Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

What do we make of Christ’s death? (Crucifixion Day)

Bible Readings

  • John 18:1-11
  • Luke 23:26-49

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in Jesus Christ,

Our Lord once said,

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2–3, NIV)

In another place our Lord said, praying to his Father,

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Matthew 11:25, NIV)

The reason why I quoted these verses is to stress the point that trust and faith, although based on true knowledge, demands humility.  It does not require intelligence; cleverness harbours arrogance and pride.  What the mind rejects as implausible there is no room in the heart for trust.

Christians cannot defend God and Christ, as if He needs our endorsement before others will believe in Him.

To come to God in faith is to trust that, how He revealed Himself in Scripture, is the truth and worthy of trusting because our lives depend on it.

So, can we believe Jesus? What is of crucial importance is that we understand that all of Christ’s life and teaching on earth was God’s revelation of Himself.

What Christ taught was and is crucial, how He lived was crucially important too, but what about his death? Was his death any different than the death of any leader of other religions?

Was Christ’s death separated from who He was and what He taught all his life, or was his death the culmination of his teaching of who He was and what his mission was?  My death will not necessarily have any meaning; flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.  I will die because it is destined for children of Adam to return to dust. But it was different with Christ.  So, what set the death of Christ apart from all who died before and after Him?

Put it in other words:  does the death of Christ back up his life and teaching?  It it doesn’t, we are gathered here for no particular reason.  The opposite demands our attention:  if his death indeed was the culmination of his earthly ministry, all gathered here today are left before a choice: reject the truth of the Gospel, or live by the truth of the Gospel.

The ministry of Christ did not happen in a vacuum

Skeptics may look at the life of Christ without the wider context of his ministry.  His birth of a virgin, his claims, his teachings, his life and indeed his death happens without context.  He then is purely a human being who made the most preposterous and farcical claims which no intelligent person can believe in.  He then recklessly and senselessly ventured into territory where no one in his right mind would dream to tread:  who would take on the Roman Empire and claim to be King?  Who would dare stand before the Jewish Council and claim to be the Son of Man?  Who would overturn the tables in the temple and in bright daylight declare the He would rebuild the temple in three days.  Is his death not a logical consequence of repeated stubbornness and foolishness?

But Christ’s ministry did not happen in a vacuum.  It is only when we understand God’s power to create out of nothing and his claim on all creation, his righteousness, his sovereignty, his holiness, his judgment, his grace, his love for lost sinners, the fall of mankind into sin, God’s promise to restore and rescue and renew what is fallen, that we will understand anything of the ministry, teaching and death of Christ.

All the main historical markers of fallen mankind pointed forward to God’s gracious work of restoration.  God’s promises to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. When God rescued his people from slavery it pointed to the ultimate rescue work of Christ.  Moses was a type of Christ, but where he failed Christ succeeded.  The Promised Land of Israel was a precursor to the eternal rest of heaven made possible by Christ.

Aaron, the High Priest, brought sacrifices in the form of sacrificial animals, which pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, after which neither more sacrifices, nor any High Priest would be needed.

David was a type of Christ, but Christ was the ultimate fulfilment of all kings who would lead the people to the celestial Promised Land.

The ministry of Jesus indeed did not happen without context.  Therefore his life and death did not happen without context.  The context gives it meaning.  So what do we make of the death of Christ?

Christ, the Priest mediating the grace of God

One of the major tasks of a priest was to make intercession for the people.  Not only did they stood with the blood of the sacrificial animal before God, they pleaded before God on behalf of the people.  The very fact that the breastplate of the High Priest had the names of all the tribes on it meant that he stood in the presence of God on their behalf.

Priests were the mediators of God’s covenant.

What did Jesus do?  Listen to this verse in John 18:8, Jesus answered,

If you are looking for Me, then let these men go. (John 18:8, NIV)

All along in his teaching an ministry prepared his disciples that He would be handed over to be killed. But He more specifically spelled it out in John 10,

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

Did not the curtain of the Most Holy tear from top to bottom when the ultimate High Priest cried out, “It is finished!”

The death of Christ backed up his teaching are his life.  He did not come to be served, but to serve.  He came to seek and save the lost.  And the reason why He was willing to do it is, firstly, because God loved the world and wanted to save sinners; secondly, sinners could not save themselves, not even the blood of bulls and heifers could make permanent atonement.

If you are looking for Me, then let these men go.

Can you hear the grace of Christ who deliberately stood firm and demanded that those He would die for would not die with Him, but go free?

“Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11, NIV)

This was the lonely road of the lamb led to be slaughtered.

And then, with the nails through his hand and feet, raised between two crooks, our Lord prayed,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NIV)

This is the prayer of a High Priest!  And why would his Father listen?  Because his Son was without sin, the Lamb without blemish. It even came from the mouth of Pilate,

Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him.” (John 19:4, NIV)

And the centurion at the foot of the cross praised God and said,

“Surely this was a righteous man.” (Luke 23:47, NIV)

And the one crook made the point:  He is innocent, we are not.  He does not deserve this death, we do!

As priest Christ mediated the grace of God.

What do we make of his death?  First and foremost:  He died in our place.  He surely could, because He was both sacrifice and High Priest. No one else could!  Therefore there is salvation in no other. If He did not die, we must die.  We must have obedient trust and faith in Him.

Christ, the king executing the grace of God

Although the soldiers mocked Him by clothing Him with a purple robe and gave Him a crown of thorns, Jesus instead that He was King.  “Are You the King of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say.”

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36–37, NIV)

With a stubborn will unwilling and unable to see what Christ is teaching in this last moments of his life, Pilate mockingly presented Jesus to the crowd, “Here is your king! Shall I crucify your king?” Not wanting to be on the wrong side of the Caesar, Pilate handed Him over to be crucified.

Like Caiaphas in John 11, who had no idea that he had been arrested by God when he made an enormous prophecy about Christ when he said it is better for one man to die than the whole nation perish (John 11:49-53), Pilate unwittingly did the same.  In three languages, clear to read for all by-passers who came to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast from different parts of the world, he had the sign put on the cross.  “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”  In his eyes it was probably nothing more than a mockery, but it was still true.  He was and is indeed King!

Does a King die in agony being the ridicule of the world.  “If He is King, if indeed He is the Son of God, let He rescue Himself and get off the cross.”

Yes He is king, but He is at the same time High Priest and sacrifice.  It was precisely because He was King that He had to die;  all others would fail in miserable weakness.  By dying he would overcome death and Satan.

As King Christ executed the grace of God.

The claims He made during his earthly ministry were backed up by his death on the cross.  To be included into his kingdom is to believe that He is indeed who He claimed to be.

Christ, the prophet proclaiming the grace of God

When the King with outstretched arms on the cross gave Himself, He interceded for the lost, “Father, forgive them.

One of the crooks heard Him pray and asked to be remembered.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43, NIV)

 On what grounds could Jesus give this promise?  The only possible answer is that He reopened Paradise as King, that He as priest atoned for the sin of the children of Adam, and that He was the ultimate prophet who had the authority to make a prophesy like it.  The crook believed and entered paradise with our Lord.

As prophet Christ proclaimed the grace of God.

Conclusion

What do we make of the death of Christ?  His death was the culmination of God’s mercy towards sinners, the prophecies of the Old Testament, and his promises made true in Christ Jesus.  What Christ claimed during his ministry came to its fullest conclusion when He gave Himself to die in our place.

Amazing love, o what sacrifice, the Son of God given for me

My debt He pays and my death He dies that I might live.

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Friday 30 March 2014 (Crucifixtion Day) 

 

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The cross and us

Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see is as something son by us (leading us to repentance).  Indeed, ‘only the man who is prepared to own his share in the guild of the cross may claim his share in its grace’ (Peter Green)

John Stott, “The Cross of Christ”.

Can we condemn Pilate (… in all honesty)?

It is easy to condemn Pilate and overlook our own equally devious behaviour.  Anxious to avoid the pain of a whole-hearted commitment to Christ, we too search for convenient subterfuges.  We either leave the decision to somebody else, or opt out for a half-hearted compromise, or seek to honour Jesus for the wrong reason (e.g. as teacher instead of as Lord), or even make a public affirmation of loyalty while at the same time denying hi in our hearts.

(John Stott, The Cross of Christ)

The Cross

“The Missionary among Moslems (to whom the Cross of Christ is a stumbling block and the atonement foolishness) is driven daily to deeper meditation on the mystery of redemption, and to a stronger conviction that here is the very heart of our message and our mission …

The cross-jpgmore unbelievers deny its crucial character, the more do believers find in it the key to the mysteries of sin and suffering…  We find that, although the offence of the Cross remains, its magnetic power is irresistible.”

(Samuel M. Zwemer, in “Glory of the Cross” – as quoted by John Stott in “The cross of Christ“.  Zwemer laboured in Arabia an is sometimes called “the Apostle to Islam.”  He edited the Muslim Word for 40 years.)

Covenant Baptism

Broadly speaking, there are two main views on baptism:

  • Covenant Baptism (some may call it paedobaptism, because it implies that infants of together with their covenant parents should be baptised).  The mode of baptism is sprinkling of water.
  • Believers Baptism (some call it credo-baptism, because only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour are baptised, usually adults.  The mode of baptism is immersion into water.

This paper explores the Presbyterian understanding of Covenant Baptism.

Covenant Theology represents an understanding that there is unity between the Old and the New Testaments.  What is promised on unfulfilled in the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament – one is not possible without the other.  The New Testament thus does not replace the Old testament; neither does it exist as a separate part of the Bible alongside the Old Testament.

All the prophets testify about Him [Jesus Christ] that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

“Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:45–47)

The church of the New Testament is not a separate entity from the church of the Old Testament, but a continuation of it, albeit in more glorious form.  The ceremonial signs of the rituals of the Old Testament found their fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ and have ceased after the cross and resurrection of our Lord.  However, what they signalled still stand, but now understood in and through the Head of the new covenant and his perfect work as Priest, Prophet and King.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. (Ephesians 2:11-12, 19)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17, NIV)

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 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! (Hebrews 9:11–14, NIV)

Jesus did not come to rip up the Old Testament, He came to fulfil it.  As a matter of fact, during his ministry He very often used the Scriptures of the Old Testament as his authority.

The church of the both the Old and the New Testament (Israel) has Abraham as father.  God made a covenant with him after He called him out of the slavery of sin.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1–3)

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28–29)

God’s promise to Abraham states clearly that through Abraham the nations and peoples of the earth will be blessed.  This was made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

So then, he [Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11–12)

About the covenant God further said that it will be for the generations of Abraham as an everlasting covenant.

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (Romans 4:16) (The the “promise” in this verse is reference to the covenant – see also Acts 2:39, Eph 2:12)

The Bible is clear about the fact that this covenant is not one of works, but one of grace.

“Under what circumstances was it [his righteousness] credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!” (Romans 4:10)

The sign of the covenant in the Old Testament was circumcision.

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:10–11)

Abraham had not be circumcised when God gave him the sign, so not Ishmael and other men in his household.  They were all circumcised after God commanded it:  Abraham being 99 years of age, Ishmael 13 and later Isaac on the eight day.

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.” (Genesis 17:23–27)

First then, those who had not been circumcised before God instituted the sign were circumcised, irrespective of their age; later, all males born into a family were circumcised on the eight day – which means that the circumcision was later almost exclusively administered to babies boys, apart from cases where new convert families were added.

To not keep this ritual meant breaking the covenant.

“Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:14)

Even when Moses neglected this ordinance God became angry with him and wanted to kill him.

At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ she said. So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said ‘bridegroom of blood,’ referring to circumcision.)” (Exodus 4:24–26)

The other sacrament the Lord gave his people, was the sign of blood of the Passover lamb.  Both the sign of circumcision and Passover were signs accompanied by blood and pointed forward to the blood of Christ, God’s Passover Lamb.

Exodus 12.  Numerous other parts of the Old Testament.  This was a perpetual sacrament which was later replaced by the Lord’s Supper.

Those who converted to the God of Israel from other religions, together with the males in their household, including infant boys, had to be circumcised before they were allowed to partake in the Passover.

A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.” (Exodus 12:48, NIV)

As with many things during the time of the Old Testament which were incomplete, and about all sacrifices were accompanied by blood, or alternatively, by water – water being the sign of ritual cleansing.  Circumcision was sign of initiation into the Old Covenant and was a sign of blood (Genesis 17:10)  It was done once.  The New Testament replacement of this sing was baptism, a bloodless sign.  The sign was replaced, while the covenant remained.:

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

The Passover Lamb was the perpetual sign, done repeatedly, and was a sign of blood (Exodus 12:22).  The New Testament replacement is The Lord’s Supper, a bloodless sign:

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27–28, NIV)

The Greek work used in some verses of the Old Testament does not indicate immersion, but sprinkling.

“Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew (bapto) of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33)

Purification acts in the Old Testament were done by sprinkling or washing, and is some cases “bapto” is used.  This washing did not include washing with soap and water to physically clean hands or feet or body, but signalled purification.

Then the anointed priest is to take some of the bull’s blood into the tent of meeting. He shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the Lord seven times in front of the curtain.” (Leviticus 4:16–17)

A priest in the Old Testament took blood of an animal and “sprinkled” it on the altar to ceremonially cleanse it.

Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull’s blood and carry it into the tent of meeting. He is to dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle some of it seven times before the Lord, in front of the curtain of the sanctuary.” (Leviticus 4:5–6) [This act of the priest happened consistently with all offerings.]

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.” (Hebrews 9:13).

Any person who touched a corpse had to cleanse himself.  For the Israelite this happened in the courtyard of the Tabernacle where there was a big bronze holding basin (Exodus 30:17-21).  The ritual was done by sprinkling, not immersion – and yet the word used is “bapto

When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean.” (Leviticus 11:32)

When Naaman of Aram came to see Elisha he had to purify himself by washing himself in the Jordan.  This is exactly what God commanded in Leviticus 14:7

“Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields.” (Leviticus 14:7)

In the New Testament “bapto/baptitso” is interchangeably used for another Greek word “nipto”, meaning “cleanse”.  For those who were still Jews this washing had ceremonial meaning:  unbaptised hands were unclean hands.

The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.” (Mark 7:3, NIV)

But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. (Luke 11:38, NIV) (His hands were “unbaptised!)

Not all instances of the word “baptise” or “baptism” in the New Testament mean to immerse.  In fact, more often than not the word has a spiritual meaning.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:1, NIV)

… long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:20–21, NIV)

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:37–38, NIV)

Charles Hodge, renowned theologian comments:  “But the Egyptians who were immersed were not baptised; and the Israelites who were baptised were not immersed.”

When believers in the New Testament were baptised by the Holy Spirit they were not immersed but filled.  Even the tongues of fire which sat on them pointed to the purifying “sprinkling” of the promised Spirit of Ezekiel 36:

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

The baptism of John was not the baptism which Jesus commanded. John did not baptise in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  John was the last Old Testament prophet, preparing the people for the arrival of the New Testament period.  John called the people of God to repent; he did not baptise them to become part of the people of God.

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ (Acts 13:23–25, NIV)

Those who were baptised with the baptism of John were re-baptised, because they were not baptised in the Name of the Holy Spirit.

[Paul] asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:2–5, NIV)

As commanded by Jesus after He completed his mission (death and resurrection, and gave the disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit, for whom they had to wait before they started their mission to the world, the apostles introduced the New Testament baptism as a sign of Covenant at Pentecost when people were baptised.  On Pentecost Day and after Jews who had been circumcised previously were baptised.  To understand New Testament baptism, we should not start with John, but with the command of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

God in the Old Testament made promises of a new era to come, when the Sprit of God would be poured out and the sins of the people would be forgiven.  The work of the Holy Sprit is connected with purification and rebirth.  He is “poured out” on the people, “put in” the hearts, like oil on the head of the anointed prophets and kings.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)  See also Ezek 37:14, 39:29, Isaiah 44:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Joel 2:28-29.

Both the work of Christ, who gave his blood to wash away our sins, and the work of the Holy Spirit comes together in this verse:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22, NIV)

When on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out the promises of a new era came into being.  What was symbolised by ritual washings of purification, and what was promised about a new heart and a new spirit was fulfilled on that day. The Spirit was promised:  “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11, NIV)

Peter explained to the people that Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled. The pouring out of the Spirit took place.  This pouring out had to do with cleansing and rebirth.  In Acts 1:8 it was called “receive”; in other places it is referred to as being “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 9:17)  They were baptised with the Holy Spirit which symbolically sat like flames on their heads, symbolising the cleansing of the Spirit in the same way as the sprinkling of the water in the Old Testament signified.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26–29, NIV)

  • In Peter’s sermon on Pentecost day things are connected:
  • All the promises regarding the Messiah were fulfilled in Christ
  • Forgiveness of sins is possible because Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead
  • Rebirth is possible because the Holy Spirit was poured out (or put in the hearts of the people/the people received the Him
  • Repentance of sin is necessary (Acts 2:38)
  • Baptism as a sign of inclusion into the Covenant family of God was necessary (Acts 2:39
  • As with the Old Testament Covenant, children were included into the covenant by the sign and seal of baptism (Acts 2:39
  • Now more than just the Jewish people are included (Acts 2:39)
  • God anointed all his people to be priests, prophets and kings by giving them his Holy Spirit.

Three thousand people were baptised on Pentecost Day.  In keeping with what is taught in the Old Testament about “cleansing” and receiving the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to assume the following:

  • The three thousand were not immersed in water.  The sign of being received in the family of God was by sprinkling of water.
  • The place where the people gathered when they received the Spirit was most probably not too far from the temple courts (Acts 2:46; 3:2,8; 5:20-21,25,42; 24:18; 26:21).  Jerusalem was a city with very scarce water supplies which depended upon rainwater stored in tanks and cisterns.  To assume that they were immersed is to read back into the text.

As in the time of the institution of the circumcision as the sign of the Covenant in the Old Testament, when those who had not been circumcised were circumcised, irrespective of their age, so those baptised in the New Testament were mainly adults.  Whole families were baptised in the New Testament.  Every Covenant God ever made with his people included children:  Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses.

  • Of the EthiopianAs they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” (Acts 8:36, NIV)  The text states that it was a desert road.  The water referred to in this text could not have been a lot.  It stretches the text to assume that the Ethiopian was immersed.  It is fair to note that the expression “with” in Greek could in certain contexts be translated as “in”.
  • Of PaulImmediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised (Acts 9:18, NIV).  As Paul was baptised in the house of Judas in Straight Street in Damascus at a time when there were no other water supply than from wells or cisterns, it seems logic to assume that Paul was not immersed.
  • Of Cornelius“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10:47–48, NIV)  Cornelius, his relatives and close friends were all were gathered in the house. Could they have been immersed when they were baptised.  In what?  Who were the relatives?  Only adults, but it might have included whole families of his relatives.
  • Of the jailer:  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. (Acts 16:31–33, NIV) The context leads us to believe that every person in the family of the jailer were baptised – this is in keeping with what happened with covenant families in the Old Testament.  Further, they were still in the building of the prison when they were baptised; immersion could hardly take place there.
  • Of LydiaWhen she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:15, NIV).  In all fairness, they were near a river and could have been immersed.  This however would be out of step with the rest. Besides, it included the members of her household, which could have included children.

In the old Jewish Church every proselyte from the heathen brought his children into the Church with him.  If only one of the parents is a Christian, the children are said to be “holy,” or “saints,” which is a common designation of church members in the New Testament.

For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14, NIV)

Baptism in the early church, as we have seen, happened in the most unusual places and circumstances. As the Gospel spread and congregations developed and they gathered under the leadership of elders and ministers, whether in house churches or dedicated buildings, it become custom to administer the sacraments when the covenant people of God, the congregation was gathered.  Administering the sacraments was never meant to be something private; it would destroy the covenantal character of the family of God.

It is therefore proper that baptisms should be administered within the worship service, where the whole covenant family of the Lord can witness it, rejoice in it and vow to accept and to set a Christian example to those who are baptised.

Practise in the Reformed Churches all over the world, which also do not subscribe to paedo communion, is that children of believing parents are baptised, but are not given the right to sit at the Table of the Lord.  They are baptised members, but not communicant members.  Only after they have made profession of their faith in the Lord in the gathered community of the Lord, do they become communicant members, giving them access to the Table of the Lord.

It is therefore the task of the whole congregation, but more specifically the parents to train their children up in the understanding of the Bible.  They need to understand the call of the Gospel based on God’s promises to them once made when they were baptised.

Baptism does not saved anyone, but provides the basis for the promises of God as seal and sign of his grace to be accepted when baptised members reach a stage when they can understand, and indeed, give public testimony that they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and that they commit their lives to service in his church.

Sessions are also tasked with the responsibility to see that training take place, and that other activities are put in place to nurture their baptised members into communicant members.

Only those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives, who repented of their sin, whose desire it is to walk in accordance of the Word of God, led by the Holy Spirit, may be baptised.  Their children should be baptised too, as we saw above.  No baptism should take place before the Session is satisfied that these requirements are met.

The Presbyterian Church of Australia has as confessional document The Westminster Confession of Faith.  It states:

Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptised

Ministers of the Presbyterian Church, when they are licensed or ordained and inducted to a charge make certain vows. One of them is:

Do you own and accept the Westminster Confession of Faith, as amended by the General Assembly, and read in the light of the Declaratory Statement contained in the Basis of Union adopted by this Church on the 24th day of July, 1901, as an exhibition of the sense in which you understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of your faith; and do you engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of your power to assert maintain and defend the same?

At the last General Assembly (2013) of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, at which all congregations are represented through their presbyteries, the Assembly reaffirmed the following:

Motion 83:  “That the Assembly:  Declare that the understanding and practice of infant baptism is so integral to the history, the purity of worship and the structure of covenant theology in the westminster confession of Faith that no potential office bearer should sign the formula if the Church’s stance on infant baptism is not accepted.  Furthermore, those who have signed it but hold exclusively to credobaptistic views should remain silent on their views or resign.”

As minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, I signed the declaration which states that I understand the Westminster Confession of Faith as an exhibition of the sense in which I understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of my faith.  I vowed to engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of my power to assert maintain and defend it.  I am bound, not only by my conscience and understanding of the Scriptures, but also to the vows I made before God when I became minister of this Church, and once again when I was inducted into this charge.

It would be dishonest of me to do otherwise.  I therefore would find it impossible to administer the Sacrament of Baptism in a different manner, or by a different mode.

The Gracious Invitation to follow Jesus Christ

Discipleship

Scripture Reading

  • Luke 14

Introduction

Dear friend in our Lord Jesus Christ,

We have a tendency to think that the rich and the famous are in some ways better people to mix with.  Over the exit out of Wimbledon, boys and girls would wait with a large tennis balls or a printed program just incase the renowned tennis player would sign it.  The arrival of a film star on an airport can easily create chaos as fans gather to see their hero.  These days people take selfies with the famous.

The Pharisees in the time of Jesus did the same:  they picked the places of honour at the table of their hosts.

An invitation to Jesus Christ

There was a day that our Lord got an invitation to dine with a prominent Pharisee in his house.  Experts in the law were also invited.  They probably did not invite Jesus socially; they were most probably looking for a way to trap Him.  The text says, “He was carefully watched.”

Jesus Christ, the Son of God knew their motives, and it is almost as if Luke does not dwell on informalities.

The houses then were more “open”: neighbours or close relatives were not kept outside while invited guests had a meal. That’s why our text takes us right to the point of the man with dropsy being there too. We know that all things are ordained to the finest of detail by our Father; so it was on this day too.  He suffered from something which made his hands swell because of the retention of water.  In God’s grand design this man, and the way he was healed, served a marvellous purpose:  the way by which Jesus would heal him would expose the hearts of the Pharisees and the experts of the Law. What in their hearts was exposed to all present?

They did not understand the purpose of the law

“Is it unlawful to heal on the Sabbath day?”  To them the Law of God was nothing else but a set of rules as how to improve ones life in an effort to gain entrance into the kingdom of God.  They missed the mercy of God in saving his people altogether.  The preamble to the Ten Commandments proclaims this:

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. (Exodus 20:1–2)

For some reason they missed that, and jumped straight to the rest, which to them became a system of self-righteousness.  When Jesus later gave them a roasting in Matthew 23 He said:

You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.  (Matthew 23:23)

This is now exactly what Jesus tested them on:  is it unlawful to show mercy on a Sabbath?  They couldn’t answer.  There was just this uneasy speechlessness; staring at the ceiling of the floor.  He’s got us!

Mercy does not seek recompense

Jesus was looking for mercy in their hearts, but their was none.  Instead, they found it better to associate with those who were rich and influential, and forgot the poor and the needy.  Even at the very table they arranged themselves in order of importance – and the whole purpose of that was assure that they could get invitations back.  That’s why Jesus said:

“When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. (Luke 14:12)

Instead, Jesus said:

When you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13–14)

In other words, if you received mercy form God who had mercy on a wretched sinner, show mercy to a fellow sinner and fulfil the Law:  that’s what people do who are in the right relationship with God.

In this whole episode our Lord wanted them to understand that, although they were privileged Jews who in the first instance got the invitation from God to be his people, they might in danger to be humiliated when the host ask them to go sit in the lowly places.

They were speechless before the Son of God:  they did not understand mercy, and they did not receive mercy – unless they would listen to the words of Christ.

This says a lot about to us:  some people are of good standing, not really “sinners”, not really in need of salvation (or so they think), and they invite Jesus to dine with them – on their conditions, of course – and they are still lost.

What does it teach us?  We can’t invite Jesus into our lives and expect no change.  We dare not invite Him into our lives on our conditions.  Yes, we think we would probably have the privilege of having Him under our roof, but He would not be at home there.  It is only when we see ourselves as He sees us – wretched sinners – that we will have peace with Him.

The invitation of Jesus Christ

In the next part of the chapter Jesus told them of a man who was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  In the context of the parable, and in the wider context of Luke’s gospel, the invited guests foremost refer to the Jews, who later went on the rejected Jesus as the Son of God.  For many years they heard the invitation through the call of the prophets, but when it was time for the banquet they excused themselves.  What they basically did was to say they are not interested.  Jesus did not meet their expectations of the Messiah.

Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant:

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame!’ (Luke 14:21)

With this we are back in the first part of the chapter.  The invitation of Jesus are to those who could not repay Him.  They were blind, poor, crippled and lame.  If ever there is a picture of the state of a sinner in the eyes of God, this is it:  spiritually we are blind, sick, crippled and lame.

Think of it:  the rich man who had this big house prepared the great banquet.  It was a mega feast.  The original invitees rejected the invitation.  They were the privileged.  The rich man did not cancel the banquet:  he invited the wretched.

We don’t see it in our Bibles as clearly as the Greeks saw it, reading this in greek, but the word for guests in verse seven, is from the same word which is translated as to invite:  those of the back lanes now became the guests of honour.  They could not pay back.  They slept on card boxes in the alleys. They smelled, and had to be helped into the banquet hall. Those are the sort of people our Lord loves at his banquet.  Not because they smell, not because they have nothing in their bank accounts, not because they are blind or cripples, but because grace does not demand back payment.

The invitation to follow Jesus Christ is free. It is not like those ads on TV where you have to read the fine print after the asterisk – after it said it is free -and you work out it is not!  When Jesus calls us to follow Him He knows we have nothing to repay Him.  And that is grace.  And if we think we need to bring something along to compensate for grace, we’ve got it all wrong.  That is the whole point of this parable.  They could leave their card box beds, their filthy blankets and whatever they used to eat from, behind – at the banquet they would be provided for – more then they could imagine.

Why would we answer the call to follow Jesus?

He is God, the Saviour

First, I would say, is not because it is free.  We shall and must answer the gracious call of Christ to come to the banquet in the first instance, because He who calls is God, He is our Saviour, He is Lord.  There is no other call we should answer.  Others who might want our attention, energy, time, talents or money are phoney:  they cannot provide what they promise.  Their promises are hollow, and it leads to nothing.  It’s different with Jesus: He not only promises to give us new life, He secured it.  With his blood He paid for it.  In his death and resurrection He purchased our righteousness.  Therefore it is free.

It is a call of grace

The second reason why we must follow Him, is because his call is full of grace.  By this the Bible means He provides salvation free of charge.  We don’t need to work for it – He did all of it in our place.  There is no balance on the account of salvation – something that I need to contribute to complete the payment. No, when He calls me to his banquet, He knows I am broke, filthy, blind, lame, sick and crippled.  This is how sin scarred me, and this is how I was born.  There is no reciprocal, or give and take arrangement in grace; there is no such a thing as tit for tat in salvation.  It is all of Christ and nothing of me.  He fully satisfies the needs of any sinner.

There is no other who can give saving grace

Jesus Christ is the only Saviour; his is the only banquet I can go to.  He, by his righteousness dresses his church, his bride with the finest of white garments for his wedding feast.  Listen:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7–9, ESV)

Time is running out

Those who were originally invited had all sorts of excuses – all of which were invalid- and they ran out of time.  The date was set for the banquet, and it was set by the owner of the house.  We cannot set our own date.  God will not wait for us.  Therefore we need to leave behind what we are busy with, like the first disciples, and come while the invitation still stands.  But God hold eternity in his hands.  Only He know when time will run out – and run out it will.  Don’t wait as if you have time and eternity in your hands – you don’t.

Grace is free, but it not cheap

There too many people who proclaim a cheap grace, as if being a disciple of Jesus is going to cost you nothing.  Don’t understand this wrongly: it’s got nothing to do with payment for salvation; that Jesus took care of.  But associating with Jesus Christ has its consequences.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, ESV)  This “anyone” includes the privileged Pharisees, the teachers of the law, as well as the disadvantaged and undesirable sick, the blind, the lame and the crippled.  By free grace we are saved – all of us, but to follow Christ has its cost:

No love more important that the love of Christ

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  Hate?  The meaning here is to express a love for the Lord so strong that anything else will look like hate.  More so if any desire of theirs is in conflict with our discipleship.

Personal sacrifice

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27, ESV)

In coming to Him we turn from others, and in coming after Him we share what is his – and that is the cross.  Since there is no escape from some suffering for Christ’s and the gospel’s sake, it is impossible for anyone to be a true disciple without carrying this cross, whatever it is that is planned for to him or her.

There is a battle going on

This parable does not want us to see if we will have enough in ourself to make discipleship work. What it wants us to understand is following Jesus is entering war. To enter this war, we must give up everything and leave the battle and the outcome to our Lord (Luke 14:33).

Our Lord uses two examples to describe His kingdom:  building a tower and waging of a war.  The picture is that of a fortified tower used in warfare and the war is against an army double the size of your own.  Discipleship builds up something grand in us and strikes down something hostile outside of us.  Jesus wants us to become disciples, but no man can do this by his own natural ability.  We could never get beyond the foundation, mere outward profession of faith, mere outward attachment to Jesus. Where, then, is the money to come from to build this

Conclusion

The invitation of our Lord to become his followers is astonishing free; but it is breathtakingly challenging.  Yet, He made it possible.  So, let’s follow Him; the opposite is dreadfully dangerous.  Amen.tower? Grace furnishes us all that discipleship needs, grace alone. Jesus wants us to be his disciples, He wants this war, and He therefore warns us not to enter it with our inadequate strength, for we should then be doomed. That means that we take the armour of grace.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 June 2014

 

Endure to be Offered

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:7, ESV)

The readers of Hebrews understood the word endure. For them is meant a hard struggle with sufferings, they were publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and they sometimes stood side by side with those who underwent the same treatment by sympathizing with prisoners for the sake of Christ.  Their property also was confiscated (Hebrews 10:32-33).

They, however, were joyful when all of this became their portion, because they had their eyes fixed on lasting possessions (Hebrews 10:34).

They stuck it out as God’s discipline, who through their circumstances provided direction, teaching and instruction.  That’s how He deals with his legitimate children.

For our sake God dealt (original: presented as an offering) with his Son, who endured opposition from sinful men; He also endured the cross, the shame – and now sits in glory with the Father (Hebrews 12:2-3)!

God is our Father, we are his sons, that’s how He presents/deals with us.  This way we will be offered/presented to Him in Jesus Christ. Any other offering will not satisfy our holy Father.

He deals with us because He loves us.  Otherwise we might find something else more attractive than His mercies. And we’ll miss out on lasting possessions.