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

 

Advertisements

Living ‘in-Christ (3) –

Bible Reading

  • Colossians 3:1-11

Introduction

In 1976 Dr Francis Schaeffer wrote a book with the title “How should we then live”.  The question is by what standard should we live.  Dr Schaeffer said when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, it provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society. This leads to what Schaeffer calls “freedom without chaos.” When we base our standard on a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own autonomous, independent measure, all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong. 

How should Christians live?

The story was told of a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the frozen river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived, the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day. After the service, they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided it was all right! 

We might ask, “By what principle?”

By what principle?

The great controversy of Colossians stems from the influence of Gnosticism, as well as Judaism upon the Christian congregation.

We met the Gnostics who contended that the only way to salvation comes through some mystical separation from earthly life in search of the way out of this world into the next.  Some adhered to a strict lifestyle, denying themselves all psychical enjoyment, claiming that they receive messages from angels and have seen things other couldn’t (Colossians 2:18, 23).

Another group in the congregation was the Jews.  Some commentators think that we should think of Jewish gnostics.   Their own brand of Christian living was tainted with the rules and regulations as defined by the Pharisees.  Their mortality was one of what one eats and drinks, whether or not you celebrate New Moon festivals and Sabbath Days.  Their morality is summed up in “Do not handle, do not test, do not touch.” (Colossians 2:21)  

The members of the congregation who did not meet their standard of living were regarded as spiritually underdeveloped; they were disqualified from the prize.

The regulations of both the Gnostics and the Jews indeed had an appearance of wisdom and humility.

The question still remained, “By what standard?  Why?”

The Apostle Paul writes:  

Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, (Colossians 3:5–6, NKJV)

He continues:  

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8, NKJV)

Do you want to ask the question, “By what standard, Paul?

What is the difference between what the Gnostics and the Jewish Pharisees said?  Is it not just the same thing? The Gnostics called for humility, harsh treatment of the body, withdrawal from the evil world.  The Jews called for a holy life of “do not taste, do not handle”. Would the Gnostics and the Jews not agree with Paul’s call against fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Add this this anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy language.

Let’s go back to the elders and the skating minister:  by what standard did he think it was good to skate to church, and by what standard did the elders condemn him?  And by what standard was it okay if the minister did not enjoy it?  They apparently had different standards.

If we even go back to Dr Schaeffer, we might understand something.  If we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, it provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives.

What is this absolute principle which God gave us to live by?

‘Without-Christ’ and ‘in-Christ’

‘Without-Christ’

When salvation is based in adhering to certain sets of rules, one finds oneself in what the Bible describes as living in shadows, in false humility, having an unspiritual mind which exhibits itself in pride, having a fleshly, or worldly mind.  All these efforts come to nothing and lead nowhere.  It cannot mortify sin.  Why? Verse 19 gives the answer:  

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:19, NIV)

Good works are not bad, but it achieves nothing for eternity.  

In essence, this describes life without Christ.

So, let’s be practical.  When it comes to things eternal, the things you hold dear because you value them as the things which will be able to tell God why He should allow you in heaven, what precisely are they?  Why do you think they are meeting God’s standard?  By what standard do you measure and value these things?

Do you read the Bible regularly because God might give you a golden star on the forehead if you did?  Do you pray to get another star of approval?  Do you come to church for the same reason?  Have you stopped swearing and telling dirty jokes because, by your standards, it is not good?  If this the case, you are in the same boat as those we read about in Colossians 2: they have lost connection with the Head. Don’t you think you should reconsider your case in the light of what the Bible teaches?

‘With-Christ’

Paul contradicts the life of self-improvement and DIY righteousness with the life ‘in-Christ’. 

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3, NIV)

To understand the difference between BYO, DIY and fleshly, dying, worthless righteousness and God-glorifying righteousness something radical must happen.  It is extraordinary radical, but it is the only way.

You have to die!  

You have to die and take into that grave all efforts of self-righteousness.  It is clear Biblical language:  

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… (Colossians 3:5, NIV)

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these… (Colossians 3:8, NIV)

Words in these verses refer back to Colossians 2:11 where it talks about the fulness of the work of Christ who, in our place, “put off the sinful nature” by dying for us (v.12).  When Christ took away or cancelled the charges against us by nailing it to the cross, He fulfilled what we never could or will by own effort.  

This is the Good News of the Gospel:  we don’t need to try to get ourselves up to scratch to meet God’s standard; He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to do it on our behalf and in our place. But to get any benefit from this rescue mission, we need to, by faith and deed, die with Him.  We need to attend our own funeral; we need to get rid of the filthy, sins-stained clothes, and clothe ourselves with the righteousness of Christ.  

It’s only when we understand that by dying to sin in Jesus Christ, we receive a heavenly address which enables us to set our minds on holy things.  

A radical change

In chapter 2 Paul referred to self-helpers, who have cut themselves loose from Christ.  He calls them puffed up and unspiritual without any hope because whatever they try to improve themselves is actually only exposing more obstacles, digging their graves just deeper.  Remember what Dr Francis Shaeffer said about life without God?  

… all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong… Because we disagree on what is best for which group, this leads to fragmentation of thought, which has led us to the despair and alienation so prevalent in society today.

For those who are ‘in-Christ’, those who died with Christ, those who rose with Him to a new life, those who received their address in heaven, there has been a radical change, anchored in a sure and eternal hope.  

What have they become?  

God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved… (Colossians 3:12, NIV)

God’s chosen people! God’s holy people! People God dearly love!

Conclusion 

Therefore, and based on this truth only, we say life with a nature dead to natural yearnings, displayed in how we now suppress unholy desires and the way we speak—aspects we will look at next week—is miles opposite to self-improvement.  It’s opposed to “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch  because a life saved by grace is a new life in Christ—it abhors what is contrary to God’s will and anything that would dishonour to his Name.  

By this standard, we need to live.  Amen. 

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 28 October 2018

Living ‘in Christ’ (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 25:1-15
  • Colossians 3:1-11

Introduction

 Dr Joseph Haroutunian, a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary, came to America from Armenia. One day a well-meaning friend said to him, “Your name is difficult to pronounce and difficult to spell–it could hurt your professional career. Why don’t you change your name to  Harwood or Harwell or something like that?” 

Dr Haroutunian asked, “What do those names mean?”

His friend said, “Well, nothing. They’re just easier to remember.”

Dr Haroutunian said, “In Armenia when my grandfather was baptised, they named him Hartounian which means  ’Resurrection.’ I am Joseph Haroutunian, and I will be a son of Resurrection all my days.”

This man knew Christ. He knew that his life was hidden with Christ in God.  He knew when Christ, who is his life, appears, that he also will with Him appear in glory.

 God who is hidden to sinful man

“Your life is now hidden with Christ in God”.  (Colossians 3:3)

The Bible teaches us that it is impossible for a human being, sin-stained and mortal, to see God.  The holiness of God demanded distance between Him and man.  No-one ever saw God personally.  He was the One concealed in the cloud, and when He appeared to his people, He kept distance between Himself and man.  The people saw the manifestation of his power and holiness, but Him they never saw.

When God commanded Moses to build the tabernacle, He was very specific about the holy and the holiest sections of the temple.  These were designed to keep the people away from the holiness of God.  In fact, the whole sacrificial system was designed to assure that the people would always be reminded that they are sinful in opposition to the holy God.  It is almost as if everything about the Old Testament worship was designed to keep the people away from God, not because He did not love them, but because his holiness demanded it.

Everything about the sacrifices called for the perfect to come:  a perfect High Priest, a perfect sacrifice, a perfect righteousness, a perfect love, a perfect holiness. Everything about the sacrificial system screamed out, “Inadequate!” It called for a sacrifice which would bring God and man together again like it was before sin entered into the world through the rebellion of Adam and Eve.  Yes, it called for a second Adam.

 God from whom nothing is hidden

However, nothing is hidden from God.  No-one ever saw Him, but He knows everyone and everything.  Nothing is hidden from the eyes of God.  Daniel, talking to king Nebuchadnezzar, declared about God:

He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:21-22)

Jeremiah writes about God:

Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)

David said in Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)

 Man’s desperate situation

If we just take these two aspects about God into consideration, we will understand that mankind finds itself in a desperate situation.  First, there is an impossible mountain and unbridgeable distance between God and us.  Second, God knows all about us, and that is enough to condemn us all to eternal destruction.  To compound this problem, we, according to our human nature, are not even sensitive to the things of God and heaven.   Our hearts are inclined to sin and we enjoy the road to our eternal destruction. Also if we wanted to, we could not bridge the distance between God and us.  No good works, good intentions, good thoughts or anything we may deem as acceptable are acceptable before God.  Our hands are stained with sin, our minds are corrupted by sin, our hearts are spiritually dead, our eyes are blind to the things of God, and our ears cannot understand the sound of the Gospel.

 The way to God

Based on what we heard as Gospel from the previous chapter we now with joyful hearts and minds accept with the apostle the excellent news of the Gospel in Colossians 2:13, 14

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

The sum of this argument is this:  The way to God is the way which is from God.  

Can you remember the words participation and association of last week? By faith, I associate with Christ, and the result is that I participate in what He did when He came to fulfil his mission from the Father, which was to bring eternal life to sinners whom His Father loves.  Therefore, when Christ died, by faith I participated in his death.  When He rose again, by faith, I associate with Him and consequently, I participated in his resurrection.  This is possible because the death of our Lord and his resurrection are our righteousness before God. Through baptism, we hear the Gospel sound clearly:  your sins are forgiven because by faith and grace Christ’s death took away the curse and sting of death.  At communion, we hear the Gospel sound clearly:  When Christ died on the cross, God was satisfied, because the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world.

This then takes us to chapter 3:3

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

The result is astounding and amazing.  You died, but you live.  How is that possible?  Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  What a transformation!  God who was hidden to the sinner now hides the sinner in Him!  How is this possible?  It all revolves around the salvation in Christ.  In the Old Testament, the regulations were designed to keep sinners away from the holiness of God because of the imperfect sacrifice and righteousness of both the High Priest and the sacrifice. It resulted in atonement to be done over and over again by a fallible human being.  

It is a different story now.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews puts it this way:

 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings, you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’ ” (Hebrews 10:1-7)

He concludes the same chapter with these marvellous words of grace:

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 in full assurance of faith … (Hebrews 10:19-22)

This is grace and mercy:  through Jesus Christ, we now have access to God’s throne of grace.  Our life is hidden with Christ in God.  

The word hidden also means that our lives are safe with Jesus Christ in God.  That safe indeed, that it will be kept by God till the day of the return of our Lord.  Peter writes in 1Peter 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

 Paul declares in Colossians 3:4: “Christ is your life”.  He is the only One, the only possible way to God, the only possible salvation, the only righteousness acceptable to God. With Him one lives; without Him one is dead.  John in 1 John 5:12 hammers in this truth:

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12)

This, of course, begs the question:  Do you have that life?  Do you know Jesus Christ this way?  Do you know Him as your Saviour?  Mr Joseph Haroutunian knew, and he proclaimed it loudly and clearly.

If so, you probably look forward to the day of the revelation of Jesus Christ.  On that day, every knee will bow before Him and acknowledge that He is the son of God.  And with Him, He will have the names of those belonging to God, bought in his blood.  And He will call those who died in Him to live with Him; He will call those who are still alive at his return to Him.  In his hand, He will hold the scroll of the names of the elect written in the Book of Life, sealed by his own blood.

And eternity will break forth. What a marvellous future do the children of God have!  It is just such a pity that some who hear this Gospel might harden their hearts and reject the righteousness of Jesus Christ. They have no life, no future other than eternal destruction away from God.  I sincerely hope this is not the case with you.

Conclusion

When we ponder these things and apply it to our lives, what impact does it have? Let’s just name a few things:

  • We, who were spiritually dead and operated from God, by his grace in Christ Jesus are now living in Christ, and to the glory of God.  You have been given the fullness of Christ.” (Colossians 2:10)  You were raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raise Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12). “You have been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1)
  • With Christ, we already have a place in heaven.  Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
  • We will see the glory of our God at the return of our Saviour:  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4, ESV)
  • This means that our sinful mindset and rebellious hearts were renewed and we were made new. Paul writes,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

  • The implication is that we are called to become what we’ve been made.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, ESV)  The command is “set your hearts” and “set your minds”.  Paul is not saying that we should seek to possess the things above, but that we must seek, or attune, ourselves entirely to the heavenly realities in Christ. We don’t need to strive to make heaven our own—we already have it in Christ—rather, we should make our heavenly status the guide for all our thinking and acting.  
  • Those who associate with Christ and by faith participate in the salvation He worked out, intentionally seek the things above by deliberately and daily committing themselves to Christ to display the values of the heavenly kingdom and the living out of those values.  In other words, we need to continually develop a heavenly mindset in all we do.  
  • How do we develop this mindset?  It takes us back to chapter 1:  

  that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:9–10, ESV)

How?  Through a growing knowledge and a life grounded in “the word, the Gospel of truth” (Colossians 1:5)  Know your Bible!

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 October 2018

 

The Gospel we defend is our only defence

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Colossians 1:24-2:5

Introduction

When I grew up in South Africa we had a sort of war-game.  We called it kleilat. I’ll explain.  

We would go down to the creek and dig up some black clay.  We would also cut some green flexible sticks from a willow tree. The hard ones did not work.  We were looking for something almost like a light fishing rod.  We then divided into two groups—every war has enemies—and there was a line drawn on the ground.  The first team who had the guts to move forward and cross the line was declared the winner.

The clay was rolled in small balls and loaded onto the tip of the willow stick.  At first, it called for a bit of practice, but soon one developed the skill of launching your clay ammo with the swishing of the willow stick across to the enemy’s side, and actually aim to hit human targets.  I don’t think they would allow this game today!

One way to defend oneself was to go hide from the torpedoed clay balls.  But the more effective way was to use your clay, which in effect was the same as what your enemy used, to shoot back.  And with courage, keep your eye on the enemy, and keep moving towards the line.

The best defence was to attack.  The best weapon was the clay.  You just had to know how to use it.

As Christians, we defend ourselves with the pure Gospel of Christ, but our attack is with nothing else. We just need to know how to use it.  

The battle

Wherever the Word of God is preached, the enemy of the Word will try to destroy the work.  There is a constant battle for our minds and hearts.  The enemy is at work to try to dishearten those who preach the Gospel; he is also at work in the heart of those who hear the Gospel.  This struggle starts out as a struggle for ideas in the minds of those who both preach and hear the Gospel.

The apostle in Colossians twice says that he is struggling (battling) for the church. He was physically and spiritually engaged in this battle.  Did he not write the letter to the Colossians when he was under house arrest in Rome?  Up to that point in time he had suffered all sorts of assaults, of which he writes, 

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24, NIV)

He knew what God called him for.  Remember the words of our Lord to Ananias when Paul was struck with blindness on the road to Damascus. 

This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (Acts 9:15–16, NIV)

Paul understood that Christ who called him would give him the strength to sustain and overcome the battles.  Focussed on his calling for the sake of the body of Christ, the church (Colossians 1:24), he has one thing in mind: to present the Word of God in its fulness (Colossians 1:25).

The word battle in some ways reflect the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:29 and 2:1 where he says,

To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 1:29-2:1)

This struggle is from the word which means to be engaged in a conflict and is reflected in our word agony.  Under the sign of the cross, the fight of faithful Christians acquires a new seriousness.  Paul knew very well that he could only reach the goal of his ministry if he fully spent all his energies.  Therefore he says, 

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:29, NIV)

The struggle for the reward does not demand only full exertion but also a rigid denial of personal luxuries: 

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25, NIV)

This battle is beset of obstacles, dangers and catastrophes through which the Christian must fight his way, even martyrdom if it is what God planned. 

Why is this struggle important?

One might ask, why this struggle?  What is so important for Paul to defend with his life?  

The supreme goal for which Christians fight and work and suffer is not their own salvation only; it is for the salvation of many.  Paul writes, 

[Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, NIV)

The struggle of the Gospel is important because it tells of Jesus Christ and his salvation.  

I trust you remember something about the Gnostics and their ideas of knowledge, wisdom and salvation. To them, salvation was a lifelong struggle to attain knowledge which would (perhaps) secure eternal life. The problem is just that they could not point to something definite, or even someone who would reveal that knowledge.  This knowledge was an ever-moving shadow, the forever chasing of the end of the rainbow.  When you die you just hoped that you have done enough.

But the Gospel of Paul is not about us trying our hardest.  Paul cleverly taps into the terminology of Gnosticism but turned it on its head.  He presented “the word of God in its fulness” which a mystery “disclosed to the saints.”  It is about “Jesus Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27).  He says, 

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, NIV)

Have you listened carefully?  To get to know God is not to embark on a road of uncertain mysteries; to know God is to know that He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel about Christ is God’s full revelation; it does not come incrementally, with certain parts still hidden in a mist of uncertainty.  All of what was prophesied in the Old Testament was God’s “hidden mystery” because it waited for the revelation of Jesus Christ in the fulness of time.  But now it is undisclosed.  To know Christ is to know God, to have wisdom, and to have a glorious hope.  When we understand and receive this Gospel and believe in Christ who is the full revelation of God’s redemption, we—listen!—are perfect in Christ.  He is all we need to be saved. Anything less than knowing Him falls short, and everything more than knowing Him is blasphemy.  Knowing Him is to have it all.  The Gospel teaches us, that “all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3).

Paul had one drive in life:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

Paul put his life on the line to defend this Gospel because the Christ of the Gospel saved his life and completely changed him.  It is all about Christ; anything added to it is no Gospel at all.

After Epaphras went to Colossae to preach the Gospel and people came to faith in the Lord, Paul understood the struggle in which they found themselves because of their faith in the Gospel.  They needed encouragement, and that’s why he wrote them this letter.  

He assured them of his prayers for them.  They were not alone in this battle.  This encouragement in the Lord would knit them together to love one another more and more as believers of Jesus Christ; the encouragement has the purpose that they would care for one another as members of the same body of believers.  He also wanted to instruct them to resist the onslaught of philosophies that could easily rob them of their faith in the Lord.  He writes, 

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

Ongoing battle

The battle is still on; the Devil is still prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  The tactics are still the same; it comes with good sounding arguments and so-called accepted theories to take our minds captive to not think God’s thoughts after Him, but man’s thought after man. This is why Paul defends the Gospel—knowing the Gospel is our only defence.

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:4, NIV)

Paul’s ministry and struggle for the people living in Colossae and Laodicea were to prepare them and to equip them for this battle. Christ’s desire for his church is to be battle-prepared and ready to destroy the enemy.  A church doing nothing is a losing church; it is a church who is risking its lampstand in the place around the throne of God.  I am afraid, we need to be very concerned as a church!

The necessity for the full understanding of the Gospel

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

To know Christ and his fullness and to have an understanding of who He is, is to be armed and equipped to the battle of the mind.  To know Christ is not only to have a date of your conversion, how important that may be (it is lamenting how the message of Christ is watered down and limited to the personal experience of Him as the personal Saviour of individuals.)  Knowledge of Christ is to really understand all the Bible declares about Him.  Let’s repeat a few things from the last two sermons.

The Gospel is about Jesus Christ – full stop!  Jesus Christ is the Gospel. He is our hope (1:5); He warrants the truth of the Gospel (1:6); He qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (1:12); He rescued us from the dominion of darkness by conveying us into the kingdom of light (1:13); He redeemed us, and He forgave us our sins (1:14).  

That’s not all this chapter says about Christ:  He is the image of the invisible God (1:15); by Him all things were created and all things belong to Him (1:16); He is supreme over all rulers and powers (1:16); all things hold together in Him (1:17); He is the Head of his Church (1:18); all the fullness of God dwell in Him (1:19); we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (1:21-22).

When we understand who Jesus Christ, the Son of God, really is, we begin to be ready for the battle.  Only then can we defeat the fine-sounding arguments of the enemy.  We can’t rely on ideas or feelings or airy-fairy experiences, but we can stand in the battle with the teachings of the Scripture about Person of Christ.  It calls for a pure doctrinal understanding of the Bible.

Conclusion

So, what is the Gospel about Jesus Christ?  It is God’s way of disclosing his Son to us as the only One through whom we have redemption, forgiveness of sins, and hope.  He is the image of the invisible God, through who all things were created, and in whom all things hold together.  He presents us to the Father as holy, without blemish and free of accusation (1:22).  Defend this Gospel with your life, because it is your only defence in the battle of your soul and others still lost in darkness.

Amen. 

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 September 2018

 

The Christ of the Gospel

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 2
  • Colossians 1:12-23

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, 

When we began our series from the letter to the Colossians, we first looked at the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We moved on to the next, Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel.  I preach the Word of God to you under the heading “The Christ of the Gospel.”

I suppose something of the Gnostics we learned about last week, might still be in your minds. Gnosticism was, and is, an almost undefined idea, something one might search for without really knowing what knowledge is and where to find it.  Gnosticism is esoteric, mystic, hidden in the mist of something untouchable.  It distinguishes between soul, spirit and body, the body is merely the tomb of the spirit and is of no use.  If man finds knowledge he/she becomes godlike and can look forward to eternity because knowledge set him/her free.

Are we today in a much different situation?

I don’t want to wander too widely, but it will help us when we understand that some of the so-called New Age ideas indeed find its origin in Gnosticism.  

Let’s see how we got to where we are today.

First, there was the age of faith.  Man had a Biblical understanding of knowledge, but knowledge had nothing to do with salvation.  Faith in Christ saves.  The Reformation reawakened this faith. It led to the age of Enlightenment.  

The Age of Reason came after the Enlightenment.  Man’s mind was the ultimate yardstick for knowledge.  Everything had to be scientifically proven before it was worthwhile talking about. 

The period of Modernism followed.  Modernism questioned science as man moved into the centre of his world. Individualism and consumerism appeared on the scene.  Man took from science what he preferred.

We are going a bit quickly here.  We now arrive at the age of post-modernism, which is just the logical next step:  because everything is questioned, and man is his yardstick of what he wants to believe, we now live in a world without any objective truth or standards.  We can believe nothing, but it is just possible that we can believe something.  The logical way out is so-called tolerance.  I tolerate your view, which might be right or wrong, but you have to tolerate mine because I might be right or wrong.  The rule is that there are no rules.

In this whole mess we ended up with esotericism, presupposing that, although we might try to explain things rationally and scientifically, there are hidden forces that transcend ordinary sensory experience and analytic thinking.  Although scientific research proves otherwise, we live by widespread consensus, which in itself has no basis. 

Now we live by rules that no-one wrote down, it cannot be tested, but it should not be disobeyed.  Political correctness is one branch of this.  We need to strive by way of unknown principles to overcome traditional institutional structures to set up an invisible fellowship of global village citizens. Everything of with a whiff of conventional religion is suspicious and rejected, but the end-goal is nothing less than a new religion where Mother Earth is worshipped according to old age gnostic principles.  The rigidity of traditional faith must be vanquished, to make way for the fantasy of manmade eternal salvation.  

These ideas more or less formed the philosophical background of the time in which Paul wrote to the Colossians.  Some wise guys took what they already believed regarding Gnosticism and mixed it with elements of Bible teaching, but reinterpreted essential concepts with Gnostic ideas. The main two ideas were that man cannot know God, and that man can only be saved if he strives hard to be elevated from the mundane world to the godly. 

Do we live in a much different world?  Moreover, Christians are looked down upon because we still believe in an outdated book which teaches about absolute truth and infallible teachings.

Christian knowledge

Can we know God?  Yes!  We know him through his creation, we know Him through the Gospel, the Bible.  We know Him through Jesus Christ.  Where does it leave us? We go back to Colossians 1:12-14

… [we] give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12–14, NKJV)

This Gospel is the Gospel we know; about this gospel, we need to know more and more as we immerse ourselves in the study of the Bible, at every opportunity, as often s possible.  This Gospel is the sword with which we go into the battle of our souls.  We need to know how to handle it, or we will not survive!

Who is the Christ of the Gospel?

For most of the world, Jesus is the baby in a crib.  For most the story of Christmas does not go any further and the nativity scene of the family of Christ in Bethlehem.  There is infinitely more to know about Jesus Christ.

Keep in mind Paul writes to the Colossians to help them stand up against the error of Gnosticism.  What is the essence of the Gospel? 

Before the creation of time and space, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed supremely, without the aid of anything, the need of anything, ever glorious and omnipotent, never in lack of praise and honour.  However, then, if we think about it in human terms, God determined to create the universe. God the Father spoke to Jesus Christ, his Son.  We read about it in Psalm 2 this morning. 

“You are my Son, today I have become your Father.  Ask of me and I will make the nations Your possession, the ends of the earth your inheritance.  You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

To his Son, God gave a title, the Christ.  He is the Redeemer, the Saviour, the Blessed One of the Father.  Here we ended the sermon last week.  Colossians 1:13-14 reads: 

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

God’s Crown Prince

Why can we believe in Christ? 

He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  The word for “image” here is our word for “icon”, a living manifestation of God, as a visible display of the invisible Person of God.  The invisible God becomes visible to men in the “Son of his love”.  Jesus declared, “He that has seen me, has seen the Father”. (John 14:9)  John sings about the glory of Christ:  We have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father.” (John 1:14)  

He is the first-born of the Father and therefore He shares the same substance and nature of God. Man was created, not born of the Father.  We are from dust; Christ is from the eternity God.  He is before all things.  He was there before all things were created, He is also superior over all things created.  Of God’s creation, He is the beginning, the centre, and the end.  That’s why the Bible then says, “In Him all things hold together.”

It is not possible to think about creation without thinking about Christ.  Without Christ, no creation would be possible.  Darwinian Evolution, as well as the Kingship of Jesus Christ over all creation,  is an impossibility.  No Christ, no creation; no creation, no Christ!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)

This teaching has profound implications for the way we think about Jesus Christ.  In general, the Gospel is narrowed down to the salvation in Christ, which becomes even narrower if this salvation is purely the personal salvation of the individual Christian.  This Gospel is not the Christian and Biblical worldview.  The message of the Church is then confined to the walls of the Church, which becomes a trap with unbelieving politicians demand of the Church to keep Christianity out of politics.  Educators and scientists require of us to stay in our corner and mind the souls of the unhappy pursuers of eternal bliss.

However, this is not what the Bible teaches about Christ.  To the unbelieving scientist it might come as a surprise:  what he or she is researching is the work of God through Jesus Christ.  It belongs to Him, it exists because of Him and holds together because of Him.  Without Christ, no scientific research is possible, because without Him there would be nothing to research.

To the humanistic sociologist and psychologist, and even the historicist this might also come as a surprise.  The study of their field is possible because of Christ, even if they don’t believe it.  Also, like me when I try to fix my lawn mover without the technical knowledge and the instruction manual issued by the manufacturers, without the knowledge of Him through whom God created the universe, fixing and fully understanding it will remain a pipe dream.

God’s agent of Creation: the ruler of all creation

The Father wanted to give to his Son everything He created.  In this sense, Jesus Christ became the agent of God through whom He created the world.  So, everything in heaven and on earth, all things visible and invisible, thrones and powers or rulers or authorities were created by Him and for Him.  There is no kingdom, no king, no ruler, nothing visible or invisible which is not under the feet of our Saviour.

The political leaders of our day will do well to heed the advice of the Word of God.  

“Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge I Him.” (Psalm 2:12)

Jesus Christ is God’s Crown Prince.  All areas of life, all spheres of thinking, must be under the Headship of Christ.  Even if people don’t believe in Him – He still is the first-born of the universe, the image of God, the agent of God’s creation, the One in whom all things hold together.

He said:

“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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This truth drives our missionary work; it drives our efforts in the Lord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it helps us to not cringe before the pressures of kings and rulers.

Do you perhaps only of Jesus Christ as the One whose only mission is to fix your problems and you may live well?  Is He merely a remedy for your depression or unhappiness?  Alternatively, is He the One before whom you bow in adoration and worship?

For some people, Christ is nothing short of an idea.  He becomes a mystical concept.  People go away for weekends to connect with God and experience Him.  They come back with great feelings about Him, but the only thing they do better now is meditating, perhaps sitting in a specific posture.  This form of worship of Christ does not differ much from so-called the New Age worship of concepts and ideas.

No, Jesus Christ is King of the universe, known by the works of his hands and to Him, all thoughts must be made captive.  The apostle Paul writes:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Christ is Head of the Church

There was a price attached when God decided to give an inheritance to his Son.  God ordained to send his Son into this sinful world to redeem it through his blood.  Jesus Christ had to buy back for God what sin destroyed and stole from God.  Jesus was the One through whom God would reconcile the world to Himself.  The word is in need of this reconciliation because it is the only peace possible.  Without Jesus Christ, there is no peace possible between God and the sinful world.

Verse 21 describes our hostility towards God.  We were alienated from God and enemies of God.  Born in darkness, we were at war with Him.  When our first parents were driven from the presence of God out of Paradise, He gave them a promise of hope:  One day they would be reconciled to Him through the eternal sacrifice of the Son of his Love. 

Christ’s physical body was nailed to the tree of Calvary.  His blood was shed. Moreover, He died on that cross to present us holy to the Father. He reconciled us with the Father (Colossians 1:22). His sinless life now becomes our sinless life by faith.  We are united to him by faith!

Such is the Headship of Christ over his Church. He qualified us to be counted amongst the saints washed in his blood, dressed in white robes, which are the righteous deeds in Christ.  He conveyed us from darkness into light, carrying us over the chasm between the holy God and sinners, and He brought us into the kingdom of light belonging to his Son, now possible because we are washed clean in his blood.  We have received the forgiveness of sins.

But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— (Colossians 1:22, NIV)

Conclusion

There is a warning in this chapter if we do not stand firm if we are not determined to engage in the battle and run the race to the end.  This can easily happen if I regard Christ as nothing more than the Saviour of my personal world, and not the King of the word and the King of the church.  Listen to the verse:

… if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard… (Colossians 1:23)

For this reason, then does the apostle makes this statement in verse 28:

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

Don’t give up.  Always remember:  Christ is supreme over all creation, He is our Head and Master, the One who reconciled us to God, the One who is conquering over all enemies.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz in Sunday 2 September 2018

 

Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:129-136
  • Colossians 1:9-14

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

Last week we commenced a series of sermons from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  This series goes under the title, United with Jesus Christ. 

Last week the message was about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We looked at what the Gospel is about, how we hear the word through God’s messengers, and we heard about the effect of the Gospel on those who believe it.  The Gospel is about Christ and the salvation He gives to those who hear and accept it.  Faith comes by hearing the message, and we hear the message through the Word of Christ. The effect is that people are saved and changed to live for the glory of Christ by loving one another as He loved is.

We would be delighted if we know only this is happening in our congregation, and of course all over the world.  

However, it seems as if Paul knows these things are the foundation and not the building.  Faith in Christ, adhering to the Gospel, loving and caring for one another, and providing for God’s messengers to keep proclaiming the Gospel is essential, but it is not comprehensive.  These things are the first steps for every Christian and church, but that’s only where the mission starts.

The basis of Paul’s prayer

Paul was repeatedly and steadfastly praying, for growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because he had heard from Epaphras that the Colossians heard, received and understood the Gospel and that they grasped the basics of it by loving one another, Paul wanted them to know that he is praying for what is essential to advance in their faith as a congregation of Christ. This prayer we desperately need to pray for ourselves, for our fellow Christians, and for the church of Jesus Christ all over the world.

Too quickly do we stop interceding for others when we hear that they received Christ and the message of the Gospel.  Seldomly do we make it our prayer for the church to grow in its knowledge of the Gospel. If this is not happening, if we stay immature Christian babies, we will be ineffective in our mission into the world.  

A church might be teeming of new converts and might seem to be growing because of special programs for specialist groups, but if there is little emphasis on growth in the knowledge of the Gospel, it will remain a church with adolescent Christians.  We know about adolescence, don’t we!  It’s the time in life where there is no-one more important in the universe than yourself.  It’s the phase when mood swings can be explosive; it’s time when everything is questioned, and nothing is believed.  A church where there is not growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like that.

Paul writes in Ephesians that God gave pastors and teachers to equip the people of God for works of service, Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, 

…to make the body of Christ stronger. This work must continue until we are all joined together in the same faith and the same knowledge of the Son of God. We must become like a mature person, growing to the full measure of the fulness of Christ. Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about by the waves, carried one way and then another by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. (Ephesians 4:12–14)

The content of Paul’s prayer

Paul writes, 

… we … do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; … that you may increase in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10, NKJV)

Just a bit of the cultural background of the prevailing philosophy at the time in Colossae.  One of the most devastating philosophies floating around was that of Gnosticism.  It is challenging to grasp the teachings of this philosophy because there is no single or sharply defined definition.

Gnosticism, the word comes from the Greek word knowledge was, and still is, about the search for true knowledge, how to find it, and how to be liberated by it. The agnostic on the other hand, says the only thing man can know is that he can’t know.

Bear with me; I’ll try to make sensible remarks out of the most chaotic system of thought known to mankind.

Gnosticism says there is only one ultimate being or group of divinities. The difference between the ultimate and the lower class exists as a result of an error in what is good. One has to point the finger to Sophia, the Greek term for wisdom.  

Wisdom, Sophia, lusts for the Ultimate Depth. This ultimate god cannot tolerate distortion in the godhead, and exiles wisdom, or Sophia, to a lower heaven.  

Sophia with the help of her lesser gods -often called fates – became the creator of the physical world where they parade as ultimate gods.

The upper godhead deviously manoeuvres the Lower Wisdom into creating human beings,  which happens through the process of, not only passing on the breath of life but also divine light particles. But not all humans got these particles! 

The upper god provided the tree of knowledge to awake humans to the state from which they have come.  However, the lower god, the one who created the world and humans, opposed the upper god by providing a tree of life, only to trap humanity into bondage instead. The lower god, still at war with the upper god, forbids access to the tree of knowledge, gnosis.

Human beings, deprived of knowledge, only have wisdom, which holds their spirits captive in a human body.  The upper godhead then sent a saviour, an alien messenger with gnosis, knowledge, to save humanity.  This gnosis, knowledge, enabled the spirits of human beings to know even more than their lower god creator.  With gnosis (knowledge) humanity can conquer the spiritual senselessness that had come upon him when the creator imprisoned its spirit in a physical body. However, only those human beings who have the light particles are capable of being received the gnosis.

The process of salvation in most gnostic myths is therefore very deterministic. Redemption indeed occurs at the end of the Gnostic’s life when he seeks to escape from the created world. Only then, the gnostic strips off the created elements of the body from his spirit, and climbs through the fates to the heavenly realm.

What is the most frustrating part is that gnosis—knowledge—can never be defined.  It remains an esoteric, cryptic, and mysterious something.  It remains something which is only understood by those with the particles of light in them.

In the verses, Colossians 2:9-10, Paul uses three words to cut through the possible influence of agnosticism upon the new believers in Colossae:  knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  More than that, he prayed that the believers in Colossae might grow in their knowledge and understanding.

The questions we now need to answer are:

  • Is it possible to know God and where can we find wisdom and understanding?
  • Why do we need this knowledge?
  • Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?

Is it possible to know God?

When Paul prays that the church would grow in their knowledge about the will of God, he does not speak about God granting wisdom about the choice of cars or holiday destinations.  Knowing God is not to know more about my future or my needs.  Paul did not have this in mind.  

Unequivocally, yes!  

There are at least three ways in which God reveals Himself.  Firstly, by what He created.  Psalm 19 proclaims, 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1–2, NKJV)

Paul writes, 

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (Romans 1:20, NKJV)

We need to understand that even nature is sin-stained, and cannot bring us into a personal relationship with God.  Our hearts may be prompted to get to know Him better, but ultimately, nature is not the only revelation of God.

Secondly, God reveals Himself by his Word, the Bible.  The Bible is God’s self-revelation; in it, He speaks and communicates with us, far more focussed and precisely than in his creation. We read Psalm 119 this morning, 

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:129–130).

It is in the Bible where we find this principle, 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10, NKJV)

Thirdly, God revealed Himself through Jesus Christ.  

All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:3-4; 14, NKJV)

Jesus declared,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. (John 14:6–7, NKJV)

In the previous verses of Colossians 1, Paul made it very clear:  they heard the truth, which is the Gospel; in the Gospel God’s grace in Jesus Christ is revealed; the Gospel is the truth, and God’s messengers minister the Gospel. How much different is this to the teachings of Gnosticism, which spurs one on to seek knowledge, but it does not give knowledge.  It teaches something about God, but it keeps mauling in mystical uncertainty.  It teaches about a messenger of a so-called god, but it does not tell anything about the message.

Let’s add another element to the certainty about the truth.  Paul talks about spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9);  this is not esoteric wisdom. Instead, it is wisdom which comes from the Holy Spirit.  

Our Lord said about the Holy Spirit, 

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26, NKJV)

Paul makes it clear, God’s wisdom is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 2:10). He says, 

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12, NKJV)

Peter writes, 

…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, NKJV)

Is it possible to know God?  Yes, we only need to open our eyes to see Him in creation, we need to study the Bible, and we need to know Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this knowledge?

Without dwelling too long on this question, the plain answer is, without knowing God, we would not know Jesus Christ.  Without knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He did to save us, we will live in misery, we will try to save ourselves and continually fail to do so, we will have no hope, and the devil will continue to accuse us, till he receives us in hell.  

The grace of the Gospel is this, 

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14, NKJV)

Moreover, the truth to remember is this; we will never know any of this if we do not hear the Gospel, believe it, and worship the One who made it all possible.

Do we need this knowledge?  Without a shadow of a doubt!

Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?

Paul prays: 

… that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10, NKJV)

When we hear God’s call through the Gospel, when we understand the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and understand that it is by justification through Him alone that God declares us righteous in Him, we don’t need more to be saved. However, we have just given our first steps in the faith.  We are babies and need to be nurtured to maturity.  

When we grow in the knowledge of the Gospel we understand more and more of the will of God; we are guided by the Holy Spirit to gain wisdom and understanding of who God is, as well as his declared will which is recorded in the Bible.  It is necessary to know because only through it will we know how to please God in our very conduct; it is by reading and studying the Bible that God trains us in his spiritual gymnasium: we become fit, become stronger in our faith, and we the stamina to endure the race joyfully.  Unfit people struggle in a race, and they don’t do it joyfully.  All along we run for the prize for which God qualified us: we have an inheritance in the kingdom of light.

Conclusion

Can we know God? Yes!  From where do we get wisdom and knowledge? From the Bible. Do we need this knowledge?  Without it, we live in the darkness of sin. Do we need to grow in this knowledge? Surely! However, Paul prays for more.  Listen, 

… we ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and endurance with joy. (Colossians 1:9–11, NKJV)

My friend, do not be satisfied with the minimum.  Go for the full thing, and don’t miss out on any little part of it.  Then you will be fruitful in the Lord.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 26 August 2018

 

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Bible Readings

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three things stand out:  

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

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

The proclamation of the Gospel

We take two verses together:

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

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

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

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

Paul asks the next logical question,

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

This then begs the next question,  

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

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

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

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

Paul answers this question in the next verse,  

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

In another text, Paul puts it this way, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Christ alone

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

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

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

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

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

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

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

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

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

The outworking of the Gospel 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

May we be such a community.  Amen.

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

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

Bible Readings

  • 1 John 4:7-21
  • 1Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

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

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

We continue today with more marvellous news.

God’s redemptive work endures forever 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prepare your minds for action

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

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

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

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

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

A hope which sees the end from the beginning

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

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

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

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

The reason:  we must be obedient children

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living as aliens and strangers

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

God’s Good News is not fake news

Bible Readings:

  • Psalm 119:41-48
  • 1 Peter 1:10-12, 22-2:3

Introduction

According to a story doing the rounds on the internet, an amateur genealogy researcher in Queensland and had been doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that a relation, who was a prominent politician, had a great-great uncle, named Remus, who seemed to have a checkered past, and she decided to do more investigation.  

She emailed the office of the politician for information about their great-great uncle.

Believe it or not, says the internet story, the staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

“Remus was famous in Victoria during the mid to late 1800s. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Melbourne-Geelong Railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad.

”In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the Victoria Police Force. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour, when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.’’

Our researcher had one photograph of Remus; it shows him standing on the gallows at the Melbourne Gaol.  On the back of the picture the researcher obtained during her own research is an inscription: “Remus, horse thief, sent to Melbourne Gaol 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Melbourne-Geelong train six times. Caught by Victoria Police Force, convicted and hanged in 1889.

The truth is sometimes very far removed from the political spin.  And we all know about fake news and False Flags.

There are people who claim that the message of the Bible is fake news, and religious spin which cannot be trusted.  One fellow put it this way:  the anecdotes about Jesus have been told over and over again and over time more and more were added to it, until people started believing it as the truth, and the church put it all together in one book.  

This salvation

Last week’s sermon ended with 1 Peter 1:9, which reads:

you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9, NIV)

Concerning this salvation we heard in the previous verses: 

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

This faith is shielded

“… by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5, NIV)

The sum of the Old Testament

The story of this salvation was not something which dropped out of the skies after Christ was born and completed his ministry.  It is surely not a story the church came up with; the church came as a result of this story.

The prophets

This salvation was the theme which the prophets pondered and explored over hundreds of years.  They carefully examined everything about this salvation; they studied very carefully to know all about it.  

trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. (1 Peter 1:11, NIV)

The books of the Bible, although we have it in one volume today, were not originally grouped together.  It took a long period of time and development for that to happen.  The person who rejects the Bible as a whole, is misled about this development. One has to understand the message of each of the books and how the books a a whole fit together before one can reject all of it as fake news. 

What we need to keep in mind is that the prophets and there contributors to the Old Testament did not get together on a Saturday morning after Sabbath service to decide what they are going to include in their prophesies.  No, independently from one another, separated by long distances for their time, they did their research—and they came to the same conclusion very time. The same applies to the Gospel writers and others in the New Testament.  Why the agreement on prophesy and doctrine?  Because of the “Spirit of Christ.” Peter later writes:  

You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, NIV)

Some, like Isaiah and Micah, were prophesying 700 years before Christ was born.  Can we trust Isaiah?  

Only in 1946, manuscripts of all the books of the Old Testament, with the exception of of Esther, were found on scrolls in caves on the north west shore of the Dead Sea.  The prophecy of Isaiah was the best preserved, and agrees with the text which forms the basis for the translation in our Bibles.  The original text of Isaiah has not changed for almost 3,000 years!

The time and circumstances of Christ’s ministry

Peter states that the prophets researched the time and the circumstances for the sufferings of Christ.  The word for time in the verse is significant:  it describes a decisive, turning-point event; a watershed.  This is precisely of significance of the birth and sufferings of Christ.  It had to be in Bethlehem to fulfil the prediction of where Christ would be born.  He had to born along the line of David to fulfil God’s promise to David.  Peter on Pentecost Day said about David:  

He was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. (Acts 2:30, NIV)

His death needed to be on a cross to fulfil the Scriptures about the curse of someone who was nailed to a tree; that’s why no-one could capture Him before then, although they wanted to kill Him at more than one occasion.  The soldiers could’ve killed Him in the Garden of Olives and all would be over, but it would not be according to God’s timetable and purpose.  It needed to be on Passover for Him to be the Lamb without blemish. All these things the prophets researched and wrote down.  

These things are in the Bible for our benefit. It was something the prophets longed to see, but they only saw it in a spiritual sense.  Like the people to whom Peter addresses in his letter, they did not physically see Jesus, yet they believed and rejoiced.  Peter and the other apostles had the privilege of seeing and hearing Jesus.  They then took the prophecies, interpreted them as Christ made them clear to them and proclaimed it as far as they went.  During forty days after Christ’s resurrection He appeared to his disciples and taught them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).  

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. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:45–48, NIV)

  This is what Peter referred to in 2 Peter 1

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16–18, NIV)

Paul when he was about to suffer in jail for his faith in Jesus Christ declared: 

I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— (Acts 26:22, NIV)

This is compelling evidence that the Gospel as God’s Good News is not fake news.

The Message we preach

Peter reminded those to whom he wrote this letter, that in the midst of their suffering as Christians in a hostile world where they were strangers with no fixed address, what was foretold in all of the Bible up to that point was fulfilled in Christ.  

For those who understand “the sufferings of Christ” as sufferings of Christians on behalf of Christ, “glories” is understood as triumphs, or victory instead of defeat. The “sufferings into Christ” then refers to the sufferings that Christ himself experienced, that is, his death on the cross, 

The “glories” then refer to the events following that: his resurrection, his exaltation, the gift of the Spirit to the Church, the winning of both Jews and Gentiles to the Christian faith, and finally Christ’s return in victory.

This is the crux of the Gospel:  the Good News that God gave salvation by grace to those who He elected from all eternity through Jesus Christ.  God’s hourglass is full; the time has come.  Salvation is available.  Not only did his sufferings wipe out their sins before God to give them, but they had far more than they ever had before they became Christians: they share in the glories of Christ. And it is all locked up on heaven and kept by God.

Paul understood this:

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, (Ephesians 3:8–10, NIV)

Conclusion

This is our message today:  Jesus Christ, the sum of the Gospel, the fulfilment of all prophesies. God’s Good News is not fake news.  It does not contain human spin, for if it did there would be many embarrassing stories about many sinners recorded in the Bible missing—including the fact that David was a murderer, liar, thief and a man who took another’s wife in lust. 

When the storms of life gather, what do we hold on to?  The message of the Bible concerning Christ, his sufferings and his glories.

Jesus loves me, yes, I know, for the Bible tells me so!  

If the media sometimes make you feel downcast, rejoice in this message.  Read the Word, study it, take God on his promises, make them your own, let them guard your heart against the onslaught of unbelief.  Don’t neglect the teaching of the Word; don’t neglect the study of the Word; don’t neglect to encourage others through the Word:  In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance than can never perish, spoil or fade.  Amen

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 15 April 2018

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Bible readings

  • Numbers 14:1-12
  • 1 Peter 1:1-9

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s elect – yesterday

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

A Chosen People

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

A Sanctified People

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

An Obedient People

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

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

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

The “tomorrow” of God’s elect

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

A People of hope

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

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

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

A People with an inheritance

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s elect – today

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

Grief and trials

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

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

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

In refinement

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

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

Being prepared for glory

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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