Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Victory over death and slavery

Bible Readings

  • Luke 24:1-2
  • Acts 13:26-39
  • Numbers 33:3-4

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

It is not uncommon for us, when we hear that someone died, to ask, “How old was he/she?” The younger a child was when it died evokes in us unspeakable emotions.  If the person was very old, there is some contentment. We sometimes value life measured against the time spent on earth.  We often value a short life as a life wasted.  This is because we are born within the limits of time and space. 

The celebrations of Atonement Weekend (or Easter) has a pattern:  we adhere to the calendar of Jewish times.  We commemorate the crucifixion of Christ on the first Friday after the first full moon following the autumn equinox. This was the day on which the lambs were slaughtered when God, at midnight, passed through Egypt and struck all households with the death of the firstborn.  The next day was a new beginning for God’s people in Egypt, a day they had to celebrate annually.

On our calendar, today is the third day since Christ’s crucifixion.  On the third day, He rose again—it was on the first day of the week, another seven-day cycle indication of time.  In a special sense, every first day of the week to the Christian Church is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  

Resurrection morning

Early that morning, now more than 2000 years ago, followers of Christ went to his grave to care for the body of their dear friend.  In ancient times, people believed that one’s spirit would linger in your body for three days after you died; the fourth day heralded the fact that the body now has become a corpse, beyond any possibility of restoration.  Maybe they had in mind to d something before the fourth day.

The women arrived at the place where they had buried Jesus, but He was not there!  It grieved them beyond measure.  They found a messenger of God who announced:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: (Luke 24:5–6, NIV)

He had not been stolen; He had not disappeared; it is no disaster, it all happened according to his word.  He rose from the dead by the power of the Father who called him to life!  Peter, on Pentecost Day, declared, 

God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2:24, NIV)

The Lamb that was slain is the Lamb upon the throne!  He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  He holds the keys of death and hell.  He was dead, but He is alive!  So, we can sing with full voice and conviction:  Christ is risen today!  I serve the risen Saviour.  Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”

According to God’s plan of redemption 

The victory of Christ over death was not unplanned unscheduled or without divine purpose.  That first day of the week was no accident or a fluke of time.  Christ’s resurrection was a fulfilment of a long list of promises of God to the very people who in rebellion snubbed his gracious care and providence by rejecting his ownership over them, falling in sin and with them, dragging all of creation into misery.   

Already in Paradise, straight after Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God made this promise:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)

Out of the bondage of service to idols, God called Abraham and gave him this promise:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1–3, NIV)

Although Abraham did not see this promise go into fulfilment in his time, he believed this promise of God:

“Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. (Genesis 15:13–14, NIV)

Our reading from Numbers 33 takes us to the fulfilment of that promise.  But first this promise of God: 

“I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. (Exodus 11:1, NIV)

There was another addition to this promise: 

 Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbours for articles of silver and gold. (The Lord made the Egyptians favourably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.) (Exodus 11:2–3, NIV)

Then midnight came, and God struck Egypt; then, when the sun rose the next morning, everything had changed.  It was a new beginning for the people of God.  They had a brand-new future. Their enemy was now powerless.

Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” (Exodus 12:31–33, NIV)

Let’s go to the verse in Numbers 33:3

The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians, who were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them; for the Lord had brought judgment on their gods. (Numbers 33:3–4, NIV)

Rameses was the city to showcase the defiant and majestical powers of the Pharaoh.  But now, Egypt was in tatters.  The once might dynasty did have a successor on the throne.  There were dead bodies everywhere.  The people wailed for their loved ones; they mourned the loss of their animals.  That day, more than ever, people were gathered around open graves in anguish and sorrow.  There never had been anything like it. From what was left, they showered the Israelites with gold and silver, just to see them go.

The pharaoh had reigned over peoples in the northern parts of Africa, all along the Mediterranean coast, the peoples who inhabited the Promised Land, and countries including parts of the modern-day Syria, Iran and Iraq. Egypt was a mighty empire—but when God dealt with them, they were in mourning, shaken, and on their knees, struck with sorrow. The officials were divided against their king, and the kingdom was on shaky ground.  The pharaoh had enough.  “Leave and go!”  And as an afterthought, “Bless me also.”  Did he mean he was powerless against the God of Israel?  I think so.

But God fulfilled the promises for his people. They marched out triumphantly.  The Hebrew word has something of walking with your arms raised up in the air. Inevitably there were shouts of joy and jubilance.  

Redemption in Christ a reality

Let’s now jump into the New Testament with Paul preaching the Good News of Christ to the people in Antioch.  From Acts 13:17 the apostle picks it up in Egypt and makes this statement:   “He drove them out of that country with mighty powers.” He proceeds along the line of God’s promise from Abraham to David and says:  

Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised. (Acts 13:23, ESV)

But one would think that the Jews would have picked up the theme of the prophets about God saving grace to his people in the face opposition.  But they did not!  What did they do?  Verse 27:

The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognise Jesus, yet in condemning Him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. (Acts 13:27, NIV)

He preaches on:  

When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead, (Acts 13:29–30, NIV)

What is his summary about Christ?  

“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ (Acts 13:32–33, NIV)

What is the sum of it all?  Listen:  

“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39, NIV)

What happened to the people in the time of Moses?  They were set free!  They walked out of Egypt as people with a new start.  The yoke of slavery was removed.  They threw their arms in the air and with shouts of joy they left victoriously.  Who gave them freedom?  God!  What happened to their oppressors?  They were defeated, broken, on their knees.

What is the inheritance of those who believe in Jesus Christ?  The head of the serpent is crushed.  Listen to Hebrew 2:14:  

Since the children have flesh and blood, He [Christ] too shared in their humanity so that by his death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— (Hebrews 2:14, NIV)

Those who believe in Christ are forgiven, they are set free, they are justified.  Why?  The enemy is destroyed! Satan is defeated.  In his letter to the Colossians, Paul puts it this way: 

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He [Christ] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15, NIV)

 Paul writes to Timothy stressing the grace of God in our redemption:  

… it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  (2 Timothy 1:10–11, NIV)

Therefore we, with arms in the air, in a jubilant song of victory, march with the Israelites out of Egypt singing, 

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54–57, NIV)

Satan’s hold on God’s children is broken because from their Saviour they received the perfect righteousness which satisfies the Father.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.    

A warning following the Good News

After Paul connected the dots from the Old Testament through to the New to arrive at the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, he ends with this warning:  

Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: (Acts 13:40, NIV)

Even then people heard the Good News, but they rejected it.  There is, therefore, the possibility that even some who have listened to the Good News that Christ is victorious over death, granting freedom from sin by exchanging his righteousness for our sin to reconcile us with his Father, that some might still walk away with unbelieving hearts.  May it not happen to you, my dear friend.  

This message of freedom from wrath and sin is for you.  Listen, repent, and follow Christ.

May God give you the grace and faith to do so.  

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 April 2019

 

Advertisements

Atonement – an eye for an eye

Bible Readings

  • Leviticus 24:10-23
  • Deuteronomy 19:15-21
  • Matthew 5:38

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

It took me many years to work out what “brotherly love” meant.  Our household, like many others I suppose, represented your typical family where brothers got stuck into one another – love between brothers was not always portrayed.  Later in life, I worked it out that sin was part of our daily life—but we still loved one another.  And it is almost if I can still hear Mom’s rebuke, that is when things got a bit hot, “Do not repay evil with evil!”

Even a word from the Bible sometimes did not help you to knew that you had a case against your brother.  You just felt you wanted justice.

Then one day I read this passage in the Bible:  eye for an eye, hand for hand, foot for foot.  I had my verse.  I had grounds for retaliation and revenge!

In preparation for this sermon, I read quite a few commentaries.  When it comes to this particular verse some of them just skip it.  There was one who argued that this verse, and other places in the Bible where it is mentioned, is the most embarrassing in the Bible and should be removed, or not referred to at all.

I beg to differ.  It is my clear conviction that this verse underlies the reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While reading through the Scriptures and finding this verse in Exodus 21:23-24, I wrote:

This principle, I believe, lies behind the cross of Christ. He bore the punishment of God on all harm and injustice in his Person to satisfy the righteousness of God. 

Justice, not retaliation! 

Study the paragraph of Deuteronomy, and you will know that the setting is that of disputes in a court of law.  There is no hint of personal retaliation or vindictiveness.  

I am the Lord your God

Above and over all the regulations and case laws that Moses gave to the people of the Lord, stood the Ten Commandments.  The top line reads, “I am the Lord your God.” No less than 76 times do we read this in the first five books of the Bible.  God has a claim on his people, and his people were different, living under a different law, and were saved from slavery to be the possession of the Lord, their God.  

The very fact that Deuteronomy 19:15-21 indeed starts with how do deal with blasphemy indicates that God demanded that he who blasphemes must pay restitution to the Lord who is jealous about how his Name is used.  God requires and righteousness from the person who blasphemes his Name.

When it comes to the second table of the love which speaks about the love for the neighbour, God’s people were driven by the first table, which is the love for God and God’s love for them.  All relationships between the people of God stood under the overarching principle of love.  One would honour your father and mother because God loves you and them, He gave them to you, they love Him, and you love Him.  The same applies to adultery, stealing, and lying in court:  God loves me, I must love Him; He loves my neighbour, and I must love my neighbour.

Sin distorts justice

So when we go back to Deuteronomy 19 these principles are assumed – but sinful nature gets in the way:  people lie, justice is perverted, and retaliation becomes a reality.  They needed priests, judges, a thorough investigation and a verdict.

Sin makes life impossible.  We hate, lie, steal, and covet.  We know the law, and yet we trespass; we need a judge, we need a verdict, we need justice, we need punishment.  We need an eye for an eye – not driven by retaliation or vindication, but because we need justice.

In the presence of the Lord

Have you ever wondered where the custom to take an oath and be sworn in as a witness in a court of Law comes from?  Where does “So help me God” come from?  

“our law (like that of most civilized nations) requires a witness to believe, not only that there are a God and a future state of rewards and punishments, but also that, by taking the oath, he imprecates upon himself, if his evidence is false” (Simon Greenleaf)

Witnesses, even in the day of Moses, must understand that truth is universal because God is omnipresent.  That’s why the witnesses of Deuteronomy stood “in the presence of the Lord.”  The priests and judges also sat in the presence of the Lord and had to measure out justice as God determined: they could only take the side of truth, not of the circumstance or the person.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

To stem the possibility of retaliation, and only seek justice, any person who felt that he was dealt with unjustly, could approach the judges and priests.  Then, even the quality and quantity of the witnesses were tested:  two or three who were there when the alleged injustice took place;  their statements had to be checked.  And if it is proved that the witness is corrupt, what he wanted to be done to the person charged, would be done to him.

Punishment fits the Crime

Until very recently this was a principle accepted by the courts.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.  Justice demands that the penalty for a crime should not inflict harsher punishment than the offence called for.  We know of no case in the Scripture where this law required an actual eye, foot, or teeth, but the compensation sought by a person for injustice against him could be measured out only in as far as he received injustice.

Justice good for the people of God

“You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid. and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:20)

Much can be said about punishment dished out by courts in our days, but the fact is many law-breakers do not fear the law, and citizens, in general, have not much respect for the law, purely because the penalty does not fit the crime.  It is wrong to try to get rid of a cat by putting it in a rubbish bin, but if you did, and you get caught it, your punishment could be harsher than someone who raped an elderly person, or even killed a partner or killed an unborn baby.  Our law system does not necessarily ask what is morally right; it is only concerned about what is legally acceptable.

God instituted the law of “eye for an eye, foot for foot, tooth for tooth and life for life” to be an example of justice; it was meant to be a deterrent.  It was not “correctional” as we have it these days; it was exemplary punishment.

God’s righteousness demands justice

Whoever thinks this verse in the Bible is an embarrassment or thinks it gives every individual to exercise personal retaliation, has it wrong.  The only principle laid down here is that of justice.  Fact is, God’s righteousness demands justice.  This principle helps us to understand the cross and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

We are all sinners

The Bible is clear about our position before God:  “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Listen to Isaiah 59:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity…They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched…Their deeds are evil deeds…Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways… there is no justice in their paths… So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us… Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes… among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2–10, NIV)

All the sins mentioned here go back to the Law of God, and as such to the paragraph in Deuteronomy:  hands are stained with blood (guilty!); false lips (guilty!); no justice (guilty!); utter lies (guilty!); evil deeds (guilty!); violence (guilty!); evil schemes (guilty!).  The result?  Justice is far from us.  We are like dead corpses!

This is the picture Paul paints in his letter to the Ephesians:

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)

God cannot turn a blind eye on sin

There is a principle in the Bible which may crush every sinner if it is not read in the full context of the cross of Christ.  It reads:

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.  Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished;… (Numbers 14:18, NIV)

God is merciful and abounding in love and forgiving sin, yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  It seems contradictory:  He forgives in love, but does not leave the guilty unpunished!

This is true of the Bible message from the beginning to the end.  Anyone who wanted to approach the Lord on his own terms would be crushed.  Yes, God is merciful and forgiving, but He demanded a sacrifice:  the blood of lambs and bulls satisfied God’s judgment on sin in the Old Testament; without that, there was no forgiveness.

Point is, God does not turn a blind eye to sin.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.  We demand justice, but we need justice.  How can we expect justice if we are born in sin, and utterly corrupted by sin?  How can we ask for forgiveness if we are unforgiving?  Can God just say, “I forgive you”, without penalty on sin?  Would He still be holy if He did so?  Would He still be righteous if He let the unrighteousness off the hook without repentance and punishment?  Such a God I don’t want to worship.

Eye for eye, life for life

God solved our problem, not because we deserved it, and not because He just forgets sin.  He solved our problem by being just.  He punished in righteousness, not compromising his holiness.  He gave his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord to be our mediator.

When Jesus walked this earth, He regularly told his disciples that He would be handed over in the hands of sinners. He also said to them that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17).  The Pharisees thought they did well by demanding retaliation and finding avenge for wrongs done to them.  Christ, being the fulfilment of the law, now required more of his followers:

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20, NKJV)

Where would they find this righteousness?  Only in Jesus Christ who made the Law full – He met every demand of the Law in full!  Our only hope to ever fulfil the righteousness of God is that we are clothed in Christ righteousness.  He is the One who gave an eye for an eye and a foot for a foot because we are not able to meet God’s demand for perfect atonement with Him.

When He was brought before them, all rules went out the window:  no proper witnesses, no truth in the allegations; lies conjured up by people in the street; an illegal court meeting in the middle of the night; bribes paid to witnesses.  They let robbers free to have Him crucified.  They had Him flogged even though they found no reason to do so. Even those who followed Him lied about Him and others deserted Him.  

When they nailed Him to the cross, He prayed to the Father that He would forgive them.  Then, He faced the righteousness of the Father:  justice called for an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth and life for life.  He cried out, “Why have Thou forsaken Me?”

Paul understood the cross and the Saviour and writes:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 21) NIV)

In Christ the righteousness of God is met:  He paid for our big sins, the small ones and everyone in between – an eye for an eye.  We might think it is not a big sin, but all our sins are an offence to the holiness of God and demand his righteous justice.  When Christ died in our place, the punishment fitted the crime;  if He did not do it, we had to do it – and the consequence would have been disastrous. 

Conclusion

My dear friend in the Lord, Christ’s death on the cross is your vindication;  those who do not trust in Him for forgiveness will find the justice of God’s righteousness calling for retaliation: an eye for an eye, life for life.

Make sure that your life is saved in Christ who took God’s judgement and became your righteousness.  When He returns He will vindicate those who suffered under unbelieving and oppressing regimes, and his enemy will be punished.  All because of justice. 

Eye for eye, and life for life. 

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 April 2019

 

Watch our for false prophets (1)

Scripture Readings

  • Matthew 7:15-23
  • Matthew 24:1-14

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

On one of my mission trips into the outback of New South Wales, a pastor-friend tagged along for the experience.  Fortunately, shearing was on, so to a large extent, the shearing quarters were relatively clean and rid of spiders and snakes.

We took a shower, and I heard him say, “Man, o man, o man!”  I thought he just appreciated the hot water.  “If you should see the electrical connects above my head!”, he exclaimed.  “If any inspector saw this, he will close down the whole joint!”

Russel had been a trained and certified electrical engineer before entering the ministry. 

Our farmer friend got his electric supply going, but he was oblivious to the danger of his connections. It takes someone with knowledge to see the risks.

Some self-appointed prophets don’t have neither the knowledge nor the insight, to understand the danger of their teachings.  Others are plainly and deliberately on a mission to cause destruction, but the gullible Christian is easily trapped by good-sounding words, even sugar-coated Bible verses used to support their teachings. Of course, it makes the job of God-called, approved and appointed ministers very hard.  When the gullible Christian defends the position of the unskilled preacher by pointing to the glowing globe of ministry, true ministers of the Word warn against the connections.  And he himself then inevitably gets labelled as a false prophet because he stands in the way of those who preach so freely, seemingly with so much success.  But be warned,  Benny Hinn says, “Anyone who is attacking me is attacking the very presence of God!

Don’t fall for pragmatism.  Don’t be trapped by the argument that “it must be right because it works.”  Pragmatism looks at what it visible, often disregarding the truth (like the dangerous electrical connections of our farmer).  The fact that some preachers draw large numbers to their services does not necessarily mean it is right.  Large numbers in pubs do not make the pub the best place to hang out.  Overpopulated hospitals do not make a hospital the place of desire; overcrowded prisons are not a sign that the authorities are doing something right.

My friend, the Word of this morning warn against false prophets.  The words of our text come from the mouth of Christ.  

“Watch out that no one misleads you. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. (Matthew 24:4 11, NKJV)

A turning point

What was the background for these words of our Lord? 

All of Matthew 23 was aimed at the false teachings of the Pharisees.  Harsh words were in the mouth of Jesus Christ when He addressed them:  

Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, (Matthew 23:33–34, NKJV)

The end of chapter 23 ends with these words: 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” (Matthew 23:37–39, NKJV)

Chapter 24 continues with a jaw-dropping act of our Saviour:  Jesus left the temple.”  His disciples knew there was more behind Jesus just leaving the temple that day:  He would never return.  Somewhat embarrassed they then pointed to the beautiful stonework and architecture of the temple.  But Jesus answered: 

“Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2)

What a shocking statement.  Did Jesus not once clear the temple out of zeal for the house of God?  He did, but He then also said: 

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)

John clarified this statement after Jesus was raised from the dead:  But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” (John 2:21) 

Jesus was about to be crucified; He would leave them to proclaim his good news. 

The disciples followed Jesus to the Mount of Olives and asked Him in private:

“Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3, NKJV)

They wanted a sign, and Jesus did give them a sign.  What was it?  Look out for false prophets!  The prime concern for the church living up to the end of times should be to watch out for false prophets.  

Marks of a false prophet

Self-appointed

Let’s just back-track into Matthew 23:34.  Our Lord says He sends prophets and wise men and teachers.  They are the men who make fools of the diviners and overthrows the learning of the wise, turning it into nonsense.  The words of God’s prophets, according to Isaiah 44:25-26, are carried by God, who fulfils the predictions of his messengers. Jeremiah 7:25 states the same principle. 

On the other hand, self-appointed, false prophets twist the truth of God’s Word and so deceive God’s people.  Jeremiah 8:8 says, 

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. (Jeremiah 8:8, ESV)

Of these false prophets God says:  

They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect Him to fulfil their word. Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?” (Ezekiel 13:6–7)

A false prophet speaks when God does not speak.  Of them our God says:  

Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:32, ESV)

The Lord told me

How many times have I heard preachers use this phrase, “the Lord told me”; this apparently gives them license to say whatever they like, or to interpret the Word as they see fit.  Where does this phrase come from?  Can I take you on a bit of a journey?  

It originates in the New Thought philosophy, which was inspired by Phineas Parkhurst Quimby in the mid-nineteenth century.  He studied mesmerism, which he believed is the power behind mind-over-matter.  He believed that to know the truth about life is the remedy for all ills. This is, according to Quimby, the truth Jesus came to declare; and Quimby claimed to practice the same great truth.  In 1862, Mary Baker Eddy received treatment from Quimby and was cured quickly.  She went on to become the founder of the Christian Science movement.

Another disciple of Quimby was E.W. Kenyon who became the father of “positive confession” theology.  He, in turn, influenced the theology of Kennith Hagin, who is considered to be the Father of the Word/Faith Movement.  On August 8, 1934, he says he was raised from his deathbed by a revelation of “faith in God’s Word” after reading Mark 11:24.  This verse reads, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:23–24, ESV).  Hagin, a charismatic Pentecostal preacher, was ordained as a minister of the Assemblies of God.  He founded the Rhema Bible Training College (the Rhema FM radio has no direct connection with Kennith Hagin).   He once said, “Believe it in your heart; say it with your mouth. That is the principle of faith. You can have what you say.  Hagin had a problem with the message of the cross, “When you preach the cross, you’re preaching death, and you leave people in death. 

Hagin later joined his ministry efforts with Oral Roberts, a strong representative of the “seed-faith” idea.  This teaches that the things received by faith start with a seed:  investment of money in faith will necessarily produce financial gain.  Benny Hinn said, “Sow a big seed, when you confess it, you are activating the supernatural forces of God.  Because, “When you don’t give money, it shows that you have the devil’s nature.”  The whole idea is probably to support his ministry.

This movement (sometimes referred to as Word of Faith movement) also teaches that Christians can access the power of faith or fear through speech. A “positive confession” (a so-called “prophetic word”) of God’s promise stirs the power of resurrection which raised Christ from the dead and brings that promise to fulfilment.  This movement rejects poverty, suffering, and defeat as necessary to a godly life and glorifying Jesus Christ. It teaches that the salvation won by Jesus included health and prosperity for believers. Hagin said, “God is glorified through healing and deliverance, not through sickness and suffering.  Robert Hilton joins in, “Being poor is a sin.  Therefore, “Do not say ‘Lord if it be thy will’”; that is a sign of unbelief.  Fred Price affirms by saying, “God has displeasure in poverty. 

Where do you find any of this in the Bible, or is a “revelation knowledge”?

Preachers claim to have “revelation knowledge” (i.e. special revelations from God:  God told me…”) This “revelation knowledge” is often placed alongside, and sometimes above Scripture. Some believe they can use words to manipulate the “faith-force”, and as such, actually create what they believe the Scriptures or the “revelation” promise.  

A local minister in Hervey Bay also used this phrase the other day:  We just need to speak into it!  Poor me was in the dark, I must admit.

The Word of Faith movement urges believers to speak what they desire, in agreement with the promises and provisions of the Bible, as an affirmation of God’s plans and purposes. Kenneth Copeland states: “God did not create the world out of nothing, He used the Force of His Faith.” He goes on to say, “Jesus existed only as an image in the heart of God until such time as the prophets of the Old Testament could positively confess Jesus into existence through their constant prophecies.  All of God’s attributes and abilities were invested in Adam.  Therefore:  God and Adam looked exactly alike.  When Adam fell in sin, “God could not intervene since He had made Adam the god of the earth. God was left on the outside looking in. 

The phrase “God told me” is common amongst Word of Faith preachers.  It places members of their congregations in an untenable situation to differ from them.  It is tied to the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy described in 1 Corinthians 12 as if they are the same thing, and as if it always means a “positive revelation”.  Joyce Meyer once declared:

“Do you know something? A large majority of the church really doesn’t even know. Honestly and truly they really don’t even know. Well you are going to know when this night is over.”

Copeland comes to this conclusion:  When we use the spiritual laws that God has set up, God must obey what we request.” Why?  His colleague Paul Crouch answers, “God draws no distinction between Himself and us.  God opens up the union of the very godhead (Trinity), and brings us into it.” We are actually little gods.  Kenneth Hagin has asserted, “man…was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority…. He [God] made us the same class of being that He is Himself…. He [man] lived on terms equal with God…. The believer is called Christ, that’s who we are; we’re Christ”. Copeland adds, “God’s reason for creating Adam was His desire to reproduce Himself…He was not a little like God. He was not almost like God. He was not subordinate to God even”.

Last week I warned against the teachings of one of the prominent prophets in the Word of Faith Movement.  Some of you afterwards asked me to give more clarity.  

Mrs Joyce Meyers declared confidently:  

“All I was ever taught to say was I a poor miserable sinner. I am not poor, I am not miserable, and I am not a sinner. That is a lie from the pit of hell. That is what I were and if I still was then Jesus died in vain. I am going to tell you something folks I didn’t stop sinning until I finally got it through my thick head I wasn’t a sinner anymore and the religious world thinks that is heresy and they want to hang you for it. But the Bible says that I am righteous and I can’t be righteous and be a sinner at the same time.”

Although Mrs Meyers holds three doctorate degrees, she somehow missed the instruction of the Bible on not allowing women in the ministry of the Word (1Timothy 2:12-14).  

What does Mrs Meyers teach about the atonement of Christ?  I quote:

“The Bible can’t even find any way to explain this. Not really that is why you have got to get it by revelation. There are no words to explain what I am telling you. I have got to just trust God that he is putting it into your spirit like he put it into mine.”

“There is no hope of anyone going to heaven unless they believe this truth I am presenting. You cannot go to heaven unless you believe with all your heart that Jesus took your place in hell.”

Here’s her theology of Christ’s atonement:

“During that time he entered hell where you and I deserved to go because of our sin. He paid the price there. No plan was too extreme. Jesus paid on the cross and in hell.”

“Well here comes Jesus into hell. Now I don’t know what hell looks like but God gave me a few ideas. It is hot, fire hot but at the same time it is cold and clammy. That is kind of different isn’t it? Fire hot, but cold and clammy.”

The Devil thought he had it, the devil thought he had won. Oh they were having the biggest party that has ever been had. They had my Jesus on the floor and they were standing on his back jumping up and down laughing and he had become sin. Don’t you think that God was pacing wanting to put a stop to what was going on. All the hosts of hell were up on him, up on him, up on him. The angels are in agony, all the creation is groaning. All the hosts of hell was up on him, up on him, they got on him. They got him down in the floor and got on him and they were laughing and mocking, ‘haha you trusted God and look where you ended up. You thought he would save you and get you off that cross – he didn’t haha.’”

“Sunday morning here comes the sun. Sunday morning God gets himself together. Justice has been met somehow everything has been taken care of and oh God gets his voice together and he hummers up three words and they go roaring through the universe and entering the gates of hell. He said it is enough. It is enough.”

“God rose up from his throne and said to the demon powers tormenting the sinless Son of God let him go. Then the resurrection power of the almighty God went through hell and filled Jesus. He was resurrected from the dead the first born again man.”

This is heresy!  And yet, people support her ministry.  It is projected that her ministry has an income of just under $100,000,000 per annum.  Anyone who buys a book or a recording of Joyce Meyers supports her heresy.  

Don’t be gullible.  Watch out for false prophets.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rec D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 March 2019

 

Undivided loyalty to Christ, our King (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Daniel 7:1-14;
  • Revelation 13:1-10

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

It was without fail that, before we set off in our old Chrysler—this was long before the days of seatbelts—that Mom, ever-caring for her little brood of children—would look back over the rest of the front seat and asked,  “Have you locked the doors?”  And in one chorus we would reply, “Why?”  Mom’s trump card was, “Because the devil can just open the doors!”

In my little mind I wondered if pressing down the door lock the can really keep the devil from us; wouldn’t he be able to unlock and open the door!

Mom’s warning helped us to understand that the devil is an ever-present pest, and he doesn’t mean any good for us.  But we can sometimes be more aware of the destructive intent of the evil one than we are aware of the authority of Christ over Satan.

So, when we approach Revelation 13 let’s not be overcome by the dread of his destructive persecution of the church of Christ; instead, let us persistently fix our eyes on our Saviour.  Let the words of Revelation 12:10-11guide us:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down… (Revelation 12:10, ESV)

The title of this short series us therefore not something like “Persecution by the Beast out of the Sea.”  No, for Christians it is always about Christ.  It is not about the power of Satan, it is about how Christians should respond to him in the light of the victory of Jesus Christ.

Persecution always has, and will always be part of the Christian life

The Book of Revelation is not only about what will happen sometime just before the return of Christ.  It writes about the events that have always been part of the Church of Christ—and surely tells about how all of history will come to an end before the last and final judgement.  It is indeed within the bounds of the understanding of the Scriptures to believe that the attack on the Church will become intensified, accelerated and global towards the end of time.  Dr Stephen Nichols uses words like systemic and rapid change which leads to confusion.  Isolated and localised past attacks against the Church are becoming global, orchestrated, and intense. We live in this world.  But are we the first?  No, surely not.

Emperor worship

The churches in the time of John received his letters when Roman emperors began to require worship of their person as divine beings. Christians in Rome were required to recognise Nero’s deity. Persecution emerged because Christians refused to worship the ungodly king. This already happened in the time of Daniel when the whole world was ordered to bow and worship before the massive statue of the king.  

In John’s time, the only escape was to deny being a Christian, bow and conform to the demands of the Emperor.  By the end of the first century A.D., all of the seven cities addressed in Revelation’s letters had temples dedicated to the deity of Caesar.

Trade Guilds

Something else happened simultaneously. There were different trade guilds which held control over certain trades with the effect that only people who belonged to them could buy or sell their goods.  (Trade and labour unions can quickly become something similar). These guilds were influential and generally vied for recognition of the Emperor.  In some ways, these two powers, the political and economic forces, promoted a worldview opposite to the Bible.  After all, the patron gods of the guilds together with the imperial god of Rome were made out to be responsible for the social and economic blessings that the culture enjoyed. Refusal to show gratefulness to these gods was undesired citizenship.  

Religious alliance

There was another problem for Christians.  According to Roman law, religions were considered illegal outside their country, with Judaism enjoying some exemption of Emperor worship.  Initially, Christians were viewed as an arm of Judaism and had the same privilege, but in about 70 A.D. the Jews dissociated itself from Christianity, at least partly because Christians claimed that Jerusalem’s destruction was punishment for the Jews’ crucifixion of Jesus. After this, Christians were exposed to full political, social and economic persecution.  

Some Christians, however, compromised their faith in Christ with the idea that they can still be counted as Jews, or publicly attend Emperor worship, or join the trade guilds, while they privately worshipped Christ.

Others understood true undivided loyalty to Christ as their King in both private and public worship; they were heavily persecuted, and some even died because of their service to Christ alone.  

Why persecution?

Revelation 13 gives us insight into what is happening behind the curtains.  If we don’t understand this, we are bound to fall prey to the attacks of Satan.  And there is more at stake than this life; we may forfeit our eternal life.

The anti-trinity

Revelation 13:1 talks about the dragon on the shore of the sea.  What does this mean?  Well, the dragon is Satan, the devil, the ancient serpent who leads the world astray (12:9).  The sea represents the spiritual storehouse of evil, where wicked spirits are confined under God’s sovereignty.  Little wonder then that 21:1 refers to the new and earth without the sea.  

The beast out of the sea is governed by the dragon.  He is the second entity of the anti-Trinity.   The second beast (verses 11-18) is the third entity; he is the false prophet and anti-Christ (more about him next week).

The Beast out of the Sea and his “ten horns” are based on Daniel’s vision. This Beast is the ultimate evil force behind the earthly kingdoms of the world.  The number of seven heads and ten horns emphasises the completeness of oppressive power and its global effect.  The dragon, Satan, has crowns on his heads, as we read in 12:3, but now the beast has them on his horns, which means that the dragon executes his plan through the beast. 

In all of this Satan puts himself forward as if he has the authority and dominion like Christ.  He and his undertakers are a fake trinity.  Both Christ and the beast (1) have swords, (2) have followers who have their names written on their foreheads, (3) have horns, (4) are slain, (5) rise to new life and are given new authority, (6) have jurisdiction over “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation”, and (6) receive universal worship.

In Daniel 7:3–8 the lion, bear, leopard, and terrifying beast represent four successive world empires, but here in Revelation 13:1–2 these four images are combined in one beast, highlighting the extreme fierceness of this beast. 

Early Christians might have understood this beast to be the political power of Rome, and they would not be wrong.  But for the Church through the ages, it represented every oppressive form of political power.  Today we have godless regimes across the world, even by the United Nations with its program of world dominion.  It can surely point to global political oppression, with godless governments banding together with a unified program of political dominance.  We have already seen the push for the demolishing of national boundaries, the abolition of passports, and the call for a global government, with the so-called aim of preventing individual nations from causing unrest driven by patriotism, or even the drive for war against global warming.  

Satanic evil historically expressed itself through the kingdoms of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Sodom, and Rome. This evil will continue to display itself in future political regimes of the world and can manifest itself as well in global economic, social, and religious structures on earth. It seems the time will come that even migration will gain one nothing.

We learn from John about the anti-Christ.  

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18, ESV)

Another verse:  

and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3, ESV)

Our confidence living in a world where the antichrist is already at work is that he received a fatal wound. Our Lord, who came to earth to rescue us 

“… that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, ESV) 

Therefore, whenever believers withstand persecution, deception and compromise, the devil and his agents are defeated.  Though Satan and the beasts are repeatedly mentioned as having “authority” in Revelation 13, they have no authority over the saints and no authority but what God gives them.  The power he has to make war against God’s people was “given to him” (Revelation 13:7).  He has a limited time, forty-two months.  Only God, not the devil, sets times and seasons. If left to himself, the devil would never want to limit his work against God’s kingdom to a mere “three and a half years”, which is symbolically a short time measured against God’s power to control all times.  

Deception

The dragon is so convincing in camouflaging his defeat as an apparent victory that “the whole earth marvelled after the beast.” Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life and not protected by God’s seal (7:1–4) fall for the beast’s claims and give him allegiance.  

And they worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:4, ESV)

World leaders have, and will, try to magnify themselves above God.  They will promise peace and prosperity to all who give in to their schemes.  Just think about it:  pay your taxes, don’t question the expense, and what you receive is a clean environment with fresh air and clean water free of all pesticides, a good health system, an education system which will bring freedom to millions, equality between all people and peoples including the sexes, a good retirement plan and even more rain as they will fix global warming.  The beast carries out the dragon’s will to “flood” the church with deception.

All along he blasphemes God’s name, speaking out and mocking God through self-deification. They mock Christians and bring accusations against those who have God’s name written on them.

Conclusion

My dear friend, do you understand that there is a war going on? It’s aimed God, Christ, his church, and at every individual Christian.  How will be able to stand?

It brings me back to the devil who presumably had the power to open the car door.  Are we going to trust God protect us through the journey, or are our eyes going to be fixed on the door, and in the process live in fear?

There is a way.  It is not a way around persecution for the sake of Christ; it might be through terrible persecution.  It surely is not the way of compromise—please, keep your faith pure and serve Christ with undivided loyalty.  What is that way through all of this?  The victory of Jesus Christ, our King. If your name is written in the Book of Life in the blood of the Lamb, Christ will take care of you, whatever comes your way.  Verse 10 gives us a picture of the worst case scenario.  

If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he must; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:10, ESV)

Whatever the case, never forfeit your divine rights by bowing to the wishes of the world and him who desires your defeat.  May Christ help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 March 2019

 

Undivided loyalty to Christ, the King (1)

Scripture Readings

  • Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 17-22
  • Revelation 13:1-10

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

They tell of the event when an umpire made a questionable judgment during a footy match. It sent the crowd into an uproar. The line judge was asked for his opinion.  Then just for a brief moment, there was total silence.  In that little window of quietness someone yelled out, “He wants to know how the rules work because he doesn’t know it himself!” 

Can you imagine the confusion on any sports field between the players if there were no rules!  More than that, can you picture the situation on the stands if there were no rules!  We have vivid pictures in our minds of soccer fans being stampeded and even killed in support rage.

God and his law

We don’t read the Ten Commandments every Sunday as we did this morning, be we surely should pay more attention to it.  In God’s Kingdom, there is just no room for people to follow their own minds and make their own laws.  We heard in the children’s address about the need to walk by the Law and to think according to the law.  

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5, ESV)

Because God is the one and only God, there is only one law to live by. “For the Lord, your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:24, ESV)  He poured out his love on his people, holding back nothing to save them.  

…it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments… (Deuteronomy 7:8–9, ESV)

Moses repeatedly called the people to obey God with an undivided heart.  He used the phrase “Hear now…” in 4:1, 6:4, and 9:1, and in between he repeats phrases like “remember” and “keep”.

The book of Deuteronomy is a section of sermons of Moses which he preached to the people after their forty years of wanderings through the wilderness, but before they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.  He reflects on lessons of the past and prepares them to occupy their God-given inheritance.  

He stressed the importance of undivided loyalty to God by observing his laws.  One major point of his sermons was his warning not to mix with the heathens and so become like them.  

It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— (Deuteronomy 6:13–14, ESV)

The gift of an inheritance 

You know how one can read the same pages of Scripture for years and still miss things.  In my study last week my mind caught specific threads running through the Scriptures, but previously I just couldn’t make the connections.  To be honest, it is not so obvious, and one needs to cross-referenced through the pages to get it.

In Deuteronomy 7:22, Moses says:  

The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. (Deuteronomy 7:22, ESV)

Just a few verses further he mentions the silver and gold of the idols and calls them “a testable thing”.

On the surface, the “wild beasts” and the “detestable thing” may just mean what it actually says, but John in Revelation draws from these pictures of the Old Testament.  He leans very heavily on the visions of the “wild beasts” in Daniel who also makes mention of the “detestable thing” of which we read about in Revelation 13.  One commentator thinks that the “wild beasts” can indeed serve as a figure of the demonic which perverts the divine image of man into something sub-human.  

John, as one of the apostles of Christ, wrote the Apocalypse to prepare Christians for an era of unprecedented persecution.  Christ sends his church into the world to spread the good news about his victory over sin and death, and he also prepared them for the abuse they would face. The apostle John received the word of the Apocalypse from Christ Himself (Revelation 1:10), all the while being persecuted himself (Revelation 1:9), to encourage the Christians during the persecution, but also the warn them to serve the Lord with undivided loyalty.   

John uses known elements of the Old Testament in his book.  To all seven of the congregations he wrote to he uses the phrase very similar to the one Moses used to warn the people against the mixing of pure obedience to the Lord.  Moses repeated “Hear Israel”, and John uses “he who has an ear, let him hear” to the six churches in Asia Minor.  He also uses the phrase “he who overcomes” repeatedly, meaning “he who resists” the evil and not give in.  When it comes to Chapter 13 as we read it this morning, he repeats “he who has an ear” in verse 9.  In verse 18 he uses a phrase which connects back to both hearing and overcoming:  This calls for wisdom and insight.

A fierce battle

The connection between Moses in Deuteronomy is more than just accidental.  Moses prepared God’s people to cross the Jordan with the Word of God in their hands and minds, facing fierce resistance in a land filled with idols, false gods, and demons —  wild beasts”.  For them to overcome and settle the land as God promised they had to serve God with undivided loyalty; compromise with any god other than their Covenant God would lead to disaster.  

When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it but will be utterly destroyed. (Deuteronomy 4:25–26, ESV)

But they had God’s promise of his absolute love and compassion, his unfailing love to go ahead of them, to destroy the wild beasts before them, and live with them.  Their inheritance was free, a gift of grace, they just needed to take hold of it by faith and obedience to their God.  

…you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt…You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. (Deuteronomy 7:21, ESV)

The same applies to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We will receive a Promised Land one day, but in the meantime, we need to “occupy” the mission field of the world with undivided loyalty to Christ and his Word.  From this Word we shall not take away anything, to it we cannot add; we need to pay absolute obedience to it — it is the only warranty for success.  We are engaged in a fierce battle with the “wild beasts” — not only symbols of resistance but the real deal:  the devil!

I apologise for not really getting into chapter 13 of Revelation today as announced.  But know this: the church of Christ is the target of Satan who seeks to destroy her.  We know that he employs all he can, both political structures and false prophets to try to seduce God’s people away from the truth by all possible means.

Satan hates Christ and his church

Let’s just get the framework which Chapter 12 gives us.  It tells the story of God’s people of the Old Testament from whom the Messiah would be born.  The picture is of a pregnant woman, about to give birth.  But as she was about to give birth an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns appeared.  It was a mighty beast who had much power.  The dragon (verse 9 identifies him as the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan who leads the whole world astray) wanted to kill the child, Jesus Christ, as soon as he was born.  We learn for this scene that the actual war was aimed at Christ, who brought salvation and had authority over him.   

However, as soon as the child was born, he was taken into a place of safety under the guard of God, and Satan was hurled down.  Satan has no authority against the blood of Christ, and Christians loved Him more than their lives.  This is undivided loyalty.  

But Satan is more than ever determined to undermine the work of Christ.  He is filled with fury because he knows his time is short. He knows he has no authority over Christ and focusses his destruction on the church.  What he just cannot understand is that God’s people, those whose names are written in the Book of Life (13:8) live under the protection of Christ.  What he is aware of, is that not everyone in the church is indeed a faithful follower of Christ.  Satan is enraged and makes war against the offspring of the woman, which is the church, those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:17).

Conclusion

My friend, do you get the picture?  If you belong to Christ, if your name is written in the Book of Life, if you are under that protection of the blood of Christ, you are the target of Satan who will try whatever he can, he will employ all the forces he can to drag you away.

Therefore the warning of the Word of God:  serve Christ with undivided loyalty, have his Word in your heart, in your mind, let it reign your thoughts and your decisions.  The battle is fierce and if you don’t stand firm, you will not endure.  But don’t be afraid.  Your Saviour gave you this command:  

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

Lord-willing, next week we will concentrate on the beast out of the sea, and then, the beast out of the earth.

Amen. 

Biblical Eldership (2) “What”

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 23
  • Acts 20:17-31

Introduction

Dear friends in Christ,

Lord willing, in the near future, the congregation will elect elders. Last week we learned from the Scripture “why” the congregation of God needs elders.  There are mainly two reasons.  

  • The first reason is that Christians, however living under the grace of God, are still not perfect.  We rebel and struggle against sin and the attacks of Satan, both in our private lives and in our lives as members of God’s people.  We need discipline to keep on the straight and the narrow, and we need guidance in our relationships as members of the body of Christ.  We need the oversight of elders to pull us up and lead us back to the clear waters of the Scriptures.
  • The second reason is that everything in the household of God needs to be according to his declared will in his Word to maintain unity, peace and Christians love. We need people, who are called and appointed by God, to shepherd us to obedience and order on the way to our promised land. This they do under the authority of the Scriptures.

In all of this, both our leaders and us, bow under the authority and Headship of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Today we are listening to the Word on the “what” of eldership.  

The offices in the church find their example and fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ.  He is the fulfilment of the offices of priest, prophet and king of the Old Testament.  We need no priest anymore because our Lord was the last High Priest, the final sacrifice and the fulfilment of the sacrificial system.  Christ is the fulfilment of all prophesies; He is the Word of God through whom God speaks to us.  The Holy Spirit takes the words of Christ and declares them to us.  As king, He rose from the dead, victorious of sin, Satan, death and hell.

The perfect Shepherd

Keep this in mind, and Psalm 23 gives us a perfect example of Christ as our Shepherd.  He provides all we need so we don’t lack anything.  He leads us and protects us, even through te valley of death.  He prepares a feast for us in the sight of our enemy.  He leads us to our eternal dwelling.  Christ himself declared:  

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, ESV)  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28, ESV)

Paul met with the elders of Ephesus and commanded them:  

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28, ESV)

Elders take their role as shepherds from the example and command of Jesus Christ.

The flock of Christ belongs Him

Let’s never forget who we are.  The Bible is clear on this point. 

…the church of God, which He obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28, ESV)

The reference to blood takes us to the office of priest.  There is no redemption, salvation or forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.  Jesus Christ was the Lamb without blemish—perfect because He knew no sin.  

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. (Hebrews 9:13-14, 24, NIV)

As members of the body of Christ never forget that you belong to Christ, and the price was his blood.  

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Without question, then, elders should have experienced this redemption for themselves.  Those called to be elders can only lead the flock in the ways of the Lord if they know and walk that way themselves.  It was custom in years gone by for leaders in the civil community got elected as elders to acknowledge their leadership.  Bank managers, school principals, doctors, chairmen of public organisations got the nod to become elders (and in may an occasion, unfortunately, members of the Lodge!), but unfortunately, many of them did not have any, or minimal, Christian experience.  They could not make a credible profession of faith, they hardly knew the Scriptures, and they did not display a life consistent with a life in Christ.  The church suffered badly because their leadership was not godly, was not based on the Scriptures, and in many cases was a shame to the Name of Christ.  This is not the plan of God for his church.   It was the death nail to the people of God in the Old Testament.  Isaiah writes:  56:10-11

Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain. (Isaiah 56:10–11, NIV)

An ungodly elder is like a bull mastiff eating through its meal like a hungry lion, but afterwards, it goes to sleep in the sun.  As a watchdog, it is useless. 

When someone is called to take up eldership in the church of Jesus Christ, such a person takes up and weighty and significant appointment.  To his care is entrusted not just any group of people.  The flock he needs to tend to belong from eternity to Christ.  God chose them in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4); He predestines them to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5); He did this so that they should live to his praise and glory (Ephesians 1:6);  Christians, bought in his blood, are now the family of God (Ephesians 3:14) and Jesus Christ lives in his church because they are his holy temple (Ephesians 2:21).

Elders as shepherds

To maintain good order, unity and peace within his church, our Lord calls elders to guard and protect the flock.  They need to feed the flock too.  That’s what shepherds do.  Elders take their cue from the Upper Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  He left the 99 and went looking for the lost one.  He put everything on the line for the wellbeing of the flock.  

For elders to be good shepherds, they need to take care of themselves, and of fellow-elders.  Watch over yourselves”, is the command.  Elders are not a rule unto themselves.  Fact is every heresy started amongst elders, of which the preacher is one.  Elders watch over other elders and need to test their ministry against the Word of God; they first must stand under the discipline of the Word, before they will be able to take care of the flock.  The point is, they have not appointed themselves.  Once someone displays the attributes of being an elder, two things need to happen: 

  • He needs to have an inward calling from the Holy Spirit.  It is a stirring which only the person who is called would know and understand.  He might then put up his hand for the job, but a second calling is needed.
  • The congregation, under the guidance of the same Spirit, must call him to the office.  This is what we are preparing for at the moment.  We are presently ascertaining the role of an elder against the Word of God.  We are going to pray about it; then we are going to have a ballot.  Those elected will receive training, the existing elders will come back to the congregation and report about the readiness and spiritual life of those appointed.  Only then will we have a proper election—and after that will the elders-elect be ordained and inducted.  This is a slow process but a necessary one. 

Savage wolves seek to destroy the flock

There’s one thing the owner of the sheep knew very well in ancient Israel:  you can’t leave the flock alone in the paddocks.  Even today with the luxury of fences we understand the devastation of dingos and foxes.  They can destroy a flock and cause much damage.  

The same applies to the church of our Lord.  We have an enemy, a raging lion who seeks to devour.  It is the calling of an elder to be the guard against these attacks.  It is for the benefit of the sheep that they heed to the warning of the shepherds, even if sometimes they don’t like it.  Don’t despise the pastoral care of your elders when they speak out against spiritual laziness and sin in your life.  It is entirely within the plan of God that his people need spiritual discipline by the elders. They don’t stick their nose into your business when they pull you up on slack attendance of public worship;  they are not nosy when they inquire about your Bible reading and prayer, or your participation in congregational activities and witness to the outside world.  They are there for your good.

How would you know if their oversight is godly?  Easy!  Test it against the Word of God.  Elders are not permitted to Lord it over the people of God, but they are called to rule under the Word of God.  Paul speaks of himself as a servant of Christ:  

I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:27, NIV)

On this basis does he charge elders to watch over the flock of Christ—they would need to do the same: through constant study and contemplation, they need to understand the Word and know how to break the bread of the Word to their flock.  This does not imply that they need to be theologians; they just need to love the Word and live under its authority.  Paul says:  

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32, NIV)

The Word builds up; it guides us on the way to our inheritance.  We are all under this gracious Word.

A calling with high demands

If Paul is anything to go by, and indeed he in some place calls people to follow his example, elders need to hear this:  

I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24, NIV)

Not all elders are full-time workers, but in some sense, this must be true of all elders.  They are called by God, they need to take care of the flock bought in the blood of Christ, they need to know the enemy, and they need to complete the task God has called them.

Conclusion

My dear friends, take your privilege of electing elders very seriously.   Don’t expect of them more than you expect of yourselves; they are feeble human beings.  They would certainly need to be held up by your prayers and encouragement.  May God help us to be a congregation to his glory.

Amen.

Biblical Eldership (1) – “Why?”

Bible Readings

  • Deuteronomy 1:9-18
  • Numbers 11:10-30

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, 

We will have eldership election in the near future. We have already announced this to you.  But before we get to the actual meeting to elect elders, we will listen to what the Scriptures teach about eldership. There will be three sermons, following three questions about Biblical eldership.

  • The “why?” about eldership
  • The “what?” about eldership
  • The “who?” about eldership

Principles of Church government

Let’s begin at the beginning, where all Christian denominations should start. 

The supreme rule for practice and doctrine

We need to hold the Scriptures as our supreme standard for life and worship.  What we believe about church government, should be in agreement with the Scriptures. So, all men in church government must, first of all, believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is infallible, sufficient, authoritative and inerrant.  If anyone has a different view on the Scriptures, such a person should not be trusted to become an elder of the church of Christ.

Christ, the Head of the Church

The Scriptures teach that Christ is the Head of the Church.  The Bible says in a few places:

And He [God] put all things under His [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22–23, NKJV)

… may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16, NKJV)

and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:10, NKJV)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NKJV)

… holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. (Colossians 2:19, NKJV)

Presbyterians hold these principles as precious and authoritative:  Christ is our only Mediator, He is our High Priest, and like a father, He cares for his church.  We have therefore an aversion to any earthly office other than what the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures.  We, therefore, have no human as head of the church. Not even as a representative.  We also have no priest, and we call no one our priest because in Christ the priesthood has come to an end.  The Bible also warns against calling anyone “father”: 

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9, NKJV)

What we have is the Holy Spirit who guides us by his Word to understand the Scriptures and order all temporal things of church government.  We seek our rule from the Bible, and we submit to its authority.  The Bible teaches us that Christ is our Head, and that is enough for us.

General forms of church government

Papists

Papists believe that the pope is Christ’s representative on earth and that he is the head of all churches and Christians on earth.  Under him there are all manner of offices, including priests, bishops, deacons, canons, arch-deacons, and what not! The pope can declare what is sinful, forgive sin and make infallible proclamations, and even add doctrines not found in the Scriptures.  We reject this notion as fundamentally in contrast and opposition to the teachings of the Scripture.

Episcopal

Episcopal churches understand the Scriptures to teach that every congregation should only have one bishop, in which the oversight of that church rests.  They do believe that there should be a hierarchy from top to bottom, with an archbishop having leadership over a group of churches.  He appoints bishops, who appoints others under him.  The system gets fairly tricky for Presbyterians because we find it difficult to see where canons, archdeacons, vicars, and other office holders come from.  The Anglican Church and some branches of the Methodist Church are episcopal denominations.

Congregational

Congregational denominations do not have any hierarchy.  Their church government is mostly a free arrangement of leadership chosen “demographically”, which means the majority of members decide who will be leaders, and congregational meetings have the authority to hire and sack leaders, and even determine the general teachings of a denomination.  A congregation in a congregational system usually opt to join a broader group of churches (like the COC movement) but can walk away when the majority decides so.  Most charismatic churches follow this form of church government.

Independent

Some other independent churches is a sort of a mix between episcopal and congregational.  These congregation usually starts with leaders in a strong conviction of certain aspects of Bible teaching or a clash of leadership personalities.  These leaders then, in the end, become the de facto bishops, and in many cases, everyone who disagrees with the leadership has to leave.  These leaders are their own authority, and they are not accountable to any structure.  Many of these leaders claim direct revelation from God in the form of visions or something similar in addition to the already declared will of God in the Scriptures.  

Presbyterian and Reformed Churches

Presbyterians and reformed denominations fall in a different category.  Christ is our Head, the Bible is our rule, leaders/elders are chosen by communicant members of the congregation, and perform their duties under the authority of the Scriptures.   What their decisions must be in agreement with is the Scriptures, the agreed confessional creeds and the general rules of the denomination. 

Our system has checks and balances.  Elders are accountable to a wider group of elders, the presbytery.  Members have the right to approach this court if they think that elders have contravened the Scriptures, the Confession or the general rules of the denomination.  There is other courts too:  the General Assembly, and the General Assembly of Australia, and these are also bound by the Word of God and the rules accepted by the denomination as a whole.

The word “presbyterian” comes from the Greek word “presbuteros” which means elder, or overseer.  Presbyterian” in our name refers therefore to the form of church government we adhere to.

The “Why” of eldership?

Our understanding of eldership finds its roots in the Old Testament.  Our Scripture readings this morning takes to those beginnings.

God appointed Moses to be the leader to take his people out of slavery of Egypt to the Land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As assistant Moses had his brother Aaron, who later became the first High Priest.

The people were numerous, they were divided into their clans and had their clan leaders.

People are sinful 

Rebellion against Moses and Aaron was common practice.  They always wanted to go back to slavery, because the journey through the desert just seemed too hard.  They doubted God and rebelled against his law.  And then, there was this constant towing away from the declared command of the Lord to not mix with the people the came in contact with along the way.  And, of course, there were the constant disagreements and sometimes heated disputes between people, with one party always believing they were done in.

There is a need for discipline and good order 

This, of course, spells general church life in the 21st century too.  Our sinful nature drags us away from God’s declared will for our lives.  We begin to love the world more than we love God.  The world easily dictates to us how we should live, and we can readily start to doubt the faithfulness of God.  Our relationships one with the other can sometimes be volatile, and we need mediation and godly outcomes.  In short, discipline and good order need to be maintained for the glory of God.  We need elders!

One leader is not enough!

Moses was a human being with his own strengths and weaknesses.  It all got too much for Moses.  His father-in-law gave him good advice:  

“The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. (Exodus 18:17–18, NKJV)

Moses found himself face-down in the presence of the Lord.  What he understood very well was that the people he had to lead did not belong to him, but were God’s people. He could not deal with the people other than what God wanted him to do. In fairly harsh words he prayed to God,  This is too much for me. 

If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favour in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!” (Numbers 11:15, NKJV)

He has come to the end of his line. How does he provide for the people?  How can he care for the people?  Should not God care for his own people?  

Although God did provide the water, the manna and the quail, other aspects of care God provided through elders whom He enabled for the task.  Although God could directly care for them, He appointed leaders. 

Shared but Divided responsibility and accountability

To maintain discipline and order within the camp, God appointed 70 elders to work closely with Moses.  Moses remained the intercessor between God, between the leaders and the people, but from that day on, the men upon whom God poured out his Spirit to set and enable them for their task them apart for service would be a help for Moses.  

I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone. (Numbers 11:17, NKJV)

What seemed impossible for Moses becomes possible through the provision and enablement of God.  Where would the meat come from?  Where would the men come from? 

“The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.’ (Numbers 11:21, NKJV)

How did God answer? 

“Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not.” (Numbers 11:23, NKJV)

God first sent his Spirit to rest upon the seventy men, and He gave them the ability to prophesy—which through the Scriptures was always a sign to the rest of people of God’s authentic appointment—and then He provided the quail.  

This is how elders do their work.  They are appointed by God; they need to care for the people because they are God’s own people; they need to continually keep their eyes focused on God for whom nothing is too hard.  Elders share in the responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the people, they are called to maintain spiritual discipline and good order. When the people of God slide back to the slavery of sin, the elders encourage, teach and admonish.  And in all, it is their task to lead God’s people to live to the glory of their Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Why do we need elders?  

We are sinful and rebellious, and we need spiritual direction and care.

Elders share in the burden of this care.  It is not good for one person to take the full load.  It is not the plan of God for his church.

May our Lord give us clear guidance as we pray for men to fill the vacancies of elders in our congregation.  We need to make sure that the men we elect are indeed spiritually mature, displaying a sure conviction that they called to the office.  Let us pray.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 February 2019

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

 

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

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 9:7-20
  • John 15:9-16:4

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

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

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

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

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

I have loved you

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

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

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

In chapter 10  Jesus Christ declared his love:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remain in my love

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

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

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

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

You will have complete joy

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

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

Jesus prepared his disciples, 

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

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

Love one another

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

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

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

Friends of Christ have the world as their enemy

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

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

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

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

How is it that we could become friends of Christ?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.  

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

 

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