Enabled to be Christ’s Church
Wind the clock back to this situation: Your’e back at school after being away on a enjoyable holiday. It is the beginning of athletics season, so a big chunk of the day goes into preparation on the sport fields.
You notice that, after all the good things of the school holidays, running have become quite hard. Just once around the oval and you develop this stitch in your side, and it makes you feel you’re going to die! But not far behind you is the trainer-teacher who keeps telling you that if you want to to win the prize and come first you need to be fit.
How many times did you then and there decide running is not for you. But it was the dedication of your trainer and the encouragement of your parents and friends that make you keep going and eventually taste victory.
There was a time that the disciples of our Lord would be inclined to give up the race and go back to their fishing boats. It was the during the final few hours they spent with our Lord.
A few things happened: There was this episode with Judas Iscariot during their last supper with Christ. Then Jesus broke this news to them:
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. (John 13:33, NIV)
This is followed with the well-know statement of our Lord:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? (John 14:1–2, NIV)
Some verses down chapter 14 of John, our Saviour was to them like the trainer who spur on the unfit athlete:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12–13, NIV)
But like those on the field running to reach the winning post, they should compete by abiding by the rules: “If you love Me, Keep my commandments” (John 14:15)
This is the point where we forget about the prospective runner preparing for the race; the analogy stops here for the Christian Church and its members. Athletes do it by own achievement and strength. Let’s understand that we will not reach heaven in own strength; instead, let’s focus on the Word of God.
God’s plan unfolding through the ages
God’s saving grace
God’s original plan of populating this planet with people living to his glory in a place He prepared for them to do so without limits, was interrupted when Adam and Eve rebelled and as a result plunged all who was born from them in to sin. God’s plan was interrupted, not frustrated. His grace would set into motion his rescue action. Although the human race deserved to be destroyed by the holy God who hates sin, He decided to rescue them. There in paradise He promised someone who would crush the head of the serpent.
The sin of man increased to the point that God sent the great flood, but He rescued Noah and his family. God made a choice some time later and called Abraham, not because he was more deserving of God’s grace than all his contemporaries, but because of God’s saving mercies. The Bible tells us clearly:
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. (Joshua 24:2, NIV)
God made a covenant of grace with Abraham, which had implications for the whole world in Jesus Christ. We will come back to this.
Abraham’s family increased and eventually ended up in Egypt. Once again it was God’s grace which saved them: He did not give his commandment first and then afterwards saved those who kept it; it was the other way round.
On their way to the promised land God gave them instructions as to how He would want them to worship Him: it included all sorts of sacrifices, the priesthood, a specific place of worship, and specific ways of how they should approach them. The focal point of every sacrifice was blood: it was sprinkled on everything, from the High Priest, to the altar and its utensils, on the people, and even on the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place. This sprinkling of blood proclaimed cleansing and restoration.
God also cared from them between Egypt and the Promised Land providing water, food, shelter, clothing, healing, and protection against the enemy. All along they had to understand that they were in his hands, and their existence was for his glory. Yes, they rebelled again and again, but after many long years the decadents of those who left Egypt inherited a land where they did not need to build houses and cities, or create sowing fields for them to so put in their crops.
But Israel kept falling away from the Lord. The daily sacrifice, the recurring days of special festivals, the failure of the priesthood, of the kings and the prophets cried out for a perfect sacrifice that would end all sacrifices, for a perfect king would reign forever, and a perfect priest who would intercede perfectly for ever before God.
There was something else that needed to be replaced: the heart of stone within the stiff-necked people of God had to be replaced with a heart able and ready to serve God. We read about it this morning:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)
We know this was fulfilled in Christ and the Holy Spirit. God did the work according to his only plan and purpose. He called a people for Himself, the Church. And his Son, Jesus Christ, was sent to pay the price and buy them with his blood. And Jesus was born from the Holy Spirit when Mary became his mother.
People born from above
John tells of this in chapter one: The world was made by the Christ, because He was God. But is was filled with the darkness of sin. Christ was the light who came – but He found that his own people did not recognise them. Yet, his ministry would bring to God his people. Who were they? Listen:
…all who did receive Him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12–13, NIV)
Jesus went out setting the plan of God in action. He called the disciples, who never in their wildest dreams would first think of following Him. People heard about Him and Nicodemus, one of the teachers of Israel, went to Jesus to hear more about his Kingdom. But our Lord said to him:
Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3,5, NIV)
It is the Spirit of God who does the work of a rebirth from above so our eyes can be opened to see the kingdom of God so we can enter it.
The promises fulfilled
When we then come to chapter 14 of John, the disciples heard that Jesus was about to leave them. And Jesus told them to keep his commandments. And there was the stitch in their sides! Complete the race – but how? How would they be able to run the race and complete it successfully? How would they, simple fishermen as they were, be able to keep his commandments?
The serpent crushed
The promises of God were now in the process of being fulfilled. Christ has come, and in the space of a few hours since He gave them this command, He would crush the head of the serpent. He would give his life as perfect priest, perfect prophet, and perfect king. But He gave them the promise of the Holy Spirt – He is the one who replace the heart of stone for the heart of flesh to enable them to love their Saviour with a complete heart.
The Spirit is the other Helper – Jesus was the first, but He is completing his mission; He is now going back to the Father as the crown prince to rule over the kings and nations, to intercede for his church and to prepare a house for them.
The Holy Spirit is the next helper, and He makes it his business, not to bring new teaching and a more blessed form of salvation for them, but to be with them and in them as Christ was/is to his church. Indeed, He reminds us of the salvation of Jesus Christ:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26, NIV)
The Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of those whose eyes are opened to know Jesus Christ. His work is for the people of God. The world does not know him, and the world does not see Him.
He is the unlike all other spirits who misled the people of God to worship other gods. He is the Spirit of truth. He intercedes for those who are bought by Christ for the Father. The new life based on the redemption of Christ, is now brought about and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Both the Saviour and the Comforter live in and with God’s elect. Sprinkled and cleansed in the blood of Christ, they received a heart of flesh and are enabled to live by God’s commandments.
Now they are enabled to be the true people and nation of God, not limited by the national boundaries of Israel and the blood of Abraham, but called by God and blessed by God through the promise He made with Abraham:
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3, NIV)
Paul stresses this point when he says:
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29, NIV)
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 15 May 2016