Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Biblical eldership (3) “Who?”

Bible Readings

  • Exodus 18:13-23;
  • 1Timothy 3:1-7

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters, family in Christ,

For some reason, I love the “Air Crash Investigation” programs.  About all episodes begin with a simulation of the crash.  The pilot is barking out commands to his off-sider, the sirens are loud, in the background, there is this annoying repetition of the alarm systems.  Then there is a mighty explosion, followed darkness.  This is followed by real footage of the wreckage covered in smoke, usually with ambulances, the right lights of emergency vehicles, and the pieces of the once beautiful aircraft strewn all over the place.

Everyone watching these programs wonders why on earth they would ever fly again!

The investigation usually, first of all, focusses on the pilot:  what did he do wrong, or where could he have understood the signals better.  

Who wants to board a plane with a half-trained pilot!

Unfortunately, many Christians are careless when it comes to the calling of a minister or the election of elders to be their spiritual pilots.

The seriousness of well-equipped elders

When Paul makes a list of the gifts to the church, about every time, he puts church leaders first.  He does so in the chapters mainly concerned with spiritual gifts.  

And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28, NIV)

This is not accidental, and we should not miss his point.  When he continues his argument about the importance of gifts in chapter 14,  he states,

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:1, NIV)

He continues in verse 3 and 12: 

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, excel in those that build up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 12, NIV)

“Prophecy” in these verses must not be confused with the gift of tongues, which is last on the list of gifts—Paul makes it clear that prophecy is more important than the gift of tongues.  Prophecy is, in the normal scheme of things, nothing more than declaring the Word of God and to glorify his Name.  After the canon of the Bible was closed, only in very rear circumstances is prophecy something which will happen in future. The phenomenon of people speaking in tongues to predict the future does not line up with the Scriptures; prophecy and speaking in tongues is not the same thing!  Real discernment is needed to determine the difference between that sort of prophecy and fortune-telling.

Now, back to eldership.  Why is it so important?  It is paramount to understand that God calls people to preach the Word, and others to keep guard over the pure preaching of the Word, and also to shepherd the flock to live according to the Word.  All other gifts become less critical when we grasp this truth.

This means that eldership is significant.  It says that you must make sure that you elect elders who meet the qualifications of Scriptures, or they will be like half-washed pilots in control of the plane in which you are a passenger—not really because no-one in God’s Kingdom is a passenger.  We are more like an army where everyone is engaged in battle, with the elders acting as the training officers.

Well-equipped elders

When it comes to the “who” of eldership we don’t call the shots; members of the church cannot determine what they think elders must do, and what sort of lives they should live.  It is the prerogative of God; it concerns his church bought in the blood of his Son Jesus Christ.  

When Moses had to elect elders back in Exodus 18, he had to select men with specific spiritual values:  capable menmen who fear God, trustworthy, who hate dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21, NIV). 

When Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to appoint elders for leadership and feeder-ship of the congregations, he essentially lists the same attributes as mandatory for elders.  

Our text says to be an elder is to fulfil a noble task.  What is noble about it? Does is mean elders are of particular bloodline, more or less untouchable, high above the rest of the congregation?  The Bible is more concerned about the respectability, of the calling of elders than it is about the people who hold the office. Elders need to meet qualifications to adorn their calling and fulfil the task they are called to do.  These qualifications were not set by the apostle, but by God.  After all, elders are caring for God’s people.

It seems one can divide the qualifications for eldership in two major categories:  their moral character, and their testimony. 

The elder’s moral character

Above reproach  

An elder should be someone who cannot be attacked (even by non-Christians) because of his ethical conduct.  This does not mean that an elder must be sinless; it does mean that he has set his mind at serving the Lord with all his heart.  Titus 2:8 uses a similar idea which is translated as “that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about you.  In this regard, an elder must have a good track record.  Verse 7 states:  In terms of his good character, he must have a good reputation even with outsiders.  Unbelievers might not share the same beliefs as elders, but they will have respect for them because they are trustworthy, respectable men of their word, men who practice what they preach. They are not two-faced hypocrites.

He must be a man who honours his marriage

The statement “a man of one wife” does not mean that an elder must be married.  Unmarried men can surely serve as elders.  But when they are married, two aspects must stand out:  

  • An elder is a man of one wife.  This does not mean that a divorced man can never serve as an elder; what it surely implies is that if his infidelity in a previous marriage led to the breakdown of that marriage, and he subsequently married the wife with whom adultery was committed, such a person cannot serve as an elder.  Such a man is surely not above reproach.  
  • The second aspect of the elder’s marriage is equally important: he must manage his family well.  This includes disciplined children who know to respect their parents. The point is this: if an elder fails to be a successful godly example to his family, how can the congregation expect that he will be able to lead them to show reverence for God, and bow before the authority of the Bible?  

Do you want a godly elder who can lead you in your Christian walk right into eternity?  See if he is a godly father and husband.

Temperate, respectable

An elder is a man whose conduct is free from any form of excesses, particularly in moral and spiritual matters. It might suffice to say an elder is a sensible and dignified Christian.  He has a mind that is earnest and sound, he is well-ordered and free from confusion, hence “orderly” and well-behaved.  

This takes us to understand the opposites mentioned in the paragraph:  an elder cannot be a drunkard, a violent man, quarrelsome or someone who loves money.  He is not someone who is known who can fly off the handle quickly;  he is not someone who picks a fight or gets involved in a battle of words just to win an argument or to have the first and the last say.  An elder is not greedy; too many widows can witness to the greed of church leaders who cheated them out of property and money.  The opposite should be true of an elder:  he is called to willingly part with his cash when needed—not putting his own family in jeopardy—to help the truly destitute.  

Hospitable

An elder is a friend of strangers.  His house is open to those in need.  This might become more pressing in times of Christians losing their jobs because they profess Jesus Christ as Lord.  In tough economic times, the elder is the one who welcomes in the destitute to give them shelter.

The elder’s testimony of the Word of God

An apt teacher

An elder is a true prophet to the people of God.

Not all elders need to be able to preach, but all elders must have sufficient knowledge of the main aspects of the teachings of the Bible to guide the people of God in their spiritual walk.  Historically it was the task of the elder to teach the young people of the congregation to prepare them to make public profession of faith.  Elders teach from house to house when they read the Scriptures, pray for those in their care, encourage the sick, the lonely and those who mourn.  An elder must be able to apply the Scriptures when a member of the flock goes astray; he must be able to refute false teachings.  It speaks for itself that an elder must love and study of the Word of God.  

An elder is a true prophet to his own family.

It calls for sincere love and dedication of a father to be the prophet of his family and to make it his priority to lead them to salvation in the Lord, but it is also an unspeakable privilege.  It calls for much prayer, teaching in the Scriptures, a good example, love, and dedication.  Sadly, it is right here at this point that many who end up in eldership failed before they begin.

Not an immature Christian

It now speaks for itself that an elder cannot be a new Christian.  Before he can be able to teach, he must himself grow in the knowledge of the Word; he must mature in his walk with God to the testimony of the congregation before he can take on the spiritual leadership role.

An elder is a male who loves Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour

Much is said about the equality of male and female roles in our society.  We don’t have enough time to go into all the arguments, but it does not need an in-depth study of the Bible to come to the conclusion that leadership in both family and church family is ordained of God.  We in the Presbyterian Church of Australia subscribe to the complementary understanding of God-given tasks between males and females.  One is not higher or greater than the other;  we have different roles which complement our service under the Headship of Christ.  Eldership is according to the Bible a role for men.

Conclusion

It speaks for itself that capable elders can only be elected by members who are circumspect in their walk in the Lord. Watch over yourself; be diligent and prayerful to elect capable pilots to guide you to arrive safely at your spiritual destination.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 February 2019

 

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Biblical Eldership (2) “What”

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 23
  • Acts 20:17-31

Introduction

Dear friends in Christ,

Lord willing, in the near future, the congregation will elect elders. Last week we learned from the Scripture “why” the congregation of God needs elders.  There are mainly two reasons.  

  • The first reason is that Christians, however living under the grace of God, are still not perfect.  We rebel and struggle against sin and the attacks of Satan, both in our private lives and in our lives as members of God’s people.  We need discipline to keep on the straight and the narrow, and we need guidance in our relationships as members of the body of Christ.  We need the oversight of elders to pull us up and lead us back to the clear waters of the Scriptures.
  • The second reason is that everything in the household of God needs to be according to his declared will in his Word to maintain unity, peace and Christians love. We need people, who are called and appointed by God, to shepherd us to obedience and order on the way to our promised land. This they do under the authority of the Scriptures.

In all of this, both our leaders and us, bow under the authority and Headship of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Today we are listening to the Word on the “what” of eldership.  

The offices in the church find their example and fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ.  He is the fulfilment of the offices of priest, prophet and king of the Old Testament.  We need no priest anymore because our Lord was the last High Priest, the final sacrifice and the fulfilment of the sacrificial system.  Christ is the fulfilment of all prophesies; He is the Word of God through whom God speaks to us.  The Holy Spirit takes the words of Christ and declares them to us.  As king, He rose from the dead, victorious of sin, Satan, death and hell.

The perfect Shepherd

Keep this in mind, and Psalm 23 gives us a perfect example of Christ as our Shepherd.  He provides all we need so we don’t lack anything.  He leads us and protects us, even through te valley of death.  He prepares a feast for us in the sight of our enemy.  He leads us to our eternal dwelling.  Christ himself declared:  

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, ESV)  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28, ESV)

Paul met with the elders of Ephesus and commanded them:  

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28, ESV)

Elders take their role as shepherds from the example and command of Jesus Christ.

The flock of Christ belongs Him

Let’s never forget who we are.  The Bible is clear on this point. 

…the church of God, which He obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28, ESV)

The reference to blood takes us to the office of priest.  There is no redemption, salvation or forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.  Jesus Christ was the Lamb without blemish—perfect because He knew no sin.  

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. (Hebrews 9:13-14, 24, NIV)

As members of the body of Christ never forget that you belong to Christ, and the price was his blood.  

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Without question, then, elders should have experienced this redemption for themselves.  Those called to be elders can only lead the flock in the ways of the Lord if they know and walk that way themselves.  It was custom in years gone by for leaders in the civil community got elected as elders to acknowledge their leadership.  Bank managers, school principals, doctors, chairmen of public organisations got the nod to become elders (and in may an occasion, unfortunately, members of the Lodge!), but unfortunately, many of them did not have any, or minimal, Christian experience.  They could not make a credible profession of faith, they hardly knew the Scriptures, and they did not display a life consistent with a life in Christ.  The church suffered badly because their leadership was not godly, was not based on the Scriptures, and in many cases was a shame to the Name of Christ.  This is not the plan of God for his church.   It was the death nail to the people of God in the Old Testament.  Isaiah writes:  56:10-11

Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain. (Isaiah 56:10–11, NIV)

An ungodly elder is like a bull mastiff eating through its meal like a hungry lion, but afterwards, it goes to sleep in the sun.  As a watchdog, it is useless. 

When someone is called to take up eldership in the church of Jesus Christ, such a person takes up and weighty and significant appointment.  To his care is entrusted not just any group of people.  The flock he needs to tend to belong from eternity to Christ.  God chose them in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4); He predestines them to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5); He did this so that they should live to his praise and glory (Ephesians 1:6);  Christians, bought in his blood, are now the family of God (Ephesians 3:14) and Jesus Christ lives in his church because they are his holy temple (Ephesians 2:21).

Elders as shepherds

To maintain good order, unity and peace within his church, our Lord calls elders to guard and protect the flock.  They need to feed the flock too.  That’s what shepherds do.  Elders take their cue from the Upper Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  He left the 99 and went looking for the lost one.  He put everything on the line for the wellbeing of the flock.  

For elders to be good shepherds, they need to take care of themselves, and of fellow-elders.  Watch over yourselves”, is the command.  Elders are not a rule unto themselves.  Fact is every heresy started amongst elders, of which the preacher is one.  Elders watch over other elders and need to test their ministry against the Word of God; they first must stand under the discipline of the Word, before they will be able to take care of the flock.  The point is, they have not appointed themselves.  Once someone displays the attributes of being an elder, two things need to happen: 

  • He needs to have an inward calling from the Holy Spirit.  It is a stirring which only the person who is called would know and understand.  He might then put up his hand for the job, but a second calling is needed.
  • The congregation, under the guidance of the same Spirit, must call him to the office.  This is what we are preparing for at the moment.  We are presently ascertaining the role of an elder against the Word of God.  We are going to pray about it; then we are going to have a ballot.  Those elected will receive training, the existing elders will come back to the congregation and report about the readiness and spiritual life of those appointed.  Only then will we have a proper election—and after that will the elders-elect be ordained and inducted.  This is a slow process but a necessary one. 

Savage wolves seek to destroy the flock

There’s one thing the owner of the sheep knew very well in ancient Israel:  you can’t leave the flock alone in the paddocks.  Even today with the luxury of fences we understand the devastation of dingos and foxes.  They can destroy a flock and cause much damage.  

The same applies to the church of our Lord.  We have an enemy, a raging lion who seeks to devour.  It is the calling of an elder to be the guard against these attacks.  It is for the benefit of the sheep that they heed to the warning of the shepherds, even if sometimes they don’t like it.  Don’t despise the pastoral care of your elders when they speak out against spiritual laziness and sin in your life.  It is entirely within the plan of God that his people need spiritual discipline by the elders. They don’t stick their nose into your business when they pull you up on slack attendance of public worship;  they are not nosy when they inquire about your Bible reading and prayer, or your participation in congregational activities and witness to the outside world.  They are there for your good.

How would you know if their oversight is godly?  Easy!  Test it against the Word of God.  Elders are not permitted to Lord it over the people of God, but they are called to rule under the Word of God.  Paul speaks of himself as a servant of Christ:  

I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:27, NIV)

On this basis does he charge elders to watch over the flock of Christ—they would need to do the same: through constant study and contemplation, they need to understand the Word and know how to break the bread of the Word to their flock.  This does not imply that they need to be theologians; they just need to love the Word and live under its authority.  Paul says:  

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32, NIV)

The Word builds up; it guides us on the way to our inheritance.  We are all under this gracious Word.

A calling with high demands

If Paul is anything to go by, and indeed he in some place calls people to follow his example, elders need to hear this:  

I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24, NIV)

Not all elders are full-time workers, but in some sense, this must be true of all elders.  They are called by God, they need to take care of the flock bought in the blood of Christ, they need to know the enemy, and they need to complete the task God has called them.

Conclusion

My dear friends, take your privilege of electing elders very seriously.   Don’t expect of them more than you expect of yourselves; they are feeble human beings.  They would certainly need to be held up by your prayers and encouragement.  May God help us to be a congregation to his glory.

Amen.

Biblical Eldership (1) – “Why?”

Bible Readings

  • Deuteronomy 1:9-18
  • Numbers 11:10-30

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, 

We will have eldership election in the near future. We have already announced this to you.  But before we get to the actual meeting to elect elders, we will listen to what the Scriptures teach about eldership. There will be three sermons, following three questions about Biblical eldership.

  • The “why?” about eldership
  • The “what?” about eldership
  • The “who?” about eldership

Principles of Church government

Let’s begin at the beginning, where all Christian denominations should start. 

The supreme rule for practice and doctrine

We need to hold the Scriptures as our supreme standard for life and worship.  What we believe about church government, should be in agreement with the Scriptures. So, all men in church government must, first of all, believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is infallible, sufficient, authoritative and inerrant.  If anyone has a different view on the Scriptures, such a person should not be trusted to become an elder of the church of Christ.

Christ, the Head of the Church

The Scriptures teach that Christ is the Head of the Church.  The Bible says in a few places:

And He [God] put all things under His [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22–23, NKJV)

… may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16, NKJV)

and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:10, NKJV)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NKJV)

… holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. (Colossians 2:19, NKJV)

Presbyterians hold these principles as precious and authoritative:  Christ is our only Mediator, He is our High Priest, and like a father, He cares for his church.  We have therefore an aversion to any earthly office other than what the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures.  We, therefore, have no human as head of the church. Not even as a representative.  We also have no priest, and we call no one our priest because in Christ the priesthood has come to an end.  The Bible also warns against calling anyone “father”: 

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9, NKJV)

What we have is the Holy Spirit who guides us by his Word to understand the Scriptures and order all temporal things of church government.  We seek our rule from the Bible, and we submit to its authority.  The Bible teaches us that Christ is our Head, and that is enough for us.

General forms of church government

Papists

Papists believe that the pope is Christ’s representative on earth and that he is the head of all churches and Christians on earth.  Under him there are all manner of offices, including priests, bishops, deacons, canons, arch-deacons, and what not! The pope can declare what is sinful, forgive sin and make infallible proclamations, and even add doctrines not found in the Scriptures.  We reject this notion as fundamentally in contrast and opposition to the teachings of the Scripture.

Episcopal

Episcopal churches understand the Scriptures to teach that every congregation should only have one bishop, in which the oversight of that church rests.  They do believe that there should be a hierarchy from top to bottom, with an archbishop having leadership over a group of churches.  He appoints bishops, who appoints others under him.  The system gets fairly tricky for Presbyterians because we find it difficult to see where canons, archdeacons, vicars, and other office holders come from.  The Anglican Church and some branches of the Methodist Church are episcopal denominations.

Congregational

Congregational denominations do not have any hierarchy.  Their church government is mostly a free arrangement of leadership chosen “demographically”, which means the majority of members decide who will be leaders, and congregational meetings have the authority to hire and sack leaders, and even determine the general teachings of a denomination.  A congregation in a congregational system usually opt to join a broader group of churches (like the COC movement) but can walk away when the majority decides so.  Most charismatic churches follow this form of church government.

Independent

Some other independent churches is a sort of a mix between episcopal and congregational.  These congregation usually starts with leaders in a strong conviction of certain aspects of Bible teaching or a clash of leadership personalities.  These leaders then, in the end, become the de facto bishops, and in many cases, everyone who disagrees with the leadership has to leave.  These leaders are their own authority, and they are not accountable to any structure.  Many of these leaders claim direct revelation from God in the form of visions or something similar in addition to the already declared will of God in the Scriptures.  

Presbyterian and Reformed Churches

Presbyterians and reformed denominations fall in a different category.  Christ is our Head, the Bible is our rule, leaders/elders are chosen by communicant members of the congregation, and perform their duties under the authority of the Scriptures.   What their decisions must be in agreement with is the Scriptures, the agreed confessional creeds and the general rules of the denomination. 

Our system has checks and balances.  Elders are accountable to a wider group of elders, the presbytery.  Members have the right to approach this court if they think that elders have contravened the Scriptures, the Confession or the general rules of the denomination.  There is other courts too:  the General Assembly, and the General Assembly of Australia, and these are also bound by the Word of God and the rules accepted by the denomination as a whole.

The word “presbyterian” comes from the Greek word “presbuteros” which means elder, or overseer.  Presbyterian” in our name refers therefore to the form of church government we adhere to.

The “Why” of eldership?

Our understanding of eldership finds its roots in the Old Testament.  Our Scripture readings this morning takes to those beginnings.

God appointed Moses to be the leader to take his people out of slavery of Egypt to the Land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As assistant Moses had his brother Aaron, who later became the first High Priest.

The people were numerous, they were divided into their clans and had their clan leaders.

People are sinful 

Rebellion against Moses and Aaron was common practice.  They always wanted to go back to slavery, because the journey through the desert just seemed too hard.  They doubted God and rebelled against his law.  And then, there was this constant towing away from the declared command of the Lord to not mix with the people the came in contact with along the way.  And, of course, there were the constant disagreements and sometimes heated disputes between people, with one party always believing they were done in.

There is a need for discipline and good order 

This, of course, spells general church life in the 21st century too.  Our sinful nature drags us away from God’s declared will for our lives.  We begin to love the world more than we love God.  The world easily dictates to us how we should live, and we can readily start to doubt the faithfulness of God.  Our relationships one with the other can sometimes be volatile, and we need mediation and godly outcomes.  In short, discipline and good order need to be maintained for the glory of God.  We need elders!

One leader is not enough!

Moses was a human being with his own strengths and weaknesses.  It all got too much for Moses.  His father-in-law gave him good advice:  

“The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. (Exodus 18:17–18, NKJV)

Moses found himself face-down in the presence of the Lord.  What he understood very well was that the people he had to lead did not belong to him, but were God’s people. He could not deal with the people other than what God wanted him to do. In fairly harsh words he prayed to God,  This is too much for me. 

If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favour in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!” (Numbers 11:15, NKJV)

He has come to the end of his line. How does he provide for the people?  How can he care for the people?  Should not God care for his own people?  

Although God did provide the water, the manna and the quail, other aspects of care God provided through elders whom He enabled for the task.  Although God could directly care for them, He appointed leaders. 

Shared but Divided responsibility and accountability

To maintain discipline and order within the camp, God appointed 70 elders to work closely with Moses.  Moses remained the intercessor between God, between the leaders and the people, but from that day on, the men upon whom God poured out his Spirit to set and enable them for their task them apart for service would be a help for Moses.  

I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone. (Numbers 11:17, NKJV)

What seemed impossible for Moses becomes possible through the provision and enablement of God.  Where would the meat come from?  Where would the men come from? 

“The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.’ (Numbers 11:21, NKJV)

How did God answer? 

“Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not.” (Numbers 11:23, NKJV)

God first sent his Spirit to rest upon the seventy men, and He gave them the ability to prophesy—which through the Scriptures was always a sign to the rest of people of God’s authentic appointment—and then He provided the quail.  

This is how elders do their work.  They are appointed by God; they need to care for the people because they are God’s own people; they need to continually keep their eyes focused on God for whom nothing is too hard.  Elders share in the responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the people, they are called to maintain spiritual discipline and good order. When the people of God slide back to the slavery of sin, the elders encourage, teach and admonish.  And in all, it is their task to lead God’s people to live to the glory of their Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Why do we need elders?  

We are sinful and rebellious, and we need spiritual direction and care.

Elders share in the burden of this care.  It is not good for one person to take the full load.  It is not the plan of God for his church.

May our Lord give us clear guidance as we pray for men to fill the vacancies of elders in our congregation.  We need to make sure that the men we elect are indeed spiritually mature, displaying a sure conviction that they called to the office.  Let us pray.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 February 2019

Perfect knowledge, perfect joy, perfect peace

Scripture readings

  • Ezekiel 36:24-29
  • John 16:12-33

Introduction

Herman Lange, a German Christian was to be executed by the Nazis during WWII. In his cell on the night, before he was to be killed, Lange wrote a note about two feelings which occupied his mind: “I am, first, in a joyous mood, and second filled with great anticipation.” Then he made this beautiful affirmation: “In Christ, I have put my faith, and precisely today I have faith in Him more firmly than ever.” Finally, he urged his parents to read the New Testament for comfort: “Look where you will, everywhere you will find jubilation over the grace that makes us children of God. What can befall a child of God? Of what should I be afraid? On the contrary, rejoice!

A non-Christian said,  Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” “God has no religion”. But his deathbed he uttered his last words, “My days are numbered. For the first time in 50 years, I find myself in the slough of despond. All about me is darkness…” His name was Mahatma Gandhi. 

Jesus was approaching his last moment before they apprehended Him, and handed Him over to be crucified.  On his mind was his ministry from his Father to reveal Him to those would continue the work of global evangelism after He returned to his Father. He prayed, 

I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:4, NKJV)

When He announced his departure to his disciples, they were filled with grief.  On the one hand, they were called to be fishers of men, but their rabbi was leaving them. On the other hand, since they began to follow Christ, they learned to love Him and be close to Him.  His words were the words of life. But now his announced his departure. They would miss Him. 

How would they survive without Him?  Where would they get the same level teaching from when they needed answers and guidance?  And then Christ said this:  

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7, NKJV)

Perfect knowledge

Christ did not expect of his church to tackle the wise and the philosophies of this world on their own.  He promised to give them a Helper.  

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (John 16:8, NKJV)

The work of the church would have vaporised towards the end of the first century were it not for the teaching of the Holy Spirit.  He is the One convicts the world of sin, those who do not believe in Christ.  He is the One who convicts sinners of righteousness, because of Christ’s complete redemption, because there is no righteousness in man, and no other can or will be able to do what Christ has done; He is now at the right hand of his Father.  The Holy Spirit is the One who makes clear to unbelievers that the prince of this world is condemned and of powerless against the judgement of the Father; no one who comes to the Father by any other means will ever be saved (John 16:8-11).

Paul writes about the work of the Spirit:  

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9–10, NKJV)

With these words, Jesus Christ comforted his disciples.  And it should be our comfort too.  We must speak the words of Christ, we must declare his grace to this world, however, we in some sense will only be onlookers as the Spirit does the conviction, the preaching of the righteousness of Christ, and as He convicts people of their sin.   

Is it no so that the Holy Spirit will teach us all sorts of ecstatic gifts so we can prophesy, speak in tongues and do miracles?  We need to understand these things in its context as Paul wrote it to the Corinthian church.  We cannot now dwell on all the issues, but here are a few principles:  

  • The Spirit gives gifts as He determines, not as individual members desire it. (1 Corinthians 12:18)
  • The gifts of the Spirit are always for the common good of the whole body of believers; if they serve no purpose for the upbuilding of the church, they are not needed. (1Corinthians 12:7)
  • There are gifts which are more important than others.  Paul prioritises the gifts beginning with the apostles, then the prophets (or preachers), then others, and then at the bottom of the list the speaking of different tongues (1Corinthians 12:28)
  • Not all believers will or can speak in tongues, or do miraculous deeds, or heal others (1Corinthians 12:29)
  • But all believers must love one another as Christ loved them (1Corinthians 13) and all believers must tell of the wondrous deeds of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-21)

It is for this last universal task of evangelism we all must be involved in we need the Holy Spirit.  Why? 

“When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12–14, NKJV)

The Spirit inspired Paul to write:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12, ESV)

The Holy Spirit has no new agenda other than that of the Father and Son.  His work is to continue the work of Christ.  He is the One who teaches the church of Christ the will of the Father and all about Christ.  

The ultimate work of the Holy Spirit was the inspiration of the Scriptures.  Of these we read:  

…the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15–17, NKJV)

This is the point.  Everything we need to know about salvation, everything we need to preach, everything we need for comfort, everything we need to defend ourselves with against the attacks of all the wise and learned of the world, is written in the Bible.  Who reads and studies the Bible as the World of God has perfect knowledge.  The remarkable aspect of it all is that while we present this Gospel to the world and to every lost sinner, the Holy Spirit does the rest.  We are like the sower in the parable of Jesus who sows wherever he can, but then rest and sleep, leaving it all in God’s hands.

Perfect joy

We touched in this last week.  Let’s just recap.  Christ taught his followers a crucial lesson:  his death and resurrection, together with the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Word, give incomparable joy. 

Therefore you now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (John 16:22, NKJV)

David knew something about this:  

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance. (Psalm 16:5–6, NKJV)

In another Psalm:

Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26, NKJV)

What is the source of our joy?  

  • First of all—Christ completed which the work the Father gave Him:  He taught his disciples, He revealed the Father to them, He took their sins on them and paid the penalty of sin, He rose again to overcome death, and He ascended into heaven to intercede and prepare a home for those whom He was sent to rescue.
  • Second, His work of teaching is complete.  John 16:23 is an interesting one: 

And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. (John 16:23, NKJV)

The first “ask” is to inquire or to want to know more.  The second ask is the same as prayer.  Our joy is connected to the fact that the Holy Spirit is with us to teach us and in that sense, we do not need to inquire outside of what He teaches in the Bible.  It is only by diligent study that we will get all the answers we need to equip us for service.

The second “ask” is prayer.  What we need to be successful as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lies in diligent and faithful prayer.  In the Name of Christ who is our complete salvation and all-sufficient Saviour, we approach God to ask Him to give according to our needs.

The joy of the church of Jesus Christ is anchored in these things.  What more do we need?  Are we robbed of our joy if we don’t get the Lear Jet we are praying for?  If this is your expectation, then surely you will be disappointed.  But if it is Jesus Christ and the fullness of his grace you desire, you will never be disappointed.  Your cup will overflow with joy.

Perfect peace

Just one last thought.  Our chapter also speaks of peace.  Our Lord  said to the small band of disciples moments before He was arrested: 

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NKJV)

What peace is perfect peace?  I have overcome the world.  The Greek tense is the perfect tense which describes an action brought to its conclusion in such a way that its results stand firm. In other words, when Jesus says He has overcome the world, it is complete, and nothing can change that fact.  

In Revelation, we read,

“Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome [is victorious] to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5, NKJV)

Does it give you peace to hear the words of Christ:  

For whoever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4, NKJV)

Does it give you peace to hear Christ’s promise:  

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. (Revelation 3:12, NKJV)

Conclusion

So, my friends, because you can trust the Holy Spirit to guide you, because you can ask God in the Name of Jesus Christ, and because Christ has overcome the world, then it should be true of all of us:

And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! wrath, because he [Satan] knows that he has a short time. (Revelation 12:11–12, NKJV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 February 2019

 

Christ makes us his friends, and the world hates us for it

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 9:7-20
  • John 15:9-16:4

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

My mother was one of the fairest people I knew.  Like a hen, she would protect her chicks.  Don’t get into Mom’s bad books by spreading stories about her children. As kids, we knew she would always defend us, and it gave us a sense of security.  But in her fairness, Mom demanded that we always act like kids who bore the Schwartz name. We had to show respect and obedience. But, even on the odd occasion where we were apparently in the wrong, we were never left on our own.  Mom would be between us and those we were accountable to, stating her case for fairness, but asking for lenient discipline.  

Chapters 13-16 of the Gospel of John recorded the last and private teaching of our Lord when He addressed his disciples.  They were about to be scattered (16:31), they had a mission:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8, NIV)

What would the need to remember and take along in their mission to fishers of men?  When times get tough, what did Jesus give them to hang on to?

I have loved you

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:9, NIV)

This an extraordinary statement. When our grandson wanted to express how much he loved his mother, he said, “l love you more than all the Holden Commodores in the world.” But really, we do not love comparatively.  When Jesus expressed his love towards his disciples, He used an unmatched comparison.  He loves us with the same love as the eternal Father loved his eternal Son.  This is mind-boggling. How do we know what Jesus says is true?  Just go a bit further in the chapter.  

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12–13, NIV)

In chapter 10  Jesus Christ declared his love:  

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17–18, NIV)

But the reason why both the Father and the Son love the world is not that the world is so lovely and lovingly. As we saw last week, when Jesus came into the world to dwell amongst us, this place was dark.  God’s own did not receive him.  Why not?  They were spiritually blind, and by nature they hated God.  And yet, He loved them as the Father loved them.  We know the verse:  

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

So, when his disciples would face persecution and hardship in their fruit-bearing mission, when they were stuck in jails, when they lost kindred and possessions, they could hold on to what Jesus impressed on their minds the last night they spent together, “As the Father loved Me, so I have loved you.   

What carries the church through persecution and hardship?  When all of this world is lost, when health has departed, when loved ones have lost their memory, when we bury those we hold dear above all else, when we lose our names and reputations for the glory of Christ, what is left?  What keeps us going?  I have loved you!  Paul writes:  

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39, NIV)

Remain in my love

Our Lord gave his disciples this command:  Remain in my love.  It can be tempting to despair and walk away from Christ’s love when the going gets tuff.  He may seem distant, and we don’t see his love in our trials.  Jesus knew all of this, and that’s precisely why He added the command, “Remain in my love”.  

How does one remain in his love? You take Him on his word. 

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:10, NIV)

Christ had all reason to walk away from the love of his Father. People scorned Him, they hated Him, the devil tempted Him in the desert, the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him.  Yet, He says: “just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:10, NIV)

You will have complete joy

When we put the love and the word of Christ first in our lives, when we understand the love God has for us in his Son, when we understand that Christ endured all the scorn and hatred to save us, then, even in the face of hardship, we will have joy.  The world can not add to this joy, and worldly joy cannot compete with this inward and unspeakable joy, because the joy we have in Christ is all we need.  

… fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2–3, NIV)

Jesus prepared his disciples, 

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:22, NIV)

This verse most probably was the context of the short time between the death and resurrection of Christ. But ultimately it points to time between the ascension of our Lord into heaven, and his return when He comes to takes his won with Him to be in the presence of the Father.  Even though we do not have Christ in Person with us, our joy in Him nothing can take away.  Many martyrs of the faith sang hymns of joy when they burned on the stake.  Steven, while they stone him to death “… full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” (Acts 7:55–56, NIV)

Love one another

One way to love Christ is to take Him on his word and completely trust Him.  But there’s another aspect we should not forget, we must love one another as part of the same family as Christ loves us.  Christian love is comparative love.  What’s the comparison?  As I love you.  This is a big ask.  You look at your fellow Christian and what do you see?  Someone whom Christ loves, someone who has become part of the family of Christ on the same basis as you have: drawn by undeserved love.  

Do we love your brother and sister?   How much and to what degree?  As Christ loves us? As Christ gave up everything for us, so we need to set our brothers and sisters in Him on the same level.  As Mom would say, “You touch my children, and you touch me.  You touch my fellow brother or sister in the Lord, and you touch me.  We are of the same family.  This is a different love the world wants to sell us.  It is not the warm fuzzy feeling I get when someone does something nice to me. What drives my love for my fellow Christian is the love which Christ had for me when He laid down his life to save me.  When my brother weeps, I weep; when my sister is hurting because of the name of Christ, I am hurting.  Together we carried the yoke of Christ.  

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NIV)

Friends of Christ have the world as their enemy

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, NIV)

What happened when we started to follow Christ?  We became part of God’s family.  In Him, we are brothers and sisters.  In Christ we were taken out of the world, we received a new citizenship, we received a new mind and heart, we are born from above, and we received new marching orders.  

The world has no attraction for us anymore.  If we love Christ the way He loves us, our lives are driven for his glory.  When Jesus interceded for his disciples at his Father’s throne, He prayed:  

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (John 17:15–16, NIV)

How is it that we could become friends of Christ?  

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:15–16, NIV)

You see the order here?  You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” For what reason?  “You so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”  How is it possible to bear fruit in this world?  Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” What is our authority?  I have called you friends”.  Friends, not in the sense of being buddies of Christ, but friends because we are not enemy anymore.  So now, we go out in the word with a few things written on our minds:

  • Jesus loves us as the Father loves us.  
  • Jesus laid down his life for us.
  • No-one can rob us of our joy, because nothing in the world can add to our joy.
  • We have fellow soldiers, saved by grace, family in Christ, and our love towards one another is as strong as Christ’s love for us.
  • We have the words of Christ to reach a lost world
  • We did not choose ourselves—we were appointed by Christ
  • The fruit we bear will have eternal consequences, not because of us, but because of Him who sent us
  • We are no strangers to Christ anymore, by grace He has wiped out the enmity between us and God.

So we have the world at our feet!  They are just waiting for us to speak the word. Not so!  

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:19, NIV)

Here’s an excellent test to see if we really love Christ.  Does the world love us?  Do they like the things we say and do?  When John the Baptist preached the word of God, he ended up in jail, and later he was beheaded.  Steven died a martyr.  So did about all the apostles and many others who followed Christ.  James writes, 

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NIV)

There is an eternal choice?  Would you follow Christ and inherit eternity because He calls you his friend, or would you rather be in step with the world and forfeit your soul?  

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 January 2019

 

Why does Christ need to reveal Himself, and how does it happen?

Scripture Readings

  • 1 John 4:7-16
  • John 14:15-31

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

One of the pleasures in our advanced digital society is to talk to robots when you ring enquiries of some more significant enterprises. It sometimes takes many minutes, and many entries into the keypad to get to the right department— if you are fortunate. But it’s only about then when the testing of your civility is really put to the test. Here’s the problem: many companies outsource their support departments to outfits overseas. The issue quickly explodes when the person who is supposed to help you speaks in an accent you really can’t understand. It takes multiple times of asking, and numerous times of explaining before you finally realise life is better living with the problem, rather than trying to fix it.

It is undoubtedly exceedingly difficult to explain something if you don’t really know the technical terms to describe your problem, and the situation is compounded if the person you asked don’t understand your question, and you, then, in exchange have no idea what he meant.
Let’s keep this in mind as we approach the sermon today. The question is, “Why does God reveal Himself only to his own, and how?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Darkness, unbelief, no knowledge

John begins his Gospel and sketches the picture for us. God created the world in the beginning. Christ was the agent through which God created the universe. He is called the Word.

Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:3–4, NIV)

Between creation and the Gospel of John, something terrible happened: The world was plunged in spiritual darkness. Although the world was made through Christ, the people of the world did not know it. Although it belonged to Him, they, in unbelief, did not receive Him.
There were darkness, unbelief and no knowledge. Sin caused mankind to be spiritually blind. They did not speak the language of God, and they could not understand God. What they understood well, was darkness and the voice of the prince of darkness.

For them, and us, to hear God, to understand Him, see Him and receive Him, was not possible. We did not speak the same language, we did not have any communication. There is no option for us—we didn’t need to do anything to become sinners and be separated from God, we were born sinners. We had no choice between light and darkness, we were born into darkness. We are not born into a state of somewhere between darkness and light, so that by our choosing we slide one way or the other. We are born on the wrong side. Isaiah describes it in these terms:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2, 9–10, NIV)

How do we get out of this mess?

There is good news:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NIV)

The author of Hebrews puts it this way:

In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1–2, NIV)

Jesus Christ is the One who communicates between the Father and us. He is God’s Word.

To become children of God, we need a few things to happen: we need revelation, we need light, we need a new life, we need faith.

Revelation

Judas, not Iscariot, asked Jesus while they were still in the Upper Room with Christ in the night before Christ was arrested to be crucified the next morning,

“But, Lord, why do You intend to show Yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22, NIV)

This question follows the disclosure of Christ in the previous verse where He said:

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:21, NIV)

The expression “has my commands” is synonymous with “receive”, and it takes us back to the statement in the beginning: those in darkness did not receive Him. Light did not receive Him. Jesus said:

The world cannot accept Him (the Holy Spirit), because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17, NIV)

So, what happens between living in darkness and receiving light? Quite a lot. The eyes of our heart open when the Holy Spirit gives us a new life. The Bible calls it “the birth from above”, to be born again. Then alone can we see and understand. John the Baptist said,

“A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. (John 3:27, NIV)

What was the mission of Christ? The woman at the well  answers, 

“I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, He will explain everything to us.” (John 4:25, NIV)

Indeed!  He makes Himself known.  He declares Himself.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24, NIV)

When our Lord answered Judas when he asked why He is going to reveal Himself to them and not to the world, He actually wanted them to know that without his revelation no sinner would not understand. Christ is the Word of God. Christ came into the world and became one of us. He speaks our language, and He understands our need.

But He has to stir our hearts out of death to understand who He really us, and to understand our need for salvation.  When He does it, He plants faith, life, light and the ability to receive the grace of God.

What is very critical to understand is that not all people receive the grace of God. Jesus said: “The world hates Me”. (John 7:7) Further into the same chapter we read that some  received Christ, and others were divided about Him. The leaders even insisted that He is devil-possessed. They wanted to kill Him. Why? Christ made it clear to them: they are born of darkness, born into darkness, and they served the prince of darkness.

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:43 47, NIV)

Does it take you back to the telephone conversation where it seems no one understands no one?

Some people can hear the Gospel of Christ a thousand times preached in simple language and still walk away untouched. See, not all people are going to heaven. Some inevitably will end up in hell. Jesus said:

“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:39, NIV)

Another verse:

Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:18–19, NIV)

So, my friend, you might sit next to Judas asking why and how is Christ is revealing Himself to you today? The answer to the “why” is this:

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23)

By this, you will know if you belong to Him. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8, NIV) That’s the test. Are you a child of God? You will know if you love Him. And you will love Him because He loved you first. Here’s the test:

Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:24, NIV)

There is a simple, but glorious, answer to the “how”:

My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23, NIV)

Think about it: the Creator of the universe pours his love out on sinners, on me, on you. Both He and the Son make their home in us. Your life should be the throne of the eternal, loving, saving God who made a claim on your life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

How does He live in us? By his Holy Spirit.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:13, NIV)

The ministry of the Spirit is to teach us to understand who Christ is, and more about the love of the Father.

What is the result? We have peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27, NIV)

Is there more? Sure! Joy.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11, NIV)

But there’s more! Jesus declared:

I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me… (John 14:30, NIV)

That’s why our Lord can give us this assurance:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:28–29, NIV)

We need revelation, we need light, we need a new life, we need faith. Where does it come from? It comes through the words of Jesus Christ:

These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. (John 14:24–25, NIV)

Conclusion

Why does God reveal Himself only to his own, and how?

The Word answers:

  • We are all born in darkness and need light. We are all in need of faith to see and receive Christ.
  • Not all who hear the word will believe, but those whom the Father has given to his Son will listen to his voice and follow Him.
  • Christ makes Himself known to us to enable us to receive Him as Lord and Saviour.

How does He do it?

  • He lays down his life for the sheep.
  • He gives us his Word
  • He gives us his Holy Spirit.

Can you be sure that you are a child of God? Yes, listen to his voice, receive Him because

…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— (John 1:12, NIV)

Do you want to go home today with peace and joy in your heart? Take this assurance with you:  If Christ is your Saviour, no-one can snatch you out of his hand. Above all, if you know Christ as the truth, the truth will set you free, and if He sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 20 January 2019

 

Living on God’s Earth (2)

Bible Readings

  • Isaiah 46
  • Romans 1:18-32

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord,

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

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

Greeks 

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

Hinduism

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

Atheism

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

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

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

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

Environmentalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major bodies to promote this worldview

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

United Nations

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

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

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

Is this another way of promoting a one world government?

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

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

The World Council of Churches

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

How do Bible-believing Christians respond? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

 

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (4)

Scripture Readings

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Wrecking victory 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now we find Samson in Gaza!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He became a wrecking victory. 

Victorious wreck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wesley penned down this poem:  

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

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

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

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

Wesley’s poem continues: 

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

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

Was his prayer sincere?  Calvin helps us to understand:  

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

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

Another deliverer failed.  Samson died a victorious wreck.

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

 

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (3)

Bible Readings

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

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul also writes:

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

Even David prays:

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

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

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

Confrontation

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

Confusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflict

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

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

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

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

Think about it.  Consider your personal attitude in this.

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

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

Contentment

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

And we read the last statement in this chapter:  

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Amen.  

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

 

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (2)

Scripture Reading 

  • Judges 13:24-14:20

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:  That the Holy Spirit gives us understanding

God gave Samson to perform a specific task

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Samson’s misguided program to of attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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