Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

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

 

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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

God’s Good News is not fake news

Bible Readings:

  • Psalm 119:41-48
  • 1 Peter 1:10-12, 22-2:3

Introduction

According to a story doing the rounds on the internet, an amateur genealogy researcher in Queensland and had been doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that a relation, who was a prominent politician, had a great-great uncle, named Remus, who seemed to have a checkered past, and she decided to do more investigation.  

She emailed the office of the politician for information about their great-great uncle.

Believe it or not, says the internet story, the staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

“Remus was famous in Victoria during the mid to late 1800s. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Melbourne-Geelong Railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad.

”In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the Victoria Police Force. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour, when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.’’

Our researcher had one photograph of Remus; it shows him standing on the gallows at the Melbourne Gaol.  On the back of the picture the researcher obtained during her own research is an inscription: “Remus, horse thief, sent to Melbourne Gaol 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Melbourne-Geelong train six times. Caught by Victoria Police Force, convicted and hanged in 1889.

The truth is sometimes very far removed from the political spin.  And we all know about fake news and False Flags.

There are people who claim that the message of the Bible is fake news, and religious spin which cannot be trusted.  One fellow put it this way:  the anecdotes about Jesus have been told over and over again and over time more and more were added to it, until people started believing it as the truth, and the church put it all together in one book.  

This salvation

Last week’s sermon ended with 1 Peter 1:9, which reads:

you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9, NIV)

Concerning this salvation we heard in the previous verses: 

In his great mercy He 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)

This faith is shielded

“… by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5, NIV)

The sum of the Old Testament

The story of this salvation was not something which dropped out of the skies after Christ was born and completed his ministry.  It is surely not a story the church came up with; the church came as a result of this story.

The prophets

This salvation was the theme which the prophets pondered and explored over hundreds of years.  They carefully examined everything about this salvation; they studied very carefully to know all about it.  

trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. (1 Peter 1:11, NIV)

The books of the Bible, although we have it in one volume today, were not originally grouped together.  It took a long period of time and development for that to happen.  The person who rejects the Bible as a whole, is misled about this development. One has to understand the message of each of the books and how the books a a whole fit together before one can reject all of it as fake news. 

What we need to keep in mind is that the prophets and there contributors to the Old Testament did not get together on a Saturday morning after Sabbath service to decide what they are going to include in their prophesies.  No, independently from one another, separated by long distances for their time, they did their research—and they came to the same conclusion very time. The same applies to the Gospel writers and others in the New Testament.  Why the agreement on prophesy and doctrine?  Because of the “Spirit of Christ.” Peter later writes:  

You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, NIV)

Some, like Isaiah and Micah, were prophesying 700 years before Christ was born.  Can we trust Isaiah?  

Only in 1946, manuscripts of all the books of the Old Testament, with the exception of of Esther, were found on scrolls in caves on the north west shore of the Dead Sea.  The prophecy of Isaiah was the best preserved, and agrees with the text which forms the basis for the translation in our Bibles.  The original text of Isaiah has not changed for almost 3,000 years!

The time and circumstances of Christ’s ministry

Peter states that the prophets researched the time and the circumstances for the sufferings of Christ.  The word for time in the verse is significant:  it describes a decisive, turning-point event; a watershed.  This is precisely of significance of the birth and sufferings of Christ.  It had to be in Bethlehem to fulfil the prediction of where Christ would be born.  He had to born along the line of David to fulfil God’s promise to David.  Peter on Pentecost Day said about David:  

He was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. (Acts 2:30, NIV)

His death needed to be on a cross to fulfil the Scriptures about the curse of someone who was nailed to a tree; that’s why no-one could capture Him before then, although they wanted to kill Him at more than one occasion.  The soldiers could’ve killed Him in the Garden of Olives and all would be over, but it would not be according to God’s timetable and purpose.  It needed to be on Passover for Him to be the Lamb without blemish. All these things the prophets researched and wrote down.  

These things are in the Bible for our benefit. It was something the prophets longed to see, but they only saw it in a spiritual sense.  Like the people to whom Peter addresses in his letter, they did not physically see Jesus, yet they believed and rejoiced.  Peter and the other apostles had the privilege of seeing and hearing Jesus.  They then took the prophecies, interpreted them as Christ made them clear to them and proclaimed it as far as they went.  During forty days after Christ’s resurrection He appeared to his disciples and taught them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).  

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:45–48, NIV)

  This is what Peter referred to in 2 Peter 1

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

Paul when he was about to suffer in jail for his faith in Jesus Christ declared: 

I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— (Acts 26:22, NIV)

This is compelling evidence that the Gospel as God’s Good News is not fake news.

The Message we preach

Peter reminded those to whom he wrote this letter, that in the midst of their suffering as Christians in a hostile world where they were strangers with no fixed address, what was foretold in all of the Bible up to that point was fulfilled in Christ.  

For those who understand “the sufferings of Christ” as sufferings of Christians on behalf of Christ, “glories” is understood as triumphs, or victory instead of defeat. The “sufferings into Christ” then refers to the sufferings that Christ himself experienced, that is, his death on the cross, 

The “glories” then refer to the events following that: his resurrection, his exaltation, the gift of the Spirit to the Church, the winning of both Jews and Gentiles to the Christian faith, and finally Christ’s return in victory.

This is the crux of the Gospel:  the Good News that God gave salvation by grace to those who He elected from all eternity through Jesus Christ.  God’s hourglass is full; the time has come.  Salvation is available.  Not only did his sufferings wipe out their sins before God to give them, but they had far more than they ever had before they became Christians: they share in the glories of Christ. And it is all locked up on heaven and kept by God.

Paul understood this:

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, (Ephesians 3:8–10, NIV)

Conclusion

This is our message today:  Jesus Christ, the sum of the Gospel, the fulfilment of all prophesies. God’s Good News is not fake news.  It does not contain human spin, for if it did there would be many embarrassing stories about many sinners recorded in the Bible missing—including the fact that David was a murderer, liar, thief and a man who took another’s wife in lust. 

When the storms of life gather, what do we hold on to?  The message of the Bible concerning Christ, his sufferings and his glories.

Jesus loves me, yes, I know, for the Bible tells me so!  

If the media sometimes make you feel downcast, rejoice in this message.  Read the Word, study it, take God on his promises, make them your own, let them guard your heart against the onslaught of unbelief.  Don’t neglect the teaching of the Word; don’t neglect the study of the Word; don’t neglect to encourage others through the Word:  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 than can never perish, spoil or fade.  Amen

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 15 April 2018

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Bible readings

  • Numbers 14:1-12
  • 1 Peter 1:1-9

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord, in many gardens grows a shrub with the botanical name brunfelsia latifolia, which is commonly known as Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow.  This name comes from the way its flowers are changing in colour form one day to the next. Each bloom opens violet-purple, fade to pale lavender-blue, becomes almost white and is dead by the fourth day.  The oldest flower is the least attractive, and the newest the prettiest.

In some way this corresponds with Christian life as God ordained it in Jesus Christ.  Our yesterday is the least attractive, and our today looks somewhat better, but our tomorrow is the brightest.

Unfortunately the spiritual life of many Christians appears to be the opposite:  there was a day when everything was fresh and bright, but was time marched on it became colourless, and might even be on the brink of death.

Was there progression and growth in your spiritual life?  And in the spiritual life of our congregation?  The Bible teaches in Hebrews 6:1

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (Hebrews 6:1)

The sermon this morning is titled “Yesterday, today and tomorrow.”  This message is from 1Peter 1:1-9.

God’s elect – yesterday

I use the word “yesterday” in terms of the life which was once outside of the will of God, but by God’s grace drawn into a relationship with Him.  It is not the purpose of this sermon to explain the doctrines of election, sanctification and salvation in depth, but as these terms are undergirding what follows in the rest of the chapter we need to understand our “yesterday” in terms of the redeeming work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  So, briefly, follow along in your Bibles from verse 1.

A Chosen People

God’s elect, his church called from all eternity, is a people chosen by God the Father according to His perfect and immutable (unchanging) foreknowledge.  This doctrine is referred to as predestination.  We do not choose God; He chose us.  He does so based on the redemptive work of his Son, Jesus Christ, through the preaching of the Word.

A Sanctified People

God’s elect is a people sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  This word also implies dedication.  The Holy Spirit works in the lives of those whom God has chosen to present them to God as being holy.  He sets us apart for service to God.  As Moses and Aaron dedicated, purified or sanctified the sacred things to be acceptable to God in his service, so does the Holy Spirit sanctify us to service before God.

An Obedient People

As the blood of the sacrificial animal, which brought about forgiveness of sin was sprinkled on the altar, so the blood of Jesus Christ puts us in a relationship of being justified and forgiven, and therefore called to obedience to God.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is active in making us God’s children – his elect, his own people.  Out of darkness (our “yesterday”) we are now called to be a chosen generation, a holy people belonging to God.  This gracious act of God flows into the repentance of man.  Called by God, we turn away from sin, and turn towards Him to follow Him.  We leave our “yesterday” behind us and we walk (our “today“) in the light of his mercy and grace.

As such, as his people, we are his church.  We are now strangers in the world, because our citizenship is in heaven.  We are still in the world, but not from this world.

The “tomorrow” of God’s elect

But as we turned away from our “yesterday”, or our past, we now face a bright new “tomorrow”.  We are put on a new path.  Therefore we are a people of hope, because we have an inheritance awaiting us.

A People of hope

The perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary was not only enough to save us; the victory of the cross also became the victory over the grave.  Jesus Christ was resurrected.  And as such, He became the First-fruit, or the guarantee for all the elect to receive a new birth. As He was resurrected by the Father, so we receive from the Father as new birth, a new life.  The old has passed away, the new has come.  This gives us a hope.  Now hope in the Bible is a sure anchor in the future.  Christ ascended into heaven, and we learn from Ephesians 2:6 the following:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:6)

You see the anchor in Christ?  In principle we already have that hope, that anchor.  It is in heaven in Jesus Christ.  He is our hope.

A People with an inheritance

Now if [because] we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if [because] indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)

God’s will, written in the blood of Jesus Christ, stands firm.  Peter describes his inheritance with three words:

  •   “Incorruptible” means that it can never corrode, crack, or decay. It is death-proof.
  •   “Undefiled” means that the inheritance itself is in perfect condition. No tarnish or stain can dim its purity. It is sin-proof.
  •   That does “not fade” away means that it can never suffer variations in value, glory, or beauty. It is time-proof.

In this life an heir may die before an inheritance is divided. But the same grace that preserves the heavenly inheritance preserves us as heirs to enjoy it. God’s election of His people can never be frustrated. Those who were chosen in eternity past are saved in time and kept for eternity to come. The believer in Christ is eternally secure.

By God’s power our inheritance is kept safe.  By faith we take hold of it.  Faith is therefore the rope or chain connected to the anchor of our hope.  By faith we are drawn towards our hope.

Not only was Jesus Christ crucified; He was also resurrected unto a new life.  Not only was He resurrected; He also ascended into heaven.  And He left us the sure guarantee that He will return again.  Something of our salvation we already enjoy right now, but the full benefit of a new life in Christ will be revealed with his return.

God’s elect – today

Of course, between our “yesterday” and our “tomorrow” lies the “today”.  There are many people who would want to escape the present to be raptured into glory with Christ right now.  But that is not how it works.

Grief and trials

The people Peter addressed this letter to were scattered, probably because of persecution by the Jews or even the Romans.  To be a Christian is not always easy.  Some are called to suffer for Christ. But, Peter said, compared to an eternity with God, the present suffering is only for “a little while”.  In Luke 12:4-5 our Lord says that times can be tough for Christians, but:

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:4-5)

So, Christians are not led past trails and tribulations, but through them.  We are not exempt of hard times; the point is to not give up when those times come.  Faith teaches us to trust God, even in difficult times.

In refinement

Sufferings are neither purposeless nor fruitless. One of the many beneficial purposes of afflictions in this life for the child of God is to test the genuineness of his faith. Peter contrasts our faith with gold. Of all the substances known to man, gold is probably one of the most durable and sought after. It can be subjected to intense heat and might seem to be indestructible. But the truth is that gold perishes through use, pressure, and fire.

When prevailing conditions are favourable, it might be easy to be a Christian. But when public confession of Christ brings persecution and suffering, then the casual followers drift away and are lost in the crowd. A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing. Faith which refuses to pay the price is counterfeit.

Being prepared for glory

Genuine faith will result in praise, honour, and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed. This simply means that God will reward every instance of faith that stood the test. He will praise those who are joyful though surrounded by trouble. He will award honour and glory to tried and suffering believers who were able to accept their tribulations as a vote of confidence from Him.

God’s elect – yesterday has faded out and today is shaped by tomorrow 

It fills us with gratitude when we look back on God’s election, the gift of our salvation, our justification, and our sanctification because of the blood sacrifice of Christ and his victory over death.  We give our lives to the Lord to thank Him for undeserved grace.  But it is here where we perhaps fall short.  I cannot spiritually grow by constantly looking back.  I don’t only serve God just because I am grateful for salvation out of the bleakness of my lostness.  When this is my only perspective, another problem can so easily sneak in by stealth:  it is the idea that I have to repay God for his mercies.  My dedication to God is therefore nothing more than an action driven by some form of guilt that I actually owe God.  He has done so much for me, I have to do something for Him!  This notion is nowhere to be found in the Bible – not explicitly in any case.  How many Christians struggle with this problem!  Their Christian walk before God becomes a series of payments because they feel themselves in debt before God.

This leads to spiritual stagnation and paralysis.  Some see themselves as being caught in the “trap” of grace.  I have to do something, because I am saved.  The only thing that counts is passed sin, or my “yesterday”.

We have heard about the future.  There is hope, there is an inheritance, and there is and eternity.  That is our “tomorrow”!  The child of God is called, not to attempt to “pay back” what is owed to God; we cannot do it!  What the Bible is teaching is that there is even more grace stored up for us.   It is by faith that we take hold of it.  Good deeds which want pay back for salvation look back into the rearview mirror.  Faith which understands mercy, on the other hand, builds upon gratitude and looks forward. When the going gets tough, it endures.  It doesn’t give up.  It says:  because God was good to me in the past, I hold on to the future which is sure.  More than that, in the midst of all the trails and tribulation, I rejoice.  Paul says the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come.   And this verse talks about inexpressible and glorious joy.  He who sees the hope, he who takes hold of the future and serve God by faith, he grows.

Conclusion

The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land.  Behind them was their “yesterday” – they were rescued from slavery.  They looked back on their salvation.  Ahead of them was their “tomorrow” – sure, because it was promised by God over generations.  Then they struck the hard patch:  they had to conquer and destroy the people who lived in their Promised Land.  These were giants who made the Israelites feel like grasshoppers compared to them.  And their eyes became fixed on their yesterday.  God said:  How long will they refuse to believe in Me?  They lost sight of their tomorrow, and they lost faith in God.  God struck them with the plague and a journey that would have taken them a few months to complete became forty years of wandering the desert.

There is the pale blue colour of the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub.  In as sense the tomorrow has the brightest blue.  Don’t allow the troubles of today allow your tomorrow to be pale.  And of course, your yesterday should not have the brightest blue. Our eternal hope makes us forget “yesterday”, and it shapes our “today.”   AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 8 April 2018

 

A Journey between Death and Life

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 116:1-19
  • Mark 16:1-11

Introduction

We find comfort in knowing a good doctor, more so in years gone by when we actually referred to them as family doctors.  In some cases all siblings in the family were deliver by the same “family doctor”.  They know everything about us; and we trust them with our secrets.  We trust him or her with our health.  They become our preferred health provider.  They become a some sort of anchoring point, because they were there when we came into the world and might be there when we breathe our last.  They might receive a telephone call in the middle of the night, because do that see them as trusted friends.  And when the doctor retires or moves away, or when we move elsewhere, we go through the agony of finding a new one.

Mary Magdalene – living in a dark world

We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene’s life before she became a follower of Christ.  Was she dumb and deaf?  Was she blind?  Was she recognisable by her bodily deformity?  Did she suffer from mental illness?  Did the evil spirits cause her to rant and rave, leaving her with mental disorders? Were there times that she had uncontrolled fits – maybe in public?  Did she behave in an antisocial manner?  We don’t read about the husband of this Mary, which means that he could have divorced her because or the state she was in.

We don’t know, but these things were common to those riddled by evil spirits.  Mary, the woman from Magdalene, had seven evil spirits.  She lived in a dark world.  She lived on the edge.

But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who grew up in Nazareth, not too far away from Magdala in Galilee, was sent by his Father to destroy the power Satan and the evil spirits under his control.  He preached that the Kingdom of God has come.

There was the day in Magdala on which He preached.  The sermon was about the Kingdom of God.

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. 

The evil spirits were no mach for Him.  They submitted and were cast out of those who suffered.  They even admitted that Jesus came to destroy them.

And Jesus healed Mary.  She is named with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases.  From her seven demons had come out:

…also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1–3, NIV)

The new Mary – living under the wings of Life

Her life changed. She met new friends: Joanna, the wife of Chuza – Chuza was the person in charge of the finances of Herod; and Susanna, another woman cured and healed by Christ.

Together they formed a group who would support the Messiah with their possessions.  They were apparently from high social standing, well-off or very industrious. The Apostles also benefited from this service of love.  These women were disciples of Jesus, and followed Him wherever they could.

Their lives changed and more and more did they learn about the Kingdom and about God.  As they looked back, the existence in darkness, possessed by the evil spirits, faded on the horizon.  The days shone brighter and brighter.

But every now and then, as they were listening to the teachings of their Redeemer, they heard about an immanent catastrophe.  We read in Luke 9:22, only a chapter after we meet Mary for the first time:

And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

As the light shone brighter for them each day, the shadow of the cross gradually rose up over the group as they followed the One who healed them.  He would eventually die the cruel death on the cross.  His death would be the result of the fact that every person is in some way responsible for the cross of Jesus.

In the shadow of the cross

When Jesus was arrested that night in Gethsemane, all his friends left Him.  One betrayed Him, the other denied Him. The women were not allowed anywhere near Him.

When He carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Golgotha, his followers looked on from afar.  As the plan of God’s redemption was unfolding, there was nothing they could do to prevent it from happening.

Overcome by fear and disappointment, they just looked on.  Hear the words of Matthew 27:55

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:55-56)

They were there when Jesus was buried.  Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who also had become a disciple of Jesus, took the body of Jesus and put it in a grave and sealed the entrance with a heavy stone.  And we read:

Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:59-61)

The pain of unbelief

The next day was a long day.  It was a Sabbath, the day of the Passover. On this holy day they devoted themselves to the feast of deliverance out of Egypt.  They ate the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread.  It was a solemn day and a solemn atmosphere.

Most of all, Mary lost her doctor.  The man who gave here back her life, the man who healed her from her infirmities is dead.  Cruelly they nailed Him to a cross, together with criminals.  The man who became a dear friend, the man she and the other supported even with their own possessions, is dead.

Some in Jerusalem celebrated.  They were too pleased that this Jesus was out of the way.  But Mary’s attention was divided:  she could not wait till the sunrise of the Sunday morning.  The agony of waiting.  Surely, it was a Passover that she will never forget – not because of rejoicing, but because of the great personal loss.  On Sunday morning, she would go to take care of the body of this Jesus of Nazareth.

Life out of death

She probably didn’t sleep well that Saturday night after the Passover and the ensuing Sabbath.  Her mind was at the grave.  She remembered the sight of Joseph as he laid Jesus in the tomb and rolled the stone in front of it.

Early Sunday morning, the first day of the week, she and the other women, rushed to the grave.  What a disappointment:  the body of Jesus was not there.  They concluded that He must have been stolen.

Then there was the voice of the angel:

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:6)

They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth.  That was their problem!  If they knew the man whom they served out of gratitude for the new meaning of life given to them, and if they understood that He was not only the son of the carpenter of Nazareth, named Jesus, they would have believed.  But their eyes were still shut to the fact that Jesus was also the Christ, the Son of God.  And even if they knew it, they didn’t believe it.

They were looking for a dead body;  what they should have been looking for, was the risen Christ. Listen again to the teaching of the Christ:

And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

He has risen!  He is not dead.  His body may be precious to you, but not a dead body!  He has risen!  Now they had a task as commanded by the angel:  Go, tell the others!  Jesus will see them in Galilee – in the region where cast the evil spirits from them.  There He would finally show his power over the forces of darkness.

From unbelief to faith

A few things happened then.

Mary wept:  she was so disappointed.  Her faith in Jesus was still not the faith she would later have in Him as the Christ.  If only she could touch Him for the last time! If only she could her gratitude towards Him by tending to his body in the grave.  This privilege was taken from her.

They fled from the tomb – they were afraid and scared.  They trembled and were amazed.  They stopped speaking.

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8, NIV)

The risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she clung to Him, never to let go of Him again.  This act was more than only reserving the Christ to themselves, it also turned into an act of worship!

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped his feet and worshipped Him. (Matthew 28:9, NIV)

But Jesus gave her the command to go and tell the others. There must have been disappointment with the women when the disciples regarded their words as “idle talk” (Luke 24:11).  They did not believe the message of the women.

But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Luke 24:11, NIV)

Much later, when the risen Christ appeared in person to them their fear was replaced with willingness to become witnesses of the resurrection of the Messiah.  Then they were filled with joy.  The bewilderment was replaced with joy and worship.

Then there was the haste to get to the others. It was important for them to tell them the good news:  because He was resurrected, because what happened to Him was exactly as He had said would happen, they understood that He was more than the carpenter of Nazareth:  He was the promised Messiah and Christ.

Conclusion

There is a distinct difference between acknowledging and believing.  We need to understand the difference between knowing and believing.  Or let’s put it better: there is a huge difference between having faith in general and having saving faith. Faith is an instrument by which we receive and apply Christ and his righteousness. It is far more than just an acknowledgement of who He is was and what He did.

Many people find themselves where Mary found herself whilst following Christ on earth, but it was only after she saw the open grave and spoke to the risen Lord that she worshipped Him as Lord and God.  First He was Jesus of Nazareth; but the risen Lord was Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Sunday school knowledge and Scripture in school knowledge of Christ does not mean we live in this saving faith relationship with Him.  Worse even is that He is just the babe of Bethlehem! It is only when we can see past the crib and cross into the open grave that our spiritual life actually begins.  Sometimes this acknowledgement of Christ as Lord happens over time; but this is surely the direction of the journey of knowing Christ. And that, like in the life of Mary and the others, makes us disciples of the Lord in the Kingdom of God:  then the disciples became mouthpieces of Christ’s Lordship.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 1 April 2018 (Resurrection Sunday)

What do we make of Christ’s death? (Crucifixion Day)

Bible Readings

  • John 18:1-11
  • Luke 23:26-49

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in Jesus Christ,

Our Lord once said,

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2–3, NIV)

In another place our Lord said, praying to his Father,

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Matthew 11:25, NIV)

The reason why I quoted these verses is to stress the point that trust and faith, although based on true knowledge, demands humility.  It does not require intelligence; cleverness harbours arrogance and pride.  What the mind rejects as implausible there is no room in the heart for trust.

Christians cannot defend God and Christ, as if He needs our endorsement before others will believe in Him.

To come to God in faith is to trust that, how He revealed Himself in Scripture, is the truth and worthy of trusting because our lives depend on it.

So, can we believe Jesus? What is of crucial importance is that we understand that all of Christ’s life and teaching on earth was God’s revelation of Himself.

What Christ taught was and is crucial, how He lived was crucially important too, but what about his death? Was his death any different than the death of any leader of other religions?

Was Christ’s death separated from who He was and what He taught all his life, or was his death the culmination of his teaching of who He was and what his mission was?  My death will not necessarily have any meaning; flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.  I will die because it is destined for children of Adam to return to dust. But it was different with Christ.  So, what set the death of Christ apart from all who died before and after Him?

Put it in other words:  does the death of Christ back up his life and teaching?  It it doesn’t, we are gathered here for no particular reason.  The opposite demands our attention:  if his death indeed was the culmination of his earthly ministry, all gathered here today are left before a choice: reject the truth of the Gospel, or live by the truth of the Gospel.

The ministry of Christ did not happen in a vacuum

Skeptics may look at the life of Christ without the wider context of his ministry.  His birth of a virgin, his claims, his teachings, his life and indeed his death happens without context.  He then is purely a human being who made the most preposterous and farcical claims which no intelligent person can believe in.  He then recklessly and senselessly ventured into territory where no one in his right mind would dream to tread:  who would take on the Roman Empire and claim to be King?  Who would dare stand before the Jewish Council and claim to be the Son of Man?  Who would overturn the tables in the temple and in bright daylight declare the He would rebuild the temple in three days.  Is his death not a logical consequence of repeated stubbornness and foolishness?

But Christ’s ministry did not happen in a vacuum.  It is only when we understand God’s power to create out of nothing and his claim on all creation, his righteousness, his sovereignty, his holiness, his judgment, his grace, his love for lost sinners, the fall of mankind into sin, God’s promise to restore and rescue and renew what is fallen, that we will understand anything of the ministry, teaching and death of Christ.

All the main historical markers of fallen mankind pointed forward to God’s gracious work of restoration.  God’s promises to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. When God rescued his people from slavery it pointed to the ultimate rescue work of Christ.  Moses was a type of Christ, but where he failed Christ succeeded.  The Promised Land of Israel was a precursor to the eternal rest of heaven made possible by Christ.

Aaron, the High Priest, brought sacrifices in the form of sacrificial animals, which pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, after which neither more sacrifices, nor any High Priest would be needed.

David was a type of Christ, but Christ was the ultimate fulfilment of all kings who would lead the people to the celestial Promised Land.

The ministry of Jesus indeed did not happen without context.  Therefore his life and death did not happen without context.  The context gives it meaning.  So what do we make of the death of Christ?

Christ, the Priest mediating the grace of God

One of the major tasks of a priest was to make intercession for the people.  Not only did they stood with the blood of the sacrificial animal before God, they pleaded before God on behalf of the people.  The very fact that the breastplate of the High Priest had the names of all the tribes on it meant that he stood in the presence of God on their behalf.

Priests were the mediators of God’s covenant.

What did Jesus do?  Listen to this verse in John 18:8, Jesus answered,

If you are looking for Me, then let these men go. (John 18:8, NIV)

All along in his teaching an ministry prepared his disciples that He would be handed over to be killed. But He more specifically spelled it out in John 10,

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18, NIV)

Did not the curtain of the Most Holy tear from top to bottom when the ultimate High Priest cried out, “It is finished!”

The death of Christ backed up his teaching are his life.  He did not come to be served, but to serve.  He came to seek and save the lost.  And the reason why He was willing to do it is, firstly, because God loved the world and wanted to save sinners; secondly, sinners could not save themselves, not even the blood of bulls and heifers could make permanent atonement.

If you are looking for Me, then let these men go.

Can you hear the grace of Christ who deliberately stood firm and demanded that those He would die for would not die with Him, but go free?

“Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11, NIV)

This was the lonely road of the lamb led to be slaughtered.

And then, with the nails through his hand and feet, raised between two crooks, our Lord prayed,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NIV)

This is the prayer of a High Priest!  And why would his Father listen?  Because his Son was without sin, the Lamb without blemish. It even came from the mouth of Pilate,

Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him.” (John 19:4, NIV)

And the centurion at the foot of the cross praised God and said,

“Surely this was a righteous man.” (Luke 23:47, NIV)

And the one crook made the point:  He is innocent, we are not.  He does not deserve this death, we do!

As priest Christ mediated the grace of God.

What do we make of his death?  First and foremost:  He died in our place.  He surely could, because He was both sacrifice and High Priest. No one else could!  Therefore there is salvation in no other. If He did not die, we must die.  We must have obedient trust and faith in Him.

Christ, the king executing the grace of God

Although the soldiers mocked Him by clothing Him with a purple robe and gave Him a crown of thorns, Jesus instead that He was King.  “Are You the King of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say.”

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36–37, NIV)

With a stubborn will unwilling and unable to see what Christ is teaching in this last moments of his life, Pilate mockingly presented Jesus to the crowd, “Here is your king! Shall I crucify your king?” Not wanting to be on the wrong side of the Caesar, Pilate handed Him over to be crucified.

Like Caiaphas in John 11, who had no idea that he had been arrested by God when he made an enormous prophecy about Christ when he said it is better for one man to die than the whole nation perish (John 11:49-53), Pilate unwittingly did the same.  In three languages, clear to read for all by-passers who came to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast from different parts of the world, he had the sign put on the cross.  “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”  In his eyes it was probably nothing more than a mockery, but it was still true.  He was and is indeed King!

Does a King die in agony being the ridicule of the world.  “If He is King, if indeed He is the Son of God, let He rescue Himself and get off the cross.”

Yes He is king, but He is at the same time High Priest and sacrifice.  It was precisely because He was King that He had to die;  all others would fail in miserable weakness.  By dying he would overcome death and Satan.

As King Christ executed the grace of God.

The claims He made during his earthly ministry were backed up by his death on the cross.  To be included into his kingdom is to believe that He is indeed who He claimed to be.

Christ, the prophet proclaiming the grace of God

When the King with outstretched arms on the cross gave Himself, He interceded for the lost, “Father, forgive them.

One of the crooks heard Him pray and asked to be remembered.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43, NIV)

 On what grounds could Jesus give this promise?  The only possible answer is that He reopened Paradise as King, that He as priest atoned for the sin of the children of Adam, and that He was the ultimate prophet who had the authority to make a prophesy like it.  The crook believed and entered paradise with our Lord.

As prophet Christ proclaimed the grace of God.

Conclusion

What do we make of the death of Christ?  His death was the culmination of God’s mercy towards sinners, the prophecies of the Old Testament, and his promises made true in Christ Jesus.  What Christ claimed during his ministry came to its fullest conclusion when He gave Himself to die in our place.

Amazing love, o what sacrifice, the Son of God given for me

My debt He pays and my death He dies that I might live.

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Friday 30 March 2014 (Crucifixtion Day) 

 

Ignoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Scripture readings

  • Deuteronomy 4:1-14
  • Hebrews 2:1-4

Introduction

A group of children are on the playgrounds during recess.  Out of the blue one starts screaming at another.

“What you are saying about me is not true!” The other said. “Someone else is telling lies about me.”

“No, I believe them.  You are a little gossip, and need to be taught a lesson.”

Without warning this student stepped forward and gave the other a good sleep in the face.  The other students moved closer, too eager to see the fight.

The one who got the slap, reeled back, trying to protect his face from the next blow.  “Stop doing this! You are hurting me.”

“You deserve it, and I will show you to respect me as leader on this playground.”

Suddenly the onlookers stepped back.  Why?  The teacher on duty appeared on the scene.

“What is going on here?  Who started this?”, the teacher demanded.

“She did. Not only is she a gossip, she is also mean, always looking for a fight!”

With a stern face the teacher looked at the student who got the slap.  “So, you’re a troublemaker.  I want to see you in the principal’s office.  Go!”

There was a dead silence for a moment, but as soon as the teacher disappeared around the corner, student No 1 yelled out, “That will teach her who’s got the say around here!”

With a bouncing heart the other student entered the principal’s office.

“So, I was told you started a brawl on the playground.  What do you have to say for yourself?”, the principal demanded.

“I did not start it. I did not even do a thing. It was the other girl—she accused me and slapped my face.” She replied with a shivering voice.

“Well it’s your word against her’s.  Who shall I believe?”, the principal asked.

There was a knock on the door.  “Yes come in!”, the principal shouted, clearly not impressed with what is happening.

Three other students entered the office. They walked up to the principals desk, clearly uneasy, staring down.

“I’m actually busy at the moment, trying to teach this girl something about respect for others.  Why are you here?”

“Sir, we were right there when all of this happened.  We are witnesses for the truth, because we saw it all.  This student did not do a thing, it was the other student who just wanted to start it all.  We don’t make up this story, we are here because we want you to know the truth.”

There was silence again.  The accused student looked up to the others.  She did not really know them.  Why would they do it?

“Sir, believe us.  Not only do we want to show respect for our school, its rules, your discipline and the wellbeing of all students, we also know the truth.”

“Well”, the principal said looking at the accused student, “you can count yourself fortunate that you have witnesses.  They were there, they know the truth, and I accept their word for it.  You are free to go.  Please ask the duty teacher to send the other student in.  I don’t delight having liars and bully on my playgrounds.”

Between sure trouble and walking away free, stood witnesses who told the truth.  In the same way can we go free form God’s judgement:  the witnesses about Jesus Christ are telling the truth. We’ll hear more about those witnesses today.

What is the Gospel about Jesus Christ?

We heard the Word last week from the first chapter of Hebrews.  It proclaims the greatness of the Second Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ the Son of God.  He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God being.  Through Him God created everything which was created.  Everything God created holds together in Jesus Christ.  Christ is God’s way of speaking to us.

What God has to say—and once again we have to think of God’s creating, or rebirth of sinners, and the calling of a new nation, a new people over which He will reign as overhang King—God says through and by Jesus Christ who is the Beginner, the foundation of the new house of God, the Perfecter of the act of the salvation of lost sinners.

Christ is above the angels who worship Him. His throne will last forever, and He will make his enemies his footstool.

Chapter 2 introduces us in more things Christ did.  When God saw the helplessness of sinful mankind, who fell from its glorious role of caretaker of God’s creation after the fall, He did not turn his back on them; rather, He was mindful of them.  What did He do?  You know this by heart.

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

Jesus, who was reigning with the Father in absolute glory and majesty, had everything subject to Him.  He willingly became lower than the angels, came into this world to suffer death. (2:9)

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered. (Hebrews 2:10, NIV)

Holy and perfect Jesus, God from all eternity, by taking mankind’s sin upon Him calls us “brothers”, and He is not ashamed to say so (2:11-12).  He trusted that God’s plan of salvation in Him will stand (2:13).  He therefore stands before the throne of God and says, “Here am I, and the children God has given Me.” (2:13)

He shared in our humanity be taking on flesh and blood.  When He died, He died like us will die:  his heart stoped beating, he entered death and they buried Him. But He rose again, destroying death.  Listen:

… by his death He broke the power of Him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15, NIV)

He did so, because He was the faithful, merciful High Priest who made atonement of the people. Further:

Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18, NIV)

This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God’s Son left his throne of glory, sided with sinners, died from them, rose for them, and now calls them his brothers.  Do you want to hear God’s good news:  listen to Jesus!

Is the Gospel about Jesus Christ the truth?

You do not need to believe my word regarding the Gospel.  In the end, like the student before the principal, who can vouch for the truth?

2:2 takes us to the angels as God’s messengers.  Although God wrote the Ten Commandments, the Bible teaches that they mediated the commandments to the people of God.  God set up his Covenant with his people by giving the angels to confirm the verity of it.  If was binding, and as we read in Deuteronomy 4 this morning, not believing it and not living by it, invoked God’s wrath and led to death.

Concerning Jesus the angels were once again God’s messenger in announcing his birth, as well as the night He was born.  What they said was the truth.

More than that.  The Lord God Himself announced the Lordship of Christ.  “This is my Son, listen to Him?”  The voice of God directly from heaven is recoded in the Gospels:  at his birth (Lk 2:9), at the beginning of his earthly ministry (Mk 1:11, Mt 3:16-17), and and the end of his public ministry (John 12:28).

More than that.  The disciples heard the voice of God from heaven, they heard to Lord Jesus talking to them and teaching them, they saw Him, they witnessed his works of salvation, they saw Him being crucified, they saw the open grave, they once again sat at his feet for forty days before He ascended into heaven.  What they heard and saw, they recorded.  This is what we have as the New Testament.  About this Peter writes:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-18, 20–21, NIV)

Add to this then the testimony of the Holy Spirit. God gave signs and wonders and miracles which was confirmed by the Holy Spirit.  The men who were made apostles to be the witnesses of Jesus Christ for the truth about his Gospel, could only do so because they were driven by the Holy Sprit.  The Bible is given by the Holy Spirit, and it testifies about Jesus Christ.

The angels, God speaking from heaven, apostles been gifted and driven by the Holy Spirit, the apostles who performed signs and miracles in the name of Christ—they are the true witnesses about Christ.  The Gospel is the truth.  That why Peter writes:

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19, NIV)

If it is the truth, can we ignore it?

The writer go Hebrews asks this rhetorical question:

How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:3, NIV)

One can escape out of something dangerous, or once can escape into safety.  This text refers to the first:  escaping from danger.  What is the danger?  Verse 2 gives the answer:  disobedience calls for punishment.  What punishment and who is the one who brings punishment?  The writer of Hebrews answers later in his book:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-29, 31, NIV)

Do you remember the parable of the Lord, inviting people to the banquet?  Some ignored it, they treated it with indifference.  They Greek word describes the opposite of a word meaning taking care or showing concern.  To ignore is the opposite:  it is to show no concern.  It is to say, “Who cares?”

Conclusion

The Gospel of Christ is God’s way of speaking to us, telling us that He cared for us and loved us by seeing his son to pay the penalty for our sins, to taste death on our behalf, to destroy the power of Satan, and to stand at God’s throne calling us his brothers.

This Gospel is the truth.  God the Father announced it, the angels proclaimed it, the apostles saw and heard it, the Holy Spirit had it written down in the Bible.

Will you neglect it?  If so, how will you escape God’s wrath for trampling underfoot the blood of Christ?

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 March 2018