Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Perfect knowledge, perfect joy, perfect peace

Scripture readings

  • Ezekiel 36:24-29
  • John 16:12-33

Introduction

Herman Lange, a German Christian was to be executed by the Nazis during WWII. In his cell on the night, before he was to be killed, Lange wrote a note about two feelings which occupied his mind: “I am, first, in a joyous mood, and second filled with great anticipation.” Then he made this beautiful affirmation: “In Christ, I have put my faith, and precisely today I have faith in Him more firmly than ever.” Finally, he urged his parents to read the New Testament for comfort: “Look where you will, everywhere you will find jubilation over the grace that makes us children of God. What can befall a child of God? Of what should I be afraid? On the contrary, rejoice!

A non-Christian said,  Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” “God has no religion”. But his deathbed he uttered his last words, “My days are numbered. For the first time in 50 years, I find myself in the slough of despond. All about me is darkness…” His name was Mahatma Gandhi. 

Jesus was approaching his last moment before they apprehended Him, and handed Him over to be crucified.  On his mind was his ministry from his Father to reveal Him to those would continue the work of global evangelism after He returned to his Father. He prayed, 

I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:4, NKJV)

When He announced his departure to his disciples, they were filled with grief.  On the one hand, they were called to be fishers of men, but their rabbi was leaving them. On the other hand, since they began to follow Christ, they learned to love Him and be close to Him.  His words were the words of life. But now his announced his departure. They would miss Him. 

How would they survive without Him?  Where would they get the same level teaching from when they needed answers and guidance?  And then Christ said this:  

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7, NKJV)

Perfect knowledge

Christ did not expect of his church to tackle the wise and the philosophies of this world on their own.  He promised to give them a Helper.  

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (John 16:8, NKJV)

The work of the church would have vaporised towards the end of the first century were it not for the teaching of the Holy Spirit.  He is the One convicts the world of sin, those who do not believe in Christ.  He is the One who convicts sinners of righteousness, because of Christ’s complete redemption, because there is no righteousness in man, and no other can or will be able to do what Christ has done; He is now at the right hand of his Father.  The Holy Spirit is the One who makes clear to unbelievers that the prince of this world is condemned and of powerless against the judgement of the Father; no one who comes to the Father by any other means will ever be saved (John 16:8-11).

Paul writes about the work of the Spirit:  

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9–10, NKJV)

With these words, Jesus Christ comforted his disciples.  And it should be our comfort too.  We must speak the words of Christ, we must declare his grace to this world, however, we in some sense will only be onlookers as the Spirit does the conviction, the preaching of the righteousness of Christ, and as He convicts people of their sin.   

Is it no so that the Holy Spirit will teach us all sorts of ecstatic gifts so we can prophesy, speak in tongues and do miracles?  We need to understand these things in its context as Paul wrote it to the Corinthian church.  We cannot now dwell on all the issues, but here are a few principles:  

  • The Spirit gives gifts as He determines, not as individual members desire it. (1 Corinthians 12:18)
  • The gifts of the Spirit are always for the common good of the whole body of believers; if they serve no purpose for the upbuilding of the church, they are not needed. (1Corinthians 12:7)
  • There are gifts which are more important than others.  Paul prioritises the gifts beginning with the apostles, then the prophets (or preachers), then others, and then at the bottom of the list the speaking of different tongues (1Corinthians 12:28)
  • Not all believers will or can speak in tongues, or do miraculous deeds, or heal others (1Corinthians 12:29)
  • But all believers must love one another as Christ loved them (1Corinthians 13) and all believers must tell of the wondrous deeds of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-21)

It is for this last universal task of evangelism we all must be involved in we need the Holy Spirit.  Why? 

“When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12–14, NKJV)

The Spirit inspired Paul to write:

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

The Holy Spirit has no new agenda other than that of the Father and Son.  His work is to continue the work of Christ.  He is the One who teaches the church of Christ the will of the Father and all about Christ.  

The ultimate work of the Holy Spirit was the inspiration of the Scriptures.  Of these we read:  

…the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15–17, NKJV)

This is the point.  Everything we need to know about salvation, everything we need to preach, everything we need for comfort, everything we need to defend ourselves with against the attacks of all the wise and learned of the world, is written in the Bible.  Who reads and studies the Bible as the World of God has perfect knowledge.  The remarkable aspect of it all is that while we present this Gospel to the world and to every lost sinner, the Holy Spirit does the rest.  We are like the sower in the parable of Jesus who sows wherever he can, but then rest and sleep, leaving it all in God’s hands.

Perfect joy

We touched in this last week.  Let’s just recap.  Christ taught his followers a crucial lesson:  his death and resurrection, together with the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Word, give incomparable joy. 

Therefore you now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (John 16:22, NKJV)

David knew something about this:  

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance. (Psalm 16:5–6, NKJV)

In another Psalm:

Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26, NKJV)

What is the source of our joy?  

  • First of all—Christ completed which the work the Father gave Him:  He taught his disciples, He revealed the Father to them, He took their sins on them and paid the penalty of sin, He rose again to overcome death, and He ascended into heaven to intercede and prepare a home for those whom He was sent to rescue.
  • Second, His work of teaching is complete.  John 16:23 is an interesting one: 

And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. (John 16:23, NKJV)

The first “ask” is to inquire or to want to know more.  The second ask is the same as prayer.  Our joy is connected to the fact that the Holy Spirit is with us to teach us and in that sense, we do not need to inquire outside of what He teaches in the Bible.  It is only by diligent study that we will get all the answers we need to equip us for service.

The second “ask” is prayer.  What we need to be successful as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lies in diligent and faithful prayer.  In the Name of Christ who is our complete salvation and all-sufficient Saviour, we approach God to ask Him to give according to our needs.

The joy of the church of Jesus Christ is anchored in these things.  What more do we need?  Are we robbed of our joy if we don’t get the Lear Jet we are praying for?  If this is your expectation, then surely you will be disappointed.  But if it is Jesus Christ and the fullness of his grace you desire, you will never be disappointed.  Your cup will overflow with joy.

Perfect peace

Just one last thought.  Our chapter also speaks of peace.  Our Lord  said to the small band of disciples moments before He was arrested: 

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NKJV)

What peace is perfect peace?  I have overcome the world.  The Greek tense is the perfect tense which describes an action brought to its conclusion in such a way that its results stand firm. In other words, when Jesus says He has overcome the world, it is complete, and nothing can change that fact.  

In Revelation, we read,

“Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome [is victorious] to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5, NKJV)

Does it give you peace to hear the words of Christ:  

For whoever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4, NKJV)

Does it give you peace to hear Christ’s promise:  

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. (Revelation 3:12, NKJV)

Conclusion

So, my friends, because you can trust the Holy Spirit to guide you, because you can ask God in the Name of Jesus Christ, and because Christ has overcome the world, then it should be true of all of us:

And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! wrath, because he [Satan] knows that he has a short time. (Revelation 12:11–12, NKJV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 February 2019

 

Advertisements

Why does Christ need to reveal Himself, and how does it happen?

Scripture Readings

  • 1 John 4:7-16
  • John 14:15-31

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

One of the pleasures in our advanced digital society is to talk to robots when you ring enquiries of some more significant enterprises. It sometimes takes many minutes, and many entries into the keypad to get to the right department— if you are fortunate. But it’s only about then when the testing of your civility is really put to the test. Here’s the problem: many companies outsource their support departments to outfits overseas. The issue quickly explodes when the person who is supposed to help you speaks in an accent you really can’t understand. It takes multiple times of asking, and numerous times of explaining before you finally realise life is better living with the problem, rather than trying to fix it.

It is undoubtedly exceedingly difficult to explain something if you don’t really know the technical terms to describe your problem, and the situation is compounded if the person you asked don’t understand your question, and you, then, in exchange have no idea what he meant.
Let’s keep this in mind as we approach the sermon today. The question is, “Why does God reveal Himself only to his own, and how?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Darkness, unbelief, no knowledge

John begins his Gospel and sketches the picture for us. God created the world in the beginning. Christ was the agent through which God created the universe. He is called the Word.

Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:3–4, NIV)

Between creation and the Gospel of John, something terrible happened: The world was plunged in spiritual darkness. Although the world was made through Christ, the people of the world did not know it. Although it belonged to Him, they, in unbelief, did not receive Him.
There were darkness, unbelief and no knowledge. Sin caused mankind to be spiritually blind. They did not speak the language of God, and they could not understand God. What they understood well, was darkness and the voice of the prince of darkness.

For them, and us, to hear God, to understand Him, see Him and receive Him, was not possible. We did not speak the same language, we did not have any communication. There is no option for us—we didn’t need to do anything to become sinners and be separated from God, we were born sinners. We had no choice between light and darkness, we were born into darkness. We are not born into a state of somewhere between darkness and light, so that by our choosing we slide one way or the other. We are born on the wrong side. Isaiah describes it in these terms:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2, 9–10, NIV)

How do we get out of this mess?

There is good news:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NIV)

The author of Hebrews puts it this way:

In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1–2, NIV)

Jesus Christ is the One who communicates between the Father and us. He is God’s Word.

To become children of God, we need a few things to happen: we need revelation, we need light, we need a new life, we need faith.

Revelation

Judas, not Iscariot, asked Jesus while they were still in the Upper Room with Christ in the night before Christ was arrested to be crucified the next morning,

“But, Lord, why do You intend to show Yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22, NIV)

This question follows the disclosure of Christ in the previous verse where He said:

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:21, NIV)

The expression “has my commands” is synonymous with “receive”, and it takes us back to the statement in the beginning: those in darkness did not receive Him. Light did not receive Him. Jesus said:

The world cannot accept Him (the Holy 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)

So, what happens between living in darkness and receiving light? Quite a lot. The eyes of our heart open when the Holy Spirit gives us a new life. The Bible calls it “the birth from above”, to be born again. Then alone can we see and understand. John the Baptist said,

“A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. (John 3:27, NIV)

What was the mission of Christ? The woman at the well  answers, 

“I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, He will explain everything to us.” (John 4:25, NIV)

Indeed!  He makes Himself known.  He declares Himself.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24, NIV)

When our Lord answered Judas when he asked why He is going to reveal Himself to them and not to the world, He actually wanted them to know that without his revelation no sinner would not understand. Christ is the Word of God. Christ came into the world and became one of us. He speaks our language, and He understands our need.

But He has to stir our hearts out of death to understand who He really us, and to understand our need for salvation.  When He does it, He plants faith, life, light and the ability to receive the grace of God.

What is very critical to understand is that not all people receive the grace of God. Jesus said: “The world hates Me”. (John 7:7) Further into the same chapter we read that some  received Christ, and others were divided about Him. The leaders even insisted that He is devil-possessed. They wanted to kill Him. Why? Christ made it clear to them: they are born of darkness, born into darkness, and they served the prince of darkness.

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:43 47, NIV)

Does it take you back to the telephone conversation where it seems no one understands no one?

Some people can hear the Gospel of Christ a thousand times preached in simple language and still walk away untouched. See, not all people are going to heaven. Some inevitably will end up in hell. Jesus said:

“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:39, NIV)

Another verse:

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. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:18–19, NIV)

So, my friend, you might sit next to Judas asking why and how is Christ is revealing Himself to you today? The answer to the “why” is this:

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23)

By this, you will know if you belong to Him. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8, NIV) That’s the test. Are you a child of God? You will know if you love Him. And you will love Him because He loved you first. Here’s the test:

Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:24, NIV)

There is a simple, but glorious, answer to the “how”:

My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23, NIV)

Think about it: the Creator of the universe pours his love out on sinners, on me, on you. Both He and the Son make their home in us. Your life should be the throne of the eternal, loving, saving God who made a claim on your life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

How does He live in us? By his Holy Spirit.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:13, NIV)

The ministry of the Spirit is to teach us to understand who Christ is, and more about the love of the Father.

What is the result? We have peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27, NIV)

Is there more? Sure! Joy.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11, NIV)

But there’s more! Jesus declared:

I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me… (John 14:30, NIV)

That’s why our Lord can give us this assurance:

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 10:28–29, NIV)

We need revelation, we need light, we need a new life, we need faith. Where does it come from? It comes through the words of Jesus Christ:

These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. (John 14:24–25, NIV)

Conclusion

Why does God reveal Himself only to his own, and how?

The Word answers:

  • We are all born in darkness and need light. We are all in need of faith to see and receive Christ.
  • Not all who hear the word will believe, but those whom the Father has given to his Son will listen to his voice and follow Him.
  • Christ makes Himself known to us to enable us to receive Him as Lord and Saviour.

How does He do it?

  • He lays down his life for the sheep.
  • He gives us his Word
  • He gives us his Holy Spirit.

Can you be sure that you are a child of God? Yes, listen to his voice, receive Him because

…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— (John 1:12, NIV)

Do you want to go home today with peace and joy in your heart? Take this assurance with you:  If Christ is your Saviour, no-one can snatch you out of his hand. Above all, if you know Christ as the truth, the truth will set you free, and if He sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 20 January 2019

 

The Intercession of Christ (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Exodus 28:6-21
  • John 17:11-19

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we might make the mistake to disregard everything the Old Testament in connection with sacrifices and offerings.  It is true that we living on this side of the cross of Christ do not need an earthly high priest, neither an altar, nor sacrificial animals.  Moreover, we don’t need a temple which is divided in different sections where only certain privileged people may enter, and others are excluded from those sections.

Jesus Christ was the end of the sacrificial system.  In Him we have access to the Father, but then only if we by faith rest solely on his complete righteousness.  We understand from last week that their is no other Saviour, no other other link between the Holy God and sinners.  The Holy Spirit is the promised Comforter who takes us by the hand to this only Saviour. No other person or persons can make the claim Jesus made:  what belongs to the Father belongs to Him—and whom the Father gave to Him, He saved.

The shadow of the old covenant

But having said this, we cannot disregard certain aspects of the Old Testament priesthood which acted like a shadow of the real High Priesthood.  For as long as the tabernacle of the old covenant was in place, so says the writer of Hebrews, they served as

“… an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (Hebrews 9:9–10, NIV)

This writer continues:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. (Hebrews 9:11, NIV)

Our reading from Exodus this morning took us to beginning of the office of High Priest.  Aaron was that person, assisted by his sons.

There are three particular themes in the symbolism of the garments of the high priest.

  1. The first is beauty. The Bible describes the quality and design of all the items of clothing, together with the use of colour and precious stones. But beauty is dominant in the breastplate; the Hebrew word translated approximately as “breastplate” has as its basic sense “beauty” or “excellence.” The clothing symbolises beauty, while beauty describes the office.  The high priest, Aaron, fully robed, was a splendid figure, and the splendour of his garments indicated the magnificence of the office with which he had been entrusted.
  2. The second theme is the role of the priest as representative of Israel before God. The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on the two onyx stones in the ephod, and in the 12 precious stones attached to the breastplate. The high priest entered God’s presence to seek deliverance from God’s judgment for his people and in order to keep the people constantly in God’s remembrance.  Verse 12 states:

Aaron will bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial. (Exodus 28:12) 

On the breast piece there four rows of precious stones with the name of one of the twelve tribes engraved on each one.

Aaron will bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breast piece of decision over his heart when he goes into the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually. (Exodus 28:29)

  1. The third theme is the role of high priest as the representative of God to Israel. The Urim and Thummim, (objects kept in the breast piece of the High Priest and used to discern the will of God) were kept in the breast piece, by means of which God made known his will to Israel.

The eternal High Priest

When Christ came to be our High Priest He first of all came not in splendour, but as a ordinary human being.  But Hebrews says about Him:

For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)

He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  He made his dwelling with us and we have seen his glory, the glory as from the Father (John 1:15).  In his prayer (John 17) Jesus prayed to the Father:

And now, Father, glorify Me at your side with the glory I had with You before the world was created. (John 17:5)

Only He could declare:

Everything I have belongs to you, and everything you have belongs to me, and I have been glorified by them. (John 17:10)

Like the high priest He revealed the will of God to his people.  On his heart were the names of those who belonged to the Father. After Christ completed his work, the office of high priest disappeared, because

“I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. (John 17:6, NET)

But like the high priest He intercedes for those who belong to the Father, having their names engraved on his chest.

My dear friend, before the splendour of our High Priest, who is our Lord, our Saviour, our Mediator and our God, we need to stand in awe and worship. He is the only One who knows the Father as an equal. He is the only One who has made the Father known to us; without him we lived in darkness, but in Him we were translated into light; once we were blind, but now we see.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

But He is also the only One who may stand in the presence of the Father with our names in his heart.  He says,

When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost … so that the Scripture could be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NET)

If you believe and trust Him will all your heart, soul, mind and all your might, if his sacrifice as the Eternal High Priest is you only hope to one day stand before the throne of the Father, know this: your name is on his heart.

The intercession of our eternal High Priest

To complete his mission He had to go back to the Father where He came from.  Yes, He would send them the Holy Spirit to teach and guide them, but He interceded for those who belong to both Him and the Father even before He left them. He was facing the most terrible anguish and loneliness, but He did not pray for Himself.  One commentator puts it like this,

“I come to Thy presence where there is fullness of joy, and to Thy right hand where there are pleasures for evermore. I come—to where the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God; but these, these are in the wilderness. I come—where no enemy can follow me, where no temptation can assail me, where no weariness can distress me; but these, these are in the world. I come—to reap the trophies of my great victory. I come’—to grasp the scepter, to wear the crown, and to ascend the throne. I have been weary here, but I shall soon be weary no longer; the way has been rough and thorny, but it is all over, my haven is almost reached; yet these, these are in the world!”

What does He ask?

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name.”  (17:11)

We who are followers of Christ don’t have a home in this world.  Our Lord says, “… they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (17:14, 16)  This is profound statement. Jesus Christ makes a comparison:  He is not of this world, so are his disciples not from this world.  How is this possible.  We have to go back to chapter 1:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13, NKJV)

Nicodemus also had to hear from our Lord that natural birth does not make anyone a child of God.  The Pharisees thought they were children of God because they were descendants of Abraham (8:33), but Christ made it clear:

He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” (John 8:47, NKJV)

Being born from above those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour got now citizenship:  it now rests with Christ at the throne of God.  At the moment we are like sojourners, like foreigners on a 465 visa:  we can can one be here if we have a job and a sponsor.  And we have both.  Jesus said,

As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (John 17:18, NKJV)

Do you still remember that you have a job to do?  You have to represent your Lord as ambassador; you have to tell of his glory, his salvation, his love. And you have to love as Christ loved; you also have to pray as He taught you, pray that the Lord of the harvest will send labourers to bring in the sheaves to the storehouse.

Why does He ask?

Our job is not an easy job.  Although we have good news, and although the news and the grace are free, this world hates us.  Why?  Their master, the devil, hates Christ, and so he hates us too.  The world does not hate us for being loving, caring for the sick and the needy, providing shelter to the helpless, or care for the elderly—they actually constantly remind us of our duty to be loving.  But when we love to the point that we want them to bow before the Saviour and give Him all they have, and receive salvation as we have receive by grace, they spit on us.

Whoever thought to be a Christian is glamorous need to rethink his or her claim that his indeed a Christian.  Being a Christian is being on Christ side, and to be on Christ side is to face a hostile world.  The brother of our Lord, James understood this all too well.  He writes:

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

He who wants the good of what Christ offers, while still clinging to the things of this world, is like an adulterer who tries to split his devotion between more than one person.  It’s either Christ, or the world—not both.

But if you follow Christ with an undivided heart, know this:  our Lord is mentioning your name to his Father:  “Protect them from the evil one.” (17:15)

Conclusion

I’ll end the sermon here.  I had in mind to still touch on Christ’s prayer for our joy and sanctification.  But let’s just conclude to say this: if you know Christ as your High Priest, you’ve got it all—you’ve got reason for joy because He has sanctified you when He walked through that temple curtain which separated God from sinners, and now He is appearing before the Father on your behalf.

The price is paid; hallelujah! Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 April 2017

Christ, the Holy Spirit and joy

Scripture Readings

  • Romans 8:6-17
  • John 16:12-33

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

They say the American painter, John Sargent, once painted a panel of roses that was highly praised by critics. It was a small picture, but it approached perfection.

Although offered a high price for it on many occasions, Sargent refused to sell it. He considered it his best work and was very proud of it.

Whenever he was deeply discouraged and doubtful of his abilities as an artist, he would look at it and remind himself, “I painted that.” Then his confidence and ability would come back to him.

John records what happened in the night before Christ was arrested, only to be crucified the next day.  It was in more than way a night of confusion and agony. First, Jesus— like a slave—knelt before  them and washed their feet.  Then one of them walked out into the night to betray their rabbi to the Jewish leaders, and then they heard that another would disown Him.  Next thing is He announced to his small group of disciples that He was going to the One who sent him. But He also assured them that He would send them the Holy Spirit so that they would not go astray, or trip and fall (16:1).

Jesus Christ—the completion of his ministry

The road to the cross

The Father sent Jesus into this world to gather a church for Him.  Christ left the eternal throne of glory, was born like a human being—although not from an earthly father—walked the face of the earth like all other humans beings, yet without sin. To complete the mission of the Father, He had to perfectly obey the Law, and also take the curse of disobedience to the Law as his own to become the perfect righteousness which satisfy the holiness of God.  That’s the only way we can be saved.

Now, in the last hours of his earthly ministry, He taught his disciples what they could expect, and how they had to be his voice, hands and feet when He went back to his Father.  He had to go back to the Father to stand in perfect righteousness before the Father, and as such intercede for those whom He saved. Although they would love to have Him with them all the time, He could not remain with them; He had to finish what the Father sent Him for.

Now, what did He mean with “In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me”? (John 16:17, NIV)

In John 14 our Lord was referring to the place in heaven, the rooms in his Father’s house, which He is going to prepare for them, and then come back to take them to where He will be.  This clearly refers to the second coming of our Lord at the sound of the last trumpet.

But in 16:17 He did not point to that event.  He pointed to his death on the cross—and all which would happen before that;  He also referred to his resurrection from the dead.  In other words between the night He was arrested in Gethsemane, and the Sunday of his resurrection when He appeared to them.

His suffering, death on the cross and resurrection was the pinnacle of his ministry.  As a matter of fact, without the cross his ministry would fail.  Those mocking Him while He was dying with his hands and feet nailed to the rugged wood of the cross—“Others you could save; save yourself”—was the final attempt of Satan to avert the necessity that He paid the price for sinners to set them free.

The night Jesus spoke these words to them He was arrested.  The next morning, the morning of Good Friday, the disciples would have felt like lost sheep.  The One they came to love and worship was handed over, tried, falsely accused and forced to drag the cross on which He would be nailed to the place of execution.  On the way He would be mocked, ridiculed, spat one, beaten until He was not physically able to walk, and sank on his knees in agony.  Peter who once said that he would give his life for the Lord, followed in a distance with a heart heavy because He denied his Lord.

Then, when it was time for the lambs of Passover to be slaughtered, at about 3.00.pm on Friday, Jesus cried out, “It is finished”.  There the real Passover Lamb died and took the sin of the world on Him so that they might go free.

Jesus prepared them for those three days of confusion.

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. (John 16:20, NIV)

Joy restored

So when on the Sunday of his resurrection Jesus appeared to Mary at the open grave, and she went back to tell them the good news that He had risen, they still didn’t believe.  The death cloth folded by itself in some ways helped their unbelief, but they went back to the place they were gathered and locked the doors for fear of the Jews.  Then our Lord appeared in their midst.  Luke records:

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:37, 41, NIV)

What He prepared them for in John 16 came true:

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

While they were grieving in unbelief, the world rejoiced (16:20): they at last got rid of Christ. Not so!  He conquered death, hell, sin and Satan. This completed his ministry of reconciliation. It is therefore no surprise that Christ adds:

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 16:23, NIV)

Unfortunately some translations do not clearly translate the “ask” of this verse.  They are two different words in Greek. The first “ask” (In that day you will no longer ask me anything) should be enquire—something someone does who is not sure about things. On “that day” Jesus Christ met them and everything was different. Yes, they still needed teaching, but his mission was then complete—after that the Holy Spirit would take over the ministry to the disciples.

The second “ask” (my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name) stands in connection with prayer.  Christ now goes back to what He taught them in 15:11 about joy:

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)

With his mission complete, He stands at the throne of the Father interceding for his church.  In his name his church now prays and the Father listens.

Paul writes:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32, NIV)

John continues:

The Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:27, NIV)

The Holy Spirit

But all of this would not be possible without the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  With the Saviour at the throne of the Father, the Spirit continues the ministry of Christ, but not in the sense that He adds to this ministry; no, He takes what belongs to Christ and makes it known to us (16:14).  He does not reveal new things apart from Christ. It is the Spirit who does the convicting and convincing work in regard to sin, righteousness and judgement as the disciples does the preaching of the Gospel of Christ; the Spirit guides the church in truth, which is the Gospel inspired by Himself.

Our Lord said:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15, NIV)

The main ministry of the Holy Spirit was to constantly take the disciples—and us— back to Christ.  Like the flowers in the John Sargent’s picture when he became doubtful, the Spirit holds up the picture of the Saviour before us so that we would not stumble and fall in confusion.

Further, the Spirit connects us with the righteousness of Christ. Paul writes:

And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11, NIV)

Moreover, the Spirit is also interceding for us when we pray—that “asking” from the Father:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27, NIV)

In another place Paul writes:

… no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. (1 Corinthians 2:11–13, NIV)

Christ and the Spirit:  a reason for Joy

Jesus said:

Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24, NIV)

To this He adds:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

Christ’s complete salvation brings joy.  The ministry of the Holy Spirit brings joy.  That our prayers in the Name of Christ are answered, brings joy. That Christ has overcome the world, brings peace.

So, when Christ, after the forty days of intensive teaching, on the glorious day of ascension, returned his his Father we read about the disciples:

While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Luke 24:51–52, NIV)

Add to this the fruit of the Holy Spirit:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, NIV)

Conclusion

O, that we will have this vision:  the completed work of Christ, now interceding at the Father’s throne, only to return and judge the living and the dead; the ministry of the Spirit, constantly taking us back to Christ like Sargent who went back to his painting, to sustain us in our task of evangelism and mission; joy, because the Father loved the Son and He loves his church and gives them what they need; joy, because our Lord has overcome – once and for all. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 March 2017

Complete joy

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 19
  • John 15:5-17

Introduction

A lady was crossing a certain London station, when an old man stopped her, and said: “Excuse me, ma’am, but I want to thank you for something.” “Thank me!” exclaimed the lady. “Yes’m. I used to be ticket collector, and whenever you used to go by you always gave me a cheerful smile and a ‘good morning’, and you don’t know what a difference it made to me. Wet or fine, it was always the same, and I thinks to meself, `Wonder where she gets her smile from; one cannot be always happy, yet she seems to,’ and I know’d that there smile must come from inside somehow. Then one mornin’ you comes by and you had a little Bible in yer hand, and I says to meself, `P’r’aps that’s where she got her smile from.’ So as I went home that night I bought a Bible, and I’ve been readin’ it, and I’ve found Christ, and now I can smile too, and I want to thank yer.” (The Way of Faith.)

In John 15:11 our Lord said:

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full (or complete). (John 15:11, NKJV)

I always want to squeeze the last drop of fuel into the tank of my car, but let’s face it, when it’s full, it’s full.  When Christ fills us with his joy, we need not go and look for more joy.  But tragically, Christians are not really joyful people.  Why not?  Let’s search the Scriptures.

Main points:

  1. Joy is a mark of a true Christian
  2. The joy which comes from communion with Christ
  3. The joy of Glorifying the Father by displaying fruit of communion with Christ
  4. The joy of knowing God

Joy is a mark of a true Christian

We’re not talking about having fun, or being frivolous.  Of superficial Christian we have enough filling the church pews in our day.  Joy to the Christian is not an option, it is a necessary characteristic of a Christian to be joyful.  The Bible almost make being joyful a command.  The festivals of the Old Testament were times of joy.  Of the place of worship God commanded:

There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:7, NIV)

David wrote in the Psalm we heard right in the beginning:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:1–2, NIV)

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is, amongst other things, “joy” (Galatians 5:22).  To not be joyful before God is to not live as He intended; in a way not be joyful, is to show Him that we do not think much of his grace.

The joy which comes from communion with Christ 

All of us immediately start to assemble the flatpack we bought, but soon nothing works out:  we have less panels on one side, more screws we think we need, and what we assembled resemble anything but what is photographed on the packaging.  But deep down on the bottom of the box we usually find the instructions.  Embarrassed we follow the instructions and eventually all works out.

Many Christians are angry Christians. For them serving God is tedious and frustrating. Their spiritual life is unattractive.  Like justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years once said, explaining his choice of a career: “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.”

Jesus said to his disciples:  “Remain in Me.  Apart from Me you can do nothing.”  Without Him we are frustrated and joyless flatpack Christians.

Three very distinct tools for being joyful Christians – the way God intended – are mentioned in the paragraph from John we read this morning.

The Bible

If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, NIV)

We heard it last week:  The words of Christ is like the trellis against which we are trained up to grow and bear fruit. The Word is also like the pruning knife which cuts away the access to assure better and more fruit.

Many Christians wonder why their spiritual life is so miserable and unproductive.  But if their study and knowledge of the Word of God is poor, so will their fruit be.  In 1 Peter 1 the Apostle teaches us that we “are born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)  This Word is preached to us (1:25).  But Peter goes on saying,

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2–3, NIV)

We heard in our reading of Psalm 19 how precious God’s Word is:

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11, NIV)

The have complete joy is know the God of the Scriptures and the Scriptures of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, and made true by the testimony of the holy Spirit.

Prayer

If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, NIV)

A joyful Christian is a praying Christian.  Or put the other way round:  a prayer-less Christian know no joy.  How can he be joyful if He never talks to the One who saved Him?  A prayer-less Christian is somebody who does not remain in Christ, and as a result his life displays signs of spiritual death.  There is no fruit.  Such a Christian runs the danger of being thrown away, picked up only to the used as fuel for fire.

How much to you pray, my friend?  Let’s not beat around the bush.  Weigh up you life against the standard of Christ and ask, ‘Where is the fruit in my life?’  If there is none, go back to on your knees and have communion with your Saviour.  When you start trusting God to provide what you need to glorify Him, the fruit will follow.  Our Lord said, “It will be done for you.”  This might apply to individual Christians, but let’s not lose the context of the words of Christ:  He speaks to his disciples.  The command to pray and the promise that He will give what we need, is foremost a command to the congregation.  And it says a lot about the fruit a congregation bears:  if there is little fruit, is probably because there is little prayer.

Bearing fruit

A fruitless Christian knows no joy; or put the other way round, he who bears fruit in Christ is a joyful Christian.  And according to the paragraph the best of all fruit is true Christian love born in the heart of the Lord.

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:9–10, NIV)

There is a continued line of love from eternity into our earthly existence through Christ, which goes back to the Father from our joyful hearts through our Saviour.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12, NIV)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:16–17, NIV)

Being a disciple of Christ is not possible without communion with Him through his Word, through prayer and through bearing fruit of love – no, not the sentimental rubbish put forward today as love.  Never allow the world to give you any definition of love and how you should love.  Your benchmark for love is Christ’s love, who did as his Father commanded.

The joy of glorifying the Father by displaying fruit of communion with Christ

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

For those of you who grew up with the Larger and Shorter Catechism you will know the first question and answer:  What is the chief and highest end of man?  The answer:  Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV)

Why?

For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36, NIV)

The fruit of being in Christ is necessarily that of glorifying our Father.  To praise Him is to bear fruit.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:15–16, NIV)

Bearing fruit does not make us children of God.  We cannot try harder to be children of God by trying to bear fruit.  The opposite is true: the fruit we bear displays the fact that we are in the Vine, Christ, because without Him we ca do nothing.

Bearing this fruit of praise and glory to the Father through love towards Him and towards others has the effect that it makes us truely happy.  We are not baptised in vinegar.  His praise should be on our lips, and praying through Him we will have joy.

The Joy of knowing God

Our Lord said:

I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, NIV)

Right in the beginning of the Gospel we learned that because of the darkness of sin, sinners do not and cannot know the Father.  Christ came to make known the Father.  He is the door, the shepherd, the vine, the living water, the bread of life.  Who the Father gave Him He saved and none of them will be lost or snatched from his hand.

My friend, through Christ you may know, really and truely know, the Creator of the universe, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit teaches you to call Him “Abba Father.” (Romans 8:16).

What more can we ask for in this life?  Paul says:

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …  I want to know Christ! (Philippians 3:8–10, NIV)

Conclusion

My dear friend, are your joy complete?  What gives you most joy?  Do you really know God through Jesus Christ?  Our ticket collector of our introduction had this testimony:  I bought a Bible, and I’ve been readin’ it, and I’ve found Christ, and now I can smile too.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 March 2017

Prayer – Confession

 (Based on Jeremiah 2-4)

Our Heavenly Father,

Out of the house of bondage, You gave us freedom.  You took us as your own, and made us a people holy to the Lord.

At first we were fully dedicated to your will; what You commanded we did eagerly.  Your love towards us was like the love between a groom and a bride.  You gave us protection and cared for us.

You brought us into a fertile land where we enjoyed all we could desire.  We grew vigorous branches, because we were grafted into the best vine.confession

Yet, today we stand in shame before You.  Our hearts became divided, and we shared the love we had for You with this world.  We exchanged the spring of living water, as we tried to satisfy our thirst with the water from the broken cisterns of this world.
We have forsaken You, we have been backsliding and we find ourselves covered in shame.  We try to wash ourselves, but no amount of soap can cleanse us; the stains of sins remain. Your holiness is like the light shining on the thief caught in the act of stealing.

In desperate need for a cure from our sins, we sometimes half-heartedly remember the close relationship we enjoyed with You when we were saved first.  We then call You our Father.  The wedding jewellery, the symbol of your covenant grace, we hold as precious, yet we so easily bow before the things of this world. We put our hope in objects, and our trust in what cannot provide security.

Today we hear your loving call to return to You;  that mercy call assuring us that You will not be angry forever.  Now we acknowledge our guilt of rebellion against You. Return to us, O Lord.  Restore that fulfilling relationship between us and hold us in your loving embrace.

Thank You for the assurance that You will treat us like your sons, and thank You for the everlasting inheritance which is ours, because your Son, our Saviour first paid the penalty of our trespasses, and now intercedes for us at your throne – and He promised to come and take us to the home He is now preparing for us.

Hear our prayer, Lord, and forgive us.  Restore the joy we once had with You.  In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Living by faith (3)

Abraham believed that God could raise from the dead

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 11:13-23
  • Genesis 22:1-19

Songs

  • This is the day, this is the day
  • Beneath the cross of Jesus
  • Break Thou the bread of life
  • My heart is filled with thankfulness

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

It was by God’s sovereign, saving grace that Abraham was saved from worshipping idols.  It was this saving grace that became Abraham’s whole life, his purpose, his reason for living.  Abraham was gripped by grace, his entire life became a walk with the God who plucked him out of the slavery of idolatry to serve Him as the only living and merciful God.  His life now was consumed by grace, and never after that did he feel at home on earth anymore.

But at first there was no land, no child, no home.  There was just God and his promise.  Abraham, in spite of external evidence, believed God.

Maturing faith

Like any sinful human being Abraham, in the space of twenty five years after he arrived in Canaan, looked at human ways to try to interpret God’s fulfilment of his promise.  In chapter 15 he asked God:

Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:2–3, NIV)

Eliezer was head servant, sort of his personal butler, who was in charge of Abraham’s household.  Maybe he was to become his “son”.

The Lord answered:

This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4, NIV)

Abraham some time later tried to interpret the promise of the Lord again .  His own wife was barren and she felt obliged to, according to the heathen custom of the time, give her slave (her personal assistant) to Abraham to have a child with.  Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, who, according to the letter of God’s promise was his own flesh and blood, but not according to the promise. This arrangement did not work out either.  At that stage Abraham was eighty-six years old.

Faith Affirmed

Then, when the Lord appeared to Abraham again some thirteen years later, He reaffirmed the original promise to Him:

I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Genesis 17:1–2, NIV)

God went as far as to change his name to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude”.  God also told him that Sarai’s name will be “Sarah”, having an extended meaning of “princess of many” or “mother of nations”, and from her kings of peoples will come.

Marriage honoured

God’s purpose would only be fulfilled by honouring the marriage between Abraham and Sarah. Ishmael, the child of a slave,  will not be blessed like Isaac would be blessed.  Marriages are precious in the sight of God.  Both husband and wife, created in the image of God, through their covenant with one another under God’s over-arching covenant of grace, should live in obedience to God, and in faithfulness towards one another.  The children Abraham and Sarah (and later Isaac and Rebecca, even later Jacob and Rachel and Leah) would receive as God’s gift of mercy and grace would bear the blessing of blessings to nations – eventually this was fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

When God at that stage appeared to Abraham that He then announced the birth of Isaac. Some say Abraham found it ridiculous to the point that he fell face down on the ground laughing. I don’t think so: he found it so wonderful that he laughed with joy at the wonder of God’s grace.   When some time later God appeared again to be very specific about the birth date of the son, Sarah was the one who could not contain her laughter.

Once again we must assume that she did not find the idea of her falling pregnant at the age of ninety ridiculous, but rather that the news filled her with joy to the point that she burst out in laughter. God ordered that the boy’s name would be Isaac – meaning laughter, or maybe even joyful laughter.

Just to assure us that God is not planning to pull someone else into the household of Abraham to fulfil his promise, Abraham’s nephew Lot now disappears from the scene, having made the wrong choice to live in Sodom and Gomorrah.  He survived the destruction of the city, but his road and that of Abraham separated permanently.

Then in chapter 21:1-2 the good news:

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. (Genesis 21:1–2, NIV)

Faith made seen

The birth of Isaac certainly included Abraham and Sarah; it honoured their faithful obedience and trust in the promises of God, but ultimately it was God’s word.  It was his grace, and the result of his promise to them.  He did the impossible.  Hebrews 1:11-12 gives us the full picture:

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11:11–12, NIV)

Sarah was enabled:  God’s intervention caused it.  So it was with Samson’s mother, another figure born by the grace of God to destroy the enemy of God’s people.  He was a massive failure in faith, but even in his dreadful fall from grace he was a shadow which pointed to the eventual birth and ministry of Christ – also born from God, then without the need of a husband.

Sarah considered God faithful because He made a promise.  Abraham was as good as dead, but God did the impossible.

Romans 4 puts it this way:

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21, NIV)

For all those skeptics who do not believe in miracles, this is the message of the Bible.  It is all about miracles, all about God’s supernatural intervention:  the very act creation through the spoken word of God was a miracle;  so was his saving of Noah and his family in the flood; so was the calling of Abraham and Sarah; and the redemption of the people out of slavery of Egypt; and God’s sustaining grace through the wilderness for all those years; and the Red Sea, and the Jordan, and, and, and …  The birth of Christ was God’s direct intervention, so was his life miracle, death, his resurrection and his ascension.  The sending of the Holy Spirit is a miracle, the growth of the church is a miracle.  And so will the return of Christ be when He calls the living and the dead to appear before his judgement throne. When He takes us up to heaven, having sustained us and protected us from eternal hell and condemnation, that will be the most spectacular of them all.

In all of this, let’s align our faith in God as Abraham did:  it was not the miracles that made him believe, he never believed in the miracles itself, but in the God of the miracles.  When God promises, we focus on Him in the first place, rather on what He does.

Isaac, wonder upon wonder, was born when Abraham was 100 years old.  And Sarah prophesied that all who hears about this miracle of God will laugh with her.  Yes, Sarah, we share in your joy; we laugh with deep-seated soulful joy with you because God has kept his promises.  We laugh with joy because He kept his promise to send us his Son Jesus Christ.

One cannot judge Abraham and Sarah if they kept Isaac from harm, and maybe even spoiled him a bit.  They waited so long for him.  But had Isaac grown perhaps too dear to Abraham? Had he begun to take God’s place in the patriarch’s thinking? We cannot be sure of this, but if it was the case, this should remind us of many things that become too precious for us.

Faith tested

The Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee wrote that Isaac

… represents many gifts of God’s grace. Before God gives them our hands are empty. Afterwards they are full. Sometimes God reaches out his hand to take ours in fellowship. Then we need an empty hand to put into his. But when we have received his gifts and are nursing them to ourselves, our hands are full, and when God puts out his hand we have no empty hand for him. Isaac can be done without, but God is eternal.

In our Bible is written these terrible words:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2, NIV)

As specific as the Lord had been in the past about Isaac, to exclude Eliezer, Ishmael and Lot, so in the same way He is specific about Isaac: Take you son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and sacrifice him.

Between the lines we can almost read about Abraham who just did not sleep well that night.  It was early morning when he got up to cut the wood.  His servants could have done that, but Abraham was restless, and it was probably he wanted to kill time that he took the axe himself.  In his mind there were questions about the purpose of it all.  I think Abraham was puzzling over the problem. “How can God be true to his promise if I sacrifice Isaac?” he was asking. “What is God going to do to remain a God of honour?”

Came sunrise, he took his servants and set out for Moriah, the place God commanded him to go.

Faith worships in dark hours

What Abraham was doing during the three days it took to reach the region of Moriah. Three days are an eternity when embarked on such a task. What was Abraham thinking about during that “eternity”? I do not think he was imagining the sacrifice itself. I do not think he was asking whether at the crucial moment he would have the strength to go through with his assignment. Abraham was continuing to work on the problem of God’s promise. The reason I think this is that the passage may suggest that he solved it on the way to Moriah. We are told that when Abraham finally saw the place in the distance, he said to his accompanying servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

God made a promise to make Abraham a blessing to many nations.  In this promise he never doubted.  For him the matter was not in this first instance to have the courage to put Isaac on the altar; to him the issue was how God would provide. That he was asked to sacrifice Isaac was a big thing, let’s not underestimate this act of obedience, but what lived in his heart was the expectation that through all of what was about to happen God would provide a way to do as He promised.  God will find a way to honour his word and not change his mind about Isaac being the one through whom Abraham’s descendants will become as many as the stars in heaven and the sand on the seashore.

Faith knows God provides

God never asks more that what He provides.  Faith is to trust that what He demands He will provide.  Isaac had to learn this lesson through the obedience of his father.  That’s why, when he asked his father about the wood and the fire while there was no sacrifice, his father answered:

God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. (Genesis 22:8, NIV)

Hebrews 11:17-19 sheds the light brightly for us:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17–19, NIV)

Donald Grey Barnhouse puts it this way:

As Abraham and Isaac had walked for three days through country growing more and more desolate, and at the slow, measured pace of the burdened mule, his mind went around and around the matter, and he ultimately came to the calm conclusion that he was going to see a miracle. The method of his thought was as follows. God is not a liar. He cannot be mistaken. He told me, beyond question, that I should have a son, and there he walks before me. God has said that this son would be the one through whom he would fulfil all of his promises. Therefore, the son must live or God would be found false. And yet God commands that this son be put to death. Here, humanly speaking, is contradiction. But there is no contradiction in God. That is the foundation fact. There is power in God; there is wisdom in God; there is majesty and glory in God; but there is no contradiction in God. But what is to be done with God’s command to sacrifice my son? Since there is no contradiction in God, there is only one answer that my mind can fathom. God is going to perform a miracle and raise Isaac from the dead.”

And God did provide.  Not in the way Abraham might have worked it out for himself.  There was the voice of the angel of the Lord (many theologians argue that this angel, right through the Old Testament, was no one else the the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Himself):

Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12, NIV)

Abraham did not receive the promise to be the father of many nations because he was faithful to the point of almost sacrificing his son; quite the opposite: he received affirmation of the promises of God because God kept his promise.

Faith has a bright future

After Abraham too the ram in the thicket and sacrificed it in the place of Isaac, he called the place “The Lord will Provide.” (Future tense)  It became known as the Mountain of the Lord, the very place where Solomon’s temple would be built later (2 Chron 3:1), and where sacrifices where killed for the redemption of many.

It was just about there where they planted three crosses in the 33rd year of our Lord and Saviour.  God kept promise once again.  Although Israel crucified the their son of Nazareth, God provided in the Son of Man the lamb that would take away the sins of the world.

Barnhouse comments:

Our minds must go on in the logic of faith. We must call the name of our God Jehovah Jireh. The Lord will see to it. His wonderful mind will provide the way out of the dilemma. In fact, he has provided the way. At the mount of Calvary God saw to it. There love and justice met. There righteousness and mercy kissed each other. There the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, was provided in God’s perfect plan. All he asks of you is that you fix your eyes upon him and believe his Word that he is satisfied with that which he himself has done.”

Conclusion

Why do we call ourselves Christians?  Why are we followers of Christ?  Is to just to get something out of it?  What if that something is not there anymore?  This is where faith comes in:  Abraham trusted God who is faithful, even if it meant that he would give back to God what God promised him.  Faith means to put our faith in Him for what He is, not only for what He gives.  God is faithful and true, with Him there is not shadow of turning.  When our faith is tested, on the other side of it, we will find Him who called in the first instance – now carrying us through till we arrive in the city built by God Himself.

 

Confession and joy

Dear Lord,

In the Name of Jesus Christ, my Saviour, I come to You in confession.  I stand in the righteousness of Christ and nothing of my own.

I admit and acknowledge that I am sinful, and that I have sinned before You.  My sins are an abomination in your sight, and it screams against your holiness.  I ask for forgiveness.  I am ashamed of the fact that although You have saved me, I am still only a child in faith.  I stumble; fall and every time come to You for forgiveness.  It seems as if my life does not show signs of growth and victory.  What I read about the Christian life in your Word sometimes seems  so unattainable.  If I have to believe the tempter, I sometimes even wonder if I am indeed saved.

And still, there is only one place I can go to:  You.

Your holiness and grandeur to me are both an attraction and something I would sometimes just run away from.  Your holiness is beautiful, more beautiful than the best I might have seen and known in what You have created.  I want to come back to it and enjoy it more and more.  But being there, I realize how hopeless and sinful I am; it scares me and I want to stay away from You.  I sometimes just want to hide under the bush like Elijah, wishing to die.

The fact that I offend your holiness, knowing that I deserve your righteous judgment, creates in me a sort of despondency.  There is so little of the victory seen in my life.

My prayer time is hopeless and insufficient.

And yet, the joy of knowing You surpasses all understanding.  The satisfaction of reading your Word and to pray is just tremendous.  When I am riding the crest of joy in You, I just can’t understand why I turn away from it to drink from cracked cisterns filled with polluted water.

With the testimony from the Word I must say, with You I have the words of life and there is no other place to go.

Please forgive me!  Forgive me my sins and save me from sinfulness.  I declare once again that I know that your grace and love are the only ground I stand upon.  I am ashamed of my sin.  And what scares me most is the fact that what I do, can bring disrepute to your Name.  Please, wash away my sins in the blood of that fountain gushing from Calvary.  Hold me close in your arms, close to the heart of my Saviour, so that I will always see Him on the cross, dying for me and atoning for my transgressions.

Let the grace of love and the joy of forgiveness never become something I get used to.  Let it always be new like the sun rising every morning.  I plead that You will never let me go.

Thank you, Father, for not giving up on me.  Thank You once again for the good books I was privileged to read.  For the things your servants wrote about, good to ponder, beneficial to chew, and fruitful to follow.  But most of all, I thank you for your Spirit who time and time again open the Word to the depths of who You are.

I thank You for your Son, my Saviour.  I declare my love to You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Help me that my love will be more than words.  Help me to show to You, in the fist place, that I love You.  Help me that the time I spend with You will be witnessed in my actions, so that my testimony will be something people would want to follow.

I thank You for not allowing the things that I contemplate about and foster in my private life are known to other people.  They would then not even think of being a Christian themselves.  I mourn over these things and ask that You will give me victory, not because of my good intentions, but because of what I already possess by faith in Christ.

I praise your Name, Lord, for not leaving me by the roadside when I stumble.  In spite of knowing how to follow You, I sometimes just go my own way in sinful stubbornness.  Forgive me, Father!  Your faithfulness is more that what I can fathom.  I feel like the lonely sheep who have wondered away. I then, looking up, I see your hand once again.  I thank You for the promise that You will not allow anyone snatch me from your hand.

I thank You for your Bible and the richness of it.  Help me to constantly and continuously find in it the wonder of grace and salvation.

I bring this prayer to You in the Name of Christ, my Redeemer and Saviour.  It is with stumbling words that I declare my love for You.  Help me to fall in love with You every day, so that the newness of salvation in Christ will drive m y day and program in your service.

AMEN.