Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

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

 

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Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (1)

Bible Readings

  • Luke 1:26-38
  • Judges 13:1-24

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The church became an undesired social institution

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

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

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

The Lord gave them this assurance:

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

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

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

Listen to this undertaking of the Lord:

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

Judges 2 helps us to complete the picture:

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

Another perspective from the Bible:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The status quo is the new normal 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Amen.

Advent 2 – Keep watch; the day not known

Bible readings

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
  • Matthew 24:36-51

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,

It would be very unusual if there were somebody in church today who does not have a watch.  We are creatures bound by time and space in more than one way.  Whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the reality of seconds ticking by, and the days, months and years rolling by.  God created this reality:  “there was evening and there was morning” the author of Genesis 1 repeats for every one of the six days of creation. We are bound by this rhythm.

There is another way we’re bound by time:  we keep an eye on our clocks and watches.  We are aware of what needs doing and how long we need to complete the tasks.  Some even work to be paid by the hour. Time is money.

So, why do we call the things on our wrist “watches”?  Is it because we look at it a lot?  Most dictionaries only as a last option define “watch” as a time piece; the preferred understanding of “watch” has to do with look out!, surveillance, or a period of time during which a soldier is on guard.

It is this last meaning we find in the word of our Lord, “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Mt 24:42)  In a certain sense then Jesus is saying staring at your watch will be of no help, but be on your watch!

The first advent was clearly announced

Right at the dawn of human history, right at the point of human rebellion against God—and precisely because of it—God announced the coming of someone who would crush the head of the serpent; this promise was ultimately fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

In a sense the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, was a fulfilment of the what Passover Lamb meant to those who were led out of the house of Egyptian slavery.  And after the institution of the sacrificial system the blood of every animal pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And there were the prophets of God who prophesied in fair detail about the coming of the Messiah.  Even the godless prophet Balaam, being in the grip of God, had this to say:

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17, NIV)

This prediction was meant for David who subdued the rebellious nations and led God’s people to peace, but ultimately it was about Christ who was promised as the One would reign on David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:13).  Psalm 2 talks about the Anointed One (Messiah) who would rule with an iron sceptre (Ps 2:9).

More pointed prophecy followed by Isaiah who, 700 years before Christ was born, told what his name would be (Isaiah 7:14); that He would by the Son of which the New Testament later referred to as “the Son born to us”—Wonderful Counsellor, mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6-7);  that He would by King along the line of David (Is 11:1-2); that He would be the suffering servant of the Lord:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3,5 NIV)

Daniel spoke about Him:

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14, NIV)

There are many more references to Christ’s coming in the Old Testament.  As a matter of fact, after his resurrection our Lord instructed his disciples:

Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44, NIV)

So the coming of the Messiah had been announced to hundreds of years.  The fact of his advent (arrival) was known; the hour not.  But when it happened there was no doubt that God indeed made all the prophesies true.

  • The angels sang loud and clear.
  • The message was loud and clear:

“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ [the Messiah] the Lord.  

  • The sign was clear to see:

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)

  • A star appeared in the sky which led philosophers kneel before Him
  • The old man Simeon, driven by the Holy Spirit met the parents of Christ in the temple with these words:  “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations…” (Luke 2:30–31, NIV)
  • Anna of whom the Bible records: “…she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38, NIV)
  • John the Baptist prepared his way as prophesied in Malachi 3:1, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  (Malachi 3:1, NIV)
  • John the Baptist also said: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” (John 1:29–30, NIV)

Despite the announcements through the ages, at his birth and at the beginning of his ministry about Christ, the majority were not prepared to meet Him; they were off-guard.  In the end they killed Him by hanging Him on the cross.

The second advent clearly announced

The fact

That He will return was part of Christ teaching to his disciples:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2–3, NIV)

Matthew records the instruction of Christ in the last days of his ministry on earth:  “Your Lord will come again.” (Matt 24:42)

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:30–31, NIV)

The hour not known

Noah started building the ark far away from the sea.  He did so because God made his plan to destroy the people of the earth because of their sinfulness and gave him instruction to prepare a way for his family to escape the flood.   For 120 years he was building the ark.  Many people scoffed him, especially when he told them about the impending disaster. He was a preacher of righteousness (2Peter 2:5), but they laughed about the idea of God’s punishment on sin by sending a world-wide flood.  The Bible puts it this way:

For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:38–39, NIV)

Did they know nothing?  They knew everything but they were unprepared for the event when it happened.  They not ignorant, but they did not take what they knew seriously.

And it begs the question as to what we know on one hand, and how we apply what we know, on the other hand.  Because our Lord stated, “This is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mat 24:39)

Not all will be saved

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (Matthew 24:40–41, NIV)

We are not called to stop doing our daily work.  You will still be at your desk, in the office, in the classroom, behind the wheel of the bus, to the control of the aeroplane—the work God assigned you to do.  Paul spoke about people in Thessalonica who expected the coming of the Lord to be so near that they stopped working; Paul warned them:

Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:11–12, NIV)

But not everyone busy with their work will be saved; only those who kept watch for the coming of the Son of Man.  One’s daily program can become too commanding; one’s pursuit of success in your workplace can become too consuming; one’s pursuit of happiness, or the chase after hedonistic frivolity, fun and hollow joy may suck you in to be caught unawares when that great, glorious but dreadful day of the Lord suddenly dawns like a thief in the night.

I suppose there were many scratch marks on the outside of the ark as the water of the flood kept rising.  It must have been heart-wrenching for Noah on the inside, but there was nothing he could do about it.  Listen:  “The Lord shut them in.” (Genesis 7:16)  In control of who could be in and who had to stay outside, was God Himself.  God shut Noah and his family in, but those who defied his warnings, God shut out!

Be on your guard

Jesus is coming again.  That’s a fact.  Some were unprepared in spite of all the prophesies regarding his first advent, and so they despised his appearance when He came.  They were not saved.  “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11, NIV)

Don’t stare at your watch, or try to mark the calendar a possible date for his return; no one knows the day and date of his return.

If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matthew 24:43, NIV)

Rather, in full alertness knowing that Christ will return, make the best of every opportunity—now!  Be like the wise and faithful servant whom the master finds busy when He returns.  Don’t be like the wicked servant who said, “My servant is staying away a long time.”

The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. (Matthew 24:50, NIV)

Conclusion

Let me conclude with a verse from 2 Peter 3:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8–9, NIV)

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11–13, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 December 2017

 

Advent 2 – the King will return

Bible reading

  • Luke 19:11-27

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Dad sometimes brought home some lollies. The lollies were nothing like a box of Cadbury all sorts chocolates, leaving it to us to pick the flavour we liked.  No, all four of us got only one sort, exactly like the other.  We understood that Dad could not afford to buy more, and we understood that it was his delight to see his family enjoy the treats he brought home.

The king of our parable gave ten of his servants each one a mina—all had the same value and the same potential.  The difference between Dad’s lollies and the King’s minas is that the lollies were to our exclusive enjoyment, whereas the minas remained the property of the King which had to be returned to Him, with dividend.

Background

King Herod the Great married all up 10 wives.  As you can imagine succession to the throne was a problem.  He ended up executing some of his sons.  In his last will he proclaimed his son, Archelaus, as successor. This will had not been ratified by Augustus Caesar, which meant that Archelaus could not assume the title of king.  His half-brother, Antipas, wanted to be king.  Eventually both brothers set off to Rome to plead their case, but before going to Rome Archelaus had killed 3000 people, trying to quench a revolution led by people avenging the blood of those killed by his father, Herod.

Upon his return from Rome, Archelaus treated both the Jews and Samaritans very brutally.  Because they did want him as their king, Jews and Samaritans to send a delegation to Rome and complain formally to Augustus, and Archelaus was deposed and dethroned.

Why this parable?

In the previous paragraph of Luke we met Zacchaeus.  Verse 9 makes this statement, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”  Zacchaeus was saved, “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (v. 10)

When our Lord then left the house of this new believer in Jericho, He embarked on his last journey to Jerusalem.  It was about time for the Passover, and “the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (19:11)

Jesus then told them the parable of a “man of noble birth [who] went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return”. (Luke 19:12)  For most who listened to Him the episode of Archelaus who was indeed of noble birth, but never became king, would be fresh in their minds.

Jesus wanted to teach this important lesson:  his kingdom could only come after his atoning death and resurrection, after his return to the Father where He would receive his Kingship based on the finished work for which He came to earth.  But there was something important which needed to be added to the “coming of the Kingdom”:  the labour of his servants, appointed as “fishers of men”, would unfinished until “salvation has come” to the houses of lost sinners who need to be sought and saved.

The King of the mission

 a. His origin

He was from a “distant land”. He was from the line of David, the Stump, the mighty King, everlasting Father, and of the increase of his government there will be no end.  John says of Him that He was with God in the beginning, and He was God.

A man who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.” (John 1:30)

The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (John 3:35, NIV)

b. His destiny 

His destiny was to sit at the right hand God.

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood You purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10)

c. His departure and return

Before He left to the distant place this Man of noble birth said:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3, NIV)

After his resurrection He appeared to many over a span of 40 days before He ascended to the Father.  On that day his disciples got this comforting assurance:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11, NIV)

The ongoing mission of the King

Before He left to receive his kingdom He commissioned his church:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:18–19, NIV)

This is why the Nobleman give minas to his servants.  This parable differs from the parable of the talents.  The talents represent ability; the minas represent investment.  Each servant got equal amounts—the power of the investment did not lie in their ability, but in the inherent growth of the investment.

So, what do the minas represent?  We understand that what the servants got did not belong to them; at the return of the king, they had to give it back.  From the context we understand that the minas were in connection with the coming of the Kingdom, with salvation, with the seeking and the saving of the lost.  It therefore points to one thing:  the Gospel of Christ—it is never ours, it has power in itself, it does not depend on ability, it brings salvation to the lost.  Kent Hughes writes, “‘Joe Christian’ receives the same as St. Paul and John Calvin and Billy Graham. We all have the good news of Jesus Christ and its marvelous effect in our lives.”

a. the calling of the servants

They had to put the money to work.  The Greek word here is from the same word “to do”, “to put into practice”.  In financial sense it means “to do business in trade”.

Our Lord said to his disciples:

Seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4:20, NIV)

A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain. (Mark 4:26–28, NIV)

The seed is the Word of God, and the servants of Christ are nothing more than sowers of the Word. Sowing this seed happens in a hostile world; there are the enemies of Christ who do not want Him to be their King; they hate Him, and will do everything they can to frustrate the growth of the Gospel.

This is the world we are called into to make Christ’s investment of the Gospel grow. Because they hate Christ, they hate us.  But let’s remember, it never depends on our ability; the outcome depends on the inherent power of the Gospel itself.  We can be like that fellow who thought to handle the Gospel with such care in this hostile world, that he buried it in a sweat cloth. He thought, “I can’t be active, but I can at least be a conservative. I can preserve the Christian tradition. I can submit to a church wedding and send my children to Sunday school. I can take a Christian point of view. I can wrap my religion in my handkerchief and conserve it.” To him the Bible is a special book, but nothing more than a book.  To him the gospel should not be public, because it puts him at odds with those who hate the king.

b. the accountability of the servants

Advent can blind us to assign Jesus only to the crib; to the singing of carols and the the bright lights on the Christmas tree.  But advent must focus our eyes on the return, the second advent, of our Lord.  We might be so caught up with the frivolous signing and the handing out of presents, that we forget about the return of Christ which will call us to account.  That is the day when we will have to stand before the Him who was indeed been crowned King and who will call us to account.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12, NIV)

This parable in one sense is comforting, but in another it frightens me.  It comforts me with the knowledge that our Lord will not ask of me more that what I could do.  But the scary thought is: With what will I stand before the King who calls me to account?  What have I done with what belongs to Him?  Will the reasons I put forward for my lacklustre investment of the Gospel then stand?

We heard the news of the passing away of Dr RC Sproul last week. I was in the process of reading up for this sermon, when I got the news.  His labour in the Gospel stood as an example of a servant who appears before the King with the “your mina” , only to hear, “Well done, my good servant.”  Note the word “my” in that phrase; it connects with the “his” of servants who got the minas.

c. their reward of the servants

Kent Hughes writes:

“Their reward is that in the end the Lord will receive them with honors, that they will be privileged to speak and to live with Jesus forever. For heaven does not consist in what we shall receive, whether this be white robes and heavenly crowns or ambrosia and nectar, but rather in what we shall become—namely, the companions of our King.”  (Hughes, R. K. (1998). Luke: that you may know the truth (p. 234). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

But this is not the case with the last servant.  Why would he be trusted with the mina after the King returned, if he was not serious about it before he was called to account.  The King demands of his servants to, in a certain sense, bring as dividend on his investment what He personally did not put in—He entrusted them with it!

Can we hinder the growth of the Kingdom?  It calls for a qualified answer:  on one hand, “no”, because the King will give what He had given to inactive servants to those who indeed obediently put it to work; on the other hand, “yes”: our inactivity and lost opportunities may be regarded as the lazy watchman who did not warn about the approaching calamity—and we may be held accountable for their blood. What a frightful thought.

The enemy of the King

Just a short word about the enemy of the King.  The efforts of them to stop Him becoming King were, and will be unsuccessful; the Father indeed made Christ King.  Even they will appear before his throne to give account for their hatred and schemes against Him.  The outcome is horrible beyond words:  they will taste death at the hands of Him whom they pierced.  It’s our job to warn them, bring the word of salvation to them, to stand in the service of the King to seek and to save the lost.

Conclusion 

There a song with these words:

Oh, ye saints, arouse, be earnest,

Up and work while yet ’tis day;

Ere the night of death o’ertake thee,

Strive for souls while still you may.

Rescue the perishing, plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently; duty demands it; strength for your labor the Lord will provide.

The King will indeed return.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 December 2017

 

The new creation in Christ (Advent)

Scripture Reading

  • Isaiah 11:1-9

Introduction

The prophet Isaiah opens his prophecy with these words:

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me… Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (Isaiah 1:2–3, NIV)

In the vision Isaiah saw of the Lord, he heard that his sin was atoned for, and immediately he was compelled to be God’s spokesperson.  He commissioning was not exciting at all:  God send him with these words:

Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:10, NIV)

For how long?  Until there’s nothing left and the land Isaiah “utterly forsaken” and “everyone is sent far away.” (6:12)

But there was a promise:

“But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” (Isaiah 6:13, NIV)

The blind did not see, and the deaf did not hear

Isaiah stood before King Ahaz and declared God’s offer of grace to him, but he did not hear and he did not see.  He was not healed!

God sent the Assyrians against the northern kingdom, also known as Israel, and their homes and cities were “devoured with open mouth” (9:12).  But arrogantly they just made plans to rebuild what was destroyed, without even thinking of repentance.   “But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty”. (9:13)

They did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

God was not finished with them.  He struck their leaders, elders and prophets alike—even young men, widows and children did not find mercy in God’s eye.  Why?  “Everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks folly.” (Isaiah 9:17, NIV)

They did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

God was not finished with them.  Widespread bloodshed, born out of hatred for one another, devoured the country. Civil unrest led to unbridled violence in which people were “fuel for the fire” (9:19).

Yet, they did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

God was not finished with them.  When they deprived the poor of their rights and the innocent was oppressed, they did not thing about the justice of God, his law, and the justice He demanded.  The word of God came to them:

What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? (Isaiah 10:3, NIV)

Yet, they did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

Judgement

God then sent the king of the Assyrians, as it says in 10:6, “I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” (Isaiah 10:6, NIV)

But, as God’s promise to David and his house stood firm, He did not allow the Assyrian king destroy unbridledly.  There was a limit to how far he could go; for his arrogance God held him accountable—his heart was driven by premeditated pride.  “By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.” (Isaiah 10:13, NIV)  He had to deal with the living God:

The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers. (Isaiah 10:17, NIV)

Oh, the mercy of God!

“My people who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians… Very soon My anger against you will end and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.” (Isaiah 10:24–25, NIV)

Application

For hundreds of years God’s grace went out through the prophets to God’s people, calling them to repentance; for the same length of time they rejected that grace—only a small group of faithful believers served God with a pure heart and believed in his promise as they kept looking forward to the birth of the Messiah.

When the time of grace ran out God used kings to remove his people from the Promised Land to serve as slaves. But, a remnant did return.  They rebuilt the city and the temple, but they soon again forgot.  They did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed!

Darkness fell upon the people of God.  The people lived in distress and in the shadow of death. After the last prophet of the Old Testament and the opening verses of the New Testament there were 450 years of silence.  The nation was plundered by foreign kings and empires. Every form of rebellion against these empires led to further destruction and loss of lives.  Their temple was destroyed, and eventually a godless king, Herod (the same Herod who wanted to kill Jesus), offered to build them another!  What a shame!

History repeated itself:  a rebellious godless people hung onto outward formal religion, but there was no hope, no life.

The holy seed sprouted!

Trampled by the Roman Empire, and paying taxes to the Caesar became a lifestyle.  Godlessness abounded, and Satan had a field day, even being present in the synagogues.

It all called for a new beginning, almost like the first creation.  Genesis 1:2 tells us—

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2, NIV)

An angel appeared to a young girl in Nazareth in Galilee, part of the area described by Isaiah as the “people who lived in darkness”.  She was pledged to be married.  The angel said to her,

The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35, NIV)

Now we hear the fulfilment of the promise:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32–33, NIV)

John writes about Christ:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. 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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1–5, NIV)

Do you see the connection with Genesis 1, with the announcement of the birth of Christ, who He is and how it ties in with Isaiah 11?  The promise of God to create a new mankind, not an earthly kingdom, but a kingdom of God’s people.  All other kings failed; the priests and the sacrifices of the old covenant were mere shadows of the real which was to come; the prophets pointed forward to this King.  Someone had to come to be perfect sacrifice, the perfect king, the perfect prophet—to prepare the perfect people for God.  Who was He?

The One promised 700 years before He was born.  Isaiah spoke of Him:  He was like the shoot of the terebinth and the oak.  Yes, when there seemed to be nothing left, when it seemed all was over and forgotten, that shoot shot up:  he was more than David, but He was along the line of David.

Born of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God rested upon Him.  When he was baptised, “the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:22, NIV)

Like the wisdom of God when He created everything “very good”, Christ received the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. Christ declared in Luke 4:18 about Himself:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18, NIV)

He is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, He would not speak anything else than what the Father commanded Him, He would delight in doing the will of the Father.  This word delight is connected with a fragrant aroma.  One can think of the words of Paul in Ephesians 5, “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Be not mistaken:  He is indeed the promised Messiah.  In Galilee of the nations He took the verse from Isaiah’s prophecy upon Himself:  “… the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16, NIV)

A new creation

In the beginning God created through the Spirit. He then spoke a word and called creation into existence.  Now He is recreating through the Spirit:  Christ is the Word through whom He creates.  In the beginning God said, “Let there be light!”; now He gives his Son as the light.  The same Spirit declares that He is the Son of God.  The scope of the first creation was the whole world; so it is with the second:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10, NIV)

Who then are his children?  Listen to John 1:12-13:

Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12–13, NIV)

That’s why He declared, “You must be born again.” (John 3:5)  The apostle Paul writes,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

A warning

Those who do not bow before Immanuel, the Child who is Mighty God, “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:4, NIV)  As Revelation puts it,

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron rod.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Revelation 19:15, NIV)

Conclusion

Not all in the time of Isaiah were saved; most did not hear and they did not see.  They were not healed—they were lost in sin.  Then there were others who lived “in Zion”, expecting God to fulfil his promises; they heard, they saw, and they believed.  What about us?  How many times have you heard the Christmas story?  Maybe today you will really hear, and you will really see the light—and live!

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 December 2017

 

Immanuel – God’s sign to save

Bible Readings

  • John 1:12
  • Isaiah 7:1-17

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Robert Robinson had been saved out of a tempestuous life of sin through George Whitfield’s ministry in England. Shortly after that, at the age of twenty-three, Robinson wrote the hymn “Come Thou fount of every blessing”

Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, 

Call for songs of loudest praise. 

Sadly, Robinson wandered far from those streams and, like the Prodigal Son, journeyed into the distant country of carnality. Until one day—he was traveling by stagecoach and sitting beside a young woman engrossed in her book. She ran across a verse she thought was beautiful and asked him what he thought of it.

Prone to wander— Lord, I feel it— 

Prone to leave the God I love. 

Bursting into tears, Robinson said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” She reassured him that the “streams of mercy” mentioned in his song still flowed.

Robinson turned his “wandering heart” to the Lord.

Godliness spurned

Let’s say you were privileged to grow up in a palace where you could drink from the “fount of blessing”.

Your great-grandfather was king for 29 years; your grandfather was king for 52 years, and your father took over from him and rained 16 years.  So, when you took over the reigns there were just three years short off a century of rulers, of which the Bible records, “they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (2Chronicles 25:2, 26:4, 27:2).

Of your great-grandfather you could learn this lesson:  bring the gods of other nations to Jerusalem to worship, and God will not tolerate it (2Chronicles 25:14-16). As soon as your great-grandfather divided his loyalty between these goods and the God of Israel, God sent another king against him who raided Jerusalem.  So that’s a big lesson to learn:  follow the Lord with all your heart.

That’s what your grandfather did. He worshipped God who gave him one victory after the other. That’s what the bible says, “God helped him…” (2Chronicles 26:7)  He ended up having an army of 307,500 men (v. 13).  But, alas!, he became proud, and presumed upon the office of the priests, and God struck him with leprosy.  So that’s a big lesson to learn:  remember who you are in the presence of the Lord.

Then your father became king.  To secure the city, he build the Upper Gate and restored the city wall.  He built along the border of Judah with the northern kingdom, subdued the Ammonites who paid him tribute.  He was a successful king.  The Bible teaches:

Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 27:6, NIV)

Your father taught you to walk steadfastly before the Lord.

Then it was your turn.  What sort of king are you going to be?

Let’s fill in the picture of what is happening in other kingdoms around you.  Over the border, just to the north, an unknown fellow, Pekah was his name, assassinated the king of his country (Israel) and crowned himself as leader.  But he found himself in deep waters, because to the north-east there was a mighty king—the leader of the Assyrian Empire—who wanted to expand his kingdom.

To the north-west, the king of Syria, felt the pressure from the Assyrians too, and was looking for a partners to halt the imperialistic aims of this mighty king and recruited the help Pekah.  The two of them though it might be a good idea to get your help—the young king of Judah in Jerusalem.

You resist. You’re in trouble and you start looking for help elsewhere.  Where do you go?  Just follow the example of your great-grandfather who taught you to follow the Lord with all your heart; your grandfather, who taught you that pride is something deadly; and your father, who set the example of following the Lord steadfastly.

So ask God for help?  Instead, you lose your head and you make metal images of—??—Baals! You even went as far as to burn your sons as offerings to the gods of the nations around you!

What happens next?  God turns against you.  You could expect it, couldn’t you?

One of the kings who asked for your alliance attacks from the west and carries off a great number of your people.  As if this is not enough, the Edomites in the south, attack and take some captives. And then, your immediate neighbour, Pekah of Israel, decides to get into the act and attacked, killing 120,000 men on one day, and stealing 200,000 women and children (2Chronicles 28:5-8).

But God comes to your aid by sending a prophet as mediator to send the women and children home.

Why does all of this happen to you and your people?  The Bible helps us:

The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord. (2 Chronicles 28:19, NIV)

What now?  Where do you go now that your kingdom is falling apart?  Return to the God of your fathers?  No! Headlong in stubbornness!  Listen:

Ahaz gathered together the furnishings from the temple of God and cut them in pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. (2 Chronicles 28:24–25, NIV)

The more one turns away from God, the more absent He becomes; the more absent He becomes, the greater the hopelessness and bewilderment and confusion in man.

Is there any hope? One very interesting thing has not happened:  Jerusalem has not fallen! The Lord prevented it (2Kings 16:5).

This is where we pick up the story in Isaiah 7.  The people were in distress, dismayed and without hope.  “… the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2, NIV)

Then God sent his prophet Isaiah, whose name means “Yahweh is salvation”.  With him, according to the command of the Lord, was his son, Shear-jashub, which means “some will return”.  It’s a vivid picture.  “Good morning, your majesty.  My name is Yaweh-is-salvation; and I want you to meet my son, Some-wil-return.  The Lord sent us. He says: Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel.  They are like smouldering stubs of firewood.  They will try to overcome you, and they want to kill you and put their own king on your throne.”(Isaiah 7:4, NIV)

Your majesty, listen to what God says:  This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“It will not take place, it will not happen.  [But] If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:7–9, NIV)

What is the message based on?  The kingdoms Rezin and Pekah are of people, but the kingdom of Judah is “the house of David” (v. 2)  God has not forgotten his promise to David to establish his kingdom forever!

King Ahaz was unsure.  Perhaps he looked down, kicking with his sandal in the sand and looked away.  “Why would God do this after all I have done?  Why does this prophet say ‘your God?’  I hate Him. I don’t deserve grace.  How would I know this is true?”

The sign of grace

Then the prophet appeared again, most probably in the palace itself. This time Isaiah brought this message from God:

“Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” (Isaiah 7:11, NIV)

The king surprises everyone:  “I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test.”  What Ahaz forgot is that the whole situation was in the first instance and ultimately not about him; it was about the house of David (Isaiah 7:13).  The king had already decided to sell his soul to the king of the Assyrians: he had stripped the temple of all gold and silver, his palace of all gold, and sent a message to that king:

“I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” (2 Kings 16:7, NIV)

He had made up his mind:  He can’t trust God; He can’t help.  And he sold his sould to the devil.  In the end he lost his kingdom. He forfeited grace!

Where do we stand this morning?  Where is your heart this morning?  Do you trust God with a steadfast heart?  Or have you taken out an insurance policy underwritten by the enemy of you Lord?  To make the message clear:  the devil can only promise you things which he doesn’t have, and therefore cannot give you.  He promised our Lord the kingdoms of the world which he himself did not have—those kingdoms belong to Christ.  Satan might promise you bread, but Christ gives the bread of life.

Ahaz did not ask for a sign, but he did get one.  God gave “the house of David” a sign.  Did the prophet perhaps point to one of the young daughters of the king who fell pregnant without any knowing it?  She would have a boy, and she would call him Immanuel. Every time Ahaz would want to call his grandson to sit on his lap, he would think about God, his promises, and how he forfeited them.

The Bible writes about Ahaz that he worshipped the idols of Aram and sacrificed to them as he sought for help, “but they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel.” (2Chronicles 28:23).  He died lonely.  This is written about him: “… he was not placed in the tombs of the kings.” (2Chronicles 28:27)

What Isaiah prophesied indeed came true.  That boy was born; he was called Immanuel, the two smouldering stumps did die only some years afterwards, and king of the Assyrians came upon them something terribly.

Immanuel—the Messiah

Then, about 700 years later, after 450 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments, when Judah was under the burden of Roman oppression and about all hope was lost, an angel appeared to a young girl.  She was not married.  She would become pregnant without being married.  The Son she would give birth to would not be the son of an earthly father, but born of the Holy Spirit.  Her fiancé married her after he thought to leave her alone because of the disgrace of being engaged to a girl who is pregnant with a child out of wedlock.

But an angel of God told him to take Mary as his wife, and name the boy Jesus—a second Joshua who would take his people into the final Promised Land.  He would be far more than young Immanuel of 700 years earlier, who was a sign that God has not forgotten his people; He would be the Lamb who took away the sins of the world.  Into this dark world of sin He came to bring light and to purchase the children of God with his blood.

He was with the Father when everything was created, equal with the Father.

You have to meet Him.  He has to be your Immanuel, your light who led you out of the  darkness of sin; the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. “Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing.”  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 26 November 2017