Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Living on God’s Earth (2)

Bible Readings

  • Isaiah 46
  • Romans 1:18-32

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord,

How does one understand the world one lives in?  How does one answer life’s questions?  Who are we?  What are we doing here on earth?  Where do we fit in?  Do we have an influence on things around us?  

The way we answer these questions reveals our worldview.  What shapes our worldview?  What makes you think the way you think?  One’s worldview determines one’s thinking, and one’s thinking determines one’s actions.  Thoughts and actions have consequences.

Greeks 

If you were Greek and lived a thousand or more years ago, you believed that three days after your birth you would receive a visit from three sisters. They were old, ugly women, who were strict, bitter and without mercy, dressed in ragged clothing, with snakes as hair, their skin blistered and eyes bloodshot.  These sisters would decide whether and for how long you should live, weaving the web of life from a spindle into the Book of Fate. Together the sisters were called Fate.

Hinduism

If you were a Hindu, you would believe that there is one god, with a feminine aspect displayed in the mother goddess Durga.  In her one finds original energy which gave birth to time, space, and from her, the material universe progresses.  As Mother Nature, she gives birth to all life forms, and ultimately she re-absorbs all life forms back into herself, or “devours” them to sustain herself as the power of death feeding on life to produce new life.  

Atheism

If you were an atheist, you might agree with Richard Dawkins, when he remarks, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Another atheist, Mike Autrey, says, “I will live and I will die. I do not believe religion will bring peace to mankind. At the very core it seeks the end of the world. Judgment day. The end of the road for our species. And against those ideas I will fight. For my child as well as yours.” (http://www.atheistrepublic.com/gallery/i-am-atheist-because-i-sought-truth-about-reality)

The reason why I mentioned these different views is to make it clear that what one believes determines the way one thinks. Is there purpose?  Is there hope?  Is the world created, or did it just happen? Is there design? Can the earth sustain human beings?  Are our lives determined by fate? 

By and large policymakers of our age are not Christians, and their policies are determined by their worldviews.  Filmmakers choose to make movies which reflect their worldviews; so do newspaper editors and TV stations.  We are bombarded by non-Christian worldviews.  So, how do we react?

Environmentalism

One of the reasons for this short sermon series “Living on God’s earth” stems from my personal observation and study over the years concerning the perceived impact and future of mankind on the earth.  This led me to read up on the tenets of Environmentalism.

Let’s first just make a proper distinction between the environment and environmentalism.  We live on earth as part of the ecological system, also referred to as our environment.  Christians should instead refer to God’s creation, and not to a capital “E” Environment as if it is an entity.  Environmentalism goes beyond this:  it is a religion with the environment as the subject of worship.  

The worship of Mother Earth flows from pagan religions.  Humanity’s relationship and dependence on the earth for survival has existed since the beginning of time. Environmentalists claim that many cultures including Native Americans, Aborigines, Africans and South Americans have understood this interconnection with the natural world. Western cultures had a poor understanding of this relationship as they separated themselves from the land through technology and development. Mankind (more so Christians), driven by the Biblical mandate of subjecting the earth and ruling over it, must, therefore, bear the guilt of exploiting the planet, harming it, and disturbing nature’s balance.  The catch cry is the conservation of natural resources.  

The religion of Environmentalism holds that earth is a living goddess with feelings and thoughts just like any other conscious living entity.  She has quite literally sacrificed her own salvation so that we can live here.  She can literally feel the harm we do her (https://www.aetherius.org/the-mother-earth/).   One of the surest ways of harming mother earth is pollution, of which CO2 emissions is the worst.

Mother Earth worship has solid connections with old pagan Mother Goddess worship.  These religions are strongly connected with some versions of feminism and Wiccan views.  Wicca, which is a form of witchcraft, emphasises the immanence of divinity within Nature (Nature is god, and god is nature), seeing the natural world as made up of both of spiritual substance as well as matter and physical energy. Since the Goddess is said to conceive and contain all life within her, all beings are held to be divine. For some Wiccans, this idea also involves elements of animism (a belief that natural objects other than humans have souls, something we find in indigenous cultures). Plants, rivers, rocks (and, importantly, ritual tools) are seen as spiritual beings, facets of a single life.  Wicca worship the Earth Goddess as Gaia.  

A thread which runs through all these religions is that, through industrial development and advancement, man is a destroyer of all things good.  Christianity is labelled as the worst, not only of its understanding for the cultural mandate but because it upholds patriarchal families.  Men are regarded as violent warlords who will do whatever is needed to enrich themselves at the cost of mother earth, while females are presented as loving and caring, and thus a continuation of the Mother Goddess.

Major bodies to promote this worldview

There is, of course, a platform needed to ensure that Environmentalism, or the protection of Mother Earth, is enforced.  

United Nations

Although not created for this purpose, activists infiltrated the United Nations to create a platform.  Very openly this international body has become the major sponsor for this religion.  One can only read the opening pages of the official environment websites.  I quote:  A healthy environment is the foundation of human life.  But we are putting the planet under enormous pressure.  We are depleting the Earth’s natural resources, polluting its air and water, destabilising the climate, and driving many of its species to extinction.  If we work together, we can change the world.  UN Environment works with people around the globe to drive the changes that the planet needs. Together, we can build a healthier, more sustainable world for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

This is a blatant display of pride humanism, declaring mankind in control of the world, with no room for the Creator God.

The operational word here is the recurring term “sustainable world.”  The UN has developed the so-called 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development.  One paragraph states: “We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.”  It further states: “We are determined to mobilise the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development…”

Is this another way of promoting a one world government?

The UN talks about “our citizens”, “international law”, which, of course, will be passed by the United Nations, and the obligations of each country to these laws—all in the name of sustainable development.  This document is a neat marriage between environmentalism and Marxist socialism, with the thread of feminism running right through it.  A definition of sustainable development is “… a state of society where living conditions and resource use continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of the natural system. Sustainable development can be classified as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations.” The premise is that we are sustained by Mother Earth, and not by the Creator God.  We need a body to control what we need, where to get it and at what price. This body will distribute what we have in abundance to other communities who lack some things. Will this body be elected?  To whom will they be responsible?  According to what standards will they make decisions?

This takes us right back to the worship of Mother Earth.  In essence, it is nothing but a religion; but the difference is that this is now pursued as a world religion.  

The World Council of Churches

The World Council of Churches states, “Climate change is thus a matter of international justice and inter-generational justice.  The WCC makes no bones about its collaboration with the UN on climate change from 1990 to the present (https://www.oikoumene.org/en/folder/documents-pdf/Climate_Change_Brochure_2005.pdf.)  The WCC labels the promotion of the teaching about climate change discipleship.  It is no surprise that an inter-religious gathering was held during the Kyoto Climate Change Conference, with participation from Buddhists, Shintos, Christians, New Religions, Hindus, Muslims and Jews in a Catholic Cathedral in Kyoto followed by a candle-light procession to a Shinto Shrine where participants were blessed by Shinto Priests.  

How do Bible-believing Christians respond? 

  • We believe God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, is the only and living true God.
  • God rules sovereignly over creation, the world of his hands.
  • He is most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; He rewards those who diligently seek him; He hates sin, including idolatry and the worship of created things. 
  • Unlike other so-called Gods. He is in need of nothing any created being should bring to Him.  He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom and to whom, are all things.
  • He maintains sovereign, all-wise and all-powerful dominion over all things He created. His “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made”. So mankind is without excuse. (Romans 1:20, ESV)  
  • When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they plunged with them creation which now is in bondage till the return of Christ when God will make all things new.
  • Man, in his sinful rebellion against God, suppresses the truth about God, “…for although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21, ESV)

“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:22–23, ESV)

…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! (Romans 1:25, ESV)

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.” (Romans 1:28–29, ESV)

  • This is the reason for war, envy, hatred, jealousy, cheating, and abusing God’s gifts of the earth in a spirit of increasing consuming greed and exploitation. For this, we stand condemned before God and will give account to Him.

Only God can save, not the UN or the WCC with its sustainability programs.  To this end we proclaim Christ:  

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, ESV)

Meaning in the chaos of worldviews is only possible if we have peace with Him through whom God created the universe.  He revealed the Father to us.  When He returns, because of Him, those who trusted in his exhaustive and comprehensive intercession between the Holy Creator and sinful human being will be made citizens of the new heavens and the new earth.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 13 January 2013

 

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Living on God’s earth (1)

Bible Readings

  • Genesis 1:26-2:3
  • Psalm 8
  • Romans 8:18-25

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

During our time away over Christmas, I made a point of it to have a date with our grandchildren.  I took them for a milkshake.  Discussions ranged from every-day topics to the progress in their education. NSW experienced a few sweltering days, and just to be mischievous, I threw in a few questions about what they know about climate change.  I was amazed to discover that for them, everything they hear through the mass media is actually what they are taught in schools as absolute fact beyond doubt.

At that point, I decided to prepare a few sermons on the Christian worldview about creation and living on God’s earth.  

How do we as Christians understand what is going on around us?  What is our role as human beings being placed on earth?  Are we perhaps running out of resources to live meaningfully?  Is the world overpopulated? Is there reason to be stressed and go into panic mode about these issues?  What are the do’s and don’ts?  How do we understand the calls for caring for our environment?  Is there any direction in the Scriptures about these issues?

In the sermon for today I will not endeavour to give exhaustive answers;  in the following week or two, we might go there.  But today we will look at some basic principles of the Biblical worldview.

Worldview 

What is a “worldview”?  In short, it provides us with guideposts to understand and interpret the world we live in.  We might ask questions like, “Where does the world come from?”, “Where do we as humans beings come from?”, “What is our purpose on earth?”  “What is the future of the world?”,  “Where will all of this end?” This is not a comprehensive list we as Christians may ask, but let’s stick with it for the moment.

The Marxist has a different worldview, and the atheist holds to a different worldview.  In our day environmentalists have a different worldview.  They will answer these questions differently, and they might even ask completely different questions. Each worldview represents a different angle, depending on a different belief or philosophical system.  But are they correct?

But what is the Biblical worldview?

God, the creator

We take the Bible seriously when it declares: 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, ESV)

Who does not take the very first verse in the Bible seriously, undermines the authority of the Scriptures, and logically forfeits the right to believe anything in the rest of the Bible says as worthwhile to believe in.  

Out of nothing God created the universe and everything in it.  He created the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the sea, every living creature on the earth and under the earth.  He created everything according to their kind, which means that plants since the beginning of time were plants, animals were from the beginning animals,   insects from the beginning were insects, and human beings were from the beginning human beings.  Evolution between the different kinds never happened, but evolution within species meant that, for example, dogs with the genetic material already available within the original pair of male and female dogs, could rearrange itself to adapt to different environmental demands.   

Man as God’s representative

Mankind was created to be different from the animal kingdom.  God created man and female and He Himself put his breath into them, something not attributed to the rest of what God created.  We read:  

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7, ESV)

Adam and Eve were the first human begins, and they were directly created by God.  Of them the Bible says more in detail:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

The purpose God had with Adam and Eve and their offspring was to represent Him and to have dominion over the rest He had created.  God gave them a special blessing for this task:  

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)

God created everything within the space of six days.  Then we read this statement:  

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31, ESV)

What do we deduce from this? 

  • This world belongs to God who created everything according to plan.
  • God gave everything needed for his creation to reach its fullest potential 
  • What God created is for his glory.
  • Mankind was created in the image of God, as God’s representative to act as stewards over God’s creation.  Mankind is separate from other created things.
  • Mankind is called to have dominion over all other created things.
  • Nothing you and I see, perceive, touch or possess belongs to us.  This world is God’s dominion.
  • Mankind has a responsibility to care for creation.  We will be held accountable for the way in which we stewarded what belongs to God.
  • To have children and populate the world is a command from God who will provide what we need for as long as we live under the Headship of God.

Man as under-creator

There is something else we need to keep in mind:  When God finished creating, He rested.  His rest means that He did not create any further.  It does not say that God withdrew from creation as He was only involved in what He created for six days and then in some way became absent from what He created.  When God rested, He made everything which man needed to live to the glory of God, and in principle, He provided all the raw materials required by mankind to be his representatives.  He even made it possible for Adam and Eve to have children.  In this sense then can we say that God made man his “under-creator”.  

To be extremely blunt we can say that God never built a house, but he provided man with the raw materials and the know-how to build a house.  God never build a power station, but He created the world with all the potential, and man with the intellectual expertise to build a power station.  As man developed his skills and employed the God-given raw-materials, he exercised his dominion of creation as God indented.  

God planted into Adam and Eve an affection and love for one another to have communion out of which they (in a limited sense) then became the creators of Cain and Abel.  They did so because they received from God their breath—which is life—to pass on to their children.  But Adam and Eve did not have the potential to become more than human beings.  They could never become God, although the serpent trapped them into the idea that they could be like God!

This aspect of being under-creators and having children according to God’s plan within the relationship of marriage is critical.  The abuse of sex for own pleasure, or for any other desire or purpose, distorts God’s design for man to be under-creators, and instead of the intimacy between husband and wife, sexual relationships become a curse and the original blessings are removed.

Therefore same-sex marriage carries with it the curse of no procreation.  Sexual relationships of any kind, be it of the heterosexual or homosexual kind, outside of God ordained marriage is an aberration of God’s design and instead of children considered being a blessing from God, they are found to be a curse which has to be aborted. Sexual desire then become an instrument to satisfy sinful man and stand opposed to a God-given gift to glorify his name.

Fallen man

Our biblical worldview prevents us from glorifying man.  The Bible is clear that man fell into sin.  The consequences are devastating.  Instead of living in a world which was created “good indeed”, man faced a world which became his enemy.  Every effort of mankind to have dominion over creation became a struggle against pests, drought, pain, sickness, floods, natural disasters, etc.  

“… cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17–19, ESV)

Instead of childbirth being a joy right from the beginning, God said:  

To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16, NKJV)

The word in Romans 8: 

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20–21, ESV)

I buried my puppy that had a brain tumour.  I cried my heart out for the little fellow in full knowledge that he was part of this creation which was subjected to bondage, not because he committed sin, but because my sin caused his suffering and death.

Paul in Romans 1 writes of the result of sin:  

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (Romans 1:18, NKJV)

What is this unrighteousness and ungodliness of men?  

… although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21–23, NKJV)

 Sin brought disruption between God and man:  God is holy and man is not!  Sin brought death.  The first person born to man became the murderer of the second:  Cain killed Abel.  

Conclusion

In part then, this is our Christian worldview.  In weeks to come, we will elaborate on it and also contrast it with other worldviews.

But there is something which gives sinful mankind hope.  This hope is in the Second Adam, Jesus Christ the Son of God, our Saviour.  The Bible teaches us:  

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15–17, ESV)

Our worldview includes underserved grace in Jesus Christ.  And he who trusts Christ for salvation his this hope:  

…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.(Romans 8:23, ESV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 6 January 2019.

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (4)

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 2:10-18;
  • Judges 16:1-7, 23-31

Introduction

Han van Meegeren painted a work in the style of the great Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer and titled it “The Supper at Emmaus”, fooling the critics who thought it was a lost masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer. The painting was sold for millions of dollars, and displayed in the Boijmans Gallery in Rotterdam.

Van Meegeren painted more, raking in millions more dollars.  After WWII, a receipt led two investigators from the Allied Art Commission to the studio of Van Meegeren, who wanted to know from whom he had bought the artwork. Unwilling to divulge the truth, Van Meegeren was arrested on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. Van Meegeren then confessed, but no-one believed him. Even experts testified that his work was without question was originals of Vermeer, which it was not. The only way to prove his innocence was to produce another fake!

Van Meegeren later wrote that he was sure about one thing: if he died in jail, people would forget the details of his fraudulent paintings. Because “I produced them not for money but for art’s sake.”

What about Samson, was he a fake deliverer, or just a con artist?  Must we remember him for his sins, for his achievements, or for his failures? More importantly, was Samson the leading actor in the drama of Judges 13-16? Why is his life recorded in the Scriptures?

Wrecking victory 

What stands out like a sore finger in the ministry of Samson is that his work was a one-man-show.  His methods and strategies did not appeal to his fellow-countrymen.  Did they regard him as a fraudulent, self-appointed freak?  Not many people want to be associated with a seemingly out-of-the-box person who claims to be the liberator of the people. So, Samson went solo.  All along, he subdued the enemy, even if they only observed from a distance.

Did those who divided the Bible into chapters and verses do a good job in dividing chapter 15 and 16?  Maybe not.  A careful reading of chapter 16:1-3 would instead add these verses to the end of chapter 15.  Why?  Chapter 15 tells of Samson’s victories, explicitly stating in verse 20, “Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

Chapter 16:1-3 takes us to another significant victory.  Reading some commentaries, and drawing from superficial observations, this episode in Samson’s life is lumped together with his bad choices of women.  Verses 4-21 is without a doubt about his arrogant fall into sin with Delilah.  More about that later.

Judges 16:1-3 happened in Gaza, miles away from his meeting with Delilah?  So, what was Samson’s business in Gaza?

All of this is significant with the light of another episode in the Bible.  When Israel took possession of the Promised Land under Joshua, they destroyed the Anakites who lived in the hill country to the Mediterranean Sea (Joshua 11:21).  This is roughly where Samson and his parents settled in the towns of Zora and Eshtaol. 

Who were the Anakites?  This takes us back to the report of those whom Moses had sent to check out the land.  They also visited the Sorek Valley with all the vineyards (where Samson killed the lion? [Judges 14:4]), and even took a cluster of grapes back, so big that they carried it on a pole between them (Numbers 13:23). Some came back with this report: 

“There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:33, NKJV)

After the forty years of wandering in the desert because of their unbelief (Numbers 14:11, 21-23), Joshua led the people into the Promised Land.  The occupation of years later under Joshua was not complete.  We read, 

None of the Anakim was left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod. (Joshua 11:22, NKJV)

And now we find Samson in Gaza!  

With the fearlessness of someone who understood something of delivering his people from Philistine oppression, Samson went to their own fortified capital. Gaza was the most powerful border-city of the Philistines.

Too quickly may we jump to conclusions about Samson spending the night with a prostitute.  Why was he in that house?  It was custom that the houses of prostitutes stood open to all, including strangers who had no friends in the city to take them in.  Do you remember the spies who visited Jericho and stayed the night with Rahab, the prostitute? (Joshua 2)  

Samson did not go to Gaza to visit a brothel.  Because he wished to remain there some time, there was no option for him but to check in with the prostitute. Who else would have taken him in?

Keep in mind, this was supposed to be the territory given to Judah (Judges 1:18), but they were nowhere near now?  They were hiding in the clefts, caves and strongholds (Judges 6:2) out of fear.  But Samson marched into the lion’s mouth.  The enemy had one desire:  kill him!

When they were keeping guard through the night around the city to prevent him from escaping, they fell asleep.  At midnight Samson “took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two gateposts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.” (Judges 16:3, NKJV).  To take possession of an enemy’s gate is to have a complete victory over them.  When Samson pulled out the gate of Gaza, he inflicted national humiliation of the Philistines before Israel, as if Israel, in the person of its representative, took their capital by storm.  

What did he do with the gates?  He planted them on the hill the faced Hebron.  Is it of importance?  Sure!  Hebron was the city Joshua gave to Caleb (Joshua 15:13).  Hebron had been occupied by the giants, the Anakites, but Caleb was one of the spies who reported back to Moses in Numbers 14 with these words:  

Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them. (Numbers 14:8–9, [24], NKJV)

And, of course, Hebron was the country of David, the king who would later totally destroyed the Philistines.  And not far from Hebron, in Bethlehem (the city of David) the Christ would be born, who single-handedly destroyed the enemy of enemies and enlarged the territory of God’s people into all the world.  To Him was given all power in heaven and on earth.  In His Name, we are marching on into final victory when He will crush all resistance and treads all enemy under his feet  (Psalm 2 and 110).

Samson was a man of faith, just as the Bible teaches in Hebrews 11.  Single-handedly, he made a spectacle of the oppressors.  He connected the Promised Land back to the former days, but his ministry also linked to future deliverance.  

He became a wrecking victory. 

Victorious wreck

The next and final episode in Samson’s life is a picture of failure.  In more than one sense Samson’s life became a symbol of the experience of his adulterous people, who traded her privilege as God’s treasured possession to become a spectacle of shame.

Samson toyed with his victories, took his eyes off his mission and, in arrogance and pride, squandered his God-given abilities.  

His power did not lie in his hair; his hair was merely a symbol of God’s presence with him.  In the lap of the adulterous women, now not deep in Philistine territory, but actually not far from home—and maybe because he felt safe in these environments—probably knowing that his hair had nothing to do with his strength, thought nothing of it to disregard God’s claim on him as a Nazirite.  He had Delilah snip off his hair. It was precisely because this careless attitude which dug the hole of his defeat. 

But God did not leave him at once.  Samson stretched the grace of God.  It was after the fifth time that he was not the deliverer of Israel anymore; what was left was just mortal Samson of Eshtaol. He became powerless and ended up blind, helpless, humiliated, labouring like an animal as a slave of the very people he was to destroy.

This was the story of Israel.  This was the story of the other judges.  A human deliverer would always fail.  God’s people would always fail.  They needed a Perfect Deliverer, a sinless one, a Saviour who could finally satisfy God’s wrath on sin, a Saviour who would finally destroy the enemy to set his people free.  

This Saviour was the One born in Bethlehem and who went on to destroy death and sin and hell and Satan on Calvary’s Hill.

Who knows what went through Samson’s mind as he, with eyes cut out, in the darkness of the mill floor reflected on his life.  What went through his mind when they came to get him to entertain them as they were gathered in the temple of Dagon, jeering: 

“Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy!” (Judges 16:23, NKJV)

Dagon’s temple was most probably in Ashdod north of Gaza  (1Samuel 5:1).  

Wesley penned down this poem:  

Into their hands by sin betrayed,
(The sin I cherished in my breast)
Low in the deepest dungeon laid, 
Fettered in brass, by guilt oppressed;
A slave to Satan I remain,
And bite, but cannot burst my chain.

Now to their idol’s temple brought, 
A sport I am to fiends and men, 
They set my helplessness at nought,
They triumph in my toil and pain: 
Th’ uncircumcised lift up their voice, 
And Dagon’s worshippers rejoice.

He shuffled in, chains around his ankles.  He was stripped of all dignity and pride.  Around him, there was just darkness.  

All the rulers of the Philistine were there, and the galleries were packed with 3,000 Philistines.  Guided by another servant he asked to put between the pillars supporting the roof.  

Wesley’s poem continues: 

Remember me, O Lord, my God, 
If ever I could call thee mine;
Though now I perish in my blood,
And all my hopes of heaven resign,
Yet listen to my latest call, 
Nor suffer me alone to fall.

O cast not out my dying prayer, 
Strengthen me with thy Spirit’s might
This only once: I pray thee, hear, 
Avenge me for my loss of sight,
Avenge it on mine enemies,
For they have put out both mine eyes.

Was his prayer sincere?  Calvin helps us to understand:  

“…even though there was some righteous zeal mixed in, still a burning and hence vicious longing for vengeance was in control. God granted the petition. From this, it seems, we may infer that, although prayers are not framed to the rule of the Word, they obtain their effect.”

God gave him the strength to push the supporting pillars over, killing the rulers and the people—and most importantly, making a spectacle of the god of the Philistines. Yet, it was the end of Samson, killing “at his death were more than he had killed in his life.” (Judges 16:30)

Another deliverer failed.  Samson died a victorious wreck.

Conclusion

The scene shifted to Bethlehem where Christ was born.  Our reading from Hebrews states: 

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15)

If your Christmas only takes you the stable, and not to the cross, you miss the message of Scripture.  If you do not worship Christ as the One who destroyed death and Satan, you will find yourself with Samson in the lap of sin, and with him, you will die with the enemy.  

I plead with you, fall down and worship Him as Lord and Saviour.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 December 2018

 

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (3)

Bible Readings

  • Matthew 10:34-39
  • Judges 15:1-20

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Many might look at the story of Samson and remember his strength, his long hair and bad choices of women.  Some might think of Samson in the same way as what is told of a Spanish patriot soldier who, in his dying moments responded to his chaplain, asking him whether he had forgiven all his enemies. “I have no enemies, I have killed them all.

If we take Samson’s story out of the context for which it was included in the Bible, that’s what he is:  a vengeful, pig-headed man with a larger-than-life ego who had no social skills and became responsible for his own death.

It is only in the context of his calling as God’s chosen instrument at that specific time that we will understand his mission. We to see both 

  • why his people needed deliverance, and 
  • why the Bible calls him a faithful deliverer

Last week we learned how Samson could not, and maybe would not see that God did not intend him to set his people free by trying to win them over as friends. He disregarded the advice of his parents, and could not interpret the Holy Spirit’s leading by giving him the power to kill a lion with bare hands—this was a sign that he could only deliver his people from the enemy by the ability which comes from God.  We saw him getting married to a Philistine girl, and him only slightly upsetting the enemy.  He left the wedding in rage, without his wife, and need up back in his father’s house where it all began. Then he tried again to win the enemy’s heart.

About three or four months later we find Samson again in the house of his Philistine wife.  He had a young goat, probably meant as a gift to restore peace.

Keep in mind that there was still a legally binding contract between the two families, but that marriage was still not consummated.  Samson and his wife were not, so to speak, one flesh.  This was of God who prohibited such a marriage. 

Things took another direction from this point on in the story.  All along we need to keep this line in mind:  

… this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel. (Judges 14:4, NIV)

Samson’s wife became the wife of his master of ceremonies because her father thought the deal was over.  He could take the younger, more beautiful sister instead.  But at this point, Samson began to understand his mission:  God called him to set his people free from oppression.  God did not call him to be part of the enemy, but to oppose them.

If we don’t get this point, we will miss most of the teaching of the Old Testament.  In fact, we will misunderstand the mission of Christ by limiting his mission to only setting to us an example of how we should love regardless of truth.

This is indeed the weakness of the Christian church today.  If we saw it our calling to love outside the boundaries of the truth as expressed in the Scriptures, we end up loving the world.  The message of Christ in Matthew 10:34 still stands: 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34, NIV)

But did the angels not proclaim peace on earth when they announced the birth of Christ:  

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV)

Did you hear the second part of the verse, “peace to those on whom his favour rests”?

He who loves the world has become an enemy of God (James 4:4).  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1John 2:15)  Paul writes:  

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV)

Paul also writes:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:21, NIV)

Even David prays:

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21–22, NIV)

Yes, Christ demands of us to love our enemies, but a true disciple of Christ loves his Saviour about all.  When it comes to the glory of his Name, the purity of the Gospel and the advancement of the church, we get our marching orders not from the world, but from Him who conquered the world and their deceitful master.

God led Samson to understand this valuable lesson.  He never consummated his marriage or did not take another Philistine wife the day.  The little goat he brought as a peace offering never served a purpose.

Confrontation

Samson’s mission would be fulfilled in battle.  How he discharged of his calling to us a manifestation of faithful obedience to the Lord, but not a norm of obedience. I’ll explain:  we are not called to catch foxes and burn the wheat of the world.  What we are called to is to faithfully obey the Lord for and in what He calls us as people who live in the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ.  He enables us by the Holy Spirit we sow the seed of the Gospel wherever He calls us and whenever He calls us.  In this calling we confront the world with the Gospel of Christ, we stand on the truth of God revealed in Him, and in his Name, we become a church who subdues the enemy of Christ with his Word by his Spirit.  In other words, what drove Samson to deliver his people from the enemy, will drive us; but the method was forever changed after the finished work of Christ.

Confusion

Samson was not directly responsible for what happened next, but his definite change of attack shows the weakness of the enemy of God.  

Samson refuses to take the younger sisters wife.  He was done with the Philistines.  He chose the road of confrontation to achieve God’s purpose of deliverance.  

He chose to destroy the wheat fields.  Instead of Israel occupying the land and receiving corps they did not plant, their spiritual slavery to the gods of the surrounding nations caused the reverse. What happened?  

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. (Judges 6:2–4, NIV)

The people of God hiding in mountain clefts while their crops were ruined. Is this a picture of property and blessing?  God sent his people Samson, the deliverer.

He would ruin the financial prosperity of the Philistines.  In the Sorek Valley with its fertile soils and mountain streams, the Philistines had vineyards, around which they erected walls to protect them from wild animals.  Foxes was a significant pest which got through holes in the walls and destroyed the crops.  We read about this in Song of Songs 2:15.  Samson most probably just blocked the holes through which the foxes would escape and so trap them.  Soon he had 300.  Tying their tales together with dry flax between every pair and setting it alight cause havoc.  The wheat, ready for harvest, burnt down, also causing extensive damage to the vineyard and olive groves.

This is amusing.  The Philistines then turned against one another.  They killed both Samson’s “wife” and her father. And when they took to Samson, we read, “…he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” (Judges 15:8, NKJV) This is an expression meaning they suffered huge losses.  

Conflict

Samson then took a break and sought respite in the rock of Etam.  The cleft or chasm in the rock is a long, narrow cavern about 75m long, 15m wide and 1.5m high.

What happens is tragic beyond words.  Samson’s own people became so used to be slaves in their own land, that they slavishly obeyed the Philistines to betray God’s deliverer.  The Philistines did not have the gumption to face Samson themselves unless he was bound.  The men of Judah did not see confrontation with the enemy as their duty to reclaim their Promised Land.  Instead, they delivered Samson to them.  Samson trusted his own people to protect him from their enemy, yet they regarded him as their enemy.

One would need much more time to explain what is hidden in these few verses.  But just in short:

  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ become so worldly that they turn against those who proclaim the Kingdom of God in all sincerity.  They did it with Moses too.  And they did it with Jesus Christ.  Worldly Christians can quickly become the footmen of the world doing their dirty work for them.  
  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ can become spiritually so blind that they see the enemy of Christ is their liberators.
  • It is more than just a possibility that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ would disown Him purely to protect their own interests and peace.

Think about it.  Consider your personal attitude in this.

Like a slave with hands tied up, Samson was delivered into the hands of the Philistines.  His own people did not kill him, but they would hand him over to others who would.  

But God’s servants are not powerless.  The Spirit of God rushed on Samson, and he broke the ropes which bound him.  What followed was something I would not mind seeing on video.  Samson picked up the jaw bone of a donkey and started to fling it around.  Jawbones are not really smooth, and anyone who dared to come close got knocked over.  Did he really kill a thousand of them?  The word in the Bible can also be understood as a military company.  In any case, they did not have a chance.  Samson made donkeys of them; in other words, they became like salve animals under God’s power through him.  Later on, they named the place Jawbone Hill.  There’s something of this which echoes into the future to Golgotha, Place of the Skull where our Saviour, after He was handed over by his own people to be hanged, being thirsty, had victory over Satan, death, sin and hell.

Contentment

Samson, exhausted in victory, cried out to the Lord to sustain him.  God opened a hollow place, and a fountain sprang open.  His strength returned, and he revived. God enabled his appointed deliverer to have victory, and God sustained his appointed deliver.

And we read the last statement in this chapter:  

And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines. (Judges 15:20, NKJV)

Conclusion

Anyone who knows about the Gospel of Christ will understand how Samson as deliverer was a precursor to Christ, born in Bethlehem many years later.  When we celebrate the birth of Christ, we hear the message:

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)

He is your Deliverer, He is your rock, He is the living water.  He is your Saviour.  Take up your cross and follow Him.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 December 2018

 

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (2)

Scripture Reading 

  • Judges 13:24-14:20

Introduction

All Sunday school children will encounter the story of Samson.  About all children’s Bibles will have a full-colour page of Samson tearing the lion to bits.  

What do you remember of Samson?  How should we understand the story of Samson? 

The official synopsis of the 1951 film reads: When strongman Samson rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah, she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret. In that movie, Samson won his bride after a contest of strength.  The woman he married then betrays him and fell in love with another man.  Samson went after them and killed them.  Her sister Delilah who had loved Samson in secret, seduces Samson into a relationship, in an attempt to avenge the death of her sister. She succeeded, and Samson dies a blind man.

That’s it! That’s the plot! It that we need to know about Samson?

The story of Samson was not included into the Scriptures to provide the script for a movie or even a large colour page in a children’s Bible. Samson was not a precursor to Superman.

One of the keys to understanding the Bible is to compare the Bible with itself.  Whit this in mind we need to bring into account what the Bible centuries later said about him:  

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions… And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-22, 39, ESV)

 If the name of Samson is mentioned along with the heroes of old for his faith and he is commended for it, then surely we have to try to understand why Samson’s story is included into the Scriptures.

In my research for this sermon, I found precious little theology about Samson.  Not a lot of sermons are recorded, and the commentaries are at best skimpy.  So, it is with fear end trembling that I preach this morning.  Think with me, and test the word of today against the Scriptures. May God’s Spirit give us understanding.  

Prayer:  That the Holy Spirit gives us understanding

God gave Samson to perform a specific task

Samson’s birth was unexpected and humanly impossible. His mother had been barren.  His birth was because of God’s direct intervention.

Both Samson’s parents would play an active role in his birth and upbringing.  They had to raise Samson as a Nazirite—a child dedicated to the service of God.  Even before his birth, they had to treat him as God’s chosen instrument.  Manoah knew that Samson would be unique when he asked what his son’s mission would be (13:12).  From birth, Samson would be set apart to “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (13:5)

The encounter of the parents with the Angel of the Lord has all the marks of a covenant between God and them.  It was sealed with a sacrifice, which God accepted. 

Samson grew up as a specially consecrated instrument in the hands of God.  His name was carefully selected:  “Sunshine” as if his mother saw the mission of her son as God giving light to his people.

Through his diet, appearance and everyday activity his parents would imprint on him God’s calling for his life.  One can be sure that his extended family and neighbourhood knew about God’s mission with the young man. God affirmed his intentions with Samson; we read,  

And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:25, ESV)

 Samson’s misguided program to of attack

Timnah was a Philistine town only a few miles away from where his parents raised Samson, on the other side of the border. He probably went there often.  In the back of his mind the words of his parents echoed:  You must deliver the people of God from Philistine oppression.   

In his mid-twenties, he met a girl and fell in love with her.  Maybe he thought he could overcome the enemy by first becoming part of them, he would thus gain a platform to execute his mission.  All along we read: the Lord was seeking an occasion [the right moment/time] to confront the Philistines.  Samson knew this fact very well, but his personal strategy went along a different path.  

His patents protested because they disagreed with his strategy.  Samson insisted, “She’s the right one for me.” (Or: “She’s right in my eyes”.) This was probably not the action of a man only blindly in love.  He understood his mission, and all along he probably still thought God will bless him through his marriage to get a foothold on the oppressors.  

So, the parents went along to make arrangements for the marriage.  They had to negotiate the dowry.  This made the betrothal to be married binding.  (So by the way, in this word betroth, the word for truth is buried.  This, of course, leads us to understand marriage between man and wife as a relationship based on truthfulness.) 

But on the way to Timnah, something extraordinary happened.  In the Sorak valley of vineyards, God’s Spirit came upon Samson.  When a lion attacked him, God gave him the strength to rip it apart as if was a young goat.  This must have impacted Samson to know getting married to the Philistine woman was not in God’s plan. Keep in mind, the Bible gives us no indication that Samson was physically stronger than any other person of his age.  He most probably never was, but God enabled him with exceptional strength when only he needed it. 

Samson suppressed God’s plan, but even subconsciously he must have known it was the right thing to do.  Contrary to what one might expect, he hid the episode with the lion from his parents,.  Would you not tell your parents that God empowered you and you just killed a lion with your bare hands? He was probably afraid that they might see it as a sign of God to not go ahead with the marriage.

If it was my mother, she would be quick to tell me that God wanted me to listen to God’s voice!

But his heart was set:  if he had to deliver the enemy, he would do it his way!  He did not abandon his mission, he just went about it in his own strength, thereby rejecting the power by which God wanted him to go about it. 

On his way for the actual wedding day, he diverted into the vineyard and had a look to see if the carcass of the lion was still there.  Yes!, and this time it had bees and honey in it.  He took the honey and gave it to his parents—but did not tell them where he got it from?  Why?  

Once again he missed the message.  He probably saw it as a sign that God would bless his marriage, but he lost the picture as a followup of him killing the beast:  if he could kill a roaring lion by the strength God provided, he would lead the people to restore the Promised Land to a place of milk and honey.

Samson did not overcome the enemy; he only somewhat distressed them

From what we gather from the Scriptures, unlike the custom of the day, the wedding feast did not take place in the house of the groom’s father.  That was in some sense humiliating for Manoah:  having a wedding feast in the house of your oppressors. If his relatives were present, those who had been told that God gave Samson to deliver Israel from the hand of their oppressors, this wedding celebration was instead a sign of defeat and further oppression.  It would be a riddle to the Israelites who attended it.

But maybe God can still hit a straight blow with a crooked stick.  Samson, as God’s special consecrated man, might have other insights regular folk did not have!

It lasted a full week. The guests were intrigued by Samson’s riddle:  Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” If only Samson’s heart were receptive to understand his own riddle, he would have followed God’s plan: he would have assumed that the eater, the Philistines, would be defeated and God would restore his people in the land of milk and honey.

Instead, Samson, the consecrated Nazirite, frivolously squandered the opportunity amongst the enemy known for their wallowing in drunkenness and hedonistic self-gratification. Does it remind you of the lost son in the parable of our Lord? 

Surely, Samson did infiltrate the enemy, but only thirty Philistines lost their lives, and that because the Spirit of God enabled him.  It was hardly a comprehensive victory!  Even more so when this episode in Samson’s life ended up where his ministry started: in his father’s house:  he lost his wife and went back to live with his parents.

Application

There are other examples in the Bible of men of God who made the same mistake as Samson.  

  • Abraham:  instead of staying in the land God promised to him and his descendants, he went down to Egypt, gave up his wife, only to return humiliated.  He misunderstood the promises of God, and he wanted it to come true as he saw it. Through the school of faith, Abraham learnt to fully trust and obey God, even if it were needed to sacrifice his only son.
  • Lot:  He thought he could gain something by living in Sodom.  He chose wrongly.  Yes, the Bible calls him a righteous man (2Peter 2:7), but his witness became weak, and none in Sodom believed him when he told them to flee the city ahead of God’s judgment.  By the grace of God, he was saved.
  • Samson: Samson had it wrong and initially squandered the opportunities God gave him because of his own stubborn understanding of God’s purposes.  Pigheadedly, he insisted on being the leading player in his life drama, instead of being like clay in the hand of the Holy Spirit.

Borrowing from Spurgeon’s sermon, we have to say that the secret of Samson’s strength only lied in his consecration as God’s instrument. Never should we think that we have any power and understanding of our own.

We have to guard our consecration; it must be sincere; we must mean it, and then look up to the Holy Spirit, relying on Him to give us daily grace.  It is not by any grace or insight, or power we have in us, but by the grace that is in Christ, and that must be given to us hour by hour, or we will fall.  Then, when we have done all required of us, we will be crowned last as a faithful one, who has endured unto the end.

Just one last thought:  Samson, and all human deliverers before and after him, was born of a man; they were sinners.  They were born on the long road to Bethlehem.  It was only then that the Messiah, not born of a man, but of the Holy Spirit, was born.  Being sinless, being one with the Father, His mission succeeded.  He totally destroyed the enemy.  For his wedding feast we, his bride, are waiting.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 December 2018

 

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (1)

Bible Readings

  • Luke 1:26-38
  • Judges 13:1-24

Introduction

In Stay of Execution, Stewart Alsop, an apathetic Christian, discussed what it was like to live with incurable leukaemia. 

There was a period in which the disease was temporarily arrested. During this time, he discussed some variables with his physician. Finally, Alsop said, “There is one variable you keep leaving out.” “What’s that?” “God,” he said.

The doctor and the patient smiled. Alsop continued, “I don’t really believe in God, or at least I don’t think I do, and I doubt if my doctor does; but I think we both had in the back of our minds the irrational notion that God might have something to do with what happened all the same.”

Maybe this illustration describes the time in Israel before Samson was born.  God became an irrational notion in the back of their minds.

And maybe it also describes the general notion among Christians:  they attend churches, they expect to get married in churches, and to be buried with a church service, they attend the signing of Christmas carols, and might attend the odd Easter Service—all because God became an irrational notion in the back of their minds.

Spiritual life for many people only means to have their names on some membership roll.  Worship services are a good tradition, keeping one out of mischief on a Sunday because who knows, one can never completely discount the notion of God.  For some unbelievers praying to God in times of distress and discomfort becomes the last straw they hang on to—one never knows, maybe there is a god!

Does this describe your spiritual life? A “maybe” or “a just-in-case” relationship with God with no meaningful or effectual content to what you believe? No vitality, no living hope, no real substance, just a breathless, run-of-the-mill and bleached-out going through the motions, just in case God might be there, who knows?

It’s worse if this becomes the picture of a denomination, or even more deplorable if it describes the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These might be the symptoms; but what is the underlying disease?

The church became an undesired social institution

Israel of the Old Testament is the church of God under the pre-Christ dispensation, and certain truths stare us straight in the eye.  

God redeemed Israel to be his treasured possession.  Once redeemed from the Egyptian bondage, God promised to make true to them his covenant promises.  This is the story recorded in the Scriptures.  Moses reminded the people:  

The land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (Deuteronomy 11:11–12, NIV)

The Lord gave them this assurance:

I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. (Exodus 23:25–30, NIV)

Israel had to conquer the Land of Promise. It was the place where they had to make known the great Name of God by living as priests to the Lord, a nation of witness to the greatness of God’s Name.  This is God’s promise to them:  

… the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours… No one will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as He promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go. (Deuteronomy 11:22–25, NIV)

Listen to this undertaking of the Lord:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:5–6, NIV)

There were stipulations attached: they had to follow the Lord’s command: 

When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. (Numbers 33:51–53, NIV)

Why?

“ … if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them. ” (Numbers 33:55–56, NIV)

Well, God’s people of old were extraordinarily blessed.  They received a land with large, flourishing cities they did not build,  houses filled with all kinds of good things they did not provide, wells they did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves they did not plant (Deuteronomy 6:10–12, NIV).

But what happened?  How successful were they in taking possession of the land?  

When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labour but never drove them out completely. … the Canaanites continued to live there among them. … Zebulun subjected the Canaanites into to forced labour… The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out. Neither did Naphtali drive out … the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those … became forced labourers for them. 

Judges 2 helps us to complete the picture:

They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. (Judges 2:12–14, TNIV)

Another perspective from the Bible:

Yet you have disobeyed me. I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you. (Judges 2:1–3, TNIV)

How did it play out in history?  This takes us to Judges 13.

The Amorites confined the Danites [the parents of Samson were of the tribe of Dan] to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. (Judges 1:28–34, TNIV)

But before we continue, let’s make some application to the church of today.  Is it true that the Christian church in Australia is losing ground?  That’s undoubtedly what the statistics show!  But how does it stack up against the promise and command of the risen Christ who said, 

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

There are obvious parallels with the church of today and the church of the Old Testament, isn’t it?  The death-nail is to make compromises with the world. It happens when the church walks away from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, watering it down, in an attempt to become more popular.  The war-cry is to become seeker-sensitive.  And the more we reach into the world, the more the world reach into the church.  Instead of being counter-cultural, we have become a cultural assimilating cultural body.  Our witness is watered down, our message has become stale and meaningless, the Bible is neglected in some worship services, church language and demeanour,  even worship music, is hardly any different from what the world has on offer.  We do these things to not be an offence, while it is exactly our calling is not to please the world, but to worship God.

The status quo is the new normal 

Judges 13 sketches the church of God at a low watermark.  Something like a refrain runs through the book of Judges every time a new judge is announced: “The Israelites did what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord…” But this phrase is missing when the angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s mother.  

With other judges, the people cried to the Lord for help, but not at the time when Samson’s birth was announced.   For forty years those whom Israel was supposed to dispossess, became the oppressors.  And it seems Israel got used to the situation.  They took the role is servants in the land which God gave them to possess and to reign for God’s glory.  

It got so low, that our chapter in Judges paints a picture of God’s own people not even knowing what His real name was.  The writer of the book used God covenant name JHWH, but Samson’s mother uses a generic term for God, “a man of God” or ”a godlike man”.  Her husband used another name, ‘Adonaj.  Maybe for longer than they had been married, there was no messenger of God.  It is only much later that they understood that it was indeed God who appeared to them.

The status quo of not knowing God became the new normal.  Not knowing Him also meant not knowing his will for them.  Even worse, not knowing Him, indicated that they have lost hope on salvation and freedom from oppression. Being dispossessed and living in bondage became normal.

This is a very sad state of affairs for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ:  if we don’t know and serve Him as Lord and Saviour, we will accept the lowest denominator as the standard.  The life of the church becomes stale, colourless, with no vitality, no living hope, no real substance, just a breathless, run-of-the-mill and bleached-out.  Churchgoers are going through the motions, just in case God might be there, who knows? And while the world laughs and scoffs, we take it as normal.

And just don’t rock the boat to upset the world!  When Samson began to terrorise the Philistines in an attempt to set his people free, of his own people rebuked him:  

Three thousand men from Judah said to Samson, “Don’t you realise that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?” He answered, “I merely did to them what they did to me.” (Judges 15:11, NIV)

It might be that the true man or woman of God who takes Christ on his word is considered to be the enemy of the very people who are supposed to be God’s conquering army under the banner of Christ.  

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, our Canaan is the lost world to be conquered with the Gospel of Jesus Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The church of God needs to be like a marching, invading army.  

Our series for advent goes under the heading, “The long road to Bethlehem”.  Samson was not the ultimate deliverer; he just “began” to deliver (Judges 13:5).  The final Deliverer was born in Bethlehem many years after that.  His deliverance was comprehensive and definitive.  In His Name, we should march forward, uncompromised.  The minute we become worldly, we lose, and God only becomes an irrational notion in the back of their minds.  But, He then becomes our enemy.  

Let’s fall at the feet of Christ and witness Him to the fallen world around us with undivided loyalty.

Amen.

Spiritual growth in Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:9-16
  • Philippians 1:3-11

Introduction

Who present today would like a 10-page book on 3 easy steps to spiritual maturity? You may go to sleep tonight as a babe, then wake up tomorrow with full knowledge of God’s Word, able to discern the most excellent things in life. But, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. In fact, Christian growth can be likened to our ageing. As we grow older, we acquire knowledge and learn how to discern right from wrong, good from bad. Yes, this takes time. But Christian maturity goes beyond this, and will often take long bouts of persevering against the world. 

In Philippians1:6, we observe a vital verse concerning sanctification, the process of our spiritual growth. It says, 

“that He (God) who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. 

God is the one who created us as His new creatures. Who had, “begun a good work in you…”, and it is God who brings it to completion. It is the Holy Spirit who is leading us along this journey of our spiritual growth, ‘until the day of Jesus Christ’.

This spiritual maturity, according to Philippians 1:9-11, involves a more in-depth knowledge interlaced with wisdom, a life that is lived according to God’s Word, producing righteous fruit, and most importantly having the Spirit of Christ instructing our renewed heart.

NO Easy Steps to Christian Maturity

Christians today, are not growing up to spiritual maturity. We have become people who look for the easy way up. People who only spend a few minutes in ‘self-centred’ prayer. A few moments reading a passage in the Bible. There is no contemplation, no meditation, and no application. Finishing just in time for our favourite television program, or that book we just can’t put down, and we waste several hours just idly sitting there. Now I’m not saying television or books are evil, but the devil uses things such as these to keep our attention away from what is essential, away from studying the Bible, thereby robbing us of our joy in Christ.

What Happed…?

One of the main events that happened in the reformation 500 years ago was the translation of the Holy Bible into the common language of the people. Now the man on the street could study, and apply God’s word to his life, he could grow up spiritually. We, on the other hand, have several translations on our bookshelves but rarely open them. We really have become lazy in our dedication to knowing God Word.

We read in v9, “That your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. This love must be a continual overflowing love that is built on knowledge, but this isn’t just common knowledge. It is an ever-deepening knowledge of God in His word, of the world and of ourselves. And especially important is understanding how to put that knowledge to practical use. Commentator Steven Lawson says, 

“Rightly exercising Christian love requires God-given insight into people and situations. It necessitates the practical wisdom that only God can impart.”. 

Love that continually overflows is nurtured by seeing God in Holy Scripture, knowing how the world operates, and proper knowledge of ourselves, our own failings, and weaknesses. 

We find the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 13:12, 

“Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 

Here the first ‘know’ is the common meaning of the word know. I know the Prime Minister. But the second ‘know’ is the same word used in Philippians 1:9. It refers to an over knowledge and is conveying to the reader a fuller or an informed, knowledge. Just having a partial knowledge isn’t going to do it. Real knowledge understands how we are to live in this world, in a biblical, godly manner. 

The Bible Clears the Path Ahead

Having real knowledge helps us to have “all discernment”, and our path ahead will be clearer. What Paul is saying is that we are to develop a depth of insight, or be discriminating, in all areas of life. 

The first point of call is, and always should be, the Word of God. No worldly activity, no matter how godly it seems, should take precedence over it. God’s holy word alone is our ultimate authority for being discerning. In other words; God’s Word is the standard of how we grow to maturity in Christ, how we live. God has used many Christ centred people, both past and present, to illuminate His Word for us and we would be wise to use all of that which God has given. Ultimately, though, the Spirit of God is our teacher, and we need to be asking Him to illuminate His word, for correct understanding. 

Then we must live the God centred life. If we are to be God’s light and pure salt in this world, then we really need to be out there living in it, but we cannot allow it to influence how we live as God’s people. Just as James puts emphasis on the knowing and doing, we too must wisely live in this world acting on what the Bible teaches.

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3

As our “love continues to abound in knowledge and all discernment” (v. 9) we will be able to (v. 10) “approve the things that are excellent”. When we have the knowledge of God’s word, the world we live in, and sober judgement of ourselves, we will be able to approve, or ‘test for purity’, the things that are excellent. Paul is praying that we will be able to make a distinction between what is good and what is better. 

Knowing good from evil is relatively easy, but knowing what is better from good can be a lot harder to determine. Knowing whether or not to touch a poisonous snake is easy. But knowing which ministry to put your finances and effort into can more difficult. We shall discern, better from good, when we know the Word of God. John MacArthur, a well-known preacher, puts it this way; 

“Christian character at its highest level comes from a divinely implanted and ever-growing love. That both leads to and is directed by, a rich understanding of and faithful obedience to the divine truth revealed in Scripture.”

Above Reproach

Why does God want His Children to have this knowledge and discernment? If we continue, v. 10 gives us the answer, “that you may be sincere and without offence”. Here is the result of living out the abounding love in knowledge and all discernment. 

‘Sincere’ comes from a Greek word which means, ‘to test by sunlight’. In Ancient Near Eastern markets there was thick, easy to make, pottery and then there was fine pottery, a lot harder to make, but it broke easily. What some merchants would do was glue the broken pottery back together with wax, then pretty it up with paint. The buyer became aware of the problem when the impure pot got too hot, the heat of the sun or near fire, the wax would melt, and the pot was ruined. But we are called to be pure vessels, without flaws, and able to stand ‘the sunlight test’.

‘Without offence’ comes from a term that means blameless. Other than unbelief, there is probably no greater sin that Jesus condemned more than hypocrisy. Especially the religious kind, like that which was shown in the Pharisees and scribes in passages such as Matthew 7:5; 15:7; Luke 12:56; 13:15. Paul writes to both Timothy and Titus about the office of elders. Elder, he demands, must be above reproach, this is the same thing he is praying for in our current passage. Colossians says in 1:10, “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him”.

Are We There Yet?

We know that Paul isn’t writing just to the early Church at Philippi but to all believers in all times. How do we know this? We know this because of the clause that follows in v10; “till the day of Christ”. The day of Christ is referring to the end of time, when Christ, as the Judge will separate the sheep from the goats. The goats will receive eternal punishment, but the sheep will receive eternal life. 

The need for spiritual growth must be a focus of every believer. We need to remember that abounding love, which is both sincere and non-offensive, involves both the mind and heart for proper godly growth. 

Is There Fruit Yet?

Flowing on then, is a life that produces righteous fruit, v11 “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ”. In the Christian life, there are two types of righteousness. The first is that of the righteous life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and which is credited to our account when we are reborn. 

The second meaning of righteousness in the Bible is the right acts that we do and stems from wisely acting on a proper understanding of God’s Word.  James 2 asks: How does someone who confesses faith in Christ demonstrate that faith? If you profess faith in Christ, it will be seen in the way you act. James 2:26 is a massive wake-up for us. If you do NOT possess what you confess, you’re dead.

We are saved from our previous sinful lives to display God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” These verses tell us that we are not saved by good works, but for good works. The ‘fruit’ produced by a righteous life has its source in the Word of God, which is illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit. 

The Meaning of Life / Where is God?

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is; 

What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Christian love that continues to grow and grow and overflow into everyday life comes from God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Spirit. Our sanctification will only stagnate if we are not placing God at the centre of our heart. A regular study of God’s Word together, with meditating on it, and apply it is our daily act of worship, Romans 12:1-2. 

Conclusion 

In Australia today many Christians have allowed the world to dictate to them what they should believe on many things. These Christians confess Christ as their King, but by allowing the world to dictate their beliefs, they are acting like the impure pots filled with wax. When it heats up, they fall apart. We must be like the pure pots, sincere and without offence.

Let me leave you with 3 questions:

  1. How are you abounding in knowledge and all discernment? 
  2. Are you able to test and approve what is excellent in light of God’s Word? 
  3. How are you equipped to live to the praise and glory of God?

The reformers had a motto; Reformed and Reforming. They knew that the process of holiness is a lifetime’s work, it requires prayer, dedication, and spiritual effort. And, it will continue until the day of Christ Jesus. 

May we be continually reforming to God’s standards, by abounding in love “still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. So we may be sincere and without offence, producing righteous fruit in Christ, and above all, giving praise and glory to God.

Sermon preached by Mr Ken Mobbs on Sunday 18 November 2019

Participating in the sufferings of Christ

Scripture Reading

  • 1Peter 4:12-19

Introduction

The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, honour those who died for their country. Built following World War I, it was expanded to remember those who served in subsequent conflicts. It is a beautiful place, with monuments to courage and devotion, but the highlight of the shrine is a hall containing a carved stone that simply reads: “Greater Love Hath No Man”. The architects designed the room so that every year on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11:00 a.m light from the sun passes over the stone, stopping briefly to spotlight the word “Love”. It is a moving tribute to those who gave their lives. 

However, more than honouring the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, the words on that stone carry a far greater meaning. Jesus spoke them the night before He would die on the cross. His death was not for freedom from tyranny, but freedom from the penalty of sin. His death was not to give us a better life, but to give us eternal life. As we remember those who died for their country, may we never forget to praise and honour the Christ who died in the place of a  dying world. For there is truly “no greater love than this than Jesus lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) (Taken from: Our Daily Bread, ANZAC Centenary Edition, Day 2)

Discipleship

There is, however, another love the Bible speaks about.  Our Lord made it very clear.  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37, NKJV)

How does this love look like?  Are there any sacrifices attached to it?  Let’s look at one verse.  

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26, NKJV)

When Jesus Christ called his disciples, He started them to become fishers of men.  One of the first discipleship training events is recorded as the Sermon on the Mount. Read the verse carefully, and you will notice that Jesus might have included some bystanders when He taught that time, but it seems as if He directly spoke to the new followers.  

Six times in a row our Lord used the word “blessed”.  A way to translate it is “happy”, and by extension “privileged”. Up to the last, we might think that becoming a follower of Christ is really something special.  But listen to this: 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12, NKJV)

In the Upper Room our Lord drove the nail a bit deeper: 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:18–20, NKJV)

Just hours before their Saviour would be nailed to the cross, He said, 

Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33, NKJV)

They were there when Christ was arrested, they saw their Master being whipped, they saw his legs gave under the weight of the cross as He carried it to Calvary’s Hill.  They heard Him cry in agony as the soldiers hammered the nails through his hands and his feet.  And then there was the cry, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

It does not surprise us to find the disciples behind closed doors out of fear for the Jews, even till the third after that Friday.  Perhaps they would be next because they associated with Jesus of Nazareth.

Would it be that at that point, if we were part of the disciple group, that we would bale out? But then, what about the all-encompassing love we should have for our Saviour?  What about the price of discipleship?  If I bale out now, I will betray my Saviour.  If I now turn away from Him who loved me and gave his life for me, how would I face eternity without Him?  

The Holy Spirit and the Bible

The Spirit brings to my mind the words of Christ.  

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9, NKJV)

Other verses ring in my ear:

You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:18–20, NKJV)

But there is also this promise:  

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29, NKJV)

What did David say when he faced death over and over again?  

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell. Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident. (Psalm 27:1–3, NKJV)

There is a cloud of witnesses to spur us on by their example of discipleship.  

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:35–40, NKJV)

Where do I stand?  About that sort of treatment for the sake of the Name of Christ I know nothing—yet! What took them through?  What made them follow till the end?  They believed God and trusted his promises.  The loved Him with all their hearts, all their minds, all their might and all their soul.  

The Apostles rejoiced when they were flogged after they refused to be silent about their Lord and Saviour because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41)

Sufferings for Christians are nothing abnormal

And wherever the followers of Christ were scattered a pattern developed:  suffering and opposition.  

That’s why Peter wrote that Christians should not be surprised at the painful trials and sufferings.  Rather, we would rejoice.  Why? When trials come our way, our being ‘in-Christ’ proves to be true!  We are hated because Christ is hated.  If they love us, it’s because we are loveable, but not by Christ.  James writes: 

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

Peter writes: 

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in [because of] that name. (1 Peter 4:16, ESV)

Conclusion

The Bible is clear about it:  the world hates Christ, and they will hate us too.  They will one stand in judgement before the throne of God for treading the blood of Christ underfoot and for the way they treated his church.

We might not yet have endured all the hardship the Bible is preparing us for, but the mere fact that we today pray for the persecuted church is proof that there are real, present struggles and battles which have and are claiming life and belongings.  Some fellow believers were killed just last week. Thousands are imprisoned, and many more are fleeing to who-knows-where.

My friend, we need to now put our faith to the test and become spiritually competent and worthy of the name of Jesus Christ.  We have to, time is running out.  Entrust your life in the hands of Him who has overcome, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 November 2018

 

Living ‘in-Christ’ (4)

Bible Readings

  • Proverbs 10:18-32
  • Colossians 3:5-17

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

Successful advertising companies design their ads after careful market research, more so about the potential buyers.  Not only do they know their product, but they know who they want to buy their products.  

To get us to buy a product, they persuade us of two things:  you need something, and you deserve that thing.  Their product is always “better”, “bigger” or “faster”— but we’re not told better, bigger or faster than what! The clincher in the ad is using the words like “you deserve it!”

I sometimes wonder if most of them were looking over the shoulder of the serpent in paradise. The appeal then was on the desire to get what they thought they did not have!  The Bible tells:  

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis 3:6, NKJV)

When our first parents fell, the floodgates opened, and sinful desire became like a bottomless well which never runs out of enticement.

We got engaged in the war of Satan, sin and the flesh.  We need a lifeline out of this enslaving mess:  someone to destroy Satan, someone who is victorious over sin, and to help us overcome fleshly desire.  There is only one possibility:  Jesus Christ! We need to live ‘in-Christ’.

The sermon today is still following the theme of Living ‘in-Christ’; the title is Put your mouth where your heart is. Remember these three main points:

  • When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods 
  • When the heart is a fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth 
  • Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods

It is clear from our reading from Colossians this morning that those who received salvation in Christ have received a new address.  Because they, by faith, are ‘in-Christ’ they are principally seated with Christ at the right hand of God (3:1).  They are ‘in-Christ’, they died with Him (3:3), they rose ‘in-Christ’ into a new life Christian, and ‘in-Christ’ they will one day appear in eternal glory (3:4).

However, no Christian is exempt from battle with sin. The war against sin has been won ‘in-Christ’, but the battles are ongoing.  Therefore this verse:  

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5, NKJV)

The truth of this verse is important because when the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods.  

The expression ‘evil desires’ in verse 5 is a manifestation of the sin which dwells in man and which controls him; it is the persistent root in us to seek our wills instead of the will of God. This desire arises out of the world, make up its essence and perishes with it.  It is like a wildfire:  if not kept under a lid, it will destroy and devour.  

The essential point in sinful desire is that it is an impulse, a motion of the will. When sinful desire in whatever forms knocks on my door it promises satisfaction and enjoyment; it persuades me that if I don’t give in to its demands, I will be unsatisfied, deprived, unfulfilled.  It convinces me that life without fulfilling the desire is unfair.  It is nothing less than anxious self-seeking. It bursts upon us with the force of immediacy.

This is the old life without Christ.  Paul writes: 

… we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:3, NKJV)

Those who received Christ, who live ‘in-Christ’ “set their hearts” and “set their minds” “on things above” (3:1-2).  It follows as a necessity for those who once were dead in sins of the sinful nature, but who are made alive with Christ (2:13).  Because we are forgiven, because we are rescued, because we are ‘in-Christ’, we must “put to death” our sinful desires.

The Bible warns us that the earthly nature (3:5), the way we used to walk (3:7), the old self (3:9) will keep rearing its head. If our minds are set on earthly things (3:2) these evil desires will pounce on us and severely impede on our Christian progress.  We will be limping along, and our lives will bring dishonour to the Name of Christ who died and rose for us.  No, our lives should be ‘in-Christ’.  

The Bible here uses very explicit language to warn us:  giving in to the desires of the flesh—which is born in the deception of satan—is idolatry, and idolatry is invoking the wrath of God.

The essence then is to mortify these desires in the power of the resurrected Christ.  Our verse says, “Put to death.” 

There is a dire warning about desires.  Jesus told the parable of the seed.

Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18–19, NKJV)

Paul writes in Galatians 5

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:17, NKJV)

Keep in mind, when the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods.  It is only when there has been a change of heart, a change of mind, that there will be a change in life.

When the heart is a fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth 

Little wonder then that Paul continues:  

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8, NKJV)

The heart is the wellspring for the words of our mouths. Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language as to verbalise the thoughts of the heart.  When Paul practically applies this principle he uses a very familiar example:  Do not lie to each other. 

Why do we lie?  Invariably, we lie to either protect ourselves or to gain something unlawful.  Why would that be?  It’s purely because the desire to self-seeking has reared its head.  Sinful man will do the distance for as long as his self-interest is at stake.

Christians need to continually flee from this evil.  We need to remind ourselves to put off the old self and put on the new self (3:9-10).  We are called to display the image of our Creator who renewed in the image of Christ.  This means sanctification.  God made us his chosen people, and He calls us holy and dearly loved.  We are made new ‘in-Christ’, and we need to continue to live ‘in-Christ’.  There is no option.

You might have heard people saying something like, “I tell things the way they are; it’s in my nature.”  Or, “It just comes naturally to me to jump in, do things, and later feel sorry.  That’s the way I am.”

Some of us can indeed be a bit fiery, direct, stubborn and abrupt.  Honesty is a good thing, but there is also such a thing as a character being changed and renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit.   It must be true of any Christian! No Christian can hide behind old sinful traits.

Verse 11 almost seems out of place in this chapter.  It reads:  

…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11, NKJV)

What does it say?  At least two things:  

  • don’t hide behind your heritage when you get worked up and upset.  “I’m of Scottish heritage!”  “I am a Scythian!” (They apparently were fairly barbaric and could easily use their culture as an excuse for what might be unacceptable to others cultures. The once fiery, direct, stubborn and abrupt must put those things to death, because irrespective of your background, the demand is to live like a Christian.
  • always regard others in the family of Christ as your brothers and sisters, and treat them with the love of Christ, consistently putting them first. 

… bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Colossians 3:13–14, NKJV)

The injunction is to take off the old, and to put on the new:  

put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; (Colossians 3:12, NKJV)

Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

How do we mortify the desires of the flesh?  How do we overcome sin?  How do we have victory over Satan?

  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.  Dwell on the Scriptures.  Read it, know it, study it, and live by it.  It will drive you to live ‘in-Christ.” 
  • Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Let the Word be your standard when you want to criticise others.  And let’s be honest, it will be impossible to quarrel over petty nonsense if we sing together with grace in your hearts.  Right?
  • And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16–17, NKJV)  Set your whole life up to honour God and live in thanksgiving.

These things will guard your heart as the wellspring of life.  

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 4 November 2018

Living ‘in-Christ (3) –

Bible Reading

  • Colossians 3:1-11

Introduction

In 1976 Dr Francis Schaeffer wrote a book with the title “How should we then live”.  The question is by what standard should we live.  Dr Schaeffer said when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, it provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society. This leads to what Schaeffer calls “freedom without chaos.” When we base our standard on a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own autonomous, independent measure, all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong. 

How should Christians live?

The story was told of a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the frozen river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived, the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day. After the service, they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided it was all right! 

We might ask, “By what principle?”

By what principle?

The great controversy of Colossians stems from the influence of Gnosticism, as well as Judaism upon the Christian congregation.

We met the Gnostics who contended that the only way to salvation comes through some mystical separation from earthly life in search of the way out of this world into the next.  Some adhered to a strict lifestyle, denying themselves all psychical enjoyment, claiming that they receive messages from angels and have seen things other couldn’t (Colossians 2:18, 23).

Another group in the congregation was the Jews.  Some commentators think that we should think of Jewish gnostics.   Their own brand of Christian living was tainted with the rules and regulations as defined by the Pharisees.  Their mortality was one of what one eats and drinks, whether or not you celebrate New Moon festivals and Sabbath Days.  Their morality is summed up in “Do not handle, do not test, do not touch.” (Colossians 2:21)  

The members of the congregation who did not meet their standard of living were regarded as spiritually underdeveloped; they were disqualified from the prize.

The regulations of both the Gnostics and the Jews indeed had an appearance of wisdom and humility.

The question still remained, “By what standard?  Why?”

The Apostle Paul writes:  

Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, (Colossians 3:5–6, NKJV)

He continues:  

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8, NKJV)

Do you want to ask the question, “By what standard, Paul?

What is the difference between what the Gnostics and the Jewish Pharisees said?  Is it not just the same thing? The Gnostics called for humility, harsh treatment of the body, withdrawal from the evil world.  The Jews called for a holy life of “do not taste, do not handle”. Would the Gnostics and the Jews not agree with Paul’s call against fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Add this this anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy language.

Let’s go back to the elders and the skating minister:  by what standard did he think it was good to skate to church, and by what standard did the elders condemn him?  And by what standard was it okay if the minister did not enjoy it?  They apparently had different standards.

If we even go back to Dr Schaeffer, we might understand something.  If we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, it provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives.

What is this absolute principle which God gave us to live by?

‘Without-Christ’ and ‘in-Christ’

‘Without-Christ’

When salvation is based in adhering to certain sets of rules, one finds oneself in what the Bible describes as living in shadows, in false humility, having an unspiritual mind which exhibits itself in pride, having a fleshly, or worldly mind.  All these efforts come to nothing and lead nowhere.  It cannot mortify sin.  Why? Verse 19 gives the answer:  

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:19, NIV)

Good works are not bad, but it achieves nothing for eternity.  

In essence, this describes life without Christ.

So, let’s be practical.  When it comes to things eternal, the things you hold dear because you value them as the things which will be able to tell God why He should allow you in heaven, what precisely are they?  Why do you think they are meeting God’s standard?  By what standard do you measure and value these things?

Do you read the Bible regularly because God might give you a golden star on the forehead if you did?  Do you pray to get another star of approval?  Do you come to church for the same reason?  Have you stopped swearing and telling dirty jokes because, by your standards, it is not good?  If this the case, you are in the same boat as those we read about in Colossians 2: they have lost connection with the Head. Don’t you think you should reconsider your case in the light of what the Bible teaches?

‘With-Christ’

Paul contradicts the life of self-improvement and DIY righteousness with the life ‘in-Christ’. 

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3, NIV)

To understand the difference between BYO, DIY and fleshly, dying, worthless righteousness and God-glorifying righteousness something radical must happen.  It is extraordinary radical, but it is the only way.

You have to die!  

You have to die and take into that grave all efforts of self-righteousness.  It is clear Biblical language:  

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… (Colossians 3:5, NIV)

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these… (Colossians 3:8, NIV)

Words in these verses refer back to Colossians 2:11 where it talks about the fulness of the work of Christ who, in our place, “put off the sinful nature” by dying for us (v.12).  When Christ took away or cancelled the charges against us by nailing it to the cross, He fulfilled what we never could or will by own effort.  

This is the Good News of the Gospel:  we don’t need to try to get ourselves up to scratch to meet God’s standard; He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to do it on our behalf and in our place. But to get any benefit from this rescue mission, we need to, by faith and deed, die with Him.  We need to attend our own funeral; we need to get rid of the filthy, sins-stained clothes, and clothe ourselves with the righteousness of Christ.  

It’s only when we understand that by dying to sin in Jesus Christ, we receive a heavenly address which enables us to set our minds on holy things.  

A radical change

In chapter 2 Paul referred to self-helpers, who have cut themselves loose from Christ.  He calls them puffed up and unspiritual without any hope because whatever they try to improve themselves is actually only exposing more obstacles, digging their graves just deeper.  Remember what Dr Francis Shaeffer said about life without God?  

… all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong… Because we disagree on what is best for which group, this leads to fragmentation of thought, which has led us to the despair and alienation so prevalent in society today.

For those who are ‘in-Christ’, those who died with Christ, those who rose with Him to a new life, those who received their address in heaven, there has been a radical change, anchored in a sure and eternal hope.  

What have they become?  

God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved… (Colossians 3:12, NIV)

God’s chosen people! God’s holy people! People God dearly love!

Conclusion 

Therefore, and based on this truth only, we say life with a nature dead to natural yearnings, displayed in how we now suppress unholy desires and the way we speak—aspects we will look at next week—is miles opposite to self-improvement.  It’s opposed to “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch  because a life saved by grace is a new life in Christ—it abhors what is contrary to God’s will and anything that would dishonour to his Name.  

By this standard, we need to live.  Amen. 

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