Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

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

 

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Jesus Christ only – no if’s, no but’s (4)

Scripture Readings

  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2
  • Colossians 2:9-15

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Today is the last in our sermon series from Colossians 2.  Our topic over the last three weeks was Jesus Christ only, no if’s no but’s. 

  • In the first of this mini-series, we learnt from Scriptures that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all promises of the Old Testament. Knowing Him is knowing the one through whom God created the world, and through whom He revealed Himself as God above all treasures and wisdom.  The apostle involved himself in an agonising battle to make Christ known in all his majesty.  His prayer is the church would know Christ in all his fulness.
  • We followed with the next main point in the chapter which stresses the point that we are initiated into the family of God plainly on account of our faith in Jesus Christ.  To be in-Christ is to receive, by faith, all He accomplished on our behalf.  Based on his complete work of salvation, baptism, and even Holy Communion are nothing more than signs and seals of his gracious work — in Him, we have been given fullness.  The signs don’t save but clearly points to what God has done in Jesus Christ.
  • In the next, we learnt that moralism, legalism and even puffed up holier-than-thou spiritualism takes away from the complete work in Christ, who is the Head from which the whole body is supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews.  The person who relies on moralistic legalism, or even vain spiritualism, practices is a self-imposed form of worship with the appearance of wisdom, but is not in-Christ, and will not grow in the knowledge of Christ. In fact, such a person has lost connection with Christ.

The heart of the Gospel

Today we want to turn back to the heart of the Gospel. Read with me verses 13-15:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

Let’s just take one phrase at a time.

Our common denominator:  we were dead in sin

Who is Paul addressing here?  Who is the “you” who were dead?  

He is addressing the Gnostics who had this idea that they had the spark of light somewhere deep in them and therefore saw themselves as better than those who did not have it. 

He is also addressing the Jews on their spiritual high horses who claimed to be part of the people of God based on their heritage along the line of Abraham, purely because they received the sign of circumcision. 

And of course, there were those who joined the church coming from raw idol worship, or even godless hedonism and cultural pride.

What is the common denominator between all these backgrounds?  In God’s eyes, they were spiritually dead.  This is the common denominator between people who are members of the church, and even those who are not:  we were all born sinful, spiritually dead, unfit for the Kingdom of God.

Sin is the great equaliser.  Those in high society, coming from learned backgrounds, leaders in the business world or political spheres, labourers sweeping the streets, washing the dishes, digging coal in deep mines, architects who design masterpieces, pilots taking responsibility for thousands of passengers, or swaggies finding shelter under a piece of newspaper—let’s add judges and druggies, the morally impeccable and the pedophile, the hardworking businessman as well as the greedy banker — we all share a common heritage: sin. 

Paul writes: 

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV)

But in Colossians 2:13 Paul writes to the “you”.  Who were “they”?

  God made “you” alive together with Him.  

Once they were outsiders, dead, not part of the church, straight on their way to eternal hell.  What happened?  Did they improved themselves to be included?  Some Gnostics were still trying to improve themselves to eventually get into eternity—and with them, there are scores of people who are on the DIY and BYO righteousness train leading to eternal hell.

There were some who relied on the sacrament of circumcision, and today maybe baptism as a form of acceptance into the kingdom of God.

But there were others who just received the new life in Christ and trusted God for the perfect salvation He provided in Christ.  They did nothing else, because God did it all.  

God made you alive together with Him… (Colossians 2:13, ESV)

This is God’s work of grace, forever connected to the righteousness which Christ made possible.  Listen:  

God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14, ESV)

The legal demands of the Law were condemning and always charging the sinner as not acceptable in God’s sight.  But out of his love, God gave his only begotten Son to go to the cross of shame to bear the sin of the world, and to die like a criminal—although He was holy, innocent and without sin.  He then nailed to that cross everything that caused death in us; He nailed the accusations against us which made us stand against God and opposed to God, and He reconciled us to God.  This is the only bases on which God will ever forgive anyone, irrespective of his background or standing.  Redemption are for those who realise they are dead in God’s eyes, unfit for heaven, opposing his holiness—but then cling to Christ alone.  It’s Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s.

Because the sinless Christ met the righteousness of God by making a full atonement for those were dead in their sin, God rose Him victorious from the grave.  The gate of Eden which slammed shut when sin entered into the world and man became estranged from his Creator.  But it was reversed on Calvary’s Hill and the open grave. 

Now we’re back to the doctrine of being in-Christ.  Everything God did in Jesus Christ was beyond our capabilities—we were dead when all of this happened.  But what being in-Christ means is that what God did in his Son, depending on Christ’s righteousness only with all our heart, soul and strength, by faith all He did is now ours.  

The enemy disarmed and made a spectacle  

The Gnostics could hear this good news:  if you were thinking there is still warfare between the gods of the air for you soul, think again.  They were defeated.  

Jesus on one occasion had harsh words for the Jews who relied for their inclusion into the Kingdom of God because of the blood heritage.  He said:  

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. (John 8:43 ESV)

Now they can hear the good news:  their accuser was slain.

And it is good news for everyone who discovers the grace of God in Christ Jesus:  the battle for our souls is settled.  Our enemy is defeated.  When Christ rose He disarmed the powers and the authorities and made a public spectacle of them, in the fashion of a victorious General leading his army down the streets of the city, dragging the commanders of the defeated army in chains for every one to despise.  

Only Christ could do it.  When He was a little boy Herod wended to kill Him, but He couldn’t.  When He entered public life and the holy Spirit sent Him into the desert, He triumphed over Satan who tried whatever He could to defeat Christ.  When the crowd wanted to kill Jesus on several occasions, He plainly walked away.  When they arrested Him in the garden, He surrendered, not kicking and screaming, but willingly.  And when they thought they nailed Him to the cross, they did no know that He gave his life out of his own accord to fulfil his mission.  When He refused to rescue Himself from the cross, He died to pay the penalty of our sins.  When He rose victoriously no army, and no earthly or force in the air could stop Him.  And because of this victory, He sent his church into the world, because all power and authority on earth and in heaven has been given to Him.

Conclusion

My dear friend, do you understand why we say it’s Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s? 

Were it not for Christ you’d be dead in your sin.  Were it no for Christ, you be facing eternity without hope.  Were it not for Christ you’d be against God and opposed to God.  Were it not for Christ you’d live under a burden of guilt and condemnation.  Were it not for Christ eternity would be just dark.

With Christ it all changes.  But then, you have to put you faith in His completed work only.  There is just no room for any DYI of BYO righteousness.  His righteousness is the only the Father approved of.

Do you hear his offer of grace? Do you see the door of heaven open before you?  Leave all your own efforts behind, answer the call, and enter into a life in-Christ.  Paul writes:  

For he says, “In a favourable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation(2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV)

Amen.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Bible readings

  • Numbers 14:1-12
  • 1 Peter 1:1-9

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord, in many gardens grows a shrub with the botanical name brunfelsia latifolia, which is commonly known as Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow.  This name comes from the way its flowers are changing in colour form one day to the next. Each bloom opens violet-purple, fade to pale lavender-blue, becomes almost white and is dead by the fourth day.  The oldest flower is the least attractive, and the newest the prettiest.

In some way this corresponds with Christian life as God ordained it in Jesus Christ.  Our yesterday is the least attractive, and our today looks somewhat better, but our tomorrow is the brightest.

Unfortunately the spiritual life of many Christians appears to be the opposite:  there was a day when everything was fresh and bright, but was time marched on it became colourless, and might even be on the brink of death.

Was there progression and growth in your spiritual life?  And in the spiritual life of our congregation?  The Bible teaches in Hebrews 6:1

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (Hebrews 6:1)

The sermon this morning is titled “Yesterday, today and tomorrow.”  This message is from 1Peter 1:1-9.

God’s elect – yesterday

I use the word “yesterday” in terms of the life which was once outside of the will of God, but by God’s grace drawn into a relationship with Him.  It is not the purpose of this sermon to explain the doctrines of election, sanctification and salvation in depth, but as these terms are undergirding what follows in the rest of the chapter we need to understand our “yesterday” in terms of the redeeming work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  So, briefly, follow along in your Bibles from verse 1.

A Chosen People

God’s elect, his church called from all eternity, is a people chosen by God the Father according to His perfect and immutable (unchanging) foreknowledge.  This doctrine is referred to as predestination.  We do not choose God; He chose us.  He does so based on the redemptive work of his Son, Jesus Christ, through the preaching of the Word.

A Sanctified People

God’s elect is a people sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  This word also implies dedication.  The Holy Spirit works in the lives of those whom God has chosen to present them to God as being holy.  He sets us apart for service to God.  As Moses and Aaron dedicated, purified or sanctified the sacred things to be acceptable to God in his service, so does the Holy Spirit sanctify us to service before God.

An Obedient People

As the blood of the sacrificial animal, which brought about forgiveness of sin was sprinkled on the altar, so the blood of Jesus Christ puts us in a relationship of being justified and forgiven, and therefore called to obedience to God.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is active in making us God’s children – his elect, his own people.  Out of darkness (our “yesterday”) we are now called to be a chosen generation, a holy people belonging to God.  This gracious act of God flows into the repentance of man.  Called by God, we turn away from sin, and turn towards Him to follow Him.  We leave our “yesterday” behind us and we walk (our “today“) in the light of his mercy and grace.

As such, as his people, we are his church.  We are now strangers in the world, because our citizenship is in heaven.  We are still in the world, but not from this world.

The “tomorrow” of God’s elect

But as we turned away from our “yesterday”, or our past, we now face a bright new “tomorrow”.  We are put on a new path.  Therefore we are a people of hope, because we have an inheritance awaiting us.

A People of hope

The perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary was not only enough to save us; the victory of the cross also became the victory over the grave.  Jesus Christ was resurrected.  And as such, He became the First-fruit, or the guarantee for all the elect to receive a new birth. As He was resurrected by the Father, so we receive from the Father as new birth, a new life.  The old has passed away, the new has come.  This gives us a hope.  Now hope in the Bible is a sure anchor in the future.  Christ ascended into heaven, and we learn from Ephesians 2:6 the following:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:6)

You see the anchor in Christ?  In principle we already have that hope, that anchor.  It is in heaven in Jesus Christ.  He is our hope.

A People with an inheritance

Now if [because] we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if [because] indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)

God’s will, written in the blood of Jesus Christ, stands firm.  Peter describes his inheritance with three words:

  •   “Incorruptible” means that it can never corrode, crack, or decay. It is death-proof.
  •   “Undefiled” means that the inheritance itself is in perfect condition. No tarnish or stain can dim its purity. It is sin-proof.
  •   That does “not fade” away means that it can never suffer variations in value, glory, or beauty. It is time-proof.

In this life an heir may die before an inheritance is divided. But the same grace that preserves the heavenly inheritance preserves us as heirs to enjoy it. God’s election of His people can never be frustrated. Those who were chosen in eternity past are saved in time and kept for eternity to come. The believer in Christ is eternally secure.

By God’s power our inheritance is kept safe.  By faith we take hold of it.  Faith is therefore the rope or chain connected to the anchor of our hope.  By faith we are drawn towards our hope.

Not only was Jesus Christ crucified; He was also resurrected unto a new life.  Not only was He resurrected; He also ascended into heaven.  And He left us the sure guarantee that He will return again.  Something of our salvation we already enjoy right now, but the full benefit of a new life in Christ will be revealed with his return.

God’s elect – today

Of course, between our “yesterday” and our “tomorrow” lies the “today”.  There are many people who would want to escape the present to be raptured into glory with Christ right now.  But that is not how it works.

Grief and trials

The people Peter addressed this letter to were scattered, probably because of persecution by the Jews or even the Romans.  To be a Christian is not always easy.  Some are called to suffer for Christ. But, Peter said, compared to an eternity with God, the present suffering is only for “a little while”.  In Luke 12:4-5 our Lord says that times can be tough for Christians, but:

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:4-5)

So, Christians are not led past trails and tribulations, but through them.  We are not exempt of hard times; the point is to not give up when those times come.  Faith teaches us to trust God, even in difficult times.

In refinement

Sufferings are neither purposeless nor fruitless. One of the many beneficial purposes of afflictions in this life for the child of God is to test the genuineness of his faith. Peter contrasts our faith with gold. Of all the substances known to man, gold is probably one of the most durable and sought after. It can be subjected to intense heat and might seem to be indestructible. But the truth is that gold perishes through use, pressure, and fire.

When prevailing conditions are favourable, it might be easy to be a Christian. But when public confession of Christ brings persecution and suffering, then the casual followers drift away and are lost in the crowd. A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing. Faith which refuses to pay the price is counterfeit.

Being prepared for glory

Genuine faith will result in praise, honour, and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed. This simply means that God will reward every instance of faith that stood the test. He will praise those who are joyful though surrounded by trouble. He will award honour and glory to tried and suffering believers who were able to accept their tribulations as a vote of confidence from Him.

God’s elect – yesterday has faded out and today is shaped by tomorrow 

It fills us with gratitude when we look back on God’s election, the gift of our salvation, our justification, and our sanctification because of the blood sacrifice of Christ and his victory over death.  We give our lives to the Lord to thank Him for undeserved grace.  But it is here where we perhaps fall short.  I cannot spiritually grow by constantly looking back.  I don’t only serve God just because I am grateful for salvation out of the bleakness of my lostness.  When this is my only perspective, another problem can so easily sneak in by stealth:  it is the idea that I have to repay God for his mercies.  My dedication to God is therefore nothing more than an action driven by some form of guilt that I actually owe God.  He has done so much for me, I have to do something for Him!  This notion is nowhere to be found in the Bible – not explicitly in any case.  How many Christians struggle with this problem!  Their Christian walk before God becomes a series of payments because they feel themselves in debt before God.

This leads to spiritual stagnation and paralysis.  Some see themselves as being caught in the “trap” of grace.  I have to do something, because I am saved.  The only thing that counts is passed sin, or my “yesterday”.

We have heard about the future.  There is hope, there is an inheritance, and there is and eternity.  That is our “tomorrow”!  The child of God is called, not to attempt to “pay back” what is owed to God; we cannot do it!  What the Bible is teaching is that there is even more grace stored up for us.   It is by faith that we take hold of it.  Good deeds which want pay back for salvation look back into the rearview mirror.  Faith which understands mercy, on the other hand, builds upon gratitude and looks forward. When the going gets tough, it endures.  It doesn’t give up.  It says:  because God was good to me in the past, I hold on to the future which is sure.  More than that, in the midst of all the trails and tribulation, I rejoice.  Paul says the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come.   And this verse talks about inexpressible and glorious joy.  He who sees the hope, he who takes hold of the future and serve God by faith, he grows.

Conclusion

The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land.  Behind them was their “yesterday” – they were rescued from slavery.  They looked back on their salvation.  Ahead of them was their “tomorrow” – sure, because it was promised by God over generations.  Then they struck the hard patch:  they had to conquer and destroy the people who lived in their Promised Land.  These were giants who made the Israelites feel like grasshoppers compared to them.  And their eyes became fixed on their yesterday.  God said:  How long will they refuse to believe in Me?  They lost sight of their tomorrow, and they lost faith in God.  God struck them with the plague and a journey that would have taken them a few months to complete became forty years of wandering the desert.

There is the pale blue colour of the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub.  In as sense the tomorrow has the brightest blue.  Don’t allow the troubles of today allow your tomorrow to be pale.  And of course, your yesterday should not have the brightest blue. Our eternal hope makes us forget “yesterday”, and it shapes our “today.”   AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 8 April 2018

 

Walking in step with the righteousness of Christ (2)

Bible Readings:

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

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Realised future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The heavenly Jerusalem

Paul writes in Philippians 3:

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

This is another way to say what Hebrews 12 says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myriads of Angels

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

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

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

The Church of the Firstborn

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

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

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

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

God, the Judge of all men

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

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

Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Walking in the righteousness of Christ

Bible Readings

  • Hebrews 12:22-29;
  • Philippians 3:7-4:1

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the last day of 2017.  The days of the last year made up part of the journey we are on—indeed, we are on our way to eternity.  2018 will once again add to privileges and opportunities, but it will surely present us with challenges, and, dare we say, disappointments.

Each day granted to us should ultimately be valued as another step forward, closer to our final objective: to end this pilgrimage seeing the face of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:16

The text for this morning is Philippians 3:16:

Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:16, NIV)

Look a bit closer to this verse and you will find something of the past, something of the future, and surely something of the present.

The Authorised Version translates:

Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. (Philippians 3:16, AV)

The “let us live up to” has something of “let’s live in agreement”, or “lets keep in step with”.  It has in mind a certain standard.  The expression “attain” has to do with “arriving at” or “reach”, or “come to be”.

If we paraphrase this verse it could sound something like this:  We must live in agreement with what we have come to be.

What we did not have and the standard by which we must live, has no connection with what we could not achieve in the past year on which we must improve; it has nothing to do with our desire to do better.  No, it is all about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Where we came from (the yesterday before Christ)

Chapter 3 of Philippians deals with living in the right relationship with God.  Or the technical term “righteousness”—it is what satisfies God for Him to declare us forgiven, and the ground on which we may call Him “Father”.

It is natural for sinners to think that to live in a right relationship with God we must do something to present ourselves better before God.  Somewhere in our minds we know God is holy, and we are not.  A crucial mistake anyone can make is to think that somehow God will lower his standards, turn a blind eye on sin, and excuse our sinfulness.  Another deadly mistake, which almost stands opposed to this, is to think we must achieve some level of holiness before God will even look at us.

The first assumption that God will somehow turn a blind eye on sin, and excuse us be showing lenience, is born in hell.  Fact is God is holy and we are not.  Don’t get confused between tolerance of sin and grace over sin.  God will never excuse or tolerate sin; it can only be forgiven—and forgiveness is achieved by a perfect standard of righteousness.

Paul never contemplated the attitude of God being lenient.  The opposite is true:  he threw in all he could to get on God’s right side—he came from the right family, the right clan, he followed the law to the letter, and even went a second mile by devoting his life as a Pharisee, in opposition to other sects of the Jewish faith which tried to water down the law.

But then he met Christ—and his whole outlook on righteousness changed.  In the light of what Christ achieved in perfect holiness and obedience to his Father, Paul considered his “righteousness” as rubbish.  He chucked his achievements out the window as worthless, useless as “dung”.  His own achievements stank compared to the righteousness of Christ.

When he discovered the immeasurable worth of Christ’s work and how He brought Paul into the right relationship with God, the only thing he wanted was to “know” Christ and “to be found in Him”.

He came to this conclusion:  It was wrong for me to think that I could live in the right relationship with God while I was trying to achieve it by keeping the Law.  What is necessary to live in the right relationship with God, was Christ who achieved what I could not. I committed myself by faith to Him only, and God granted me what was necessary to live in relationship with Him based on what Christ did on my behalf.

This is a paraphrase of verse 9.

Then he expresses only one wish in verse 10:  I now only desire to live in relationship with Christ, to be associated with Him, to be united with Him by faith, and to live with the understanding that He suffered and was resurrected to make it possible for me to be right with God. When He died, by faith I died. He will enable me to suffer for his sake too.

The before Christ life is a life of own achievement; own merit to gain God’s mercy in the hope to be saved.  My dear friend, this is counter-gospel.  The folk in Galatia abandoned grace and went down the track of BYO righteousness achieve by the Law.  Listen to what Paul write to them:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6–8, NIV)

Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? (Galatians 3:3)

That’s our past:  trying to achieve righteousness which would put us in the right relationship with God.

I asked members in good standing with the church about their relationship with God, and how many times have I heard this: “Well, I try my best!” Bad news—our best is never good enough, because God is holy and we are not.  Good news:  Someone else gave his best and that was enough—His best made it possible for us to live in the right relationship with God.  Forget about trying; it’s a matter of believing, putting your trust in Christ’s hand, believing He achieved the holiness which God is looking for.

Now we understand the first part of Philippians 3:16:  “What we already attained”, or “what we have come to”.

Where we are going to (the future because of Christ)

Paul writes in Philippians 3:20-21:

But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)

This is a marvellous verse.  Before Christ we had no citizenship, other than to be on our way to eternal punishment in hell.  If by faith we know Him, and are united with Him, if we understand that in our hands we have nothing to secure any life with God, we receive a new address:  eternity with God in heaven. If we continue to try our own thing we’ll miss heaven and we are without hope.  Paul writes to the Ephesians:

… remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship …, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12–13, NIV)

Through Christ we received hope, not an uncertain “I think so”, “I’ll try my best, who knows!”, but a sure destination, all based on the perfect work of Christ which put us in the right relationship with God.  He who said He is going to prepare a home for us, also gave us the promise that He will return to take us to be where He is.  He is our way, our truth and our life! (John 14:1-6) There is only one way to the Father and that is Jesus Christ; own efforts don’t count for a penny’s worth.

We trust Him and wait eagerly for his return.  He will return as King and everything will be under his rule:

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:16, NIV)

I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:8–9)

This is our Lord, our Saviour, our righteousness!  Because He conquered death and defeated this enemy, our lowly bodies will be transformed in the wink of an eye, to be like his glorious body.

“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 15:55–57, NIV)

O, you want to know Him, you need to be united to Him by faith.

The pilgrimage between the past to the future

Now we come to that phrase in Philippians 3:16:  “Let us live in keeping with”, or “let us walk in agreement”.  Where have come from?  A life outside of the rich relationship with God; a life of trying and despairing DIY righteousness.  What have we come to be?  People with a hope in eternal life with Christ. How did this happen?  Christ made it all possible by achieving the righteousness acceptable to the holy Father.  We took hold of it by faith.

What difference does it make to the way we live now?

1.  Take hold of Christ because He took hold of us

Paul writes:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

He discovered the freedom of grace and the way to live in a right relationship with God, but his eyes are still set on the end goal: Jesus took hold of him, and he pressed on to take hold on to the reason for Christ grace:  eternity. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

2.  Following the example of those who finished the race before us

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Philippians 3:17, NIV)

God was gracious to give us people like Paul, Silas, Timothy, Peter, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, Billy Graham, Martin Lloyd Jones, R.C. Sproul, godly grandparents and parents.  They are examples of people who knew Christ and were found in Him.

3.  Renounce the world

Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18–19, NIV)

The world seem be attractive, but those who are in Christ now live with a Kingdom mindset, not fulfilling their fleshly desires, with their backs on all this world can offer, with the mind controlled by heavenly principles.

Conclusion

Where will 2018 takes us?  No-one knows, but one thing: if you know Jesus Christ, if your life is united in his, if you live in the right relationship with God because of Christ’s righteousness, then:  “Live in agreement with what you have become in Him”.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 December 2017

 

The King after God’s own heart

Bible readings

  • Acts 13:16-25;
  • 1Samuel 13:1-15

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters, it’s only the expression on the faces of little girls when mom catches them out with make-up all over their faces sometimes which helps to not dish out punishment straight away.  It’s another story when a parent finds a toddler with a permanent marker in its hands after the walls and the furniture had a bit of treatment.  The first question is usually, “What have you done?”

Don’t we all know the embarrassment of being found out, especially after we acted silly or unwise. Men work with tools, handle them the wrong way, and end up with stitches in a finger or a hand.  And still his wife asks, “What have you done?” She doesn’t really want to know; the question is actually a statement, “You should have known better!”

This question occurs frequently in the Bible, and in most cases it follows rebellion.  After Adam and Eve were disobedient in Eden and rebelled against God, He asked Eve, “What have you done?” (Genesis 3:13)  When Cain murdered Abel God asked him, “What have you done?” (Genesis 4:10)  When the storm tossed the boat with Jonah in it, the men asked him, “What have you done?” (Jonah 1:8)

In our reading today, Samuel asked Saul, “What have you done?”

Shattered hopes

There are difficulties in the translation and understanding of 1 Samuel 13:1.  There are wide-ranging differences between commentators.  Fact is, Saul was surely not a year old when he became prince, and neither did he only rule the people for two years. The Hebrew text reads:  “Saul was … year when he became king; he was king for … years”.  By implication the translation mentions two periods: one year and two years.   What does it all mean?

A careful study of the context gives us the impression that 13:1-2 should actually be grouped with the previous chapter, and should serve as a summary of Saul’s kingship.  We learn two things from these two verses:

  1. After his inauguration Saul made his son Jonathan his Second-in-Command. Saul selected 3,000 men as army, 2,000 of which stayed with him, and the other 1,000 was under the command of Jonathan.  Saul made Micmash his (temporary) headquarters, and Jonathan manned Gibeah.
  2. It is possible to understand verse one this way: Samuel anointed Saul as king; but his official inauguration as king happened a year later.  That explains the time between Samuel anointing him, followed by Saul’s successful campaign against the Ammonites (chapter 11), and then his confirmation at Gilgal (11:12-15).

The second part of 13:1, stating that Saul reigned for two years, describes the period between his official inauguration and his rebellion against the command of God.  This is when Samuel confronted him with the question, “What have you done?” From that moment on, according to 13:14—only two years into his kingship—Saul’s kingdom was so-to-speak over.

If this explanation is true, we have to conclude that if the people wanted a king like the nations around them to lead them in war against their enemies, their hope was shattered very early—and to make things worse, they were stuck with an ineffective king for the next about 30 years!

Let’s see how all of this happened.

The inoperative king

Directly after Samuel anointed Saul as king he specifically mentioned the Philistine outpost at Gibeah, and added, “You will be changed into a different person … do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” (10:7)

His kingship was to commence with charity at home—in his own hometown.  The word “outpost” can also be translated as “commander”.  The first assignment was not meant to be outrageously difficult—he only needed to get rid of the commander of the Philistines.  He didn’t! Jonathan did with his 1,000 men after his father was inaugurated. This is what is recorded in our reading this morning.

Jonathan’s action and courage overshadowed that of his father’s.  After all, Gibeah was described as “Gibeah of God” (10:5). For the young Second-in-Command, the honour of God came first—he had to rid the Promised Land of the uncircumcised (14:6) Philistines.

Although the people wanted to be free from the Philistines, they were not actually encouraged by Jonathan’s campaign. For them they now were a stench to the Philistines.  Don’t stir sleeping dogs; Jonathan did, and it surely stirred the Philistines into vengeance.

His father seized the moment and took the honours.  He blew the trumpet and called “the Hebrews”—the derogatory term the Philistines used to describe the Israelites—into action. He ordered them to gather in Gilgal.

The Philistines assembled in vast numbers right there where Saul left for Gilgal.  Chariots with six thousand charioteers and four soldiers as numerous as a sand on the seashore (13:5)

The foolish king

After Saul was officially installed as leader, Samuel foreshadowed this event (10:8). Saul was ordered to go to Gilgal and wait for Samuel.  This was the arrangement:

Go ahead of me to Gilgal. I [mark my words – there is a ‘Behold’ in the original; also the “I” is emphasised] will come to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice fellowship offerings. Wait seven days until I come to you and show you what to do.” (1 Samuel 10:8, CSB)

In the lead-up to this day the people who thought now that they had a king, all would just be hunky dory, but when they saw the enemy and observed the inaction of their king, their courage left them.  They hid in caves, in bushes, among the rocks, in pits, in cisterns, and some even ducked across the Jordan.

Saul arrived in Gilgal, but troops with him were quaking with fear.  He remembered the command of Samuel to wait for seven days.  At first it seemed Samuel forgot, and Saul’s army began to scatter.  He ordered the burnt and fellowship offering and the sacrifice.

Then Samuel appeared.  Saul went to greet him.  There were no niceties from Samuel’s side.  Just, “What have you done?”

Saul did not see anything wrong in what he did.  Instead, he blamed first of all, the soldiers—they scattered.  Then he blamed Samuel—he did not show when Saul expected him to arrive; lastly he blamed the circumstance —the vast number of the Philistines.

He had the sure word of the prophet that he will come, yet he doubted it; he had no certainty that the Philistines would attack him at Gilgal, yet took it for certain.

He was tested—but he failed.  He sought the favour of the Lord by being disobedient to the Lord.

“Disobedience is like the evil of idolatry.” (15:23)

So close, yet now removed

We might have been compassionate towards Saul:  the end justifies the means.  His situation was desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures: he had lost his army, his had lost the trust of the people, the enemy was vast, and he ran out of time.

Samuel did not listen to the reasons.  What counted was the action.  “You acted foolishly.” There was this moment in Saul’s heart that he doubted God—and only a fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)  And because this was the case with Saul, his unbelief and doubt urged him to disobey the command of the Lord, “Your kingdom will not endure.” To this Samuel added:  “If you had, He would have established your kingdom for all time.”

Saul, you were so close—now you’ve missed it all!

The only person to lead the people of God would be a person who fully trusted and fully obeyed the Lord.  As we will see further down our study of the kings of Israel, God was not after a sinless king—even David would not have qualified then; but God was after someone who fully trusted and obeyed Him.

The King after God’s own heart

Samuel informed Saul of God’s plan:

“… the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people.”   

This was set and done—when it comes to the well-being of his people, God’s sovereign right demands his justice. Now it was God’s desire to appoint a king, then it was the people’s desire. But in the meantime, the people were stuck for more than 30 years with the indecisive, ineffective, foolish king who did not obey and trust God.

What was the consequence?

Saul, his son Jonathan, and the troops who were with them were staying in Geba of Benjamin, and the Philistines were camped at Michmash. (1 Samuel 13:16, HCSB)

Saul went home with only six hundred soldiers; the rest lost confidence in him—and there is no indication that there was any confrontation with the Philistines.

And then this tragic note:

No blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise, the Hebrews will make swords or spears.” So on the day of battle not a sword or spear could be found in the hand of any of the troops who were with Saul and Jonathan; only Saul and his son Jonathan had weapons. (1 Samuel 13:19, 22, CSB)

Imagine God’s people defenceless, subject to their enemy. Does it not paint a vivid picture of the church of today?

God’s choice was someone who would lead the people to not be like the nations around them; his choice was someone who would lead the people to lead the nations to be God’s people.  In the short term David would be that man. Ultimately God had Someone else in mind.  Let’s go to Acts 13.  Paul preaches in Psidian Antioch.  Referring to king David he draws this conclusion:

“From this man’s descendants, according to the promise, God brought the Saviour, Jesus, to Israel. (Acts 13:23, HCSB)

He then mentioned the resurrection of Christ, securing salvation for his people, and said:

And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. God has fulfilled this 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, CSB)

Why is this this message important?

“… through this Man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39, CSB)

Then the warning:

Look, you scoffers, marvel and vanish away, because I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will never believe, even if someone were to explain it to you.” (Acts 13:41, HCSB)

These words are from Habakkuk and it refers to God’s judgment upon his people by sending the king of Babylon to take them in slavery.

Conclusion

In Saul the hope of the people was shattered.  He was ineffective, indecisive and acted foolish by disobedience to God.

The King after God’s own heart, Jesus Christ, obeyed God, took on the enemy and crushed him, and thereby restored the hope of those who trust God.  He is the Saviour; He forgives sin, and whoever believes in Him stands justified before God.  Is He your King?

We can safely say, “The king is dead; long live the King!”  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 August 2017

 

The Intercession of Christ (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Exodus 28:6-21
  • John 17:11-19

Introduction

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

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

The shadow of the old covenant

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

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

This writer continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The eternal High Priest

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

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

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

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

Only He could declare:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The intercession of our eternal High Priest

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

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

What does He ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does He ask?

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

The price is paid; hallelujah! Amen.

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

The convincing judgement of the Holy Spirit

I think we all agree that the most annoying aspect of TV is the ads.  I actually think the TV stations secretly know this.  Why would they ask you not to go away during the commercial break?  (Another thing:  Why do they welcome you back when you were the one who sat there waiting for them to come back?)

Ads in other news media can be just as annoying; just think about all the junk mail one gets in the mail box – and all along they are the ones who tell us to save the trees and save the planet!

But the story behind ads lies its ability and aim to change our minds.  See, if you  keep telling people they need something, they will eventually develop that need.  Ads are designed to slowly impact our thinking, and eventually change our buying habits.

We see our politicians vying for our attention to change our minds as who we are going to vote for.  They are not always successful.  Doctors are more successful, because if we don’t do what they say we might be exposed to pain and eventually death.  So, we listen to them.

This brings me to something I would really desire to have:  the ability to convince people to change their minds and hearts and to obey God.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful!   If the pastors of our city work together all of Hervey Bay would be Christians within a few short years.  But the reality of preaching the Gospel is that it does not lie within the preacher to convince people to be saved.  Even some missionaries plough every ounce of energy into proclaiming the Gospel to nations living in the darkness of sin, only to, in some cases, retire without seeing any convict.

The context of Christ’s words to his disciples

Now, let’s go to the chapter we have read in John 16.  Let’s put ourselves in the boots of the disciples as Jesus spoke to them.

Our Lord announced that He is going to leave them.  His command to them was that they would love one another.  He had already promised them that the Holy Spirit would come to be their Helper – we looked at that from John 14.

Christ gave them other promises too:  The Father will give them whatever they ask in His name.  But He also commanded them to be fruitful.  As a matter of fact, He declared:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 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 15:8, 16, NIV)

Then our Lord added this:

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

All of this sounds fantastic – and it is!  The gift to the Church in the first instance is Jesus Christ; in the second instance it’s the Holy Spirit; the promise is that all the Church needs to bear fruit, and lots of it, is to ask and trust God to fulfil his promises; of course this should bring us joy!  So, we’ve got all we need.  The only thing remaining now is to prayerfully take to the streets, trust God, stand upon the promises of Christ, speak in the power of the Holy Spirt – are you with me up to this point? So what will happen if we did exactly this?  All the people will fall at our feet, believing every word we say.  Right? Nor really!

There is something we missed in what Jesus taught his disciples.  Listen:

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. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (John 15:19–21, NIV)

This changes things somewhat.  Gone is the joy!  The world we face and proclaim the message to does not like us, they hate us.  The passage from 1Corinthians today states:

None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8, NIV)

And you might say you did not sign up for this part of Christian service.  But there is no other Christianity.  If you call yourself a Christian, it implies that you are not of this world.

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:14, NIV)

So, where do we stand?  It seems impossible to bear much fruit then in this hostile world.  No, don’t despair.  We have a Helper!  He is the Holy Spirit.  He is the convincing Judge.

When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: (John 16:8, NIV)

What seemed to be impossible for the handful of disciples, (and Luke tells us that the men of the Jewish Council knew they were unschooled, ordinary men [Acts 4:13]) became a reality on Pentecost day:  The Holy Spirit was poured out and Peter preached, expounding the Word of God – and three thousand people became Christians.  But others hated them and stuck them in jail, Stephen was stoned, and Paul was beaten and left of dead outside a city.  Success as well as rejection.  The secret lies in the work of the Holy Spirit.

The convincing judge

The work of the Spirit is like a double-edged sword.  While it convicts of sin, righteousness and judgement, He brings sins to light with a view to draw sinners to Christ.  But those who are hard of heart and reject the convicting work stand condemned.  His work is both convincing and convicting.

Just a few verses back Jesus said:

If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both Me and my Father. (John 15:24, NIV)

The Spirit of God continues the work of Christ while He is in heaven at the right hand of God.  So, He also reveals to the lost the glories of the salvation in Christ, and as such his work is to open the eyes of the lost to the reality of:

Sin

“In regard to sin, because men do not believe in me.” (verse 9)

We proclaim the Gospel as channels and heralds of Christ;  we may point out to those who do not know Him that they need to repent from their sin; we may point out the deadly consequences of rejecting Christ and no believing in Him; we may even refer to eternal punishment upon those who trample underfoot the blood of Christ – all these things we need to do; but ultimately the work of convincing and influencing people to change their hearts and minds, to repent, to beg for forgiveness of sins, and to follow Jesus Christ is the work of the Spirit.  And that’s a good thing.  He is God!  When He shines his light upon a sinful heart one finds oneself in a corner without escape – and the only way out is to beg for forgiveness – only to find the peace of Christ filling your mind – because you know judgment is taken away.

Hardening your heart is to face the Spirit who will one day take you to the throne of judgement.  Do you want to go there?

The Spirit’s work is to open the eyes of the lost to the reality of:

Righteousness

Jesus said:  about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; (John 16:10, NIV)

At first it sounds difficult to understand this verse, until we understand that Christ is our only righteousness.  We have no righteousness of our own.  He is in heaven to plead for us at the Father, based only on the fact that He took our sins upon Him and gave his righteousness to us.  Based on us trusting Hom only for salvation and believing in him as the only person between us and God, our relationship with the Father is now right.

The work of the Spirit is to convince sinners that there is no other righteousness, no-one else who can forgive and cleanse.  It’s all about Christ whom the Spirit has come to declare to us.

The work of the Spirit is to convince sinners that there is no other righteousness, and that those who reject this righteousness will one day stand to face Him who gave his life to save; they will have to think of a reason why they thought to push aside his offer of grace.  Even those who put their trust in their own good deeds in the hope that it will be enough to save them – they will then hear the judging words of the Spirit, because all our good works combined will never suffice to bring salvation to our souls.

It’s a matter of trusting Christ completely with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, leaving all you have at his feet, taking up your cross and then following Him.  Their is just no other means to be saved.

The Spirit’s work is to open the eyes of the lost to the reality of:

Judgement

This is not something modern Christianity loves to hear.  Denominations where the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are overstressed seem to believe the only aspect worth believing in the Holy Spirit is to receive those gifts, and more so the gift of speaking in tongues, and also the power of the Spirit, which is usually  understood to mean the ability to perform miracles, and sometimes mean that we can experience all sorts of prosperity and material success.

But according to our verse the work of the Spirit is to bring judgement as a reality to us.  The reason for this is to help us understand the consequence of rejecting Christ, but also to help us understand the blessings of receiving Christ, and as such to be free of judgement.

Conclusion

When Paul states:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, (1 Corinthians 2:4, NIV)

– he understood that if the salvation of sinners rested upon his shoulders, it would be doomed.  No, it was all the work of the Spirit.  That’s why he continues:

so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. (1 Corinthians 2:5–6, NIV)

So, here I stand as preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  My prayer is that you all will receive Christ and be saved.  God had a purpose why He called you here today to hear this.  Now, I rest my case.  I still pray for you as Paul was doing, in his words:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV)

Is your sin bearing like a burden on you?  Do you understand that Christ died for you to become your righteousness?  Do you understand that fleeing to Him He removes judgement from you?  Praise God.  Heed the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.

Do this Gospel message leave you cold and unmoved?  I plead with you, be reconciled to Christ; the consequences are too severe to shove it aside.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 29 May 2016

Limited Atonement

Limited atonement—is it biblical?

[This and other articles can be found at http://www.gotquestions.org/limited-atonement.html]

Disclaimer:  By using this article from gotquestions.org does not imply that we necessarily agree with all expressions put forward on that site

(The contents of the original article is not altered, but we added some paragraph breaks and headings to help make a good article read easier.  Thanks to the original [unknown] author)

The “L” in TULIP

“Limited atonement” is a term that is used to summarize what the Bible teaches about the purpose for Christ’s death on the cross and what His life, death and resurrection accomplished. It is the third letter of the acronym TULIP, which is commonly used to explain what are known as the five points of Calvinism, also known as the doctrines of grace.

The doctrine of limited atonement is clearly the most controversial and maybe even the most misunderstood of all the doctrines of grace. Because the name can confuse people and cause them to have wrong ideas about what is meant, some people prefer to use terms like “particular redemption,” “definite redemption,” “actual atonement,” or “intentional atonement.” These terms correctly focus on the fact that the Bible reveals Jesus’ death on the cross was intentional and had a definite purpose that it succeeded in accomplishing.

Yet, like all of the doctrines of grace, what is important is not the name that is assigned to the doctrine but how accurately the doctrine summarizes what the Bible teaches about the nature and purpose of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Atonement with a purpose

The doctrine of limited atonement affirms that the Bible teaches Christ’s atoning work on the cross was done with a definite purpose in mind—to redeem for God people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Revelation 5:9). Jesus died, according to Matthew 1:21, to “save His people from their sins.”

This truth is seen in many passages throughout Scripture.

  • In John 10:15, we see that He lays “down His life for the sheep.” Who are the sheep? They are the people chosen by God from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
  • These are the same ones Jesus said were given to Him by the Father in order that He would fulfil the Father’s will by losing none of them and by raising all of them up in the last day (John 6:37-40).
  • The truth that Jesus came for this specific reason is seen in both the Old and New Testaments. One of the greatest passages on the atonement in the Old Testament isIsaiah 53. In this passage alone, we see that He was “stricken for the transgression of God’s people” (Isaiah 53:8); that He would “justify many” because “He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11); and that He indeed “bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12).

These verses and many others talk about an atonement that was specific in whom it covered (God’s people), was substitutionary in nature (He actually bore their sins on the cross), and actually accomplished what God intended it to do (justify many). Clearly, here is a picture of an intentional, definite atonement.

Christ died not simply to make justification a possibility but to actually justify those He died for. He died to save them, not to make them save-able.

Substitutionary atonement

The doctrine of limited atonement also recognizes that the Bible teaches Jesus’ death on the cross was a substitutionary atonement for sins.

Many theologians use the word “vicarious” to describe Christ’s atonement. This word means “acting on behalf of” or “representing another” and is used to describe “something performed or suffered by one person with the results accruing to the benefit or advantage of another.”

The vicarious atonement of Christ means He was acting as a representative for a specific group of people (the elect) who would receive a direct benefit (salvation) as the result of His death. This concept is clearly seen in 2 Corinthians 5:21:

“He (God the Father) made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

If Jesus actually stood in my place and bore my sin on the cross as the Bible teaches, then I can never be punished for that sin. In order for Christ’s atonement to truly be a substitutionary or vicarious atonement, then it must actually secure a real salvation for all for whom Christ died.

If the atonement only makes salvation a possibility, then it cannot be a vicarious atonement.

If Christ acted as a real and true substitute for those for whom He died, then all for whom He died will be saved. To say that Christ died a vicarious death in the place of all sinners but that not all sinners will be saved is a contradiction

Other words for atonement

Four different words or aspects of the atonement are clearly seen in Scripture, and each one helps us understand the nature and extent of the atonement. These four words are ransom, reconciliation, propitiation and substitute. These four aspects of Christ’s atonement all speak of Christ as having actually accomplished something in His death. A study of these four terms in their biblical contexts leads to the obvious conclusion that one cannot hold to a true universal atonement without also requiring universal salvation.

If one holds to an unlimited atonement while denying universal salvation, one ends up with

  • a redemption that leaves men not totally free or actually redeemed,
  • a reconciliation that leaves men still estranged from God,
  • a propitiation that leaves men still under the wrath of God, and
  • a substitutionary death that still makes the sinner himself help pay the debt of his sin.

All of these aspects of the atoning work of Christ then become nothing more than a possibility that relies upon man to make them a reality.

What the bible teaches

But that is not what the Bible teaches.

  • It teaches that those who are redeemed by Christ are truly free and their debt has been fully paid.
  • It teaches that those who are reconciled to God are actually reconciled and the wall of separation that existed between them and God has been torn down (Colossians 2:14).
  • It teaches that Christ’s death on the cross was a sacrifice that fully satisfied the wrath of God.
  • It also teaches that Christ was indeed a substitute, a kinsmen redeemer, who acted in place of and on behalf of His people. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and the Greek word translated “finished” isteleō, which was used to indicate that a debt had been paid in full. And that is exactly what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

Misunderstandings

Limited atonement lessens the value of the atonement of Christ

One common misunderstanding about the doctrine of limited atonement is that this view somehow lessens or limits the value of the atonement of Christ. Yet exactly the opposite is true.

Limited atonement correctly recognizes that Christ’s death was of infinite value and lacking in nothing. In fact, it is of such value that, had God so willed, Christ’s death could have saved every member of the human race. Christ would not have had to suffer any more or do anything different to save every human who ever lived than He did in securing the salvation of the elect. But that was not God’s purpose in sending Christ to the cross.

God’s purpose in the atonement was that Jesus would secure forever the salvation of those the Father had given to Him (Hebrews 7:25).

Therefore, while Christ’s atonement was limited in its intent or purpose, it was unlimited in its power.

Limited atonement lessens the love of God for humanity

Another common misunderstanding about the doctrine of limited atonement is that it somehow lessens or diminishes the love of God for humanity.

Yet, again, exactly the opposite is true. Of all of the doctrines of grace, the doctrine of limited atonement, when correctly understood, magnifies the love of God; it does not diminish it.

Limited atonement reinforces the intensive love of God that is revealed in the Bible. God loves His people with a love that saves them from their sin, as opposed to the love of the unlimited atonement view that sees God’s love as being more general in nature.

In the unlimited atonement view, He loves everyone in general but saves no one in particular and, in fact, leaves the matter of their salvation up to them.

Which is more loving, a love that actually saves people or a love that makes salvation “possible” to those who are dead in trespasses and sins and unable to choose God?

Limited atonement and the free offer of the Gospel

One of the main arguments used against limited atonement is that, if Christ did not atone for the sins of everybody in the world and if God only intended to save the elect, how do you explain the numerous biblical passages that indicate the free offer of the gospel to “whosoever will come?” How can God offer salvation to all, including those whom He has not elected or foreordained to be saved? How can we understand the paradox that occurs because the Bible teaches God intends that only the elect will be saved, yet, on the other hand, the Bible also unequivocally declares that God freely and sincerely offers salvation to everyone who will believe? (Ezekiel 33:11Isaiah 45:2255:1Matthew 11:2823:372 Peter 3:9Revelation 22:17)

The solution to this paradox is simply an acknowledgment of all that the Bible teaches.

  • The call of the gospel is universal in the sense that anybody that hears it and believes in it will be saved.
  • Because everyone is dead in trespasses and sin, no one will believe the gospel and respond in faith unless God first makes those who are dead in their trespasses and sins alive (Ephesians 2:1-5).

The Bible teaches that “whosoever believes” will have eternal life and then explains why some believe and some don’t.

Limited atonement and “the world”

Another argument against limited atonement points to the passages in the Bible that speak of Christ’s atonement in a more general or unlimited sense. For example,

  • In1 John 2:2 John says that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the “whole world.”
  • Likewise, inJohn 4:42 Jesus is called the “Saviour of the world”, and
  • InJohn 1:29 is said to “take way the sin of the world.”
  • Other verses that seem to indicate an unlimited view of the atonement include2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “He died for all” and 1 Timothy 2:6: “He gave Himself a ransom for all” (although Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 say Christ came to “give His life a ransom for many”).

Those who believe in unlimited atonement use such verses to make the point that, if Christ died for all and takes away the sins of the world, then His atonement cannot be limited to only the elect.

However, these verses are easily reconciled with the many other verses that support the doctrine of limited atonement simply by recognizing that often the Bible uses the words “world” or “all” in a limited sense. They do not automatically mean “every individual in the entire world.” This is evident when just a few verses are considered:

  • InLuke 2:1 it is recorded that a “decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered,” and
  • Luke 2:3 says, “So all went to be registered everyone to his own city.” But, clearly, it is not talking about every individual in the whole world. Caesar’s decree did not apply to the Japanese, Chinese or countless other people throughout the world.
  • Similarly, the Pharisees, being dismayed at Jesus’ growing popularity said, “Look how the whole world has gone after Him!” Did every single person in the world follow Jesus? Or was the “world” limited to a small area of Palestine in which Jesus preached?

So, it should be readily apparent that the phrase “all” or “all the world” does not necessarily mean every individual. Understanding that basic fact allows one to consider each of these seemingly universal passages in their contexts, and, when that is done, it becomes apparent that they do not present any conflict with the doctrine of limited atonement.

Limited atonement hinders evangelism

Yet another argument against limited atonement is that it is a hindrance to the preaching of the gospel and to evangelism. Those that use this argument will say that if an evangelist cannot say, “Christ died for you,” then his effectiveness in presenting the gospel will be limited. Or they will say that, if only the elect will be saved, why should the gospel be preached at all?

Once again, these objections are easily dealt with. The gospel is to be preached to everyone because

  • it is the power of God to salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16), and
  • it is the means that God has ordained by which the elect will be saved (Romans 10:14-17).

Also, the evangelist does not need to tell the unbeliever that “Christ died for your sins,” specifically. All he needs to proclaim is that Christ died to pay the penalty for sin and provide a way for sinners to be reconciled to a holy God. Believe in Him, and you will be saved.

The doctrines of grace, and specifically the doctrine of limited atonement, empower evangelism rather than hinder it. Embracing these wonderful biblical truths allows one to boldly and clearly declare the good news of the gospel, knowing that the power is not in our presentation of it or in the audience’s ability to understand it or desire to believe it, but, instead, rests solely upon an all-powerful God who has determined to save people from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Problems with unlimited atonement

Who decides to limit or un-limit?

Belief in an unlimited atonement, on the other hand, presents many logical and biblical problems. First of all, if the atonement was truly unlimited, then every person would be saved as all of their sins, including the sin of unbelief, would have been paid for by Christ on the cross. However, such universalism is clearly unbiblical, as the Bible is very clear that not all people are saved or will be saved. Therefore, both the Arminian and Calvinist believe in some sort of limited atonement.

  • The Arminian limits the effectiveness of the atonement in saying Christ died for all people but not all people will be saved. His view of the atonement limits its power as it only makes salvation a possibility and does not actually save anyone.
  • On the other hand, the Calvinist limits the intent of the atonement by stating that Christ’s atonement was for specific people (the elect) and that it completely secured the salvation of those whom He died for.

So, all Christians believe in some sort of limited atonement. The question, then, is not whether the Bible teaches a limited atonement but how or in what sense the atonement is limited.

  • Is the power of the atonement limited in that it only makes salvation a possibility, or is its power to save unlimited and it actually results in the salvation of those whom God intended to save (the elect, His sheep)?
  • Does God do the limiting, or does man? Does God’s sovereign grace and purpose dictate the ultimate success or failure of the redemptive work of Christ, or does the will of man decide whether God’s intentions and purposes will be realized?
Is salvation only potentially possible?

A major problem with unlimited atonement is that is makes redemption merely a potential or hypothetical act.  An unlimited atonement means that Christ’s sacrifice is not effectual until the sinner does his part in believing. In this view, the sinner’s faith is the determining factor as to whether Christ’s atonement actually accomplishes anything.

If the doctrine of unlimited atonement is true, then it has Christ dying for people the Father knew would not be saved and has Christ paying the penalty for the sins of people who would also have to pay the penalty for the same sin. In effect, it makes God unjust.

Either God punishes people for the sins that Christ atoned for, or Christ’s atonement was somehow lacking in that it does not sufficiently cover all the sins of those for whom He died.

What about God’s justice?

The problem with this view becomes even clearer when one considers that at the time Christ died on the cross there were already sinners that had died who will face the wrath of God in hell for their sin. Logically, it makes no sense for God the Father to have Christ atone for the sins of people who were already suffering the wrath of God for their sin. Where is the justice in punishing Christ for the sins of those that were already being punished for their sins? Again, this also shows that an unlimited atonement cannot be a vicarious, substitutionary atonement.

What about God’s righteousness?

Still another problem with an unlimited view of the atonement is that it demeans the righteousness of God and destroys the grounds of a believer’s assurance. An important aspect of a believer’s assurance is that God is righteous and that He will not nor cannot punish sin twice. Therefore, the sin that is covered by Christ’s blood can never be charged to the sinner’s account. Yet that is what a universal atonement leads to. Christ is punished for the sins of those that are not saved, and then they are also punished in hell for the same sins.

Can one ever be sure of salvation?

Unlimited atonement says that, while Christ does a great deal to bring salvation to His people, His death on the cross did not actually secure that salvation for anyone. Christ’s death is not sufficient in and of itself to save lost people, and, in order for His atoning work to be effective, there is a requirement that sinners themselves must meet. That requirement is faith. For man to be saved, he must add his faith to Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

Therefore, the effectiveness of the atonement is limited by man’s faith or lack thereof.

On the other hand, limited atonement believes that Christ’s death and resurrection actually secures the salvation of His people. While God does require faith of His people, Christ’s death even paid for the sin of our unbelief, and, therefore, His death meets all requirements for our salvation and provides everything necessary to secure the salvation of God’s people including the faith to believe. That is true unconditional love, a salvation that is by grace alone in Christ alone.

Christ plus nothing equals salvation—an atonement so sufficient that it secures everything necessary for salvation, including the faith that God gives us to believe (Ephesians 2:8).

Conclusion

Limited atonement, like all of the doctrines of grace, upholds and glorifies the unity of the triune Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit all work in unison for the purpose of salvation. These doctrines build upon one another.

The doctrine of total depravity establishes what the Bible teaches about the spiritual condition of unregenerate man and leaves one with the question “Who can be saved?” The doctrine of unconditional election then answers the question by declaring God’s sovereign choice in choosing to save people despite their depravity and based solely on God’s sovereign choice to redeem for Himself people from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Next, the doctrine of limited atonement explains how God can be perfectly just and yet redeem those sinful people and reconcile them to Himself. The only solution to the depravity of man was for God to provide a Redeemer who would act as their substitute and suffer the wrath of God for their sins. He did this in the death of Christ, who, having been crucified, completely and totally “canceled out the certificate of debt…having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

That leads to another question: how can a spiritually dead sinner who is hostile to God have faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross? That question is answered by the doctrine of grace that is known as irresistible grace, the “I” in the acronym TULIP.

Dead in sin, alive in Christ

Communion Service – association with and participation in Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Colossians 2:13-3:4

Introduction

First, an illustration.  Heila and I visited a very interesting shop not so long ago during a visit to the Blue Mountains in NSW.  This particular shop is home to the largest collection of teapots in the world. On shelves about pelmet height, are displayed more than 4,000 teapots.  But that’s not all:  apart from this very extensive collection of teapots, you can find every conceivable piece of glassware.  Wherever to put your foot down or swing your arm or point your finger at, you bump into precious glassware.  Don’t go there with grandchildren; if you have to use a walking stick, stay away!

Now the question, how can the owners assure that they conduct a profitable business?  One possible answer to this intriguing question possibly lies in the notice at the entrance of this shop.  It says You brake it, you pay for it. Entering into the shop, accepting this condition, makes you a partner of the business for the duration of the visit, sharing in the risk of running it.

The operative words here are association and participation.  This takes us back to Colossians 2:11-15. I will try to explain this fairly complex paragraph in the word of God by breaking it up in little bits.

Old Testament Covenant

The background of the verses 11-14 is the Biblical doctrine of God’s Covenant with his people.  God called Israel, which is the Church in Old Testament times, to be his people.  He made an agreement with them in which He was the principle partner, and they the minor partners.  Because God is the only God who could save, provide, protect and assure safety, He by grace took Israel to be his people.  He placed upon them obligations stipulated in His covenant, requiring of them to live holy lives as people of God.

He also gave them signs as a seal of this covenant:  all male children had to be circumcised.  This circumcision was ultimately a circumcision of the heart, something not done by hands but by the Holy Spirit of God. This sign was a sign of God’s grace, but by this sign they would be set apart from the rest of the nations as God’s holy nation.  They had to turn from their evil practices, not live as the nations around them and worship God only as He commanded them. The term we may use for their sanctification within this context is the term we find in our verse of Col 2:11 – they had to put to death their sinful nature.

In Leviticus 19:2 God commanded Moses to speak to the people:  “Say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord you God am holy.’” They had to revere their parents, keep the Sabbaths, turn away from idols, serve God only and bring sacrifices to them in the prescribed way, love their neighbours, not steal, not cheat, do honest work, etc.  And about every time God gives them the command, He adds to it: “I am the Lord your God.”  Why?  Well, He saved them and made a covenant with them.  That’s why.  He owns them and the stipulations of his covenant demanded it.

The sign of circumcision (as an Old Testament sacrament) was accompanied by sacrifices.  All sacrifices had their fulfilment in the Passover Lamb (the other Old Testament sacrament). The sacrifices they were to bring to the Lord assured that they could enjoy communion with Him because of their sins being forgiven.  They did not die for their sins, but the animals did.  Their participation in the act of sacrifice and their association with the blood of the animal brought to them forgiveness.

New Testament Covenant

Let’s go back to Colossians.  God extended his covenant of mercy to all nations through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  People from all tribes and tongues and nations now become members of the household of God.  How?  The same way as the people of the Old Testament:  by grace, by covenant and through sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is like the animals killed for their salvation.  His death and resurrection now is just enormously more and ultimately more perfect than animal sacrifice.

God also gives to his New Covenant people a sign of his covenant.  It is the same circumcision not done by hands; it remains the mysterious and gracious work of the Holy Spirit. He gives them a circumcision of the heart, here called the circumcision of Christ.

Now we need to take it step by step to understand the argument of the apostle Paul.  The people did not die and pay the price of sin; but by association and participation in the death and blood of the sacrificial animal God granted them forgiveness.  The same now applies for the New Covenant people.  We don’t die or pay the price for our sins, but by faith we associate with and participate in the death of Jesus Christ.  So, when He died on the cross, we died.  When He was buried, we were buried.  When He rose again, we rose.  Now, and this is a very legitimate question, how do I know it is for sure?  God gave us signs as a seal and guarantee like He gave to the people of the Old Testament.  To them He gave the sign of circumcision, to us He gives us the circumcision of Christ’s complete righteousness and baptism is the new sign of the very same covenant of grace.  When we are baptised, all Jesus Christ did to meet the righteousness of God, by faith became ours.  Baptism is the sign that Jesus Christ is the One who died and was raised again in my place so I can become part of God’s family.  By faith I participate in his death.  As God worked in Jesus Christ to raise Him from the dead, so we are raised with Him through the eternal power of God.  By faith I participate in his resurrection. We only need the sign that associates us with Him and assures us of our participation in his redemption.  The rest is God’s act of mercy and grace.  Listen:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

The Passover Lamb was nailed to the cross of Calvary to take away our sins.  He cancelled the written code, always reminding us of our unrighteousness having all our trespasses written in and He nailed it to the cross.  This is what we remember and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.

There on the cross Jesus Christ also triumphed over all powers to that they may never have a claim over our lives (verse 15). Paul states it like this in his letter to Timothy:

“… our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10)

The author of Hebrews underscores this by saying

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

Two signs in the Old Testament and two signs in the New Testament, pointing to the same act of grace from God in two different dispensations.  Circumcision is replaced by baptism; the sacrificial system replaced by the cross of Jesus as we remember it at the Lord’s Table.  In both these cases the principle to have part in salvation applies:  by faith we associate with Him; by faith we participate in his victory over sin and death. This is the amazing, remarkable and incredible fact of the grace of God.

One with Christ in holy living

Now, just as circumcision did not save God’s Church in the Old Testament, so baptism does not save the people of God’s Church in the New Testament. It was a sign of God’s grace; it is not grace itself. Through Christ God’s people become members of his body, and we are called to live holy lives, dedicated to God.  We need to put to death our earthly nature.

This then takes us to chapter 3 where Paul resumes the argument:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1,3)

Here the principle of association with and participation in comes in again.  The Sacraments bind us to Christ.  This assures our participation in his death and resurrection, but it calls for our association with Him in setting our hearts on things above where He is, because our lives are hidden in Him. This is essentially the same as what Paul says in Rom 12:2:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

He also stresses the same point in Rom 8:

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:8, 11-13)

Conclusion

Let’s for one moment get back to where we started.  Remember the glassware shop and the notice You brake it, you pay for it? We pointed out to the principle of association with and participation in.  Going into that shop poses a risk:  I might enjoy what I see, but I might walk away from it a lot poorer than I walked into it.

It is so much different when I walk into God’s grace.  First of all, I enter into his grace by his invitation, not by my decision. Secondly, my broken life and the rest of God’s creation that I effected so badly because of my sinfulness do not have a notice You brake, you pay for it on it.  The wonder of God’s grace is that, although I am truly responsible, and therefore accountable to God, someone else paid to make it whole and repair what I broke.  Jesus Christ is that one.  By faith what He did becomes mine.  Faith gives what belongs to Him to me.  I associate with Him and participate in Him.  That’s grace!

Two or three years before the death of John Newton, well-known minister of the Word in the 18th Century and author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace, when his sight was so dim that he was no longer able to read, a friend and brother in the ministry called to have breakfast with him. Their custom was to read the Word of God following mealtime, after which Newton would make a few short remarks on the Biblical passage, and then they prayed. On a specific day, however, there was silence after the words of Scripture “by the grace of God I am what I am” were read.

Finally, after several minutes, Newton spoke,

“I am not what I ought to be! How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall be out of mortality, and with it all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!” 

Then, after a pause, he said. “Now let us pray!”

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 December 2014 (Communion Service)