Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Grace, forgiveness, restoration

Bible Readings

  • 1John 1:5-2:6
  • 1Samuel 12:6-25

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Of all the parables of our Lord Jesus Christ I relate very well to the one of the wayward son.  This parable is about four lost things:  a coin, a sheep, and  two sons.  The headings added by some translators are missing the point:  it’s not about the lost coin, or the lost sheep, and even one son—the last it about two wayward sons, but surely not a prodigal son.  To be “prodigal”is to be wasteful, especially with one’s money—and the parable has nothing to say about being wasteful.

Although the father pleaded with the elder son and assured him of his love, the hardness of his heart resisted the restoring love of the father. That’s why he too was lost.

What the parables want to bring home is that the coin, the sheep and the younger son were found by the owner who cared. That’s the point! And over and over our Lord repeats:

I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10, CSB)

And this aspect of grace keeps knocking me over every time I think about it. In our sinfulness we walk away from God, we want to do our own thing, we then fall in a heap, but the cords of love we enjoyed in the presence of our Father, draw us back.  In his faithfulness and mercy, God forgives and restores.  This is the message of all Scripture: the holy God who bows down to an underserving and sinful world, and then provides a way out if this sinful mess in and through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ.

Grace

According to 1 Samuel 12 he is now and old man, grey, about to hang up the boots.  He calls the people to bring charges against him, if they have any, before he hands over.  Has he taken anything from anyone unlawfully?  (“Taken” in this context stands against the charges brought against the sons of Eli who “took” what be longed to the Lord, and also stole what did not belong to them.  The future king would also “take”, and even Samuel’s own sons “took” bribes.)

Has Samuel defrauded anyone?  Was anyone oppressed?  Was anyone bribed?  No!  Can you hear these words echoed in the words of Paul?

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7–8, CSB)

Samuel had been faithful and true to the God who appointed him. But he was not sinless; he too needed a sacrifice and atonement blood to be forgiven.  More later.

Our High Priest and Prophet, Jesus Christ, superseded and was far more superior to Samuel.  He never sinned in any way.  Yes, He only gave.  He did not come to be served, but to serve.  He knelt and washed the feet of his own.  The only thing He took was our trespasses to become sin for us, in order that we might in Him become the righteousness of God (2Corinthians 5:21).  Him we worship as our perfect High Priest. The writer of Hebrews helps us to understand the superiority of Christ.  A human high priest “… is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he is also subject to weakness. Because of this, he must make a sin offering for himself as well as for the people.” (Hebrews 5:2–3, CSB) But of Christ he writes:

“… though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek, …” (Hebrews 5:8–10, NKJV)

Call to life

Samuel used the last opportunity to address the people to plead for the people before God.

Now therefore, stand still [maybe,“be quiet”], that I may reason with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous acts of the Lord which He did to you and your fathers: (1 Samuel 12:7, NKJV)

Moses used the same word and command of Moses in Exodus 14:13 when the Israelites were in a panic with the army of the pharaoh behind them and the mighty waters of the Red Sea in front of them. Moses said to the people,

“Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. (Exodus 14:13, NKJV)

Now Samuel connects these events and applied it to the people who away turned from God, and rejected his Kingship by asking for a king so that they could be like the nations around them.  In essence they formally walked away from God in rebellion.  Do you see the attitude of the younger son of the parable?

What Samuel said was to remind them of God’s love and how He compassion on his people.  Samuel recalls God’s acts of rescuing his people from slavery out of Egypt, and later out the clutches of Sisera, and again from the commander of Hazor’s army, and out of the oppression of the Philistines too.  He gave them leaders like Gideon, Barak and Jephthah, and even Samuel himself.

Samuel preached about the God’s great act of salvation, pleading with them to worship God.  This “plead” is a word used in legal sense.  An advocate pleads on behalf of his client, or brings charges against a perpetrator.  Samuel did both:  he charged the people with their sins, but he also pleaded for them before God.

Samuel hammered in the fact that they sinned by asking for a king, and pointed to Saul, “Look at him, God answered your prayers.”

Is it all over now?  Will God forsake you and leave you in the hands of this feeble man?  Have they missed the boat?

Has the lost son forfeited everything, even the love of his father?  No!  There is still opportunity for grace, forgiveness and restoration.

If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. (1 Samuel 12:14, NKJV)

The next verse spells out the opposite, “the hand of the Lord will be against you!” And it is a dreadful thing to fall in the hands of the living God!

The prophet then called upon God to do an extraordinary thing:  to send thunder and rain upon the grain which was ready for harvest.  Why?  It was to illustrate to them that their actions were a mirror of the disruption of the God-ordained pattern of relationship that should be between them and the Lord. Israel moved out of its proper relationship with the Lord; now Lord ordained that nature would move out of its proper pattern with the people. This terrified the Israelites, for they understood that it could point to more severe disturbances as God spelled in the his Covenant with them.

Repentance and forgiveness

They then begged Samuel to pray for them, to intercede so that they would not die.  They realised they had made an enemy of the living God.  They begged:

“Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.” (1 Samuel 12:19, NIV)

They needed some to intercede for them.  Samuel did!

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you. (1 Samuel 12:23, NKJV)

This is the amazing aspect of grace. Then Samuel said to the people,

“Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing. (1 Samuel 12:20–21, NKJV)

Why?  “For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.” (1 Samuel 12:22, NKJV)

Restoration

The younger son went after all the empty things which profited him nothing and could not deliver what he craved for: he dreamed of freedom, but ended up in slavery.  At that point the loving care of his father overcame him.

“I will go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. (Luke 15:18, NIV)

Like Samuel, and more than Samuel, our Lord, our Mediator, stood before God.  He,

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, [he] offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7, NIV)

God heard the cry of his Son, not only for Himself, but for those He came to set free.  Samuel said if he would not intercede for the people he would sin.  But he stressed upon them “to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart” and to “consider what great things He has done for you.”  (1Samuel 13:24)

Jesus is still doing it. That’s our verse from 1 John this morning:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2, NIV)

More than Samuel, Christ pleads for us:  He is our righteous advocate before the Father; his plea rests upon his atoning sacrifice.

Conclusion

What is so amazing about grace?  Ask the younger son of the parable: in spite of his rebellion, his father restored him as his son.

Ask the Israelites as they gathered to hear Samuel’s farewell speech and heard the thunder and saw the lightning!  They found out that the same God who rescued their forefathers stood ready to destroy them if they did not repent; but He also stood ready to forgive and restore if they turned from their wicked ways and serve Him with all their heart.

What’s so amazing about grace?  There’s forgiveness and restoration for every rebellious sinner in and through the work of Jesus Christ, our High Priest.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:14–15, NIV)

He is our atonement.  He intercedes for us.  He calls sinners home to freely forgive and give assurance of restoration.

He is our King.  Saul, the king, is dead, but Jesus Christ our King lives forever. Fall down and worship Him as Lord. Do as the younger son did:

I will go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ (Luke 15:18–19, NIV)

What you will hear is the welcoming voice of the Father:

This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.  (Luke 15:24, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 20 August 2017

 

The King appoints a prince

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 2:5-18
  • 1Samuel 9:15-10:1

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

There are times when I am so disappointed in myself that I abhor myself.  I then wonder why God still puts up with me.  Why would He still bother? Why still give room for Australia to live, to enjoy what we have, to plan for a future and to see prosperity?  We kick against his laws, the the more we call ourselves a progressive democracy, the more we push God aside.  Yet, we still see the sun rise, the beauty of every morning, we have enough and more to eat, and we breathe fresh air.

Why does God still bother?

God cares—and appointed a prince

God’s care

I have seen the affliction of My people, for their cry has come to Me. (1 Samuel 9:16, HCSB)

Even when his own people acted worse than the godless nations who lived in the Promised Land before God had them settle there, God still bothered.  They openly rejected Him and despised their identity as Gods own inheritance by demanding a king so that they can be like the other nations.  God granted their demand—and yet, He did not reject them as his people.  He spoke to Samuel:

At this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over My people Israel. He will save them from the hand of the Philistines… (1 Samuel 9:16, HCSB)

They rejected God; He did not reject them and still called them “My people”.  He still cared for them.

We have to follow the wonderful way in which God controlled everything.

God’s control

A certain man, Kish, had a son.  He was of no royal line, just well-to-do a farmer who had a son.  He was from the tribe of Benjamin.  Now you will remember that about this whole tribe was wiped out because of a civil war after the death of an innocent women.  O, as far as the background of Kish and his son Saul is concerned, there is nothing to report.

God put it the mind of the donkeys to go walk-about, and Kish sent Saul to look for them.  Almost completely unimportant to us was the fact the Saul took a young man along—we don’t even know his name.

They couldn’t find the donkeys.  After two days Saul wanted to go home.  After all, there were many valleys and high mountains in Ephraim with wild animals lurking.

This off-sider of Saul then makes mention of The Seer, Samuel, of whom Saul apparently had not known a thing.  And it happened that the young fellow had a coin in his pocket to give to the seer.

This is where things are getting very interesting.  While Saul and the young man were looking for the donkeys, God whispered in the ear of Samuel (that’s how one can interpret the word):

“At this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over My people Israel.”

This verse echoes the words of Exodus 3:7-8 when God called Moses to lead the people to freedom:

I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings. I have come … to bring them … to a good and spacious land … (Exodus 3:7–8, HCSB)

And of course, years later in the fullness of time we heard these words again when the birth of the Messiah was announced:

She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, HCSB)

God’s appointed time and place

God is in control.  The people wanted a king, but God would appoint the man in his own time, in the place He wanted, the occasion He determined, and the setting against which the future prince would hear about it.

The purpose of the new prince was to free God’s people from Philistine oppression.  A further purpose was that he would restrain God’s people.  With this we have to understand that the days when everyone “did as they saw fit”, have now come to and end.

With expectation the Samuel arranged for a special sacrifice.  He invited special guests, he arranged for a special animal to be slaughtered, he even arranged the seating at the table.  Among these guests was most probably a man by the name Abner, the uncle of Saul.  While waiting for Samuel to arrive one can only assume that the conversation between the invited guests centred around the appointment of a king.

We continue with the day’s events.  It was by God’s eternal appointment that young women were on their way to the well to draw the household water.  They knew about the special meeting Samuel was arranging, and therefore could point Saul and his off-sider to Samuel.  The inclusion of the word “immediately” gives us the indication that all concerned just arrived at God’s appointed time.

It was at that stage that God once again spoke to Samuel.  “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you.”

The people asked for a king, but God gave them a prince.  The people would not belong to the new leader; they are still God’s own.

At the God-appointed time Samuel and the future prince met. Saul got an invitation to eat with Samuel and the special guests, who were waiting for the prophet/priest to bless the sacrifice.  The prince met the King at a sacrifice!

Just as a word in passing Samuel set his mind at rest: the donkeys were found.

Saul surely didn’t understand the words of Samuel who said something about someone all Israel was desiring.  Surely it had nothing to do with him, he was just a nobody from a clan no one knows anything about, and on top of that, he was a Benjaminite?

Once in the hall with the invited guests, he received a place at the head.  Surely, he must have felt out of place.  Now for that special portion of the offering, bring it for the future prince! The appointed hour had come!

God’s appointment

It was late and Saul was offered a bed on the roof of Samuel’s house.  Early the next day Samuel had to inform Saul of God’s plan.  This handsome young man, probably only in his early thirties, standing head and shoulders above his fellow Israelite, had to hear that God appointed him as prince. Samuel had the off-sider sent ahead, and then he anointed Saul—a loaded term, because in it was hidden something of “messiah”.  In true form, Samuel would have embraced Saul, and then, perhaps bowing, he kissed him—perhaps on his hand. He added these words for clarification:

  • The Lord anointed you; you’re not the peoples prince
  • He is still king, you are a prince/leader
  • The people belong to God

God’s affirmation

Inside of Saul there would have been turmoil.  How could all this be true.  God provided specific signs:

  1. He would meet men telling him that the donkeys were found—his mind would from now on be on bigger things than matter of his own family;
  2. Then, three men with goats, bread and wine will meet him—God would from now on provide for his daily needs;
  3. From there he will meet a band of prophets with musical instruments, proclaiming the greatness of God—he would join them singing as the Spirit of God would enable him to from now on focus on the business of God and his people;
  4. The people would see and hear him with the prophets, as a sign to them that God set him apart for his service. 1 Chronicle 25:1 helps us to understand:

David and the officers of the army also set apart some … who were to prophesy accompanied by lyres, harps, and cymbals. (1 Chronicles 25:1, HCSB)

This “prophesying” was simply then to proclaim the greatness of God in music and song, and should not be confuse with the speaking in tongues. It of course has a lot to bear on what we sing in church!

Saul left Samuel a changed man.  As a confirmation to Saul that God indeed called him, everything happened just as Samuel said.  He then returned to the place where he sacrificed with Samuel.  He met his uncle, Abner, who must have been still there.  Perhaps he was a but shy, or even humble, to tell the full event of matters to Abner, who would later become his military commander.

The new prince and victory

The next chapter in this story takes us to Mizpah where Saul was introduced and confirmed as God’s choice as their leader—the one they asked for.

He repeated God’s stipulations for a king, most probably recorded in Deuteronomy 17:14-20

  • He had to be God’s choice
  • He had to be an Israelite
  • He had to rely on God for military strength, not horses
  • He must not have many wives, especially not wives worshipping other gods
  • He must not chase after riches
  • He had to study the law of God daily, live accordingly and set and example to the people

All these terms were agreed to, and Samuel took a copy.  “Long live the king!”, the people shouted.

Chapter 11 records to first victory of the Israelites over the enemy under the leadership of Saul.

In all of this we clearly see the intervention of God

Long live the King!

He cared for his people, He did not abandon them, He prepared what was best for them.

But Saul, as we will see in future, Saul failed miserably—and in the end he fell on his sword, greatly confused, mentally disturbed, devoured by resentment and hatred of David, even possessed by an evil spirit.

And God did not give up on this sinful world:

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, HCSB)

He was God’s chosen One.  Listen:

You are My Son; today I have become Your Father. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your inheritance and the ends of the earth Your possession. (Psalm 2:7–8, HCSB)

Your throne, God, is forever and ever, and the sceptre of Your kingdom is a sceptre of justice. (Hebrews 1:8, HCSB)

Where Saul and all others after Him failed, the real Prince of Peace succeeded.  Of his kingdom there will be an increase, the Bible says. His Name is Jesus, the Messiah (the Anointed One), the Son of God. He was born as an Israelite according to the line of David—He was the stump of Jesse Isaiah prophesied about:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him — a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2, HCSB)

His Kingdom is not of this world, so He didn’t need horse and chariots to establish it. He never chased after riches (the foxes had holes, but the Son of Man had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58).  He did more than read the Law of God—He fulfilled it!  He never sinned, but He took the sin of those who disobeyed the Law as if it was his own.

Every word spoken of Him through the prophets came true as God’s affirmation the Christ is indeed his Son: his birthplace, where He would minster, how He would die, and even where He would be buried.  God’s voice from heaven declared Him at the beginning and end of Christ’s earthly ministry:

 And John testified, “I watched the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He rested on Him. I didn’t know Him, but He who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The One you see the Spirit descending and resting on—He is the One who baptises with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:32–33, HCSB; [see also 12:27-28])

Do we still need more evidence?  The Holy Spirit testifies about Christ:

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is Mine. This is why I told you that He takes from what is Mine and will declare it to you. (John 16:13–15, HCSB)

Conclusion

This King will come in glory to take home with Him those who love Him waited faithfully for his return.  He must be your king now if you want to see Him as King then.

I trust you will be amongst them.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 13 August 2017

 

Christian Marriage – Statements

A Statement by the Session (Elders) of the Presbyterian Church of Hervey Bay,

and a

Statement by the Presbyterian Church of Australia regarding the proposed postal vote regarding definition of Marriage

Introduction

  • The Church of Jesus Christ exists because of the grace of God and for his glory
  • The Church is the work of the Triune God:  the Father calls sinners to salvation; Jesus Christ gave his life for sinners to reconcile them to God; the Holy Spirit gives rebirth through the Word and binds saved sinners to the work of the Saviour, and empowers them for their task in the Name of Christ till His return
  • The work of the Church is defined only by God; his will for his Church is expressed in the Bible, the infallible and inerrant Word of God
  • God is glorified through his church where his will is done – He requires his people to serve in the world with love as defined in the Bible: the Church can therefore not love less than God, and it cannot love more than God
  • Acts of mercy, the task of Evangelism, and the calling of Mission are not restricted by humanly defined boundaries like race, colour, creed, language, sexual preferences, or social standing.  It is the task of the Church to reach out to all people, always remembering that those who confess to be Christians were once alienated from God, but were shown grace in Jesus Christ
  • People who respond to the call of God through the Scripture to be reconciled to through Christ, must repent from their sin and live a life of sanctification defined by God declared in his Word

Session observes that:

  • members of the Church of Christ are in no way better than those who have not found forgiveness in Christ; Christians are mere sinners saved by the grace of God, called to glorify Him as Lord of all;
  • members of the Church of Christ are adopted into the family of the Lord and are called to live as God’s Covenant people;
  • the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (of which Hervey Bay is part) has not always been true to its calling as defined by the word of God;
  • the Church of Christ has no right to withhold the Gospel message from any individual;
  • homosexuality/lesbianism is not an unforgivable sin, and should be recognised as all sins:  it is an offence to God, but through repentance can be forgiven by the grace of God in Jesus Christ;
  • members of the Church must constantly repent and grow in their obedience to God through sanctification

Marriage in the Bible

Marriage was designed by God who created a man and a woman and brought them together in union.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 1:27, 2:21–24, NIV)

Jesus Christ said:

“Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6, NIV)

  • A man is not superior/inferior and the women is not inferior/superior: both are created in the image of God.
  • Marriage is based on faithfulness: partners promise to not betray their love and trust.   They depend on God’s faithfulness who brought them together and promises to bless them.
  • Marriage is not an end in itself: God created marriage to His glory to display Christ’s covenant relationship to his blood-bought church. God ordained for children to be born through unity between husband and wife and equipped male and female with unique physical reproductive capacities.

Session observes that:

  • Ministers and members who are Marriage Celebrants within the Church of Christ are bound to obey the commands of Christ when they are requested to officiate at marriages
  • It is extremely desirable that prospective couples should receive thorough instruction about the meaning of Biblical marriage and the nature of mutual responsibilities of man and wife towards one another and the children God might give them before entering into marriage
  • Married members of the congregation are called to preserve the holiness of marriage according to the Word of God, always remembering that their relationship with one another should reflect the relationship between Christ and his Church
  • For husband and wife to understand their relationship and responsibilities towards one another, they must both submit to Christ and model his love to one another:

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:23-25, 32, NIV)

  • Cohabitation (de facto relationships) has no covenantal binding in the eyes of God and as such mocks God’s deeper meaning of the relationship between Christ and his Church; without public vows to one another in the presence of God such a relationship between Christians is sinful
  • Divorce is an offence to God (Malachi 2:16), and should only be allowed in extreme circumstances (Matthew 19:9).  Both those who were unfaithful toward their spouses and divorcees, have not committed a unforgivable sin and should be restored into fellowship after heartfelt repentance
  • For millennia, even in communities other Christianity, have grasped what God says in nature — that marriage unites man and woman.

Australian Law

The current Marriage Act (1961) acknowledge the principle for marriage as defined in the Scriptures and states that marriage as:

“the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

Session observes that:

  • the current secular definition of marriage reflects some Biblical principles
  • union between a man and a woman” is necessary with a view to multiplying the human race
  • for life” is necessary because children need the security and safety of a stable family
  • voluntarily” is necessary to guard against forced or arranged marriages where marriage partners can be used as commodities, and mutual love, respect, trust and faithfulness are no obligation.
  • The Marriage Act (1961) was weakened by the Family Law Act 1975, referred to as the “No Fault” Divorce, where one spouse must simply state a reason for the divorce that is recognised by the state.

International Human Right Laws

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (which does not [openly] take Biblical principles into account) declares:
  • Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • UDHR declares the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
  • UDHR stresses that “motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and protection”. In a same sex marriage, who of the partners is the mother/father?
  • Article 8 of the Convention on Rights of Children (CRC) states “the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognised by law without unlawful interference.” How would this be possible in the case of anonymous sperm and egg donours?
  • Article 18 of CRC declares that, “States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that for the upbringing and development of the child.

New Marriage Act proposed

Those who propose a new definition of marriage do so to

  • to remove from the Marriage Act 1961 discrimination against people on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • to recognise that freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental human rights;
  • to promote acceptance and the celebration of diversity.

Session observes that:

  • Marriage between and man and a woman has never been based on discrimination; it has been a mere recognition that it takes a man and a woman to marry and make up a marriage
  • Even the UHDR does not see the right to marry as a fundamental human right (UNICEF define human rights as “those rights which are essential to live as human beings – basic standards without which people cannot survive and develop in dignity.” – this also applies to those people who remain single)
  • “Equal rights” in marriage refer to them having these rights in a court of law: men are not favoured above women, and women are not favoured above men. It does imply that there is not different between a male and female. (The current push for “equality” is merely a push for “sameness”.)
  • The current marriage act precisely celebrate diversity. What diversity is celebrated if the sexes are “the same”? (There is substantial difference between being “equal” and being “same”?
  • Members of the same sex cannot reproduce – it is how God designed human beings; they have to be different.  Partners in a same  sex “marriage” who desire children, will have to involved a third (or fourth) person—which indicates clearly that such a relationship can not be called “marriage”.
  • If the law is changed as proposed, children will become a commodity, produced outside of marriage through surrogacy, sperm and egg donation, or ethically unaccepted methods
  • Children of same sex marriage partners could be denied the right to know their biological parents, and in some cases will never know their brothers and sisters (which of course puts a complete new interpretation on the Laws governing incest).

Statement

  • We affirm anew the Biblical principles for marriage as defined in the Bible.  We reject any definition or law concerning marriage that is not in agreement with the Word of God
  • We call on our Governments to strongly reject proposals to change the Marriage Act to include people of the same sex to enter into a marriage relationship
  • We repent of neglecting teaching the clear Biblical doctrine that the Christian marriage should reflect the relationship between Christ and his Church
  • Session calls the congregation to repent before God if their marriage relationships fall short of the Bible model
  • Married couples should strive for marriage enrichment and not allow marriages to rich a point where the only option is dissolving the marriage in divorce
  • We repent of the sin of neglecting our duty to our children and young people by not always setting the Biblical example of the holiness of marriage
  • We confess that failing to clearly live out the principles of God’s Word regarding marriage brought the Church of Christ, and ultimately our Lord and Saviour, in disrepute before those outside of the Church
  • We confess if we through speech or otherwise elevated the sin of homosexuality/lesbianism to be seen as a greater sin than idolatry, adultery, greediness, theft, slandering, or swindling (1Corinthians 6:9-10)– indeed all other sins!
  • We affirm in line with the Scriptures that even those who claim to be born with a genetic sexual disposition towards the same sex, can be forgiven and made a new person:

And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11, HCSB)

  • In our task of evangelism we will reach out to everyone, including homosexuals and lesbians, to hear the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • We confirm that all who truly repent and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour according to his Word will have a place in our fellowship

Statement by the Presbyterian Church of Australia regarding the proposed postal vote regarding definition of Marriage

The Australian Government plans to conduct a postal vote seeking the opinion of Australians on marriage. Ballot papers will begin arriving at our homes on 12 September, just a month from now.

The Presbyterian Church of Australia opposes the introduction of legislation for so called ‘same-sex marriage’. We affirm that the true definition of marriage is found in God’s Word: the life-long union of one man with one woman, voluntarily entered into, excluding all others.

It’s important to urge every Presbyterian Christian to engage in the process and vote, and to vote “NO” to change. We ask every attendee at church to both register and vote, and then seek to persuade as many as possible of their family and friends to do likewise.

There’s no doubt that the postal vote can be won in favour of the current definition. There is a large number of Australians, many of whom have not had their say, who affirm the common view of marriage as God-given and God-blessed.

Your participation will make a difference, but we need you to be earnest, active and in prayer about it. There are many powerful voices clamouring to tear down what God declares to be holy. The church must not be silent on this.

While we speak up and have our say, we do so with a gracious engagement and with respect for those with whom we disagree.

THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA ASKS YOU TO VOTE, AND TO VOTE NO TO CHANGE.

Rt. Rev. John P Wilson

Moderator-General

Presbyterian Church of Australia

Who is King?

Bible Readings

  • Revelation 19:11-21
  • 1Samuel 8

Introduction

You’ve heard it said, and maybe you have said it too, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have our Lord in Person with me, so I can talk to Him personally, instead of praying to the unseen God?”

If people asked about the God I worship, it would really helpful to point to where He is in the flesh.  This is true more so in the face of danger and uncertainty.  Wouldn’t it be better to have God in the operation theatre, or when you stand in agony when a loves one died, or when the doctor tells you that cancer has taken hold of you?

We are not like the world

A few Sundays ago we covered the principle of making a god for ourselves. The danger of making idols, or treating God like an idol, is that we would manipulate it, we would localise it (or assign a place for it to be or not be), or we can treat God as if He is a human being, or even worse, we can act as if we are He.

People who worship anything other than the living God—the Bible refers to these people as the world—indeed do want some representation of their god.  This was the case when God called his people to live amongst the nations, and it is still the case today.

The people then worshipped idols, but they also had leaders who were the embodiment of those gods.  One such a person was the visible king.  The idea was then, if they had a king with them in person, they were sure that their god was with them.

The Israelites were different, as the church of Jesus Christ should be.  God warned the people through Moses:

You must not follow the statutes [or customs] of the nations I am driving out before you … I am Yahweh your God who set you apart from the peoples. (Leviticus 20:23–24, HCSB)

Ezekiel 20:32 tells us about the sinful mind of the people:

Let us be like the nations, like the peoples of other countries, worshiping wood and stone. (Ezekiel 20:32, HCSB)

All of this sprang from a rebellious heart:

They rejected His statutes and His covenant He had made with their ancestors and the decrees He had given them. They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves, following the surrounding nations the Lord had commanded them not to imitate. (2 Kings 17:15, HCSB)

God’s people are different—or to use the biblical term: holy, set apart.  Let’s hear Leviticus 20:26:

You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine. (Leviticus 20:26, HCSB)

God said about his people as a nation of priests:

… He will elevate you to praise, fame, and glory above all the nations He has made, and that you will be a holy people to the Lord your God as He promised.” (Deuteronomy 26:19)

John writes, “Do not love the world.”  James warns:

Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. (James 4:4, HCSB)

Looking for security

When the elders approached Samuel for a king, they used as springboard the sad state of affairs regarding Samuel sons.  The Bible states: “His sons did not walk in his ways—they turned toward dishonest profit, took bribes, and perverted justice.” (1Samuel 8:3).

Then there was this nagging political situation of the different tribes action as separate groups—there was no national unity.  If only they had a king, they could at least point to someone who would lead them in a time of crisis.

But do not lose sight of their plea:  they wanted to fix a spiritual problem with a political solution.

“Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:5, HCSB)

It actually looked as if they wanted to blend into one the office of judge (which up to then included the offering of sacrifices, and the intercession of prayers) into one office, by adding military command (see 1Samuel 8:20).  Or at least they craved for a political figure who would have supremacy.

In essence the proposal was a rejection of God’s ways and an attempt to find security in a visible leader.

This is an attitude more so in our day:  the so-called cry to separate church and state is a disguised attempt to shove the church into a corner to which no-one wants to listen to. Who today would be satisfied to put his life into the hands of a so-called invisible God!  If the stupid Christians want to, let them do it in their corner on Sundays; but modern reasonable people want a visible force to provide security.

Just in the previous chapter the people of God experienced how He was their King and Protector.  They even had a stone as memorial to the fact:  “Ebenezer! The Lord has helped us to this point.”  When God thundered against the Philistines, they were utterly overcome and Israel regained territory.  See, they put a full stop after Ebenezer: “to this point”.  After that they wanted to take things in their hands, dethrone the God of Hosts from his position as their Commander in Chief.

They enjoyed security, but wanted to add the visible king—a human being—to unite the people as a political entity, and as such be like the nations around them. If the nations would ask them, “Who is your Commander?”, at least they could point to someone!

What foolishness!

But perhaps we should not be too quick to judge them.  Don’t we do the same?  How much to we lean on political leaders for our security and success.  Even as a church we stand guilty. Many operations of churches today stands and falls on the financial support of the state.  Aged care facilities, hospitals, youth centres, and even schools, can only run for as long as tax money flows in.  The result:  they pay and have the say! They play the tune and we have to dance. They determine policies of who can be hired, when and where we can read the Scriptures and we should or should’t pray.

Isn’t it time that we once again begin to trust to Lord for his work? This was the case when Christians started hospitals and aged care facilities: it was run by people who really cared, really loved, and really trusted God.

How much have we become reliant on the military and other uniform personnel as the only source for our safety!

Be careful what you ask for

Samuel had seen all of this once before:  the priests did not know God, and the people used God as a lucky charm—God, as their Commander and Protector, was not in the picture in the time of old Eli.  So he personally rejected with their request, but as a faithful mediator between God and the people, he took their request to Him.

What he suspected was confirmed;  God said:

They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshiping other gods. (1 Samuel 8:8, HCSB)

That’s the heart of the issue.  One cannot fool God!  He looks right into your heart and knows your thoughts even before they become words.  They didn’t really wanted a king; they wanted to substitute their King with a fallible human being!

Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

Samuel had to warn the people clearly about the “ways”, or “justice” of the king they wanted.  The word in Hebrews is justice, which can mean custom, orders, rules and regulations—ordinances and decrees he would use to secure his position and to rule over the people.

Without going into the detail of the things mentioned, there is one word which stands out: “take!” Up to that point in time this word is connected with evil:  Eli’s sons took which belonged to God, the Philistines took which belonged to God, Samuels sons took bribes.  This king will take—the sons and daughters God gave you as a gift of his love and care, the king will take.  The lands and the crops which God freely gave, the king will take; your income he will take.

Nothing has changed!  It is still ongoing.  It’s just become worse.  The more we move into becoming a totalitarian state the more we will see that what is precious to us, are taken from us:  our children are stolen from us.  They control what our children think, what they speak about, what freedoms we have, and how much we will spend, as long as we feel safe under their so-called protection. This is the price one pays for not trusting God, and with governments who play God.

Moses ends with this warning: they will become slaves of the king they ask for.

Verse 18 is poignant:

When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you on that day.” (1 Samuel 8:18, HCSB)

Be careful what you ask for, God may grant you your prayers.

The warning was spoken, but rebellious hearts were in motion.

“No!” they said. “We must have a king over us. (1 Samuel 8:19, HCSB)

They asked for justice, and justice they received.

No anarchy

We are not propagating anarchy—national life without any ruler or government.  The idea of kingship as such was actually something foreshadowed in the Law. Deuteronomy 17 speaks about it.  The future king was to be God’s chosen one, not chosen to be like the nations, he had to live under God, he had to study the Law of God, so that his heart would not be exalted over his countrymen.  That was the will of God.

Christians are not rebellious over and against governments.  Paul wrote to the Romans,

Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. (Romans 13:1–3, HCSB)

But our hope should never be in mere fallible human beings.  Our hope is in our King, Jesus Christ.  Only He should reign our minds and our hearts.  Paul writes:

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2, HCSB)

And when principle calls for it, we should add our voices to those of Peter and John:

“Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20, HCSB)

Who is King?

There is another King.  He did not take, but He gave: He gave away his heavenly splendour to become like us; He gave his life, so that we would not die; He gave eternal life—all free.  He gave us real justice.  Listen to this verse:

We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [this is God’s justice!] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in King Jesus.… This was to show God’s justice.… It was to show his justice at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (A paraphrase of Romans 3:23-26)*

*(Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

If He is your King, come, eat and drink of his body and blood, and be nourished for the battle ahead.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 6 August 2017

 

Victory through the Lamb

Bible readings:

  • Revelation 5
  • 1Samuel 7

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

What if someone gives you a certificate, stating that you are inheriting a very large estate.  We are talking about share certificates, bullion, diamonds, contracts explaining your rights to boards, and stacks of cash.  In the certificate there is mention of a key to a safety box in a bank in a big city.

The day arrived on which you are entitled to the inheritance.  You take the certificate and other documents provided by your solicitor to the bank.  Arriving at the bank the officer in charge takes you down to the vault and takes then key designed to open the deposit box, turned it, takes it out again, and then respectfully leaves you to yourself to unlock the box and, in privacy take possession what is legally yours.

You scramble in your briefcase for the your key, which has to match the one of the bank.  But you can’t find it!  You lost it!  Your are technically rich, but practically not an inch further than before you heard the news about the inheritance.

Something in this scene takes us to the throne room of of in Revelation 5. The apostle John found himself in a vision before the throne of God.  God held a scroll in his hand which was sealed with seven seal.  This scroll, according to most commentators contained God’s unfolding plan of the history of the world, and his plan of redemption.  But there was no one, not in heaven and earth able to open the scroll or to look in it.  John wept loudly, until one of the elders pointed to the Lion of Judah, the Root of David who has conquered and is able to open the seals.  John looked up and saw a Lamb, standing as if was slain; He took the scroll and opened the seals.  A song of jubilation and praise broke out in heaven:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9–10, HCSB)

In our series “The king is dead; long live the King” we today cross a bridge from the hopelessness and darkness in which the people of God lived before Samuel was born, to a new beginning.  In this chapter we will meet a new Priest, a new King and a new Sacrifice: victory is in and through Him! This is so because without Christ we have no victorious King who surely defeats his enemy; without Christ we have no true prophet who reveals to us who God is; and without Christ we have no priest, who sacrificed Himself for our sin, and who is now interceding for us at the Father.

The devastation of rebellious sin

The history of Israel tells the story of a life of stumbling, falling, repentance and restoration.  The Philistines plundered them over and over again.  Israel was worn-out by the Philistines.  One city after the other fell in the hands of the enemy.  Not a day went by or there would be reports of attacks. This was a far cry from the promise that every place they planted their footsteps would belong to them.

We have to understand this chapter from our perspective as Christians who have the promise of Christ that He is with us, and that we need to have our eyes focused on the ends of the earth with the Gospel.  How are we faring?  If it seems as we are stumbling and falling, and that our enemy is scoffing and laughing while they gain territory, what can we learn from 1 Samuel 7?

The people asked themselves:  Did not God promise to give us this land?  Has He forgotten us?  What is wrong?  Why can’t we just wipe the Philistines out and carry on with our lives?

Why?  Because they turned away from God!

This is the story of the modern church also. Churches shrink under the attack of the world and the enemy, and people ask, “Why?”  Some Christians give up and lose sight of God’s plan with and for the church, and even the victorious Lamb and Lion of Judah.  They join the forces of the world and  the Word is not preached and the members of the Church don’t study the Word and they do not live according to the commandments of the Lord. Such a church will not stand in the hour of temptation and trail, purely because it traded the basic principles of being church for what the world has to offer.  A church where God is honoured with the lips but not with the heart has no future.  Let’s learn that lesson from Israel.  Let’s repent if such an attitude is found within our ranks.

A true prophet

So God send a prophet to preach the Word of God and bring the people to repentance:

 If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7:3)

Samuel was fully aware of Israel’s rebellion.  They traded the Living God who created the heavens and the earth for lifeless gods. They became like the nations around them.  They acted as if they were not the people rescued by God to be his holy possession.

The prophet called and the Israelite male leaders gathered in Mizpah. They represented their families and their clans.  That’s the way of the Covenant:  God works in and through families.

They constantly looked over their shoulders for a possible attack of the Philistines who might interpret this gathering as a military operation.  They were concerned about their wives and children; and their crops and animals. Their entire national life has become a disaster and misery!  Their hearts now yearn for God to rescue them!

Thank God, they heeded his message through his prophet and repented.  They got rid of the idols in their midst.  The act of drawing water and pouring it out on the ground was a public symbol of their repentance and penitence. You could hear the cry of the people:  “We have sinned against the Lord!”

Did God take the enemy away from them after this show of remorse and regret over sin?  No!  So it is today still with the church.  Repentance does not safeguard the church against attacks from the enemy.  Let’s be clear about this; it is even possible that the church will have more battles to fight as soon as it decides to fight on the Lord’s side.  So, why repent?  Let’s follow the story.

Victory through the Lamb – also the true Priest

This corporate act of repentance before God where Israel in its thousands lamented its transgressions before God was seen by the Philistines as an act of provocation and aggression. So, they mustered their ranks with the idea to overrun the troops of the army of the Lord.  And the Israelites were terrified to death, imploring the man of God to intercede for them. “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines!”

The Philistines heard of this assembly. Did the Israelites gather to discuss military action against them?  What a stupid move!  We’ve got them right on top of the mountain, they’re trapped in.

Samuel looked up.   With a firm voice he commanded, “Give me a suckling lamb.”

“What is this man doing?” someone asked. “We don’t have time for the rituals now.  We can come back and to this later.  We’ve got a war on our hands for the moment!”

Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it to the Lord.  The enemy looked at this act as the moment in which God’s people would be at their weakest.  Even today the world laughs at a church praying finding their strength in God.  The act of humbling oneself before God is foolishness in the eyes of the world. In the eyes of God it is the only remedy for survival.

Samuel lit the fire and placed the lamb on it as a sacrifice to God, without cutting it up in peaces.  This is a symbol of their total commitment to God.  The smoke went up into the heavens. God accepted the sacrifice.  The God of heaven and earth listened to the voice of his servant on behalf of his people.

Many years later God answered the need of his universal church in a very unusual way; and once again it was a very foolish act in the eyes of the world.  On a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem God had his Son die.  He was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.  There they flogged Him, despised Him, spat on Him, they derided Him and mocked Him.  And when He died, they put Him in a grave with a seal on it – and they thought they had the victory.  But on the third day He conquered the grave and death and hell and sin.  There on the cross and through the open grave God answered the prayer of Samuel, and He also answered the prayed of many martyrs through the ages.  There He answers our prayers as we have to face hard times.

The Bible says God thundered with a loud thunder against the Philistines.  Get the picture:  God, to whom the thunder and the winds and the clouds are as servants, commanded them to join forces with Him.  In the darkness of the cloud and the terrifying bolts of lightning and violent wind God confused the enemy.  They had no idea what was going on.  Maybe God sent some hail upon them as He did in the day of Gideon.  Now they became their own enemy.  This would happen over and over again in the history of God’s people.  This happened after the resurrection of our Lord, the Lamb of God.  The enemy was in a furore of confusion: “How is this possible?

Ebenezer – the King is with his people

All of a sudden the Israelites realised that the roles were reversed:  they were no longer the attacked, but the attacker.  They pursued the fleeing Philistines and drove them back out of their territory.  God provided a miraculous deliverance.

Such is the deliverance of the cross and the open grave.  At first the apostles locked themselves up in the Upper Room out of fear for the Jews.  But after the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, and after they were anointed with the Holy Spirit it was a different story.  Now openly they proclaimed the Gospel, now openly they challenged the authorities:  “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

The very fact of the resurrection Christ changed the life of the apostle Paul.  He, who persecuted the church, became an apostle of the Gospel of hope.  It is this man who now gives every bit of strength to preach the message of Jesus Christ.  Here we find him this morning on the ship, tossed about by the waves of the sea, facing danger and hunger.  For what reason?  For the victory of the Gospel.  Today we hear him say:   “Fear not, for I believe God.”

Samuel took a stone and set it up basically in the same place where the Israelites had previously been defeated by the Philistines, and he declared:  “Ebenezer – thus far the Lord has helped us.”

With these words he acknowledged that the victory was because of God and not because of their own doing.  But with these words he also wanted the Israelites to know that the battle is ongoing.  There was no resting on their laurels.  The battle against the enemy of the church is an ongoing battle.  But the grace of these words is the anchor for the church in times of battle:  as the Lord’s has helped in the past, so He will be our Helper in the future.

Conclusion:  Christ—true Priest, true Prophet, true King

My fellow brethren, learn from the lessons of the past.  There between Mizpah and Shen in Israel was a stone set up with the name Ebenezer written on it.  God has helped his people.  On Calvary’s hill a cross was planted.  On it was written, “The King of the Jews”, and nailed to it was the Son of God.

Today, like a Samuel we say, “Ebenezer – thus far has God helped us”.  The resurrection of our Lord spans all of history and it includes the future.  Let’s involve ourselves in the battle.  Let’s do it in the power of prayer at the feet of our Lord; let’s go forth under the banner of Christ who gave us the Great Commission:

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)

There is victory in the Lamb.  History unfolds through Him, the true prophet, priest and King.  The king is dead; long live the King!  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 30 July 2017

 

There is none holy as the Lord

Scripture Readings

  • Mark 5;
  • 1Samuel 6:1-21

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

We will learn about the holy God today.  In the words of Hannah uttered in her pryer in chapter 2, we will learn, “There is none holy as the Lord.

To this we add Hebrews 11:6

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV)

So, the penetrating, life determining questions we need to ask, are:

  • Do you believe that God is?
  • If you don’t believe, why not?
  • If you do believe, why?
  • If you do believe how do you believe?

Timely lesson

In time before Samuel was born when Israel was in constant defeat before the Philistines They sought a solution to their problems in having a king like the surrounding nations. But in reality, everyone did which was good in his own eyes. Just do as you see fit.

Yet, through Hannah’s prayer and the ministry of the son God gave her, they were taken to another solution to live as a people of God:  they had to once again learn that God is holy, and that He called them to holiness. For this reason God had to remove those who despised Him from temple service and replace them with someone He specially called to lead the people, Samuel.

I believe, but I keep God on my side for a rainy day

What did their faith look like then?

What we looked at last week and the week before—the defeat of Israel before the Philistines—was one way through which God would teach them to worship Him rightly.  Their security and survival did not lie in them using God as a talisman or lucky charm—He is the holy God.

Let’s go back to the question about faith?  Do you think they believed that God is?  Why, why not? How did they believe? There Christians who fall in the category of Hophni and Phinehas—to them them God was a means of existence, a sort of a talisman, a lucky charm.  They wear crosses around their necks, of even tattoo of a cross on their bodies, they say prayers, they even attend church—but all along it is about what they can get out of God.  He is not holy and sovereign.  They got Him in their pockets for the rainy day; He’s there only as a spare wheel in case the enemy shows up.

Does sort of faith describe you?

I think God is there, but who knows?

Before we go further, we need to make we know what exactly the Ark of the Covenant was?

It was a chest made of acacia wood that contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and, Aaron’s budding rod and a golden urn filled with manna.  It was not big:  it measured 45 inches x 27 inches x 27 inches.

The ark represented God’s presence with the people. The ark was referred to as“the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts who is enthroned upon the cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:5;  2 Samuel 6:2). What seems to be imagined here is a throne whereby the God sat invisibly above the ark, on the outstretched wings of the golden cherubim, with the ark itself serving as God’s footstool.

God was not in the Ark, but was invisibly attached to the Ark only.  The Law was the agreement, or covenant, or contract, between God and the people, as such God was faithful to be with his people as He promised.  The people, on the other hand, had to be kept to their covenant promises too be a holy nation of priests before God.

The Philistines had to understand that they could not deal with God as they did with their dumb and deaf god. To them the Ark was Israel’s God.  So, they locked the ark of God up in the place where their god Dagon was kept. Not only did God mock them by having had their god’s neck and arm broken, but He also tormented the people with a plague.  What was this plague? Researchers are sure it was nothing short of a bubonic plague, also called the Black Plague or Black Death which caused the death of an estimate of up to 200 million people from Asia right through Europe in the 14th century.

The Bible gives us an indication that the episode mentioned in 1 Samuel 6 happened during the harvest.  Rodents demolished the crops.  With the rats came tiny pests in the form of fleas, which could live on the rats or mice without harming them.  Somehow some of these fleas sometimes found a home in the groin area of a human being, and then it released a parasite into the bloodstream.  It caused massive infection of the lymph glands, resulting in tumours the size of apples, and attacked, amongst other things, the reproductive organs of especially males, making life difficult, and—left untreated—it started to bleed, which made it spread even to other parts of the body, and a painful death set in quick and fast.

You have to get a picture of the way in which God humiliated the Philistines who dare treat Him like and idol.  Keep in mind the Philistines worshipped a fertility gods.  About any form of sex to them was a form of worship, and now they found themselves unable to worship!

See, God controls the rats and the fleas!  He is almighty, wise, sovereign over all He made.  Psalm 78:56-66, as translated by the KJV, most probably refers to this episode.  Listen:

And He smote his enemies in the hinder parts: He put them to a perpetual reproach. (Psalm 78:65–66, KJV 1900)

He smote them in the hinder parts.  And if you want to chuckle about this you’re in good company; those who oppose God will stand in a never-ending reproach.

But some thought it might perhaps be the work of the living God!

Their diviners came up with the idea that they should mould out of gold representations of the mice—and of the swellings of their backsides!  One commentator thought just the idea of someone posing for the sculpture who casted the image was humiliating and hilarious. You have to agree.

Is it really the God of Israel?  Let’s put the whole idea to the test. To make sure, they ordered fresh cows with new-born calves to draw a newly-made cart with the Ark of the Covenant and the golden representations of the swellings (or tumours, or haemorrhoids—pick you choice!) in a box beside the Ark to take to Beth-Shemesh just within Israelite territory.  If He is really God, this will give glory to the God of Israel (verse 5). This would be a sign that they were not hardening their hearts like the Egyptians. Really? Can you worship the holy God of Israel with gifts of man-made images? Can any man buy the favour of God while one’s heart is not really in it?

Well, they thought they’d give it chance. So they put God to the test.

If it [the cart with the cows] goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.” (1 Samuel 6:9, NIV)

The cows went straight up the road followed by the lords of the Philistines, who witnessed it.  It was indeed the God of Israel!  Listen:

So when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day. (1 Samuel 6:16, NKJV)

They most probably went straight back to their people and told them everything they saw. Did they believe?  Well, sorry, we sent Him away.  Let’s carry on with our lives.

They were humbled, they experienced devastation, they witnessed, they knew—but they did not worship God! Well the crisis is averted, who needs God now? Maybe it was just a fluke.  I once did pray for someone who was sick and he got better, but it might have been the doctors and the medication.  So, I’m not going to put my life on hold for God.  There might be another day on which He will show Him more clearly to me personally; maybe then. For the moment I’m agnostic—which means I’m not willing to commit to anything—but I might change my mind.

Does this perhaps describes your faith?

I believe in God, but I’ve got my own way of worshipping Him

The cows arrive in Beth Shemesh and the people were overjoyed to have it back.  They immediately sacrificed to the Lord the cows and the cart.  But some of them went further that what they were supposed to.  They pried into the Ark, which was forbidden, and God struck them dead.

There are some places we just should not find ourselves.  More so should we refrain from assuming privilege into things which God forbids us.   Deuteronomy 29:29 teaches us:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29, NKJV)

It is forbidden for sinful man to trample on the holiness of the eternal holy God.  He who does not honour the Lord God through Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, being forgiven by grace, does exactly that—no sinner can approach the holy God on his or her own. Only the High Priest, once a year, after he made sacrifice for himself and the people in the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial animal could enter into the Most Holy; and that’s precisely why the curtin of the temple tore when Christ paid the price and died on the cross for our sins—we now have entrance to the throne of God in his Name.

You ask, “How do I worship God?” I worship God, but in my own way. After all, He knows my heart, and He knows I try my best.  Is God holy? Maybe He is, but one should not take Him too seriously! If He really wants more of me, then He is simply too holy for me.  The people in Beth Shemesh said the same thing: And the men of Beth Shemesh said,

Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall it go up from us? (1 Samuel 6:20, NKJV)

And they, so to speak sent God on.  They could not bear his holiness; and they did not repent either. The same thing happened  when Jesus healed the demon possessed man.  People saw the miracle of the man completely healed and the demons cast into the herd of pigs.  Now listen:

And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. (Mark 5:16, NKJV)

Just there they could beg for forgiveness and peace with God.  But what did they do instead?

Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. (Mark 5:17, NKJV)

Is God too holy for you?  Do you think yourself too sinful for Him?  Or do you God to just move one and leave you alone with your own life?

I this maybe you?

I worship Him because He is

The first statement in Hebrew 11:6 stops abruptly:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is.

So, the starting point in worshipping God is nowhere else to be found but bowing before the holy and sovereign God of all creation.  Before a sinner does not understand who and that God is, to such a person He will evade their search and peace will not enter their lives.

True worship is not connected to what we can expect from Him, or what we can gain from Him.  Worshipping God on our own terms, is not worship at all.  True living faith is to say, “I believe, because He is—the holy God, and I am a poor sinner saved by grace through Jesus Christ!”

Is this a picture of your faith?

Conclusion

How do you believe, why?  Let’s complete Hebrew 11:6

…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 July 2017

 

Domestic Violence

A Statement by the Presbyterian Church of Queensland

Report of the Ad hoc Committee approved by the 2016 Assembly 

The 2015 Presbyterian Church of Queensland Assembly created this ad hoc committee to create a Domestic Violence Policy for the Presbyterian Church of Queensland.

At the time, there was a public conversation about Domestic Violence, or Family Violence, taking place, after the publication of a review paper from the Queensland Government’s Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland. This taskforce published a paper called Not Now, Not Ever. )https://www.qld.gov.au/community/documents/getting-support-health-social- issue/dfv-report-vol-one.pdf)  The civil magistrate has a role to play in wielding the sword and seeking justice in these circumstances and are our partners in addressing this scourge in our churches and community, and while we do not want our policies or response to domestic violence to be entirely led by this taskforce, we note the following recommendations from their report:

• Leaders of all faiths and religions to take a leadership role in fostering and encouraging respectful relationships in their community, and to teach their communities and congregations that coercive control and violence are never acceptable

  • Leaders of faith to provide support to victims of domestic and family violence and encourage their community to do so.
  • Community organisations to play a leadership role in creating a community environment where all members of their community feel empowered to take action to stop violence. This includes helping members to develop skills in preventing and safely intervening in domestic and family violence incidents in their community

Shortly after our Ad Hoc task force was commissioned, the 2015 Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales adopted its own position paper on Domestic and Family Violence, and issued a statement to the public, and to all sessions of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. We are thankful for the work of the New South Wales Committee on Gospel, Society and Culture. And would recommend that our Assembly adopt it as the basis of our response to Domestic and Family Violence with some additions regarding expectations when domestic violence occurs within marriage.

Our challenge as Christians, in responding to evil, is to humanize both the survivor, and the perpetrator, and offer the Gospel of Jesus to all parties. This does not, however, mean covering up abuse or not letting the civil magistrate play its part in upholding justice and protecting those in our community; and it does not mean staying neutral. We are to side with the vulnerable and the oppressed, not join the oppressor; and to be silent or neutral in some mistaken approach to the Gospel, is to be complicit. Speaking the truth in love means calling those in sin to repent and to account for their sins. Part of seeing the humanity of the perpetrator is to acknowledge that their actions, as actions of people who are human, have consequences; it is not loving for the cost of these consequences to not be paid. If we pretend actions don’t have consequences in a human sense we actually dehumanise the perpetrator and fail to do our duty to them, to the victim, and to our society. The Gospel itself is built on Jesus seeing our human acts as acts with real costs and consequences and paying for them; but this payment does not remove the role of the court system in seeking justice for those who are wronged. This is not to say true repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation is never possible, or that it should not be our aim, but rather that we should exercise care as a church community to protect our flock, and to stand clearly with the wronged party as we offer our strength for their protection.

 Definitions of Domestic and Family Violence

We believe the definition of Domestic and Family Violence from Not Now, Not Ever, and the relevant Queensland legislation, is a good working definition for our committee, and our Assembly, in forming a position. These statements come from this report:

  • Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, occurs in a variety of forms including physical, emotional, and economic violence within any type of relationship against any person.
  • Domestic violence presents a unique definition challenge, as it encompasses a broad range of behaviours.
  • Domestic violence can occur within any form of relationship, towards any person, at any time, regardless of personal, cultural, or economic standing.

In Queensland, the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (the Act) provides the legal instrument to respond to domestic and family violence.

The Act covers:

  • People who are in a relevant relationship, which includes intimate personal relationships (married and de facto spouses, parents of a child, engaged and couple relationships, including same sex couples)
  • Family relationships (adult relatives by blood or marriage, including extended or kinship relationships where a person is regarded as a relative)
  • Informal care relationships (where the carer is unpaid).

The Act defines the conduct of domestic violence as including physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and economic abuse or any other threatening, coercive, or controlling behaviour which causes the victim to fear for their safety or wellbeing or that of someone else.

Many experts have noted a category of spiritual abuse, or a spiritual aspect of domestic and family violence, which might involve

  • Using biblical or religious texts to justify/ rationalise abusive behaviour or control
  • Ridiculing a persons’ beliefs
  • Isolation from spiritual family
  • Denying access to ceremonies, land or family
  • Preventing religious observance

These are aspects that we, as an individual’s Christian community, may notice before others in our community do. Unfortunately, these are flags for abuse to which Christian leaders can be blind because they may be concealed in what appears to be a healthy headship/submission theology.”

A starting point for legal discussion around these issues may be found on the website of law firm in Brisbane, who seek to have a Christian mind around these issues. (http://www.corneyandlind.com.au/resource-centre/brisbane-family-lawyer/7225-2/ 3 http://www.pcq.org.au/childsafe.php)

The Situation in Queensland

According to the Not Now, Not Ever report:

• In 2013-14, there were 66,016 occurrences of domestic and family violence reported to Queensland police.

• This equates to over 180 incidents of domestic and family violence being reported every day across the state.

• 17 homicides relating to domestic and family violence occurred in Queensland in 2012-13. On average, across Australia, one woman is killed by her partner every week.

• The annual cost of domestic and family violence to the Queensland economy is estimated to be between $2.7 billion to $3.2 billion

We would be naive to the extreme, and to the damage of our people, if we assumed such abuse was not happening behind closed doors for members of our churches. These statistics only represent the volume of reported domestic and family violence.

Dr Lynne Baker from the Uni of Qld in her book Counselling Christian Women on how to deal with Domestic Violence (Australian Academic Press June 2010) has written a solid part to the conversation. She unequivocally believes from first hand experience as a Salvo Care Line Emergency responder in Qld, that Domestic and Family Violence is occurring within our congregations, and that we all must take responsibility to notice and to respond. She challenges many ideas of response, especially in the area of forgiveness of perpetrator, rather than acknowledgement of sin as a starting point towards moves in relationship.

Our existing framework

As ministers and elders, and members of PCQ, our responsibility is to be followers of Jesus, being transformed into the likeness of Him who called us into His light. We are to be the Church, the body of Christ, which creates safe, and nurturing growing relationships for all connected.

As is already the case with the PCQ Childsafe standards (http://www.pcq.org/childsafe.php) , and other Safe Church, and Breaking the Silence policies, we must seek to create a church where those who are experiencing Domestic and Family Violence can be present within our congregations, both protected from, and supported in their attempts to escape from, the destruction of the violence.

Gods’ word tells us that God abhors violence and abuse in his people, and especially in the family, and marriage, where his picture of loving relationship is expressed.

Teaching in congregations must foster deep understanding of the need to submit one to the other, and to serve one another, as Christ loved the Church. In the words of Tim and Kathy Keller Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York (writers of The Meaning of Marriage) and The Gospel Coalition Marriage in Gospel Focus June 2012 precis of lecture :

Both parties take the ‘Jesus role’ in the relationship, giving up right of equality with God to care for others, as our Lord did (Philippians 2). ……. Marriage is meant to be a reflection of this relationship of God the Father with the Son, and the church is to be a Bride, being prepared for marriage to the Lamb……….”

These descriptive and winsome metaphors are totally denigrated if one uses marriage to manipulate, control of destroy the life of another.

God’s prophets speak strongly of the consequences for those who abuse any under their care, or who do not follow His ways. Active teaching around the issues of violence, and clear, reflective Bible Study on these issues is essential for the Body of Christ to become informed, responsive, and communicative about them.

Because of this challenge from God’s word, a further consideration as we seek to protect the vulnerable is that the Presbyterian Church of Queensland consider adoption of the position that domestic violence can be a form of the ‘desertion’ envisaged by the Westminster Confession of Faith 24.VI, even while a married couple live together, and thus might be considered legitimate grounds for separation and divorce.

What will we do, then, as we continue to dialogue, to respond to the challenges of our Church leaders, and our Governments, in bringing in the Kingdom of God?

Our recommendations

We believe we should be aiming to create a culture where leaders and members of our churches are equipped to respond to Domestic and Family Violence with these three aims in mind:

  1. Recognise
  2. Report
  3. Prevent  (Various sources for programs against Intimate partner violence, domestic violence or child abuse have adopted variations of this slogan)

This requires a readiness to see sin and distortion in our lives, to recognize that we all fail and will treat each other poorly. There is no less likelihood of this in our church communities, and we may see violence and control in them, sometimes in the most unexpected places, or persons.

For these steps to be possible we must, as a church:

  1. Very clearly repudiate Domestic and Family Violence, and any forms of abuse, as sinful and incompatible with Christian living.
  2. Provide a clear framework for recognising and reporting Domestic and Family Violence (through adopting the New South Wales Assembly Paper).
  3. Teach and educate our ministers, elders, and congregations about the nature of domestic violence to prevent wrong thinking about what submission, authority, and love look like in Christian relationships

To that end, suggestions for the steps on the journey and its conversation along the way would be:

1. Recognize — Raise Awareness of

  • the theological and social reality of Domestic and Family violence,
  • the possibility that it could occur, and be hidden within our congregations.
  • Legal and ethical issues surrounding care of those involved
  • Resources in your area with whom to engage and converse

2. Report — Be ready to act.

  • We need an appropriate body of professionals skilled in pastoral support and counsel, and individuals trained to refer people to these professionals as required, while loving and supporting victims.
  • We need people who are aware of what options are available so that they might take deliberate steps to establish the physical safety of victims if needed
  • To contact police and follow through on requirements
  • Elders need clarity around church discipline and restoration if required (see CCEF Journal of Biblical Counselling – Counsel in the local church: Rev Tim Lane)

3. Prevent — Teach and equip our leaders and members

  • for readiness of ministers to teach around these issues (theological training),
  • towards willingness to challenge distortions of biblical message (in training and in congregations)
  • in recognition of possible early signs
  • to develop policies and safe standards
  • of personnel for early contacts and support
  • to respect and nurture each other as Heirs together
  • from early lives to see the goodness of healthy relationships.

Resources

The 2015 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales Statement on Domestic Violence: http://pcnsw.org.au/wp- content/uploads/2015/05/Domestic-Violence-Statement-July-2015.pdf

An example on how to teach on domestic and family violence from Creek Road Presbyterian Church:

Further discussion option:

http://st-eutychus.com/2015/jesus-does-not-abuse-his-bride-there-is-no-place-for- domestic-violence-in-the-church

Whose God is it anyway?

Bible Readings

  • Exodus 20:1-17
  • 1 Samauel 4:1-11; 5:1-12

Introduction

My dear fellow believers, during a stop-over flight I had the privilege to do a bit of sight-seeing in Malaysia.  They took us to a limestone mountain, Mount Batu.  Within caves in this mountain is a Hindu temple, to the honour of Muruga, of which a 140 feet statue stands outside the caves.   There is a steep staircase leading up into the caves. Priests and worshippers of this god climb the steps more than once a day with special containers of food to set it up at shrines within the cave.

As I observed the ritual a saw a woman bringing fresh food, which was only put there after the earlier food was removed—all untouched, of course.  The face of the idol was expressionless, the body cold and lifeless, and of course it could not utter a word.  Yet, day after day this ritual took place at least twice a day.  And I wondered in amazement, “Why?”

True worship

Earlier in the service we read the Ten Commandments. The Second Commandment reads:

“You must not make for yourselves an idol that looks like anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the water below the land. You must not worship or serve any idol, because I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. If you hate me, I will punish your children, and even your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (Exodus 20:4–5, NCV)

The Larger Catechism defines the the duties required in the second commandment “… observing, and keeping pure all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his word; and the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and removing it and all monuments of idolatry.”

There are perhaps three main reasons why making idols is forbidden. Let’s list them

  • Manipulation
  • Localisation
  • Participation

Once a man has made an idol, one can manipulate it; one becomes its boss; you can even feed it or withhold food at will.  Once man has made an idol, one can localise it – you put it where you want it—you can even lock it away for later use, or put it where it can become the centre of your existence.  Once you have made an idol, you make it do what for what you want done—you make it participate in your activities, and you can participate in its activities.  These three things are closely related.

This is the sort of worship we come across in the first few chapters of 1 Samuel.  The prayer of Hanna, of course, puts everything in perspective gain:  she worshipped the most holy, most powerful, most wise and most sovereign God, the creator of heaven and earth. The sons of Eli did not know God and therefore they invented their own god—one they could manipulate, one they assign a locality to, and one they could use for their own purposes.

One verse which stands out is:

“So the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I promised that your family and your ancestor’s family would serve me always.’ But now the Lord says: ‘This must stop! I will honour those who honour Me, but I will dishonour those who ignore me. (1 Samuel 2:30, NCV)

When God called Samuel He revealed Himself as the most holy, most wise, most powerful God who sovereignly decided to dispose of Eli and his sons. The Creator God, who, according to Hannah’s prayer “… protects those who are loyal to Him, but evil people will be silenced in darkness. The Lord destroys his enemies; He will thunder in heaven against them. The Lord will judge all the earth.” (1 Samuel 2:9–10), announce to Samuel that He is going to “… do something in Israel that will male the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle” (1Samuel 3:11)—this something was directly connected to the judgement on Eli and his family.

It seems this was the message Samuel was preaching, and all Israel heard and understood it to be the word of God (1Samuel 3:19-4:1).  Did all hear it?  Apparently not.  It made no change to the hearts of the sons of Eli.

Is God with us?

The next we read about is the conflict between Israel and their arch-enemy, the Philistines.  It took place at Ebenezer—which means, God is with us.  But in the first part of the battle Israel was defeated and four thousand men fell.  The reaction of the elders was astounding.

“Why did the Lord let the Philistines defeat us? Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant with the Lord here from Shiloh and take it with us into battle. Then God will save us from our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3)

The reason for their defeat was God!  Nothing of what Samuel was telling them even came into their minds.  Is God honouring those who honour Him, or is He despising them who despise Him?

For them the solution was to make an idol out of God.  By bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the camp, they fist of all manipulate God, they also localise Him, and of course they wanted Him to participate in their activities, not for his glory, but for themselves!

The outcome was disastrous. Not only did they fall before the enemies, but their defeat was indeed the word of God to Samuel which came true:  Hophni and Phinehas both died, old Eli fell off his chair and died, and Phinehas’s wife died in childbirth—all on the same day.  On top of this, the Ark of the Covenant was captured and ended up in the temple of Dagon.

What humiliation!  More so in the face of an enemy who actually seemed to acknowledge the greatness of God.  Hear them in their own words:

We’re in big trouble! Who can save us from these powerful gods? They’re the same gods who made all those horrible things happen to the Egyptians in the desert. (1 Samuel 4:8, CEV)

The topic of the sermon today is, “Whose God is it anyway?” On which side was God that day at Ebenezer?  Did He forsake this own covenant people and did He side with the Philistines?  Is there something we have missed here?  Or is there something we should learn today?

Where has the glory of God gone?

One way to translate the word “Ichabod” is to translate it as a question, “Where has the glory of God gone?”  God is never without glory.  If his people don’t glorify Him, He is not without glory.  If we give Him less glory, we do not make his less glorious!  In Isaiah God declares:

I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images. (Isaiah 42:8, NKJV)

He who denies God, his existence, his glory, holiness and power, does not make God disappear, just in the same way as one who might deny the sun shining just because he can’t see it in the night sky.  I might say I don’t believe in electricity because I can’t see it, but I will sing another tune once I touched a live wire.  Unbelief does not make God less real—one day we will all stands before his throne of judgement, and no detail of who He is will make Him go away even then.

So, where has the glory of God gone?  Well, first of all, the dead bodies on the side of Israel’s forces were testimony to his glory.  Ask Hannah, she worship the real God of heaven.

“Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth, for the Lord is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, And those who stumbled are girded with strength.” (1 Samuel 2:3–4, NKJV)

But let’s follow the Ark of the Covenant.  Just be clear at this point:  they did not carry God into the temple of Dagon—God is not captured in anything man’s hand can made, or He would be an idol.  However, they treated Him as if He was an idol, just as Israel thought of God.

Now we see his glory.  Dagon fell over flat on his face before the Ark of God (1Samuel 5:2).  Powerless the lump of rock just couldn’t move.  They picked him up “and put his back in his place”—that’s how you deal with an idol: you put him where you want him (localisation!)  He fell over again, and his head and arms broke off.  The translation is somewhat comical:  only the bit that was Dagon was still in tact!

With Dagon’s hand missing we read:

But the hand of the Lord was heavy on the people of Ashdod, and He ravaged them and struck them with tumours, both Ashdod and its territory. (1 Samuel 5:6, NKJV)

His glory was displayed in places not expected, even in the temple of idols.  The Philistines were terrified—their biggest nightmare played out before them: the God who terrorised the Egyptians and all other nations during the journey and the settlement of Israel has come to visit them!  The Ark was moved from one city to the next as they tried to escape the plagues of tumours and mice, and in the end they returned it to Israel.  However, they did not worship God; they only feared Him!

Miracles do not make people worship—it’s only the Spirit of God who applies the Word of God concerning Jesus Christ to the heart of man which brings life.

So, where has the glory of God gone?  Whose God is it anyway?  Someone writes:

It is a story about people playing a game we all know too well: the Israelites were presuming on, and the Philistines were defying, the power of God. The Israelites’ presumption turned to desperation as they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of their enemies. What is to be said about the Philistines’ defiance? (Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

When God becomes an idol

From this episode in the history of Israel we need to learn that there is a real possibility for even Christians to turn God into an idol.  It is indeed possible to try to manipulate God:  God is there for me, and when I pray God has to do as I ask.  This is not to worship a sovereign God.  I cringe when I hear people demand God to do certain things; the new trend is to pronounce a claim of blessing—God is not my servant; quite the opposite is true.

We can indeed make an idol of God if we think that we can localise God.  God is not on our side just because we put Him where we want Him to be; quite the opposite.  And if God does not answer us from where and when we expect Him to answer, we worship an idol, not the living sovereign God.  When we think we can lock God up in the church between Sundays and carry on they way we want during the week, only to call on Him when we are in some need, is to make an idol of Him.  When we expect God to come down to our level to participate in my dreams, ideals, wants and desires, I have made an idol of Him.

Such a God will certainly disappoint, because He is not the God of the Bible.  More than that, such a God will deal with me according to his holiness, justice, knowledge, and unchangeable sovereignty.  Such a God does not answer prayer, but metes out judgement purely He is being treated like an idol.

Whose God is it anyway? Is God with us?

God does not belong to anyone!  We don’t own God, if anything, He owns us!

Can we say Ebenezer, God with us?

The Ark was never meant to be showcase of who God is.  No, it was the meeting point between a holy and gracious God on one hand, and a rebellious people who was called to act and live like people saved by grace.

Let’s turn it all around: our life must show the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Our meeting point is the cross of Christ.  It can never be a point of boasting, never a showcase of what we achieved, but always a showcase of God’s mercy who gave us his Son—perfect in holiness, and perfect in saving grace—and not before I have met the living God at this point to receive mercy and forgiveness, He will just remain an idol which I control, I manipulate, and I want to become part of me.  And life will remain one big struggle of unresolved battles against the enemy.

I proclaim a Gospel to you today of the living, sovereign God who calls you to repentance at the feet of Christ, and live in his peace, completely sacrificed to his service.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 July 2017

Forgiveness of sins

Prayer:  Based on Nehemiah 9

Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

You revealed yourself in Jesus Christ, who is your Word-made-Flesh, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the only way to You, O Father.  We confess that we are stiff-necked; we refused to listen and failed to remember the gracious acts of salvation in Christ.

You are a forgiving God gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore You have not deserted us.  Because of your great compassion You have not abandoned us.  Your presence have not failed to guide us on our path. You gave your good Spirit to instruct us. You did not withhold your manna from our mouths, and You gave us water for our thirst.

But we are disobedient and rebelled against You; we have turned our backs on your law and sin against your ordinances, by which a man will live if he obeys them.  But when we call for mercy and cry out to You, from heaven You hear, and in your great compassion on You deliver us.  But we keep walking away in rebellion, and yet, in your great mercy You do not put an end to us or abandon us.  You are gracious and merciful.  In all that has happened to us, You have remained righteous; You have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. We are slaves today, slaves in the land You gave our ancestors so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to others. We are powerless before our enemies. We are in great distress. Forgive us, O Lord, for the sake our your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

God breaks the silence–hear his voice calling

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 6:4-12
  • 1Samuel 3

Introduction

 

My dear friends in Christ, GK Chesterton wrote:

It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength. 

John Bunyan writes in The Pilgrim’s Progress about the battle in which the main character, Christian, faced Apollyon.  This battle was fierce during which Christian was wounded.  The dragon stood over Christian and trod on him with his heavy foot.  Sneeringly Apollyon hissed, “I am sure I’ve got you now!” Christian reached out for his sword and quoted the words of Michael 7:8: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” (Micah 7:8, NIV)  He gave his enemy a deadly thrust and Apollyon flew away.  The story goes on:  “Then there came to him a hand, with some of the leaves of the tree of life, the which Christian took, and applied to the wounds that he had received in the battle, and was healed immediately.”

This of course is allegory—with rich meaning to Christians nonetheless.

The history covered by 1Samuel 1-4 describes a state when Apollyon had his foot on the chest of the Church of Christ.  But, victory belongs to the Lord.

Dark, silent times

Chapter 3:1 paints a bleak picture:

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. (1 Samuel 3:1, NIV)

Imagine a church without a message. No hope, no future, no joy, no freedom—just doubt and a burning conscience that God’s righteousness can’t be satisfied; just gloom with the prospect of death. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.”

I conducted a service in a funeral parlour.  After the service the funeral director approached me with these words: “This was the first time in quite some while that I heard the Bible read with a sermon based on it.” 

We learnt last week that the sons of Eli did not know the Lord and despised the sacrifice of the Lord.  In practical terms what they did was to obstruct the way between God and his people and, as such, they withheld salvation from the people.

It was the same in the time before the Reformation 500 years ago.  The Roman Church withheld salvation from the people; the Gospel was seldomly preached while priests enriched themselves with offerings which replaced the grace of God in Christ to forgive sins. Thousands upon thousands of people died spiritually starved. Add to this the thousands of martyrs who resisted these hellish practices, and we look at a dark period of Apollyon having his foot on the chest of the Church.

Sadly, it’s happening again in our day—in churches who claim to be protestant.  Preachers of the World even today will keep their congregations occupied with pop psychology and New Age teaching of self-improvement, rather than preaching the Gospel of grace that transforms and sets free because it is founded in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

Forty years ago General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church of Australia were void of the Word of God. We heard that what we experienced in Toowoomba during the Assembly meeting last week when we heard the Gospel call with clarity proclaimed—Oh!, how glorious were the Bible expositions, we didn’t want it to stop—and how wonderful the prayers before and during all the reports—these things hardly happened during an Assembly before 1977.  It was all about social mission, and what the church had to do to stay in step with the world around it. But then God spoke, and godly men, under the Word, decided to stay on, to reform what needed to be reformed, to remain true to the Scriptures.  And out of a handful who chose to take this step, God is building his church.  A Catholic priest recently remarked: “You Presbyterians get to the heart of the matter – you speak of Christ and a crucified Saviour.”  On the other hand a liberal theologian remarked, “I was Presbyterian once, that was my kindergarten faith, but we gave up all that bibliolatry when we started reading.” But may we continue in the words of a remark of an Orthodox priest:  “You Presbyterians, you know what you believe in, and you say it.”

Would I want to be in a church where I can’t preach the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ?  Thousand times “NO!” And may God grant me grace when Apollyon stands with his foot on my chest to, with the last bit of energy I have, plunge the sword of the Word in his chest.

Things got so bad that in Samuel’s time, as the Bible records, God wanted to kill Hophni and Phinehas.  God, still in control and watching over his church, had to step in for his own glory, because if his church does not have his Word to feed on, they have nothing to fight the battle with.

It is almost as if there is a second layer of meaning in verse two:

Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. (1 Samuel 3:2, NIV)

He became spiritually blind too.  Even if there was a vision of God he would not be able to see it.  Indeed, he did not hear God call that night.  What a state for the church to be in!  He was sleeping in his usual place, or his own place (ESV). Even this remark has some double meaning:  he was not even close to the ark, the meeting place between God and his people.

Breaking the silence 

Verse three has a double meaning too:

The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. (1 Samuel 3:3, NIV)

The lamp of God had not yet gone out.  What a glorious verse!  There was spiritual darkness all over.  Our chapter further on speaks of death, destruction, and even sins so bad that there was no atonement for it.  But here there was still light.

And then God speaks! The Word of the Lord was scares, but now He speaks. Most important are the details recorded in this verse:  He spoke to the servant He was raising up for Himself, young Samuel, who was resting in the temple of the Lord, right there where the ark was.

Eli had long given up sleeping there, but the young Samuel receive his first vision right there where God symbolically dwelled with his people.

We have to understand that revival and reformation is not something man can instigate.  God did it then, and ever since He has given new life to his church when He revealed Himself in his Word—and let’s add to that, the Word-made-flesh, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Today we long to see that God once again visit us with a spiritual revival, to bring new life his church, but before we have not made our beds around the throne of God, and before we haven not found ourselves on our knees with the prayer, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears” it might remain a distant dream.

See, there is no ark anymore, there is no temple anymore.  In its place we have a living Saviour.  He is our ark, our meeting place, our holiest of holy, our atonement, and He dwelt with us as a human being, yet He never sinned. He is our new High Priest.  Hophni and Phinehas failed, our High Priest accomplished the mission.  He is our mission, our message, our purpose, our Founder and Perfecter.  When we proclaim Him only, when his mission is our only goal, He builds his church.

But like in the time of young Samuel, we need to proclaim his message with clarity and without fear.  What a first message Samuel had:  the young boy, withholding nothing what God reveals to him, look the old Eli in the eye and told him everything, including this:

Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ” (1 Samuel 3:14, NIV)

Was it easy for Samuel?  No, “He was afraid to tell Eli the vision” (1 Samuel 3:15, NIV).  Yet, he did!

That’s where reformation starts:  when we boldly and obediently proclaim God’s revealed will.  Many reformers paid with there lives for doing so, as did the prophets of God in the Old Testament.  But they died in the Lord, victoriously!  Their blood became the seed of the church.  And maybe this is what we are called for in our day.

A new beginning

I believe there is symbolic meaning hidden in this text:

Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:15, NIV)

The doors of the temple swung open that morning. God was amongst his people again.  No longer was the will of God kept from his people:  They were welcomed in again!

What a wonderful verse this is:

The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. (1 Samuel 3:19, NIV)

Samuel’s words were the words of God.  Where God speaks new life happens:

And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:20, NIV)

And then these words:

The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. (1 Samuel 3:21, NIV)

There was life again: God is in his temple, his Word is heard, and people worshipped Him.  There is no other way to reformation.

Conclusion

My dear brother and sister, may I ask, “Is all you see today in Australia the foot of Apollyon on the chest of the church?”  Is there perhaps some despondency, a hopelessness living in your mind when you think about the Gospel message and the future of the church?

Take heart.  Stand up!  God has broken the silence in Christ and the Word of the Lord is the sword in this battle, being made alive through the power of the Holy Spirit.  You are called into battle;  the outcome is sure, we are on the winning side!  Blood might flow, lives may be on the line, but the victory of the cross is sure.  Proclaim the Word and without ceasing pray for those who preach the Word.

God has broken the silence: listen to his voice!  Here am I Lord, speak for your servant listens.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 25 June 2017