Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

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

 

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Life as adopted child in God’s holy family (2)

Bible Readings

  • 1 John 4:7-21
  • 1Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, let’s just quickly recap what we have learned over the last few weeks from 1 Peter 1. 

  • The elect of God, in Jesus Christ, through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, received a hope which is anchored in heaven, guarded by God till the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • We know this is true because the prophets of the Old Testament wrote down what they researched—driven by the Holy Spirt—and all of what they prophesied focussed on Jesus Christ.  The apostles continued in this line and preached from those prophesies because Christ Himself taught them the meaning of the prophesies:  they saw Him, walked with Him, listened to Him saw Him die, and met with Him after his resurrection.
  • The Holy Spirit uses this holy inspired Word of God about Jesus Christ to create new birth: undeserved sinners are born into the heavenly family of God.  They are rescued from the emptiness and hollowness of not knowing God, into a relationship with Him through the preaching of the Word through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

We continue today with more marvellous news.

God’s redemptive work endures forever 

This is a glorious truth of the Gospel:  not only is the Gospel by nature the enduring Word of God, it’s effect is enduring.  Simply speaking:  The new birth brought about by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is not fleeting with short-lived effects.  

When the Spirit has given a sinner new life, that sinner can bank on the fact that the Spirit will sustain that new life till the end of time.  This is what we refer to as the perseverance of the saints.  For this we must give God all glory.  No matter how severe the test, how dire the refining, how dreadful the persecution, how terrifying the opposition, God will not withdraw the grace He once poured out by his Spirit: it is based on the eternal redemption of Jesus Christ.  To sustain us in times of trial and tribulations, his enduring Word—the Bible—is our bread, our light, our lamp, our compass, our comfort, and indeed a hammer to crush the hardest of heart.  That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and live by it.  

What Paul says about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church, and even have their names written on the rolls of the church:  

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:16, NIV)

My dear friend, has the Gospel come to you in a saving way, giving you new birth and new hope?  Then cling with all your life to this truth:  What God has begun, He will complete.  The words of this Hymn might be yours:

What from Christ that soul shall sever,
Bound by everlasting bands?
Once in Him, in Him forever,
Thus th’ eternal cov’nant stands;
None shall pluck you,
None shall pluck you
From the Saviour’s mighty hands.

With all these glorious things in mind the Word calls us to live as adopted children in his holy family

Verse 13 begins with “therefore”.  The good news of grace and new life we spoke about up to this point in time from the basis for what follows—“therefore”.

Prepare your minds for action

To “gird the loin” was a metaphor the people in the Middle East at that time understood well. These people normally wore long gowns, and when someone prepared for any strenuous activity, he tied his robe securely (by using a belt, for example), to make sure that his robe would not be in the way. The metaphor therefore came to mean “be ready for action”; or these days we say, “Be focussed!”

After the new birth and the outpouring of the grace of Christ righteousness, new Christians begin living a new life.  Their thinking is now different.  

The old mind was in control of the worthless things of this world.  Some translations use the word “sober-minded”; this is the opposite of being under the influence such as the sinful mind.  Other translations choose the expression “self-controlled”.  

The idea is something like this: the army officer is addressing the soldiers.  The command is always, “Attention!”  The mind of the soldier should be fixed on the officer, because his command is important.  How many times did you hear your dad say, “Do you understand?”  Your mind needs to be in the right place.

The same applies to the Christian.  When God speaks, we jump to attention and pitch our ears with focussed minds to what He says.

A hope which sees the end from the beginning

Peter then uses very interesting words one following the other.  The first describes completeness or something final.   Our Lord used this word when He said, “It is finished. 

Sometimes we need to very careful with Greek words and avoid similar sounding words in English as if it always means the same; yet, this Greek word finds its way into the English language in words like tele-vision, tele-phone and tele-gram.  What the “tele” in these words does is to connect two things which are far apart with one another, to mean completeness:  one speaks the other listener, and although they are not with one another they share in the same conversation. 

When Peter uses the next word, “hope”, we begin to understand what he has in mind.  It is as if he says: make your hope a reality.  Be so attuned to what your Officer-in-Command says that what he is talking about will control your life from beginning to end, and from the end to the beginning. Our minds needs to be so attuned and focussed on the Good News of the Gospel that our hope for the day of the return of Christ actually shapes our daily walk, now and here.  

This is where Peter is going in the next phrase:  not only did we received grace when we received “great mercy” by receiving a “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1Peter 1:3); but Christ will return (He will be “revealed”- 1 Peter 1:14) and give us even more grace!  This must drive us; our minds must be focussed in Him, our hope.

The reason:  we must be obedient children

To be born again, to be given a new life, is the language of the Bible to describe adoption into the family of God.  Once we were not children of God; our minds were shaped by our sinful, corrupted heart; we were controlled by the desires of fallen nature, we lived in ignorance, our lives were meaningless and hollow.

We need the say more about the reference to “when we lived in ignorance.”  We know an expression, “Ignorance is bliss”; but, there is another, “Ignorance is no excuse.”  Peter uses this word not be mean “innocence”; he uses it in the same sense as the prophets who referred to stubbornness.  Ignorance in this sense implies knowledge, but a stubbornness to turn one’s ear from the knowledge and continue living as if you did not hear it.

But grace changes everything:  those who are receiving the Gospel call to receive Christ, also receive the grace of the Holy Spirt in spiritual new birth.  The hollow life of what lies behind is changed into the life of an obedient child.

A homeless person who lives on the streets has the right to make his own rules:  he can sleep in when he wants, he determines if he wants to take a bath, shave his beard or comb his hear.  He even has the freedom to have a meal when he wants and where he wants.  But is a filthy life, the food is poor, and his clothes smell. 

But once he is taken in and cared for by someone who cares for him, someone who is even willing to adopt him as his own child, he understands that what he considered as freedom, is what made him a beggar.  Now in the new household, he lives according to do the bidding of his new father who took him in.  

Our old sinful life was unholy, because our owner then was the father of sin.  Under God there is a radical change:  the sinful life is traded in for a holy life.  Because our Father is holy, his household must be holy; his children must be holy.

Living as aliens and strangers

This, then, leads to the logical conclusion: we are born from above, our hope is from above, our grace is from above, our home and address is in heaven—therefore, we have no place in this world anymore.  We are strangers and aliens.

Right in the beginning of this letter Peter alludes to this fact:  he writes “to God elect, strangers (aliens) in the world.” (1:1)   

This world is not our home.  Your new home is where God reigns.  And we have the privilege to talk to our Father.  This is a beautiful expression:  we may call on God who is our Father.  “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  If He is in heaven, and our hope is in heaven, and our Lord Jesus Christ will be revealed from heaven, and we have the grace so see our present life as being governed from heaven, our lives now will be a life of “reverent fear.”  Being God’s child is always to have respect for Him;  He is your holy Father, and He is after all also our Judge.

Conclusion

This is only one part of our life as adopted child in the holy family of God. Next week we will, Lord willing, continue in this chapter where it talks about our relationship with other sinners who have been adopted as children.

I’m thinking of the words in Psalm 123:1-2 

I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy. (Psalm 123:1–2, NIV)

He has shown us mercy in Jesus Christ.  So, gird up your mind for action.  Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 April 2018

 

Life as God’s adopted child (1)

Bible readings

  • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • 1 Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

The Bible, in our reading this morning, refers to being “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18)

Don’t we just all remember the joy of blowing and chasing bubbles? All the expensive toys could not compete with the exhilaration of try to catch and hold a bubble.  In the end everyone one of them bursts and disappears into thin air. And what about the balloons?  How long do they last?

We have examples of ostrich and emu eggs which we keep in a safe place in our home.  From a distance they look like the real thing — and they actually are; but look closely and you will see the holes on each end, made to blow out the contents.  It is impossible for those eggs to produce chicks.  They are empty and hollow.

I remember the first Easter egg  my neighbour across the street gave us soon after we arrived in Australia.  Where we come from, chocolate was a rarity, and our culture never took the story of the Easter chocolate eggs seriously.  Soon after church we got stuck into it and ripped the shining foil off it.  How big was my disappointment that the egg was nothing but a shell of a thin layer of chocolate! I thought we were going to have chocolate till Christmas.

Peter writes about a life outside of Christ.  It is a hollow, empty life.  It was worthless, and can only promise the joy of the moment.  In contrast, the Christian life is rich, and it is determined by the best of all riches, now kept and sealed up in heaven.

Up to this point in time we learned from Peter that Christians live this life with their eyes focussed on a hope, guarded by God in heaven.  This hope is anchored in the faith that Jesus Christ will be revealed then in more splendour that He had when He first came into the world to work out our salvation.

We also learned that this salvation had its roots in all of God’s revelation through the Scriptures and promises of the Old Testament, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, whose ministry it is to, through the preaching of the Gospel, constantly help us to understand an apply the salvation of Jesus Christ.

God’s children are Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ

It is fair to say that the message of the Bible would be hollow and meaningless if the concept and reality of redemption was not central to it.

Let’s try to sum it up:  God made a covenant—a solemn agreement—with Adam and Eve.  They sinned against God and dragged all of their descendants into sin.  God promise them a Redeemer who would trample upon and crush the head of the serpent.  

In and through Abraham God made another covenant—a covenant of grace— with his people to be their God.  Through sinful covenant breaking, the people walked away from God and under satan became slaves to idols which could not save them.  Although God punished them, and even had them do slave labour in distant countries, He remained faithful to his promises and He Himself became their Redeemer.  “Redeemer” is a legal term, and meant that some close family member had to pay a ransom to get those under the curse of the law out of that curse, out of slavery into freedom.  This are classical verses to illustrate this:  

But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? (Hosea 13:14, NIV)

It is this act of saving grace Peter is referring to when he says that we are redeemed:  the two components of saving love and the ransom price are prominent here.  In Christ Jesus the love, justice and righteousness of God comes together in the act of redemption.  The ransom price which would satisfy the wrath of God upon sin was the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  The reference to “the Lamb without blemish” not only points back to Passover night and the miraculous redemption out of Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:5), but to all offerings which had to do with satisfying God’s righteousness over sin and broken relationships.  Christ was that ultimate perfect Lamb without blemish.  His blood not only washes away our sins, but it is the ransom, the price, which satisfied the righteousness of God. Of this sacrifice the writer to the Hebrews writes: 

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11–14, NIV)

Christ brings us to God so we can believe in God.  Why?  Not only because He died for us, He also rose in our place to overcome death.  

Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21, NIV)

Christians are redeemed people.  They are not sinless, but they are saved sinners.

God’s Children are born by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God

We have to take a small step backward into Peter’s first chapter, verses 10-11.  These verses refer to the Old Testament, which pointed forward to Christ.  The apostles preached what the prophets prophesied;  it was “the Gospel” of Jesus and about Jesus “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 12).  There is an extremely close relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word regarding Jesus Christ’s work and ministry.  To see this we go to verse 3: 

In his great mercy He [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)

  How did this come about?  Let’s read verse 23:  

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)

The imperishable things refer back to the blood of Jesus Christ, our redemption and ransom price.  How do we know about this redemption?  Through the enduring Word of God.  The new birth of every Christian, without which our Lord declared that no one can enter or see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3,5) is the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which applies the redemptive work of Christ to our souls through the preaching of the Word.  The preaching of the Word is always connected and undergirded by the ministry of the Holy Sprit.  It is always related, and it as such the only God-ordained way by which sinners hear about redemption.  

Peter knew that very well.  He therefore declares the enduring  work and certainty of the outcome of the ministry of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word: 

For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24–25, NIV)

When Paul writes to the Romans he said exactly the same thing:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17, NIV)

To apply this we can draw a few conclusions:

  • The most important activity of the church is to make available the Word of God.  It happens through translation, printing, preaching and studying the Word of God.
  • Ultimately the fruit and growth is not in our hands, but it is the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
  • The message the church should keep itself busy with the message of the redemption from of sin, and the restoration to God through the redemptive work of the Lamb without blemish, Jesus Christ. Nothing more will do; nothing less will do.
  • When the Gospel is twisted to only present Christ as a example of moral living, it has forfeited the privilege of being servants in the hands of the Saviour.
  • Where this message is traded for social gospel, property gospel or feel-good pop-psychology, and when worship services have become therapeutic self-improvement sessions, the church stands condemned before her Saviour.
  • When the Gospel message has been reduced to a dry theological discussion which is aimed at discrediting the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures, the church has failed its mission.  Souls will not be saved because it is not the Gospel which was preached by the apostles.

God’s redemptive work endures forever 

This is a glorious truth of the Gospel:  not only is the Gospel by nature the enduring Word of God, it’s effect is enduring.  Simply speaking:  The new birth brought about by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is not temporary.  

What is said about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church.  

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:16, NIV)

But when the Spirit has given a sinner new life, that sinner can bank on the fact that the Spirit will sustain that new life till the end of time.  This is what we refer to as the perseverance of the saints.  For this we must Give God all glory.  No matter how severe the test, how dire the refining, how dreadful the persecution, how terrifying the opposition, God will not withdrew the grace He once poured out by his Spirit, based on the redemption of Jesus Christ.  To sustain us in times of trial and tribulations his enduring Word, the Bible, is our bread, our light, our lamp, our compass, our comfort, and indeed a hammer to crush the hardest of hearts.  That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and life by it.  

Conclusion

There is the world which presents is with fleeting bubbles, the colourful bursting balloons, and the empty eggs — all examples of hollow promises and and empty way of life.  This will cost you your life.

And then there is the new life in Christ which is enduring:  it speaks of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, hope and and eternal home. This come free, because the price is already paid.  May God give us the grace to see life and follow it and set out hope fully on grace in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 April 2018

Born of the Holy Spirit

In his book, An Anthropologist on Mars, neurologist Oliver Sacks tells about Virgil, a man who had been blind from early childhood. When he was 50, Virgil underwent surgery and was given the gift of sight. But having the physical capacity for sight is not the same as seeing.

Virgil’s first experiences with sight were confusing. He was able to make out colours and movements, but arranging them into a coherent picture was more difficult. Over time he learned to identify various objects, but his habits – his behaviours – were still those of a blind man. Dr. Sacks asserts, “One must die as a blind person to be born again as a seeing person. It is the interim, the limbo . . . that is so terrible.

To truly see Jesus and his truth means more than observing what He did or said, it means a change of identity.

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ, you might remember that we said when we began this series from the book of John: the themes we pick up in the first 18 verses are fleshed out further into the Gospel.  In 1:13  we heard that those who believe in Christ are …

children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:13, NIV)

Chapter 3, as we heard it this morning explains this birth.

A new birth is an absolute necessity

During an ad break I flicked through the TV Channels and saw a short bit of a silly movie.  It just happened that a father and his son was on a wild chase, through the streets of a quite neighbourhood.  The father warned his driving son to be careful, because “… this is the Bible belt, Son. These people are born again; they have guns.

The perception is that you have Christians, and then you have born-again Christians.  The first group is seen as the normal, church-going Christians, while the second makes up a weird, sub-group of Christians.

Nothing can be further removed for the Bible.  There is only one group of Christians:  those who are born again.  There is nothing weird about them, and if there is, they themselves do not understand the Bible.

Three times in our chapter Jesus pointed to the indispensable need for the spiritual birth, or the birth from above.  It is impossible to see the kingdom of God without this birth, and without this birth one cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Our previous moderator-general, the Rev David Jones, tells about his conversion.  He grew up in a nominal Christian home.  His church, in his words, was dead and the minister was probably not a true Christian.  When a visiting minister preached from John 3 and pointed out the necessity to be born again, young David (who at that stage made it out for himself that he is an atheist) understood he needs something which only the Holy Spirit could give.  He prayed and asked God to give him a new birth.  God answered his prayer, called him into ministry, and through him called many to come to Christ to be saved.

To be born again is an absolute necessity.  One cannot see the kingdom, or enter it without being born again.  The fact that the Jews, Christ’s own people did not believe in Him (John 1:10-11), was due to the fact that they were Jews by human birth; they were spiritually blind.  The Bible is clear:  only those born of God have their eyes opened to see, and when they are enabled to see, they can enter the kingdom.

Nicodemus, although he was the teacher of Israel, couldn’t and didn’t understand this.  He thought of being born twice physically; Christ corrected his thinking by saying, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

In the beginning Nicodemus said to Christ,

“We know that You are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Well, he thought he knew enough about Christ, but he didn’t.  What he completely missed was that Jesus was not only a teacher, but He was God with the father from all eternity.  What he further didn’t understand was the work of the Holy Spirit who gives new birth.

What we need to understand what our Lord means with, “You must be born again.”  He did not give Nicodemus a command to go and get born again; He purely made a statement of fact.  After that our Lord followed the statement with teaching.

The Holy Spirit opens one’s eyes to see, and gives understanding to believe

Even from the first few verses of the Bible we know that the Holy Spirit actions are metaphorically described as a blowing, life-giving wind.  The difference between mankind and the animals is the breath of God when He breathed life into Adam, whom He made out of dust, who then became a living being.

Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, and death entered into this world.  They remained physically alive for a while, but spiritually they became slaves to sin and its effects.

John introduces to us God’s recreation through his Son, Jesus Christ, whom He sent into this world to become the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Ezekiel 37 tells of a valley of dead bones – a picture of the state of rebellious Israel.  There was no life.  Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy to the dead bones.  These dead bones had to hear the Word of God (37:4).  Then the Lord said,

This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. (Ezekiel 37:5, NIV)

The Word of God is the instrument through which God works to call the spiritually dead to life.  By the preaching of the Word the Holy Spirit works – He never works apart from the Word, which He breathed.  In the previous chapter of Ezekiel the work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit is very closely connected.  Christ is pictured as the One who brought about a new covenant between God and his people.  His blood, instead of the blood of sacrificial animals, purifies.  The picture is that of water which cleans.  The text reads,

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)

From spiritual deadness life flows.  It happens as a work of the Holy Spirit who uses his own inspired Word; the teaching of this Word is about Christ, the One who takes our sins away by his death and resurrection.

Peter puts it this way,

… 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)

He then follows,

… you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23–25, NIV)

This takes us back to a statement of Christ in our chapter of John,

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5, NIV)

This verse does not refer to water baptism, because the water of baptism does not wash away sin; only the blood of Christ can.  If we listen to what Jesus says to his disciples in chapter 15 we begin to understand that this water is the work of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word.  There Jesus says,

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John 15:3, NIV)

Paul writes to Titus,

… when the kindness and the love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, (Titus 3:4–6, NKJV)

The Contemporary English Version translates verse 5,

He saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done. God washed us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gave us new birth and a fresh beginning. (Titus 3:5, CEV)

The work of the Spirit is closely connected to the Word of God which is about Jesus Christ and the salvation He freely gives by grace.  This work of the Spirit is not dependant on us, and we cannot manipulate it;

Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. (John 3:8, CEV)

The birth by the Spirit is possible through Jesus Christ through who God’s love is revealed

Our Lord makes this marvellous statement to Nicodemus,

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. (John 3:13, NIV)

Nicodemus thought Christ was just a teacher, but now he was being taught by the Son of Man.  So, what ’s the connection of this statement of Christ with the previous about the Holy Spirit?  The Spirit reveals the message of God through the preached Word, and that message is about the way God reconciled sinful man to Himself.

Our Lord refers to a day when the Israelites rebelled against God in the desert.  This was rebellion in paradise all over again!  God’s anger was aflamed and many died (sin and death goes hand-in-hand!).  The people confessed their sins and God commanded Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and put it upon a pole.  Those who looked at this snake lived.

Jesus applied this to Himself who became the One who took the sin of the world upon Himself.  He was lifted up like the bronze serpent – whosoever put their believe in Him will have eternal life.

This brings us to the best loved verse in the Bible,

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)

The “so” in this verse may refer back to that way the serpent was life to those who look at it.  It can be translated as “in the same way, God loved the word that He gave his one and only Son …”  But the “so” may also refer to the quality of the love of God – He gave his only Son.

My dear friend, do we comprehend the love of God?  Not only are we spiritually dead and incapable of receiving Christ, we are rebels, kicking against the will of God and swinging the fist at our Creator.  Yet, He loves us; He washes us clean in the blood of his son who took our sins upon Him; He gives us a new birth by his Holy Spirit through the Word of life – this is the Word we now listen to!  It says God loves us, He loves you.  It say He wants to exchange the rebellious heart with a new one, the dead spirit with a new one – one which is able to believe and receive Christ.  This is to be born again?  Are you born again?  The Word does demand that you do the impossible;  it’s just this: listen, there is a knock on your door.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20, NIV)

Are you born again?  You will know.  Listen to what the Bible says:

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:21, NIV)

In the beginning there is darkness.  The Light of the world then appears.  Those who receive Him, to them He has given the right to become children of God – those born of God’s Spirit.

Conclusion

A little girl was asked, “What is it like to be a Christian?”

The little girl replied, “It’s like being a pumpkin.  God picks you up from the patch, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off you.  Then He cuts open the top and scoops out all of the icky stuff.  He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, rebellion, etc. and then He carves you a smiling face and puts his light inside of you so that you can shine his light for all the world to see.

May He make us new and put the light of his Spirit in us to shine the woks of Christ to the world for his glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 October 2016

The life-changing power of God’s Word

Reformation 2014

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 19
  • 1 Peter 1:13-25

Introduction

Us who grew up in modern times will find it hard to imagine life without electricity:  no running water in our homes, no fridges, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, TV’s, computers, air-conditioners … How annoying is it to have only one powerpoint in a room of older homes while we need ten for all the conveniences which depends on electricity.  One thing we can say about  electricity, is that life was literally darker without it.

The Bible describes the world before the coming of Christ also as a dark place; not literally dark, but spiritually dark. John puts it this way:

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (John 1:5, 9)

Peter in the second chapter, referring the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, of his first letter says God “called you out of darkness into his wonderful night.”

The Word of God

Everything about it is excellent

Life without the Word of God, both the Word as the Son of God, and the Word, the Bible is a life of darkness.  In Psalm 19 we read, “The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Read those verse again and you will understand everything about the Word of God is excellent:  it is perfect, reviving the soul; it is trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, they are sure, altogether righteous, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey, and in keeping God’s Word there is great reward.

Paul endorses by saying it is

“able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)

because

“…all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Timothy 3:17)

Without the Word everything else is horrible

There was a time in the history of the church, that it was considered a crime for a member of the church to read to the word of God.  In cases where there were copies of the Bible, uneducated people couldn’t read it because it was in Latin.  There are recorded cases of parishes with a priest who couldn’t read, or did not even have a copy of the Word of God to have someone else read it.  Ordinary churchgoers were then left to believe that strict observance of the seven sacraments of the church of Rome would put them in the right relationship with God.

People like Wycliffe who translated the Scriptures were declared heretics and excommunicated from the church.  He died in 1384, and about 150 years after his death his bones were exhumed and burned to ashes.

So, what was the church of God like without the Word?  In one word:  dark!  Not only for members of the church, but for those who were ordained in the offices.  Moral depravity was rampant, and theological teaching was absent and without life-giving truth.  People believed what they were told without the Scripture to test the teaching.

Financial gain was important for the church to build cathedrals, and to support the priesthood.  Indulgences were introduced, making people believe that their sins were forgiven on account of the amount of financial support they give to the church.  What  further kept people from freedom was the belief that souls could be prayed and bought out of purgatory – all without any Biblical foundation.  The average churchgoer lived in fear for a vengeful God who had nothing but punishment for the sinner.  Not having the promises of the Word of God to read for themselves, they had to rely on the absolution of the priest as their middleman between them and God.

To make things ever worse, because the message of the church was that its government was above and over the civil governments, disobedience to the state also meant disobedience to the church.  It also meant that civil leaders were appointed by the church.  Society was held in fear of a revengeful God who served his punishment through the church who did not hesitate to burn people at the stake.  Thousands upon thousands died, not because they believed in the Bible and Jesus Christ, but because they dared oppose the authority of the church, even if it meant that they ate any thing else but fish on a Friday!

How God uses the Word

We now have to go to the words of 1Peter 1:

… since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God… (1 Peter 1:22–23)

Peter here connects with what he had  already written in verses 10-12. He referred to the work of the prophets as recorded in the Bible, the word of God.  What did these prophets research and write about?  “The Spirit of Christ in them was pointing” to the “sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” which became “the Gospel preached” by people “by the Holy Sprit”.  Peter says in verse 25, “This is the word that was preached to you.”

These sufferings of Christ are the “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”, which He gave to “redeem” us “from the empty way of life.”  This word is the truth:  “You have obeyed the truth.”

So, what happens in the normal scheme of things is that God uses people whom He calls to preach the Word, which is from God, driven by the Holy Spirit.  This word is the truth.  All in the Psalms and the prophets were pointing to Jesus Christ and his redeeming work.  The simple, but treasured message of the Gospel is about Jesus Christ who came into this world to set the sinner free by grace.  His blood is more precious than gold or silver which cannot save and will count for nothing when we appear at the judgement throne before God.  “Through Him you believe in God.”  Why is this so important?  Because only He gives new life!  “God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him.”  The only way to heaven is by faith in Him who redeemed the lost by his blood, by taking their punishment as his own, to die the death they should have died, to raise victoriously from the grave, so that they who believe in Him will live with Him into all eternity.

The redemption God provided for us is complete.  Being dead in our trespasses we would not have the capacity to change ourselves to believe and make what Jesus has done for us our own.  So, the next miracle happens:

“… you have been born again, … through the living and abiding word of God. The word of the Lord stands forever, and this is the word that was preached to you.”

The Spirit of God who once breathed to Word into existence uses this word about Jesus Christ and his life-giving grace to sinner, uses the Word the bring about life from above.  What this new birth makes us children of God.  John also referred to this in his Gospel:

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13)

Paul puts in these terms:

But God … made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:4–6)

Listen to this wonderful word of grace and hope:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:3–4)

No paying of indulgences, no purgatory, no ongoing moneys, no ongoing life-wrenching fair.  Its grace, free grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The truth of this Gospel sets us free!  It is through the Word of God, brought about by the Holy Spirit, speaking about Jesus Christ, that we believe:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

Now we understand the cry of the reformers: the Word alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, all for the glory of God alone.

A holy life

If salvation is ultimately for the glory of God, it speaks for itself that our lives should forth his glory.  As his “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” we are called to live holy lives, because God is holy.   One of the main ingredients of the diet of the Christian to live to the glory of God, is to

“… like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.

Why?  “We have tasted that the Lord is good.

Conclusion

My friend, allow me to say that your spiritual life, if not rooted in the Word of God, and your walk in the Lord, if not daily fed by the spiritual milk of the Word of God, is most probably almost dead.  I say this because it’s the truth based on the Word itself.  As children of the Reformation we have to go back to where it all started:  a rediscovery of the Scriptures.  Don’t allow your walk in the Lord to be lifeless because your study of God’s Word is wanting.  It is by this Word that you will be able to stand against the onslaught of the enemy.  The Word is after all, in our battle against evil, the only weapon of offence; all the other things are for defence (Ephesians 6).  May God help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 November 2014

Born again – a new life!

“To be born again is to enter into a new existence, to have a new mind, a new heart, new views, new principles, new tastes, new affections, new likings, new dislikes, new fears, new joys, new sorrows, new love to things once hated, new hatred to things once loved, new thoughts of God, ourselves, the world, the life to come and salvation.”

~ J.C. Ryle

Imperishable new life

The seed of God’s word is imperishable, and therefore, the life that it generates and sustains is imperishable.

The blood of Christ is of infinite value, and therefore, its value never runs out. It is an imperishable value. That is how we are ransomed. That’s the price of the new life we receive in the new birth. And Jesus paid it for us…

What comes into being in the new birth will never die. I think Peter is emphasizing this because the overarching context of his letter is suffering. Don’t be daunted by your suffering. Even if they take your physical life, they cannot take the life you have by the new birth. That is imperishable.

Piper, J. (2009). Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again (81). Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications Ltd.