Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

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

 

Dreadful to fall in the hands of the living God

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 10:19-31
  • 1Samuel 2:22-36

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

It is the duty of airlines to take passengers through the drills in case of an emergency.  They warn that, although one might know the procedures, one should still pay attention.  And you think, “That’s not going to happen today,” and you start reading a magazine.  Your seat is safely mounted to the floor, your seatbelt is firmly strapped, and your luggage is stowed away, and you’ve got your ticket in your pocket.

But those of us who watch the Air Crash Investigations programs, by now know that your ticket, your seat or seatbelt do not guarantee your safe arrival. An experienced pilot and crew may contribute—but in the end it’s the plane.

In one on the episodes during a flight part of the plane ripped off due to some construction failure. Only one passenger, safely strapped into his seat, got sucked out.  Then there was nothing which could prevent him from a free-fall to his death. Nothing! Nothing could save him.  It is dreadful.  No rescue operation could be successful. The tragedy is that the passenger did nothing wrong to cause his death.

Our Scripture readings describe something similar:  a dreadful ending to a human life—but the twist is, that this death is caused by the person himself, and the consequences are eternal. Such a death is certain, irreversible, and the result of God’s just intervention of righteous judgement.

Despising the God of salvation

As we have seen over the last few weeks, the church of the Lord in the time of the judges were in a terrible state.  The ministry of Hophni and Phinehas under the oversight of their father, Eli, takes us to a time when the very people called to stand between Him and his people, stood in the way of the people getting access to God.

Verse 28 helps us to understand:  they were from a clan elected and chosen by God—a term always connected with grace—for the ministry of reconciliation between Him and the sins of the people.  They were to intercede for the people “before” God, in the presence of God.  For their daily living God would provide for them as they were entitled to portions of the sacrifice.  They lived in the hollow of God’s hands.

But these two young priests intercepted the sacrifice of the people as they came to bring sacrifices to reconcile them to God.  Practically they broke the chain of salvation.  Eli knew about it, and warned them in the strongest terms:

If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them? (1 Samuel 2:25, NIV)

Did you hear the words “mediate” and “intercede”? To have one’s sins forgiven one needs a mediator who would intercede on one’s behalf. But in this case the mediators did the opposite: they became a stumbling block on the way to forgiveness.

Eli did not remove them from their posts, and in doing so he too scorned the Lord’s sacrifice and offering which He prescribed for his dwelling. He honoured his sons more than the Lord by fattening themselves on the choice parts of every offering made by the people. (1 Samuel 2:29, NIV)

They gave the sacrifice a kick—that’s the meaning of the Hebrew word “scorn”; another meaning is to show contempt for someone or something because it is thought to be bad or without value.

Their attitude and hardness of heart is recorded in 1 in 1Samuel 2:25:

His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death. (1 Samuel 2:25, NIV)

At this point modern day Christianity digs it heals deep into the ground and object.  Is this the correct translation:  “It was the Lord’s will to put them to death”? How can a God of love ever do such a thing?

Let’s go to verse 30

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained. (1 Samuel 2:30, NIV)

Has God changed his mind about the family of Eli?  No! What happened?  Eli and his sons changed their mind about God!  They chose not to honour Him.  To “honour” someone in Hebrew was to respect, or to treat someone as noteworthy.  It was used of people carrying responsibility.  Little wonder then that this word is used in the Ten Commandments as “to honour your father and your mother”.

To honour God is to remember that his Name is glorious in righteousness, faithfulness, judgment, and salvation (Ps 66:2; 79:9; Isa 40:5). He is the king of glory (Ps 24:7–10), who has done glorious things. He is not only to be honoured because of He is the sovereign head of the universe, because there is (in the words of Hannah), ”None holy like the Lord.”

We said last week, one’s theology is reflected in one’s prayer; but it is equally true of the way in which one worships: your worship reflects your theology, and the way your believe impacts on the way you worship.

Hophni and Phinehas made that clear.  They despised God because of their despicable theology. The result is that there was nothing between them and God.  Their seat, with seatbelt and all, was just blown out of the window, and they are now in free fall to their death, and that with their paid tickets in their pockets.  Both of them died on one day.  And when Eli heard the news of their death, he fell from his seat, broke his neck and died.  The wife of Phinehas was about to give birth.  The news of her husband and the death of her father-in-law hastened the birth of her son, and she herself died.  The boy was named Ichabod, meaning “there is no honour”—1Samuel 4:22

The glory (or honour) has departed from Israel (1 Samuel 4:22, NIV)

One is only safe in the plane when you honour the owner of the plane—He who made it, He who makes it fly and has determined the flight plan, and signed off on the flight manifesto—even more, He paid your ticket by giving his Son as the price.

That’s why the verse states:

Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained. (1 Samuel 2:30, NIV)

Worship God as the holy God to whom nothing can compare, and what Hannah prays is true for you:

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour. (1 Samuel 2:8, NIV)

Not honouring God will invoke his justice:  He will treat such a person as nothing, of no importance.

A faithful priest will come

What would happen to Eli and his sons—and the ripple effect it would have on God’s people—was indeed disastrous.  But, in the big scheme of God’s saving plan for his people, it did not call for a contingency plan, as if God was caught on the wrong foot.  All along He continued to work on the rescue plan for sinners.

I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always. (1 Samuel 2:35, NIV)

That’s why we even read in the previous chapters about Samuel:  “Samuel was ministering before the Lord”(18); “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.” (26)

Even while the despicable ministry of Eli and his sins continued, God was working our his plan of salvation.  We will follow this story in weeks to come.  But let’s jump ahead a thousand or two years from that point in time. Let’s turn the pages to our reading of Hebrews 10.

The ultimate priest

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews writes about Christ. Of Him we read:

Then He said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first [sacrificial law] to establish the second [He Himself has fulfilled the sacrificial law]. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:9–10, NIV)

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, (Hebrews 10:12, NIV)

Because of his ministry the Holy Spirit gives us this assurance:

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (Hebrews 10:17–18, NIV)

The sacrifice of Christ, in which He was the final High Priest, the final sacrifice and the final altar—al in one— is our only passport “to enter the holy places” (10:19), because “our hearts are sprinkled clean and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22)—which is the high priestly ministry of Christ.

But now the warning:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV)

With that DAY approaching—the day of Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead—there is something we must stop doing:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left… (Hebrews 10:26, NIV)

This takes us to the verse in 1Samuel 2:

… if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”(1 Samuel 2:25, NIV)

The “keep on sinning” of this verse does not imply that Christians don’t sin.  “Keep on sinning” is to live in such a way as to consider what Christ has done as unimportant, to dishonour Him, or as a next verse says, to “spurned the Son of God and profaned the blood of the covenant”, to trample underfoot the blood of Christ, to keep on living as if He never gave his life for us to save us from eternal judgement of the just and holy God.

Life like that, disdaining the cross of Christ, leads to meet the God of verse 30:  He said “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (Hebrews 10:30, NIV).

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31, NIV)

Conclusion

The way you pray reveals what you think about God; the way you worship reveals what you think about God.  But remember: there is only one way to worship God—through his Son, our Mediator, who intercedes for us, our High Priest.

It’s His way, or it’s no way.  It’s the safety of his plane and the ticket He bought with his blood in our pockets; or it’s free-fall to a sure death and eternal condemnation.  Dreadful! Because falling to a sure death is to fall in the hands of the living God, the righteous Judge.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 18 June 2017

 

The saving sovereign God

Scripture readings:

  • Luke 1:46:55
  • 1Samuel 2:1-10

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am going to make a statement, and want you to think about it:  your theology reflects your prayers, and your prayers reflect your theology.

It would be safe to say—purely judged on what we can observe—that the church in Australia is worse off than a decade or two ago.  Am I right to say that we are in for a bumpy, if not frightful, time as Christians?

Let’s do a bit of a survey this morning.

  • Do you think humanistic philosophies, like New Age and Marxism will become more and more popular in years to come?
  • Do you think Islam has come to stay and will exercise more and more domination in our society?
  • Do you think the church will shrink to a insignificant minority which will have to keep itself busy with its own business?
  • Are we on the winning side, or do you think we are on the losing side?

The purpose of the sermon this morning is to prove the opposite.

The bleak times of Hanna

From a human perspective Israel as the people of God became a total failure.  When God called them out of Egypt and gathered them at Sinai He gave them the reason for their existence:

Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:6, NIV)

In Leviticus the Lord said:

I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations to be holy. (Leviticus 20:24, NIV)

However, in a short space of time, all they did was to go against everything God commanded, whilst what occupied them were the abhorrent practices of the nations around them. And as we have seen in Judges, even the grandsons of both Moses and Aaron enticed the people to worship idols.

1 Samuel 1 takes us to the sons of the High Priest, Eli, were worthless men (or sons of Belial);  they did not know the Lord! They treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.  They were consumed by greed; they spiritually abused the people of God; and they turned the Tent of Meeting into a brothel. They worshipped money, power and sex.

One’s prayer reflects one’s theology 

But all along God acted sovereignly.  An insignificant childless woman, who put her faith in Almighty God was used by God to bring change—through a young boy dedicated to His service.

How can we say for sure Hannah had put her trust in the Lord?   Her prayer reflected her theology!

Hannah worshipped God because there is no god like Him

Hannah’s heart throbbed with joy in the Lord.  When she looked up to God she felt herself as strong as a wild animal crushing its pray with its horn.  She could speak with confidence against her enemy, because God poured on her his salvation.  Her knowledge and experience of God is that He is holy, and that no other God will ever stand against Him.  He is her fortress and hiding place, her rock.  Those who know the God of the exodus know that there is no one, no thing, no power—there is nothing to compare to the Lord.  Hannah knew, as the Israelites who came out of Egypt knew, the stupidity of allowing anything to rival the Lord, this holy God, our rock. He is the incomparable God! There is no one besides him, no one like him! After the people of God crossed the Dead Sea in safety while Pharaoh’s army drowned, Moses said:

The Lord is my strength and my defence; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. (Exodus 15:2–3, NIV)

When I asked those questions a while ago, did you believe as Hannah and Moses believed?  If God is the same, as He was yesterday, so He will be into all eternity, can we really be pessimistic about the future of the church?  Does your prayer reflect your faith?  Does your prayer have an impact on they way you live? “There is none none holy as the lord, none besides You.” Do you pray and believe this confidently?  Why then filled with gloom about tomorrow?

Hannah worshipped God because He is sovereign

Knowledge belongs to Him.  He knows everything.  He hears the voices of his mockers; He knows the folly of their plans; He knows about their arrogance. Just imagine: human rulers, dust of the earth, dare to swing the finger at the God of the universe; they dare to resist his Son who has the power to smash them like pottery! (Psalm 2)

When it pleases God, at the time He has appointed, He makes an end to his enemy.  Rulers of great empires have come an gone.  It requires deep study to find out something about the main players in history who thought they were in control of things.  Where is Alexander the Great?  Where are the roman Emperors?  Where are the great conquerors?  Of Stalin there is a gravesite and a statue. Chairman Mao Zedong is gone.  God is with us—Christ is our King.  How do we know for sure?  Did He not rise from the grave? Not even death could hold Him; and He assured us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”

Right back in chapter 1 Hannah called God Almighty.  That expression has undertones of what Moses prayed in Exodus  15:  “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”

It is in the power of our sovereign God to humiliate strong armies, to reduce to nothing the riches of the powerful, to kill and to bring to life, to dethrone rulers and to put into power those He wants to be in power.

Before this sovereign God Martin Luther and other Reformers stood and committed their lives.  The popes of the age and the kings of large kingdoms could not stop the spreading of the Word of God.  The names of those who wanted to stop the mouths of Christians then are forgotten, but Luther, Calvin, Knox, Thomas Cranmer, Oliver Cromwell, Bunyan, Spurgeon and others are still remembered for their faith.

Hannah worshipped God because to Him belongs judgement 

We read these sweet words:

He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

What his church is experiencing today is not unknown to our Lord.

When those faithful to his name put their heads on blocks rather than blaspheme the Name of their Saviour, God knew about it.  When the hands of those who love Christ above all were tied behind their backs and they themselves were tied to the wood of a stake, He was with them.  He commanded his angles to give them courage to face the enemy.  When evil forces spray their bullets over a bus full of Christians on their way to worship, He took note.  When his people got mowed down by machine gun while gathered in an ancient building in Egypt for his worship, He was there.

Bullets could not take their souls, but the time will come when those who pulled the triggers will stand before the judgment throne of the Almighty God.  God will vindicate avenge the blood of his people.

It is easy to force control over people when you hide behind fire arms and self-imposed authority, but let the enemy of the cross take note:

It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered.  (1 Samuel 2:9, NIV)

God will be the judge of the ends of the earth. Did Moses not pray: The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. (Exodus 15:2–3, NIV) And do we not read in Revelation 19 about Christ, the rider on the white horse:

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Revelation 19:13–15, NIV)

Hannah worshipped God because by faith she saw Israel’s redemption fulfilled Christ

There are just too many Messianic overtones in Hannah’s prayer to miss it.  After the birth of Christ, Mary took over from Hannah and praised God for giving his Son to be the anointed Messiah King:

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:51–55, NIV)

Hannah’s story stands at the beginning of 1 Samuel because there is a connection, yet to be played out, between Hannah’s story and Israel’s story.” (Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader (p. 42). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

God answered Hannah’s prayer in the fulness of time giving his Son, the King of all kings.  And we now can say: the king is dead; long live the King!

Conclusion

Let’s end with the thought we started with:  one’s prayer reflects one’s theology, and one’s theology reflects one’s prayer.

How do you pray?  Is what you pray the conviction of your heart? If you really believe that there is no God which can compare to Him, if you really believe God is sovereign in his power and the outworking of his plan with this world, if you really believe that God will one day judge his enemy and vindicate his church, why not shout it out loud to you adversary?  Why not pray more? We have no other weapons but the Word of God and prayer.

Lets for just one brief moment go to Revelation 8:

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it (God’s answer to the prayers) on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:3–5, NIV)

This is the outworking of our prayers answered by our Sovereign God!  Let’s get serious with worshipping God in prayer.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 June 2017

 

From hurtful mockery to joyful hope

Bible Reading

  • 1 Samuel 1:1-20

Intercessory Prayer (based on Psalm 94)

Loving Heavenly Father,

You are holy and just, and You deal rightly with those who oppose You. You hate the arrogant, who stands up against You as Sovereign Lord.

As we worship You now, the scenes of wicked men who terrorise your church and kill others without reason, burn vividly in our minds.  Arrogant people blaspheme You.  We bow before You to whom retribution belongs, and we ask: “How long?” How long will You allow them to crush your people and trample upon your church?  The helpless fall under their atrocities as if You don’t take notice.

Yet, in your eyes they are dull fools.  They think You, who fashioned the ear, cannot hear; they think You, who formed the eye cannot see.

Nations are under You; You are sovereign.  Use the Gospel message to rebuke the evildoers.  You know their thoughts, and You know that every man’s life is but a breath.

We don’t always see it that way, but your discipline is for our good.  Your teachings are pure.  From it we know that there will be a day of judgement for the wicked.

We praise You for not forsaking your church, because we are brought in the blood of Christ.

We take hands in unity against the wicked.  With you people world-wide we join in prayer against the plans of evildoers.  From You is our only help.  Without You we are helpless and we would have long ago been wiped from the face of the earth.

We stumble, but your steadfast love keeps us from falling all together.  The things of this world weigh heavily on our hearts, but your promises cheer our souls.

You stand against the wicked who pass laws to justify injustice.  Your people who live by your will have become enemy; good is called evil, and evil has become good.

We take refuge in You, because You are steadfast and faithful; with You there is no shadow of turning.  We long for the day of your return, Lord Jesus.  Not only will we stand before the Father in your righteousness to behold your glory and holiness, but You will finally deal with evildoers.  You will vindicate your church, but the arrogant and the godless, those whose names are not in the Book of Life, will be thrown into the pit of destruction, the eternal lake of fire.

And now we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, yes, come soon.  Amen.

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

Last week we learnt about Israel in the time of the Judges.  They turned their backs on God and became the scorn of the nations around them.  Sex and sexuality, marriage, morality, and the very heart of the Bible became subject to human reinterpretation.  The result was disastrous.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  Then, a whole series of events led several people to once again search the Scriptures as the life-giving Word of God and challenged people to order their lives and churches on principles found only in the Bible.  The result was astounding: although thousands paid with their lives for turning against the teachings of the Roman Church, many millions more came to worship Christ as the only Saviour.  They were led out of the bondage of sin and tradition, out of fear into the freedom of grace in Christ alone.

Just recently I read about another reformation which is underway.  It goes under the banner of “The Reformation Project”.  Yes, there needs to ongoing reformation.  But The Reformation Project which is happening in Orlando, Florida, might travel like a wild fire across the globe.  What is it?

Its overt message is to “affirm” LGBTQ in and around Orlando, Florida. The pastor of Joy Metropolitan Church, who is in a same-sex relationship, and the founding pastor of The Impact Church of Orlando want Christians to discuss ways to make Orlando churches supportive of the LGBTQ lifestyle, regardless of their churches’ theological positions on marriage and sexuality.

We just cannot learn!

While all of this is happening, we cry out with Psalm 94, “How long, O Lord?”  Why has the church of the Lord Jesus Christ become the scorn and ridicule of the world?

Maybe the parents of Samuel asked the same question.  How would God turn around the hopeless state of his people in their time?

Solution in unexpected places

In the first few verses of 1 Samuel 1 there’s a rundown of the ancestry of Samuel.  We read names (because the God people are important—and He knows our names, and even have the names of those who worship his Son, written up in the Book of Life), but the more we read the less we know about them.  They lived in Ephraim and had earlier relations who came from Ephratha, which was near Bethlehem, the city of David.  They were in the line of Levites who served the Lord.  But that’s all we know.  They were no influential family, and not connected with influential people.  In fact, they were almost nobodies.

This fits the theme of the book of Samuel:  God makes something out of nothing.  Later we will meet the family of David, where David was the least of his brothers, but mightily used of God who chose him to be king.  When the Philistines were camped against the people of God, it was not the mightiest soldier, but the least who would slay Goliath.

That’s how God works.  He resists the proud, but calls the humble. He passed the people of fame and chose a humble girl and her carpenter fiancé, who no one knew anything about, to be the earthly parents of the Saviour of the world.  He passed the learned of the day, but called unschooled fishers to be his disciples.  It was the derided prophet who ate locusts and wore clothes of camel’s hair who announced the Messiah to the people.  It was the apostle, who call himself the “untimely born”, the least of all sinners, who became the mouthpiece of God to the Roman Emperor.

This is God’s operational plan to restore his people who had become the scorn and derision of the world.  And that principle is still at work.  He passes the wise of this world, but uses the simple and poor to have them proclaim the Kingdom of Christ.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21, NIV)

Today He knocks on your door.  Don’t protest like Moses that you cannot talk; don’t protest like Gideon that you are the weakest and come from an insignificant family line.  The Lord does not use those who are able, but He enables those whom He calls.  He calls you to follow Him.  Today is Pentecost Day:  You will receive power when the Holy Spirt comes over you, our Lord promised his disciples.  And his power they proclaimed the Word about Christ and God gave them thousands who were ordained to eternal life.

 A barren church

Elkanah had two wives.  Penninah was the one with sons and daughters; Hanna was barren.  Penninah scorned Hannah and caused her much pain and grieve.

The writer of 1 Samuel informs us of a very sad fact even before the story of Hannah begins:

Now this man [Elkanah] used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. (1 Samuel 1:3, NRSV)

The verse speaks of the faithfulness of the parents of Samuel, but the term “year by year” also gives us a hint of a time in Israel when the worship of God was a drag.  Why?  The priests had no appreciation about the holiness of God.  Chapter 2:2 tells us:

Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. (1 Samuel 2:12, NIV)

Dead, ritualistic religion had no impact on the people and therefore no impact on the world around them.  No expectation, no hope.  Just go through the drills.  Barren theology, waterless clouds.  What happened between Hannah and Penninah was a vivid description of the state of the Old Testament Church then.

When the church lose sight of the glory and holiness of God, of his worship and of his Word, scorn depends upon it from all corners, and it becomes barren, without any future.  People don’t see the need to turn to the church because the life of Christians is no different from the life of those who don’t go to church.  And in a planned ploy to silence the message of Christ, the cry of the world all along from is that the church becomes more worldly.   “The Reformation Project”!  The church is reaching so far out to the world, that the world found a way to reach into the church!

Hannah’s troubles were representative of the troubles of the church then.  She was barren and she was a mockery.  The world taunts the church, “We have the numbers, you are losing yours!”

And all along the church tries strategies not founded in the Word.  It tries entertainment; it preaches a Gospel of prosperity; it even allows in its number the very people whom God disapproves and hates:  the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who have sex with men, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NIV).

It is so much different from the first Christian church in Jerusalem.  About that church we read:

No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. (Acts 5:13–14, NIV)

Where do we stand?  What is your expectation for your church?  Was there any exception whatsoever when you woke this morning and got dressed to come to church? Or have you come go just go through the drills?  But inside there is barrenness.  We run from the ridicule of the world, but  we don’t run to God in repentance.

It is only when the church of Christ corporately, and every member of it, begins to show spiritual fruit of a life planted in Christ, a life made new by the blood of Christ, a lifestyle drenched in the holiness of the Spirit of God, that it will become attractive again.

How can we be serious about being light and salt in the world if we only live in the shadow of what it means to be a Christian, and if we have lost our saltiness?

A new beginning

Hannah’s hurt drove her on her knees.  Someone writes:

Certainly we are right to think that only God could bring something important out of the unimportance and “barrenness” of 1 Samuel 1:1, 2. (John Woodhouse)

Hannah’s action (to all appearances insignificant) will turn out to change not only her life but the life of the nation and, indeed, if we dare to see it, the history of the world.

The Bible records: “Hannah rose”.  She became active while the others were still “sitting” – even the high priest, Eli.  Hannah prayed.  Hannah prayed to God.  The prayer of Hannah should be the prayer of the church:

“Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11, NIV)

Remember Micah’s mother in Judges 18 who gave her son away to idols?  Hannah is the opposite:  she wished her son to serve Almighty God all the days of his life—the only son she ever had was the one she gave away!

“Hannah begged God to do for her what he had done for Israel in the days of Moses. She was asking God to do what God had shown to be his characteristic behavior toward his people.” (Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader (p. 30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books)

Conclusion

The difference between Hannah as representative of the barren church of the Old Testament and us, is that God already gave us his Son.  He is the Head of his church.  He died for it; He shed his blood for it; He rescued it and sanctified it; HE overcame death for it; He rose and He intercedes for it and gave his Spirit to it.

That prayer of Hannah is answered.  From Ephratah, through the line of David the Messiah has come!  Our hope is in Him; He is our message—but He has be our life!  He must be our mission!

Reformation always takes us back to Him, his Word, his salvation!  An insignificant priest nailed his theses on a church door in Wittenberg in 1517, and the fire of the reformation was lit.

The Reformation 500 years ago stands as a beacon of light and testimony to the work of Almighty God who is building his church – even against the mighty powers of this world.  And as we prayed in the words of Psalm 94:

For the Lord will not reject his people; He will never forsake his inheritance. The Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them. (Psalm 94:14, 22–23, NIV)

Let’s go home, face the world, and look up to Christ with joy in our hearts.  He has overcome; He calls to Himself those the Father had given Him.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 4 June 2017

 

The disaster of man-defined morality

Bible readings

  • Romans 1:18-31
  • Judges 19:16-31

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, today is the second instalment of our series “The king is dead; long love the King.” Last week’s sermon came from Judges 17-18; the topic was “Man-made religion”.  We followed the stories of Micah with his own private priest, which he lost to the tribe of Dan, who had their own man-made religion, worshipping the idols Micah thought belonged to him. This abomination even happened under the oversight of Jonathan, the grandson of Moses.

The next two chapters involve the son of Aaron, Phinehas, and what transpired here is no less gruesome and horrible.

Anyone who argues that the Bible is purely a human book telling about a god in which immature people want to believe to escape reality and insecurity will have to think again when they get to these two chapters in Judges.  It records horrible things done by the people of God, which—if it was the choice of human writers—would have been omitted, even if it was just for the sake of decency.  These chapters are an embarrassment to people who love the Lord. But the Holy Spirit of God allowed these heinous episodes to be recorded.

Selective morality

Chapter 19 records the history of a Levite who went after his concubine.  She became disgruntled with him and went to her father’s home.

One major principle we need to understand from the Bible is that because something is in the Bible it must be right.  So, polygamy must be right because men in those days had more than one wife.  You only need to remember the history of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel’s father, David, Solomon and may others to work out that was no God’s design for marriage.  There was envy, bitterness and even hatred between the wives.  So, this Levite, although he did what others did be taken more than one wife, was in the wrong before God.

After much merriment which spanned over several days at her father’s house, they made their way back home.  Something interesting happened which reveals something of selectivity—to obey God when it fits—with the Levite:  No sleeping in Jesus (which later became Jerusalem) because they were heathens, but it was another principle when it came to marriage.

They pressed on the Gibeah, as city in the tribe of Benjamin, but they couldn’t find hospitality until an elderly man who temporarily lived there—he himself was from the region where the Levite was from—took them in and care from them.

Then, hammering on the door—we’re back in Sodom!  The men of the city demanded to have sexual intercourse with the old man’s visitor—the Bible calls them sons of Belial, worthless evildoers with no principles. Their host resisted, most probably he thought it a very sinful thing to give a Levite to be raped by homosexuals.

Once again selective application of Biblical principles:  rightly was shameful homosexuality considered “disgraceful”, but rape within the context of heterosexuality seemed a better option! You may do whatever you like with my daughter and the Levite’s concubine—who according to law was nothing but his wife!  To save his own skin the Levite offered no resistance and let her go.  They raped her all night while he and his slave were safe inside the old fellow’s house, and when he woke the next morning he found her on the doorstep.  What a sad sight to see her almost crying out for help with outstretched hand over the threshold.  The best her husband could do was to tell her, “Get up, let’s go!” No sympathy, no sorrow, nothing!  She’s dead!

What did he do?  He draped her over a donkey, took her Hom and chopped her up in twelve piece, which he then sent all through Israel.  He disgraced her, he defiled himself by handling a corpse, and showed more concern for the fact that the men of Gilead were guilty of homosexual acts!

What do we learn from all of this?  We can not define our own morality by being selective about things we like in the Bible and things we prefer not to do.

The Church of Scotland—our mother church—this week decided to accept roe commendations of a report which changes the Churches definition of marriage to include same sex marriages and to apologise to gay people for their previous understanding. Rev David Robertson of the Free Church writes:

“Unlike the previous six reports it makes no pretence to either balance or to assess what the bible actually says. [The report] …spoke of being ‘guided by the Spirit of God, as we try to apply Scripture to the concrete messiness of living’.

“…In fact, they usually believe the bits of the Bible with which they agree and amazingly enough discover that the ‘Spirit’ is guiding them to reject those bits with which they disagree.   In this new version of guidance… that denies that the Spirit inspired the Bible…This is not the church being the pillar and foundation of the truth – it is the church being the poisoner and underminer of the truth.”

Who was guilty in the story of the Levite and the men of Gibeah? Both! Yes the men were way off the mark and rightly the Bible calls them sons of Belial; but the Levite could not play victim.  While he was calling the twelve tribes to “Think about! Consider it! Tell us what to do!” (19:30), he exonerated himself from all wrongdoing by being selective in obedience to God’s Word.

Driven be man-defined morality

All of Israel was gobsmacked by what they saw and heard.  They expressed their horror putting Israel on equal footing with the Canaanites who occupied the land before they got it as a gift from God (19:30).

The right thing is to eradicate this evil.  In their thousands they gathered at Mizpah, where Phinehas the grandson of Aaron was ministering.  The leaders of the tribes called the Levite to give testimony about how the atrocity took place.  Although they had called the Benjaminites to give their side of the story, they did not show. And consequently only the word of the Levite was taken as truth, while the Law stated that as least two witnesses were needed.

The crowd was enraged and made oaths:  they will not return home; they will go after Benjamin, and they will never have one of their daughter ever marry into the tribe of Benjamin—they were too holy for that to happen!  When the tribe of Benjamin did not cooperate, they made the decision to wipe the whole tribe out.

What is interesting up to this point is that the crime seems to be looked upon something with political implications, rather than spiritual.  Phinehas did not feature in the first part.

Self-righteously they gathered in Bethel to enquire of the Lord, not if they should wipe out Benjamin, but what tribe should first attack. It’s to say, “Lord we’ve decided to wipe out Benjamin and you better give us your blessing!” If they regarded the deed of Benjamin as a spiritual matter, they would have included the principles and procedure set down in the Mosaic Law.  Head over heals they dived in.  Who did they take as partners in this battle?  Just in the previous chapter we read about the Danites who worshipped idols!  Now they were partners to save Israel from appearing like other surrounding nations.

What should give us about our modern day disaster man-defining morality?  National pride, family dignity, the honour of our reputation—or the glory of our Lord?  What should drive us to take action?  Only when the holiness of God is trampled on!  That should stir us! What is our strategy?  Political or spiritual measures?  We are not Christian jihadists; we are not in the business of violence.  Our defence lies in true repentance, trusting the Lord, in humble prayer and obedience to his holy Word.

But then we cannot be selective; we cannot defile the church of the Lord Jesus Christ by rejecting parts of the Bible we don’t like.  We cannot even begin to try and define morality which fits our tastes and situations—that’s idolatry.

The story plays itself out in Israel losing the first two battles miserably; they lost 22,000 men on the first day and 18,000 on the second. God gave them over in delusion, and all up they lost more men than Benjamin.

At this point in time they involved the priest.  Burnt offerings and fellowship offerings followed—but strangely, no sin offerings.  A third attack was successful and Benjamin was routed.

But self-motivated ambition and man-defined morality always end up in disaster. Sorrow is always too late.  That sinking reality of “What have we done?”

“Lord, God of Israel,” they cried, “why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?” (Judges 21:3, NIV)

But despite their offerings they continued with they man-made religion:  based on an oath they defined, they coerced all survivors to appear—as they put it—“before the Lord” in Bethel.  They found out Jabesh and his tribe was not before the Lord in Bethel and went after them.

They killed everyone, women and children, but selectively they spared the young virgin girls which could be passed on to the 600 surviving Benjaminites.  They only found 400 girls.

Then hypocrisy in the highest degree:  they had made an oath to not give their daughters as wives to the men of Benjamin.  But they devised a plan to have their daughters stolen.  They helped the 200 wifeless men to grab young girls from them when they came out dancing—and that after they had attended a feast of the Lord!  And if the fathers of the girls complained they would just say:

Do us the favour of helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war. You will not be guilty of breaking your oath because you did not give your daughters to them.’ ” (Judges 21:22, NIV)

The reason for the war was desecration of the marriage as God planned it.  And now those who started it all become part of stealing girls from their families!

Conclusion

What a mess!  The Book of Judges ends with the people of God being morally as corrupt as the Canaanites who occupied the land before them.  What makes the situation worse is that Israel acted as if they were serving the living God.

The book ends with this verse:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 21:25, NIV)

Was the problem a political one that a king be the solution?  That’s apparently what they thought.  Is the solution to our modern-day rotten morality more laws and more politicians?

The end of the book of Ruth gives the answer:  through Ruth and Boaz David would be king, and along that line, our King Jesus was born.  Of Him Peter declared:

Seeing what was to come, he (David) spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that He was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. (Acts 2:31–32, NIV)

Therefore, as Peter preached:

“Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38, NIV)

The king is dead; love live the King.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 28 May 2017

Man-made Religion

Bible Readings

  • 2Timothy 4:1-5
  • Judges 17:1-13

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are commencing a new sermon series today under the topic “The king is dead; long live the King!”

This phrase was first declared when Charles VII ascended to the French throne after the death of his father Charles VI in 1422.

The Royal Council in England proclaimed: “The throne shall never be empty; the country shall never be without a monarch.”  So, in 1272 when Henry III died while his son, Edward I, was fighting in the Crusades, Edward was immediately declared king.

Our sermon series will not have as source the British kings, but the kings of Israel.  They lived and died, but the promised Messiah King (capital “K”), Jesus Christ, lives forever.  The Israelite kings failed and as such were precursors for the perfect, righteous, all-powerful, sovereign King who overcame the power of hell, sin, death and Satan.  Of Him the Bible declares:

“You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:7–9, NIV)

Today and next week the Word will come from the last few chapters of Judges, and the messages will help us to understand that we should focus, not an earthly king to guide us, but on God in Jesus Christ, our King.

Just as a margin note this:  God assigned to the king (or governments), to the church and to families separate spheres of authority—all of them are under God because this world belongs to Him, the Creator. But the church does not rule over governments; in the same way governments do not rule over churches, and let it be clear, neither government nor church has authority over families. In an ideal world all three these spheres of authority would be in harmony as they are governed by Christ through his Word and Spirit.

This is a bit of a long introduction, I know.  Moving into the sermon, let’s bring into focus the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  Without going into detail it is safe to say that the Reformation was needed because the church lost its direction when they lost the Bible as the authoritative Word of God for life and worship.  Foreign elements were dragged into worship and the tradition of the church was given equal authority alongside the Bible.

Our reading from Judges 17-18 provides a perfect example when man makes his own religion—and still call it worship.

God’s command to Moses

The phrase “as the Lord commanded Moses” (and variations of it) is repeated about 100 times in the Old Testament.

The way the Lord wanted to be worshipped was spelled out very clearly, in detail.  God is holy, and his people had to keep that in mind. Wilful worship, fashioned around personal preference, have no place in the Bible.

The book of Judges repeatedly records how the people did evil in the eyes of the Lord—which is another way to say they shunned the commands of the Lord for their own interpretation—they did as they saw fit.  Things got so bad, so quickly, that priests in the direct family line of Moses, maybe even his grandson, led a whole tribe of God’s people into idol worship.  We’ll get to that shortly.

False, man-made religion

As soon as the authority of the Word is swept under the carpet, man quickly replaces it with something he conjures up from his own sinful mind.  Interestingly, men never quits worshipping; he only fashions false worship in the place of true worship.

Judges 17 tells the story of a man called Micah.  First he stole silver from his mother.  She pronounced a curse over the silver, and maybe over the one who stole it too, which made her son worried, so he gave her the silver back.  Usually when people of old prayed a curse over something they consider it the property of the entity in which name the curse was pronounced.  Should it found it would then be dedicated to that entity.  This was the reason why she dedicated the silver.

But listen to what she said:

I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make an image overlaid with silver. I will give it back to you. (Judges 17:3, NIV)

Give it to the Lord?  To the Lord who forbids making idols?  Well, it sounds like a good idea to give something to the Lord, even if it is lottery money!  No ways!

This event was most probably what stirred Micah to think that he was some special person too.  Sometimes mothers, or parents, need to be careful with the way in which they encourage their children!  Many are on their way to destruction because Mom and Dad can’t see anything wrong in things they do.

So he built a shrine, and put his silver idol in it.  For good measure he added a few more idols.  He declared his son a priest and made an ephod for him—the vest the High Priest wore when entering the Most Holy.  So, here we have an own private man-made religion!

Very poignantly the Bible records:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 17:6, NIV)

The story goes on.  When a young Levite from Bethlehem, whose task it was to teach the people in Law of the Lord, found himself in Micah’s house, he got a job offer: “Live with me and be my father and priest, I will give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes, and your food.”

Private gods, private shrine, private priest, private religion.  When Alice was conversing with Humpty Dumpty, she rebuked him for misusing words. Humpty replied, ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.  Alice protested, asking if she could really make words mean different things, to which Humpty answered, ‘The question is, which is to be the master – that is all’.

Micah was the master.  And he was satisfied with his choice.  Listen:

“Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” (Judges 17:13, NIV)

It’s like a bank robber that gets away with the loot unscathed and then go to the prayer meeting that night to thank God for his safety and provision for his family!

The tragedy of this chapter in the Bible is that people all along thought they worshipped God.

People in our day do the same.  They worship, and even call on the Name of God, but they have long left the Bible on the shelve as a forgotten book written for people thousands of years ago, not for modern people.  Someone writes:

I cannot stomach the whole notion of hell by conservative Christians today. Such a punishment, however conceived, does not fit the crimes (“sins”) I have done. I am not consciously rebelling against God because I sincerely do not believe he even exists. I’m following what I have come to believe to the best of my abilities as a thinking and educated person.

He continues:

How is it possible for God to foreknow the future? How is it possible for a being to never learn anything, and to always and forever exist as three-in-one without ever growing incrementally into something more and more complex? How is it possible for there to exist a being who is 100% man and 100% God with every essential attribute necessary for both?

He comes to this conclusion:  “… we must believe the writings of ancient superstitious people to do so?

But we should not only point fingers to people far away—it is sometimes much closer than we think.  How do we know and apply the Bible into our daily lives?  Is the Bible our sole authority for life and worship?  How many times do I hear the expression, “I think God would be happy with …”  Or, “I don’t think the Bible is against …” How can people make claims like this?  On what basis?  Our Confession says “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”

Never can we carry something into our worship and life which cannot stand the test of the Word of God.

The fruit of man-made religion

The tribe of Dan had still been looking for a place to settle and in their journey to the north—a land they proclaimed to be God’s provision for them!— they came to the house of Micah and his private priest.  They offered the Levite promotion.

Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” (Judges 18:19, NIV)

He accepted and with his idols they carried him away.  Not only did they have a very unbiblical view of God, their worship was nothing short of an abomination in the eyes of God.

And Micah.  Well, they stole his god.  Listen:

You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? (Judges 18:24, NIV)

After a 2011 decision allowing gay ordinations, 270 congregations left in 2012 and 2013. And church analysts estimate upwards of another 100 churches may leave as presbyteries vote on a proposal to rewrite the church’s constitution to refer to marriage as being between “two people” instead of the union of “a man and a woman.”

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, some 600 congregations left in 2010 and 2011 following the denomination’s 2009 decision allowing the ordination of pastors in same-sex relationships.

If it was the true God of heaven and earth the Danites worshipped, losing Him would be impossible.  Anyone who worships any god other than the Almighty stands to lose it—if not in this word, then in the one to come!

The Bible has a word to say about the clan of Dan:

There the Danites set up for themselves the idol, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. (Judges 18:30, NIV)

They lived in Israel, but they were never of Israel!

Conclusion

My dear friends, this year we will celebrate the Reformation of 500 years ago when the Bible was rediscovered, which led to the light of the Scriptures to shine in all its facets, predominantly over the western world.  It changed the face of education, health care, care for the aged, financial systems, governments, and most importantly, it changed people’s lives for eternity.

What if we lose it again?  What if it once again gathers dust on shelves?  What if we end up having our own private religion.  As Paul writes:

“…the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4, NIV)

If a church lose the Bible, it loses Christ.  If if loses Christ, it has no King.  All others are dead, but long live King Jesus!

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 May 2017

Christ prays for the well-being of his church

Scripture Readings

  • 1John 2:18-27;
  • John 17:20-26

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Something has crept into church life in the last decade or two.  They call it church shopping.  Driven by our consumeristic world, a church, or more so a congregation—even irrespective of the particular of its doctrinal position—has to have certain characteristics and should have some activities to the liking of those who church shop.  Only when he/she finds a church that will meet the shopper’s demand, will he/she join.  This leaves the door open of course to leave whenever those expectations are not met.

Seldomly does such a church shopper measure his or her standards for what a church should be like against the desire of Christ for his church.

Today we will learn from the Scriptures what Christ was praying for his church.  Our Lord was about to give his life when He prayed this prayer.  His death was only hours away.  Last requests are usually important requests.

The Church to grow by proclaiming the Word

In John 17:20 we hear our Lord pray:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message… (John 17:20, NIV)

In the first part of the prayer Christ prayed for his disciples, but now He goes further:  Jesus prayed for the church to grow through the preaching of the Word.  Before He left them to return to his Father He gave them the Great Commission:

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. (Matthew 28:19, NIV)

His eye was on the ends of the earth:  from every nation, tribe tongue and people God’s own has to be gathered in.  Sometimes we don’t understand that this commission also includes our city; on average we support missionaries in far-off countries.

But what we more often than not lose focus of, especially in modern day congregations where the main items on the agenda have become music, entertainment and consumer satisfaction, is the medium, the tool by which we must conquer the world.  What is it?  The message (or as it sates in the Greek text of 17:20—the word!

We hear of “spirit-filled” worship, thundering music which sounds like rock concerts, of happenings, of emotion, and even of healings and miracles, but any worship service without the proclamation of the Word of God is no worship service.

Word proclamation was right on top of Christ’s prayer list for his Church to grow.  Gospel proclamation is to have the people of God hear Him speak through his Holy Spirit; its about the message of Christ who came to take away the sins of the world; its equipping the saints for their work of service; through the Gospel God’s Spirit work to bring about regeneration, the new birth, the opening of blind eyes, the opening of deaf ears and to unlock a stubborn mind to understand the mercies and greatness of God.

The church in Corinth had all sorts of things happening in their worship services; people spoke in tongues, others performed miracles, others drove our demons, but somewhere along the way they missed out badly.  Listen to what Paul writes to them:

So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying [this is: proclaiming the Word], they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:23–25, NIV)

What is your expectation of a church?  Children’s programs, a certain music style, a more relaxed style of worship?  Has the pure proclamation of the Word ever been on the top of your list?  Is walking away from a worship service with a heart thumping like the music you heard more important than the knocking voice of Christ on the door of your heart.  What will take you through low times other than the Word of God?  What is your answer to a seeking sinner if you are not trained in the truths of the Gospel.  Can you handle the sword—the Bible—of the Spirit?

We need to be attuned to the prayer of Christ and be a church who grows by the preaching of the Word.

The Church to be in unity under Christ

The second petition of Christ for his church was unity.  We have to understand that the unity of Lord is praying for here is not oneness or uniformity.  What our Lord is asking for is that his church would be one with Him in the same way He and the Father are one.  This has not to do with structural unity, but does excludes such unity.

The world will be in no better position to believe that Christ was the One sent by the Father if there was only one denomination over all the earth.  Structural unity might play a part, but the most important aspect about unity is that the church who lives under the authority of Christ would speaks the words of her Master, and thinks the thoughts of Him who her Head.

Right through the ministry of Christ we hear Him say things like:

Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19, NIV)

And:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30, NIV)

Or:

My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. (John 7:16, NIV)

Or:

I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. (John 8:50, NIV)

The unity between the Father and Christ was to think and act in unity; they are one in purpose, one in mind and one in deed.

When the mind of the church is set on the mind of our Lord and his Father, so that our words, our purpose, our goals and our actions reflect what God has ordained for his church, the world will take notice.  This, of course, means that the church will be immersed in the Word of God.  Like the prophets of old our only message will be, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

Who will believe our message if what we proclaim varies like a leaf in the wind of every new idea.  It is now that we need to firmly need to stand by the Word to help those who seeking meaning in the tempest of modern day sexual revolution.  Listen, the Word of God, says the prophet, is “like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29, NIV).  The writer of Hebrews says,

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, NIV)

Charles Spurgeon once said:

“If you wish to know God you must know his word; if you wish to perceive his power you must see how He works by his word; if you wish to know his purpose before it is actually brought to pass you can only discover it by his word.”  

Oh, that the Church of Christ might start thinking Gods thoughts after Him.  Let’s cast out man-made ideas and wishy-washy doctrine which is the truth, because it is the truth which sets us free. Our message is never ours; its about Christ,, the One whom the Father sent to save sinners whom He calls through his Word.

The Church to shine forth the love of God for Christ

From unity of mind, spirit, action and purpose with the Father and the Son flows the necessity for the church to shine forth the love of the Father for the Son and for those He Himself loves.

Love without doctrine is mere emotion and will not stand the storms of life.  Doctrine without love is nothing more than lifeless morality.  But love and doctrine, how pure the intentions with if may be, without Christ is nothing but an ideology without a base.  When Christ is in the centre, When He is the well-spring of doctrine and preaching, love necessarily follows.

Our time is obsessed with love with no substance.  It never satisfies; its forever nothing more than shifting shadows.

But when someone finds Christ and meets the love of the Father everything changes.  He can and will read more about it in the Scriptures, indeed he will consume God’s testament washed in the blood of Christ.

The challenge of the Christ is to shine forth this love—and it starts with a personal relationship with the Saviour.  Nothing is more off-putting than someone telling you to do something he knows nothing about.

What does our congregation look like in the shining forth the love of the Father which He had for his Son?  It’s not about me, or about you, Mr Church-shopper.  It’s not about what you can get and how you can be a consumer of Bible goods; its about how you should shine forth the love of Father displayed in the Father.  We are mere mirrors and soundboards—not the images and the sound.

The Church to live towards a sure destination

Our Lord prayed to ask his Father something we really can’t fathom:

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24, NIV)

Man! Do we really get this? Is it your one and only desire to enter into the glory of your Saviour?  Our Lord could ask boldly because He opened the gates of paradise when He was nailed to the cross, and He secured eternity for his own when He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  Now, those who live in Him will be taken into the realms of glory of Christ which were his before He left it to ransom his church with his blood.

He prays,”I want them to be with Me where I am.” That’s a sure destination.  It’s not based on our good works or out utmost performance; it’s sure because Christ went ahead of us.

Christ prayed this petition for his church so she would never lose sight of her eternal destination.  Through toils, snares and tribulation Christ’s own must look forward and say:  We have an eternal home!  My Lord is praying for me till I reach the everlasting shores, and then He will take my hand and welcome me into his glory!

Conclusion

Let’s close knowing that Christ prayer for his church to grow through the preaching of the Word, He prays for his church to think his thoughts after Him and are of the same mind, He prays that his church will live out and shine forth the love of the Father for his Son, He prays for his church to come home to Him in glory.  Is his prayer your prayer too?  Let’s make his prayer the prayer of our congregation.

Amen.

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

Jesus is the Christ and Lord

Scripture readings

  • Psalm 16
  • Acts 2:22-41

Introduction

Brother and Sister in the Lord,

There were numerous occasions as a child when we were caught out being mischievous and dangerously disobedient. In some cases Dad would not even listen to what we called “reason”. The more you tried to defend yourself, the more it added to “back-chat”, in itself very dangerous. Other times Dad would invite us to defend ourselves. Without fail it didn’t help and with helpless pity you had to admit: you were on the wrong side. The big question was: what now?

This makes me think of the Israelites who were listening to the sermon of the apostle Peter that morning.  On the day of Pentecost he, addressed the Israelites saying:

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This Man was handed over to you by Gods set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

The charge

Israel was God’s chosen people, privileged in any way. The apostle Paul writes about this in Romans 9:4-5:

Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Romans 9:4-5)

They murdered the prophets, and eventually killed the Son of God.

Jesus, the carpenter’s son of Nazareth

You, he said, nailed Jesus to the cross. Who was this Jesus?  Peter begins his sermon with the title Jesus of Nazareth. He grew up in Nazareth as the son of Mary and Joseph. He started his ministry in Galilee, were He did many miracles.  He also visited Jerusalem for the major festivals, but most of his teaching ministry happened in Galilee, not for from Nazareth.  The apostle reminded the people about this Jesus. He was accredited by God to them by miracles, wonders and signs, “which God did among them through Him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). Everyone knew about it; even the Pharisees had delegations visit Galilee to hear Him teach and see the miracles He performed. What He did was no secret to anyone.

Jesus, the King of whom David prophesied.

Peter’s sermon filled them in on who Christ was and who He all along claimed to be. He quotes the words of David, the greatest of all kings in the history of Israel.

But however remarkable David was, he died and was buried. His body saw decay and the only thing remaining about him is the memories and his grave. When David was seventy years of age he died.  The Bible records:

So David rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David. The period that David reigned over Israel was forty years; seven years he reigned in Hebron, and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years. (1 Kings 2:10–11, NKJV)

But there was something about the house of David which was special.  The Lord gave David this promise:

The Lord declares to you that the Lord Himself will establish a house for you… Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ ” (2 Samuel 7:11,16, NIV)

So, when David wrote Psalm 16 he understood that God meant more than just a continuation of the throne in Jerusalem.

I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (Psalm 16:8-10)

David was counted with those who lived by faith, those who the writer of Hebrews referred to.

They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:28-40, NIV)

David prophesied about someone who would be more than him.  Someone whose body would see no decay and who would be king forever and over all dominions and kingdoms of the world.

Peter on Pentecost Day turned to Psalm 16 and showed how David realised that he could not be that king.  It pointed forward to the everlasting King of all kings.  The Psalm of the morning reads in verses 8-10:

Boldly and with confidence the apostle Peter, now after being equipped with understanding and knowledge which He received from Christ Himself (between His resurrection and ascension, as we read in Luke 24, for forty days Christ explained to the disciples the Old Testament from Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms the things concerning Him); and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit Peter declared that Jesus was the fulfilment of those prophecies. David died, he said, and they don’t have him body anymore. If David was so sure that he would not be abandoned in the grave, and he is still dead, well, then he must have spoken about someone else. Now Peter proclaim to them that this Person David prophesied about was Jesus of Nazareth.

Peter said:

But he (David) was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.

With this statement Peter moved on to an extremely important point. He pointed out that this Jesus of Nazareth is far more than only the son of the carpenter of Nazareth:

Jesus, the Christ (Messiah)

He was the Christ. He was the Messiah.

In one of the most striking Messianic passages of the Bible, Isaiah 11, we hear the sound of joy about the coming Messiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and He will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what He hears with his ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

This is, Peter said, is what you are experiencing. God has sent his Spirit. The prophecies are being fulfilled before your very eyes. Yet, you are spiritually blind and cannot see the wonders of God and see the power and majesty of his Son!

Jesus, the everlasting and eternal King

The apostle went further to explain to them who this Jesus the crucified was. Quoting from Psalm 110:

The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”

The Lord, God, said to My Lord (not David, but the Lord Jesus who would be born in the fullness of time) sit at my right hand until I make your enemies the footstool for your feet. We hear the same language from the apostle John in Revelation 19:13-16:

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

This is the climax of the sermon that day. Peter proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son of Nazareth, who is more and greater than David, the Christ, and the eternal King. Peter summed it all up in the words:

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

What now?

Now we are back in the bathroom with the strap. We try to argue ourselves out, but nothing helps. We lost the argument. And with fear and tremble we plead: What must I do?

To hear that you were co-responsible for the death of the King of the World, the Messiah so long expected, is to say: we blew it. There is no hope left for us. We almost had it, but by ignorance and hardness of heart we missed the only opportunity to be saved: we crucified the King.

But that’s not the only truth of the sermon of Peter that day: He proclaimed the risen Christ.

God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.

Jesus, the Christ and King, is alive!

God exalted Him to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear (Acts 2:33).

If Christ is alive, and because we were responsible for his death and the punishment of the cross, we may be in deep trouble. This risen King of all kings may come to punish us for our unbelief and disobedience. “What, Peter, what shall we do?”

The Gospel, now that we still experience the grace of God, is a gospel of hope. Everything that had happened to Christ, was by the foreknowledge of God. It was God’s plan of redemption. It was to make us free from the judgment of God because of our sins.

How does that happen?   Now that you understand the message of hope, now that you have heard that God’s love in his Son is there to save you from judgment and the power of sin, “Repent!” Peter said: “Repent and be baptised, every on’ of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

So what is repentance?

  • First, I need to know that Christ lived as a human being on earth to be like us, yet without sin. Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him. (Acts 2:22, NIV)
  • Second, I need to acknowledge that Christ is the fulfilment of the promises of God the Father, who gave his Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.  Listen to the text:  This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23, NIV).
  • Third, I need to acknowledge that no salvation is possible outside of Christ, because no other so-called Saviour. Listen to the text:  He is exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:32).
  • Fourth, I need to acknowledge Him as my King:  The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand (Acts 2:34, NIV).
  • Fifth, I need to acknowledge Him as the Anointed One, God has made this Jesus the Messiah. (Acts 2:36, NIV)  The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah, but who wants to know forgiveness of sins, must acknowledge Christ as the One who has come.
  • Sixth, I need to worship Him as God:  God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified Lord. (Acts 2:36, NIV)
  • Then, I need to ask forgiveness of my sins, turn from it and follow Christ.
  • In the last place, by faith I need to take up the new life in Him:  “God rose this Jesus to life.”  Whoever has the Son, has life.”

Conclusion

Christ is risen. This is the focus of our preaching. God made Him Lord and Christ. Lord: to him belong all dominion and power Christ: He saves by the redemption in his own blood. He has risen so we may live. Now, turn away from sin. Turn toward Jesus Christ. Take up the new life in Him. AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 April 2017 (Resurrection)

The Intercession of Christ (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Exodus 28:6-21
  • John 17:11-19

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we might make the mistake to disregard everything the Old Testament in connection with sacrifices and offerings.  It is true that we living on this side of the cross of Christ do not need an earthly high priest, neither an altar, nor sacrificial animals.  Moreover, we don’t need a temple which is divided in different sections where only certain privileged people may enter, and others are excluded from those sections.

Jesus Christ was the end of the sacrificial system.  In Him we have access to the Father, but then only if we by faith rest solely on his complete righteousness.  We understand from last week that their is no other Saviour, no other other link between the Holy God and sinners.  The Holy Spirit is the promised Comforter who takes us by the hand to this only Saviour. No other person or persons can make the claim Jesus made:  what belongs to the Father belongs to Him—and whom the Father gave to Him, He saved.

The shadow of the old covenant

But having said this, we cannot disregard certain aspects of the Old Testament priesthood which acted like a shadow of the real High Priesthood.  For as long as the tabernacle of the old covenant was in place, so says the writer of Hebrews, they served as

“… an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (Hebrews 9:9–10, NIV)

This writer continues:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. (Hebrews 9:11, NIV)

Our reading from Exodus this morning took us to beginning of the office of High Priest.  Aaron was that person, assisted by his sons.

There are three particular themes in the symbolism of the garments of the high priest.

  1. The first is beauty. The Bible describes the quality and design of all the items of clothing, together with the use of colour and precious stones. But beauty is dominant in the breastplate; the Hebrew word translated approximately as “breastplate” has as its basic sense “beauty” or “excellence.” The clothing symbolises beauty, while beauty describes the office.  The high priest, Aaron, fully robed, was a splendid figure, and the splendour of his garments indicated the magnificence of the office with which he had been entrusted.
  2. The second theme is the role of the priest as representative of Israel before God. The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on the two onyx stones in the ephod, and in the 12 precious stones attached to the breastplate. The high priest entered God’s presence to seek deliverance from God’s judgment for his people and in order to keep the people constantly in God’s remembrance.  Verse 12 states:

Aaron will bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial. (Exodus 28:12) 

On the breast piece there four rows of precious stones with the name of one of the twelve tribes engraved on each one.

Aaron will bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breast piece of decision over his heart when he goes into the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually. (Exodus 28:29)

  1. The third theme is the role of high priest as the representative of God to Israel. The Urim and Thummim, (objects kept in the breast piece of the High Priest and used to discern the will of God) were kept in the breast piece, by means of which God made known his will to Israel.

The eternal High Priest

When Christ came to be our High Priest He first of all came not in splendour, but as a ordinary human being.  But Hebrews says about Him:

For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)

He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  He made his dwelling with us and we have seen his glory, the glory as from the Father (John 1:15).  In his prayer (John 17) Jesus prayed to the Father:

And now, Father, glorify Me at your side with the glory I had with You before the world was created. (John 17:5)

Only He could declare:

Everything I have belongs to you, and everything you have belongs to me, and I have been glorified by them. (John 17:10)

Like the high priest He revealed the will of God to his people.  On his heart were the names of those who belonged to the Father. After Christ completed his work, the office of high priest disappeared, because

“I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. (John 17:6, NET)

But like the high priest He intercedes for those who belong to the Father, having their names engraved on his chest.

My dear friend, before the splendour of our High Priest, who is our Lord, our Saviour, our Mediator and our God, we need to stand in awe and worship. He is the only One who knows the Father as an equal. He is the only One who has made the Father known to us; without him we lived in darkness, but in Him we were translated into light; once we were blind, but now we see.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

But He is also the only One who may stand in the presence of the Father with our names in his heart.  He says,

When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost … so that the Scripture could be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NET)

If you believe and trust Him will all your heart, soul, mind and all your might, if his sacrifice as the Eternal High Priest is you only hope to one day stand before the throne of the Father, know this: your name is on his heart.

The intercession of our eternal High Priest

To complete his mission He had to go back to the Father where He came from.  Yes, He would send them the Holy Spirit to teach and guide them, but He interceded for those who belong to both Him and the Father even before He left them. He was facing the most terrible anguish and loneliness, but He did not pray for Himself.  One commentator puts it like this,

“I come to Thy presence where there is fullness of joy, and to Thy right hand where there are pleasures for evermore. I come—to where the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God; but these, these are in the wilderness. I come—where no enemy can follow me, where no temptation can assail me, where no weariness can distress me; but these, these are in the world. I come—to reap the trophies of my great victory. I come’—to grasp the scepter, to wear the crown, and to ascend the throne. I have been weary here, but I shall soon be weary no longer; the way has been rough and thorny, but it is all over, my haven is almost reached; yet these, these are in the world!”

What does He ask?

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name.”  (17:11)

We who are followers of Christ don’t have a home in this world.  Our Lord says, “… they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (17:14, 16)  This is profound statement. Jesus Christ makes a comparison:  He is not of this world, so are his disciples not from this world.  How is this possible.  We have to go back to chapter 1:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13, NKJV)

Nicodemus also had to hear from our Lord that natural birth does not make anyone a child of God.  The Pharisees thought they were children of God because they were descendants of Abraham (8:33), but Christ made it clear:

He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” (John 8:47, NKJV)

Being born from above those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour got now citizenship:  it now rests with Christ at the throne of God.  At the moment we are like sojourners, like foreigners on a 465 visa:  we can can one be here if we have a job and a sponsor.  And we have both.  Jesus said,

As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (John 17:18, NKJV)

Do you still remember that you have a job to do?  You have to represent your Lord as ambassador; you have to tell of his glory, his salvation, his love. And you have to love as Christ loved; you also have to pray as He taught you, pray that the Lord of the harvest will send labourers to bring in the sheaves to the storehouse.

Why does He ask?

Our job is not an easy job.  Although we have good news, and although the news and the grace are free, this world hates us.  Why?  Their master, the devil, hates Christ, and so he hates us too.  The world does not hate us for being loving, caring for the sick and the needy, providing shelter to the helpless, or care for the elderly—they actually constantly remind us of our duty to be loving.  But when we love to the point that we want them to bow before the Saviour and give Him all they have, and receive salvation as we have receive by grace, they spit on us.

Whoever thought to be a Christian is glamorous need to rethink his or her claim that his indeed a Christian.  Being a Christian is being on Christ side, and to be on Christ side is to face a hostile world.  The brother of our Lord, James understood this all too well.  He writes:

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

He who wants the good of what Christ offers, while still clinging to the things of this world, is like an adulterer who tries to split his devotion between more than one person.  It’s either Christ, or the world—not both.

But if you follow Christ with an undivided heart, know this:  our Lord is mentioning your name to his Father:  “Protect them from the evil one.” (17:15)

Conclusion

I’ll end the sermon here.  I had in mind to still touch on Christ’s prayer for our joy and sanctification.  But let’s just conclude to say this: if you know Christ as your High Priest, you’ve got it all—you’ve got reason for joy because He has sanctified you when He walked through that temple curtain which separated God from sinners, and now He is appearing before the Father on your behalf.

The price is paid; hallelujah! Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 April 2017

The Intercession of Christ (1)

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 20
  • John 17:6-13

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

Early in January this year, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland, invited Muslims to its recent celebration of Epiphany, which marks the revelation of Christ’s deity through the wise men’s visit to the infant Jesus.  Madinah Javed stood at the lectern and read in Arabic from the chapter of Maryam, or Mary, which tells the story of the birth of Christ.

But Javed reportedly went beyond the allocated passage translated in the service sheet and read a verse from the chapter saying Jesus isn’t God’s son.  That verse reads: “It is not befitting to Allah that He should take to Himself anyone as son, Holy is He. When He decrees anything, thus then He says to it, ‘Be’ it becomes at once.

Apparently similar interfaith readings had “happened a number of times in the past in this and in other churches, and have led to deepening friendships locally, to greater awareness of the things we hold in common and to dialogue about the ways in which we differ.”. This is a quote from bishop Chillingworth.

Can their be such a thing as interfaith worship? What do Christians and Muslims hold in common?

The more and deeper we study the Gospel of John—which in no way contradict any other part of the Scriptures—the more we understand that the Person and work of Christ is the only bridge between sinful man and the Holy God.

Christ, who is God, who comes from God and from all eternity, where He enjoyed the same glory as the Father, together with the Holy Spirit.  He completed the mission of the Father to gather a church for Him; this He did by living a perfect life of righteousness in the sight of God—He also exchanged his righteousness for the unrighteousness and sin of unholy people to purchase them with is blood. This no other person did; no one ever will, because Christ is unique:  He is the only mediator between God and man.

Salvation through Christ is free, where all other religions preach salvation through efforts by the adherents, in some cases even through perpetual reincarnation, to climb the ladder to eventually reach God.  The message of the Bible is quite the opposite: it’s not us who must apply all efforts to reach up to God, but it’s about God who came down to us and did what we cannot do, how hard we might try.

Salvation – from beginning to end the work of God

Every word recorded in John 17 comes from the mouth of our Lord.  We studied the first 5 verses last week. We understand from those verses that Christ completed the mission of the Father to save those the Father gave Him. In another sense we also understand that, not only is the work of Christ completed, but it is complete—nothing is added to it.

Moving on to verse 6 and what follows this theme is continued.  Some commentators think that what Jesus prayed for in the first few verses—that the Father would glorify his Son with the same glory He have before He left heaven to come to complete his mission of saving sinners—is based on what He had done, as it is recorded in verse 6 and what follows.

What these verses spell out is Christ’s work to make his Father known to sinners.

He revealed the Father 

It might be a good idea for you to have your Bibles open to read and follow with me.  We are at verse 6. Jesus prays to the Father:

I have revealed You to those whom You gave Me out of the world. They were yours; You gave them to Me (John 17:6, NIV)

Just those words first. Christ speaks in the past tense “They were yours; You gave them to Me.” This is a profound statement.  They were yours.  There are other Bible verses which will help us understand what our Lord is saying here.  Let’s go to Acts 13.  Paul and Barnabas were on their early missionary journey.  They arrived in Antioch, expounded the Word about Christ and how He was God’s Son.  Then in 13:48 we read these remarkable words:

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48, NIV)

We almost hear the same thing in Acts 18.  The Lord comes to Paul in Corinth and we read verse 9, “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid. Go on speaking; do not be silent, no matter what the threats were.” God would protect Paul, but he had to preach the good news.  Why?  “…because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:10, NIV)

There were people living in Corinth who knew nothing about God.  They were worshipping idols and lived in utter sin.  But they belonged to God.  They needed to hear the Gospel of Christ who would reveal the Father to them.

The same principle is in Ephesians.  Long before we knew anything about God, He had his eye on us through Jesus Christ.  Paul writes to the Ephesian Church

For He chose us in Him [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love He [God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— (Ephesians 1:4–5, NIV)

In 2 Thessalonians 2, verse 13, Paul continues along the same lines:

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:13–14, NIV)

It should not surprise us to hear the same principle even in the last book of the Bible:

and all those who live on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed. (Revelation 13:8, NET)

If we now go back to John 17:6 we can’t otherwise but to understand that what Jesus was saying that God gave some people to his Son to save them, even before they themselves knew anything about God, or about their need to be saved, the Saviour, and salvation itself.

But Christ revealed this plan of God to those his Father gave Him. This is a work which will continue until our our Lord returns.  To his disciples, his church, He gave his Word and his Spirit to empower them with the commission to go into all the world to proclaim this good news.  Jesus prays for his church:

“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who [will] believe in Me through their testimony… (John 17:20, NET)

They still go in his name, under his authority, and still the success of the work does not depend on them, but on the Father who knows the names of those whom He knew and those from all eternity.

We know Romans 8:28 well, but lets not take it from its context.

And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28–30, NET)

Jesus says in John 17:6 that He made the Father known to those who had no idea that He had his hand on them from eternity.

What was the effect of Christ’s ministry?  

Let’s take it step by step.

Verse 17:

Obeying or believing the Word of the Father

Not only did Christ proclaim to them the Word of the Father, He was the Word (John 1:1).  Those who believe  the word (not “words”—verse 6), know—a key word in John, because to “know” in John’s Gospel is to have moved out of the darkness sin into the light of eternity. When they hear the word of God they understood that Christ is from God.  They accepted the teachings (now “words”—verse 8) of Christ as coming from God the Father.  Moreover, they know and understand that the Person Christ is sent by the Father, and the He came from the Father—and therefore He is God.

See, there is no other Saviour.  There is no other link between heaven and earth. One believes in Him and live in a relationship with the Father; he who does not believe in Christ, has no relationship with the Father.  Such a person in still dead in sin, without hope and without salvation.  If you are are such a person, hear the word of God about Christ, and fall at his feet.  All that the Father gave Him will come to Him, and He will never cast out those who come to Him.

They worship Christ as Lord

Verse 10:  Jesus is in prayer with his Father.  He says:

Everything I have belongs to You, and everything You have belongs to Me, and I have been glorified by them. (John 17:10, NET)

So, what does this verse say?  Those whom the Father gave to Christ, believe in God, but they also believe in Christ.  According to the Bible to give glory, is to worship.  Indeed, they worship Christ as God.

Conclusion

So, we have to say to the Archbishop and to the Muslim girl:  we do not worship the same God; our faiths have nothing in common between them.

But let’s not stop there:  not allowing for anything common between Christianity and other religions does not give any man or woman who does not worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour any soapbox to stand upon to look down on any religion, because anything without Christ is futile.

And truely, let’s be honest, nor does any Christian have a soapbox to stand upon:  we have not sought Christ, we have not loved Him first; but He loved us first and came into to world to seek and to save the lost. He made the Father known to us. What we do know is that we are saved by grace and not by works, so that no one should boast.

Because of this we know the privilege to know God through Jesus Christ.  And we know that He is interceding for us:

I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. (John 17:11, NET)

We do understand that no-one can come to the Father but by Christ. That’s why we need to proclaim Him, even to those who still don’t know that they belong to Him:  they need to know Christ to know the Father.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 April 2017