Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Participating in the sufferings of Christ

Scripture Reading

  • 1Peter 4:12-19

Introduction

The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, honour those who died for their country. Built following World War I, it was expanded to remember those who served in subsequent conflicts. It is a beautiful place, with monuments to courage and devotion, but the highlight of the shrine is a hall containing a carved stone that simply reads: “Greater Love Hath No Man”. The architects designed the room so that every year on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11:00 a.m light from the sun passes over the stone, stopping briefly to spotlight the word “Love”. It is a moving tribute to those who gave their lives. 

However, more than honouring the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, the words on that stone carry a far greater meaning. Jesus spoke them the night before He would die on the cross. His death was not for freedom from tyranny, but freedom from the penalty of sin. His death was not to give us a better life, but to give us eternal life. As we remember those who died for their country, may we never forget to praise and honour the Christ who died in the place of a  dying world. For there is truly “no greater love than this than Jesus lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) (Taken from: Our Daily Bread, ANZAC Centenary Edition, Day 2)

Discipleship

There is, however, another love the Bible speaks about.  Our Lord made it very clear.  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37, NKJV)

How does this love look like?  Are there any sacrifices attached to it?  Let’s look at one verse.  

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26, NKJV)

When Jesus Christ called his disciples, He started them to become fishers of men.  One of the first discipleship training events is recorded as the Sermon on the Mount. Read the verse carefully, and you will notice that Jesus might have included some bystanders when He taught that time, but it seems as if He directly spoke to the new followers.  

Six times in a row our Lord used the word “blessed”.  A way to translate it is “happy”, and by extension “privileged”. Up to the last, we might think that becoming a follower of Christ is really something special.  But listen to this: 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12, NKJV)

In the Upper Room our Lord drove the nail a bit deeper: 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:18–20, NKJV)

Just hours before their Saviour would be nailed to the cross, He said, 

Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33, NKJV)

They were there when Christ was arrested, they saw their Master being whipped, they saw his legs gave under the weight of the cross as He carried it to Calvary’s Hill.  They heard Him cry in agony as the soldiers hammered the nails through his hands and his feet.  And then there was the cry, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

It does not surprise us to find the disciples behind closed doors out of fear for the Jews, even till the third after that Friday.  Perhaps they would be next because they associated with Jesus of Nazareth.

Would it be that at that point, if we were part of the disciple group, that we would bale out? But then, what about the all-encompassing love we should have for our Saviour?  What about the price of discipleship?  If I bale out now, I will betray my Saviour.  If I now turn away from Him who loved me and gave his life for me, how would I face eternity without Him?  

The Holy Spirit and the Bible

The Spirit brings to my mind the words of Christ.  

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9, NKJV)

Other verses ring in my ear:

You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:18–20, NKJV)

But there is also this promise:  

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29, NKJV)

What did David say when he faced death over and over again?  

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell. Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident. (Psalm 27:1–3, NKJV)

There is a cloud of witnesses to spur us on by their example of discipleship.  

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:35–40, NKJV)

Where do I stand?  About that sort of treatment for the sake of the Name of Christ I know nothing—yet! What took them through?  What made them follow till the end?  They believed God and trusted his promises.  The loved Him with all their hearts, all their minds, all their might and all their soul.  

The Apostles rejoiced when they were flogged after they refused to be silent about their Lord and Saviour because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41)

Sufferings for Christians are nothing abnormal

And wherever the followers of Christ were scattered a pattern developed:  suffering and opposition.  

That’s why Peter wrote that Christians should not be surprised at the painful trials and sufferings.  Rather, we would rejoice.  Why? When trials come our way, our being ‘in-Christ’ proves to be true!  We are hated because Christ is hated.  If they love us, it’s because we are loveable, but not by Christ.  James writes: 

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

Peter writes: 

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in [because of] that name. (1 Peter 4:16, ESV)

Conclusion

The Bible is clear about it:  the world hates Christ, and they will hate us too.  They will one stand in judgement before the throne of God for treading the blood of Christ underfoot and for the way they treated his church.

We might not yet have endured all the hardship the Bible is preparing us for, but the mere fact that we today pray for the persecuted church is proof that there are real, present struggles and battles which have and are claiming life and belongings.  Some fellow believers were killed just last week. Thousands are imprisoned, and many more are fleeing to who-knows-where.

My friend, we need to now put our faith to the test and become spiritually competent and worthy of the name of Jesus Christ.  We have to, time is running out.  Entrust your life in the hands of Him who has overcome, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 November 2018

 

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Jesus Christ: King of Rival?

Bible readings

  • Matthew 6:19-24
  • 1 Samuel 18:1-16

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

We are still in our series, “The king is dead; long live the King”.  In this series of sermons we learn that all earthly kings are human beings; we can not put our trust in any earthly leader.  and Even when Israel asked for a king, history teaches us that their exceptions for their king came to nothing but disappointment.  Saul, their first king, was a disaster.

The Israel monarchy serves as a pointer to Jesus Christ, the One born as a the descendant of David,  whom God called “for Himself” (1Samuel 16:1).  God made Christ king.  Of Him the Bible teaches that He is Kings of kings.  What does it entail, what does it mean, when we call him our King? Hear this illustration:

From boyhood, one of my favourite stories has been the forty martyrs of Sabaste. These forty soldiers, all Christians, were members of the famed Twelfth Legion of Rome’s imperial army.

One day their captain told them Emperor Licinius had sent out an edict that all soldiers were to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. These Christians replied,

“You can have our armour and even our bodies, but our hearts? Allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ.”

It was midwinter of A.D. 320, and the captain had them marched onto a nearby frozen lake. He stripped them of their clothes and said they would either die or renounce Christ.

Throughout the night these men huddled together singing their song, “Forty martyrs for Christ.? One by one the temperature took its toll and they fell to the ice.

At last there was only one man left. He lost courage and stumbled to the shore, where he renounced Christ. The officer of the guards had been watching all this. Unknown to the others, he had secretly come to believe in Christ. When he saw this last man break rank, he walked out onto the ice, threw off his clothes, and confessed that he also was a Christian.

When the sun rose the next morning, there were forty bodies of soldiers who had fought to the death for Christ. (Good News is for Sharing, Leighton Ford, 1977, David C. Cook Publishing Co., p. 16)

If Christ is our King it means He has our total allegiance.  To be a follower of Christ means that as soldiers we go where He commands; what He desires becomes our command.  What we say, think and do are under the control of his will.  Our reading this morning taught us:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24, NIV)

With this in mind the Bible puts the question to us:  What is Christ to you, King or rival? If you call Him your King, what do you mean by that?

The in-between background 

We have the Bible neatly divided into chapters.  We heard about Saul and his disastrous initial years, but the flow of the events are broken with the introduction of David as God’s choice for Himself to be king.  We today read of the defeat the David Goliath, and we understand that he could do so because God had chosen him, but at the time David had probably not been anointed, his brothers did not know, Jonathan did not know, and Saul had no idea who this young boy was.

Somewhere in-between, chronologically, Samuel anointed David as king in the presence of his father and brothers (1Samuel 16:13)  The story was out:  the new king was anointed.  Jonathan, his sister and the people loved David, but Saul hated him.

Jonathan, a servant of the future king

Jonathan was the logical choice to succeed his father as king.  His heart was in the right place as he feared the Lord; He was second in charge of the army; he established himself as a natural leader; he lead the army into at least two battles and defeated the enemy. Then he met the future king.

The Bible tells us that his heart was “knitted to the soul of David”.  This expression is also used in Genesis to describe the Jacobs love for Benjamin (Genesis 44:30).

The Bible further tells us that Jonathan loved David as his own soul (18:1, 20:17).

Jonathan bound himself in a covenant to David.  This was a covenant of allegiance that he would protect David’s life (20:16), even if it meant that it called him to turn against his father should circumstances call for it.

And we read that he did nothing short of abdication in favour of David.  He stripped himself of his royal robe and gave it to David; he gave his armour to David, and he handed him his sword, one of only two in Israel.

His love for David went to the extend that he dethroned himself and put his full trust in David.  When he further appear before his father, Saul, he would do so without his sword and without his royal robe.  This was a clear message to Saul: his son’s allegiance was with another king.

The sad fact of history is that, although David was extremely successful, he also failed.  After all, he was just a human being. David by faith understood one thing clearly:  from his loins would come the ultimate King, Jesus Christ.

We should learn from Jonathan as to how we should live before this King:  his desires must be our command, our souls must be knitted to Him, before Him we should be stripped of ourselves; our earthly standing and who we think we are, and what we have is nothing in comparison with service to Him.  Yes, we must take the crown from our hearts, from where we want to reign and control our own lives, and place it at his feet and declare our will to serve Him and Him only, we need to crucify ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.  That’s the price of discipleship.

Horatius Bonar writes about people finding it difficult to come to Christ.  He says the essence of the problem lies in self-righteousness. Man clings to self.

It is man’s determined self-righteousness that really constitutes the difficulty. He is unwilling to let this go; and he says “I can’t!” to cover over the guilt of the “I won’t!” Deep down in man’s depraved being lies this awful evil, which only God can remove, this determination not to give up self.

He deceives himself sadly in this matter, in order to cover his guilt and to cast the blame of his unbelief on God … He wants to do the great thing, and to get the credit of doing it; and because God has declared that the great thing is done, “once for all,” never to be done again, he retires into himself, and tries to get up another great thing within himself, by the right doing of which he will please God and satisfy his own conscience. (Bonar, H. (1881). How Shall I Go to God? And Other Readings (pp. 52–53). London: The Religious Tract Society.)

Is Christ your King?  Have you surrendered your throne, have you abdicated, do you love Him more than anyone or anything?  Give Him what you might consider as your royal robe, and clothe yourself with his righteousness.  And when anyone or something else demand your loyalty, do as Jonathan, serve the King.

Saul, rival of the future king

After Saul’s acts of disobedience, as we have learned from the previous chapters, God instructed Samuel to tell Saul that his kingdom will be given to a man after God’s own heart.  Samuel had to anoint David as the king God provided for Himself (16:1), because God said:

“How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Samuel 16:1, NIV)

The Spirit of God departed from Saul and “rushed” upon David (16:13-14).  Saul was plagued with and evil spirit from God and became suspicious, paranoid and embittered.  He was not only rejected by God, but his people was terribly disappointed in him who was supposed to rout the Philistines.

It was without knowing who David really was that his servant employed him to calm down the king with his lyre during his bouts of rage.

After David’s victory over Goliath, Saul “took him”.  Can you remember how Samuel warned that they king would take the children of Israel to work for him?  We see this happening now, and also as described in 1Samuel 14:52:

…whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service. (1 Samuel 14:52, NIV)

Jonathan gave himself away into the service of the future king; Saul owned him.

Saul hear the women sing: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Saul was very angry, because this song displeased him no ends.

“They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” (1 Samuel 18:7–8, NIV)

He openly treated David as a rival:  he first wanted to personally kill David with is own spear, but was unsuccessful.  He worked out another scheme.  He made him commander of a thousand to fight against the Philistines in the hope that Israel’s enemy might kill his enemy.  God was with David and he only went from strength to strength.  On top of that, the people loved David.

Saul came up with another plan:  if David could pay him a bride’s price of one hundred Philistine foreskins he could marry Saul’s daughter Michal who was madly in love with David.  You can just imagine the danger in the task—no Philistine would willingly donate a foreskin.  David brought 200 foreskins, he himself unharmed!

Saul’s whole life afterward was consumed with one purpose:  to get rid of David!  He and the Philistines were not on the same side, but he became their partner in killing God’s appointed king.

To what lengths would a sinner go in his effort to get rid of Christ!  Why?  Christ is in essence his rival.  Instead of abdicating in favour of the King, the battle of control for one’s own life becomes all consuming.  Look at the apostle Saul: he had one thing in mind and the was to destroy the church of Christ.  He thought he could control his destiny, but then there was this day on the way to Damascus.  Christ knocked him out and helplessly he was in the hands of others who led him to Christ.

Conclusion

What is you attitude towards the King:  does He have the control of your life, your love, your mind, your soul, your money, your future plans, or do you see Him as your rival?  Are you willing to abdicate the power of your life, or do you still want to cling to control of your life?  My friend, this can be a life-long battle which no sinner will ever win, and in the process you will remain restless and your heart disturbed.

Christ invites you:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28–29, NIV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 October 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

Ascension: Christ, our King, ascends his throne as Lord of lords

ASCENSION DAY and its IMPLICATIONS for TODAY

Article by Dr. Peter Hammond (http://www.frontline.org.za)

Today is Ascension Day.

Why are so many things going wrong?

Recently, I was asked by a Christian leader: “Why is there so much corruption, crime and violence in our society? Why is there so much immorality, even in the church? Why are we seeing so many moral failures and scandals amongst leaders in business, in every level of government and even in the church?”

Everything has Consequences

My answer is that these are the inevitable consequences of the spirit of our age:

  • Antinomianism, the rejection of God’s moral Law, inevitably leads to lawlessness, where every man does what is right in his own eyes.
  • Egalitarianism, the rejection of authority and lack of respect for elders, produces a self-centred and selfish society.
  • Evolutionism and its denial of the Creator, and therefore of accountability to Almighty God on Judgement Day, erodes the very foundations of Christian civilisation.
All Ideas Have Consequences

Foundational truths have been ignored and vital pillars of Christian civilisation have been eroded. What we are seeing today are the inevitable out-workings of false doctrines being introduced, tolerated, accepted, and in many cases, even celebrated.

Full Salvation

One of the great problems of our age is the separating of Salvation from the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is the Lord Jesus Christ alone who can save us. We cannot accept Jesus as Saviour without submitting to Him as Lord. Those who preach a cheap grace and an easy believism, betray an inadequate understanding of the problem of sin, the nature of God, Christ’s Mission on earth and our purpose and calling as Christians.

Freedom from Bondage

It would not have been sufficient for Moses to have proclaimed to the Hebrews, who were slaves, that they should accept that in Yahweh they had perfect freedom, whilst leaving them in bondage and under the whip of slavery in Egypt! Anything less than deliverance from Egypt and freedom from the bondage of slavery, would have been inadequate. God’s eternal purposes required the people of Israel to survive the Passover, leave Egypt, cross through the Red Sea and be established as a free people in the Promised Land.

Sin is Serious

Sin is serious. We are all far too tolerant of sin. Yet, sin is more defiling than dirt, more dangerous than an unexploded bomb. Even more life threatening than a deadly disease and more insidious than a virus.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways’, says the Lord. ‘For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts’.” Isaiah 55:6-9

Catastrophic Consequences of Compromise and Cowardice

Compromise and cowardice have catastrophic consequences. We can recognise the out-workings of the classic tactics of “corrupt and conquer” and “confuse, divide and conquer.” All too many have been deceived, distracted, divided and disarmed. There are those who are openly advocating the destruction of Christian civilisation. Yet, in the face of these disastrous developments, the response of all too many Christian leaders has been compromise and cowardice!

The Ascension Deal with Authority

Ascension Day points us to the solution to all these problems. Ascension Day deals with Authority. “Christ has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” 1 Peter 3:22

The Nature of God

The trouble is that today, most Christians just want to stop with Christmas. Christmas celebrates the greatest Gift of all – the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Incarnation of Christ, when God took on human form and was born in Bethlehem, is very important, but many would prefer to think of Christ as the Babe in a manger, rather than as the Risen, Ascended, Sovereign Lord reigning on High. Yet the classic Christmas verse declares:

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the Government will be upon His shoulder. “And His Name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His Government and peace there will be no end.” Isaiah 9:6-7

Trying to Evade Reality

Many like the idea of “a Child is born”, but they would like to stop there and edit out “the Government will be upon His shoulder… Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His Government and peace there will be no end. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” That is too intimidating. Too threatening. Too intrusive. It has implications for every area of life. We like a God of love and mercy who answers our prayers, and provides all our needs. However, we are not too comfortable with a Holy God who sees everything, even the thoughts of our hearts, and who is the Eternal Judge we must give an account to.

The Government

We live in a society where God’s Government is decapitalised and man’s civil government is capitalised! Many people who will put a small “g” for Gospel, will put a capital “G” for their civil government. When we refer to “the Government.” we should only be referring to God, who is the One who determines whether we live, and when we die. He is the One who governs the universe and determines the seasons. God alone is all-knowing, everywhere present and all powerful.

Delegated and Limited

All human authority is limited, it is delegated by God and is answerable to Almighty God. We will all have to bow before Christ and give an account of our lives, and of every word ever spoken, on that last, dreadful Day of Judgement. Each one of us have an appointment. “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the Judgement.” Hebrews 9:27

Christ Has Died

The second most important holiday in the Christian calendar is Good Friday – when we solemnly remember the Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, His great sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary. He suffered, bled and died for our sins. He endured the punishment we deserve – so that we could enjoy the reward that only He deserves. This should inspire us afresh to repentance, thanksgiving, and consecration. In view of God’s mercies, we should “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God…” Romans 12:1

Who Do You Worship?

However, many Christians stop there. They worship Jesus as the suffering Saviour. Roman Catholics have crucifixes depicting Christ suffering on the Cross. Protestants have tended to reject crucifixes. To us Christ is no longer suffering on the Cross. We have a simple, plain, rugged Cross, because Christ is no longer on the Cross. He is the Risen, Ascended, victorious, King of kings and Lord of lords, reigning on High.

Christ Is Risen!

The third great Christian holiday event is Resurrection Sunday. This is a joyous celebration of the victory of Christ over death, hell and the grave. Christ Jesus is Risen from the dead! He is alive forevermore! Death is defeated. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Our Lord and Saviour has been “Declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the Resurrection from the dead.” Romans 1:4

Chose Life!

All the founders of religions are dead. You can visit the graves of Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, Marx and Lenin. But in Jerusalem there is an empty tomb. “He is not here; He is Risen!” Luke 24:6. “…raised for our justification.” Romans 4:25

The Missing Pillars of the Faith

It is absolutely vital that we include Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday also into our Christian calendar. This is what is all too often missing. 40 Days after Resurrection Sunday, we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into Heaven. He is alive forevermore and He is exalted and enthroned at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He is above every other name and authority in Heaven and on earth. Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. We have an Advocate in Heaven. He hears our prayers. He will crush all His enemies. He will come again. Therefore we must go and make disciples of all nations.

Rejecting the Authority of Christ

It is most significant that some governments have seen fit to abolish the long-established Ascension Day as a public holiday. Ascension Day deals with authority.

“All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus Christ is Lord

The Ascension proclaims the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life. Jesus has all authority. Jesus Christ is Lord over the world of business, sports, entertainment and government. Jesus Christ is Lord over the schools, shops, cinemas, factories, hospitals, law courts and parliament. There is no area of life that is outside of His authority. Every doctor, teacher, policeman, businessman, parliamentarian, factory worker, farmer, mother, father, magistrate and supreme court judge will have to individually stand before Almighty God on the Day of Judgment and give an account of our lives.

Vindication and Victory

The Ascension celebrates the vindication and victory of Christ. No doubt the high priest, Caiaphas, King Herod and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, thought that they were very important and powerful people. Yet these religious and political leaders are only remembered today because they arrogantly dismissed, and unjustly condemned, Christ Jesus. They did not recognise that they were condemning to death the Creator, the Giver of life, the Eternal Judge, before Whom each one of them must stand. “You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive…” Psalm 68:18

The Eternal Judge

The emperor Augustus, who issued the decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world, requiring everyone to return to their town of birth, could not have realised at that time that the Baby born to third class subjects in faraway Judea would one day Judge him.

“The Lord said to My Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand till I make Your enemies Your footstool’.” Psalm 110:1.

Is Jesus Your Salvation or Your Judge?

The Ascension proclaims the ultimate victory of Christ. Those that refused to bow to Christ as Saviour and Lord today, in the day of Grace, when forgiveness is freely available, will one day be forced to bow to Christ as the Eternal Judge – when the day of Grace will be ended, when they will be condemned to hell forever

“He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies. He shall execute the heads of many countries.” Psalm 110:5-6

When Will You Bow to Christ?

The question is not: Will you bow to Christ? But When will you bow to Christ? Will you bow to Christ as Saviour and Lord today, or will you only bow to Christ as your Judge on the Day of Judgment?

Every Knee Will Bow

“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the Name which is above every name, that at that Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in Heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

Every Tongue Will Confess

There is no authority above that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every knee will bow before Him. Compared to Christ the kings and presidents of this world are as nothing. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father. This includes king Herod, Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. This includes Caesar Augustus and Nero. This includes Muhammad, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.

What Does Muhammad Believe?

On several occasions while witnessing to Muslims, I have heard a Muslim declare: “I believe as Muhammad believes!” At this I normally reply: “Then you must become a Christian.”

“But Muhammad did not believe in Jesus.” they will reply.

“No, he did not then. But he does believe now!” I reply.

We Have an Advocate

The Ascension is a great comfort to believers who suffer persecution.

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the Heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the Throne of Grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

We have an Advocate in Heaven. He hears our prayers. He ever lives to make intercession for us. He will come again. He will crush all His enemies. Therefore we should not fear governments, popes or councils. We must not bow before idols, nor may we compromise the essential principles of our Faith.

A Vision of Victory

Though Christ is physically absent from the earth, yet, through His Holy Spirit, He is spiritually present. He is all-knowing, everywhere-present and all-powerful. “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.”1 Corinthians 15:25

The Ascension is a wonderful reminder and assurance to us that: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14

The Ascension proclaims Christ’s glorious triumph and His future return on the Day of Judgement. Therefore, we as Christians should return to observing Ascension Day as a Holy Day to our Faith and applying its implications into every area of life.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2

Committed Discipleship

Ascension Day calls us to committed discipleship and consistent obedience. We need to take up our cross, forsake the world and follow Christ. Israel could not fulfil its calling by remaining in bondage in Egypt. Neither can we effectively serve God today, if we remain conformed to this world, in bondage to its sins and idolatries. Attempting to accept the benefits of Jesus as Saviour, while denying His authority as Lord over all areas of our lives, is futile. That is why we need to go beyond celebrating Christmas, worshipping the Babe in the manger. We need to go beyond accepting the Atonement for our sins and recognise that Jesus Christ is Risen, Ascended, reigning on High, King of kings and Lord of lords. He will come again to Judge the living and the dead.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”Do you fear God?

Have you surrendered to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

Are you studying His Word and seeking to faithfully apply Biblical principles to all areas of life?

Let us go back to the Bible for Reformation and Revival.

Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father!

(Dr. Peter Hammond, Frontline Fellowship, P.O. Box 74 Newlines 7725, Cape Town, South Africa. Tel: 021-689-4480, Email: mission@frontline.org.za Website: www.frontline.org.za)

 

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

 

Doing Good (8)

Glorifying our Father through good deeds

 

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 24:1-10
  • Matthew 5:1-18

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the last sermon in our series about Good Works.  In this series we heard the Word of God telling us that one can be lost in spite of being good.  The Word also taught us that good works can indeed destroy the purposes of grace if understood wrongly.  Then we heard that God saves us in Christ Jesus Christ to do good works – we are saved by grace alone, but grace is never alone.  Then the Bible taught us that a major purpose for good works is to look after one another as fellow-believers.  An expression of good works id further a way in which we become partners in the Gospel as we support the work of others called to proclaim the Word in places where they have not heard the Gospel.  We also learned from the Word of God that it is important to do good to our enemy, just as God showed mercy to us when we were still his enemy.  Last time we learned that investing in one another as part of good works is to take hold of the true life.  Today the Holy Spirit will teach us the overarching purpose of doing good.

Doing good – something different to different people

The Pharisee

The concept of good works to a Pharisee implied to live a holy life – yes, according to the Law of God, even if it meant that one has to make 613 laws out of the 10 God commanded – with as purpose, somewhere in the mix, at least to be seen by your fellows as a good person.  So important was doing good to a Pharisee that he would stop when he were walking on the street when it was time for the morning of afternoon prayer.  Right there on the street corner everyone cold see how pious he really was.  In a way he were doing what Jesus told his disciples to do:

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19, NIV)

When Jesus got stuck into them in Matthew 23 He said:

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. (Matthew 23:5–7, NIV)

And in verse 24:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23–24, NIV)

Little wonder then that our Lord told his disciples:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20, NIV)

In a way the good works of the Pharisee was extremely selfish:  it was about him, his good goods, and what people thought of him.  But was missing was justice, mercy and faithfulness.  They of course would argue the point, but that is what is was in the eyes of God.

Good works without Christ, and not done for his glory, may attract applause and commendation of this world, but they are useless and repugnant in the eyes of God.

The Roman Catholic

I am referring here to official Catholic teaching; individual Catholics might see things otherwise.

The matter here is once again the important things Christ Himself touched on:  mercy, justice and faithfulness.  Catholic teaching has it that man cannot save himself and that all sinners indeed need the grace of God in Jesus Christ to be saved.  But to gain the righteousness God demands one has to do good works.  These good works are only possible if because of the work of Christ.  But here’s where we differ from them:  righteousness to the Catholic is infused, not imputed.  This is the difference:  imputed righteousness is a righteousness accounted to us because of the complete righteousness of Jesus Christ as mediator between us and God, and becomes ours. not be works, but by faith.  Infused righteousness is something God gives man based on what Christ has done, giving man now the power to do good works which he has to work out in order to be saved.  In a way then, man completes what Christ has begun.  Without these good works all is lost and man might not attain eternal life, and as such has to spend some time in purgatory. What is helpful is the use of the sacraments, like baptism and eucharist for they strengthen man to continue in good works.

The evangelical protestant

To a protestant good works might have connotations of earning ones salvation, and sometimes good works are not valued.  I trust that this series changed your mind if you were that way inclined.

Up to now the Bible taught us that were are saved, not be good works but by grace alone.  We cannot earn our salvation, neither is there anything we do or can do to gain the righteousness required to be saved.  Our righteousness is imputed, or reckoned, or accounted to us by faith and faith alone.  All of this is because possible because Christ came between us and God and made atonement for us.  “God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might receive the righteousness of God.” (2Corinthians 5:21)  And we also understood from the Bible that “… we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepares in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)  Our good works is therefore not things we consider good, but things God deems good based in the righteousness of Christ.

Doing good to the glory of the Father

Being blessed

When Jesus called his first disciples to Him and began to teach them on the mountain, He called them “blessed”.

What does blessed mean? The Greek word is sometimes translated as “happy,”  but the word happy is based on the old Anglo Saxon word hap, which means chance, as in “whatever happens”.  In this sense happy can just be another word for lucky.

The Greek word is used to describe a person who is especially favoured by God and who is therefore in some sense happy or fortunate because of it.  In a sense then Jesus is describing a complete new group of people who through Him and what He came to do, would be really blessed.  They are blessed not be what they do, but by what they are.

Our world might have it the other way round.  “Blessed are the rich, for they have it all and have it all now; blessed are the happy, for they are content with themselves and don’t need others; blessed are the arrogant, for people defer to them; blessed are those who fight for the good things in life, for they will get them; blessed are the sophisticated, for they will have a good time.” (Montgomery Boice)

But because of Christ those He calls to be his followers are truly blessed:  although poor, they have the kingdom of heaven; although mourning, they will be comforted; although meek, they will inherit the earth; because they are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, they will be filled; because the are merciful, they will receive mercy; because they are pure in heart, they will see God; because they are peacemakers, they are called sons of God; because they are persecuted because of righteousness they will receive the kingdom of heaven.

Nowhere in this sermon of the Lord, when addressing his disciples does He commend them for their blessedness; He merely states to those whom He called that they are indeed be favoured – even if things may get tough for them following their Lord.

The Law fulfilled, not abolished

How do we do good works?  What is our measure?  What is our standard?  When can works be called “good”?

Our Lord wanted his disciples to understand that what the Pharisees did with the Law was not God’s intention with the Law – they failed miserably.  On the other hand to be called “blessed” or “favoured”, having received grace for the merciful God does not mean that Christians can do or live as they wish:  their standard for living remains the Law.  Jesus declared:

“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)

What does this mean?  Firstly, that everyone of the Ten Commandments, broken by us was lived out to its full sense by Christ.  He was sinless and He met the righteousness of God.  Faith unites us with Him so that what He did by faith we did – and it is only based on this that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.  Secondly, Christ bore the full penalty of us by falling short of the glory of God for breaking the Law.  In these two ways He fulfilled the Law.  He did not come to do away with it. It is therefore wrong to think that grace replaced the law and that because of it we are not under the law anymore.  We are not under the Law in the sense that the Law condemns anymore, but it does not take away that redeemed sinners still need to live by the standard of the Law to glorify the Father.  For this reason Christ addressed issues like murder, adultery, divorce, love for the neighbour, and prayer in the sermon on the mount.

Salt and light

When our Lord continues his sermon after all the pronouncements of blessedness He teaches the disciples what they are, not what they ought to be.  Being called into the Kingdom of God make them people who act and live for the glory of God who saved them.  As such saved people are by nature different:  they act like salt and light.

Why salt?  Because the world Christians live in is corrupt in every way:  man’s sinful nature drives him to hate God and his fellow man.  People blaspheme God and his Son. His name is not honoured, his word count for nothing; little wonder then that men fabricates his own gods for his own pleasure. The result is dishonesty in marriage, disrespect for parents and those in authority; our world is full of theft, murder, lies and envy.  In short, to use the Lord’s words, there is a general lack of justice, mercy and faithfulness.  Our world is a dark place, and it is getting darker all the time.

Why salt?  Salt was used in Old Testament times when people made agreements with one another.  The idea was that partners did not lie to one another – they were faithful, their contract was built on righteousness and they  will be faithful to their word.

What Christ has in mind with the figure of salt is that his disciples check the moral corruption of the world, so that it does not quickly perish in its own moral rottenness.  There is the fresh demand for abortion, for the redefinition of marriage, for euthanasia and other forms of moral corruption.  Now is the time for the church to stand firm.  Someone said, “The world would prefer that we were honey instead of salt.”  This is true.  The church is called the pillar and foundation of the truth, not because of the calibre of its people, but because of the Word, which is infallible and the faithful Word of the living God.

Salt is not food, and is this way the church are not to provide food, but called to prevent the food from getting rotten.

Why light?  Because this word is a dark place.  Our Lord is the light that shines in the darkness and He made us to be lights.  He made us like cities on a mountain, and like a lantern on a lampstand.  It is visible, it gives direction and hope.  It almost seems like Christians work like salt, not always visible, but surely; and in the same time very visible like a light tower on the dark sea shore to guide ships away from the rocks, and other times bringing them safely into the harbour.

Conclusion

Should the church stop being salt and light it becomes worthless, good only enough to be trodden on and be ridiculed by the world.

No, God has put us up like a light in bright display to hold out the light of salvation to a corrupt world.  If we do this in faithfulness to our Saviour, always understanding that we received his righteousness to be saved from sin so that we will not come in judgment of the Father, then, and then alone, do we understand something of letting our lights shine before the men that they may see our good deeds – and praise our Father in heaven.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 May 2014

Face the challenge

Fear versus Service

Scripture Readings

  • 2Corinthians 4:1-15
  • 1Kings 18:1-18

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

I cannot testify as personal experience with the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4.  His life of service in the Lord is surely an example we all should strive for when he writes to a church who questioned his authority as apostle:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:8–11, ESV)

But to be honest, in my years of pastoral ministry (and all others who stand in gospel service), and even more so as missionary to our own people of the outback of Australia, I can’t say that there has been one single visit which I have not approached with a measure of fear in my heart.  There is of course a certain joy in explaining the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to others; but it is fair to say that sinful human nature always interferes with a sense of failure and rejection.

Sinful man, although saved in Christ and made new, knows his limitations, and he understands that what is left of the old man in him, stands in his way to do evangelism naturally.  This is no smokescreen to hide behind; it is not an excuse to not do it, but I have come to the conclusion that evangelism is not a gift we are naturally born with – it remains hard work, it calls for effort and resolve to intentionally crucify the old nature daily, talking up the cross and follow Christ.  That is the price of discipleship.

There are times that we are called to be salt:  salt does not work visibly, but it surely works, working as a restraint on decay, and also providing taste.  There are other times that we need to be light:  The Lord said about light that it cannot be hidden under a bucket.  Christians are like a city on a mountain, surely visible, attracting the lost and providing harbour to the homeless.

But for sure, we cannot not always act as we are called as agents into God’s secret service; sometimes it might be necessary, but when push to to shove, we need to show our colours.  And when that happens, we have to do and say as Paul said and did:

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11, ESV)

God’s work not stopped in difficult times

Called during a spiritual drought

Ahab was the king, and the people worshipped Baal and his wife Asherah. We know the story of how god provided for Elijah and fed him by sending ravens to bring him meat. This provides for us the lesson that God provides for his church in times of severe trouble.  And like Elijah disappeared for some years from the scene, one might say that the church should perhaps, and I say perhaps, sometimes spend more time in prayer for God’s will to be done, more than being pertinently aimed at open and confrontational Evangelism.  These times might serve as living under the wings of the Lord to regain strength and resolve to once again be ready for battle to go full throttle into battle when God’s timing demands so.

This does not mean that the church goes into hiding and do nothing.  Even in this time of seeming inactive ministry, Elijah did not stop doing welfare and spreading the care of God to widows and others in need.  This remains our job, and maybe we should pray that God would give us an understanding what it really means to care for the sick, the bereaved, the poor, the widows, those in prison and those who are generally destitute and without direction.

Cared for through the spiritual drought

The Lord demands us as his disciples to be faithful witnesses and He challenges to remain faithful even when the situation changes, which might call for the mode of our service to change.  Elijah left the boundaries of Israel and trekked north where he ministered as God’s prophet

Elijah’s and Obadiah’s needed.

The Holy Spirit could have missed out the reference to Obadiah altogether and we wouldn’t even have noticed it.  We could skip from verse 2a to verse 17.  We would surely get to the big confrontation on the mountain more quickly – yet the Holy Spirit has seen fit to include the paragraph about an otherwise unknown servant of God.   (Keep in mind that this Obadiah is not the one who wrote the prophesy recorded in the last part of our Old Testament.)

There are a number of ways of approaching this little interlude before the great events on Mount Carmel – and they tend to focus on the different ways of service to the Lord under different circumstances.  It teaches us that we need to be ready for service under all circumstances.

But we are told about Obadiah – because in God’s scheme of things there is a place for the Elijah’s and the Obadiah’s: the man of action, and the man of hesitance.  Elijah seemed like someone who showed up from nowhere and just as soon disappeared. Obadiah was always there – working away in the court of wicked king Ahab.  It is true:  sometimes God needs someone for a big moment – just like Mount Carmel – and sometimes He needs someone to work away quietly behind the scenes.

Yes, these are two very different men of God.  One comes onto the scene of history in a dramatic way – living a life that is largely apart from the main action of the drama; the other has a life of duty to a Godless king in times of apostasy and danger.   One leaves behind a long record of great deeds done for the Lord – the other is consigned a footnote to the Biblical record – but both are men of God who learn a similar lesson: that God is in control and has followers who are also faithful, even if altogether unknown.

We may not aspire to the Carmel heights of triumph that Elijah experienced – but we are all called to obedience taking up the opportunity of the moment and transform it into an act of singular obedience and devotion.

In looking at the life and ministry of Obadiah we see at least three things:

  • The background to his devotion (v12b  and vv 3 + 4)
  • The tests of his devotion (v5 and v8)
  • The limits of his devotion (v3a  v9  v12a and v 13)

The background of Obadiah’s devotion

Obadiah was a man of privilege: in charge of the palace of the King.  He was a devout man since his youth: He says that he worshipped the Lord since his youth.

The testimony of Obadiah is reflected in a lifelong devotion, as recognised and trusted character and a faithful servant even of a godless King.  Who can tell what godly influences first had their effect in his life?  But what we do know is that he was consistent and steady under difficulty.

Unlike Elijah – his was a life exposed in close proximity to the royal court – whereas Elijah had this habit of coming and going!

The tests of Obadiah’s devotion

There are three ways in which he was tested and they show the character and spiritual stature of this man.

The most striking test was witnessed by the historian and by Obadiah’s own testimony:

Care for the prophets of the Lord

Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hid them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.

This is a remarkable achievement – Obadiah had already demonstrated – and undoubtedly continued to do so throughout the drought – his care for the prophets of the Lord.  He was not just a private believer in those apostate days – but one who would take risks to demonstrate his faith. Not a Carmel type demonstration indeed – but a secret and sustained devotion.  He took risks for his faith.  He cared for the Lord’s people.

Serving under a godless king

This faith was further tested by the everyday demands of Ahab: Obadiah was required to do as Ahab commanded – even though he must have found it difficult. Many believers work against such a background.  There was Nicodemus, a Pharisee ruler who came to Jesus in the night out, perhaps out  of fear for the people (the Bible doesn’t say), but later he believed in Christ, stood up in defense of Christ, but seems not to have understood the full extent of who Christ was. The Bible does not tell us explicitly that he made a public switch to follow Christ.

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue (John 12:42)

Crispus and Sosthenes on the other hand were rulers of the synagogue in Corinth, but when they learned about Christ and his salvation, they made a public choice:  they stepped out of their positions and openly followed Christ.

His was a faith of lifelong standing

It had endured the difficulties of service at the court of Ahab and the consequences of the drought.  His was a position of prominence and service:  Obadiah was in charge of the palace.

But the significant challenge comes when he meets Elijah: It was that test that almost resulted in failure.  Obadiah had a dangerous but settled ministry – and Elijah’s challenge tests his devotion in an altogether new way. It was this challenge that, more than anything else, revealed the:

Limitations of Obadiah’s devotion

Obadiah’s devotion was limited by the responsibilities of his job

Like us – Obadiah had to do as he was told and the demands of his job often required that he made decisions about what was true and good and upright.  That is a real situation for today’s believer.

Not very many can have the unique position of an Elijah – where the lines of demarcation are clearly drawn – and Ahab concludes “he is his enemy” – most of us have to work against a background of misunderstanding and doubt and sometimes downright opposition.

We need to weigh up the limiting factors in our employment, or situation. We have to respond accordingly.

Obadiah’s devotion is limited by his misunderstanding of Elijah’s command to go to Elijah and tell him the man he was after is ready to face him in the Name of God.

He didn’t have a great deal of confidence in Elijah’s words.

I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me.

He knows that Elijah is subject to the guidance, indeed direct intervention of God’s Spirit – and so he doubts that Elijah will be there when Ahab is brought back.

That is a by-product of a life lived in constant touch with the enemies of the Lord, or a life lived in service of a godless king.  Obadiah knows the Spirit is at work – but he doesn’t understand that the Spirit may be counted on to be faithful in these very difficult circumstances.

Obadiah – quite naturally – fears for his own life – for what Elijah is asking touches his basic security in a unique way.

Obadiah’s devotion is limited by his sense of what he had done

Obadiah tends to dwell on what he had achieved – rather than what he may still achieve.  It is this challenge that I believe touches us today most strongly.

“Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord’s prophets by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water? ” (1 Kings 18:13, ESV)

The key words in this passage are:“what I did” and  “now”.   We must understand that what happened in the past was a learning school to prepare us for the future.  The past is not my shelve of good works to justify my unwillingness to tackle the future.  The past, and what the Lord wanted us to do under those specific circumstances, are the building blocks to be better prepared for future obedience.  Never can the things I did in the past be treated to excuse me from future challenges.

This happens too much in the church: “Look, I have been a Sunday school teacher for years and I have given my energy for that ministry; so don’t count me in when it comes to new challenges of church life.”  True, ailing health and growing age can be a limiting factor to be fully active in the service of the Lord.  But when the excuse to be actively involved in God’s work is purely a matter of choice based on the committed performances of the past, it exposes a selfish dedication, looking on opportunities of the past as a way of gaining good standing with God.  The Bible does not know about such commitment.

So often we live in the past. We celebrate the victories that were – but we hesitate at the challenges of now.

Two ways to apply the lesson of Obadiah

What I will do

In relation to Christian service it isn’t what I have done – but what I will do that counts.  It is what I am busy with when the Master of the house returns.

Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.

When Obadiah is told by Elijah to tell Ahab – he responds by reminding the prophet of his past devotion to the Lord.  Obadiah can testify to a life of devotion to God. His was a faith of lifelong standing.  It had endured the difficulties of service at the court of Ahab and the consequences of the drought.

Consistent and steady in difficulty

Who can tell what godly influences first had their effect in his life?  What we do know is that he was consistent and steady under difficulty. Unlike Elijah – his was a life exposed in close proximity to the royal court – whereas Elijah had this habit of coming and going!

It was that test that almost resulted in failure.  But, by the grace of God, Obadiah remained faithful and faced the challenge.  We read in verse 16:

So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah. (1 Kings 18:16, ESV)

Conclusion

My dear brother and sister,

There are the Elijahs and the Obadiahs:  both are called for service.  Some stand in the front line, all the time; other work in the background, all the time.  But sometimes God wants us to step out in faith and face the challenge.  Our task is not to proclaim the arrival of Elijah; our task is to proclaim the Kingdom of Christ.  Take God on his word to do as He promise, and trust Him, even in the face of sure death.

Elijah, Peter, Paul, all the other disciples and thousands of martyrs in the past stepped up to the charge to proclaim Jesus Christ as King and trust Him with their lives.  Others, like Obadiah, Nicodemus, Demas were hesitant, they looked back like the wife of Lot.  Such soldiers do not much for the glory of the Commander of the Army of Heaven.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 January 2013

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Author:  Eric Metaxas

A gripping book with a lot of detail to understand the milieu in which Bonhoeffer grew up and ministered.

We need to understand the plea of Bonhoeffer: the church is the body of Christ answerable to Him only, serving Him only, obedient to His Word only.

Bonhoeffer’s life as serving pastor was exemplary. He practiced what he preached in his other publication Discipleship, of which only extracts appear in Metaxa’s book.  I can’t wait to get my hands on Discipleship.

I would have liked if the author gave us a graphical timeline to understand the development of the drama better. Maps of the events in those days will not go astray either.

Highly commendable!

It starts with prayer

“You can do more than pray, after you have prayed,” wrote A. J. Gordon, “but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed.” It is a divinely ordered sequence.

When Jesus called the Twelve, He called them so that they might do three things. The first was simply to “be with him.” With that in place, and from that place, he sent them out to do the rest: “to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14–15). All the work of the kingdom of God begins with simply being with Jesus. If it doesn’t start there, it doesn’t start at all.

From:  Patterson, B., & Goetz, D. L. (1999). Vol. 7: Deepening your conversation with God. The pastor’s soul series; Library of leadership development (20–21). Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers.

(Go here to get the book)

More Bibles needed

We have requests from the Churches in Sudan to print new Hymn books, Prayer books and Catechisms for them. The only Hymn books they have are the tattered remains of the Hymn books we printed in 1997. The churches in South Sudan have grown so fast that there are insufficient Bibles, Hymn books or Discipleship materials for their congregations.

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