Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

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

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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

 

Who is the saviour, Jesus Christ?

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 110
  • Hebrews 1

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

The topic of this sermon is “Who is the saviour, called Jesus Christ?”  Who is Jesus Christ?

Is it possible that we live in a time of unparalleled Biblical illiteracy?  We have unprecedented access to Bible translations, Bible programs, studies and information.  About everyone has an electronic device in his or her pocket with at least one translation of the Scriptures on it.  Yet, careful examination of the state of the church, more so in the western world, paints a shocking picture. Little wonder then that someone thought Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife!  Most church-goers today do not know the Ten Commandments.  And this is just basic Bible knowledge; it says nothing about true commitment to Christ in Christian living and service to his Kingdom.

Who is Jesus Christ?

How would you answer the question, Who is Jesus Christ?

A common answer in church circles to the question, Who is Jesus Christ?, goes like this, “He died for me on the cross.”

There are enormous problems with this response, not because of what is said, but because of what is not included in this answer.

First of all, this answer puts the focus on me—He died for me.  He came to give me a hand.  So, when I need Him for health, wealth, success, and getting out of trouble, He will help me.  He came into my world for me; nothing about his Kingdom and Kingship and how He should be worshipped is even heard of in this response.  Furthermore, because it is about me—individual me—we hear nothing about the rest of the people of Christ as his church of which all of us are members as one family.

To only state “He died for me on the cross” when you give an answer about who Jesus is, has gaping holes in it, and might expose the temperature of your spiritual life, and the level of your understanding of the gospel.

Secondly, Christ did not only come to die, He came to conquer everything which separates us from God—this includes sin, Satan, death and hell. It is therefore more accurate to say He come to die and conquer death through his sacrifice on the Cross and his resurrection.

But there’s more to it:  He is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He is the King of all kings.  He is indeed God!

So, let’s get the Biblical answer on who Jesus Christ is.  I trust that God will help all of us to know who his Son, Jesus Christ, is, so we can worship Him as Lord and King.

Let’s look to heaven through the lens of the Bible

To answer the question Who is Jesus Christ? We need to understand the Bible as the Word of God which is given to us to give us and understanding of who God is.

Go with me to Hebrews 1.

Jesus Christ is God’s word

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son … (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

In the days before Jesus took on flesh and was born as a human being God communicated with his people—He made his will clear—in different ways.  Unless God revealed Himself none would know who He is, what He is, and what his will is.

In order for his people to know Him and to understand his Person and will, to know his plan of salvation after the fall of Adam and Eve, and to what all things lead and how all things will come to a final conclusion at the end of time, God used prophets and priests.  The prophets declared God’s will and the priests interceded on behalf of the people with sacrifices and prayers.  Some people saw visions, other dreamed dreams.  In some cases God used major signs and miracles—like when Israel was rescued out of Egypt; just think of the plagues, God’s provision for his people in the desert, and Him giving them a land.

There was the great Moses, Aaron the high priest with others who sacrificed millions of animals to atone for the sin of the people; there were Elijah, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist and all the others.  All pointed to someone better to come.  God spoke through them.

But then there was Jesus Christ:  God speaks through his Son.  He is greater than Moses, more important than Aaron, greater than any king who lived before Him.

What we need to know about God, about his rescue plan, about the unfolding of history and how it will come to an end—is said in Jesus Christ.  The Bible reveals God’s will in Jesus Christ.  If you want to know about it, read it carefully and you will find all God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ.  What does the future hold?  When Christ returns all will be made knew, and then He will take us to his Father’s home and we will see his glory.  He is the beginning and the last; He holds the keys of hell; He was dead, but now his lives.  Of his the angels sing with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12, ESV)

Let’s put it this way:  who is Jesus Christ?  He is God’s Word made flesh.

John writes in John 1:1-2

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1–2, ESV)

Jesus Christ is God’s appointed King

Our text says:

[God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things  (Hebrews 1:2–3, ESV)

Listen:  “all things”.  The Creator of the universe made Jesus his legal heir of all things which He created.  The language here has something of a king who authorises and appoints a successor.  It reflects the language of Psalm 110:  Your thrown will last forever because I am your Father.

Who is Jesus Christ?  He is eternal King!  Can you see how inadequate it is to just say “He died for me”?  The problem with Christians today is that they hardly understand anything about worshipping Christ as Lord and King.  What does it mean?  In essence nothing less that to love Him with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.  He who does not fall before Christ as his Lord in worship, will never understand anything of the Gospel.

Jesus Christ is the One through whom God created the  universe

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. (Hebrews 1:2–3, ESV)

 Paul writes in Colossians 1:

For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17, ESV)

It’s one thing to hear the invitation to receive Christ as Lord and Saviour, waking down the isle and say a sinner’s prayer; it’s a completely different thing to worship Christ as the Creator who holds everything together: the sun who rose today, the Other who provided your breakfast this morning, the One who understands our bodies and knows how everything works.

Did you know that the average adult have about 1000,000kms of blood vessels in his body?  Your heart beats about 115,000 times per day pumping about 6,500 litres, and on average 42,000,000 times per year.  If you passed eighty years of age your heart would have beaten 3.3 billion times, pumping 200 million litres of blood.   They say we could have 32.7 trillion cells in our bodies at anytime.  Things get really astonishing when you think about DNA and the information stored in DNA.  We have only spoken of one person.  There are 7 billion of us on earth!

Do you get the picture?  In Christ all things hold together – all 7 billion heartbeats.  He knows the beginning from the end.  Our text says He sustains all things.  How?  By his powerful word.  How is that possible?  Well, He is God!

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15, ESV) 

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.

All things were made through Him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3, ESV)

God spoke, and creation happened.  Christ was there.  He is God’s Word!

Do you worship Him?  Do you think perhaps you can use Him for your own agenda?  Think again!

Jesus Christ is God’ appointed Saviour

Now we may get to the point of salvation:

After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3, ESV)

Think about it:  God’s appointed Word, His appointed King, His appointed heir, the One who was with God when He created, the One in whom all things hold together—He walked in obedience to God to Calvary’s Hill, taking the scourge of sin upon Him, and died forsaken by his Father.  Why?  He loved righteousness and hated wickedness (verse 9).  He died in our place while we still his enemies.  His blood became the purchase price by which He set sinners free by becoming their righteousness.

Conclusion

If you say you know Jesus Christ as the one who died for you, you have to say you worship him as your King; you have to say He is your God; you have to say you life is in his hand; you have to say you love Him; you have to say you have left you old life behind and you follow Him only.

Who is Jesus Christ?  How do you know and worship Him as Lord?

Walking in step with the righteousness of Christ (3)

Bible Readings

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Sinners in God’s home

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

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

Living up to God’s standard

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

Our past

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

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

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

Our future

We also looked at the future:

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

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

The pilgrimage between our past and our future

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

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

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

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

Paul writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Grace is not cheap

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

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

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

He continues:

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

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

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

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

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

4.  Renounce the world

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

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

Amen

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

God’s Pleasure in Jesus

Scripture Reading

  • Matthew 17: 1-11

 

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

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

Christ’s Kingdom

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

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

The glorified King 

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

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

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

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

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

The King fulfilled the Law and the Prophets

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

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

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

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

The glorious King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter also wrote,

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

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

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

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

Jesus himself also said in Matthew 18:16;

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

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

Obeying the King

What are you going to believe?

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

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

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

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

What are you going to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Jesus the one that you love?

Do you listen to Him?

Amen

 

Sermon preached by Elder Bob Chopping on Sunday 21 January 2018

 

Walking in step with the righteousness of Christ (2)

Bible Readings:

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

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Realised future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The heavenly Jerusalem

Paul writes in Philippians 3:

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

This is another way to say what Hebrews 12 says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myriads of Angels

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

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

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

The Church of the Firstborn

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

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

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

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

God, the Judge of all men

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

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

Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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