Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Biblical eldership (3) “Who?”

Bible Readings

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

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters, family in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

The seriousness of well-equipped elders

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

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

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

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

He continues in verse 3 and 12: 

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

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

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

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

Well-equipped elders

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

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

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

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

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

The elder’s moral character

Above reproach  

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

He must be a man who honours his marriage

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

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

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

Temperate, respectable

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

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

Hospitable

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

The elder’s testimony of the Word of God

An apt teacher

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

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

An elder is a true prophet to his own family.

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

Not an immature Christian

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Amen.  

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

 

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Biblical Eldership (2) “What”

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 23
  • Acts 20:17-31

Introduction

Dear friends in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

The perfect Shepherd

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

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

Paul met with the elders of Ephesus and commanded them:  

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

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

The flock of Christ belongs Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elders as shepherds

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

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

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

Savage wolves seek to destroy the flock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A calling with high demands

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Amen.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Bible Readings

  • 1Corinthians 10:5-17
  • Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction

There are 7.6 billion people on earth.  Of this 7.6 billion a great deal are not Christians.  About 2.3 billion profess to be Christians, which, in theory, makes Christianity the largest religion by numbers.  Between 2010 and 2015, an estimated 223 million babies were born to Christian mothers and roughly 107 million Christians died – a natural increase of 116 million. But among Christians in Europe the reverse is true: Deaths outnumbered births by nearly 6 million for the same period. In Germany alone, there were an estimated 1.4 million more Christian deaths than births from 2010 to 2015.  Most interesting, or maybe, mostly interesting.

There is a big problem with these statistics, in America, of the people who identify as Christians about only 10% believe that the Bible is the only Word of God. So, obviously, there are Christians who think it is possible to believe in God without reading, studying, or even knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we read it in the Bible.

So, here’s a challenge:  If we have to begin the church all over again, how would we do it, and what mechanism/s would we use? Are we going to follow a different strategy than the early apostles and even the evangelical church over the last few centuries?  People like Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, John Huss, Hudson Taylor, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon and others used only one tool: the Bible.  

It is the same tool the apostles had at their disposal.  Is it still the most effective tool, or should we add development programs, leadership seminars, growth strategies, and other leadership strategies of which the bookstores are so full these days?

According to our statistics, we’ve established the not all Christians are Christians.  And this begs the question, “What is a Christian?

The Shorter Catechism asks this question, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?  In other worlds, “What is a Christian?

 The answer:  Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, through which we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation as He offered to us in the Gospel.

Three things stand out:  

  1. The proclamation of the Gospel 
  2. Jesus Christ alone 
  3. Salvation by grace 

With this in mind, let’s turn to our reading from Colossians 1:1-8.  Keep in mind the topic of this sermon, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The proclamation of the Gospel

We take two verses together:

…you heard … the word of the truth of the gospel which has come to you… you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras…(Colossians 1:6–7, NKJV)

First thing, “the Gospel has come to you.”

In the normal scheme of things, God uses the proclamation of the Gospel through servants He calls and appoints.  This is what Paul stresses in Romans 10:

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13, NKJV)

Paul asks the next logical question,

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14, NKJV)

This then begs the next question,  

And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15, NKJV)

Is this “Gospel of peace” the only tool in the hands of the Church to reach out into the darkest and deepest corners of the world?  Will people really give an ear to just the Gospel?  

Now we may ask if not everyone is impressed by the preaching of the Gospel, should we not try other methods?  We might even try entertainment—we can have dramas based on the Bible or plays to bring across the central messages in the Bible. Some Christian groups have gone this way.  Instead of reading and preaching the plain text of the Bible, which they think is just too boring, they act it out in dramas—all along to make it more attractive.

We need to have loud and up-beat music, or programs for the children and youth or they would not come.  We might think to preach to the seekers in a way they would find interesting.  Listening to the preaching of the gospel is boring, especially certain parts of the Bible should be avoided to not put people off. 

Paul answers this question in the next verse,  

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Romans 10:16, NKJV)

In another text, Paul puts it this way, 

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ, we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (2 Corinthians 2:14–17, NIV)

Some people, purely because of the nature of the Gospel, receive it as an aroma the brings death; there’s not much we can do about it; they will even find the drama and the concert boring as soon as they find out it’s about Christ, sin, grace and their commitment to flow Him.  

But thank God, to other the aroma of the Gospel brings life.  This life does not spring from the eloquence of the preacher or the beauty of the music; it is forever the work of the Holy Spirit who through the Gospel calls people to Christ and gives them the new life. Preachers are just sowers; the growing of the seed is God’s business.

Paul was not peddling with the Gospel, because he preached Christ in the presence of God, of whom he was only the messenger.  It is to God he would give account.

This is exactly what he means with the introductory words of his epistle to the Colossians, 

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, … (Colossians 1:1, NIV)

Paul understood very well that he had only one mission:  to speak the words of God who called him.  

So did Epaphras.  He too was a “faithful servant, a faithful minister of Christ”.  The only words in their mouth were the words of Christ—no additions, nothing omissions.

May God forgive us when we assume the Gospel is not the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16), for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, sa righteousness that is by faith from the first to the last … (Romans 1:17) 

Jesus Christ alone

The gospel is about Jesus Christ, nothing more and nothing less.  The Bible tells us that the message the Colossians heard was the truth of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).

The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had an everlasting effect on them.  What happened?  Verse 4, they believed the Gospel.  What happened in the process?  Paul spells it out further down this chapter.  The Gospel of Christ qualified them to share in the inheritance of the holy people of God. At first, they were enslaved under the dominion of darkness—which is just another way to say they were in the clutches of the prince of this world, the devil—but after they heard the Gospel of Christ and believed it, they were brought into the dominion of the son of God.  They received salvation in his Name because of the perfect redemption He procured through his death and resurrection, and they received forgiveness of their sins.

What our Lord said is so true:  the truth will set you free.  The Gospel is the word of truth!

The marvellous thing about this Gospel is that it seeks out the lost.  Paul writes, “the Gospel has come to you.”  God calls and equips his preachers—as we learned it from Romans 10—and sends them out. They herald the Gospel, and through their message, the Gospel goes out to sinners and set them free.  Why? The Gospel is the gospel of Christ, the Son God loves.  Can you see the connection between this verse and John 3:16, 

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)

Or we can just move on to Colossians 1:21 to hear the same message in other words:

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— (Colossians 1:21–22, NKJV)

What a message!  By grace sinners are reconciled and made holy, spotless, and free of accusation.

If we trade this Gospel for another means of getting through to sinners, we have no hope to have any effect.  People may enjoy the music, the lights, the clapping, the fellowship, the meals, the conversation, the activities—but if they have not heard this Gospel, they will never be changed; they will forever be searching, or just walk away in disappointment.

The outworking of the Gospel 

What does the Gospel do?  It brings faith in Jesus Christ—and because of this, is brings salvation and the forgiveness of sins—but it also has very visible consequences.  Paul writes, 

… we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints… Epaphras also declared to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:4-5, 8, NKJV)

Something they never experienced, they then experienced—true love and true hope in Christ which stands firm in heaven.  That spurred them on to love one another as only God’s people can do.  They way they loved one another was contagious; it was remarkable to the point the Epaphras returned to Paul and told him, “Those people really love one another.  They love one another the same way as the Holy Spirit loves Christ and the children of God.”

When lost sinners are called to become the people of God, something of heaven must be evident.  If God is a God of love, then surely, his church must be people who know love and live out love.  

The church is different from all groups of people.  You may join a tennis club but love for the other members is not a prerequisite; you may become a member of a political party, but you not sing up just because you love them and they love you.  With the church it’s different; members in Christ share their love of Christ with others who also love Christ.  More than that, they love all people they come in contact with. This is what sets the church of Christ apart from all other institutions. This is the attractive part of the Gospel.

How different would the church be if Christians understood this principle!  How attractive will the church be if we really love one another because we understand that Christ loves us and has taken us out of the clutches of Satan to call us his children of one family?

We would then not need all special programs and activities to attract people.  By our love for Christ and for one another, they will know.  And does this world not need true, meaningful relationships purified in and by the blood of Jesus Christ!

Conclusion

What is Christian?  It is someone who heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believed it.

How does someone become a Christian?  He hears the Gospel, and by the work of the Holy Spirit he receives it and believes it.

What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ about?  It is the true message of salvation and forgiveness based on the grace of His Name who on our behalf has made it possible to know God as our gracious Father.

What is the outworking of the Gospel?  A new community of Christian believers, with one faith, love and hope—a community of people who knows and practices true love as exemplified in Christ Jesus.

May we be such a community.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 August 2018

Heavenly-shaped community

Bible Readings

  • Romans 12:9-21
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters,

Some 24 years ago the Lord led our family to leave our homeland and migrate to Australia. The buzzword for migrants was “culture shock”.  

Initially living in a different culture was somewhat interesting.  People expect you to be different, and quite frankly, we expected others to be different.  People went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and we tried our hardest to introduce them to South African food, customs and expressions.

After the first year or so things change.  The locals expect of us to assimilate and stop being different, and the migrants find it hard to interpret local customs and every day expressions.  That’s when culture shock comes in. It is easy for migrants to measure everything by their past and never become part of the culture of their new country.  If they don’t they are always referred to as foreigners.

Something of this dynamic applies to Christians and the conduct living in this world, but something of quite the opposite should be strived for: we are forever foreigners, but we need forever to win people in Christ for the Kingdom of God.

Our study of 1 Peter up to the reading of chapter 4 taught us about our heavenly citizenship, our rebirth by the Spirit of God, our status as aliens in this world—being built into the spiritual temple.  Remember this verse.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his [God’s] own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10, NET)

Back to the future

The paragraph we will study together today, 1Peter 4:7-11, in some way, looks back from the future. The gist of what Peter brings across is that the church, redeemed by the completed work of Christ, and having received a new birth by the Holy Spirit to become God’s holy people, should have their community life shaped by their future citizenship.

Christians live today by tomorrow’s standards, which are anchored with Christ in heaven.  Christians are called to have wisdom to influence their surrounding culture with heavenly shaped living. Our task is to serve our King, Jesus Christ, in a world which hates Him. We are called to not love the world, yet our calling includes a calling for compassion upon those who are facing eternity without hope.

In 1957 Nevil Shute wrote a book titled On the beach.  It dramatises an accidental nuclear explosion, with clouds of nuclear radiation drifting from the northern hemisphere down over the southern hemisphere.  Here is a quote from that book:  

There would be time to prepare, time to seek solace in religion, or alcohol, or frenzied sex, or in the thing that one had always wanted to do. To drive a fast, expensive car. To buy some splendid object with one’s life savings. To consume the best bottles of wine from the cellar of one’s club.  

In the end, when the sickness could not be stopped, the government would issue cyanide pills to those who waited, hoping they would not have to use them, knowing they would.

(As quoted by  Helm, D. R. (2008). 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: sharing christ’s sufferings (p. 144). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

This is an apt description of the hopelessness of a world without Christ. The end of this world is gulping down a cyanide pill in an effort hasten death without hope.

This is not the view of the Christian.  Our hope is in the eternal sovereignty of God, displayed in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. We live our today united with Christ, grounded in eternity.

This is the background for verse 7:

… the culmination of all things is near.

How can we possibly remain focussed, calm, collected and clear-minded when culture and community are crumbling around us?  Let’s get to the next points—and they are connected: prayer, love, service, keeping the glory of God in focus.

So, in what way is the life of the church then shaped by eternity?

Uncluttered minds

If someone knocked on your door to tell you that he saw your house is on fire, panic strikes and clear thinking flies out the back door.  To announce that the end of all things are near, might send panic into the hearts of unbelievers, but believers should react calm and collected.

We might even be alarmed by what is going on in this world and be overcome with fear.  Peter insist that Christians remain collected, single-minded, and mentally prepared.  It is easy to get distracted; it is easy to despairingly throw the arms up into the air over the persecution of Christians, the change in the marriage act, the stupidity about gender fluidity and how it may find it’s way into law; or become flustered about the so-called Safe School program, or the general direction of the United Nations and godless world leaders.

Now is the time that we need to think into the future and act back to the present—because we are seated with Christ in heaven.  We share his victory, and we will see his purposes worked out.  Do you remember our call to worship? 

I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure…’ (Isaiah 46:9–10)

Prayer

The time is near when all things will end. So think clearly and control yourselves so you will be able to pray. (1 Peter 4:7)

At our last assembly meeting our new moderator spurred us on in our task because of the urgency of our time.  He made this remark: the task of the church is not to pray so that we may embark on successful programs; prayer isthe task of the church!  A church which stopped praying can have all the programs they wanted, but it will not come to fruition if their first and foremost task—prayer—is neglected.

Commentators point out that in this paragraph Peter most probably had in mind the last night before our Lord was crucified.  More than once did Christ warned the disciples to not be “troubled”—which is opposite to our word “being sober-minded.” This was in connection with the announcement of Jesus Christ that his time with them is coming to an end.  Later that night they were with Christ in the garden, and repeatedly they could not stay awake to pray.  Jesus said: 

Stay awake and pray for strength against temptation. The spirit wants to do what is right, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

I think the apostles looked back on that night with deep regret.  If only they could stay awake and pray with Jesus.  When Peter wrote the letter, the part we read from this morning, he most probably had had more than one experience of being in prayer to Jesus to help him in very difficult circumstances.  

Our bodies are weak and will certainly fall if be prayer we need to resist temptation.  Prayer is our connection with God in the Name of Jesus who overcame death, hell, sin and satan.  Prayer feeds our faith and helps us to be focussed as we trust God.

O, that we would once again rediscover the beauty of prayer, so that we can remain focussed when the waters around us are getting troubled!

Love for the brethren

I sometimes think Christians do not need a destructive force from without, because we can sometimes do a better job ourselves. How sad that we sometimes boast in our assertion that we are Christians, but if left to our own devices, we can easily tear one another apart, and sometimes even enjoy it!

It is only logic that Christians who are united with Christ, who has open heavens gate to now intercede with the Father, for Christians who are filled and guided by the Holy Spirit, would demonstrate in their lives and conduct something of their their heavenly origin.  It is not unreasonable to expect Christians to live together in the church as a community of God’s people, to live together in love.

We’re suppose to not hold grudges one against the other.  Instead, love helps us to act proactively:  we forgive and forget.  That’s what is meant by Peter’s words, “love covers a multitude of sins”. We need to learn to say, “It’s okay. I forgive even before you ask for it.” Love does not keeping harping about wrongs done.  This sort of love covers a multitude of sins.  Self-righteousness on the other hand, keep uncovering things, it always open the wounds, and it always wants to wring out apologies.  Christians don’t do this sort of thing.

John writes, as he too recalls the night on which Jesus stooped down as a servant to wash their feet, giving them the command to love one another—he writes: 

We know we have left death and have come into life because we love each other. Whoever does not love is still dead. Everyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them. (1 John 3:14–15)

Service to build one another up

I remember the exercises in the Army to drill it in that a unit of soldiers is indeed a unit.  There was a thing called “buddy” training. We had to pick and carry a “wounded” soldier and care for a fellow soldier who seemed to be caught up behind the line of fire.  Officers issued us with a backpack with canned food of which the labels were removed, so that we would share with one another, just in case you opened a can of beetroot for breakfast—if you had to rely on your own supply you were stuck, but because you had buddies, you could share. 

For the upbuilding of the church God gave some people different gifts.  We even refer to a preacher as a minister—which only means “servant”. Whatever the God-given gifts may be should be used to mutual upbuilding, and not personal boast; or even worst, to look down on others who do not have the gift we have.  That was the problem of the Corinthian church. Paul took them to the most useful of all gifts:  love!

Something of this must be seen in the life of every church.  Therefore the command to be hospitable.  If my brother or sister in the Lord is in need, my house becomes their house.

It was quite common in those days that itinerant Christians, mainly because they lost their jobs elsewhere, or maybe they were on a journey looking for scattered families, or maybe even as missionaries, travelled far and wide.  There was no money to pay for accomodation, but it was not needed, because the home of a fellow-believer should be open to travellers. It was not the custom in Rome  for unbelievers; for Christians is was the normal thing to do.

Another circumstance arrived:  people became Christians are converting from paganism to followers of Christ.  How would they find shelter in a hostile world?  Go to your fellow brother and sister: they will treat you like Christ did.  What if they can afford it?  God will provide when He demands of us to give which we cannot afford.

The glory of God

We need to tell one another over and over again, each one should keep in mind, we are citizens of heaven.  Whatever we do, we need to do as unto the Lord.  It is always for his glory.

Conclusion

Christ’s community on earth is unique.  It is a community with its foundations in heaven.  It is a community of aliens living in a world which doesn’t understand them.  They are called to shine their light in this world and show practical Christian living, but by doing so, Christians live counter-culturally. When the world seems to be in a mad rush, Christians keep their heads and stay focussed.  Christians live on the oxygen of prayer.  Christians love when others follow their natural instincts and rather live for themselves.  Christians always serve with the upbuilding of all members of the church in mind.  Therefore when the call for hospitality presents itself, they open their homes, because they understand what they have, is in any case a gift from God.

Let’s live like that.  Let’s follow God’s command and make the church a slice of heaven for those we come in contact with.  Let’s make God look great in a world without hope.  Amen.

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

 

Who is King?

Bible Readings

  • Revelation 19:11-21
  • 1Samuel 8

Introduction

You’ve heard it said, and maybe you have said it too, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have our Lord in Person with me, so I can talk to Him personally, instead of praying to the unseen God?”

If people asked about the God I worship, it would really helpful to point to where He is in the flesh.  This is true more so in the face of danger and uncertainty.  Wouldn’t it be better to have God in the operation theatre, or when you stand in agony when a loves one died, or when the doctor tells you that cancer has taken hold of you?

We are not like the world

A few Sundays ago we covered the principle of making a god for ourselves. The danger of making idols, or treating God like an idol, is that we would manipulate it, we would localise it (or assign a place for it to be or not be), or we can treat God as if He is a human being, or even worse, we can act as if we are He.

People who worship anything other than the living God—the Bible refers to these people as the world—indeed do want some representation of their god.  This was the case when God called his people to live amongst the nations, and it is still the case today.

The people then worshipped idols, but they also had leaders who were the embodiment of those gods.  One such a person was the visible king.  The idea was then, if they had a king with them in person, they were sure that their god was with them.

The Israelites were different, as the church of Jesus Christ should be.  God warned the people through Moses:

You must not follow the statutes [or customs] of the nations I am driving out before you … I am Yahweh your God who set you apart from the peoples. (Leviticus 20:23–24, HCSB)

Ezekiel 20:32 tells us about the sinful mind of the people:

Let us be like the nations, like the peoples of other countries, worshiping wood and stone. (Ezekiel 20:32, HCSB)

All of this sprang from a rebellious heart:

They rejected His statutes and His covenant He had made with their ancestors and the decrees He had given them. They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves, following the surrounding nations the Lord had commanded them not to imitate. (2 Kings 17:15, HCSB)

God’s people are different—or to use the biblical term: holy, set apart.  Let’s hear Leviticus 20:26:

You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine. (Leviticus 20:26, HCSB)

God said about his people as a nation of priests:

… He will elevate you to praise, fame, and glory above all the nations He has made, and that you will be a holy people to the Lord your God as He promised.” (Deuteronomy 26:19)

John writes, “Do not love the world.”  James warns:

Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. (James 4:4, HCSB)

Looking for security

When the elders approached Samuel for a king, they used as springboard the sad state of affairs regarding Samuel sons.  The Bible states: “His sons did not walk in his ways—they turned toward dishonest profit, took bribes, and perverted justice.” (1Samuel 8:3).

Then there was this nagging political situation of the different tribes action as separate groups—there was no national unity.  If only they had a king, they could at least point to someone who would lead them in a time of crisis.

But do not lose sight of their plea:  they wanted to fix a spiritual problem with a political solution.

“Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:5, HCSB)

It actually looked as if they wanted to blend into one the office of judge (which up to then included the offering of sacrifices, and the intercession of prayers) into one office, by adding military command (see 1Samuel 8:20).  Or at least they craved for a political figure who would have supremacy.

In essence the proposal was a rejection of God’s ways and an attempt to find security in a visible leader.

This is an attitude more so in our day:  the so-called cry to separate church and state is a disguised attempt to shove the church into a corner to which no-one wants to listen to. Who today would be satisfied to put his life into the hands of a so-called invisible God!  If the stupid Christians want to, let them do it in their corner on Sundays; but modern reasonable people want a visible force to provide security.

Just in the previous chapter the people of God experienced how He was their King and Protector.  They even had a stone as memorial to the fact:  “Ebenezer! The Lord has helped us to this point.”  When God thundered against the Philistines, they were utterly overcome and Israel regained territory.  See, they put a full stop after Ebenezer: “to this point”.  After that they wanted to take things in their hands, dethrone the God of Hosts from his position as their Commander in Chief.

They enjoyed security, but wanted to add the visible king—a human being—to unite the people as a political entity, and as such be like the nations around them. If the nations would ask them, “Who is your Commander?”, at least they could point to someone!

What foolishness!

But perhaps we should not be too quick to judge them.  Don’t we do the same?  How much to we lean on political leaders for our security and success.  Even as a church we stand guilty. Many operations of churches today stands and falls on the financial support of the state.  Aged care facilities, hospitals, youth centres, and even schools, can only run for as long as tax money flows in.  The result:  they pay and have the say! They play the tune and we have to dance. They determine policies of who can be hired, when and where we can read the Scriptures and we should or should’t pray.

Isn’t it time that we once again begin to trust to Lord for his work? This was the case when Christians started hospitals and aged care facilities: it was run by people who really cared, really loved, and really trusted God.

How much have we become reliant on the military and other uniform personnel as the only source for our safety!

Be careful what you ask for

Samuel had seen all of this once before:  the priests did not know God, and the people used God as a lucky charm—God, as their Commander and Protector, was not in the picture in the time of old Eli.  So he personally rejected with their request, but as a faithful mediator between God and the people, he took their request to Him.

What he suspected was confirmed;  God said:

They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshiping other gods. (1 Samuel 8:8, HCSB)

That’s the heart of the issue.  One cannot fool God!  He looks right into your heart and knows your thoughts even before they become words.  They didn’t really wanted a king; they wanted to substitute their King with a fallible human being!

Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

Samuel had to warn the people clearly about the “ways”, or “justice” of the king they wanted.  The word in Hebrews is justice, which can mean custom, orders, rules and regulations—ordinances and decrees he would use to secure his position and to rule over the people.

Without going into the detail of the things mentioned, there is one word which stands out: “take!” Up to that point in time this word is connected with evil:  Eli’s sons took which belonged to God, the Philistines took which belonged to God, Samuels sons took bribes.  This king will take—the sons and daughters God gave you as a gift of his love and care, the king will take.  The lands and the crops which God freely gave, the king will take; your income he will take.

Nothing has changed!  It is still ongoing.  It’s just become worse.  The more we move into becoming a totalitarian state the more we will see that what is precious to us, are taken from us:  our children are stolen from us.  They control what our children think, what they speak about, what freedoms we have, and how much we will spend, as long as we feel safe under their so-called protection. This is the price one pays for not trusting God, and with governments who play God.

Moses ends with this warning: they will become slaves of the king they ask for.

Verse 18 is poignant:

When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you on that day.” (1 Samuel 8:18, HCSB)

Be careful what you ask for, God may grant you your prayers.

The warning was spoken, but rebellious hearts were in motion.

“No!” they said. “We must have a king over us. (1 Samuel 8:19, HCSB)

They asked for justice, and justice they received.

No anarchy

We are not propagating anarchy—national life without any ruler or government.  The idea of kingship as such was actually something foreshadowed in the Law. Deuteronomy 17 speaks about it.  The future king was to be God’s chosen one, not chosen to be like the nations, he had to live under God, he had to study the Law of God, so that his heart would not be exalted over his countrymen.  That was the will of God.

Christians are not rebellious over and against governments.  Paul wrote to the Romans,

Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. (Romans 13:1–3, HCSB)

But our hope should never be in mere fallible human beings.  Our hope is in our King, Jesus Christ.  Only He should reign our minds and our hearts.  Paul writes:

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2, HCSB)

And when principle calls for it, we should add our voices to those of Peter and John:

“Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20, HCSB)

Who is King?

There is another King.  He did not take, but He gave: He gave away his heavenly splendour to become like us; He gave his life, so that we would not die; He gave eternal life—all free.  He gave us real justice.  Listen to this verse:

We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [this is God’s justice!] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in King Jesus.… This was to show God’s justice.… It was to show his justice at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (A paraphrase of Romans 3:23-26)*

*(Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

If He is your King, come, eat and drink of his body and blood, and be nourished for the battle ahead.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 6 August 2017

 

Man-made Religion

Bible Readings

  • 2Timothy 4:1-5
  • Judges 17:1-13

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are commencing a new sermon series today under the topic “The king is dead; long live the King!”

This phrase was first declared when Charles VII ascended to the French throne after the death of his father Charles VI in 1422.

The Royal Council in England proclaimed: “The throne shall never be empty; the country shall never be without a monarch.”  So, in 1272 when Henry III died while his son, Edward I, was fighting in the Crusades, Edward was immediately declared king.

Our sermon series will not have as source the British kings, but the kings of Israel.  They lived and died, but the promised Messiah King (capital “K”), Jesus Christ, lives forever.  The Israelite kings failed and as such were precursors for the perfect, righteous, all-powerful, sovereign King who overcame the power of hell, sin, death and Satan.  Of Him the Bible declares:

“You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:7–9, NIV)

Today and next week the Word will come from the last few chapters of Judges, and the messages will help us to understand that we should focus, not an earthly king to guide us, but on God in Jesus Christ, our King.

Just as a margin note this:  God assigned to the king (or governments), to the church and to families separate spheres of authority—all of them are under God because this world belongs to Him, the Creator. But the church does not rule over governments; in the same way governments do not rule over churches, and let it be clear, neither government nor church has authority over families. In an ideal world all three these spheres of authority would be in harmony as they are governed by Christ through his Word and Spirit.

This is a bit of a long introduction, I know.  Moving into the sermon, let’s bring into focus the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  Without going into detail it is safe to say that the Reformation was needed because the church lost its direction when they lost the Bible as the authoritative Word of God for life and worship.  Foreign elements were dragged into worship and the tradition of the church was given equal authority alongside the Bible.

Our reading from Judges 17-18 provides a perfect example when man makes his own religion—and still call it worship.

God’s command to Moses

The phrase “as the Lord commanded Moses” (and variations of it) is repeated about 100 times in the Old Testament.

The way the Lord wanted to be worshipped was spelled out very clearly, in detail.  God is holy, and his people had to keep that in mind. Wilful worship, fashioned around personal preference, have no place in the Bible.

The book of Judges repeatedly records how the people did evil in the eyes of the Lord—which is another way to say they shunned the commands of the Lord for their own interpretation—they did as they saw fit.  Things got so bad, so quickly, that priests in the direct family line of Moses, maybe even his grandson, led a whole tribe of God’s people into idol worship.  We’ll get to that shortly.

False, man-made religion

As soon as the authority of the Word is swept under the carpet, man quickly replaces it with something he conjures up from his own sinful mind.  Interestingly, men never quits worshipping; he only fashions false worship in the place of true worship.

Judges 17 tells the story of a man called Micah.  First he stole silver from his mother.  She pronounced a curse over the silver, and maybe over the one who stole it too, which made her son worried, so he gave her the silver back.  Usually when people of old prayed a curse over something they consider it the property of the entity in which name the curse was pronounced.  Should it found it would then be dedicated to that entity.  This was the reason why she dedicated the silver.

But listen to what she said:

I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make an image overlaid with silver. I will give it back to you. (Judges 17:3, NIV)

Give it to the Lord?  To the Lord who forbids making idols?  Well, it sounds like a good idea to give something to the Lord, even if it is lottery money!  No ways!

This event was most probably what stirred Micah to think that he was some special person too.  Sometimes mothers, or parents, need to be careful with the way in which they encourage their children!  Many are on their way to destruction because Mom and Dad can’t see anything wrong in things they do.

So he built a shrine, and put his silver idol in it.  For good measure he added a few more idols.  He declared his son a priest and made an ephod for him—the vest the High Priest wore when entering the Most Holy.  So, here we have an own private man-made religion!

Very poignantly the Bible records:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 17:6, NIV)

The story goes on.  When a young Levite from Bethlehem, whose task it was to teach the people in Law of the Lord, found himself in Micah’s house, he got a job offer: “Live with me and be my father and priest, I will give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes, and your food.”

Private gods, private shrine, private priest, private religion.  When Alice was conversing with Humpty Dumpty, she rebuked him for misusing words. Humpty replied, ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.  Alice protested, asking if she could really make words mean different things, to which Humpty answered, ‘The question is, which is to be the master – that is all’.

Micah was the master.  And he was satisfied with his choice.  Listen:

“Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” (Judges 17:13, NIV)

It’s like a bank robber that gets away with the loot unscathed and then go to the prayer meeting that night to thank God for his safety and provision for his family!

The tragedy of this chapter in the Bible is that people all along thought they worshipped God.

People in our day do the same.  They worship, and even call on the Name of God, but they have long left the Bible on the shelve as a forgotten book written for people thousands of years ago, not for modern people.  Someone writes:

I cannot stomach the whole notion of hell by conservative Christians today. Such a punishment, however conceived, does not fit the crimes (“sins”) I have done. I am not consciously rebelling against God because I sincerely do not believe he even exists. I’m following what I have come to believe to the best of my abilities as a thinking and educated person.

He continues:

How is it possible for God to foreknow the future? How is it possible for a being to never learn anything, and to always and forever exist as three-in-one without ever growing incrementally into something more and more complex? How is it possible for there to exist a being who is 100% man and 100% God with every essential attribute necessary for both?

He comes to this conclusion:  “… we must believe the writings of ancient superstitious people to do so?

But we should not only point fingers to people far away—it is sometimes much closer than we think.  How do we know and apply the Bible into our daily lives?  Is the Bible our sole authority for life and worship?  How many times do I hear the expression, “I think God would be happy with …”  Or, “I don’t think the Bible is against …” How can people make claims like this?  On what basis?  Our Confession says “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”

Never can we carry something into our worship and life which cannot stand the test of the Word of God.

The fruit of man-made religion

The tribe of Dan had still been looking for a place to settle and in their journey to the north—a land they proclaimed to be God’s provision for them!— they came to the house of Micah and his private priest.  They offered the Levite promotion.

Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” (Judges 18:19, NIV)

He accepted and with his idols they carried him away.  Not only did they have a very unbiblical view of God, their worship was nothing short of an abomination in the eyes of God.

And Micah.  Well, they stole his god.  Listen:

You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? (Judges 18:24, NIV)

After a 2011 decision allowing gay ordinations, 270 congregations left in 2012 and 2013. And church analysts estimate upwards of another 100 churches may leave as presbyteries vote on a proposal to rewrite the church’s constitution to refer to marriage as being between “two people” instead of the union of “a man and a woman.”

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, some 600 congregations left in 2010 and 2011 following the denomination’s 2009 decision allowing the ordination of pastors in same-sex relationships.

If it was the true God of heaven and earth the Danites worshipped, losing Him would be impossible.  Anyone who worships any god other than the Almighty stands to lose it—if not in this word, then in the one to come!

The Bible has a word to say about the clan of Dan:

There the Danites set up for themselves the idol, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. (Judges 18:30, NIV)

They lived in Israel, but they were never of Israel!

Conclusion

My dear friends, this year we will celebrate the Reformation of 500 years ago when the Bible was rediscovered, which led to the light of the Scriptures to shine in all its facets, predominantly over the western world.  It changed the face of education, health care, care for the aged, financial systems, governments, and most importantly, it changed people’s lives for eternity.

What if we lose it again?  What if it once again gathers dust on shelves?  What if we end up having our own private religion.  As Paul writes:

“…the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4, NIV)

If a church lose the Bible, it loses Christ.  If if loses Christ, it has no King.  All others are dead, but long live King Jesus!

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 May 2017

Foreigners in this world

Bible readings:

  • Isaiah 66:1-6
  • John 15:18-16:4

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Last week we heard from the Word of God of the perfect and complete joy our Lord gives to his church.  This joy is to found in the Word of God, prayer and being fruitful in the service of our Lord.  We heard that joy is no option for the Christian – it is part and parcel Christian.  Our joy rests in the complete work of our Lord and Saviour:  we read about this in the Bible, we express our gratitude towards God for it in prayer and the way we are fruitful in His service.  We don’t become joyful Christians we because or after we have done these things; we are joyful because we are Christians.  Joy is a gift from God.  When Paul and Silas found themselves in prison with their feet in stocks, they were praying and signing hymns in the darkest hour of the night (Acts 16:24-25).  This teaching and proclamation from the month of our Lord about complete joy came hours before He would be arrested, handed over and be nailed to the cross.

And then, almost in one breath the tone changes (keep in mind there were no verses or chapters or paragraph headings in the original).  So let’s read  verses 17 and 18 together:

This is my command: Love each other. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.” (John 15:17–18, NIV)

The World:  Inescapable conflict

The world hated Christ first 

The explicit teaching of our Lord to his church is not to go out into this world to hate those who are not part of his family.  No, listen to his teaching:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43–44, NIV)

And yet to be on Christ’s side means to be on the wrong side of this world.  When Jesus uses the term “world” He refers to those under the command of the prince of this world, those opposed to God and his Son.  There is an inevitable clash between Christ and this world; there is also an inescapable enmity between those who belong to Christ and those who worship the prince of this world.  The Bible describes this animosity in terms of love and hate.

It all started in paradise.  Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the Devil, sinned against God and lost their innocence and free will.  After paradise things got worse and even nations fell to the deceit of the devil.

In the fulness of time God fulfilled his promise and the promised Seed was born – Jesus Christ the Son of God.  When He was born, so writes John, the world was a dark place with no light.  Jesus was the light coming into this world.  Those the Father gave Him, not those born from natural descent or the will of a man, but those born of God, those who believed in His Name received the right to be called children of God.  This was the beginning of the end of the reign of the prince of this world. As Christ proclaimed the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit opened the hearts, mind and spiritual eyes of people, Satan started to lose ground.  For the devil this meant war.

The death and resurrection of Christ meant forgiveness and freedom for those held in bondage.  This was the end of Satan who loves seeing people held in sin.  He loves reminding and accusing people of sin.  But Christ cancelled sin and disarmed the devil – He triumphed over him by the cross.  Now, with Jesus as the head of his church, the task of the church is to go to the nations with this promise:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:18–19, NIV)

One can say, because of this, all hell broke lose upon the world: Satan hates Jesus and he hates his church.

But don’t despair.  Listen:

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

I have chosen you out of this world.  This means that our victorious Lord saved us by his blood, He gave us his Spirit, and He is with us, never to let us go.  “No one will ever snatch them out of the hand of my Father.”  This is no hollow promise; it is written in the blood of Him who crushed the head of the serpent by dying for the sins of those where were once in the clutches  of the devil, and who destroyed the enemy.  He once said, “The prince of this world has no hold on Me.”

There is a war raging; there is blood, persecution, difficult times, death and false accusations, God will keep us in the hollow of his end for all times.

I didn’t bargain on this

Yet, there might be some who say, “I really want to go to heaven one day ,but I did not bargain on this. I’d rather not sign up for battle.”  Some preachers proclaim a cheap Gospel that only speaks about how God loves us and how his love would then make our dreams come true.  Old Testament prophets tried the same recipe, preaching,”Peace! Piece!”, while there was no peace.

The Gospel calls to commitment, and that commitment includes the inescapable reality of conflict with this world.  There is not really any choice:  it is either with Christ, saved from sin, loved by the Father, being part of his family, bearing fruit in his name, and being hated by this world, and then being welcomed into God’s eternal Kingdom when He calls us home.  Or, take it easy, not pick a fight with this world, be fruitless, and be thrown in the fire of eternal hell when God calls the end of our days.

Up to now we have heard about the battle with the world.  But there is another.

The war from within:  excommunicated for Christ

There is however another battlefield – one that causes many a soldier of Christ of put down the armour and surrender. It almost without fail involves the heartache of a war between so-called members of the Church, and those who will not give in to the demands of a gospel that is watered down to appease men.

A lonely road

When Jesus called his disciples and began to teach them about following Him, as it is recorded in the sermon on the Mount, right at the beginning of their walk with Christ, He told them this:

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:22, NIV)

We all know the expression, “He treated me like dirt.”  This is what our Lord means here.  What is good in God’s eyes, can be evil in the eyes of the world; this is what the disciples had to prepare themselves for.  They would be treated like dirt for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom.  This is the cost we have to count when we follow Jesus. In the same chapter where Jesus taught the disciples that people will treat their name like evil, He also said:

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26, NIV)

Our text verse for this morning, John 16:2 says:

They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. (John 16:2, NIV)

This verse refers to a verse in Isaiah 66, which reads:

Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: “Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame. (Isaiah 66:5, NIV)

There is mention of two types of worshippers:  those who come before the Lord with contrite and humble hearts and tremble before his Word.  The second group of worshippers indeed do bring sacrifices, offers lambs and grain offerings, they burn incense, but as the end of verse 3 states, “They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations.

The sad thing is that those who revered God were kicked out excommunicated from inclusion into the Covenant People of the Lord.  My people! God’s people!  Church people!  We worship together, we sat together at the table of the Lord, but now, because I stick to the Word of God in reverence and trembling, we have become enemies – and they want to get rid of me, ostracise me, yes, excommunicate me.

In John 16:1-4 our Lord prepared his disciples for a life of loneliness because they will be treated as unfit for worship and service.  They name will be treated like dirt.

Remember the words of Christ

Listen to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. (Luke 6:23, NIV)

I must confess that even though the words of this verse are so plain, my sinful inclination makes it hard to understand.  When I am treated like dirt because of Jesus, my saviour and his Word, I should rejoice and leap for joy?  Why?  Because it is a seal on my faithfulness and the authenticity of the Gospel.  True prophets of God in the Old Testament were treated the same way because they stuck to the true Word of God.

Conclusion

Dear friends in Christ, disciples has its cost, its heartache, its loneliness, but it has its reward.  We need to look at our Saviour, who came to his own, but they rejected Him, nailed Him to the cross.

I believe the time for us to make that sacrifice is not far.  Just, tremble at the word of God, fear not those who can destroy the body only, but fear Him who has the power to destroy both body and soul.  Worship Him faithfully, and He will give you eternity as your reward.

Amen.

Sermon Preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 12 March 2017

Our heavenly home, and the way there

Scripture Readings:

  • Deuteronomy 1:19-33
  • John 14:1-14

Main points:

  1. Faith replaces confusion and anxiety
  2. The eternal home is being prepared
  3. Only one way to God
  4. Between now and eternity: work and pray

Introduction

My dear fellow believer in the Lord Jesus Christ,

I remember sitting in the funeral parlour.  The funeral director asked me all the questions about my brother’s impending funeral, and I had to think hard to be coherent.  Usually, I would sit on the other side of the table and ask about the same questions to families who lost loved ones in death.  To experience losing someone close made me trip over my words, not thinking clearly.

Our world can sometimes become undone when people around fail and disappoint us.  Applied to the church, it is usually not what happens in the world which disturbs us; it is usually what happens within the church that brings confusion. We have our disappointments, people get their noses into other people’s business, they gossip, slander, but what really gets us is when someone openly disowns the Lord through public sin.  We then just want to give up and walk away.

Faith replaces confusion and anxiety

Jesus had announced to his disciples that He would leave them.

Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. (John 13:33, NKJV)

Judas had left them to betray Jesus, and then there was the sad prediction of our Lord that another would deny Him.  But Jesus comforted them with these words:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (John 14:1, NKJV)

They were sobering words.

The disciples faced disappointment, confusion and loneliness:  one of their leaders would deny that he ever knew Christ, and their Lord would be dragged before the courts, falsely charged, bitterly beaten and scoffed, only to be nailed to a cross along with two criminals.

But He had prepared them even before Judas walked out into the darkness of the night.

Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. (John 13:19, NKJV)

So now, on their way to the Garden of Olives, He instructs them again:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (John 14:1, NKJV)

To the troubled means to be confused and as a result to go in some panic.  That’s what shock does to one.  It leads one to lose direction and hope.  When Jesus comforted them in their hour of confusion, He gave them the antidote to uncertainty.  “Believe in God, believe in Me also.

This is infinitely more than us trying to comforting one another with words like, “Things will get better, just hang in there.”  What our Lord said was to put our their trust in God, the One who created the universe, the One who had been faithful to his people up to that point in time by making all his promises come true in his Son Jesus Christ – the very same God who would carry them through precisely on account of what his Son accomplished in his rescue mission.

Faith is absolute trust that God will and can do as He promised because He is God.  When Moses led the people out of Egypt through the terrifying desert on their way to the Promised Land, he had to remind them of the One who made their rescue possible.  They too, like the disciples in John 14, were on their way to their Promised Land.  So Moses said to them:

Look, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged.’ (Deuteronomy 1:21)

They decided to send a reconnaissance group to find out more about the land.  Only two of the twelve men who returned had faith in God; the others wavered in unbelief.  Moses then said:

The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ (Deuteronomy 1:30–31, NKJV)

They, despite of this assurance, did not believe in God, and wanted to return to Egypt.

I think something of this was in the mind of our Lord when He spoke to his disciples in John 14.  We will surely face difficulties and opposition in this world for the sake of Christ, but the antidote is faith – not blind faith, faith without any content, which is nothing less than so-called positive thinking – it takes one nowhere.

Believe in God, believe in Me.  If they would keep their eyes on Christ, they would see Him suffer, crucified, but they would see Him overcome death, hell, sin and Satan.  And this is exactly what happened.  After his resurrection and his intensive teaching in the course of forty days before He went to the Father, and after the outpouring of the Holy Spirt, these men feared nothing.  All but one eventually died a brutal death. but they kept faith in God the Father and his Son.

Our eternal home is being prepared

The people of Israel was on their way to the Promised Land, but that was still a temporary stop.  Jesus prepared his disciples for the good news that they would inherit a heavenly home.  It is not a home built by human hands with bricks and mortar.  It is not a home where thieves and break in and steal, or a place where moth and rust destroy.  The Apostle Peter writes about it:

… an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:4–5, NKJV)

Oh, we need to talk about heaven more!  We are too anchored to this world.  John writes about this:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4, NKJV)

He writes more about this city:

The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). (Revelation 21:23–25, NKJV)

Our Lord assured his disciples:

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2–3, NKJV)

Christians don’t have a permanent address in this word.  Our address is the city of God.  When all around us seem unstable and insecure, yes, even after we have lost everything we have, our eternal home stands firm.  As a matter of fact, what we accumulate here can stand in our way to serve our Lord unencumbered.  It is really only when we turn our backs on what is dear to us now, that we can truely look forward to the home now being prepared for us by our Lord who opens the door to more than paradise for us.

Do you have your heart in that place?  Are you longing to be in your eternal home?  Are you looking forward to be with Him who saved you from eternal destruction?  Or are you confused and anxious?  May I then show you the way to Christ who said, “Believe in in God, believe in Me also”?

Only one way to God

When Thomas protested about not knowing where Jesus was  and not knowing the way, Jesus said:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6, NKJV)

Jesus said so because He came from the Father; He said so because He came to take away the sin of the world; He said so because his Father loved the world and gave Him so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life; He said so because He laid down his life for those whom the Father gave Him; He said so because He is the bread of life and those who eat of his flesh and drink of his blood He will raise up in the last day.  But He also said so because only his life was the righteousness which satisfy his Father’s wrath upon sin.

Let no one ever confuse you to think that all religions are the same, and that some will get in heaven through Allah or his prophet Mohammed, or through Buddha, or through reincarnation, or through any earthly deity or human representative.  Jesus said:  No one comes to the Father but through Me.

So, how do we get to heaven?  Good works, effort, trying harder, having a good reputation?  No, it’s only through Christ.  He paid the price to rescue us from God’s wrath, He conquered death, He ascended to the Father, He intercedes for us, and He will return one day for those who loved Him, but He will also condemn to eternal torment those who did not love Him and followed other gods.

Between now and eternity: work and pray 

Christ taught the disciples that they, between his going to the Father and his return to take home those who love Him, have work to do.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (John 14:12, NKJV)

How do we understand this verse? Three things:

First.  We’ve got work to do.  Let’s not marvel in how spectacular the works should be, before we started doing some work in the Kingdom of Christ.

Second.  Also, Jesus said that a servant is not greater than his master (13:16, 15:20). The idea that believers will outdo their Master does not come from the Bible.

What this verse teaches us is that not all of the revealed plan of salvation in Christ was revealed up to that point in time.  He still had to die, raise again, return to the Father, and the Holy Spirit had to be poured out.  Christ would use his church do go beyond the boundaries of Israel into all the world and bring in the nations.  In this sense then what Christ began will be completed by his Church.  In this sense their works would be greater, but it would surely not have more impact than what has been accomplished by Christ.  To understand the “greater” in this verse as “more spectacular” is just not what it says.

Listen carefully what Jesus said: “and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father”.  The success of the mission of the church rests upon the completed salvation of Christ.

Third.  What our Lord added to this statement is also defined in the rest:  “Whatever you ask in My Name, this I will do”.  Can we do great things on our own?  No, we need to pray, and to pray is to acknowledge that we stand with empty hands before our Lord.  Further, who does what we pray for?  Christ!  It is never us; there is never any room for boasting other than to know that Christ is doing his work through his church on there knees before his throne.

Conclusion

We do not only need to have faith in the Lord, not only look forward to our eternal home, not only know that Christ is the only One through whom we can go to the Father, but we also need to be busy, doing his work in humble submission to Him who provides for us to work for his Kingdom to come.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 February 2017

The Church which Christ builds – J.C. Ryle

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18, NIV)

A building: “My Church”
  • The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of “my Church.”
  • The Church of our text is made up of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, of all who are really holy and converted people.
  • It comprehends all who have repented of sin, and fled to Christ by faith, and been made new creatures in Him.
  • It comprises all God’s elect, all who have received God’s grace, all who have been washed in Christ’s blood, all who have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness, all who have been born again and sanctified by Christ’s Spirit.
  • All such, of every name, and rank, and nation, and people, and tongue, compose the Church of our text.
  • This is the body of Christ. This is the flock of Christ. This is the bride. This is the Lamb’s wife. This is “the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
  • This is “THE CHURCH ON THE ROCK.
  • The members of this Church all come to one throne of grace. They all worship with one heart. They are all led by one Spirit. They are all really and truly holy. Whether they are Episcopalian, Independent, or Presbyterian, they all serve the interests of the one true Church.
  • No visible Church should ever dare to say, “We shall stand for ever. The gates of hell shall not prevail against me.”
  • The Church which is made up of true believers is the Church for which we, who are ministers, are specially ordained to preach.
  • The Church which comprises all who repent and believe the Gospel is the Church to which we desire you to belong. Our work is not done, and our hearts are not satisfied until you are made a new creature, and are a member of the one true Church.
  • Outside of the Church which is “built on the rock” there can be NO SALVATION.
The Lord Jesus declares, “I will build my Church”
  • God the Father chooses, God the Son redeems, and God the Holy Ghost sanctifies every member of Christ’s mystical body. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, co-operate for the salvation of every saved soul.
  • There is a peculiar sense in which the help of the Church is laid on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is peculiarly and pre-eminently the Redeemer and Saviour of the Church. Therefore it is that we find Him saying in our text, “I will build – the work of building is my special work.”
    • Christ callsAnd you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:6, NIV)
    • Christ raises from spiritual death and gives new lifeFor just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. (John 5:21, NIV)
    • Christ washes away sins:  … Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5–6, NIV)
    • Christ gives peacePeace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27, NIV)
    • Christ gives eternal lifeI give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28, NIV)
    • Christ grants repentanceGod exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. (Acts 5:31, NIV)
    • Christ enablesYet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— (John 1:12, NIV)
    • Christ continues the work of salvation:  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:19, NIV)
    • Christ came from the FatherFor God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, (Colossians 1:19, NIV)
    • Christ is the Head of the churchFrom him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16, NIV)
  • The mighty agent by whom the Lord Jesus Christ carries out this work in the members of His Church is the Holy Spirit.
    • He it is who is ever renewing, awakening, convincing, leading to the cross, transforming
    • He is taking out of the world stone after stone, and adding to the mystical building.
  • But the great chief Builder, who has undertaken to execute the work of redemption and bring it to completion, is the Son of God, Jesus Christ who “builds.”
  • Christ uses and ordains:
    • the ministry of the Gospel (and sacraments)
    • the circulation of the Scriptures
    • the friendly rebuke
    • the word spoken in season
    • the drawing influence of afflictions
  • Ministers may preach and writers may write, but the Lord Jesus Christ alone can build. And except He builds, the work stands still.
  • The great Builder makes no mistakes. He knows what He is doing. He sees the end from the beginning. He works by a perfect, unalterable, and certain plan.
    • He often chooses the most unlikely and roughest stones, and fits them into a most excellent work.
    • He despises none, and rejects none, on account of former sins and past transgressions.
    • He often makes Pharisees and Publicans become pillars of His house.
    • He delights to show mercy. He often takes the most thoughtless and ungodly, and transforms them into polished corners of His spiritual temple.
  • He carries on His work
    • in spite of opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
    • in storm, in tempest, through troublous times, silently, quietly, without noise, without stir, without excitement, the building progresses.

Yes, and from ancient days I am He. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:13, NIV)

    • For the preserving of the true Church, the laws of nature have oftentimes been suspended.
    • For the good of that Church, all the providential dealings of God in this world are ordered and arranged.
    • For the elect’s sake, wars are brought to an end, and peace is given to a nation.
    • Statesmen, rulers, emperors, kings, presidents, heads of governments, have their schemes and plans, and think them of vast importance, but there is another work going on of infinitely greater moment, for which they are only the “axes and saws” in God’s hand.
  • Christ will never fail. That which He has undertaken He will certainly accomplish.
The foundation upon which the church is built
  • What did the Lord Jesus Christ mean when He spoke of this foundation? No, it was not the person of the Apostle Peter, but the good confession which the Apostle had just made! It was not Peter, the erring, unstable man, but the mighty truth which the Father had revealed to Peter.
  • It was Christ’s Mediatorship, and Christ’s Messiahship. It was the blessed truth that Jesus was the promised Saviour, the true Surety, the real Intercessor between God and man. This was the rock, and this the foundation, upon which the Church of Christ was to be built.
  • It needed that the Son of God should take our nature upon Him, and in that nature live, suffer, and die, not for His own sins, but for ours. It needed that in that nature Christ should go to the grave, and rise again. It needed that in that nature Christ should go up to heaven, to sit at the right hand of God, having obtained eternal redemption for all His people.
  • It can bear the weight of the sins of all the world. It has borne the weight of all the sins of all the believers who have built on it.
  • To this one foundation every member of Christ’s true Church is joined. Ask where they get their peace, and hope, and joyful expectation of good things to come. You will find that all flows from that one mighty source, Christ the Mediator between God and man, and the office that Christ holds, as the High Priest and Surety of sinners.
  • Take heed that you make no mistake about your own personal salvation. See that your own soul is upon the rock.
The implied Trials of the Church
  • The history of Christ’s true Church has always been one of conflict and war. It has been constantly assailed by a deadly enemy, Satan, the prince of this world. The devil hates the true Church of Christ with an undying hatred.

When the dragon (that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, [Revelation 12:9])saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. (Revelation 12:13,17, NIV)

  • Warfare with the powers of hell has been the experience of the whole body of Christ for six thousand years.
  • Warfare with the powers of hell is the experience of every individual member of the true Church. Each has to fight.
  • Mercy, free grace, and full salvation, are offered to every one who will come to Christ, and believe on Him. But we promise you no peace with the world, or with the devil. We warn you, on the contrary, that there must be warfare so long as you are in the body.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

  • Marvel not at the enmity of the gates of hell. “If you were of the world, the world would love his own.” (John 15:19)  The world hated Christ, and the world will hate true Christians, as long as the earth stands. As the great reformer, Luther, said, “Cain will go on murdering Abel so long as the Church is on earth.
  • Be prepared for the enmity of the gates of hell. Put on the whole armour of God.
  • Be patient under the enmity of the gates of hell. It is all working together for your good. It tends to sanctify. It will keep you awake. It will make you humble. It will drive you nearer to the Lord Jesus Christ. It will wean you from the world. It will help to make you pray more. Above all, it will make you long for heaven.
  • Be not cast down by the enmity of hell. The warfare of the true child of God is as much a mark of grace as the inward peace which he enjoys. No cross, no crown! No conflict, no saving Christianity!

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11, NIV)

Security of the true Church of Christ. There is a glorious promise given by the Builder, “The gates of hell shall not prevail.”
  • He who cannot lie has pledged His word that all the powers of hell shall never overthrow His Church. It shall continue, and stand, in spite of every assault. It shall never be overcome.
  • Empires have risen and fallen in rapid succession. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Tyre, Carthage, Rome, Greece, Venice. – Where are all these now?
  • The broad walls of Babylon have sunk to the ground. The palaces of Nineveh are covered with mounds of dust. The hundred gates of Thebes are only matters of history. Tyre is a place where fishermen hang their nets. Carthage is a desolation.
  • Has the true Church been oppressed in one country? It has fled to another. – Has it been trampled on and oppressed in one soil? It has taken root and flourished in some other climate. – Fire, sword, prisons, fines, penalties, have never been able to destroy its vitality. Its persecutors have died and gone to their own place, but the Word of God has lived, and grown, and multiplied. Weak as this true Church may appear to the eye of man, it is an anvil which has broken many a hammer in times past, and perhaps will break many more before the end.

For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye— (Zechariah 2:8, NIV)

  • The promise of our text is true of the whole body of the true Church. Christ will never be without witness in the world. He has had a people in the worst of times.
  • The promise of our text is true of every individual member of the Church. Some of God’s people have been so much cast down and disquieted, that they have despaired of their safety. Can you prevent the planets moving in their respective orbits? Then, and then alone, can you prevent the salvation of any believer, however feeble – the final safety of any living stone in that Church which is built upon the rock, however small or insignificant that stone may appear.
    • The true Church is Christ’s body. Not one bone in that mystical body shall ever be broken. – The true Church is Christ’s bride. Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” (John 18:8–9, NIV)
    • The true Church is Christ’s flock. When the lion came and took a lamb out of David’s flock, David arose and delivered the lamb from his mouth. Christ will do the same.
    • The true Church is the wheat of the earth. It may be sifted, winnowed, buffeted, tossed to and fro. But not one grain shall be lost.
    • The true Church is Christ’s army. The Captain of our salvation loses none of His soldiers. His plans are never defeated. His supplies never fail.
  • The devil may cast some of the members of the true Church into prison. He may kill, and burn, and torture, and hang. But after he has killed the body, there is nothing more that he can do. When the French troops took Rome years ago, they found on the walls of a prison cell, under the Inquisition, the words of a prisoner. “Though dead, he yet speaks.” He had written on the walls, very likely after an unjust trial and a still more unjust excommunication, the following striking words: – “Blessed Jesus, they cannot cast me out of Thy true Church.
  • He to whom you commit your soul has all power in heaven and earth, and He will keep you. He will never let you be cast away.
  • Fear not for the Church of Christ when ministers die, and saints are taken away. Christ can ever maintain His own cause. He will raise up better servants and brighter stars. The stars are all in His right hand.
Application
  • To unbelievers
    • Are you joined to the great Foundation? Are you on the rock? Have you received the Holy Ghost? Does the Spirit witness with your spirit, that you are one with Christ, and Christ with you?
    • Come and join yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ in an everlasting covenant not to be forgotten.
    • Come to Him who died for sinners on the cross, and invites all sinners to come to Him by faith and be saved.
    • Come into the lifeboat of the one true Church. “How can I come? My sins are too many. I am too wicked yet. I dare not come.” – Away with the thought! It is a temptation of Satan. Come to Christ as a sinner. Come just as you are.

Not the labors of my hands 

can fulfill thy law’s commands; 

could my zeal no respite know, 

could my tears forever flow, 

all for sin could not atone; 

You must save, and You alone.

(Words by Toplady, Song:  Rock of Ages)

  • You should come as a hungry sinner to be filled – as a poor sinner to be enriched – as a bad, undeserving sinner to be clothed with righteousness. So coming, Christ would receive you.

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37, NIV)

  • To believers:
    • Strive to live a holy life. Walk worthy of the Church to which you belong.
    • Strive to live a courageous life. Confess Christ before men.
    • Strive to live a joyful life. Live like men who look for that blessed hope – the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Completing the work in the face of persecution

My dear friends in the Lord,

Over the last two months we heard the Word of God concerning the work of the Holy Spirit.  Over the last few Sundays we specifically looked at how the Holy Spirit builds the church.  We made the following observations:

  • It is the Holy Spirit who does gives birth to a dead heart to make it respond to the Gospel of grace; the sinner, first dead in sin, is then enabled to hear the Word about Jesus Christ
  • It is the Spirit who enables every member to contribute to the work of the Church according to the gifts He gives, as He determines, for the upbuilding of all the members of the body
  • Like in the New Testament, the Spirit also enabled the people of God with gifts, skills and the ability to teach others to build.  This was very clear from our study about the building of the Tabernacle
  • Last week we heard the Word from Nehemiah about the exiles returning to rebuild the temple and the city walls.  It was during this time that Zechariah, who was written during the time of the rebuilding of the temple some years earlier, got this assuring message from God:

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty. Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” (Zechariah 4:6, 10, NIV)

  • We also saw last week who the builders of the walls were:  people from all walks of life, with different skills, performing different tasks, some doing more, other doing less
  • We also heard about others who compromised themselves by inter-marrying with the enemy – they did not commit to the building of the walls
  • We understand that we are not called to build a building, but be a spiritual house under the Headship of Jesus Christ.  Each one of us is like a stone being added to the spiritual temple.  The Bible calls each of us to do our part so that we can grow into the fulness of the body of Christ.

The work in God’s kingdom always attracts opposition

Our Lord called his disciples, and at the very first day brought home this principle home:“

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12, NIV)

There was persecution and opposition in the days of Nehemiah.

From without

Those who occupied the land and were in political control of it when the exiles returned, were under the leadership of Sanballat and Tobiah.

They first scaled a psychological warfare against the work of Nehemiah.  They said,

“What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (Nehemiah 4:3, NIV)

We know this sort of attack these days too.  Christians and the work of the church are belittled, and Christ is scoffed.  But don’t listen to those who oppose the Son of God and his church.  Do what Nehemiah did.  He prayed:

Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. (Nehemiah 4:4, NIV)

It is not our task to engage in some sort of Christian Jihad against our enemy.  Let us remember: “Not by power or by might, but by my Sprit.

Psychological warfare was soon followed what can be described as a from of terrorist warfare.  We read, “They plotted together”.  At this stage it was no open attack.  It was more like a show of force designed to drive terror into the exiles.

We know how the battle lines are drawn today.  Fear mongering about how one could lose your job if you stand on Christian principles in your workplace.  And when some nurses are fired because they dared to pray with a patient, or when some baker and his wife are threatened to huge fines and the loss of their business license because it is against their principles to bake a wedding cake with two men in top of it, we understand that this terrorist attack is designed to kill Christians with fear.

How do we react?  Do we retreat?  Do we stand like people with principle and take it on the chin even if our job and our financial investments might be on the line?

Nehemiah and his men prayed, but they also took up their posts in defence: they “…posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (4:9)

My friend, be on your knees before God, but be on your post where you must face the enemy.

The strategy of the enemy moved on to include political intimidation.  The allegations were based on lies and political spin.  in which was written:

It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.” (Nehemiah 6:6–7, NIV)

Newspaper headlines – how we know them!  “It was reportedly claimed that the controversial Bible-basher said that …”  Ask so-and-so, my brother in crime, he will tell, not the truth, he will tell you the real truth.  So, before this actually reaches the highest powers, let’s talk – let’s sit around the table an negotiate about what belongs to you.

Nehemiah saw through this plot and referred to it as a way of “frightening” them.  How did Nehemiah respond?  He stood his ground – prayed!  “But I prayed, Now strengthen my hands” (6:9)

Don’t we know this kind of warfare? The church of Christ is discredited on about every front.  It is sad that some allegations against clergy are actually true, and brings enormous disgrace to the Name of our Lord.  But speak up against the evil of abortion and same-sex marriages (and everything it all entails), or stand by the truth that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only God, and his Son the only Saviour, that the word of God is the only measure for life and worship, and soon we are labelled as bigots, people who are divisive and even a danger to the welfare of the state.  To even teach one’s own children about Christ has been labelled as child abuse.  My friend, the treat is real, but those who stand behind it are powerless against God who listens to the prayers of his people. Nehemiah encouraged his people, “Our Lord will fight for us.

From within

There is another source of attack: from within.  It came in the form of despondency.

When the enemies said,“Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work…” (Nehemiah 4:11, NIV) some of the exiles responded with “The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” (Nehemiah 4:10, NIV).  The effect of the psychological warfare had paralysed some.  Others chipped in with, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” (Nehemiah 4:12, NIV)  In other words: we can just as well throw the towel in, we are outnumbered, and the death threats are real.  What is this stupid wall about?  What difference is it going to make if it is not built?

How did Nehemiah respond?  I stood up and said,

“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:14, NIV)

But there was another, far more dangerous and subtle attack:  spiritual white-anting.  A so-called prophet/priest arose and requested a meeting with Nehemiah in the temple. The enemy white-anted the religious leaders.  Nehemiah resisted, because

I realised that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him… to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. (Nehemiah 6:12–13, NIV)

We have those too today.  False prophets who discredit the authority of the Bible, who put doubts in the mind of believers and say the Jesus was not raised bodily, or that Genesis 1-11 is just a myth, because science has proven creation to be impossible.  And some ministers fall for this form of intimidation, who in turn practice spiritual intimidation upon their members

How did Nehemiah respond? He prayed!

Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me. (Nehemiah 6:14, NIV)

Success!

Not by power or by might, but by my Spirit!  God listened to the prayers, and “God frustrated” the attack of the enemy (4:15).

But it did not mean the work was done!  No, it then really picked up in intensity.  Half of the men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armour (4:16)  In one hand they held a weapon and in the other the building material.  Every man and his helper stayed in Jerusalem at night, so that they could serve as guards at night and workmen by day.  All along the encouragement from Nehemiah came:  “Our God will fight for us.” (4:20)

So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. (Nehemiah 6:15, NIV)

Full commitment to God and full commitment to the work.  It’s a full-on job, demanding every bit of energy and commitment.  Our Lord warned:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25–26, NIV)

Jesus also told the parable of the servant who worked all day out in the field, and then went inside to serve his master till the very end of the day.  Our Lord said:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty. (Luke 17:10, NIV)

Conclusion

My dear friend, there is a challenge for us all in this, isn’t it?  All of us have to put shoulder to the wheel.  We who call ourselves Christians are part of the body.  We function together under our Head, Jesus Christ, and we labour for the benefit for other members.  So the spiritual temple is built; so the enemy is defeated.

In the Name of our Lord, would you put your hand up and enlist in this army?  The branch which does not bear fruit will be chapped off and burned in the fire – these are the words of our Lord.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 17 July 2016