Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Look out for false apostles (2)

Bible Readings

  • Luke 21:5-11
  • 2Timothy 3:1-9

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

A friend of mine, then a new Christian, returned from morning worship where the sermon was about false prophets.  He settled for a cup of coffee with his wife when the doorbell rang.  His visitors asked if he would want to know more about the end times.  Of course, he was interested, especially him being new to the faith, wanting to know about the return of Christ.  But just to be sure, he asked them if they believe that Jesus Christ is God, the eternal Son of the Father who came into the world to atone for the sins of the lost.  They said they believed Christ was a mighty prophet but that they do not believe that He was God.  That alarmed my friend, who asked them to leave.

Joining his wife for the coffee, she asked what the visitors were on about.   He replied, “I suppose we’re certainly living in last days; the false prophet is already knocking on my door!” 

The purpose of this sermon today is to help you understand the danger of people, theologians and ministers, who present a new form of reformation, downgrading the authority of the Scriptures.

Open rebellion against God, his Son and the Bible

False religion is known by its message: the message is the words of man.  As such, they are just like the false prophets of the Old Testament.  

The coming of a radical reformation 

When you hear someone saying,  “We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus’ divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God”, you know you have to do with a false prophet.

These are the words of Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar who wrote “The Coming Radical Reformation”.   The goal of the Jesus Seminar was to review each of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels and determine which are authentic.  Here are a few of 21 theses by Funk:  

  • The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world.  
  • The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is sub-rational and sub-ethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system.  
  • The resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus did not rise from the dead, except perhaps in some metaphorical sense.  
  • The Bible does not contain fixed, objective standards of behaviour that should govern human behaviour for all time. This includes the ten commandments as well as the admonitions of Jesus.

One of the members of the Jesus Seminar, bishop Selby Spong joins in by stating,  

“The Bible has lost every major battle it has ever fought. The Bible was quoted to defend slavery and the Bible lost. The Bible was quoted to keep women silent, and the Bible lost. And the Bible is being quoted to deny homosexuals their equal rights, and the Bible will lose.”   

About the Bible he further says, 

“I could not believe that anyone who has read this book would be so foolish as to proclaim that the Bible in every literal word was the divinely inspired, inerrant word of God.”   

About the cross of Christ, he says, 

“The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.”

A fellow of the Jesus Seminar, Dr Francis MacNab, was an ordained minister of the Uniting Church at the time when he said:  The old faith is in large sections unbelievable. We want to make the new faith more believable, realistic and helpful in terms of the way people live.  So, he launched a $120,000 advertising campaign to propagate the new faith, and declared:  “The Ten Commandments, [is] one of the most negative documents ever written.” He described Moses as a mass murderer, Abraham as concocted and Jesus as a Jewish peasant who is certainly not God.  The Uniting Church strangely did not discipline MacNab because no formal complaint had been received; so, he remained minister till 2016 when he retired.  Dr MacNab became a member of the Order of Australia for his contributions to psychotherapy and religion.

Statements like these are not only shocking but also blasphemous.  Although it promised something new, a coming radical reformation, it presented nothing more than another idea.  It outright rejects the authority of the Bible.

A church-like movement

It is sometimes a bit harder to see the false prophet when it does not come so direct and upfront like the Jesus Seminar.  When a movement comes to you and says they are really set against stale traditional churches, with its absolute structure, style of worship and time-frozen culture where there are no personal relationships and a genuine expression of warm Christian care—or the word might be “authentic”—you would find it hard to disagree with them.  But it is sometimes just here where you need to ask about their strategies to change things.

Emergent Church

Another new thing on the religious scene is the Emergent church.  It is sometimes hard to distinguish between this and another, the Emerging church. 

Most of its members are unsatisfied with what they term “organised religion” and the “institutional” church and are trying to reinvent the church from within.  Biblical models for church discipline, church government, the sacraments, and church offices are being ignored which as a consequence allows for ongoing, unrepentant sin to exist within the church.  There is more often than not a blatant absence of the sacraments, which they describe as hangovers from the Roman Catholic Church.  

Because those in the emergent church movement are so heavily influenced by post-modernism, theologians of the Emergent church sometimes fail to nail down exclusive truth.  In some churches the inerrancy of the Word of God, the Bible, is not upheld.  The Emerging Church is a place where people have felt the freedom to explore questions and experiment with new forms of lifestyle and corporate practice.  The term “seeker-sensitive” can be applied to the emergent church, purely because absolute truth can offend people:  you cannot proclaim the truths of the Scripture as absolute truth, because it will offend those who do not know the background—they will just walk out again.  

Emerging Church members believe it is first of all necessary to establish relationships with people, going where they are, meeting them on their level, and only later presenting doctrinal truths after they have become part of their lives.  But the problem is that the gospel becomes stripped of the necessity of a Savior because it frequently fails to define sin, repentance, confession, church discipline, and fruits showing regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

The single greatest concern is their attitude towards doctrine. They don’t believe that truth itself is an objective propositional thing that has a yes and a no. Nothing is ever either/or, good or bad, right or wrong, ugly or beautiful. It’s all vague.  

Brian McLaren, one of the people associated with the Emergent Church writes,

“The church latched on to that old doctrine of original sin like a dog to a stick, and before you knew it, the whole gospel got twisted around it. Instead of being God’s big message of saving love for the whole world, the gospel became a little bit of secret information on how to solve the pesky legal problem of original sin.”

Once again we have poor and low esteem of the Bible as authoritative Word of God.  

A brand-new reformation like the world has not seen

When people come to you with an earnest desire to see the Kingdom of God grow to be seen in all human institutions; when they say that prayer is an effective weapon and strategy to achieve this goal; when they say we need to become more proactive in marches against abortion and other moral issues; things get all the harder to know if there might be some false prophet lurking behind the good sounding words and intentions.

New Apostolic Reformation

Leaders in the NAR believe that God has restored the offices of apostle and prophet, along with the others mentioned in Ephesians 4.  But the main offices are the apostles and the prophets.

Leaders teach that the proper church government—headed by living apostles and prophets has been restored.  Both prophets and apostles in the NAR movement can give new divine revelation. They receive new revelation and instruct their followers on how to properly respond to the new revelation.  What is interesting is that NAR prophets are not expected to be 100% accurate in their predictions. They still can be considered legitimate prophets even when they make errors!  

The task of the apostles and prophets is to implement dominion of the earth.  This is a redefined gospel in contrast to the gospel of salvation from sin.  Angus Buchan (known for his book “Faith Like Potatoes”) regularly attract hundreds of thousands of people to his rallies, with the main drive to recapture the political and social institutions into the kingdom of Christ.  His meetings consist more of binding demons, pronouncing curses, and the like—but of the old-time revival preaching, where people are called to repentance to Christ, not much happens.

Because the apostles and prophets claim that it is God’s desire for the church to take dominion of the earth in preparation for His return. This task will be accomplished with the help of miraculous powers wielded by the under the leadership of apostles and prophets.  They propagate a “seven mountain mandate”:  taking control of the seven most institutions in society—government, media, family, business/finance, education, church/religion, and arts/entertainment.  

This is not much different from the worldview of the Roman Church, with the Pope as the sole representative of Christ; the only difference being that apostles and prophets are in control.  Islam califs have the same thing in mind:  sharia law must rule every aspect of life.  If the NAR has this in mind it is surely a very dangerous pathway.

The Biblical understanding has never been that the church should take the place of governments, and never for governments to rule over the church.   

Once this is achieved before Christ returns, God will transfer control of the world’s wealth from the hands of the wicked to the hands of the NAR apostles. The church will then have the financial resources it will need to establish God’s earthly kingdom.  

The apostles, the prophets and their followers will develop vast supernatural powers and will perform miracles that will surpass those performed by the biblical apostles and prophets and even those performed by Jesus during his earthly ministry.  These miracles will include healing every single person inside hospitals and mental institutions simply by laying their hands on the buildings and having command of the laws of nature, including gravity.  People who continue to receive the new revelation given by the apostles and prophets will gain more and more supernatural powers until they eventually become “manifest sons of God.”  

The NAR movement has its own global television network, called GOD TV which broadcasts to more than 200 nations. Trinity Broadcasting Network  (TBN)— the world’s largest religious television network — regularly features the teachings of NAR apostles and prophets.

And you may ask:  what’s false about it?  One short answer:  the low value they put on the authority of the Scriptures.  To succeed, the NAR needs to rely on revelations—something which is an addition to the Word of God, even if the prophets are sometimes wrong.  People are not saved from sin through miracles, but by the power of the Gospel through the Holy Spirit.  

It is further not for the church to take over governments and financial institutions.

The big problem is:  who gives these apostles and prophets authority?  Are they elected or self-appointed?  Are they under any form of accountability?  Can they be disciplined?  Can they be opposed?  Or will it just be another form of the papal system?  

If this is the case, run for your life.

Run to Christ, run to the Word, run for the grace of Christ who saves. Run the race till the end, even in the face of oppression.  That’s the calling of the Gospel.  

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 April 2019

 

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Christ makes us his friends, and the world hates us for it

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 9:7-20
  • John 15:9-16:4

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

My mother was one of the fairest people I knew.  Like a hen, she would protect her chicks.  Don’t get into Mom’s bad books by spreading stories about her children. As kids, we knew she would always defend us, and it gave us a sense of security.  But in her fairness, Mom demanded that we always act like kids who bore the Schwartz name. We had to show respect and obedience. But, even on the odd occasion where we were apparently in the wrong, we were never left on our own.  Mom would be between us and those we were accountable to, stating her case for fairness, but asking for lenient discipline.  

Chapters 13-16 of the Gospel of John recorded the last and private teaching of our Lord when He addressed his disciples.  They were about to be scattered (16:31), they had a mission:

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

What would the need to remember and take along in their mission to fishers of men?  When times get tough, what did Jesus give them to hang on to?

I have loved you

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:9, NIV)

This an extraordinary statement. When our grandson wanted to express how much he loved his mother, he said, “l love you more than all the Holden Commodores in the world.” But really, we do not love comparatively.  When Jesus expressed his love towards his disciples, He used an unmatched comparison.  He loves us with the same love as the eternal Father loved his eternal Son.  This is mind-boggling. How do we know what Jesus says is true?  Just go a bit further in the chapter.  

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12–13, NIV)

In chapter 10  Jesus Christ declared his love:  

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

But the reason why both the Father and the Son love the world is not that the world is so lovely and lovingly. As we saw last week, when Jesus came into the world to dwell amongst us, this place was dark.  God’s own did not receive him.  Why not?  They were spiritually blind, and by nature they hated God.  And yet, He loved them as the Father loved them.  We know the verse:  

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)

So, when his disciples would face persecution and hardship in their fruit-bearing mission, when they were stuck in jails, when they lost kindred and possessions, they could hold on to what Jesus impressed on their minds the last night they spent together, “As the Father loved Me, so I have loved you.   

What carries the church through persecution and hardship?  When all of this world is lost, when health has departed, when loved ones have lost their memory, when we bury those we hold dear above all else, when we lose our names and reputations for the glory of Christ, what is left?  What keeps us going?  I have loved you!  Paul writes:  

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39, NIV)

Remain in my love

Our Lord gave his disciples this command:  Remain in my love.  It can be tempting to despair and walk away from Christ’s love when the going gets tuff.  He may seem distant, and we don’t see his love in our trials.  Jesus knew all of this, and that’s precisely why He added the command, “Remain in my love”.  

How does one remain in his love? You take Him on his word. 

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:10, NIV)

Christ had all reason to walk away from the love of his Father. People scorned Him, they hated Him, the devil tempted Him in the desert, the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him.  Yet, He says: “just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:10, NIV)

You will have complete joy

When we put the love and the word of Christ first in our lives, when we understand the love God has for us in his Son, when we understand that Christ endured all the scorn and hatred to save us, then, even in the face of hardship, we will have joy.  The world can not add to this joy, and worldly joy cannot compete with this inward and unspeakable joy, because the joy we have in Christ is all we need.  

… fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2–3, NIV)

Jesus prepared his disciples, 

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:22, NIV)

This verse most probably was the context of the short time between the death and resurrection of Christ. But ultimately it points to time between the ascension of our Lord into heaven, and his return when He comes to takes his won with Him to be in the presence of the Father.  Even though we do not have Christ in Person with us, our joy in Him nothing can take away.  Many martyrs of the faith sang hymns of joy when they burned on the stake.  Steven, while they stone him to death “… full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” (Acts 7:55–56, NIV)

Love one another

One way to love Christ is to take Him on his word and completely trust Him.  But there’s another aspect we should not forget, we must love one another as part of the same family as Christ loves us.  Christian love is comparative love.  What’s the comparison?  As I love you.  This is a big ask.  You look at your fellow Christian and what do you see?  Someone whom Christ loves, someone who has become part of the family of Christ on the same basis as you have: drawn by undeserved love.  

Do we love your brother and sister?   How much and to what degree?  As Christ loves us? As Christ gave up everything for us, so we need to set our brothers and sisters in Him on the same level.  As Mom would say, “You touch my children, and you touch me.  You touch my fellow brother or sister in the Lord, and you touch me.  We are of the same family.  This is a different love the world wants to sell us.  It is not the warm fuzzy feeling I get when someone does something nice to me. What drives my love for my fellow Christian is the love which Christ had for me when He laid down his life to save me.  When my brother weeps, I weep; when my sister is hurting because of the name of Christ, I am hurting.  Together we carried the yoke of Christ.  

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NIV)

Friends of Christ have the world as their enemy

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, NIV)

What happened when we started to follow Christ?  We became part of God’s family.  In Him, we are brothers and sisters.  In Christ we were taken out of the world, we received a new citizenship, we received a new mind and heart, we are born from above, and we received new marching orders.  

The world has no attraction for us anymore.  If we love Christ the way He loves us, our lives are driven for his glory.  When Jesus interceded for his disciples at his Father’s throne, He prayed:  

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (John 17:15–16, NIV)

How is it that we could become friends of Christ?  

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

You see the order here?  You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” For what reason?  “You so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”  How is it possible to bear fruit in this world?  Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” What is our authority?  I have called you friends”.  Friends, not in the sense of being buddies of Christ, but friends because we are not enemy anymore.  So now, we go out in the word with a few things written on our minds:

  • Jesus loves us as the Father loves us.  
  • Jesus laid down his life for us.
  • No-one can rob us of our joy, because nothing in the world can add to our joy.
  • We have fellow soldiers, saved by grace, family in Christ, and our love towards one another is as strong as Christ’s love for us.
  • We have the words of Christ to reach a lost world
  • We did not choose ourselves—we were appointed by Christ
  • The fruit we bear will have eternal consequences, not because of us, but because of Him who sent us
  • We are no strangers to Christ anymore, by grace He has wiped out the enmity between us and God.

So we have the world at our feet!  They are just waiting for us to speak the word. Not so!  

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

Here’s an excellent test to see if we really love Christ.  Does the world love us?  Do they like the things we say and do?  When John the Baptist preached the word of God, he ended up in jail, and later he was beheaded.  Steven died a martyr.  So did about all the apostles and many others who followed Christ.  James writes, 

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NIV)

There is an eternal choice?  Would you follow Christ and inherit eternity because He calls you his friend, or would you rather be in step with the world and forfeit your soul?  

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 January 2019

 

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

 

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