Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

The Long Road to Bethlehem (3)

Bible Readings

  • Matthew 10:34-39
  • Judges 15:1-20

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Many might look at the story of Samson and remember his strength, his long hair and bad choices of women.  Some might think of Samson in the same way as what is told of a Spanish patriot soldier who, in his dying moments responded to his chaplain, asking him whether he had forgiven all his enemies. “I have no enemies, I have killed them all.

If we take Samson’s story out of the context for which it was included in the Bible, that’s what he is:  a vengeful, pig-headed man with a larger-than-life ego who had no social skills and became responsible for his own death.

It is only in the context of his calling as God’s chosen instrument at that specific time that we will understand his mission. We to see both 

  • why his people needed deliverance, and 
  • why the Bible calls him a faithful deliverer

Last week we learned how Samson could not, and maybe would not see that God did not intend him to set his people free by trying to win them over as friends. He disregarded the advice of his parents, and could not interpret the Holy Spirit’s leading by giving him the power to kill a lion with bare hands—this was a sign that he could only deliver his people from the enemy by the ability which comes from God.  We saw him getting married to a Philistine girl, and him only slightly upsetting the enemy.  He left the wedding in rage, without his wife, and need up back in his father’s house where it all began. Then he tried again to win the enemy’s heart.

About three or four months later we find Samson again in the house of his Philistine wife.  He had a young goat, probably meant as a gift to restore peace.

Keep in mind that there was still a legally binding contract between the two families, but that marriage was still not consummated.  Samson and his wife were not, so to speak, one flesh.  This was of God who prohibited such a marriage. 

Things took another direction from this point on in the story.  All along we need to keep this line in mind:  

… this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel. (Judges 14:4, NIV)

Samson’s wife became the wife of his master of ceremonies because her father thought the deal was over.  He could take the younger, more beautiful sister instead.  But at this point, Samson began to understand his mission:  God called him to set his people free from oppression.  God did not call him to be part of the enemy, but to oppose them.

If we don’t get this point, we will miss most of the teaching of the Old Testament.  In fact, we will misunderstand the mission of Christ by limiting his mission to only setting to us an example of how we should love regardless of truth.

This is indeed the weakness of the Christian church today.  If we saw it our calling to love outside the boundaries of the truth as expressed in the Scriptures, we end up loving the world.  The message of Christ in Matthew 10:34 still stands: 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34, NIV)

But did the angels not proclaim peace on earth when they announced the birth of Christ:  

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV)

Did you hear the second part of the verse, “peace to those on whom his favour rests”?

He who loves the world has become an enemy of God (James 4:4).  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1John 2:15)  Paul writes:  

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV)

Paul also writes:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:21, NIV)

Even David prays:

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21–22, NIV)

Yes, Christ demands of us to love our enemies, but a true disciple of Christ loves his Saviour about all.  When it comes to the glory of his Name, the purity of the Gospel and the advancement of the church, we get our marching orders not from the world, but from Him who conquered the world and their deceitful master.

God led Samson to understand this valuable lesson.  He never consummated his marriage or did not take another Philistine wife the day.  The little goat he brought as a peace offering never served a purpose.

Confrontation

Samson’s mission would be fulfilled in battle.  How he discharged of his calling to us a manifestation of faithful obedience to the Lord, but not a norm of obedience. I’ll explain:  we are not called to catch foxes and burn the wheat of the world.  What we are called to is to faithfully obey the Lord for and in what He calls us as people who live in the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ.  He enables us by the Holy Spirit we sow the seed of the Gospel wherever He calls us and whenever He calls us.  In this calling we confront the world with the Gospel of Christ, we stand on the truth of God revealed in Him, and in his Name, we become a church who subdues the enemy of Christ with his Word by his Spirit.  In other words, what drove Samson to deliver his people from the enemy, will drive us; but the method was forever changed after the finished work of Christ.

Confusion

Samson was not directly responsible for what happened next, but his definite change of attack shows the weakness of the enemy of God.  

Samson refuses to take the younger sisters wife.  He was done with the Philistines.  He chose the road of confrontation to achieve God’s purpose of deliverance.  

He chose to destroy the wheat fields.  Instead of Israel occupying the land and receiving corps they did not plant, their spiritual slavery to the gods of the surrounding nations caused the reverse. What happened?  

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. (Judges 6:2–4, NIV)

The people of God hiding in mountain clefts while their crops were ruined. Is this a picture of property and blessing?  God sent his people Samson, the deliverer.

He would ruin the financial prosperity of the Philistines.  In the Sorek Valley with its fertile soils and mountain streams, the Philistines had vineyards, around which they erected walls to protect them from wild animals.  Foxes was a significant pest which got through holes in the walls and destroyed the crops.  We read about this in Song of Songs 2:15.  Samson most probably just blocked the holes through which the foxes would escape and so trap them.  Soon he had 300.  Tying their tales together with dry flax between every pair and setting it alight cause havoc.  The wheat, ready for harvest, burnt down, also causing extensive damage to the vineyard and olive groves.

This is amusing.  The Philistines then turned against one another.  They killed both Samson’s “wife” and her father. And when they took to Samson, we read, “…he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” (Judges 15:8, NKJV) This is an expression meaning they suffered huge losses.  

Conflict

Samson then took a break and sought respite in the rock of Etam.  The cleft or chasm in the rock is a long, narrow cavern about 75m long, 15m wide and 1.5m high.

What happens is tragic beyond words.  Samson’s own people became so used to be slaves in their own land, that they slavishly obeyed the Philistines to betray God’s deliverer.  The Philistines did not have the gumption to face Samson themselves unless he was bound.  The men of Judah did not see confrontation with the enemy as their duty to reclaim their Promised Land.  Instead, they delivered Samson to them.  Samson trusted his own people to protect him from their enemy, yet they regarded him as their enemy.

One would need much more time to explain what is hidden in these few verses.  But just in short:

  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ become so worldly that they turn against those who proclaim the Kingdom of God in all sincerity.  They did it with Moses too.  And they did it with Jesus Christ.  Worldly Christians can quickly become the footmen of the world doing their dirty work for them.  
  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ can become spiritually so blind that they see the enemy of Christ is their liberators.
  • It is more than just a possibility that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ would disown Him purely to protect their own interests and peace.

Think about it.  Consider your personal attitude in this.

Like a slave with hands tied up, Samson was delivered into the hands of the Philistines.  His own people did not kill him, but they would hand him over to others who would.  

But God’s servants are not powerless.  The Spirit of God rushed on Samson, and he broke the ropes which bound him.  What followed was something I would not mind seeing on video.  Samson picked up the jaw bone of a donkey and started to fling it around.  Jawbones are not really smooth, and anyone who dared to come close got knocked over.  Did he really kill a thousand of them?  The word in the Bible can also be understood as a military company.  In any case, they did not have a chance.  Samson made donkeys of them; in other words, they became like salve animals under God’s power through him.  Later on, they named the place Jawbone Hill.  There’s something of this which echoes into the future to Golgotha, Place of the Skull where our Saviour, after He was handed over by his own people to be hanged, being thirsty, had victory over Satan, death, sin and hell.

Contentment

Samson, exhausted in victory, cried out to the Lord to sustain him.  God opened a hollow place, and a fountain sprang open.  His strength returned, and he revived. God enabled his appointed deliverer to have victory, and God sustained his appointed deliver.

And we read the last statement in this chapter:  

And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines. (Judges 15:20, NKJV)

Conclusion

Anyone who knows about the Gospel of Christ will understand how Samson as deliverer was a precursor to Christ, born in Bethlehem many years later.  When we celebrate the birth of Christ, we hear the message:

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)

He is your Deliverer, He is your rock, He is the living water.  He is your Saviour.  Take up your cross and follow Him.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 December 2018

 

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The Long Road to Bethlehem (2)

Scripture Reading 

  • Judges 13:24-14:20

Introduction

All Sunday school children will encounter the story of Samson.  About all children’s Bibles will have a full-colour page of Samson tearing the lion to bits.  

What do you remember of Samson?  How should we understand the story of Samson? 

The official synopsis of the 1951 film reads: When strongman Samson rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah, she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret. In that movie, Samson won his bride after a contest of strength.  The woman he married then betrays him and fell in love with another man.  Samson went after them and killed them.  Her sister Delilah who had loved Samson in secret, seduces Samson into a relationship, in an attempt to avenge the death of her sister. She succeeded, and Samson dies a blind man.

That’s it! That’s the plot! It that we need to know about Samson?

The story of Samson was not included into the Scriptures to provide the script for a movie or even a large colour page in a children’s Bible. Samson was not a precursor to Superman.

One of the keys to understanding the Bible is to compare the Bible with itself.  Whit this in mind we need to bring into account what the Bible centuries later said about him:  

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions… And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-22, 39, ESV)

 If the name of Samson is mentioned along with the heroes of old for his faith and he is commended for it, then surely we have to try to understand why Samson’s story is included into the Scriptures.

In my research for this sermon, I found precious little theology about Samson.  Not a lot of sermons are recorded, and the commentaries are at best skimpy.  So, it is with fear end trembling that I preach this morning.  Think with me, and test the word of today against the Scriptures. May God’s Spirit give us understanding.  

Prayer:  That the Holy Spirit gives us understanding

God gave Samson to perform a specific task

Samson’s birth was unexpected and humanly impossible. His mother had been barren.  His birth was because of God’s direct intervention.

Both Samson’s parents would play an active role in his birth and upbringing.  They had to raise Samson as a Nazirite—a child dedicated to the service of God.  Even before his birth, they had to treat him as God’s chosen instrument.  Manoah knew that Samson would be unique when he asked what his son’s mission would be (13:12).  From birth, Samson would be set apart to “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (13:5)

The encounter of the parents with the Angel of the Lord has all the marks of a covenant between God and them.  It was sealed with a sacrifice, which God accepted. 

Samson grew up as a specially consecrated instrument in the hands of God.  His name was carefully selected:  “Sunshine” as if his mother saw the mission of her son as God giving light to his people.

Through his diet, appearance and everyday activity his parents would imprint on him God’s calling for his life.  One can be sure that his extended family and neighbourhood knew about God’s mission with the young man. God affirmed his intentions with Samson; we read,  

And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:25, ESV)

 Samson’s misguided program to of attack

Timnah was a Philistine town only a few miles away from where his parents raised Samson, on the other side of the border. He probably went there often.  In the back of his mind the words of his parents echoed:  You must deliver the people of God from Philistine oppression.   

In his mid-twenties, he met a girl and fell in love with her.  Maybe he thought he could overcome the enemy by first becoming part of them, he would thus gain a platform to execute his mission.  All along we read: the Lord was seeking an occasion [the right moment/time] to confront the Philistines.  Samson knew this fact very well, but his personal strategy went along a different path.  

His patents protested because they disagreed with his strategy.  Samson insisted, “She’s the right one for me.” (Or: “She’s right in my eyes”.) This was probably not the action of a man only blindly in love.  He understood his mission, and all along he probably still thought God will bless him through his marriage to get a foothold on the oppressors.  

So, the parents went along to make arrangements for the marriage.  They had to negotiate the dowry.  This made the betrothal to be married binding.  (So by the way, in this word betroth, the word for truth is buried.  This, of course, leads us to understand marriage between man and wife as a relationship based on truthfulness.) 

But on the way to Timnah, something extraordinary happened.  In the Sorak valley of vineyards, God’s Spirit came upon Samson.  When a lion attacked him, God gave him the strength to rip it apart as if was a young goat.  This must have impacted Samson to know getting married to the Philistine woman was not in God’s plan. Keep in mind, the Bible gives us no indication that Samson was physically stronger than any other person of his age.  He most probably never was, but God enabled him with exceptional strength when only he needed it. 

Samson suppressed God’s plan, but even subconsciously he must have known it was the right thing to do.  Contrary to what one might expect, he hid the episode with the lion from his parents,.  Would you not tell your parents that God empowered you and you just killed a lion with your bare hands? He was probably afraid that they might see it as a sign of God to not go ahead with the marriage.

If it was my mother, she would be quick to tell me that God wanted me to listen to God’s voice!

But his heart was set:  if he had to deliver the enemy, he would do it his way!  He did not abandon his mission, he just went about it in his own strength, thereby rejecting the power by which God wanted him to go about it. 

On his way for the actual wedding day, he diverted into the vineyard and had a look to see if the carcass of the lion was still there.  Yes!, and this time it had bees and honey in it.  He took the honey and gave it to his parents—but did not tell them where he got it from?  Why?  

Once again he missed the message.  He probably saw it as a sign that God would bless his marriage, but he lost the picture as a followup of him killing the beast:  if he could kill a roaring lion by the strength God provided, he would lead the people to restore the Promised Land to a place of milk and honey.

Samson did not overcome the enemy; he only somewhat distressed them

From what we gather from the Scriptures, unlike the custom of the day, the wedding feast did not take place in the house of the groom’s father.  That was in some sense humiliating for Manoah:  having a wedding feast in the house of your oppressors. If his relatives were present, those who had been told that God gave Samson to deliver Israel from the hand of their oppressors, this wedding celebration was instead a sign of defeat and further oppression.  It would be a riddle to the Israelites who attended it.

But maybe God can still hit a straight blow with a crooked stick.  Samson, as God’s special consecrated man, might have other insights regular folk did not have!

It lasted a full week. The guests were intrigued by Samson’s riddle:  Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” If only Samson’s heart were receptive to understand his own riddle, he would have followed God’s plan: he would have assumed that the eater, the Philistines, would be defeated and God would restore his people in the land of milk and honey.

Instead, Samson, the consecrated Nazirite, frivolously squandered the opportunity amongst the enemy known for their wallowing in drunkenness and hedonistic self-gratification. Does it remind you of the lost son in the parable of our Lord? 

Surely, Samson did infiltrate the enemy, but only thirty Philistines lost their lives, and that because the Spirit of God enabled him.  It was hardly a comprehensive victory!  Even more so when this episode in Samson’s life ended up where his ministry started: in his father’s house:  he lost his wife and went back to live with his parents.

Application

There are other examples in the Bible of men of God who made the same mistake as Samson.  

  • Abraham:  instead of staying in the land God promised to him and his descendants, he went down to Egypt, gave up his wife, only to return humiliated.  He misunderstood the promises of God, and he wanted it to come true as he saw it. Through the school of faith, Abraham learnt to fully trust and obey God, even if it were needed to sacrifice his only son.
  • Lot:  He thought he could gain something by living in Sodom.  He chose wrongly.  Yes, the Bible calls him a righteous man (2Peter 2:7), but his witness became weak, and none in Sodom believed him when he told them to flee the city ahead of God’s judgment.  By the grace of God, he was saved.
  • Samson: Samson had it wrong and initially squandered the opportunities God gave him because of his own stubborn understanding of God’s purposes.  Pigheadedly, he insisted on being the leading player in his life drama, instead of being like clay in the hand of the Holy Spirit.

Borrowing from Spurgeon’s sermon, we have to say that the secret of Samson’s strength only lied in his consecration as God’s instrument. Never should we think that we have any power and understanding of our own.

We have to guard our consecration; it must be sincere; we must mean it, and then look up to the Holy Spirit, relying on Him to give us daily grace.  It is not by any grace or insight, or power we have in us, but by the grace that is in Christ, and that must be given to us hour by hour, or we will fall.  Then, when we have done all required of us, we will be crowned last as a faithful one, who has endured unto the end.

Just one last thought:  Samson, and all human deliverers before and after him, was born of a man; they were sinners.  They were born on the long road to Bethlehem.  It was only then that the Messiah, not born of a man, but of the Holy Spirit, was born.  Being sinless, being one with the Father, His mission succeeded.  He totally destroyed the enemy.  For his wedding feast we, his bride, are waiting.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 December 2018

 

Spiritual growth in Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:9-16
  • Philippians 1:3-11

Introduction

Who present today would like a 10-page book on 3 easy steps to spiritual maturity? You may go to sleep tonight as a babe, then wake up tomorrow with full knowledge of God’s Word, able to discern the most excellent things in life. But, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. In fact, Christian growth can be likened to our ageing. As we grow older, we acquire knowledge and learn how to discern right from wrong, good from bad. Yes, this takes time. But Christian maturity goes beyond this, and will often take long bouts of persevering against the world. 

In Philippians1:6, we observe a vital verse concerning sanctification, the process of our spiritual growth. It says, 

“that He (God) who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. 

God is the one who created us as His new creatures. Who had, “begun a good work in you…”, and it is God who brings it to completion. It is the Holy Spirit who is leading us along this journey of our spiritual growth, ‘until the day of Jesus Christ’.

This spiritual maturity, according to Philippians 1:9-11, involves a more in-depth knowledge interlaced with wisdom, a life that is lived according to God’s Word, producing righteous fruit, and most importantly having the Spirit of Christ instructing our renewed heart.

NO Easy Steps to Christian Maturity

Christians today, are not growing up to spiritual maturity. We have become people who look for the easy way up. People who only spend a few minutes in ‘self-centred’ prayer. A few moments reading a passage in the Bible. There is no contemplation, no meditation, and no application. Finishing just in time for our favourite television program, or that book we just can’t put down, and we waste several hours just idly sitting there. Now I’m not saying television or books are evil, but the devil uses things such as these to keep our attention away from what is essential, away from studying the Bible, thereby robbing us of our joy in Christ.

What Happed…?

One of the main events that happened in the reformation 500 years ago was the translation of the Holy Bible into the common language of the people. Now the man on the street could study, and apply God’s word to his life, he could grow up spiritually. We, on the other hand, have several translations on our bookshelves but rarely open them. We really have become lazy in our dedication to knowing God Word.

We read in v9, “That your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. This love must be a continual overflowing love that is built on knowledge, but this isn’t just common knowledge. It is an ever-deepening knowledge of God in His word, of the world and of ourselves. And especially important is understanding how to put that knowledge to practical use. Commentator Steven Lawson says, 

“Rightly exercising Christian love requires God-given insight into people and situations. It necessitates the practical wisdom that only God can impart.”. 

Love that continually overflows is nurtured by seeing God in Holy Scripture, knowing how the world operates, and proper knowledge of ourselves, our own failings, and weaknesses. 

We find the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 13:12, 

“Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 

Here the first ‘know’ is the common meaning of the word know. I know the Prime Minister. But the second ‘know’ is the same word used in Philippians 1:9. It refers to an over knowledge and is conveying to the reader a fuller or an informed, knowledge. Just having a partial knowledge isn’t going to do it. Real knowledge understands how we are to live in this world, in a biblical, godly manner. 

The Bible Clears the Path Ahead

Having real knowledge helps us to have “all discernment”, and our path ahead will be clearer. What Paul is saying is that we are to develop a depth of insight, or be discriminating, in all areas of life. 

The first point of call is, and always should be, the Word of God. No worldly activity, no matter how godly it seems, should take precedence over it. God’s holy word alone is our ultimate authority for being discerning. In other words; God’s Word is the standard of how we grow to maturity in Christ, how we live. God has used many Christ centred people, both past and present, to illuminate His Word for us and we would be wise to use all of that which God has given. Ultimately, though, the Spirit of God is our teacher, and we need to be asking Him to illuminate His word, for correct understanding. 

Then we must live the God centred life. If we are to be God’s light and pure salt in this world, then we really need to be out there living in it, but we cannot allow it to influence how we live as God’s people. Just as James puts emphasis on the knowing and doing, we too must wisely live in this world acting on what the Bible teaches.

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3

As our “love continues to abound in knowledge and all discernment” (v. 9) we will be able to (v. 10) “approve the things that are excellent”. When we have the knowledge of God’s word, the world we live in, and sober judgement of ourselves, we will be able to approve, or ‘test for purity’, the things that are excellent. Paul is praying that we will be able to make a distinction between what is good and what is better. 

Knowing good from evil is relatively easy, but knowing what is better from good can be a lot harder to determine. Knowing whether or not to touch a poisonous snake is easy. But knowing which ministry to put your finances and effort into can more difficult. We shall discern, better from good, when we know the Word of God. John MacArthur, a well-known preacher, puts it this way; 

“Christian character at its highest level comes from a divinely implanted and ever-growing love. That both leads to and is directed by, a rich understanding of and faithful obedience to the divine truth revealed in Scripture.”

Above Reproach

Why does God want His Children to have this knowledge and discernment? If we continue, v. 10 gives us the answer, “that you may be sincere and without offence”. Here is the result of living out the abounding love in knowledge and all discernment. 

‘Sincere’ comes from a Greek word which means, ‘to test by sunlight’. In Ancient Near Eastern markets there was thick, easy to make, pottery and then there was fine pottery, a lot harder to make, but it broke easily. What some merchants would do was glue the broken pottery back together with wax, then pretty it up with paint. The buyer became aware of the problem when the impure pot got too hot, the heat of the sun or near fire, the wax would melt, and the pot was ruined. But we are called to be pure vessels, without flaws, and able to stand ‘the sunlight test’.

‘Without offence’ comes from a term that means blameless. Other than unbelief, there is probably no greater sin that Jesus condemned more than hypocrisy. Especially the religious kind, like that which was shown in the Pharisees and scribes in passages such as Matthew 7:5; 15:7; Luke 12:56; 13:15. Paul writes to both Timothy and Titus about the office of elders. Elder, he demands, must be above reproach, this is the same thing he is praying for in our current passage. Colossians says in 1:10, “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him”.

Are We There Yet?

We know that Paul isn’t writing just to the early Church at Philippi but to all believers in all times. How do we know this? We know this because of the clause that follows in v10; “till the day of Christ”. The day of Christ is referring to the end of time, when Christ, as the Judge will separate the sheep from the goats. The goats will receive eternal punishment, but the sheep will receive eternal life. 

The need for spiritual growth must be a focus of every believer. We need to remember that abounding love, which is both sincere and non-offensive, involves both the mind and heart for proper godly growth. 

Is There Fruit Yet?

Flowing on then, is a life that produces righteous fruit, v11 “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ”. In the Christian life, there are two types of righteousness. The first is that of the righteous life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and which is credited to our account when we are reborn. 

The second meaning of righteousness in the Bible is the right acts that we do and stems from wisely acting on a proper understanding of God’s Word.  James 2 asks: How does someone who confesses faith in Christ demonstrate that faith? If you profess faith in Christ, it will be seen in the way you act. James 2:26 is a massive wake-up for us. If you do NOT possess what you confess, you’re dead.

We are saved from our previous sinful lives to display God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” These verses tell us that we are not saved by good works, but for good works. The ‘fruit’ produced by a righteous life has its source in the Word of God, which is illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit. 

The Meaning of Life / Where is God?

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is; 

What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Christian love that continues to grow and grow and overflow into everyday life comes from God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Spirit. Our sanctification will only stagnate if we are not placing God at the centre of our heart. A regular study of God’s Word together, with meditating on it, and apply it is our daily act of worship, Romans 12:1-2. 

Conclusion 

In Australia today many Christians have allowed the world to dictate to them what they should believe on many things. These Christians confess Christ as their King, but by allowing the world to dictate their beliefs, they are acting like the impure pots filled with wax. When it heats up, they fall apart. We must be like the pure pots, sincere and without offence.

Let me leave you with 3 questions:

  1. How are you abounding in knowledge and all discernment? 
  2. Are you able to test and approve what is excellent in light of God’s Word? 
  3. How are you equipped to live to the praise and glory of God?

The reformers had a motto; Reformed and Reforming. They knew that the process of holiness is a lifetime’s work, it requires prayer, dedication, and spiritual effort. And, it will continue until the day of Christ Jesus. 

May we be continually reforming to God’s standards, by abounding in love “still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. So we may be sincere and without offence, producing righteous fruit in Christ, and above all, giving praise and glory to God.

Sermon preached by Mr Ken Mobbs on Sunday 18 November 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

 

God’s Act of Salvation: Biblical framework for salvation

Important themes

There are main themes running through the Scriptures. To understand how God’s grace and our salvation come together, we need to keep the following truths in mind:

God

  • God, the Creator, is holy, loving, just, righteous, merciful and faithful (Isaiah 6:3; 1John 4:8, 16; Exodus 34:6-7; Nehemiah 9:32-33.) 

Man

  • Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and were capable to choose between good and evil—however, they believed Satan, chose evil, and as a result lost their free will. (Genesis 3:1-6, John 8:44, James 1:13-15, Revelation 12:9)

Sin

  • Every person ever born after Adam and Eve is born in sin (Psalm 51:5; Job 15:14; John 3:6; Romans 5:12-17; 1Corinthians 15:21-22.) 
  • Sin separates us from God (Genesis 3:6-8; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23).
  • Sinful as we are, based on our own efforts, we don’t have the capacity in ourselves to establish a relationship with God (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:10-12; Colossians 2:13).

Christ, the Holy Spirit and new birth

  • God demands a perfect redemption to make us his children.  Jesus Christ, being perfect God (sinless) and perfect man (born as a human being, yet without sin) is the only answer to our need to live in a relationship with God (Hebrews 7:18-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1John 3:5).
  • Based on the perfect redemption of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us birth from above and enables us to live, work and pray as children of God (John 3:3-6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 8:9-10)

The Bible

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God through which we know God, hear of God’s grace, know our sinfulness, and learn about the gifts of grace through Jesus Christ.  (1Corinthians 15:1-2, 1Peter 1:23-25, 2Peter 1:20-21, Hebrews 4:12)

Christian living

  • Jesus’ death and resurrection satisfied God’s righteousness: this is the only means by which God declares us righteous to be adopted as His children.  God made us holy to live holy lives, honouring Him in what we do.  (Romans 5:6-8; Galatians 3:10-14; Hebrews 9:11-14; Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Peter 1:15, 22, 2Peter 2:9-12)

Eternal life

  • Faith unites us with Christ, and faith in Him makes us share in his inheritance, which is eternal life with God (Romans 6:5-6; Colossians 2:9-12).

Application 

1.  Read through the verses under each of the headings above.  Write in your own words what the Bible says about 

1.1 God

 

1.2 Man

 

1.3 Sin

 

1.4 Christ, the Holy Spirit and new birth

 

1.5 The Bible

 

1.6 Christian living

 

1.7 Eternal life

 

2.  Now, using the structure of the headings above and write your testimony of how God called you to be his child

2.1 How did you learn more about God?

 

2.2 How did you become aware that you need salvation?

.

2.3 Once you became aware of your lostness in sin, who did you go to for forgiveness?

 

2.4 What role does the Bible play in your spiritual development?

 

2.5 How do you apply Biblical principles in your daily living?

 

2.6 Does eternity matter?  Why?

 

3. In a short paragraph apply what you know from this section to tell others about the grace of God’s gracious salvation for sinners?

 

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

 

 

Temporary suffering and eternal glory

Bible Readings 

  • Isaiah 40:6-11
  • 1Peter 5:6-14

Introduction

Dear friends in Christ,

Plastic changed our world. The toys we used to get as gifts were cars made of thin pressed metal.  The doors and the windows were painted on with real paint.  The wheels were from a sort of a cast iron and the axels were from real steel pins. Inside was an engine with a real metal flywheel.  Sometimes they had a winding spanner with which one could wind a real metal strap.  This made the car go like crazy.  

I saw one valued at hundreds of dollars the other day.  But after all, there were just toys.

But then plastic came in.  Things became cheap.  So cheap, that  they are not precious anymore.  You can replace them easily with another one.  These days you get it for free if you buy a hamburger and a cool drink.

In some way we have become plasticky, and plastic has now enemy number one, even plastic cool drink straws. Our generation became addicted to temporary things.  We became addicted to instant gratification, and in the process we lost our sense for value.  The display cases in the corner of the lounge room with the valuable items created by skilful craftsmen is replaced by the television which constantly feeds us with instant and cheap entertainment. As someone remarked, we amuse ourselves to death.

Our day is rotten if the power goes out and we can’t watch TV!  We lost a view on what really matters; we lost our view on eternity!

Be sober and alert

Let’s go back to where we left it last week.  The verse is:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

The Christian who has his mind controlled by the principles of this world cant’ be sober of vigilant.  Such a Christian is easily trapped and devoured by the devil who like a lion seeks to devour.

So what’s the antidote?  The next verse gives the answer: 

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

Would it be too brash to put it this way, “Get real! When you resist the devil you’re in for suffering.  But get this, your suffering is not unique; it’s is a common thing for Christians.  But stand your ground!

To resist him is to treat the devil as your enemy.  To stand firm is to dig in your heals on the truth of the Scriptures.  If we need encouragement if we want to give up, there is encouragement galore from other Christians who have gone and are going through the same sort of suffering.  

I have a precious book by author Alexander Smellie, Men of the Covenant.  It tells of Scottish Christians in the time of the Reformation.   Amongst many recounts of men who trusted God it tells of a certain Donald Cargill, an 80 years old preacher.  It was said of him that his praying and preaching were at its best when his was in great danger and distress. Cargill said the more adversaries thrust at him that he might fall, the more sensibly and discernibly his Lord had helped him.  His favourite Bible verse was, “The Lord is my strength and song, and has become my salvation. Whom shall I fear? 

On the day he died on the scaffold he proclaimed, 

“God knows, I go up this ladder with less fear, confusion or anxiety of mind than I ever entered a pulpit to preach.  Farewell, all relations and friends in Christ; farewell all acquaintances and all earthly enjoyments; farewell reading and preaching, praying and believing, wanderings, reproaches and sufferings. Welcome, joy unspeakable and full of glory. Welcome Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” 

We need to indulge in the testimonies of brave Christians of yesteryear, as well as those going through persecution in modern times, to be encouraged to resist cheap Christianity and discipleship.

How do we resist and overcome?

Verse 10 gives us the answer.  This verse is so stacked up with the riches of gospel truths that it actually deserves days of meditation. 

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10, NKJV)

Before we look at this verse in depth, let’s briefly reflect on our reading from Isaiah this morning.

God’s people had been in Babylonian captivity for seventy years—the time God had appointed.  But the time of punishment for its unfaithfulness has passed.  Israel’s suffering was for a short while, but it was time to hear the good news of God’s mercy to restore them to their land.  Now the prophet proclaimed the good news that, although man is like grass, “the Word [promise] of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  Sovereign God, who rules forever, would care for them as a shepherd, and tend them like they were his lambs (verse 11).

Why would they believe the prophet?  Their God is the Creator of heaven an earth who made everything without the help of anyone (verses 12-14).  His wisdom and power are infinite.  More than that, He holds nations and their rulers in the palm of his hand (verse 17).  No god can be compared to God who sits enthroned above all he has made.  He controls kings and princes (verse 23).  He is the everlasting God (verse 28).  But although He is above all He has made, in mercy He bows down to give strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak (verse 29).

God never changes.  He is the sovereign God Peter knew and worshipped too.  He is the One who speaks to us today—and his word is encouragement all the way.

He is the God of all grace

This phrase is rich in meaning ’God who loves us completely’, or ‘the God who shows his love for us without holding back,’ or ‘the God whose gifts are sufficient for every need and for every situation’. Because He is the God of all mercy, mercy is only limited to Him.

God called us

This call is far more that just talking to us and calling towards us. When God calls, He calls us into a relationship with Him.  In this relationship He provides what is necessary to make the relationship possible.   God calls His own by grace and to grace. He does this finally and only through Jesus Christ, who is the fulness of grace.

The fact that God is the One who calls and that Christians are the ones who are called, makes it clear that call is a another word for salvation.  God calls men in Christ through His own means and for His own purpose.  This is how we understand Romans 8:28-31

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28–31, NKJV)

This call is through the work of the Holy Spirit, it comes by the Word of God, and it is possible because of the work of Christ.  This is what we heard about in chapter 1.

… you were … redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He … was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God… having been born again … through the word of God … which is the gospel … preached to you. (1 Peter 1:18–21, 23, 25 NKJV)

God’s eternal glory

God’s call to salvation is a call through which we share in his eternal glory.  It is a call ‘into his greatness which will last forever’, or, ‘it’s a call into his greatness which will never cease.’ 

In other words, when God calls, included into that call is all He provides to make it possible for sinners to be lifted out of the slimy pit of sin and to become holy because He is holy.  In the process God grace us a new identity in Christ, a new heavenly address, and an incorruptible inheritance.  The result is—we will see his eternal glory! 

When will we see his eternal glory?

We will see his eternal glory, now bound up and secured in Jesus Christ, after a short time of suffering.  The suffering we might experience now is only a short time compared to the eternal glory which awaits us when we receive the final call into glory.  

Israel had been in captivity which them probably felt like an eternity, but in God’s scheme of things, it was just for a little while.  The gospel through the prophet was good news summed up in these words, “This is your God”, or, “Your God is here!” (Isaiah 40:9). The wait is over, salvation has come!

But between suffering and glory God provides for us.  God Himself will restore us.

He will not forget our suffering.  There is a limit to suffering, and God will end it in his own time.  Till that time, we need to trust Him. The ‘himself’ in verse 10 is important.  It means He is constantly aware of our suffering, He is with us in our suffering, and He will call an end to it when He reached his purpose with it. All along, the suffering Christian is not in the hands of those who cause the suffering; those who cause  it are instruments in the hands of God. 

God will make us strong, firm and steadfast

The emphasis is on spiritual and inner strength, and it means  the God will ‘cause your heart to be strong’, or ‘cause your thoughts to be strong.’

God will see to that we will be firmly rooted in a strong foundation of trust and confidence in Him. Further, He also provide what we need to always endure.  He holds us by the hand so that we will not be moved in our trust in Christ.

Peter knows what he is talking about.  There was an episode before the cross of Christ when Christ gave him this assurance.  And the Lord said, 

“Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31–32, NKJV)

Yes, there was the terrible failure to own Christ, and if Satan had his way, it would haven the end of Peter.  But Christ prayed for him, and his faith did not fail.  Almost all what Christ said to Peter then is now encapsulated in what is written verse 10.  What Peter wrote in our verse was to show that God’s word never fails.

Conclusion  

So, Peter ends his letter:

I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. (1 Peter 5:12, NKJV)

My dear friend, stand in the grace of God.  Hang on to the Bible; it’s the true Gospel.  When the temporary plastic toy of no value leaves you disappointed and empty, seek God for permanent glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 12 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

 

Life as God’s adopted child (1)

Bible readings

  • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • 1 Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

The Bible, in our reading this morning, refers to being “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18)

Don’t we just all remember the joy of blowing and chasing bubbles? All the expensive toys could not compete with the exhilaration of try to catch and hold a bubble.  In the end everyone one of them bursts and disappears into thin air. And what about the balloons?  How long do they last?

We have examples of ostrich and emu eggs which we keep in a safe place in our home.  From a distance they look like the real thing — and they actually are; but look closely and you will see the holes on each end, made to blow out the contents.  It is impossible for those eggs to produce chicks.  They are empty and hollow.

I remember the first Easter egg  my neighbour across the street gave us soon after we arrived in Australia.  Where we come from, chocolate was a rarity, and our culture never took the story of the Easter chocolate eggs seriously.  Soon after church we got stuck into it and ripped the shining foil off it.  How big was my disappointment that the egg was nothing but a shell of a thin layer of chocolate! I thought we were going to have chocolate till Christmas.

Peter writes about a life outside of Christ.  It is a hollow, empty life.  It was worthless, and can only promise the joy of the moment.  In contrast, the Christian life is rich, and it is determined by the best of all riches, now kept and sealed up in heaven.

Up to this point in time we learned from Peter that Christians live this life with their eyes focussed on a hope, guarded by God in heaven.  This hope is anchored in the faith that Jesus Christ will be revealed then in more splendour that He had when He first came into the world to work out our salvation.

We also learned that this salvation had its roots in all of God’s revelation through the Scriptures and promises of the Old Testament, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, whose ministry it is to, through the preaching of the Gospel, constantly help us to understand an apply the salvation of Jesus Christ.

God’s children are Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ

It is fair to say that the message of the Bible would be hollow and meaningless if the concept and reality of redemption was not central to it.

Let’s try to sum it up:  God made a covenant—a solemn agreement—with Adam and Eve.  They sinned against God and dragged all of their descendants into sin.  God promise them a Redeemer who would trample upon and crush the head of the serpent.  

In and through Abraham God made another covenant—a covenant of grace— with his people to be their God.  Through sinful covenant breaking, the people walked away from God and under satan became slaves to idols which could not save them.  Although God punished them, and even had them do slave labour in distant countries, He remained faithful to his promises and He Himself became their Redeemer.  “Redeemer” is a legal term, and meant that some close family member had to pay a ransom to get those under the curse of the law out of that curse, out of slavery into freedom.  This are classical verses to illustrate this:  

But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? (Hosea 13:14, NIV)

It is this act of saving grace Peter is referring to when he says that we are redeemed:  the two components of saving love and the ransom price are prominent here.  In Christ Jesus the love, justice and righteousness of God comes together in the act of redemption.  The ransom price which would satisfy the wrath of God upon sin was the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  The reference to “the Lamb without blemish” not only points back to Passover night and the miraculous redemption out of Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:5), but to all offerings which had to do with satisfying God’s righteousness over sin and broken relationships.  Christ was that ultimate perfect Lamb without blemish.  His blood not only washes away our sins, but it is the ransom, the price, which satisfied the righteousness of God. Of this sacrifice the writer to the Hebrews writes: 

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11–14, NIV)

Christ brings us to God so we can believe in God.  Why?  Not only because He died for us, He also rose in our place to overcome death.  

Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21, NIV)

Christians are redeemed people.  They are not sinless, but they are saved sinners.

God’s Children are born by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God

We have to take a small step backward into Peter’s first chapter, verses 10-11.  These verses refer to the Old Testament, which pointed forward to Christ.  The apostles preached what the prophets prophesied;  it was “the Gospel” of Jesus and about Jesus “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 12).  There is an extremely close relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word regarding Jesus Christ’s work and ministry.  To see this we go to verse 3: 

In his great mercy He [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)

  How did this come about?  Let’s read verse 23:  

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)

The imperishable things refer back to the blood of Jesus Christ, our redemption and ransom price.  How do we know about this redemption?  Through the enduring Word of God.  The new birth of every Christian, without which our Lord declared that no one can enter or see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3,5) is the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which applies the redemptive work of Christ to our souls through the preaching of the Word.  The preaching of the Word is always connected and undergirded by the ministry of the Holy Sprit.  It is always related, and it as such the only God-ordained way by which sinners hear about redemption.  

Peter knew that very well.  He therefore declares the enduring  work and certainty of the outcome of the ministry of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word: 

For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24–25, NIV)

When Paul writes to the Romans he said exactly the same thing:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17, NIV)

To apply this we can draw a few conclusions:

  • The most important activity of the church is to make available the Word of God.  It happens through translation, printing, preaching and studying the Word of God.
  • Ultimately the fruit and growth is not in our hands, but it is the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
  • The message the church should keep itself busy with the message of the redemption from of sin, and the restoration to God through the redemptive work of the Lamb without blemish, Jesus Christ. Nothing more will do; nothing less will do.
  • When the Gospel is twisted to only present Christ as a example of moral living, it has forfeited the privilege of being servants in the hands of the Saviour.
  • Where this message is traded for social gospel, property gospel or feel-good pop-psychology, and when worship services have become therapeutic self-improvement sessions, the church stands condemned before her Saviour.
  • When the Gospel message has been reduced to a dry theological discussion which is aimed at discrediting the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures, the church has failed its mission.  Souls will not be saved because it is not the Gospel which was preached by the apostles.

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 temporary.  

What is said about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church.  

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

But 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 withdrew the grace He once poured out by his Spirit, based on the 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 hearts.  That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and life by it.  

Conclusion

There is the world which presents is with fleeting bubbles, the colourful bursting balloons, and the empty eggs — all examples of hollow promises and and empty way of life.  This will cost you your life.

And then there is the new life in Christ which is enduring:  it speaks of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, hope and and eternal home. This come free, because the price is already paid.  May God give us the grace to see life and follow it and set out hope fully on grace in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 April 2018

God’s Good News is not fake news

Bible Readings:

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This salvation

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

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

Concerning this salvation we heard in the previous verses: 

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

This faith is shielded

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

The sum of the Old Testament

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

The prophets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The time and circumstances of Christ’s ministry

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

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

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

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

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:45–48, NIV)

  This is what Peter referred to in 2 Peter 1

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

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

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

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

The Message we preach

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

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

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

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

Paul understood this:

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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