not the Gospel which was preached by the apostles.

God’s redemptive work endures forever 

This is a glorious truth of the Gospel:  not only is the Gospel by nature the enduring Word of God, it’s effect is enduring.  Simply speaking:  The new birth brought about by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is not temporary.  

What is said about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church.  

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:16, NIV)

But when the Spirit has given a sinner new life, that sinner can bank on the fact that the Spirit will sustain that new life till the end of time.  This is what we refer to as the perseverance of the saints.  For this we must Give God all glory.  No matter how severe the test, how dire the refining, how dreadful the persecution, how terrifying the opposition, God will not withdrew the grace He once poured out by his Spirit, based on the redemption of Jesus Christ.  To sustain us in times of trial and tribulations his enduring Word, the Bible, is our bread, our light, our lamp, our compass, our comfort, and indeed a hammer to crush the hardest of hearts.  That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and life by it.  

Conclusion

There is the world which presents is with fleeting bubbles, the colourful bursting balloons, and the empty eggs — all examples of hollow promises and and empty way of life.  This will cost you your life.

And then there is the new life in Christ which is enduring:  it speaks of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, hope and and eternal home. This come free, because the price is already paid.  May God give us the grace to see life and follow it and set out hope fully on grace in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 April 2018