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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God’s Act of Salvation: Biblical framework for salvation

Important themes

There are main themes running through the Scriptures. To understand how God’s grace and our salvation come together, we need to keep the following truths in mind:

God

  • God, the Creator, is holy, loving, just, righteous, merciful and faithful (Isaiah 6:3; 1John 4:8, 16; Exodus 34:6-7; Nehemiah 9:32-33.) 

Man

  • Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and were capable to choose between good and evil—however, they believed Satan, chose evil, and as a result lost their free will. (Genesis 3:1-6, John 8:44, James 1:13-15, Revelation 12:9)

Sin

  • Every person ever born after Adam and Eve is born in sin (Psalm 51:5; Job 15:14; John 3:6; Romans 5:12-17; 1Corinthians 15:21-22.) 
  • Sin separates us from God (Genesis 3:6-8; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23).
  • Sinful as we are, based on our own efforts, we don’t have the capacity in ourselves to establish a relationship with God (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:10-12; Colossians 2:13).

Christ, the Holy Spirit and new birth

  • God demands a perfect redemption to make us his children.  Jesus Christ, being perfect God (sinless) and perfect man (born as a human being, yet without sin) is the only answer to our need to live in a relationship with God (Hebrews 7:18-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1John 3:5).
  • Based on the perfect redemption of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us birth from above and enables us to live, work and pray as children of God (John 3:3-6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 8:9-10)

The Bible

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God through which we know God, hear of God’s grace, know our sinfulness, and learn about the gifts of grace through Jesus Christ.  (1Corinthians 15:1-2, 1Peter 1:23-25, 2Peter 1:20-21, Hebrews 4:12)

Christian living

  • Jesus’ death and resurrection satisfied God’s righteousness: this is the only means by which God declares us righteous to be adopted as His children.  God made us holy to live holy lives, honouring Him in what we do.  (Romans 5:6-8; Galatians 3:10-14; Hebrews 9:11-14; Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Peter 1:15, 22, 2Peter 2:9-12)

Eternal life

  • Faith unites us with Christ, and faith in Him makes us share in his inheritance, which is eternal life with God (Romans 6:5-6; Colossians 2:9-12).

Application 

1.  Read through the verses under each of the headings above.  Write in your own words what the Bible says about 

1.1 God

 

1.2 Man

 

1.3 Sin

 

1.4 Christ, the Holy Spirit and new birth

 

1.5 The Bible

 

1.6 Christian living

 

1.7 Eternal life

 

2.  Now, using the structure of the headings above and write your testimony of how God called you to be his child

2.1 How did you learn more about God?

 

2.2 How did you become aware that you need salvation?

.

2.3 Once you became aware of your lostness in sin, who did you go to for forgiveness?

 

2.4 What role does the Bible play in your spiritual development?

 

2.5 How do you apply Biblical principles in your daily living?

 

2.6 Does eternity matter?  Why?

 

3. In a short paragraph apply what you know from this section to tell others about the grace of God’s gracious salvation for sinners?

 

God’s holy aliens in a dark world

Scripture Readings:

  • John 17:6-19
  • 1Peter 2:11-14

Main thoughts

  • Who/what is “the world”?
  • Christians are sojourners/pilgrims
  • Why abstain from this world?
  • Why engage with this world

Introduction

Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, is indeed a light on the dark pages of war history. She wrote in her diary, “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”  In 1850 she visited a Lutheran religious community working for the sick and the deprived. She regarded the experience as a turning point in her life.  She gathered around her volunteer nurses who dedicated themselves to caring for British soldiers in the Crimean War. 

During her first winter ten times more soldiers died from illnesses than from battle wounds. Although Florence’s immediate tasks was to care for sick British soldiers, she understood that God called her to core for all who were sick: when circumstances called for her to do so, she then cared for the wounded of the enemy.

Florence stood in solidarity with her own people, but she in a different way engaged with the enemy for their good. Something of this attitude should be in the heart of every Christ.

Peter pleaded with the Christians he wrote to:  

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11–12, NIV)

If we listen carefully to this urgent call we hear two things:

  • You are foreigners – abstain
  • You are foreigners – engage

What/who is the “world”?

Christians are not from this world, but they are part of this world; this is the basis for the Bible to call us to abstain, but to also engage.  So what or who is the “world”? There is probably more uses of this term “world” in the Bible.  Let’s get three.

What God created

God created this world/universe and everything on/in/above it.  All things seen and unseen He made.  When Christ returns to give us a new heaven and new earth, God will demand from us accountability of how we cared for it.

The people

The nations, tongues and tribes living on earth are also referred to as the world.  They received their languages and their territories to live and have children from God.  If we do not have love and concern for their spiritual well-being, we do not understand the Gospel and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He sends us out to the ends of this world.

The evil/morally corrupt/those who oppose God

When Christians are called not to love this world, they should not identify with the enemy of God.  Sometimes the Bible uses another word within the same context:  it talks about the flesh, or things of the flesh.  Paul writes:

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. (Romans 7:5, NKJV)

  He also states: 

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:6–7, NKJV)

James  writes: 

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

 John writes:  

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 John 2:15–16, NKJV)

Jesus prays for his disciples the night before He was arrested:  

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (John 17:14–19, NIV)

Not from this world

When Peter writes to the scattered Christians, he over and over again calls them strangers or aliens in this world. Our home, address, new nature because of our new birth by the Holy Spirit gives us a new identity.  The cross of our Lord is the place where it all changes.  Paul writes:  

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NIV)

So we ask ourselves, “Whose side am I on?  Where do I belong?  What is my hope?  Where is my home? Where do my priorities in life lead me?” The way we live is the tell-tale of where we come from and where we are going.  Richard Sibbes, one of the godly people of his time, was known as a man  who had heaven in him before he went to heaven!

Abstain from this world

The text for today calls us to abstain from this world.  Why?

We are sojourners

We are from a foreign country, we live here temporarily, and here we don’t have citizenship rights; we are passing through.   

What is it to “abstain”?

This is a very interesting Greek word.  It has in its root the word “to have”.  In some contexts it means to have enough.  When someone paid you for the debts he owed you, your account is settled – you have had enough; you should abstain from taking more of that person.  Mom taught us to say no when we had enough pudding; only gluttons would have more.

What is it that Christians already have in full so that they should say “no”, or refuse this world?  Let’s see.  

“In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4, NIV)  

That’s not all.  

“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)

More than that a Christian does not need.  In fact, anything of this world will tarnish and corrode that hope.  You’ve had enough!  Hands off!  Your satisfaction is the cross of Christ and his free offer of grace and salvation.  The Israelites looked for more that God.  Jeremiah cries out: 

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13, NIV)

It’s war!

This morally corrupt world has nothing to offer Christians.  This world is under the control of Satan, the prince of this world (John 14:30).  He is the father of the lie, he was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. (John 8:44, NIV).

The world’s friend is God’s enemy.  The spirit of this world opposes the Spirit of God.  There is the Kingdom of light, and the kingdom of darkness, complete opposites, ruled by opposite principles, practices and ends.  If we set our hearts on the things of this world we will necessarily find ourselves turning our back upon God and abandon his people. 

Abstain from this world!  It will destroy you.  

Engage with this world

Verse 12 of 1 Peter 2 continues:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

Yes, Christians find themselves in a hostile world.  But we can choose to lock ourselves up against the sin of this world to remain untouched by its sin, like those who lived in cloisters and monasteries – and have no impact on this world – and in the process be disobedient to the command of our Saviour to go into the world.  Or we can maintain a distance ignorance:  we would bother you as long as you don’t bother us, and in the process disobey the command of our Lord to be light and salt of the world.  Or we can be so occupied with the world that we want to do everything the way they do, as long as we sugarcoat it with a Bible verse.  That way we have become worldly.  This not God’s plan for his church.

Like Florence Nightingale we need to be engaged, without becoming sick ourselves.  We need to serve this world by Christian and holy living so that they might see our good deeds and glorify God.

Yes, we might get the blame for every thing wrong in this world.  There are those who blame Christians for the wars in the worlds; other blame us for not being loving, hanging around us the tag of bigots and homophobes because we stand by the Word of God about sexuality;  they will blame us for all evil if stand on the Word and oppose same sex marriages or expose the evil of abortion.  In Caesar Nero’s time Christians, who were covered in porch to serve as human torches, even got the blame for the fire that destroyed Rome.

Christians are not called to go out and pick a fight with the world; they only need to keep doing what they are supposed to do and persecution will come.  If we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, they will hate us for it.  If we proclaim that God is the creator of the world and that things did not happen by evolution, they will hate us for it.  If we proclaim that people are born sinful and need redemption, they will hate us for it. Today one many disobey the laws of the land it you dare to hold out hope to homosexual people, (it may now even be against the law to offer new hope in Jesus Christ to those who in because of sinfully blinded minds, misunderstand human sexual behaviour!) because they are perfectly normal as they are, and we are not suppose to tell them otherwise. We need to do so, because we understand the horror of sin; to us applies the truth of verse: God called us out of darkness into His marvellous light; we ourselves once were not a people but are now the people of God, we once had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10, NKJV)

But these things we need to do.  We are the priests between God and the lost.  We need to love with the love of Christ.  We need to engage in a world full of misunderstanding and opposition, because there are scores who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.  They hurt, they search, they are alone.  If we shine the light of the Gospel in this dark world, the Bible says, they will glorify God the day He visits them.  This should be understood in a positive way:  when God reveals Himself in grace to the lost, there will be those who will thank God for the faithful witness of his people, who in spite of persecution and opposition did not compromise the Gospel – and that Gospel and witness will lead them to salvation.

Conclusion

Joseph understood something of this when he became ruler of Egypt:  he was never at home in the palace of the pharaoh, but he was a blessing to the Egyptians.

Daniel too understood this principle well; he served his God under the king of Babylon and was a blessing to them, but he never worshipped their gods – he was willing to spend time in the lion’s den to not compromise his principles.  In the end Nebuchadnezzar believed.  Daniel’s friends did the same.

Through Jeremiah God commanded his people who were taken into captivity:  

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. (Jeremiah 29:7–8, NIV)

May God help us to abstain from this – it’s war against our souls.  May He give us the grace to engage in this world, so He will receive the glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 20 May 2018

 

Live as adopted child in the holy family of God (3)

Bible readings

  • 1 Corinthians 13
  • 1Peter 1:17-2:3

Introduction

Brothers and sister in the Lord,

Our society is made up of different general collections:  there is the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Y and Z.  These divisions of course are artificial and ostensibly used to excuses certain age groups for acting decent and civilised.  The mindset of our time is post-modernistic.  We moved through the scientific age, where science was the norm for truth, into the post scientific age, the age of modernism, into post modernism.  What is the norm for truth in our age is not the Scripture which gives us a Biblical worldview, based on absolute truth centred in the immutable (unchanging) God as expressed in his Word; the norm for truth is now squarely centred in us—and more so in the individual “me”.  Every individual is now the norm: it does not only have an immeasurable impact on how we determine absolutes; the individual has now become the centre of his or her universe, and rights and wrongs are based on personal preferences, and not on objective truths. 

This has rubbed off on church people and how they look at the church:  church should meet individual expectations, individual truth, and individual lifestyles.

Every Christian will understand that this means dangerous waters for any church to be found in.

Our study of 1 Peter up to this point taught us:

  • We are brought into the family of God by an act of God:  new birth.  This new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit, which also gave us the Scriptures—and all of Scripture is focussed on the redemptive work of Christ. This new birth means that we have now become foreigners to the world we live in; the way we live is determined from heaven and not from this word.
  • Being redeemed by grace through Christ Jesus, every individual member of the church of Christ is called to live according to the  holy standards of Holy God:  because God is holy, so should his church be.  Our lives are Christ-focussed, we are ready to serve as God’s people, having crucified the principles of our former hollow and meaningless lives.  

But this us not where we may stop.  See, it is not about “me” and “I”.  This idea is not in agreement with the Scriptures.  Our text this morning helps us to understand.

The holy family of God

Verse 17 introduces us to the reality that believers who are living lives which are determined from above, by the Father thought the Holy Spirit, based on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, are members of a bigger family.  

And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; (1 Peter 1:17, NKJV)

The “you” and “your” in this verse is not the singular, or individual “you”; it is the plural—and this refers to the fact that “I” and “you” are not part of a group of individuals who happened to be in church;  no, we are part of the covenant family.  This takes us to verse 22: 

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart. (1 Peter 1:22, NKJV)

Uncommon love

The culture of the Roman Empire in which Peter lived did not understand Christian love, which is sacrificial dedication to one another.  The culture of the time considered putting others before yourself as weak and undesirable:  one had to fight a hard fight to get into the higher echelons of society, and giving too much time and effort to those who struggled stood in the way of getting to the top.

That’s why, even in our society, so infiltrated by individualism, Christianity almost does not have any place anymore.  It’s everyone for him or herself.  Life’s too short to waste time on strugglers.  They had their opportunity, just like me, and they missed the boat; too bad!

This was not how our Lord looked at the world which He came to serve: it was precisely the outcast, the struggler, the sinner, the ones who missed the boat, whom He poured his love out on.  Who cares about the hungry in our society with all its opportunities?  Who cares about the thirsty?  Who cares about the stranger to invite them in?  Who cares about those in need of clothes when everything is so cheap at the opp shops?  And what about the prisoners—they got what they deserved and they live in upper-star hotels these days.

And yet, our Lord was quite clear in his parable of Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40, NKJV)

Conditioned love

Peter writes to the elect of God:

love one another fervently with a pure heart. (1 Peter 1:22, NKJV)

Three attitudes must qualify our brotherly love:  

  • It must be from the heart:  the heart is the fountain of all we are, think and act.  We even use an icon of the heart to indicate love.  May of these are carved out on tree trunks and painted on concrete bridges.
  • Genuine:  this is the opposite of being hypocritical.  Another expression here is holier-than-thou, insincere or dishonest. Saying one thing and doing the other.  That’s not genuine.  Such an attitude is contrary to Christian love.
  • Pure:  this attitude describes a love which is unfailing and undiminishing, irrespective of how circumstances may change.  One commentator puts it this way:  in view of the approaching end Christians should see to it that their love for one another endures against self-seeking.  The Apostle Peter, in chapter 4:8 come back to this:  

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NKJV)

It takes us to the reading from 1 Corinthians 13 this morning:  

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, NKJV)

How does love look like in practice:  Lets listen to how Peter understood it:  

Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:9–11, NKJV)

Paul, in Romans 12 spells it out:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another… distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:9–19, NKJV)

O, we need this on the church today.  As it is, we don’t always need an enemy to destroy us, we are just doing a fine job ourselves:  we can so easily gossip, spread stories, sow doubt, slander—sometime just to keep a “delightful” story going.  Christians must always speak the truth, and if they don’t have the facts, they should find where a story comes from and verify the facts from the source; if they can’t, they should withhold themselves from destructive gossip, and also intervene to stop gossip.  

Love founded on the Scripture itself

Peter continues his line of love towards other Christians by giving us two very good reasons why we should love one another:

We have become members of the family of God based on the same grace

 Verse 23 also uses the plural “you”:  

You have been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, (1 Peter 1:23, NKJV)

All Christians have exactly the same standing in birth and in grace before God.  It is by the Word, through the Holy Spirit, based on the redemption of Jesus Christ and by his righteousness, that we all are saved.  There was no merit on which we could boast; no one was better or worse than the other; no one deserved more or less than the other; no one had a better chance based on a better heritage, and no one can actually boast in being worse than other and therefore should receive more grace than the other.  We are all just children of God; saved sinners, saved by grace!

We have become members of the family of God based on the same standard

All Christians have only one basis on which they can grow, and to which standard they should grow:  the Word of God.  Therefore, to all applies this command:  

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, (1 Peter 2:1–2, NKJV)

The expression “spiritual milk”, or “milk of the Word” is insightful.  If we have to paraphrase it, it could read like this:  Like newborn babies desire what comes naturally for people who know that the Lord is good.  Paul uses the same word in Romans 12:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1, NKJV)

We have the work logical from this word:  it describes a consequence of something rational:  the point being a new birth, by the Sprit through the Word, based on the righteousness of Christ, by the grace of God.  

If that is what you say happened to you, the logical consequence  should be that your love towards other Christians should be based on the same Word which gave you life.

Conclusion

I find it amazing that new born babies have no regards for place, time or surroundings to make known its craving for milk.  When hungry, it demands a drink, irrespective fo who they might upset.  So should our hunger for the Word also be:  nothing should stop us for our next time of nourishment to grow in Christ and to serve one another. 

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 6 May 2018

 

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Bible readings

  • Numbers 14:1-12
  • 1 Peter 1:1-9

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord, in many gardens grows a shrub with the botanical name brunfelsia latifolia, which is commonly known as Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow.  This name comes from the way its flowers are changing in colour form one day to the next. Each bloom opens violet-purple, fade to pale lavender-blue, becomes almost white and is dead by the fourth day.  The oldest flower is the least attractive, and the newest the prettiest.

In some way this corresponds with Christian life as God ordained it in Jesus Christ.  Our yesterday is the least attractive, and our today looks somewhat better, but our tomorrow is the brightest.

Unfortunately the spiritual life of many Christians appears to be the opposite:  there was a day when everything was fresh and bright, but was time marched on it became colourless, and might even be on the brink of death.

Was there progression and growth in your spiritual life?  And in the spiritual life of our congregation?  The Bible teaches in Hebrews 6:1

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (Hebrews 6:1)

The sermon this morning is titled “Yesterday, today and tomorrow.”  This message is from 1Peter 1:1-9.

God’s elect – yesterday

I use the word “yesterday” in terms of the life which was once outside of the will of God, but by God’s grace drawn into a relationship with Him.  It is not the purpose of this sermon to explain the doctrines of election, sanctification and salvation in depth, but as these terms are undergirding what follows in the rest of the chapter we need to understand our “yesterday” in terms of the redeeming work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  So, briefly, follow along in your Bibles from verse 1.

A Chosen People

God’s elect, his church called from all eternity, is a people chosen by God the Father according to His perfect and immutable (unchanging) foreknowledge.  This doctrine is referred to as predestination.  We do not choose God; He chose us.  He does so based on the redemptive work of his Son, Jesus Christ, through the preaching of the Word.

A Sanctified People

God’s elect is a people sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  This word also implies dedication.  The Holy Spirit works in the lives of those whom God has chosen to present them to God as being holy.  He sets us apart for service to God.  As Moses and Aaron dedicated, purified or sanctified the sacred things to be acceptable to God in his service, so does the Holy Spirit sanctify us to service before God.

An Obedient People

As the blood of the sacrificial animal, which brought about forgiveness of sin was sprinkled on the altar, so the blood of Jesus Christ puts us in a relationship of being justified and forgiven, and therefore called to obedience to God.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is active in making us God’s children – his elect, his own people.  Out of darkness (our “yesterday”) we are now called to be a chosen generation, a holy people belonging to God.  This gracious act of God flows into the repentance of man.  Called by God, we turn away from sin, and turn towards Him to follow Him.  We leave our “yesterday” behind us and we walk (our “today“) in the light of his mercy and grace.

As such, as his people, we are his church.  We are now strangers in the world, because our citizenship is in heaven.  We are still in the world, but not from this world.

The “tomorrow” of God’s elect

But as we turned away from our “yesterday”, or our past, we now face a bright new “tomorrow”.  We are put on a new path.  Therefore we are a people of hope, because we have an inheritance awaiting us.

A People of hope

The perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary was not only enough to save us; the victory of the cross also became the victory over the grave.  Jesus Christ was resurrected.  And as such, He became the First-fruit, or the guarantee for all the elect to receive a new birth. As He was resurrected by the Father, so we receive from the Father as new birth, a new life.  The old has passed away, the new has come.  This gives us a hope.  Now hope in the Bible is a sure anchor in the future.  Christ ascended into heaven, and we learn from Ephesians 2:6 the following:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:6)

You see the anchor in Christ?  In principle we already have that hope, that anchor.  It is in heaven in Jesus Christ.  He is our hope.

A People with an inheritance

Now if [because] we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if [because] indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)

God’s will, written in the blood of Jesus Christ, stands firm.  Peter describes his inheritance with three words:

  •   “Incorruptible” means that it can never corrode, crack, or decay. It is death-proof.
  •   “Undefiled” means that the inheritance itself is in perfect condition. No tarnish or stain can dim its purity. It is sin-proof.
  •   That does “not fade” away means that it can never suffer variations in value, glory, or beauty. It is time-proof.

In this life an heir may die before an inheritance is divided. But the same grace that preserves the heavenly inheritance preserves us as heirs to enjoy it. God’s election of His people can never be frustrated. Those who were chosen in eternity past are saved in time and kept for eternity to come. The believer in Christ is eternally secure.

By God’s power our inheritance is kept safe.  By faith we take hold of it.  Faith is therefore the rope or chain connected to the anchor of our hope.  By faith we are drawn towards our hope.

Not only was Jesus Christ crucified; He was also resurrected unto a new life.  Not only was He resurrected; He also ascended into heaven.  And He left us the sure guarantee that He will return again.  Something of our salvation we already enjoy right now, but the full benefit of a new life in Christ will be revealed with his return.

God’s elect – today

Of course, between our “yesterday” and our “tomorrow” lies the “today”.  There are many people who would want to escape the present to be raptured into glory with Christ right now.  But that is not how it works.

Grief and trials

The people Peter addressed this letter to were scattered, probably because of persecution by the Jews or even the Romans.  To be a Christian is not always easy.  Some are called to suffer for Christ. But, Peter said, compared to an eternity with God, the present suffering is only for “a little while”.  In Luke 12:4-5 our Lord says that times can be tough for Christians, but:

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:4-5)

So, Christians are not led past trails and tribulations, but through them.  We are not exempt of hard times; the point is to not give up when those times come.  Faith teaches us to trust God, even in difficult times.

In refinement

Sufferings are neither purposeless nor fruitless. One of the many beneficial purposes of afflictions in this life for the child of God is to test the genuineness of his faith. Peter contrasts our faith with gold. Of all the substances known to man, gold is probably one of the most durable and sought after. It can be subjected to intense heat and might seem to be indestructible. But the truth is that gold perishes through use, pressure, and fire.

When prevailing conditions are favourable, it might be easy to be a Christian. But when public confession of Christ brings persecution and suffering, then the casual followers drift away and are lost in the crowd. A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing. Faith which refuses to pay the price is counterfeit.

Being prepared for glory

Genuine faith will result in praise, honour, and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed. This simply means that God will reward every instance of faith that stood the test. He will praise those who are joyful though surrounded by trouble. He will award honour and glory to tried and suffering believers who were able to accept their tribulations as a vote of confidence from Him.

God’s elect – yesterday has faded out and today is shaped by tomorrow 

It fills us with gratitude when we look back on God’s election, the gift of our salvation, our justification, and our sanctification because of the blood sacrifice of Christ and his victory over death.  We give our lives to the Lord to thank Him for undeserved grace.  But it is here where we perhaps fall short.  I cannot spiritually grow by constantly looking back.  I don’t only serve God just because I am grateful for salvation out of the bleakness of my lostness.  When this is my only perspective, another problem can so easily sneak in by stealth:  it is the idea that I have to repay God for his mercies.  My dedication to God is therefore nothing more than an action driven by some form of guilt that I actually owe God.  He has done so much for me, I have to do something for Him!  This notion is nowhere to be found in the Bible – not explicitly in any case.  How many Christians struggle with this problem!  Their Christian walk before God becomes a series of payments because they feel themselves in debt before God.

This leads to spiritual stagnation and paralysis.  Some see themselves as being caught in the “trap” of grace.  I have to do something, because I am saved.  The only thing that counts is passed sin, or my “yesterday”.

We have heard about the future.  There is hope, there is an inheritance, and there is and eternity.  That is our “tomorrow”!  The child of God is called, not to attempt to “pay back” what is owed to God; we cannot do it!  What the Bible is teaching is that there is even more grace stored up for us.   It is by faith that we take hold of it.  Good deeds which want pay back for salvation look back into the rearview mirror.  Faith which understands mercy, on the other hand, builds upon gratitude and looks forward. When the going gets tough, it endures.  It doesn’t give up.  It says:  because God was good to me in the past, I hold on to the future which is sure.  More than that, in the midst of all the trails and tribulation, I rejoice.  Paul says the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come.   And this verse talks about inexpressible and glorious joy.  He who sees the hope, he who takes hold of the future and serve God by faith, he grows.

Conclusion

The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land.  Behind them was their “yesterday” – they were rescued from slavery.  They looked back on their salvation.  Ahead of them was their “tomorrow” – sure, because it was promised by God over generations.  Then they struck the hard patch:  they had to conquer and destroy the people who lived in their Promised Land.  These were giants who made the Israelites feel like grasshoppers compared to them.  And their eyes became fixed on their yesterday.  God said:  How long will they refuse to believe in Me?  They lost sight of their tomorrow, and they lost faith in God.  God struck them with the plague and a journey that would have taken them a few months to complete became forty years of wandering the desert.

There is the pale blue colour of the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub.  In as sense the tomorrow has the brightest blue.  Don’t allow the troubles of today allow your tomorrow to be pale.  And of course, your yesterday should not have the brightest blue. Our eternal hope makes us forget “yesterday”, and it shapes our “today.”   AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 8 April 2018

 

Ignoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Scripture readings

  • Deuteronomy 4:1-14
  • Hebrews 2:1-4

Introduction

A group of children are on the playgrounds during recess.  Out of the blue one starts screaming at another.

“What you are saying about me is not true!” The other said. “Someone else is telling lies about me.”

“No, I believe them.  You are a little gossip, and need to be taught a lesson.”

Without warning this student stepped forward and gave the other a good sleep in the face.  The other students moved closer, too eager to see the fight.

The one who got the slap, reeled back, trying to protect his face from the next blow.  “Stop doing this! You are hurting me.”

“You deserve it, and I will show you to respect me as leader on this playground.”

Suddenly the onlookers stepped back.  Why?  The teacher on duty appeared on the scene.

“What is going on here?  Who started this?”, the teacher demanded.

“She did. Not only is she a gossip, she is also mean, always looking for a fight!”

With a stern face the teacher looked at the student who got the slap.  “So, you’re a troublemaker.  I want to see you in the principal’s office.  Go!”

There was a dead silence for a moment, but as soon as the teacher disappeared around the corner, student No 1 yelled out, “That will teach her who’s got the say around here!”

With a bouncing heart the other student entered the principal’s office.

“So, I was told you started a brawl on the playground.  What do you have to say for yourself?”, the principal demanded.

“I did not start it. I did not even do a thing. It was the other girl—she accused me and slapped my face.” She replied with a shivering voice.

“Well it’s your word against her’s.  Who shall I believe?”, the principal asked.

There was a knock on the door.  “Yes come in!”, the principal shouted, clearly not impressed with what is happening.

Three other students entered the office. They walked up to the principals desk, clearly uneasy, staring down.

“I’m actually busy at the moment, trying to teach this girl something about respect for others.  Why are you here?”

“Sir, we were right there when all of this happened.  We are witnesses for the truth, because we saw it all.  This student did not do a thing, it was the other student who just wanted to start it all.  We don’t make up this story, we are here because we want you to know the truth.”

There was silence again.  The accused student looked up to the others.  She did not really know them.  Why would they do it?

“Sir, believe us.  Not only do we want to show respect for our school, its rules, your discipline and the wellbeing of all students, we also know the truth.”

“Well”, the principal said looking at the accused student, “you can count yourself fortunate that you have witnesses.  They were there, they know the truth, and I accept their word for it.  You are free to go.  Please ask the duty teacher to send the other student in.  I don’t delight having liars and bully on my playgrounds.”

Between sure trouble and walking away free, stood witnesses who told the truth.  In the same way can we go free form God’s judgement:  the witnesses about Jesus Christ are telling the truth. We’ll hear more about those witnesses today.

What is the Gospel about Jesus Christ?

We heard the Word last week from the first chapter of Hebrews.  It proclaims the greatness of the Second Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ the Son of God.  He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God being.  Through Him God created everything which was created.  Everything God created holds together in Jesus Christ.  Christ is God’s way of speaking to us.

What God has to say—and once again we have to think of God’s creating, or rebirth of sinners, and the calling of a new nation, a new people over which He will reign as overhang King—God says through and by Jesus Christ who is the Beginner, the foundation of the new house of God, the Perfecter of the act of the salvation of lost sinners.

Christ is above the angels who worship Him. His throne will last forever, and He will make his enemies his footstool.

Chapter 2 introduces us in more things Christ did.  When God saw the helplessness of sinful mankind, who fell from its glorious role of caretaker of God’s creation after the fall, He did not turn his back on them; rather, He was mindful of them.  What did He do?  You know this by heart.

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)

Jesus, who was reigning with the Father in absolute glory and majesty, had everything subject to Him.  He willingly became lower than the angels, came into this world to suffer death. (2:9)

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered. (Hebrews 2:10, NIV)

Holy and perfect Jesus, God from all eternity, by taking mankind’s sin upon Him calls us “brothers”, and He is not ashamed to say so (2:11-12).  He trusted that God’s plan of salvation in Him will stand (2:13).  He therefore stands before the throne of God and says, “Here am I, and the children God has given Me.” (2:13)

He shared in our humanity be taking on flesh and blood.  When He died, He died like us will die:  his heart stoped beating, he entered death and they buried Him. But He rose again, destroying death.  Listen:

… by his death He broke the power of Him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15, NIV)

He did so, because He was the faithful, merciful High Priest who made atonement of the people. Further:

Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18, NIV)

This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God’s Son left his throne of glory, sided with sinners, died from them, rose for them, and now calls them his brothers.  Do you want to hear God’s good news:  listen to Jesus!

Is the Gospel about Jesus Christ the truth?

You do not need to believe my word regarding the Gospel.  In the end, like the student before the principal, who can vouch for the truth?

2:2 takes us to the angels as God’s messengers.  Although God wrote the Ten Commandments, the Bible teaches that they mediated the commandments to the people of God.  God set up his Covenant with his people by giving the angels to confirm the verity of it.  If was binding, and as we read in Deuteronomy 4 this morning, not believing it and not living by it, invoked God’s wrath and led to death.

Concerning Jesus the angels were once again God’s messenger in announcing his birth, as well as the night He was born.  What they said was the truth.

More than that.  The Lord God Himself announced the Lordship of Christ.  “This is my Son, listen to Him?”  The voice of God directly from heaven is recoded in the Gospels:  at his birth (Lk 2:9), at the beginning of his earthly ministry (Mk 1:11, Mt 3:16-17), and and the end of his public ministry (John 12:28).

More than that.  The disciples heard the voice of God from heaven, they heard to Lord Jesus talking to them and teaching them, they saw Him, they witnessed his works of salvation, they saw Him being crucified, they saw the open grave, they once again sat at his feet for forty days before He ascended into heaven.  What they heard and saw, they recorded.  This is what we have as the New Testament.  About this Peter writes:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-18, 20–21, NIV)

Add to this then the testimony of the Holy Spirit. God gave signs and wonders and miracles which was confirmed by the Holy Spirit.  The men who were made apostles to be the witnesses of Jesus Christ for the truth about his Gospel, could only do so because they were driven by the Holy Sprit.  The Bible is given by the Holy Spirit, and it testifies about Jesus Christ.

The angels, God speaking from heaven, apostles been gifted and driven by the Holy Spirit, the apostles who performed signs and miracles in the name of Christ—they are the true witnesses about Christ.  The Gospel is the truth.  That why Peter writes:

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19, NIV)

If it is the truth, can we ignore it?

The writer go Hebrews asks this rhetorical question:

How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:3, NIV)

One can escape out of something dangerous, or once can escape into safety.  This text refers to the first:  escaping from danger.  What is the danger?  Verse 2 gives the answer:  disobedience calls for punishment.  What punishment and who is the one who brings punishment?  The writer of Hebrews answers later in his book:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-29, 31, NIV)

Do you remember the parable of the Lord, inviting people to the banquet?  Some ignored it, they treated it with indifference.  They Greek word describes the opposite of a word meaning taking care or showing concern.  To ignore is the opposite:  it is to show no concern.  It is to say, “Who cares?”

Conclusion

The Gospel of Christ is God’s way of speaking to us, telling us that He cared for us and loved us by seeing his son to pay the penalty for our sins, to taste death on our behalf, to destroy the power of Satan, and to stand at God’s throne calling us his brothers.

This Gospel is the truth.  God the Father announced it, the angels proclaimed it, the apostles saw and heard it, the Holy Spirit had it written down in the Bible.

Will you neglect it?  If so, how will you escape God’s wrath for trampling underfoot the blood of Christ?

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 March 2018

 

Who is the saviour, Jesus Christ?

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 110
  • Hebrews 1

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

The topic of this sermon is “Who is the saviour, called Jesus Christ?”  Who is Jesus Christ?

Is it possible that we live in a time of unparalleled Biblical illiteracy?  We have unprecedented access to Bible translations, Bible programs, studies and information.  About everyone has an electronic device in his or her pocket with at least one translation of the Scriptures on it.  Yet, careful examination of the state of the church, more so in the western world, paints a shocking picture. Little wonder then that someone thought Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife!  Most church-goers today do not know the Ten Commandments.  And this is just basic Bible knowledge; it says nothing about true commitment to Christ in Christian living and service to his Kingdom.

Who is Jesus Christ?

How would you answer the question, Who is Jesus Christ?

A common answer in church circles to the question, Who is Jesus Christ?, goes like this, “He died for me on the cross.”

There are enormous problems with this response, not because of what is said, but because of what is not included in this answer.

First of all, this answer puts the focus on me—He died for me.  He came to give me a hand.  So, when I need Him for health, wealth, success, and getting out of trouble, He will help me.  He came into my world for me; nothing about his Kingdom and Kingship and how He should be worshipped is even heard of in this response.  Furthermore, because it is about me—individual me—we hear nothing about the rest of the people of Christ as his church of which all of us are members as one family.

To only state “He died for me on the cross” when you give an answer about who Jesus is, has gaping holes in it, and might expose the temperature of your spiritual life, and the level of your understanding of the gospel.

Secondly, Christ did not only come to die, He came to conquer everything which separates us from God—this includes sin, Satan, death and hell. It is therefore more accurate to say He come to die and conquer death through his sacrifice on the Cross and his resurrection.

But there’s more to it:  He is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He is the King of all kings.  He is indeed God!

So, let’s get the Biblical answer on who Jesus Christ is.  I trust that God will help all of us to know who his Son, Jesus Christ, is, so we can worship Him as Lord and King.

Let’s look to heaven through the lens of the Bible

To answer the question Who is Jesus Christ? We need to understand the Bible as the Word of God which is given to us to give us and understanding of who God is.

Go with me to Hebrews 1.

Jesus Christ is God’s word

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son … (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

In the days before Jesus took on flesh and was born as a human being God communicated with his people—He made his will clear—in different ways.  Unless God revealed Himself none would know who He is, what He is, and what his will is.

In order for his people to know Him and to understand his Person and will, to know his plan of salvation after the fall of Adam and Eve, and to what all things lead and how all things will come to a final conclusion at the end of time, God used prophets and priests.  The prophets declared God’s will and the priests interceded on behalf of the people with sacrifices and prayers.  Some people saw visions, other dreamed dreams.  In some cases God used major signs and miracles—like when Israel was rescued out of Egypt; just think of the plagues, God’s provision for his people in the desert, and Him giving them a land.

There was the great Moses, Aaron the high priest with others who sacrificed millions of animals to atone for the sin of the people; there were Elijah, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist and all the others.  All pointed to someone better to come.  God spoke through them.

But then there was Jesus Christ:  God speaks through his Son.  He is greater than Moses, more important than Aaron, greater than any king who lived before Him.

What we need to know about God, about his rescue plan, about the unfolding of history and how it will come to an end—is said in Jesus Christ.  The Bible reveals God’s will in Jesus Christ.  If you want to know about it, read it carefully and you will find all God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ.  What does the future hold?  When Christ returns all will be made knew, and then He will take us to his Father’s home and we will see his glory.  He is the beginning and the last; He holds the keys of hell; He was dead, but now his lives.  Of his the angels sing with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12, ESV)

Let’s put it this way:  who is Jesus Christ?  He is God’s Word made flesh.

John writes in John 1:1-2

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1–2, ESV)

Jesus Christ is God’s appointed King

Our text says:

[God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things  (Hebrews 1:2–3, ESV)

Listen:  “all things”.  The Creator of the universe made Jesus his legal heir of all things which He created.  The language here has something of a king who authorises and appoints a successor.  It reflects the language of Psalm 110:  Your thrown will last forever because I am your Father.

Who is Jesus Christ?  He is eternal King!  Can you see how inadequate it is to just say “He died for me”?  The problem with Christians today is that they hardly understand anything about worshipping Christ as Lord and King.  What does it mean?  In essence nothing less that to love Him with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.  He who does not fall before Christ as his Lord in worship, will never understand anything of the Gospel.

Jesus Christ is the One through whom God created the  universe

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. (Hebrews 1:2–3, ESV)

 Paul writes in Colossians 1:

For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17, ESV)

It’s one thing to hear the invitation to receive Christ as Lord and Saviour, waking down the isle and say a sinner’s prayer; it’s a completely different thing to worship Christ as the Creator who holds everything together: the sun who rose today, the Other who provided your breakfast this morning, the One who understands our bodies and knows how everything works.

Did you know that the average adult have about 1000,000kms of blood vessels in his body?  Your heart beats about 115,000 times per day pumping about 6,500 litres, and on average 42,000,000 times per year.  If you passed eighty years of age your heart would have beaten 3.3 billion times, pumping 200 million litres of blood.   They say we could have 32.7 trillion cells in our bodies at anytime.  Things get really astonishing when you think about DNA and the information stored in DNA.  We have only spoken of one person.  There are 7 billion of us on earth!

Do you get the picture?  In Christ all things hold together – all 7 billion heartbeats.  He knows the beginning from the end.  Our text says He sustains all things.  How?  By his powerful word.  How is that possible?  Well, He is God!

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15, ESV) 

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.

All things were made through Him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3, ESV)

God spoke, and creation happened.  Christ was there.  He is God’s Word!

Do you worship Him?  Do you think perhaps you can use Him for your own agenda?  Think again!

Jesus Christ is God’ appointed Saviour

Now we may get to the point of salvation:

After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3, ESV)

Think about it:  God’s appointed Word, His appointed King, His appointed heir, the One who was with God when He created, the One in whom all things hold together—He walked in obedience to God to Calvary’s Hill, taking the scourge of sin upon Him, and died forsaken by his Father.  Why?  He loved righteousness and hated wickedness (verse 9).  He died in our place while we still his enemies.  His blood became the purchase price by which He set sinners free by becoming their righteousness.

Conclusion

If you say you know Jesus Christ as the one who died for you, you have to say you worship him as your King; you have to say He is your God; you have to say you life is in his hand; you have to say you love Him; you have to say you have left you old life behind and you follow Him only.

Who is Jesus Christ?  How do you know and worship Him as Lord?

Christ prays for the well-being of his church

Scripture Readings

  • 1John 2:18-27;
  • John 17:20-26

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

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

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

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

The Church to grow by proclaiming the Word

In John 17:20 we hear our Lord pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church to be in unity under Christ

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

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

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

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

And:

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

Or:

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

Or:

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Spurgeon once said:

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

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

The Church to shine forth the love of God for Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church to live towards a sure destination

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Amen.

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

The Intercession of Christ (1)

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 20
  • John 17:6-13

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvation – from beginning to end the work of God

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

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

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

He revealed the Father 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the effect of Christ’s ministry?  

Let’s take it step by step.

Verse 17:

Obeying or believing the Word of the Father

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

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

They worship Christ as Lord

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

Complete joy

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 19
  • John 15:5-17

Introduction

A lady was crossing a certain London station, when an old man stopped her, and said: “Excuse me, ma’am, but I want to thank you for something.” “Thank me!” exclaimed the lady. “Yes’m. I used to be ticket collector, and whenever you used to go by you always gave me a cheerful smile and a ‘good morning’, and you don’t know what a difference it made to me. Wet or fine, it was always the same, and I thinks to meself, `Wonder where she gets her smile from; one cannot be always happy, yet she seems to,’ and I know’d that there smile must come from inside somehow. Then one mornin’ you comes by and you had a little Bible in yer hand, and I says to meself, `P’r’aps that’s where she got her smile from.’ So as I went home that night I bought a Bible, and I’ve been readin’ it, and I’ve found Christ, and now I can smile too, and I want to thank yer.” (The Way of Faith.)

In John 15:11 our Lord said:

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full (or complete). (John 15:11, NKJV)

I always want to squeeze the last drop of fuel into the tank of my car, but let’s face it, when it’s full, it’s full.  When Christ fills us with his joy, we need not go and look for more joy.  But tragically, Christians are not really joyful people.  Why not?  Let’s search the Scriptures.

Main points:

  1. Joy is a mark of a true Christian
  2. The joy which comes from communion with Christ
  3. The joy of Glorifying the Father by displaying fruit of communion with Christ
  4. The joy of knowing God

Joy is a mark of a true Christian

We’re not talking about having fun, or being frivolous.  Of superficial Christian we have enough filling the church pews in our day.  Joy to the Christian is not an option, it is a necessary characteristic of a Christian to be joyful.  The Bible almost make being joyful a command.  The festivals of the Old Testament were times of joy.  Of the place of worship God commanded:

There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:7, NIV)

David wrote in the Psalm we heard right in the beginning:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:1–2, NIV)

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is, amongst other things, “joy” (Galatians 5:22).  To not be joyful before God is to not live as He intended; in a way not be joyful, is to show Him that we do not think much of his grace.

The joy which comes from communion with Christ 

All of us immediately start to assemble the flatpack we bought, but soon nothing works out:  we have less panels on one side, more screws we think we need, and what we assembled resemble anything but what is photographed on the packaging.  But deep down on the bottom of the box we usually find the instructions.  Embarrassed we follow the instructions and eventually all works out.

Many Christians are angry Christians. For them serving God is tedious and frustrating. Their spiritual life is unattractive.  Like justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years once said, explaining his choice of a career: “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.”

Jesus said to his disciples:  “Remain in Me.  Apart from Me you can do nothing.”  Without Him we are frustrated and joyless flatpack Christians.

Three very distinct tools for being joyful Christians – the way God intended – are mentioned in the paragraph from John we read this morning.

The Bible

If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, NIV)

We heard it last week:  The words of Christ is like the trellis against which we are trained up to grow and bear fruit. The Word is also like the pruning knife which cuts away the access to assure better and more fruit.

Many Christians wonder why their spiritual life is so miserable and unproductive.  But if their study and knowledge of the Word of God is poor, so will their fruit be.  In 1 Peter 1 the Apostle teaches us that we “are born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)  This Word is preached to us (1:25).  But Peter goes on saying,

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2–3, NIV)

We heard in our reading of Psalm 19 how precious God’s Word is:

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11, NIV)

The have complete joy is know the God of the Scriptures and the Scriptures of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, and made true by the testimony of the holy Spirit.

Prayer

If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, NIV)

A joyful Christian is a praying Christian.  Or put the other way round:  a prayer-less Christian know no joy.  How can he be joyful if He never talks to the One who saved Him?  A prayer-less Christian is somebody who does not remain in Christ, and as a result his life displays signs of spiritual death.  There is no fruit.  Such a Christian runs the danger of being thrown away, picked up only to the used as fuel for fire.

How much to you pray, my friend?  Let’s not beat around the bush.  Weigh up you life against the standard of Christ and ask, ‘Where is the fruit in my life?’  If there is none, go back to on your knees and have communion with your Saviour.  When you start trusting God to provide what you need to glorify Him, the fruit will follow.  Our Lord said, “It will be done for you.”  This might apply to individual Christians, but let’s not lose the context of the words of Christ:  He speaks to his disciples.  The command to pray and the promise that He will give what we need, is foremost a command to the congregation.  And it says a lot about the fruit a congregation bears:  if there is little fruit, is probably because there is little prayer.

Bearing fruit

A fruitless Christian knows no joy; or put the other way round, he who bears fruit in Christ is a joyful Christian.  And according to the paragraph the best of all fruit is true Christian love born in the heart of the Lord.

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:9–10, NIV)

There is a continued line of love from eternity into our earthly existence through Christ, which goes back to the Father from our joyful hearts through our Saviour.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12, NIV)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:16–17, NIV)

Being a disciple of Christ is not possible without communion with Him through his Word, through prayer and through bearing fruit of love – no, not the sentimental rubbish put forward today as love.  Never allow the world to give you any definition of love and how you should love.  Your benchmark for love is Christ’s love, who did as his Father commanded.

The joy of glorifying the Father by displaying fruit of communion with Christ

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

For those of you who grew up with the Larger and Shorter Catechism you will know the first question and answer:  What is the chief and highest end of man?  The answer:  Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV)

Why?

For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36, NIV)

The fruit of being in Christ is necessarily that of glorifying our Father.  To praise Him is to bear fruit.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:15–16, NIV)

Bearing fruit does not make us children of God.  We cannot try harder to be children of God by trying to bear fruit.  The opposite is true: the fruit we bear displays the fact that we are in the Vine, Christ, because without Him we ca do nothing.

Bearing this fruit of praise and glory to the Father through love towards Him and towards others has the effect that it makes us truely happy.  We are not baptised in vinegar.  His praise should be on our lips, and praying through Him we will have joy.

The Joy of knowing God

Our Lord said:

I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, NIV)

Right in the beginning of the Gospel we learned that because of the darkness of sin, sinners do not and cannot know the Father.  Christ came to make known the Father.  He is the door, the shepherd, the vine, the living water, the bread of life.  Who the Father gave Him He saved and none of them will be lost or snatched from his hand.

My friend, through Christ you may know, really and truely know, the Creator of the universe, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit teaches you to call Him “Abba Father.” (Romans 8:16).

What more can we ask for in this life?  Paul says:

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …  I want to know Christ! (Philippians 3:8–10, NIV)

Conclusion

My dear friend, are your joy complete?  What gives you most joy?  Do you really know God through Jesus Christ?  Our ticket collector of our introduction had this testimony:  I bought a Bible, and I’ve been readin’ it, and I’ve found Christ, and now I can smile too.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 March 2017