Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Walking in step with the righteousness of Christ (2)

Bible Readings:

  • Hebrews 12:18-29
  • Philippians 3:12-21

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Our family loved picnics.  Any quiet spot where there was shade and firewood would do us.  Our first visit to a real public park included a swimming pool.

While dad unpacked the picnic gear (I always wondered what was so special about having a cup of tea before anything else!), us children made it to the swimming area.  It was my first exposure to such a big pool.  My siblings soon disappeared in the crowd.  After mustering enough courage that I tackled the cold water.  I ran, jumped and landed some distance from the edge; what I was not aware of was that I actually chose the deep end.  No one told me there was a shallow and a deep end!  With my head disappearing under the water, my legs were going a hundred miles and hour as I furiously tried to get my nose above water level. I panicked and was pretty sure I had come to my last day!

As I became exhausted, I discovered something marvellous:  when I stopped battling to stay afloat, I drifted!  In the end, I just calmly turned onto my back, paddled with my hands and feet—and breathed.  It was a wonderful feeling.

Later in life, actually quite long after I got to know Christ as my Lord and Saviour, this episode came back to me.  See, there was a time that, although I understood God’s grace in Christ, I still had this idea that I needed to do whatever I could to stay afloat. Then one day, as I was working my way through Romans,  God opened my eyes for the free gift of righteousness in Christ.  That’s when I spiritually began to stay with my nose in the life-giving air coming from the completed work of Christ.

Paul, in Philippians 3, struggled to gain his own righteousness, until he met Christ;  his righteousness then became worth nothing as he clung to God’s provided righteousness. He came to this conclusion:

It is wrong to think that one can live in the right relationship with God while he thinks that he can achieve it by keeping the Law.  What is necessary to live in the right relationship with God, was Christ, who achieved what we could not. One needs to commit oneself by faith to Him only, and God grants what is necessary to live in relationship with Him.

Faith says on my own I’m drowning, but by committing to Christ I’m swimming.

Paul says this about his past.  He then comes to this conclusion about the future:

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14, NIV)

Realised future

We will today focus on what the future holds if we have our life anchored on the foundation of righteousness of Christ.  We now move on Philippians 3:20-21

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20–21, NIV)

The experience of the Christians to whom the letter of Hebrews was addressed was that those who held fast to Jewish traditions, impressed on those who put their hope in the righteousness of Christ to return to the old understanding of works-based righteousness.  As Kent Hughes put it:

… they were hearing discordant voices: You are on the wrong path. You are headed away from Sinai and Jerusalem. You have left your heritage in Abraham and Moses. You have forsaken your nation that has had the great blessings of God. You will never make it!  (Hughes, R. K. (1993). Hebrews: an anchor for the soul (Vol. 2, p. 188). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

Let’s pay close attention to what the author of Hebrews says:

But you have come to Mount Zion… (Hebrews 12:22, NIV)

Mount Zion is different from Mount Sinai.  The vision of Sinai is extraordinary:  a mountaintop blazing with “fire to the very heavens”; a blanket of a deep darkness; bolts of lightning firing golden flashes from the clouds;  heavenly rams’ horns filling  the thundering skies with sombre blasts;  the ground was shaking at God’s voice as He reveals the Ten Commandments.

God is transcendentally “other,” perfectly good and holy. He radiates wrath and judgment against sin. God of Sinai cannot be approached. Flaming Mount Sinai reveals God to us! (Kent Hughes, ibid)

What is similar between Sinai and Zion is God, his splendour and holiness:  of both we read, “God is a consuming fire.”  The way God reveals Himself on both mountains is meant to shape our pilgrimage. God is the same, yesterday, today and into all eternity.  God is both holy and loving.  Both mountains teach us about the consuming holiness of God and the consuming love of God. What is different between Sin and Zion is the way God provided to approach Him.

But let’s consider this first:  our righteousness does not come by the Law of Sinai; it comes by the grace of Zion.  As the members of the church at Galatia and those to whom the letter of Hebrews are addressed were distracted by a self-help, DIY righteousness, we must keep our eyes on Christ who is our righteousness.

The heavenly Jerusalem

Paul writes in Philippians 3:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:20)

This is another way to say what Hebrews 12 says:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, (Hebrews 12:22)

The background for Hebrews is the journey of the people of God through the desert.  God freed them from Egyptian slavery, and miraculously rescued them from the Pharaoh’s army, leading them through the Red Sea.  On the way He cared and provided for them.  Then they arrived at Sinai where God revealed Himself to them from the smoking mountain where He gave them the Ten Commandments.  For them the Promised Land was still ahead of them.

The author of Hebrews encourages his readers by having them look forward to the eternal Promised Land—heaven where their citizenship is.

What we need to see in these verses is reality of eternity.  It is not a pie in the sky when one dies.  “You have come”—perfect past tense; by faith eternity is done deal.  In Christ the journey is completed.  Just like all those in the “cloud of witnesses” of Chapter 11 who looked forward to the city not built by hands, we who are on our journey to that heavenly destination have in our pockets a passport, stamped and sealed in the blood of Christ.

We need to keep our eyes on our heavenly address.  The moment this world becomes more real to us than heaven, we tend to think of heaven as something “on the other side”, something still to come; something which does not really impact on our living and disicions we make today.  The readers of the letter had their faith focussed not as much on what they one day will receive, but on what they already had.  Paul writes:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1–2, NIV)

We need to live, every day—as Dr R.C. Sproul made the phrase his life goal, coram Deo—in the presence of God. In this city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our Father is the living God!

Myriads of Angels

Some people don’t believe in angels (unless it is something like the tooth fairy or a gnome), but angels were not unknown to the writer of Hebrews.  He refers to their ministry in no less than 13 verses in his letter.  He links Mount Sinai and Mount Zion by referring to angels.  Deuteronomy 33:2 speaks of “thousands of holy ones”, and Stephen and Paul speaks about the Law being effected by angels (Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19, and also Hebrews 2:2).  In these cases the main point was that Christ came to be the Mediator and fulfilment of the Law.

What do angels do?  They worship Christ (Hebrews 1:6); they are God’s messengers (1:7); they are just lower than Christ, in his service; they also to serve those who will inherit salvation (1:14).

When the readers of this letter read these words they were most probably overcome by the glory and grace of God:  they understood they have an eternal home with God; they have to their disposal myriads of singing and praising angels, joyfully doing the bidding of Christ for their good—effecting His fulfilment of the Law of Sinai—by the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The Church of the Firstborn

Like them we have to have bright eyes fixed on the reality of eternity, which has already burst open over us.  We are one with those who have already departed in Christ, now praising Him with the angels.  Here we are still part of the battle; there they celebrate the victory.  Here we still struggle with imperfection—yes, we need forgiveness everyday—there the spirits of the righteous ones are perfect.  “Made perfect”? Even Paul confesses:

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12, HCSB)

But this the good news of the Gospel:  when we received Christ and put our trust in Him, God declared us righteous.  At that point we are fit to receive eternal life—purely because our salvation rests upon Christ, and Him alone.  We, through sanctification, “make every effort to take hold of it because we have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” But when the moment of our death arrives we stand as righteous, perfect people before God, who will judge us by our faith in Christ Jesus.

Together with those who have finished the race we are members of the Church of the Firstborn, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Together with them our names are already written in heaven.

God, the Judge of all men

It is not so of those who trampled underfoot the blood of Christ.  Then the godless and rebellious will understand the “our God is a consuming fire.” How terrible!

All people who have lived and will live on earth will one day stand before the judgement throne of God.

Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant

Once again we need to go back a few chapters.  Speaking of Christ’s ministry the author writes:

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15, HCSB)

We don’t have time to explore all passages referring to the excellence of Christ as Mediator, but one thing we know:  his sprinkled blood does not speak of revenge like the blood of Able, but is speaks of forgiveness and freedom.

Conclusion

As we walk in the righteousness of Christ, or keep in step with his righteousness, we:

“eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself. (Philippians 3:20–21, HCSB)

All because by faith we have come to “Mount Zion”, the “city of the living God”, “to myriads of angels”,  “to the assembly of the firstborn”, “to God who is the Judge”, “to the spirits of righteous people, “to Jesus”, and “to the sprinkled blood.” (Hebrews 12:22–24)

That’s our future—and its already here.  Have you arrived at your future?  Are you at Mount Zion?  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 January 2018

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It’s about the Cross

ball-brothers-2012-1024x932Ball Brothers:  it’s not only about the child of Bethlehem, is about God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Saved by hook or by crook

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • Joshua 9:1-27
  • John 16:17-24

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

In preparing a series from the book of Joshua I am forced to preach the Word of God about the Gibeonites.  I really wanted to get to the glories of God’s triumphal victory over the kings of Canaan in chapter 10, while I had, and maybe still have, questions about the place of the Gibeonites in this story.  But point is, the triumphant battle over the kings of Canaan was ignited by the Gibeonites.  It was the Gibeonites who got into trouble with the rest of the Canaanite kings because of their treaty with the Israelites, and Joshua’s decision to protect them from destruction by these kings which led to the Bible declaring, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man.” (Joshua 10:14)

So before we can get to this day, and what it means for the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, let’s ponder the Word of God from Joshua 9.  I apologise for announcing different readings for today.

Let’s pray for the Spirit’s illumination of our minds.

The title for this sermon is, “Saved, by hook or by crook!

Not the norm

If anyone would deduce from this passage in the Word of God that the Gibeonites is the norm for getting saved, he would make a real mistake.  What happened here in Joshua 9 is not the description of the ordinary way of being included into the Kingdom of God.  The lesson, I think, we should take from this chapter in the Word of God is not how the Gibeonites got into the sphere of God’s saving grace, but more to learn from the mistakes from Israel.  I’ll explain.

Before the forces of Israel marched on to Jericho the spies met Rahab.  Her past was chequered, having been a Canaanite prostitute,  but the Bible records a marvellous verse.  Rahab confessed:

The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Joshua 2:11, NIV)

This describes the conversion of Rahab to worship God and Him alone.  Because of this fact the men of Israel made an oath to spare her and her family when God would destroy the city.

Up to this point Israel acted in good faith with the command of the Lord:

… and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. (Deuteronomy 7:1–2, NIV)

Visitors from “afar”

Now Israel one day received some visitors. Arriving with their clothes in tatters, their footwear worn out, and what was left of their food, mouldy and dry.  They looked like coming from afar.  This was all a facade to fool the Israelites. They were actually neighbours who have travelled less than a day.

Under false pretences they acted like helpless strangers in need of protection.  What actually happened is that they were in some sort of alliance with other kings, most probably to stick together when one of them was attacked by some foreign army.  Gibeon was part of that coalition, but they figured out that they would be the next in line for destruction by the army of Israel.  They also did their sums and came to the conclusion that the forces of the alliance combined will not withstand the army of the Lord.  They were correct.  Their plan was to seek refuge with Israel:  if you can’t beat them, join them!

They indeed heard about the wondrous deeds of salvation of God, but there is no evidence of worship of this God of Israel – not like Rahab.  They were merely looking for a way to save their skins.

The leaders of Israel raised the possibility that they were indeed actually Hivites and would therefore be neighbours – to make a treaty with them would be to disobey the commandment of the Lord. “No, we are your servants!”, was their reply.  They were saved, by hook or by crook.

The “mistake” of Israel

It seems, as I said earlier, that this episode was included into the book of Joshua not to first of all tell us about the deception of the enemy; rather, this episode is included to point out where Israel went wrong so that they would not repeat the same mistakes.  We as the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ in our task in taking the message of salvation to the nations can learn from them.  We’ll get to that later.

We read in verse 14:

The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. (Joshua 9:14, NIV)

Collectively the leaders and Joshua believed the story of the Gibeonites and disobeyed the command of the Lord to not make a treatise with a godless nation. It was all ratified by binding oath.  But strangely enough there is not a direct indication in the Word that God condemned this action. In favour of Israel one could say that they entered the treaty not because they were looking for it, but because they were deceived.  Besides, the covenant between them and the Gibeonites was not one between two equal partners; it was an agreement where Israel could dictate the rules and conditions.  If the Gibeonites broke covenant they would be destroyed like all the other nations. They were not openly and darlingly compromising their relation with God as his covenant people.

With the luxury of hind site one can ask, “Was this really a mistake?”  Well, yes and no.  If they did not do it God would still have given them victory as He promised; there was no need for them to do it.  But fact is it was risky, exposing them to the very reason why God commanded them to not do such a thing:

“… for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices … they will lead your sons to do the same. (Exodus 34:15–16, NIV)

The result of this “mistake”

When three days later they found out that they were deceived, they sent a delegation, but they did not attack them.  Being men of God, they kept their word and did not violate the treaty.  However, they did call them to account, but it certainly compromised their position as the people of God who needed to obey Him more and above all things and everything.  There was disunity between the Israelites as to how they should handle the issue.  Some wanted them dead, and they were right – that was the command of the Lord.  But what about their arrangement with the Gibeonites – those who call themselves children of God do not come back on their word!  How do you get out of this predicament?

It calls for a man with principles to keep direction in times like these.  Joshua was such man.  The deceivers were called in and Joshua gave the verdict: grace not to kill them; faithfulness not to brake covenant with them; righteousness to apply the Word of God; commitment to subdue them to the service of the Lord.  So verse 26 states:

So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. (Joshua 9:26–27, NIV)

Joshua stood, as a type of Christ, between the righteousness of God and the demand of the Law.  But the existence of the Gibeonites would only be secured for as long as they served the Lord at his altar by cutting the wood for the sacrifice and carrying the water for the purification of the altar.

The outcome of this “mistake”

Chapter 10 starts with a verse which is actually the same as chapter 9.  The only difference between those verses is that the kings mentioned here understood that Gibeon walked out of the alliance to join Israel.  The purpose of their meeting now was not to join forces to fight against their actual enemy, Israel, but to punish their former ally, which was an important member of their group:  a royal city bigger than Ai has broken allegiance to join the enemy.  From our perspective, that was a good thing: their eyes were taken off the ball to prevent the advance of their adversary and they became a house divided.

Gibeon, now in alliance with Israel, seems to understand the implication of siding with the people of God:  when on God’s side, one becomes enemy number one of the forces of evil.

What now?  You can trust those who had all reason to kill you but kept word and let you live.  So they sent word to Joshua:

Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us. (Joshua 10:6, NIV)

After receiving assurance from God that he would have success, Joshua marched up against the kings and after an all night trek he attacked them at dawn.  This turned out to be a fantastic outcome for the Lord and Joshua, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14, NIV)

We will look at that next week in more detail.  When they went to Israel to deceive them into a covenant with them, their knowledge of God was what they had heard of Him of the past, but now, here in their own city, they experienced exactly how wonderful and powerful the mighty hand of God can save.  They saw how God took over, led the army of Israel and even hurled thunder and stones from the skies to destroy His enemy – all while He did not turn his anger at them for their deception!

In other words:  they experienced first hand both the power and the grace of God. This experience would make them later discover the holiness of God as they served around the holy place of God as see the demand of God to save them from their sins.

What do we learn from this a Church of Christ?

We need to be diligent in doing God’s command

One of the lessons from Joshua here is that God’s command should and must be our priority.  It seems to have been a mistake of Joshua to take the word of the Gibeonites over the word of God.  They did not enquire of God.

How do we enquire of the Lord?  Two things:  by reading and obeying his Word, and by being diligent in prayer.  Now, when we mention these things we understand that it should be true of each of us as members of the Church of Christ, but it surely means that it should be true as a body of believers:  together we should study the Word, be under the discipline of the Word and be guided by the Word; together we should be praying for God’s direction and guidance.  We are not a bunch of individuals here, we are members of the body of our Lord.  In this we should be united, of one spirit and mind, aimed at the same targets and aims.  Paul writes:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, (Philippians 1:27–29, NIV)

We should be diligent in keeping guard

We all know that not everyone who walks in the door of a church or who wants join the membership does so because of the purest of intensions. We cannot always see the hart of such a person, but we should always be on our guard to keep the church of our Lord pure.  Never should anyone with his own ideas be allowed to become part of our membership.  Never must the church of Christ compromise it Gospel of redemption in Christ.  Never must the church of Christ ally itself with the world.  Our survival does not lie in seeking to comply with the standards of this world, but to remain faithful to the Word of God.

Our faithfulness should be known to the world

There are many stories and examples of how the church of our Lord in the past stuck to its principles, and yet it was honoured for its faithfulness.  Once we give our word, and that word is in alignment with the Bible, we should stick to it.  There is nothing as distasteful to the world as Christians who do not keep their word, or a church that cannot be trusted.  Joshua could easily have turned his back on the Gibeonites because of their deceit, but he kept his world and helped when they were in need.

God can use our seeming mistakes to the glory of his Name

There would be some Gibeonites who for selfish and short-sighted gain entered into the treaty with Israel, but surely, there would be others who got to know the Lord, not by hearing only, but by experience.  They would never after this episode dream of worshipping another God or entering into a treaty with the enemy.  In the same way, may we pray that whoever join the worship of God, for whatever reason, will come to know Him on the basis of what He has done in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, that they would meet Him at the altar of his holiness, maybe first as slaves,  but later on as saved sinners – may it be true of all of us.

Jesus, our Joshua

Not only did Joshua save the Gibeonites from the Israelites in their pursuit of righteousness, but our Joshua, Christ, the son of God, stood in our place to save us for that all-demanding righteousness by becoming our righteousness.  Were it not for Him, all of us deserve to be woodcutters and water carriers at the altar of God, but He became the wood, the water, the sacrifice, the altar, the priest – everything so that we may go free to serve our Lord to his glory.

When in need we can also now cry out, “Come quickly and save us.  Help us, the forces of hell hell have joined forces against us.”  We have the answer of our Lord such a prayer, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24, NIV)

 

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 January 2014

 

God’s Christmas strategy

  • Luke 1:67-79
  • Luke 3:1-6

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Most people find history boring, and if I told you that the sermon is coming from Luke 3:1-2 you might think of shutting down.  I urge you, however, not to.  What God has to say in these verses is very relevant to us – and it will help us to understand and interpret our times too.

Before we get there, here are some interesting facts from the latest census in Australia:

Between 1986 and 2006, the number of Hindus in Australia increased sevenfold, while the number of Buddhists has fivefold. The number of Australians with no religious affiliation rose from 18.7 to 22.3 per cent between 2006 and 2011. In the 2006 census, 55,000 people even selected “Jedi” as their religious affiliation, a belief system stemming from George Lucas’ representation of “the Force” in his “Star Wars” series.

We ask, “Has the message of the birth of Christ not been heard over the last 5 years?  Did we not have 6 Christmases between 2006 and now, and yet it seems Christianity is in decline?

Is there reason to be concerned?  You bet, there is! Is there reason be in panic?  No.  What, then should we do?  Let’s look at those verse again:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3:1–2, NIV)

The year of Tiberius Caesar 

Before we continue, let’s hear this verse from our chapter in Luke 3 too:

And all people will see God’s salvation. (Luke 3:6, NIV)

The father of John the Baptist was filled by the Holy Spirit and prophesied on the day his son was born:

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to his people and redeemed them. (Luke 1:68, NIV)

His son grew up, left home and lived in the desert east of the Jordan, in the desert areas.  His food was locusts and wild honey, and his clothing was camel’s hair and a leather belt. Almost like Elijah.

Christ was born, he and his parents had to flee to Egypt, they later returned and went to live in Nazareth.  In the thirty years between the birth of Christ and John the Baptist’s ministry here was a moment of hope when Jesus was twelve and sat in the temple, amazing the teachers of the law with his knowledge of the things of God. But then for eighteen years nothing happened.  Of the message of peace to mankind, of salvation, of hope – nothing happened.

Our text on the other hand, spells out the activity of those working against the Kingdom of God.  Caesar Augustus hold a census of his kingdom, he earned taxes, he sent out his armies to further conquer the world, he appointed officials and governors, he appointed his successor, Tiberius Spartacus, who consolidated the roman Empire to a mighty world power which did not know resistance.  The Caesar became mighty and was worshipped as a god.

Pontus Pilate was the governor and the sons of Herod the Great became successor to him.  They broke up the kingdom of David and each governed a little part of it, while Pilate was seated in Jerusalem where David used to be the ruler after God’s own heart.  When Jesus was born the old kingdom of David was still intact, but now, thirty years later, it was ripped apart and the people of God were scattered and oppressed by so many foreign rulers that one wonders if they themselves understood who their actual authority was.  Ultimately they knew that the Caesar in Rome deposed and appointed at will, and that they had to obey.

The priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas

God ordained that the sons of Aaron should serve as priests and the the high priest were to serve for life.  They would represent God to the people and the people to God.

But the time Luke was recording in his Gospel the final dismantling of the high priesthood took place.  Annas was high priest, but the Romans replaced him with three others in a row, and later they appointed Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas as high priest.  Annas sieged the moment and as our text says, the two of them acted as the high priest simultaneously.  Instead of keeping the office holy, they bent the rules to their liking and even forged some political advantages out of their position.

So, politically, socially and religiously nothing positive happened since the birth of Christ.  One could say God had a small block of land in the desert of Judea, no prophet, no priest, no clergy, no representative – nothing.

The years were marked by the Caesar of the day, society as well as church were dominated by foreign influence, and it seems as if the kingdom of God got no where, in spite of the fact that the Messiah was born, in spite of the fact that the angels announced his birth, in spite of the fact that even the stars in the skies announced his arrival, in spite of the fact that wise men worshipped Him  with gold and incense and myrrh.  Christmas was over and nothing happened.  Even the star disappeared.  Add to this the 450 years of silence between the Old and the new Testament.

It was the fifteenth year of Tiberius. God gave him all the benefit of the doubt:  he was at his strongest, his kingdom at its height, his influence irresistible, his enemies exhausted, his pride at its pinnacle.

On God’s side was a man living in a desert, some sort of fanatic, some out of sorts fellow, a non-conformist and a-social individual – not your typical Presbyterian! And somewhere in the workshop of a carpenter, there was a man called Jesus.  But the world knew nothing of Him.

The year of our Lord

Our text moves forward:

… the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3:2, NIV)

God called John the Baptist into motion.  His brief was the same as that of Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. (Luke 3:4–5, NIV)

Why?  Where will this end?

And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ” (Luke 3:6, NIV)

One can only shake one’s head and say this is a bit ambitious; “all people”?  Really?  Maybe all people in Judea?  All people in the Roman world?  Even that is a tough call.  All people in the world?  Surely not; just look at the statistics of the last census?  People are not attracted to God’s kingdom!

The pathetic condition of God’s people, as well as the glory of God’s enemy are known to us.  It was God’s timing.  And it was perfect.

God’s power base was in the desert, and one man – for the moment.  No army, no weapons, no apparent organisation.  The world calls it foolishness.

He was not powerful, he had no influence, he knew nobody with influence.  How could he stand up against Tiberius or Herod or the other governors?  How would he face Pilate?  Would he be wiser that Annas and Caiaphas?  No.

But he had something:  the Word of God.  God commissioned him with nothing more, but nothing less.  Fearlessly he began to preach this Word.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:7–8, NIV)

Not only Jews came to see him; Roman soldiers did too – and in this something of “all mankind” began to see the salvation of God.

John pointed to Jesus.  That was his message:

I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16–17, NIV)

The Word of God was his sword, the message of Christ was his battle cry, and baptism as a sign of repentance to the living God became his ministry to people who were lost in sin, bewildered by godless politics and without direction in a spiritual desert.  East of the Jordan they were baptised, and renewed in their hearts and minds they crossed back into the promised land, ready to receive their Messiah.

Who was Tiberius again?  And Pilate and Herod – what can you tell about them?  And Annas and Caiaphas?  When did they live?  When was the Roman Empire at its height, and when did it fall?  Have you forgotten?

Just in case you did not keep in mind, we are at the end of 2013, the year of our Lord. It is as almost 2014 anno Domini – the Year of Our Lord!

Since John the Baptist started proclaiming the Word about the Messiah, the Christ of Christmas, things changed.  Old kingdoms came and went, rulers and princes and kings came and went.  Very early in the piece John lost his head under Herod, and after him thousands of others lost their lives too for the same reason as John.

Our Lord stood before all four:  Pilate, who had Him whipped; Herod, who scorned Him; Annas, who delivered Him to the people; and Caiaphas who had Him crucified.  It was perfect in God’s timing that they would be people of authority facing his Son; sometime in the future, at the return of our Lord, they will kneel before Him – and He will judge them as He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

His disciples had to report to Annas and Caiaphas (Acts 4:6), while Pilate and Herod had their actions investigated (Acts 4:27), but they did not hesitate.  Full of the Holy Spirit they prayer to God:

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. (Acts 4:29, NIV)

Conclusion

If it happens that you are a bit apprehensive about the success of the Kingdom of our Lord, I need to call your attention to your task:  Like John the Baptist, take the Word of God, and proclaim it!  I cannot guarantee that you will not end up in trouble for it; many others before you did.  But let us remember what J.C. Ryle, the old faithful preacher of the Word of God once said:

“The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight against spiritual apathy in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a brief round of formal religious services once or twice every week. But of the great spiritual warfare – its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests – of all things they appear to know nothing at all. Let us take care that this case is not our own.”

Do you want to see the Kingdom of God grow?  Is their a desire for us to see the church of Christ grow?  Let’s take up the Word like John.  He had nothing else, no weapon other than the Word.

Let’s look forward and allow us the luxury to in our mind’s eye see how all of this will end, one day when God says it’s time for it to happen:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11–16, NIV)

Take courage, He has authority in heaven and on earth.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29th December 2013

 

 

Baptism: Sign and seal of God’s grace in Jesus Christ

Declared mercy

Scripture Readings

  • Acts 8:26-40
  • Colossians 2:8-15

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters, when it comes to grace and salvation, there is sometimes this sinful appreciation of the self.

Captain George Von Trapp in the Sound of Music, finds in Maria, the governess, his new love.  The two of them sing a song, Something Good.

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somwhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could, I must have done something good.  This is quite a telling expression of a theology of works.

The message of the Gospel stands diametrically opposed:  something comes of nothing in the hands of God.

In Ephesians 2 Paul writes about what God does with nothing to bring about something.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

That’s the nothing part.  But God wants something.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:4–6, NIV)

What is the end result?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8–10, NIV)

So, to this saving action of God we add nothing; we only accept the grace given to us.  What God has done is to unify us with Christ. The significance here is that we get and become what Christ is and what belongs to Him.  We need nothing more.  Christ is our justification.  By faith we are justified, not by works. As such God adopts us as his children and take us in under his roof to live in his household.

What follows now is sanctification – this means that we now we start living as God’s people.  His house is holy, He is holy, and He demands of us to be holy.  Not only do we repent once, but our whole live becomes a life of repentance – daily do we take up our cross to follow Him.

When God takes us in under his roof to live as his children in his household, he gives us a sign and a seal of his grace.  And this is where what we started to look at last week comes in.

The Ethiopian and Jesus Christ

Turn to Acts 8 in the Bible.  The context here is the speed of the Gospel after the persecution that broke out in Jerusalem.  Some Christians were scattered to the north, and now, the Gospel is spreading into Africa.  The instrument in the hands of God is Philip. This high Government Official who had been in Jerusalem to worship got hold of a copy of the book of Isaiah and, sitting on his chariot, he was studying it. He did not understand what he was reading.  God used Philip to open the Scriptures to him.

It is an amazing expression of the Gospel right there in the Old Testament.  The fulfilment was in Jesus Christ.

This Ethiopian was a eunuch, which means he was emasculated.  There was a prohibition in Deuteronomy to exclude these folk from the people of God.  He was a nothing; that was his first disqualification.

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 23:1, NIV)

His second disqualification was the fact that he was, like all of us, a sinner in need of grace.  Reading this chapter, Philip, as the Bible puts it, “told him the good new about Jesus”. (Acts 8:35)

Jesus is the Servant of God in Isaiah 53:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isaiah 53:3, 5, 7–8, NIV)

This is the good news about Jesus:  He took our punishment upon Him and became our righteousness.  He was rejected, so we will not be rejected by God.  God afflicted Him in our place by having Him die on the cross of shame, so we can go free.  Our transgressions caused Him to be punished.  He was the Lamb before the shearers, and yet He did not open his mouth.

My dear friend, this is good news.  God took us who were nothing and dead in our trespasses, with no place in the congregation of the Lord, and made us his masterpiece, enabled for good work in his Kingdom.

We did nothing to deserve it – and we can’t.  It therefore doesn’t matter how bad we are before the grace of God was revealed to us; it does not matter how good we were before we learned about grace; all that matters it that we understand that God calls us to be his children through Jesus Christ, and that without Him we are dead, destined to eternal destruction of hell.

Leave everything behind, stop trying to be good, and see that something can indeed come from nothing.  That’s grace.  No one is too good be be lost; no one is too bad to be saved.

I trust that this message of grace will now, at this moment, be printed in your heart and that, if you have not done so yet, you now come and bow before Jesus Christ, your only hope of salvation.  He is the only one who make it right for us before God.

This is what the the Ethiopian heard.  This is what he believed.  He, by grace, has become one of the household of God.  God’s grace in Christ became alive in his heart.

The Ethiopian received God’s sign of grace

No doubt he had heard what had happened in Jerusalem during the time of Pentecost.  Like him people from all nations and tongues were saved.  In Christ God became their Father.  When they understood that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, the Son of God, the King in the line of David, the Lamb who took away the sins of the world, they asked Peter what they should do; Peter answered:

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

Yes, they repented – and so did the Ethiopian upon hearing the message.  And because the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with his body and blood being the beginning of the New Covenant, introducing a complete new era for God’s Kingdom in history, although most of them had been circumcised, they were then baptised.  That was the sign that God gave them forgiveness and that He gave them his Holy Spirit.

Baptism did not save them, but baptism was the sign and seal, like circumcision in the old Testament, that God placed his mark of grace upon them and that they now belonged to the family of God.

This Ethiopian did the same.  He was no Jew to begin with, and was probably never circumcised.  He in no way completed his salvation be being baptised.  Baptism was his sign and seal that he now, as a saved child of God who received the righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ, indeed belonged to the people of God.  The God of the Covenant, the God of the Promise who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now put his seal on him and said, “You are mine!”  Baptism says, “You are united to Christ – what He already did for you, is yours by faith; He gives you his Holy Spirit to live in you to make the promise of the Gospel new every day.  And when the tough times come, remember, God has promised to be your God in Christ Jesus.

Baptism is God’s sign, not mine

The problem many people have with baptism lies in the fact that they want to do something to complete their salvation, as if the water of baptism will complete their salvation.  Instead of seeing the sign as a sign from God that He took them on as children in his household with the promise that He will be their God, they understand baptism as their sign to God and other people that they now believe in Jesus Christ.  It is almost as if some understand it as the rounding off of salvation.

Sacraments were never designed to more than signs and seals – and that then, God’s signs and seals, not the sign of my faith.  The perfect place to proclaim that you belong to God, is to partake of Communion.  When you take that wine and bread your proclaim that you believe that Jesus Christ died for you.  Any other reason to partake of the Communion would bring judgement on the partaker.   And Communion, my dear brother and sister, is something we can do over and over again.  This is your place to proclaim your faith – baptism happens once, we are not baptised over and over again, because by faith we are admitted once into the household of God.

The rings wedding couples give to one another on their wedding day, are exchanged after they made their vows.  In effect they are already married when they exchange rings.  But they indeed give rings as a sign of their pledge to be faithful to one another. If someone would want to know if they are married, the rings would surely be a good give-away sign; but if they have to proof that they are married, rings are not good enough; they would require a certificate of marriage, issued by the authorities after the marriage celebrant produced paperwork which was signed in the presence of witnesses.

What makes one a Christian is not the fact that he/she is/was baptised (Catholics and some other believe in baptismal regeneration).  One cannot say I was baptised and that makes me a Christian.  What makes us Christians is the fact that, by grace we are saved and sealed in the blood of Christ.  Baptism is the ground for appeal to live as Christians.  The Sacraments reinforce this appeal.  As the ring of the married man reminds him of his wife and their vows to be faithful to one another, so baptism reminds us that God made a vow to be faithful to us in Christ, and Communion reminds us that God indeed was faithful.  Both sacraments appeal to us to live as those who have been included into the Covenant of Grace.

So, it speaks for itself that if you indeed and truly believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and God, and you are not baptised, that you would want to receive the sign and seal of God’s grace – it is not to complete your salvation; it is a sign that God already accounted the righteousness of Christ as your righteousness; by being baptised you accept humbly what God has done in Christ.  Please consider this very carefully.

Circumcision and Baptism

Paul’s letter to Colossians, Chapter 2, tells of how the members of Colossae, who were not all Jews to begin with, were included into the family of God.  In verse 11 he argues that they, like the people of the Old Covenant, were circumcised too.  They would in response argue that they were never circumcised, and Paul would continue his argument.  When they were baptised they were circumcised.  Their baptism was the new sign of the same Covenant of grace of the Old Testament. As Abraham and all who believed like him was saved by grace, so the Colossians received by grace what God in Christ had done for them.  Their “circumcision”, baptism, unified them with Christ.

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, (Colossians 2:11, NIV)

The reference in the next verse to being buried with Him in baptism, is no reference to adult baptism as if one goes into the grave of sin and rises as a new person in Christ.  The reference to the grave and being raised is a reference to what happened to Christ:  he died and was buried; Him God raised from the dead.  By faith his death and resurrection has become mine, and baptism is the sign that what was already accomplished in Christ, has now become mine.

The pattern then in the New Testament is that those who were not baptised when they heard about the good news in Jesus Christ, were baptised.  The majority of them were adults.  But Peter said the Promise is for them and their children, because right from the start God included children of believing parents into his Covenant of grace.  There are references in the New Testament that whole families were baptised when there was faith in the Christ by the parents.  As a matter of fact, Paul argues that if only one of the parents was a believer, it would make the child holy.

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

From the Old to the New – the same Covenant different signs

Let’s draw the lines from the Covenant of Grace through the Old Testament to the New Testament.

There is one Covenant of Grace, with two signs in the Old Testament and two in the New Testament.  Both the signs point to the ultimate and final sacrifice that would make peace with God possible – the Person of Jesus Christ.  The signs of the old Testament were therefore signs associated with blood – circumcision and the Passover Lamb.  After Christ and the blood of the New covenant, there are no signs of blood.  The water of baptism and bread and blood of Communion signify the blood and body of Christ who is our righteousness before God.

God instituted the Old Testament covenant of circumcision with Abraham as an everlasting covenant.  How old was Abraham when he was circumcised? 99 years of age.  Why?  He had not been circumcised. How old was Ishmael? A young boy.  Why? He had not been circumcised.  How old was Isaac, who was born the next year?  Eight days.  Why? That’s what God commanded.

Those who were not Jews by birth, but converted to faith in God and became Jews, had to be circumcised before they could partake in the Passover.  Why?  They had not been circumcised.  When were their children circumcised?  Irrespective of their age, they were circumcised with their fathers, until it was only those who were added by birth, who were circumcised on the eighth day of their life.  Why?  God commanded it.

It could not be required of the children to first believe before they were circumcised? But, their parents were required to believe and make covenant promises to teach them all about God’s love and covenant grace as they grow up to the point where they too could enjoy the Passover.

If we take the same line for the same Covenant of Grace in the New Testament, we find remarkable agreements -and baptism is by no means so hard to understand.

Christ died, was buried and was raised to bring us to the Father.  He is the Head of the New covenant.  His blood saved us from sin and his body is the new covenant.

Who were baptised in the New Testament?   Those who believed in Jesus Christ.  Why?  They were united with Him in his death and resurrection and they were included into the household of God.  How old were most of them?  Like Abraham when circumcision was instituted, most of them were adults.  And likewise today, if a person was not baptised when they become believers, they are baptised as adults.  Now what about their children?  Like the children of those who came into the Covenant people of God in the Old Testament, they also receive the sign of the Covenant.  When? When their parents became Christians, and after that, all children born to that family while they are still babies.  Do they need to understand all of this?  No, God did not require children of the old Testament to understand or believe anything; but He places the parents of believing parents under the obligation to bring their children up and teach them about the grace of God, until the point in life when they are old enough to make their confession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord.  They are then admitted to the Communion Table where they, with the rest of the body of believers in Jesus Christ, proclaim his death until He comes again.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 November 2013

The Father’s home with us

So that you may believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah the Son of God

Scripture Readings

  • Exodus 19:1-6
  • John 14:15-24

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Let’s begin this morning with a wild statement, “I think religion is dangerous.”

The person who practices religion invariably finds himself somewhere on a road to find some place where he would be convinced, or at least try to convince himself, that he has a right to salvation.  God will allow him in heaven because of his achievements.  Religion is therefore a way upwards and towards God.  Religion thinks it can rest upon earned good works, for which God will reward the self-improved person with eternal life.

Religion can have many forms: self-infliction, self-denial and asceticism.  It might manifest itself in a monastic and pietistic lifestyle.  People may chose to go on extended hunger strikes, sitting on a pole, and even periods of absolute silence.  A very popular phrase in some self-help religious books is “to connect with God”.

Even very devout church people might find themselves in this category where regular attendance of worship services, contributing to the finances of the church, voluntary service to the aged and the poor are seen as a form to climb the ladder to God.  The Roman Church encourages this form of dedication, and after certain requirements are met of a certain standard, even long after the person has died, someone can be declared a saint, based on these works.

A person can be raised to sainthood and the first step is beatification, which allows a person to be honored by a particular group or region. In order to beatify a candidate, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle. Martyrs – those who died for their religious cause – can be beatified without evidence of a miracle. In order for the candidate to be considered a saint, there must be proof of a second posthumous miracle. If there is, the person is canonised and are then know to be a saint.

Of this, of course, we find nothing in the Scriptures.

Gospel, on the other hand, is a way downwards from God towards man.  When God finds that man, he finds an individual who has nothing in his hand to impress Him or to win his favour.  In fact, God finds the sinner in a state of being an enemy of God, unable to rescue himself, and in desperate need of being saved.  Gospel is based on grace, having it’s origin in the mercy of God.  It does not require of man to improve himself, but provides the means to man whereby God makes it possible for man to see his terrible state before God so that he may know that he needs salvation, which is provided freely by God in Jesus Christ.

Grace in the Old Testament

There are people who think God’s people of the Old Testament had to comply to the Law of God and that grace was then given to them on account of their good deeds.  In this sense then people who think this way, say that they lived under the Law and we now live under grace.  This of course leaves us to understand that God had two ways of saving people: one by works, and the other by grace.

This is not true.  Our reading of Exodus 19 and 20 (the Ten Commandments) tells the story of God grace given to his people while they were still in bondage and slavery.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:4–6, NIV)

First there was God’s wondrous act of salvation through providing them with life when the Egyptians suffered the lost of their firstborn.  Then, time and time again, God provided mercifully and miraculously for them in the form of food, water, and deliverance from their enemies.  He indeed carried them on eagles’ wings and brought them to Himself.

This is stressed in Chapter 20:1  It is because God did what He did, Israel found themselves in a place where they could be called God’s people.  God did not give the Law first and then after some time rescued the few who could comply with that law.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2, NIV)

Moses reminded the people of God’s redeeming love with these words:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 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 7:6–8, NIV)

Exodus 3:7 is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible:

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land … (Exodus 3:7–8, NIV)

Although they were hard of heart and stubborn of spirit, the Lord kept his promise to Abraham be bringing them into the Promised Land.

That is what grace does.  It is God bowing down from heaven, being moved by the inability of man to rescue himself, and providing salvation when it was undeserved and impossible to repay.  This is the opposite of religion – it is Gospel.

Grace in the New Testament

Grace in the New Testament is nothing different.  The whole gist of the message of John in his gospel points to the fact that man was living in darkness, unable to know God, unable to see God, unable to recognise God; yet, God sent his Light, his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be the light, to open the spiritual eyes of the lost so that they can see salvation.

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

God gave his Son- his Son accepted the mission of the Father wholeheartedly and freely He gave his life as the Good Shepherd.  He said:

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

Jesus declared in John 6:

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (John 6:63, 65, NIV)

No-one can come to the Father unless He enables him.  He enables him based on his eternal love shown in Jesus Christ who took the sin of the world on Him.  Our Lord will never drive away anyone who comes to Him, becomes they come because the Father calls them (John 6:37).

Last week we heard from the Word that Jesus said to his disciples that they could not go where He was going to go – they could not because He was the only acceptable sacrifice, the perfect Passover Lamb, to satisfy the wrath of God upon sin.  He alone had to be crucified because He alone was sinless – He alone could atone.  In this sense then Jesus told his disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them.  His perfect atonement is the only basis for them to enter the Father’s home.  Only based on his perfect sacrifice can we now say that we can go where Jesus went – we do so by faith in Him who calls us, takes us as his own.  When, by faith, you know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Son of God – remember the theme of this series of sermons – my brother and sister, you have a room in heaven.  I say so because it is what Jesus said.

Your room there awaits you not because of your religion – things you have done to reach up towards God; your room in the Father’s house awaits you purely and only because you heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ that He came down from heaven to seek and save the lost.  As so were all of us before grace and mercy found us out.

God with us

Let’s turn the Bible to John 14:15 and following verses.  There is a phrase running through these verses like a golden thread, proclaiming the Gospel to us in all its glory.  You have to grasp this, as its message will carry you through all the dark days of doubt and uncertainty – those days when the devil would want to you think that you have to do more to deserve more grace until God will save you through your good deeds.

My dear friend in Christ, never give in to his musings, it is based on a lie.  You will never have peace with God if ever you do not grasp the glorious message of these verses.

What is that golden thread?  Look at verse 16.

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— (John 14:16, NIV)

Another advocate – because the first was Jesus Christ Himself.  What will He do?  He will help them and be with them, in the same way as Jesus did while He was with them. (His name is Immanuel – God with us).

Read verse 17:

The world cannot accept him [ the Spirit], because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for He lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17, NIV)

Do you get it?  He lives with you and will be with you.  This is Gospel:  God with us; religion wants to achieve some else – it wants to be with God; and it cannot.

Verse 18:

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18, NIV)

Jesus says, He will come to us.  This promise is fulfilled in the Holy Spirit, but it will be completely fulfilled when He comes to takes us to the Father’s house.  In verse 19 He says, “Because I live, you also will live.

Then, almost in an abundance of words, Jesus wants us to understand that we, by the grace of God shown to us in Him, and by faith which unite us with Him eternally, cannot be separated from Him:

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:20, NIV)

“On that day”, which day?  Of course it ultimately points to the return of our Lord, but they will know this for sure on that Sunday morning when He rose victoriously from the dead.  When you see the risen Saviour you will know that He completed the mission of the Father to save the lost, to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, to give them new birth through the Holy Spirit so that they can see the Kingdom of God, that they were drawn to the Father, that He would not drive them away – all those things He had taught them – and He is teaching us a the moment – they and we realise by faith that God has send his Son to seek and save the lost, we realise He united us with Him so that His accomplished work before the Father becomes as good as if they were our accomplished work; we believe that He is from the Father, with the Father and God with the Father.

When this happens, eternity breaks open.  I understand Gospel, and I understand that I cannot seek God in order to be saved; but I understand that God sought me to save me; He provided a Saviour for me; and He binds me to Him through the cross and resurrection of the Saviour through the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit – and now I cry our in eternal thankfulness, “Thank you Lord Jesus, thank you Father, thank you Holy Spirit!”

Let’s read another verse to find the golden thread. Verse 23:

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23, NIV)

We will come and make our home with them.  The Spirit is our Comforter (our Counsellor) – He continues the work of salvation by applying the grace of Christ to our hearts, now born from above; He teaches us about Christ, He is with us.  He prompts us to love Christ, by helping us to understand and obey the commands of the Lord.  Jesus said of the Holy Spirit:

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26, NIV)

The Spirit reminds us of the things Jesus said and did to satisfy the wrath of God on sin; He also changes our hearts to accept that message, because:

The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17, NIV)

Because Jesus was from the Father, his words were from the Father.  The Father loves Him because He loves the Father.  We know we love Him if we love doing what He commands us.  If we love doing what He commands us, the Father and the Son will make their home with us. If we not not love Him and obey Him, our only Saviour who saved us by grace, the Father and the son do not live with us – we are on our own, lost – and there is no other way to the Father. Jesus said:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, NIV)

The golden thread again:

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. (John 14:28, NIV)

“I am coming back to you.”  Listen, there is nothing of trying your hardest to get to where He is.  It is not religion; it is Gospel.

In some instances, I believe, the expression “if you loved Me”, that “if you” has the meaning of “loving me”, or “now that you love Me”. It is not conditional as if we first have to love Him and then after that we can expect certain things from Him.  The same is found in verse 15, “Now that you love Me, you will obey what I command.”  If doing his command was conditional on our love for Him or not, grace would not be possible.  Or at least it should be understood in the sense that we will obey his command because we love Him – and He loved us first.  What it does mean it that saying we love Him and we hate what He commands us is impossible.  The two things go together.

Conclusion

I thank God that He does not require of my some sort of religion – trying to seek Him until He makes Himself available to me after I have done a series of things to earn salvation.

But I earnestly thank him that He in Christ came to me; by the Sprit live in me, and with the Father live in me.  That is good enough to fill my heart with thankfulness to love Him and obey Him.  To Him be the glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 June 2013

 

 

 

Called out of darkness into the light

That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

Scripture Readings

  • Isaiah 59:9-21
  • John 12:34-50

Introduction

Omar Bradley, one of the Generals in World War II also went to World War I. He became a General. He actually led one of the largest armies in history during World War II. He spoke at an Armistice Day in Boston, Massachusetts in 1948. He said,

“With the monstrous weapons man already has, humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world by its moral adolescents. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.  This is our twentieth century’s claim to distinction and to progress.”

After he made this speech, we had the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Golf War, the war in Iraq, the continuous unrest in the Middle East in and the whole group of other wars in the world. We do not know how to make peace.

If we are going to move into the future, if we want to give hope to our children and next generation, it must come through our commitment to Christ, so that His light can shine in this very dark world.

The Word come to us in these main points:

  • Who is the Son of Man?
  • What was the mission of the Son of Man
  • The light will not always shine
  • Persistent, stubborn, sinful rejection of Christ
  • An urgent shout

Who is the Son of Man?

The title “Son of Man” was virtually the only title used by Jesus of himself. He has other titles. He is the Lamb of God, the King, the Messiah, the Beloved, the Word, the Son of God, and many others. But Jesus did not prefer to use these titles when He referred to Himself. In his own speech, He was always the Son of Man.

If we would look at the Hebrew, which lies behind this expression, we find something interesting about the grammar.  The “Israelites” in the Old Testament are from the word pair “the sons of Israel.”  With this title “Son of Man” Jesus identifies with the sons of Adam.  But there is more to it.

One Old Testament reference to the expression “Son of Man” is found in chapter 7 of Daniel,. This is the chapter that relates Daniel’s vision of the four great beasts that come up out of the sea and reign in succession earth for a time.  After the four visions of the four different kingdoms are explained, the vision shifts to heaven, and Daniel describes a scene in which thrones are set up and the Ancient of Days [God] takes his place upon one of the thrones and renders judgment. In this judgment, the last of the beasts is killed and all have their kingdoms taken away.

Daniel then writes of the final defeat and the establishment of a new and everlasting kingdom:

“In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13–14).

Between the writing of Daniel and before the coming of Christ, this concept of the “Son of Man” was spoken of in different writings, in which “Son of Man” is one term given to the long-expected Messiah.

Through the lens of all Scripture the “Son of Man” refers to “The Man” which means in Christ we have the eternal or man who exists eternally with God and who was to appear in this world at God’s command to complete God’s plan of salvation.

The title “Messiah” denoted a political figure whose primary work would be the deliverance of Jewish people from the Romans. But if Chris used this title publicly, everyone would have expected Him to organise an army and lead a liberation movement.  So He did not make an open claim to be the Messiah. On the other hand, with the “Son of Man” title, people did not know what to think about it exactly in a political sense of the word. Jesus used this title of Himself while at the same time filling it in with the precise meaning his Father would want Him.

This is one thing we need to stop and think about today.  We need to get a fresh understanding do who Jesus, the Christ, is.  It might even be possible that we think of Jesus in all sorts of categories, other than what He actually was send for into this world.

Some see in Him the answer to their financial problems.  The so-called prosperity theology makes a lot of this idea.  It is known by many names, such as the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel, the “health and wealth” gospel, the “word of faith” movement, the “gospel of success,” and “positive confession theology”.

Teachers of the prosperity gospel encourage their followers to pray, and even demand, of God “everything from modes of transportation (cars, vans, trucks, even two-seat planes), [to] homes, furniture, and large bank accounts.  God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit then becomes a medium through which one can achieve whatever he wants.

The Jews at the time of Jesus had ideas and longings they wanted to be fulfilled by the promised Messiah.  With the tile “Son of Man” Jesus wanted them to understand that He was from God, God Himself, sent into this world to rescue it from its darkness by giving Himself to be lifted up.  This idea did not fit into their expectations.

Jesus, by using the title “Son of Man” made it very clear that He is from before time began.

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (John 3:13, ESV)

Our Lord taught the people that if they would not eat the body of the Son of Man, and drink his blood they would have no life in them.  The people were offended by these words and a great many left Him.  He then looked at the disciples and said:

“Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? (John 6:61–62, ESV)

In other words, if they did not understand and believe that He came to shed his blood and have his body broken to save them from sins, they would still be in darkness, how much more will they be offended if He told them that He would return to heaven where He was before He became flesh and lived among sinners.  It was something that choked every teacher of the Law: that a mere man could put himself on equal footing with God.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18, ESV)

What was the mission of the Son of Man

We need to be extremely clear in this point:  John right through his Gospel points to only one thing:  God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into this world because

  • this world is in darkness and therefore it cannot see the Kingdom of God
  • this world can’t do anything about its own darkness, because flesh cannot do anything else but give birth to flesh
  • this world is in need of a Saviour who is in essence not from this world, but who makes it his business to come into this world to bring light into this darkness

Natural man does not love this message.  The concept of sin is not even welcome in dictionaries these days.  Atheists believe we do not need any concept of sin today because through evolution we have outgrown sin.

Richard Dawkins declares:

“More and more of us realize there is no god, and yet religion still has a hold over us. I think ideas of saints and sinners, heaven and hell, still shape our thinking. I want to give you a scientific alternative.”

With these words Dawkins reveals that he is still living in darkness. To him and others who think like him the Gospel still extends the warning and invitation:

While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36, ESV)

The light will not always shine

While you have light.  This means that the light will not always shine.  Jesus said:

“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. (John 12:35, ESV)

I think it is meaningful that soon after Jesus spoke these words, we read:

When Jesus had said these things, He departed and hid himself from them. (John 12:36, ESV)

We need to tell the world, those living in darkness, this very unsettling and disturbing truth: We will not always have this light.  Now it is still time of grace for repentance, but this dispensation will come to an end.

There is a imperative, or a command, in verse 35.  It says, “Walk while you have the light.”  It does not say, “Walk in the light.” the command is, “Walk!”  Darkness is coming.  There is an earnestness and urgency in the words of our Lord.  It almost says, “Run to the light while it is still light, for the light will go out in a short while.  Grace is running out, darkness is close behind you, catching up with you.  Run for your life.”

After He withdrew from the crowd, most probably because He understood the significance of the hour, and also what follows immediately after this verse, He needed to be alone with his Father to pray; the Bible does not say why, but fact is He needed time alone.

Persistent, stubborn, sinful rejection of Christ

What followed immediately in the Gospel of John?

Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him (John 12:37, ESV)

In Isaiah’s chapter about the suffering Messiah there are words of joy for those who walked to come into the light.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4–6, ESV)

We gladly take these words as words of salvation and bow before our Saviour who has brought us into the light so we could see we need redemption.

But Isaiah begins this very chapter with these words:

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:1,3, ESV)

John then quotes the words of Isaiah 6:10, which talk about the people in Isaiah’s time who stubbornly rejected the words of God because of their hardness of heart.  They stopped their ears when they heard the prophets of God speak to them, and they covered their eyes for the message of God, only to find out that when they took their fingers out of their ears and uncovered their eyes that they had gone blind and deaf:  there was no message for them anymore. God took it away from them.  Time of grace has run out.

So it was even at the end of the public ministry of Jesus.  He revealed the glory of God to them; He preached to them the message of the Kingdom of God; He became to them the light of the world and the bread of life; He was their good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep; He was the Son of Man who was lifted up as the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the word.  Yet, they has their fingers in the ears and their hand over their eyes.

Some showed signs of some sort of faith, but out of fear for the people and their love of praise from men, they did not confess their faith.  This probably describes the lives of so many who warm the pews of the church every Sunday.

An urgent shout

It was only a few hours before our Saviour celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples now.  Then, later that night, He was arrested, taken away, sentenced and crucified.  His personal call to the public to come to the light was never heard again.

Jesus appeared again after He had withdrawn from them sometime earlier.  We read about what He said then in verse 44

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent me. (John 12:44, ESV)

The word for “cry” here is to make a vehement outcry, or to speak with a very loud voice.  He was not afraid for those who wanted to kill Him, but there openly and very publicly in the midst of the thousands of people who came to Jerusalem for the Passover, our Lord proclaimed the Gospel publicly:  He is God, send by his Father to bring people out of darkness into light and to give them light. Faith in Him is faith in the Father.  He calls people out of darkness into the light.

He also cried out very loudly and clearly for all to understand:

The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:48, ESV)

Can you in your mind’s eye see our Lord urgently warning the world not to reject his word?  Can you hear Him say that all sermons preached about Him, and all chapters read about Him in the Word – things we know and have heard thousands of time, and which we maybe not believed – will one day stand up against us – screaming at us as a judgement because we have not walked to the light at the command of Jesus, the Son of Man.  We rather loved darkness.

The last thing Jesus proclaimed publicly is a repeat of the first verses of the Gospel of John:  He is from the Father, God Himself, and He only does what his Father commanded Him.  Believe Him, and one believes in the Father; reject Him, and one rejects the Father.  This action has severe consequences

Conclusion

John wrote his Gospel with this purpose:

“…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31, ESV)

It is important to understand this.  The Son of God was lifted up, crucified, so that by believing in Him we will be able to see, hear, and believe – and have eternal life.

The alternative is too dreadful to even think about.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 12 May 2013

 

The King who would destroy death, now anointed and glorified

That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 118:22-29
  • John 12:1-19

Introduction

We continue our series of sermons following the Gospel of John. We follow the theme of life and death, as we follow our Saviour, from closely before He was arrested, to the end of his ministry.
Towards the end of his Gospel, John explains the purpose of his Gospel in these words:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV).

Any sermon and worship service of the Lord should have this as purpose.  We do not get together to get a message to hear what we should do with our depression, or our financial troubles, or other worries.  The Bible is not a do-it-yourself pocket guide for “get-better” and “feel-good-about-yourself” help.  The purpose of the Gospel is to bring us to bow before Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

It is therefore my desire to bring to you this message with one prayer in my heart, and that is that everyone here this morning will hear about the Son of God and find in Him the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

If there is anything we need to understand from the reading of John 12 it would be that Jesus is the Lamb of God who gave his life to set sinners free.   In the centre of the drama unfolding in front of us is Christ on his way to be killed and to be handed over to the heathen to die the death that we deserve.

When did Jesus die?

I made a discovery this week in my preparation for this sermon.  I am cautious to proclaim what I have discovered as absolute truth, but there is enough evidence in the Scriptures that made me rethink the traditional view of church history.

When did Jesus die, and why is this question of any significance? Did He die on a Friday – which in the tradition became Good Friday?  Or is there a possibility that He died on Thursday?

I want to stress that the exact day He died will not make much difference in the bigger scheme of things:  The fact that He did die to take the sins of the world upon Him is the main thing here.  This is what you and I need to believe to experience his wonderful grace of salvation.

It seems as if the Bible does indeed place some significance on the days of the last week of our Saviour before He died on Calvary’s Hill.

We find ourselves with Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper where Mary poured out the nard perfume on the feet of Jesus.  John states the following:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. (John 12:1, NIV)

There were actually two festivals happening at the same time, one being the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the other Passover; Passover came first.

Passover was celebrated on the 14th of the month Nisan.

On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held. On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast. (Numbers 28:16–17, NIV)

Herman H. Goldstine published a book New and Full Moons from which it is possible to calculate the days of the week upon which the Jewish Passover had to fall in any given year during Christ’s lifetime or thereafter. Computer analysis points to 6 April A.D. 30 as the 14th of Nisan, which happened to be a Thursday.  Now, the day following the Jewish Passover was treated as a Sabbath day.  This means that apart from the normal weekly Saturday Sabbath, there was another sabbath that week – one on Friday and the other Saturday.  Keep in mind, Jewish days started on sunset of the previous day and ended on sunset the next day.  So, the Thursday we talk about actually commenced on the Wednesday evening and went through till the sunset of Thursday night.  That was the Day of Passover.  That evening was the beginning of the Sabbath of the Festival of the Unleavened Bread, which took them through till Friday night. The weekly Sabbath started on Friday night and lasted till Saturday evening with sunset.

If we now take the words of our Lord serious which spoke in Matthew 12:40,

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40, NIV)

We see the three days and three nights of this verse of Jesus being true if He was indeed crucified on the Thursday.  There are a few verses we also need to take into account.   When the Jews sent Jesus to appear before Pilate we read:

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. (John 18:28, NIV)

Here it speaks about the Passover, not the weekly sabbath, which would be the next day.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. (John 19:31, NIV)

The Day of the Preparation was that Thursday followed by the special sabbath of the 15th of Nisan.  This sabbath was the special sabbath which was celebrated on the Friday, followed by the weekly sabbath of Saturday.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, NIV)

Something interesting about this verse:  the Greek of this verse actually has the word “Sabbath” as “Sabbaths”, plural.  Most translations, however, translate the singular “Sabbath”.  Why?  One wonders.  But Matthew was probably perfectly correct in referring to “Sabbaths”, one which was the beginning of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread following the Passover of the 14th of Nisan, and the other the weekly Sabbath.

Jesus, the Passover Lamb

Why did Jesus enter Jerusalem as He did on Palm Sunday? Well, if the crucifixion occurred on a Thursday (the day of Passover when the Lamb was slaughtered in Egypt, which signalled the rescue of Israel), then counting backward we find that Palm Sunday was the tenth of Nisan.  This is important, because it was on that day that the thousands of Passover lambs that were to be sacrificed were taken up to Jerusalem and kept for three days in the homes of those who were to eat them.  I quote Dr James Montgomery-Boice:

“Not all are aware how many lambs were involved. So it is necessary to note that there was a great number. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that one year a census was taken of the number of lambs slain for Passover and that the figure was 256,500. In other words, with numbers this large, lambs must literally have been driven up to Jerusalem throughout the entire day. Consequently, whenever Jesus entered the city he must have done so surrounded by lambs, himself being the greatest of lambs. Four days later, at the time the lambs were killed, Jesus himself was killed, thereby becoming the ultimate Passover lamb on the basis of whose shed blood the angel of spiritual death passes over all who place their trust in him. (Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: An expositional commentary (932). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)

Preparation for the burial of Jesus

With what we understand about Jesus being the perfect Passover Lamb as the central figure of this chapter, we now understand the lead-up to his crucifixion. We understand the words of our Lord:

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7–8, NIV)

So, what Mary did was not to show us how much we should love Jesus, but why we should love Him much.  The precious nard perfume she used was not pointing to her love for Him, but to his precious death for those He loves so much that He would give his life.

Judas, on the other hand, wanted to distract the attention from Jesus by saying that the money for the perfume could have been given to the poor.  Mary did not want to draw attention to herself, but to Christ.  Deep down she understood that what He had told his disciples all along is about to take place. He told them this over and over again:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31, NIV)

Somehow Mary understood it but the disciples did not.  Even in our chapter we read these words:

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. (John 12:16, NIV)

On that Saturday night, immediately following the day hours of the Sabbath, sitting at feet of Jesus who raised her brother from the dead, she understood that He would indeed give his life and die to be buried.  She anointed Him for his death.

See, brothers and sisters, the message of the love of Christ our love for this world can easily bewarped.  The message of love we hear these days has become so horizontal that the message of the cross is rarely heard.  The death of Christ is taken as exemplary and not substitutional. It then sounds like the message of Judas who had no perception of the meaning of the death of Christ.  This passage tells us that true love for our neighbour cannot happen before we understand that we need to begin at the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Love for our neighbour which does not begin and end in the love of Christ who makes everything new as He brings us in the right relationship with the Father, is nothing but humanistic philanthropy.  But the substitutional love of Christ who gave his everything as the Passover Lamb to bring us back to the Father defines our love for our neighbour.  We then are not only concerned about their earthly needs of bread and clothing – surely that should not pass us by – but we will be concerned about their relationship with the Lord as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of this world.

This is what Mary’s act of anointing of our Lord should teach us: look at Him, He died and was buried to give you new life as He would forgive your sins and give you eternal life.

The king on a colt

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday has been regarded by many as a last public offer of himself as King to the people of Jerusalem.  Some say that Jesus at this point made a final attempt to gain a following, as if He would try to re-establish the throne of David in Jerusalem to overthrow the authority of the Roman Empire and set Israel free from political oppression.

But his kingdom was not of this world.  He would be King of another kingdom.  He knew about it.  A third time He told his disciples:

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32–34, NIV)

He entered Jerusalem not to win over the people (the time for that had long passed) but rather to provoke the Pharisees and chief priests into action and thus trigger the events that He knew awaited Him.  He said He would lay down his life for his sheep.  Now was the hour.

Jesus considered Himself bound by Scripture as an infallible expression of the will of the Father.  Both Matthew and John refer to the prophecy of Zechariah in which was written,

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).

The most important reason why Jesus entered Jerusalem, particularly when He did, was to show Himself to be our Passover Lamb who was to take away the sins of the world.

Later that week when He appeared before Pilate, when asked about his kingdom, Our Lord answered:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36–37, NIV)

What the people shouted when He entered Jerusalem was indeed true, although they did not understood it that way:

“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13, NIV)

The heading on most translations of this paragraph of the Bible says, “The triumphal entry.”  These words are not part of the original text.  It is correct but not in the sense that Jesus had some political victory; it is correct in the sense that it was the fulfilment of the Scriptures referring to Him as the King who was righteous and having salvation.  The words of those along the streets of Jerusalem had the same weight as the words of Caiaphas who prophesied that it is better that one man die than that the whole nation perish – neither understood or meant what they said.

But they were words of eternal significance in the scheme of God’s Kingdom.  The words screamed out in pure emotional ecstasy along the streets of Jerusalem, find its true meaning around the throne of God:

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10, NIV)

In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12, NIV)

Conclusion

The Gospel is preached – even today it has been preached.  It is the Word of God.  It was God’s eternal plan for us to hear it.  Why?

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)

Did we hear his voice? Sure we have. The question now:  Is Jesus Christ, by faith in Him, your King; is He your Passover Lamb?  Have you brought your sins to Him to be washed away?  Or:  are you sure you have eternal life because you believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God?

Reject Him in unbelief, shout meaningless good-sounding words with the crowd who eventually crucified Him, or worship Him as the Son of God.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 28 April 2013

 

 

The Christ lays down his life to give eternal life those the Father gave Him

That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 23
  • John 10:14:30

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

We begin a new series of sermons following the Gospel of John. There are certain very distinct themes in the Gospel of John:  there is light and darkness, life and death, the truth and the lie, being blind and being able to see, and others.

In the next few weeks we will look at the theme of life and death, as we follow our Saviour from closely before He was arrested to the end of his ministry.

Towards the end of his Gospel, John explains the purpose of his Gospel in these words:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)

As we hear the Word of God speak to us from John’s Gospel chapter 10 and what follows, this stated purpose of John will be our guide.  So, we pray that God will enlighten our minds as we read and hear the Word preached, that we will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing we will receive life in his Name.

Our theme for this sermon is:  The Christ lays down his life to give eternal life those the Father gave Him.

We will open the Word of God under these headings:

  • Who is Jesus Christ?
  • What was His mission?
  • Who belongs to Him?
  • What does He give to those who belong to Him

Who is Jesus Christ?

He is the shepherd, his Father the watchman – or the owner of all the sheep

John 10:3 talks about the watchman who opens the gate for the shepherd.  The picture is something like this:

At night time the shepherd in ancient times would bring the flock he is responsible for to a communal place where other shepherds also had their flocks.  During the night a watchman guarded the gate which provided entrance to the different pens.  In the morning the shepherd would ask the watchman to open the door to his sheep.  He would then call those sheep belonging to him and they, knowing his voice, would follow him.  Through the day he would walk in front of them and lead them to places where they could find feed and water.  At night time he would bring them back again.

Through the Gospel of John the theme of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son helps us to understand that Jesus is sent by the Father to seek and to save the lost.  The Father knows who belongs to them, because He gives them life through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He becomes their Father, because all who

did receive Him [Jesus Christ], to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12–13)

In verse 29 of our chapter Jesus declares:

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:29, NIV)

Jesus also says in verse 17-18

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

In John 4:34 our Lord declares:

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:34, NIV)

So, in John 5:19 our Lord declares:

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19, NIV)

And in verse 26:

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:26, NIV)

Jesus came into this world to seek and save the lost.  There were and are some with the name of God on them, lost in their sins, yet held by the Father in his eternal love, who have to be saved by the blood of his Son, their Good Shepherd.  His Father is the watchman, keeping save those predestined for eternal life, and He will not have anyone snatch them out of his hand.

There were people, especially the blind leaders of the day, who could not understand this.  They wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy because He called Himself the Son of God.

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:33, NIV)

Jesus then, taking them to the Old Testament (Psalm 86).  Jesus says, remember, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (something they also understood very well);  in that Psalm God accused the leaders (the princes and rulers were referred to as “gods”):

“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. (Psalm 82:5, NIV)

So what did they do? They did no defend the cause if the weak and the fatherless, neither did they maintain the rights of the poor and the oppressed. They did not rescue the weak and the needy, and they did not deliver them from the hand of the wicked.  So, Jesus pointed out to the people their own leaders stand accused before God.  But their Father set One apart (John 10:36):

what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. (John 10:36–37, NIV)

If they would believe the Father then they would believe Him, because “the Father is in Me and I in the Father.”  Everything Jesus had done up to that point proved that He was from the Father, the promised Christ.
Our battle in this world is to convince the lost that Jesus is from the Father and that what He does is what the Father sent Him to do.

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

This is the point of contention.  When those in darkness see the light of the Gospel regarding Jesus Christ, something marvellous happens:  they see the Kingdom of God, they worship the King and adore the Shepherd who came to seek and save them from the clutches of the wolf who had no other purpose but to kill and destroy.  But before this happens, there is darkness, there is enmity, and our battle is fierce. It is because of this very reason that they killed Jesus by hanging Him on a tree.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:6–8, NIV)

He is the shepherd of his sheep

Unlike the leaders of Israel, who proved to be bad shepherds, Jesus is the good shepherd.  They are described in Ezekiel 34:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. (Ezekiel 34:2–6, NIV)

In John 9 they are pictured as blind leaders who are leading the blind.  They enter the pen not by the gate, passing the watchman who owns and protects the sheep, no, they climb over the wall.  Their purpose is not to tend the flock, but to destroy the flock.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10, NIV)

It is so different with Jesus, the Son of God.  He is both the gate and the shepherd.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. (John 10:9, NIV)

He is the only way to the Father, salvation is in no one else.  Acts 4:12

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NIV)

He is the gate where his Father is the Gatekeeper.  His Father knows Him to open the gate when He calls for his sheep.  When his sheep hear his voice they know that going through that gate following the Shepherd they will have life:  He will take them out to the pastures where He will see that they are fed and nurtured.  He, the Gate and the Shepherd in one, is life.  His intention in only good:

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11–16, NIV)

What was his mission?

Verse 11:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, NIV)

In the next verses we see a picture of the enemy, the wolf who attacks the flock to destroy it.  The hired hand runs for his life, but the true shepherd put himself between the danger and the flock to guard them from the attack.  The hired hand cares nothing for the sheep.  Not so with Jesus, the good Shepherd:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14–15, NIV)

He lay down his life for his sheep.  This was the command from the Father:

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

This was the purpose of the Father sending his Son into this world:  to lay down his life for his sheep.  Those who are of his flock understand it for they know it.  Those who are not of his flock do not understand or know it.  They can’t hear his voice, and they don’t understand Him calling.

but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:26–27, NIV)

This takes us back to John 1:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:11, NIV)

And we understand the words of our Lord in John 3:3

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3, NIV)

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19–20, NIV)

On the other hand:

Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12–13)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16–18, NIV)

Who belongs to Him?

In short, those who listen to his voice.  He lays down his life to bring them into the pen:

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16, NIV)

The Gospel about Jesus Christ is preached to those who do not believe, and God the Father will, by the work of his Holy Spirit, open the hearts of those whom He will draw to Himself to hear his voice and come to Him, never to be snatched from his hand.

When Jesus told them these things, the people had two reactions:

Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” (John 10:20, NIV)

Others, on the other hand said:

These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:21, NIV)

There were two men on Calvary’s Hill that morning when they crucified our Lord; one mocked Him, the other pleaded for forgiveness – and got it.

What does He give to those who belong to Him?

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29, NIV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The difference is is great as the difference between life and death:  eternal life or eternal death.  He died (laid down his life) so that those who believe in Him can live.  Those who do not belive in Him stand condemned to eternal death.

Conclusion

This Gospel has been preached – even today is it preached.  It is the Word of God “which cannot be broken”.  It was God’s eternal plan for us to hear it.  Why?

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)

Did we hear his voice?  Do we believe? Did we enter through the only gate?  The reason why we heard this message today is to hear his voice – and believe unto eternal life.  Let’s thank God.

AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 April 2013