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

 

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A Journey between Death and Life

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 116:1-19
  • Mark 16:1-11

Introduction

We find comfort in knowing a good doctor, more so in years gone by when we actually referred to them as family doctors.  In some cases all siblings in the family were deliver by the same “family doctor”.  They know everything about us; and we trust them with our secrets.  We trust him or her with our health.  They become our preferred health provider.  They become a some sort of anchoring point, because they were there when we came into the world and might be there when we breathe our last.  They might receive a telephone call in the middle of the night, because do that see them as trusted friends.  And when the doctor retires or moves away, or when we move elsewhere, we go through the agony of finding a new one.

Mary Magdalene – living in a dark world

We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene’s life before she became a follower of Christ.  Was she dumb and deaf?  Was she blind?  Was she recognisable by her bodily deformity?  Did she suffer from mental illness?  Did the evil spirits cause her to rant and rave, leaving her with mental disorders? Were there times that she had uncontrolled fits – maybe in public?  Did she behave in an antisocial manner?  We don’t read about the husband of this Mary, which means that he could have divorced her because or the state she was in.

We don’t know, but these things were common to those riddled by evil spirits.  Mary, the woman from Magdalene, had seven evil spirits.  She lived in a dark world.  She lived on the edge.

But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who grew up in Nazareth, not too far away from Magdala in Galilee, was sent by his Father to destroy the power Satan and the evil spirits under his control.  He preached that the Kingdom of God has come.

There was the day in Magdala on which He preached.  The sermon was about the Kingdom of God.

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. 

The evil spirits were no mach for Him.  They submitted and were cast out of those who suffered.  They even admitted that Jesus came to destroy them.

And Jesus healed Mary.  She is named with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases.  From her seven demons had come out:

…also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1–3, NIV)

The new Mary – living under the wings of Life

Her life changed. She met new friends: Joanna, the wife of Chuza – Chuza was the person in charge of the finances of Herod; and Susanna, another woman cured and healed by Christ.

Together they formed a group who would support the Messiah with their possessions.  They were apparently from high social standing, well-off or very industrious. The Apostles also benefited from this service of love.  These women were disciples of Jesus, and followed Him wherever they could.

Their lives changed and more and more did they learn about the Kingdom and about God.  As they looked back, the existence in darkness, possessed by the evil spirits, faded on the horizon.  The days shone brighter and brighter.

But every now and then, as they were listening to the teachings of their Redeemer, they heard about an immanent catastrophe.  We read in Luke 9:22, only a chapter after we meet Mary for the first time:

And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

As the light shone brighter for them each day, the shadow of the cross gradually rose up over the group as they followed the One who healed them.  He would eventually die the cruel death on the cross.  His death would be the result of the fact that every person is in some way responsible for the cross of Jesus.

In the shadow of the cross

When Jesus was arrested that night in Gethsemane, all his friends left Him.  One betrayed Him, the other denied Him. The women were not allowed anywhere near Him.

When He carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Golgotha, his followers looked on from afar.  As the plan of God’s redemption was unfolding, there was nothing they could do to prevent it from happening.

Overcome by fear and disappointment, they just looked on.  Hear the words of Matthew 27:55

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:55-56)

They were there when Jesus was buried.  Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who also had become a disciple of Jesus, took the body of Jesus and put it in a grave and sealed the entrance with a heavy stone.  And we read:

Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:59-61)

The pain of unbelief

The next day was a long day.  It was a Sabbath, the day of the Passover. On this holy day they devoted themselves to the feast of deliverance out of Egypt.  They ate the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread.  It was a solemn day and a solemn atmosphere.

Most of all, Mary lost her doctor.  The man who gave here back her life, the man who healed her from her infirmities is dead.  Cruelly they nailed Him to a cross, together with criminals.  The man who became a dear friend, the man she and the other supported even with their own possessions, is dead.

Some in Jerusalem celebrated.  They were too pleased that this Jesus was out of the way.  But Mary’s attention was divided:  she could not wait till the sunrise of the Sunday morning.  The agony of waiting.  Surely, it was a Passover that she will never forget – not because of rejoicing, but because of the great personal loss.  On Sunday morning, she would go to take care of the body of this Jesus of Nazareth.

Life out of death

She probably didn’t sleep well that Saturday night after the Passover and the ensuing Sabbath.  Her mind was at the grave.  She remembered the sight of Joseph as he laid Jesus in the tomb and rolled the stone in front of it.

Early Sunday morning, the first day of the week, she and the other women, rushed to the grave.  What a disappointment:  the body of Jesus was not there.  They concluded that He must have been stolen.

Then there was the voice of the angel:

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:6)

They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth.  That was their problem!  If they knew the man whom they served out of gratitude for the new meaning of life given to them, and if they understood that He was not only the son of the carpenter of Nazareth, named Jesus, they would have believed.  But their eyes were still shut to the fact that Jesus was also the Christ, the Son of God.  And even if they knew it, they didn’t believe it.

They were looking for a dead body;  what they should have been looking for, was the risen Christ. Listen again to the teaching of the Christ:

And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

He has risen!  He is not dead.  His body may be precious to you, but not a dead body!  He has risen!  Now they had a task as commanded by the angel:  Go, tell the others!  Jesus will see them in Galilee – in the region where cast the evil spirits from them.  There He would finally show his power over the forces of darkness.

From unbelief to faith

A few things happened then.

Mary wept:  she was so disappointed.  Her faith in Jesus was still not the faith she would later have in Him as the Christ.  If only she could touch Him for the last time! If only she could her gratitude towards Him by tending to his body in the grave.  This privilege was taken from her.

They fled from the tomb – they were afraid and scared.  They trembled and were amazed.  They stopped speaking.

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8, NIV)

The risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she clung to Him, never to let go of Him again.  This act was more than only reserving the Christ to themselves, it also turned into an act of worship!

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped his feet and worshipped Him. (Matthew 28:9, NIV)

But Jesus gave her the command to go and tell the others. There must have been disappointment with the women when the disciples regarded their words as “idle talk” (Luke 24:11).  They did not believe the message of the women.

But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Luke 24:11, NIV)

Much later, when the risen Christ appeared in person to them their fear was replaced with willingness to become witnesses of the resurrection of the Messiah.  Then they were filled with joy.  The bewilderment was replaced with joy and worship.

Then there was the haste to get to the others. It was important for them to tell them the good news:  because He was resurrected, because what happened to Him was exactly as He had said would happen, they understood that He was more than the carpenter of Nazareth:  He was the promised Messiah and Christ.

Conclusion

There is a distinct difference between acknowledging and believing.  We need to understand the difference between knowing and believing.  Or let’s put it better: there is a huge difference between having faith in general and having saving faith. Faith is an instrument by which we receive and apply Christ and his righteousness. It is far more than just an acknowledgement of who He is was and what He did.

Many people find themselves where Mary found herself whilst following Christ on earth, but it was only after she saw the open grave and spoke to the risen Lord that she worshipped Him as Lord and God.  First He was Jesus of Nazareth; but the risen Lord was Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Sunday school knowledge and Scripture in school knowledge of Christ does not mean we live in this saving faith relationship with Him.  Worse even is that He is just the babe of Bethlehem! It is only when we can see past the crib and cross into the open grave that our spiritual life actually begins.  Sometimes this acknowledgement of Christ as Lord happens over time; but this is surely the direction of the journey of knowing Christ. And that, like in the life of Mary and the others, makes us disciples of the Lord in the Kingdom of God:  then the disciples became mouthpieces of Christ’s Lordship.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 1 April 2018 (Resurrection Sunday)

Christ’s resurrection, our resurrection

The story was told of the old man who lived in the back blocks in times gone by.  No electricity, radio or TV.  No telephone, no newspapers, and hardly any visiting neighbours.

The old man became sick.  He charged the battery of his barely operating and rusted old truck and drove into town to see the doctor.  All neatly dressed up in a faded salt and pepper suit, with his felt hat on his head, he entered the doctor’s room for the first time in his life.

The doctor examined him and determined that his patient needed see a specialist in the city, hundreds of miles south from his little outback town.

So, through the physician’s receptionist, a call was made to his son who would come and pick him up and drive him into the big smoke.

Everything was new to our old patient:  cars, trains, busses, taxis, traffic lights, thousands of people, shops and high rises.

They arrived at the address of the medical specialist where the old fellow saw a little bench in the foyer.  He was both physically and mentally exhausted and beckoned his son to share the bench for a few moments while he caught his breath.

This was the first time in his life that he saw something which presented much confusion to him.  People walked up to some cupboard and pushed some buttons in the wall next to it. Then the steel doors opened all by itself, they entered this space, the doors shut and everyone disappeared.

What flabbergasted him most was when an elderly lady, obviously obese and overweight, did the same.  The doors shut, and just a few seconds later, as the doors opened, out she walked, now young, slim and attractive.

He looked at his son and said, “Son, this thing works miracles.  As soon as we’re done, we are going to get your mom and come back here!

Christ’s resurrection

After everything Paul writes in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians about the resurrection of Christ, we might be left with the lasting thought that because He overcame death, hell, sin and satan, the only benefit we derive from his atoning death, is that spiritually we receive a new life: our souls will not die, and when we end our days here on earth our souls will spend eternity with our Saviour in heaven.

Part of this is true: for the believers who puts their full trust in Jesus Christ who died and was raised for them, there certainly waits an eternity with their Saviour.  Of this fact all of us hearing this message need to make sure, because death might overcome us in a most unexpected moment and we might no be ready to prepare our Saviour.  This is what the apostle was talking about when he said that those who belong to Christ will be made alive (1Corinthians 15:23).

There is however another benefit we derive from the resurrection of Christ:  our bodies will also re raised into glory, just as the body of Jesus was physically raised from the grave into a new and glorified body, so our bodies will be reunited with our souls on the last day.  It will be raised in glory, and we will live and glorify God into all eternity in our bodies.

There will be a bodily resurrection

We will do well when we keep in mind that most of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians were replies on some questions they put to him.  For instance, they asked questions about meat offered to idols, questions about being married to non-believers, and spiritual gifts.  That’s why we get some paragraphs beginning with, “Now concerning …”; these were usually the beginning of his answer to their questions.  The interesting aspect of his answers is that he did not always answered their question directly; he more or less gave them principles to work from.

So it is not impossible to understand that some questions they had about the resurrection included what they may have understood as preposterous about the resurrection.  We already saw that they thought resurrection as such was a preposterous idea.

In our paragraph, verse 35, the question put was most probably meant to be mocking Paul’s teaching.  We could paraphrase it with, “If you say that our bodies will be raised one day, what could they possibly look like?

Death is a necessity

If anyone of the of Paul’s readers thought that one can bypass death to enjoy eternal life, Paul says such thought is foolish.

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. (1 Corinthians 15:36, NIV)

He repeats it further:

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:50, NIV)

For this reason our earthly bodies is changed in death; it cannot last into eternity.  If we are not going to taste death because of the coming of our Lord, something else will happen:

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51–53, NIV)

When this happens, death will be swallowed up in victory (verse 54). Rightly understood then, we who believe are not punished with death, like Christ who died because He took our sins upon Him.  The death we die is the result of our fallen world, but in the light of Christ’s atonement our death is our necessary passing over into eternal life.  It is not final, yet.  When everything will be made new, our souls will be reunited with our bodies in glory.

Our bodies will be raised

What sort of body?  These bodies, but then made new and eternally glorious.

And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:49, NIV)

Now, let’s listen carefully what the Bible teaches here.  We will not live eternally as a flower in the garden of the Lord; we will not be a star twinkling in the midnight sky.  You’ve heard all these things, and it may only be a way of talking.  But this sort of talk can obscure the Bible message.

Paul exactly wanted to put an end to all speculation the Corinthians might have had.

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps [ or, “for argument’s sake”] of wheat or of something else. (1 Corinthians 15:37, NIV)

In other words, when you sow a wheat kernel you expect wheat to come up.  The plant looks different from the seed, but in essence it is still the same thing.  Why?  Paul gives an answer:

God gives it a body as He has determined (or ordained) , and to each kind of seed He gives its own body. (1 Corinthians 15:38, NIV)

Logically, then, the argument goes:

Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. (1 Corinthians 15:39, NIV)

Buddhists might believe one is reincarnated as a butterfly, or a cow, or an ant.  But this is not what the Bible teaches.  Paul continues:  stars are stars and will remain stars; and in the life hereafter we will not become stars (1 Corinthians 15:40-41).  This is also true about human beings:  we will be raised as human beings.  But There will be a difference.

We will be clothed with a glorious body

Listen:

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42–44, NIV)

We are living human beings because we children of Adam.  Our bodies are corruptible because we are children of Adam. Our natural bodies came first:  we are from the dust, just as Adam was.  We are from the earth just as Adam was.  We are in the likeness of Adam we are naturally children of Adam.  As Adam sinned, so we sinned, and if left on our own, we would face a natural, horrible death, with out God, without hope.

But this not the full message of the Bible:  born of God by the Holy Spirit we got a new nature:  Christ brought life, because the last Adam is a life-giving spirit (verse 45).  We did not posses anything spiritual to inherit eternal life, but through Christ we inherited a spiritual life which is from heaven, because “as is the man from heaven, so are those who are from heaven” (verse 48).  And now the climax:

… we [shall] bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:49, NIV)

Our glorious body will be victorious

We now have to read something about this now form of existence.  Let’s go to Revelation:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4, NIV)

Paul puts in these words:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54, NIV)

Death and corruption it will not see; sin will not be able to corrupt it, because there will be no more sin.  No more walking sticks, hearing aids, dementia or Alzheimers, knee replacements or reading glasses.  All will be as God intended in the first instance:  very, very good – just better!

Labour in our present bodies is not in vain

While all these wonderful things awaits us in Christ Jesus, let’s not be so carried away that we might think the bodies we are now living in is of no use.  On the contrary – although still heavily affected by the effects of sin and corruption, Christ’s work of redemption is already applied in our daily walk just now.

Paul writes in Romans 6:

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:8, 12–13, NIV)

Paul reminds the Corinthians:

By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! (1 Corinthians 6:14–15, NIV)

Conclusion

We take all of what we read and heard about the resurrection of our Lord today and on previous Sundays and conclude:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 8th May 2016

Covenant Baptism

Broadly speaking, there are two main views on baptism:

  • Covenant Baptism (some may call it paedobaptism, because it implies that infants of together with their covenant parents should be baptised).  The mode of baptism is sprinkling of water.
  • Believers Baptism (some call it credo-baptism, because only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour are baptised, usually adults.  The mode of baptism is immersion into water.

This paper explores the Presbyterian understanding of Covenant Baptism.

Covenant Theology represents an understanding that there is unity between the Old and the New Testaments.  What is promised on unfulfilled in the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament – one is not possible without the other.  The New Testament thus does not replace the Old testament; neither does it exist as a separate part of the Bible alongside the Old Testament.

All the prophets testify about Him [Jesus Christ] that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

“Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:45–47)

The church of the New Testament is not a separate entity from the church of the Old Testament, but a continuation of it, albeit in more glorious form.  The ceremonial signs of the rituals of the Old Testament found their fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ and have ceased after the cross and resurrection of our Lord.  However, what they signalled still stand, but now understood in and through the Head of the new covenant and his perfect work as Priest, Prophet and King.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. (Ephesians 2:11-12, 19)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17, NIV)

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 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! (Hebrews 9:11–14, NIV)

Jesus did not come to rip up the Old Testament, He came to fulfil it.  As a matter of fact, during his ministry He very often used the Scriptures of the Old Testament as his authority.

The church of the both the Old and the New Testament (Israel) has Abraham as father.  God made a covenant with him after He called him out of the slavery of sin.

“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)

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28–29)

God’s promise to Abraham states clearly that through Abraham the nations and peoples of the earth will be blessed.  This was made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

So then, he [Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11–12)

About the covenant God further said that it will be for the generations of Abraham as an everlasting covenant.

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (Romans 4:16) (The the “promise” in this verse is reference to the covenant – see also Acts 2:39, Eph 2:12)

The Bible is clear about the fact that this covenant is not one of works, but one of grace.

“Under what circumstances was it [his righteousness] credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!” (Romans 4:10)

The sign of the covenant in the Old Testament was circumcision.

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:10–11)

Abraham had not be circumcised when God gave him the sign, so not Ishmael and other men in his household.  They were all circumcised after God commanded it:  Abraham being 99 years of age, Ishmael 13 and later Isaac on the eight day.

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.” (Genesis 17:23–27)

First then, those who had not been circumcised before God instituted the sign were circumcised, irrespective of their age; later, all males born into a family were circumcised on the eight day – which means that the circumcision was later almost exclusively administered to babies boys, apart from cases where new convert families were added.

To not keep this ritual meant breaking the covenant.

“Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:14)

Even when Moses neglected this ordinance God became angry with him and wanted to kill him.

At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ she said. So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said ‘bridegroom of blood,’ referring to circumcision.)” (Exodus 4:24–26)

The other sacrament the Lord gave his people, was the sign of blood of the Passover lamb.  Both the sign of circumcision and Passover were signs accompanied by blood and pointed forward to the blood of Christ, God’s Passover Lamb.

Exodus 12.  Numerous other parts of the Old Testament.  This was a perpetual sacrament which was later replaced by the Lord’s Supper.

Those who converted to the God of Israel from other religions, together with the males in their household, including infant boys, had to be circumcised before they were allowed to partake in the Passover.

A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.” (Exodus 12:48, NIV)

As with many things during the time of the Old Testament which were incomplete, and about all sacrifices were accompanied by blood, or alternatively, by water – water being the sign of ritual cleansing.  Circumcision was sign of initiation into the Old Covenant and was a sign of blood (Genesis 17:10)  It was done once.  The New Testament replacement of this sing was baptism, a bloodless sign.  The sign was replaced, while the covenant remained.:

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

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

The Passover Lamb was the perpetual sign, done repeatedly, and was a sign of blood (Exodus 12:22).  The New Testament replacement is The Lord’s Supper, a bloodless sign:

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27–28, NIV)

The Greek work used in some verses of the Old Testament does not indicate immersion, but sprinkling.

“Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew (bapto) of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33)

Purification acts in the Old Testament were done by sprinkling or washing, and is some cases “bapto” is used.  This washing did not include washing with soap and water to physically clean hands or feet or body, but signalled purification.

Then the anointed priest is to take some of the bull’s blood into the tent of meeting. He shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the Lord seven times in front of the curtain.” (Leviticus 4:16–17)

A priest in the Old Testament took blood of an animal and “sprinkled” it on the altar to ceremonially cleanse it.

Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull’s blood and carry it into the tent of meeting. He is to dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle some of it seven times before the Lord, in front of the curtain of the sanctuary.” (Leviticus 4:5–6) [This act of the priest happened consistently with all offerings.]

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.” (Hebrews 9:13).

Any person who touched a corpse had to cleanse himself.  For the Israelite this happened in the courtyard of the Tabernacle where there was a big bronze holding basin (Exodus 30:17-21).  The ritual was done by sprinkling, not immersion – and yet the word used is “bapto

When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean.” (Leviticus 11:32)

When Naaman of Aram came to see Elisha he had to purify himself by washing himself in the Jordan.  This is exactly what God commanded in Leviticus 14:7

“Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields.” (Leviticus 14:7)

In the New Testament “bapto/baptitso” is interchangeably used for another Greek word “nipto”, meaning “cleanse”.  For those who were still Jews this washing had ceremonial meaning:  unbaptised hands were unclean hands.

The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.” (Mark 7:3, NIV)

But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. (Luke 11:38, NIV) (His hands were “unbaptised!)

Not all instances of the word “baptise” or “baptism” in the New Testament mean to immerse.  In fact, more often than not the word has a spiritual meaning.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:1, NIV)

… long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:20–21, NIV)

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:37–38, NIV)

Charles Hodge, renowned theologian comments:  “But the Egyptians who were immersed were not baptised; and the Israelites who were baptised were not immersed.”

When believers in the New Testament were baptised by the Holy Spirit they were not immersed but filled.  Even the tongues of fire which sat on them pointed to the purifying “sprinkling” of the promised Spirit of Ezekiel 36:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)

The baptism of John was not the baptism which Jesus commanded. John did not baptise in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  John was the last Old Testament prophet, preparing the people for the arrival of the New Testament period.  John called the people of God to repent; he did not baptise them to become part of the people of God.

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ (Acts 13:23–25, NIV)

Those who were baptised with the baptism of John were re-baptised, because they were not baptised in the Name of the Holy Spirit.

[Paul] asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:2–5, NIV)

As commanded by Jesus after He completed his mission (death and resurrection, and gave the disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit, for whom they had to wait before they started their mission to the world, the apostles introduced the New Testament baptism as a sign of Covenant at Pentecost when people were baptised.  On Pentecost Day and after Jews who had been circumcised previously were baptised.  To understand New Testament baptism, we should not start with John, but with the command of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

God in the Old Testament made promises of a new era to come, when the Sprit of God would be poured out and the sins of the people would be forgiven.  The work of the Holy Sprit is connected with purification and rebirth.  He is “poured out” on the people, “put in” the hearts, like oil on the head of the anointed prophets and kings.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)  See also Ezek 37:14, 39:29, Isaiah 44:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Joel 2:28-29.

Both the work of Christ, who gave his blood to wash away our sins, and the work of the Holy Spirit comes together in this verse:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22, NIV)

When on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out the promises of a new era came into being.  What was symbolised by ritual washings of purification, and what was promised about a new heart and a new spirit was fulfilled on that day. The Spirit was promised:  “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11, NIV)

Peter explained to the people that Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled. The pouring out of the Spirit took place.  This pouring out had to do with cleansing and rebirth.  In Acts 1:8 it was called “receive”; in other places it is referred to as being “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 9:17)  They were baptised with the Holy Spirit which symbolically sat like flames on their heads, symbolising the cleansing of the Spirit in the same way as the sprinkling of the water in the Old Testament signified.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26–29, NIV)

  • In Peter’s sermon on Pentecost day things are connected:
  • All the promises regarding the Messiah were fulfilled in Christ
  • Forgiveness of sins is possible because Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead
  • Rebirth is possible because the Holy Spirit was poured out (or put in the hearts of the people/the people received the Him
  • Repentance of sin is necessary (Acts 2:38)
  • Baptism as a sign of inclusion into the Covenant family of God was necessary (Acts 2:39
  • As with the Old Testament Covenant, children were included into the covenant by the sign and seal of baptism (Acts 2:39
  • Now more than just the Jewish people are included (Acts 2:39)
  • God anointed all his people to be priests, prophets and kings by giving them his Holy Spirit.

Three thousand people were baptised on Pentecost Day.  In keeping with what is taught in the Old Testament about “cleansing” and receiving the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to assume the following:

  • The three thousand were not immersed in water.  The sign of being received in the family of God was by sprinkling of water.
  • The place where the people gathered when they received the Spirit was most probably not too far from the temple courts (Acts 2:46; 3:2,8; 5:20-21,25,42; 24:18; 26:21).  Jerusalem was a city with very scarce water supplies which depended upon rainwater stored in tanks and cisterns.  To assume that they were immersed is to read back into the text.

As in the time of the institution of the circumcision as the sign of the Covenant in the Old Testament, when those who had not been circumcised were circumcised, irrespective of their age, so those baptised in the New Testament were mainly adults.  Whole families were baptised in the New Testament.  Every Covenant God ever made with his people included children:  Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses.

  • Of the EthiopianAs they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” (Acts 8:36, NIV)  The text states that it was a desert road.  The water referred to in this text could not have been a lot.  It stretches the text to assume that the Ethiopian was immersed.  It is fair to note that the expression “with” in Greek could in certain contexts be translated as “in”.
  • Of PaulImmediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised (Acts 9:18, NIV).  As Paul was baptised in the house of Judas in Straight Street in Damascus at a time when there were no other water supply than from wells or cisterns, it seems logic to assume that Paul was not immersed.
  • Of Cornelius“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10:47–48, NIV)  Cornelius, his relatives and close friends were all were gathered in the house. Could they have been immersed when they were baptised.  In what?  Who were the relatives?  Only adults, but it might have included whole families of his relatives.
  • Of the jailer:  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. (Acts 16:31–33, NIV) The context leads us to believe that every person in the family of the jailer were baptised – this is in keeping with what happened with covenant families in the Old Testament.  Further, they were still in the building of the prison when they were baptised; immersion could hardly take place there.
  • Of LydiaWhen she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:15, NIV).  In all fairness, they were near a river and could have been immersed.  This however would be out of step with the rest. Besides, it included the members of her household, which could have included children.

In the old Jewish Church every proselyte from the heathen brought his children into the Church with him.  If only one of the parents is a Christian, the children are said to be “holy,” or “saints,” which is a common designation of church members in the New Testament.

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

Baptism in the early church, as we have seen, happened in the most unusual places and circumstances. As the Gospel spread and congregations developed and they gathered under the leadership of elders and ministers, whether in house churches or dedicated buildings, it become custom to administer the sacraments when the covenant people of God, the congregation was gathered.  Administering the sacraments was never meant to be something private; it would destroy the covenantal character of the family of God.

It is therefore proper that baptisms should be administered within the worship service, where the whole covenant family of the Lord can witness it, rejoice in it and vow to accept and to set a Christian example to those who are baptised.

Practise in the Reformed Churches all over the world, which also do not subscribe to paedo communion, is that children of believing parents are baptised, but are not given the right to sit at the Table of the Lord.  They are baptised members, but not communicant members.  Only after they have made profession of their faith in the Lord in the gathered community of the Lord, do they become communicant members, giving them access to the Table of the Lord.

It is therefore the task of the whole congregation, but more specifically the parents to train their children up in the understanding of the Bible.  They need to understand the call of the Gospel based on God’s promises to them once made when they were baptised.

Baptism does not saved anyone, but provides the basis for the promises of God as seal and sign of his grace to be accepted when baptised members reach a stage when they can understand, and indeed, give public testimony that they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and that they commit their lives to service in his church.

Sessions are also tasked with the responsibility to see that training take place, and that other activities are put in place to nurture their baptised members into communicant members.

Only those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives, who repented of their sin, whose desire it is to walk in accordance of the Word of God, led by the Holy Spirit, may be baptised.  Their children should be baptised too, as we saw above.  No baptism should take place before the Session is satisfied that these requirements are met.

The Presbyterian Church of Australia has as confessional document The Westminster Confession of Faith.  It states:

Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptised

Ministers of the Presbyterian Church, when they are licensed or ordained and inducted to a charge make certain vows. One of them is:

Do you own and accept the Westminster Confession of Faith, as amended by the General Assembly, and read in the light of the Declaratory Statement contained in the Basis of Union adopted by this Church on the 24th day of July, 1901, as an exhibition of the sense in which you understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of your faith; and do you engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of your power to assert maintain and defend the same?

At the last General Assembly (2013) of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, at which all congregations are represented through their presbyteries, the Assembly reaffirmed the following:

Motion 83:  “That the Assembly:  Declare that the understanding and practice of infant baptism is so integral to the history, the purity of worship and the structure of covenant theology in the westminster confession of Faith that no potential office bearer should sign the formula if the Church’s stance on infant baptism is not accepted.  Furthermore, those who have signed it but hold exclusively to credobaptistic views should remain silent on their views or resign.”

As minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, I signed the declaration which states that I understand the Westminster Confession of Faith as an exhibition of the sense in which I understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of my faith.  I vowed to engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of my power to assert maintain and defend it.  I am bound, not only by my conscience and understanding of the Scriptures, but also to the vows I made before God when I became minister of this Church, and once again when I was inducted into this charge.

It would be dishonest of me to do otherwise.  I therefore would find it impossible to administer the Sacrament of Baptism in a different manner, or by a different mode.

Obedience to Christ through love brings joy and fruit

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

Scripture Readings

  • Micah 6:6-8
  • John 15:9-17

Introduction

When God created the world in the beginning, He created everything, and yet, He also created mankind to be under-creators:  God appointed them to be fruitful and fill the earth and subdue it.  Adam and Eve had to work the ground, plant seeds and care for the animals.  God did not create all animals at once – however, all sorts of animals He made.  He did not create all plants, but all the kinds of plants He created.  He did not create all humans at once; He commissioned Adam and Eve to be fruitful and have children and train them up to do the same.  Adam and Eve, and in them all their seed, were the crown of God’s creation.  To them God gave breath so that they were different from the animals and other created things.

It was not their world – it belonged to God, but in a certain sense they were under-creators – always accountable to God. Their task was to be fruitful to the glory of God.

The sin they committed was to take what belonged to God and use it for their own pleasure.  The result was that their fruitfulness and fruit-bearing task would become painful and difficult.  The very fact that their first son killed the second proofed this.

Redemption in Jesus Christ through his cross, resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to, in some way, sanctify the original commission to Adam and Eve.  The first miracle of Jesus happened at a wedding in Cana.  Marriages are sanctified in the blood of Christ, and children are a blessing of God.

In another sense God in Christ restored the commission to be fruitful to his church.  In principle Christ restored everything and all authority is under Him, but He calls his church to give effect to the fruit of his death, resurrection and ascension.  As He gave Adam and Eve his breath, He gave us his Holy Spirit so that by his enabling we can indeed become witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth.

Last week we heard the Word from the first part of John 15.  The message of our Lord was that our Father in heaven, through the Word, is doing what we need to bear fruit.  He lifts us up and prunes us.  This He does for as long as we remain in Christ.

If we do not remain in Christ, we die, all our effort will fail because without Him we can do nothing.  The judgement of God rests upon those who are not in Christ – they will be thrown in the fire.

The fruit-bearing success of the church is to remain in Christ – for as long as they do so, they can ask what they need in their task to be fruitful, and they will receive it.  This is to the glory of the Father.

As the Father loved Me

Now we hear about the reason why God will be glorified: Christ provides the foundation on which He bases our possibility to bear fruit.

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

Just for one moment let the weight of this truth impact on your mind.

This statement of the Lord uses the Greek tense which describes factual events which took place.  It is something like, “Captain Cook arrived in Australia”, or, “We are your parents.”  One does not dispute statements like this; there is no way to undo these events.  “As the Father loved Me, so I loved you.”

From all eternity the Father and the Son, together with the Holy Spirit have been/were there.  There has never been any disagreement between them.  God is eternally the same – yesterday, today and into all eternity.  So the Father loved the Son, the Son loved the Father and the Holy Spirit loved the Father and Son.  “The Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Without any shadow of turning, without any possibility of failing, or hint of wavering. Perfect for before all times, perfect now, and perfect into eternity.  The love between the persons of the Godhead is far beyond what we can fathom, and not equal to anything we might know.

Now Jesus says, “As the Father loved Me, so I loved you.”  Not the same love, but the same degree of love – eternal, steadfast, without any shadow of turning.

Turn with me to Ephesians 1.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:3–10, NIV)

God loved sinners and wanted them to be saved.  To that Jesus was appointed the only One through whom we can be adopted as his children.  To gain the redemption from God Jesus gave his blood for our sins to be forgiven.  We now know the grace of God, and at the end of time we will stand before the throne of God in the righteousness of Christ.

As my Father loved Me, so I loved you.”  He love us because the Father loved us.  The Father loved Him because He laid down his life out of his own accord, willingly and freely.

My prayer is that we will never forget the statement of our Lord in this verse.  For if we indeed remember it well, what follows will come naturally, “Now remain in my love.”

Remain in my love

How do we remain in his love? “If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love.”  Jesus says He remained faithful to his Father and kept on doing what brought glory to the Father by pleasing Him.  Because He and the Father are one in purpose, He could not do anything other that what the Father commanded Him.

There is something in this to describe our relationship with Christ.  Get this picture.  I read from Psalm 123:2

As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us his mercy.  (Psalm 123:2 NIV)

Slaves were humbly dependent on their masters – they lived by the grace of their masters.  So, obediently they follow the gestures of the hand of the master who would not even need to say a word before they do the bidding of the mistress, so we wait for grace and mercy and then do what our Lord, who bought us free from slavery.  This verse might even go further to indicate the gesture from the hand of the master to declare free the salve in his presence.

Jesus says, “I loved you as the Father loved Me – remain in my love.” This means being drawn into the family circle of God through the love of Christ to experience the love of the Father, will necessarily lead to the desire to remain in that love.  And here at the throne of the Father at the feet of Christ, his wish becomes my command.  I want to do obey, because I take my lead from my Saviour who remained in the love of his Father by doing what the Father commanded.

Love brings fruit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

The divine character of God, now sanctified through Christ, is reflected in the original nature of Adam and Eve.  God gave them something of His nature in that they were created in his image.  Sin destroyed it, but in Christ that has been made new.  We are now restored in righteousness and holiness that we might rightly know God our Creator, heartily love Him and live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him.  We constantly struggle with sin, but our perfect righteousness is Christ – we need to remain in Him in order to remain in his love and the love of the Father.

There is a verse in the Bible that links all of these things together:  obedience, fruit and joy.  It speaks of Christ:

…fixing 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)

Because of the love of the Father for Christ, and the love of Christ for the Father – and their love for sinners, Jesus endured the cross, scorning and shame:  his reward was the joy of doing the will of the Father and save the lost.

This brings us to joy.

Fruit brings 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)

The views, outlook, and aspirations of the Master will be those of the disciples as well. This is the reason for the twofold repetition of the word “joy”—“my joy” and “your joy.” The joy of Jesus is to be the joy of the disciple.

The Bible has much to say about joy.  Indeed, to rejoice and be joyful is a command.  True worship of God is and should be joyful and with rejoicing.

Israel’s worship was often described as terms of a festival of rejoicing.

But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:5–7, NIV)

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. (Psalm 95:1, NIV)

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

Closing

It is only when we really understand the extent of the love of God in Jesus Christ, and we understand the satisfaction of doing his bidding that we bear fruit, that we tell of Him, that we care for the poor, the sick and the lame, that we become partners with those out there on the mission field, and when we bear the fruit of the Spirit – that we begin to understand the joy of serving the Lord.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 July 2013

 

A Matter of Death and Life

(c) Dr R.C. Sproul, Jr

We live in strange times. It used to be said that the only two things we could be certain of were death and taxes. You still can be pretty sure of taxes, but death recently has become rather more cloudy. With the advent of assorted technological wonders in the field of medicine, we can watch as a patient’s heart continues to beat even while his brain shows no activity. With the advent of widespread organ transplants, we are all the more eager to say that the recipient is dead in one sense, even while we keep him or her “alive” in another for as long as we can. Add to this the strange reports we read from those who claim to have “died” and “returned.” They say they were dead enough to be embraced by the light, but nevertheless they walk among us.

Death has become for us more like dusk than that dark night. There are, however, limits to this lack of clarity. While dusk seeks to evade the question (is it night or is it day?), we know that midnight is night and noon is day. And while the comatose, brainwaveless, but still-breathing patient may confuse us, we know that the nurses who tend to the patient are alive and the bodies that have been in cold storage for days down in the morgue are dead. That the bridge across the chasm is shrouded in fog doesn’t change the reality that there are two distinct mountains.

It’s important for us to understand this truth so that we are not drawn into the beard fallacy (in which one argues that the removal of one, then another, then another whisker will provide no definitive moment of change from beard to non-beard). It’s important because central to our faith is this conviction: Jesus died. We are not affirming that the brain-wave monitor went blank for a while. We’re not arguing that the Roman medical authorities broke their own rules and continued administering CPR for more than a half-hour. Jesus was all the way dead, midnight dead.

God ordained that the Messiah should hang from a tree before anyone had heard of crucifixion. We now know what crucifixion does to a person, the slow suffocation that makes the nails seem like child’s play. God ordained that Jesus would be pierced on His side. We see the water and the blood flowing out, a sign of a burst heart, both literally and figuratively. And then, three days in the ground. That is the one that has always puzzled me. God didn’t need three days to put Jesus back together again, any more than He needed six days to make the universe and all that is in it. It doesn’t take three days for God to muster the strength for such a miracle. But it might take three days to prove that the Resurrection was a miracle, to make us see that this death was not just dusk, but midnight dark.

Paul tells us, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:17). If there is no Resurrection, our faith is vanity. And if there is no death, there can be no Resurrection. The death and resurrection of Christ are inescapably bound together. You cannot have one without the other, and you have no Christianity without both. Our faith is a historical faith, grounded not in our own efforts, not in the mystical powers of an object-less faith, but in historical events. We have peace with God because of what we believe about events that happened on a particular hill and in a particular tomb outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

We affirm first, contra the ancient docetists and their modern heirs, that Jesus was born a man. To die, one first must be alive. Jesus was no ghost, no phantom who only appeared as a man. Second, we affirm that this Jesus not only lived in complete obedience to the law of God, but that He did so in history and in full view of His enemies, who could lay no charge against Him. Next, we affirm that this Jesus wrought miracles in particular places and for particular people. The water was truly water, and it became truly wine. Jesus even brought life from death, most dramatically in the life of Lazarus, dead four days, decomposing, and not merely flatlined for a moment. Then He who had the power of life in Himself died, laying down His life for the sheep. He did not swoon. He did not fall into a coma. He died. There was only darkness.

He did not, however, stay dead. Three days later, this same Jesus (having a glorified body, one that was in one sense continuous with His old body, but in another sense very different) threw off the bonds of death and emerged as the first fruit of the new creation. It was not that “hope” was raised, as too many unbelieving liberal wolves will proclaim on Resurrection Sunday. It was not some sort of spirit body, as gnostics both ancient and modern have claimed. As Thomas discovered, it was an altogether human body—once dead, but now alive.

These historical truths also have soteriological meaning. The life He lived He lived vicariously for His elect. He obeyed so that we might have His righteousness. And He died for our sins, taking upon Himself the wrath of the Father for us. He was raised in vindication to prove His own innocence, to begin the new creation, and to ascend on high to put everything under His feet. When that work is complete, this same Jesus, with this same glorified body, will return to consummate His kingdom. The soteriological meaning not only does not undo the historical reality, but requires the historical reality in order to have meaning. This is the light of Resurrection Morning, a light so brilliant as to be unmistakable.

A Jesus who did not die, a Jesus who was not raised, is a Jesus who cannot save. Such is a Jesus who is foreign to the inerrant Word of God. To negotiate with these truths is to negotiate with our own souls, with our own eternity. And that is neither right nor safe. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Here we stand. We can do no other.