Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Participating in the sufferings of Christ

Scripture Reading

  • 1Peter 4:12-19

Introduction

The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, honour those who died for their country. Built following World War I, it was expanded to remember those who served in subsequent conflicts. It is a beautiful place, with monuments to courage and devotion, but the highlight of the shrine is a hall containing a carved stone that simply reads: “Greater Love Hath No Man”. The architects designed the room so that every year on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11:00 a.m light from the sun passes over the stone, stopping briefly to spotlight the word “Love”. It is a moving tribute to those who gave their lives. 

However, more than honouring the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, the words on that stone carry a far greater meaning. Jesus spoke them the night before He would die on the cross. His death was not for freedom from tyranny, but freedom from the penalty of sin. His death was not to give us a better life, but to give us eternal life. As we remember those who died for their country, may we never forget to praise and honour the Christ who died in the place of a  dying world. For there is truly “no greater love than this than Jesus lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) (Taken from: Our Daily Bread, ANZAC Centenary Edition, Day 2)

Discipleship

There is, however, another love the Bible speaks about.  Our Lord made it very clear.  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37, NKJV)

How does this love look like?  Are there any sacrifices attached to it?  Let’s look at one verse.  

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26, NKJV)

When Jesus Christ called his disciples, He started them to become fishers of men.  One of the first discipleship training events is recorded as the Sermon on the Mount. Read the verse carefully, and you will notice that Jesus might have included some bystanders when He taught that time, but it seems as if He directly spoke to the new followers.  

Six times in a row our Lord used the word “blessed”.  A way to translate it is “happy”, and by extension “privileged”. Up to the last, we might think that becoming a follower of Christ is really something special.  But listen to this: 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12, NKJV)

In the Upper Room our Lord drove the nail a bit deeper: 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:18–20, NKJV)

Just hours before their Saviour would be nailed to the cross, He said, 

Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33, NKJV)

They were there when Christ was arrested, they saw their Master being whipped, they saw his legs gave under the weight of the cross as He carried it to Calvary’s Hill.  They heard Him cry in agony as the soldiers hammered the nails through his hands and his feet.  And then there was the cry, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

It does not surprise us to find the disciples behind closed doors out of fear for the Jews, even till the third after that Friday.  Perhaps they would be next because they associated with Jesus of Nazareth.

Would it be that at that point, if we were part of the disciple group, that we would bale out? But then, what about the all-encompassing love we should have for our Saviour?  What about the price of discipleship?  If I bale out now, I will betray my Saviour.  If I now turn away from Him who loved me and gave his life for me, how would I face eternity without Him?  

The Holy Spirit and the Bible

The Spirit brings to my mind the words of Christ.  

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9, NKJV)

Other verses ring in my ear:

You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:18–20, NKJV)

But there is also this promise:  

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29, NKJV)

What did David say when he faced death over and over again?  

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell. Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident. (Psalm 27:1–3, NKJV)

There is a cloud of witnesses to spur us on by their example of discipleship.  

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:35–40, NKJV)

Where do I stand?  About that sort of treatment for the sake of the Name of Christ I know nothing—yet! What took them through?  What made them follow till the end?  They believed God and trusted his promises.  The loved Him with all their hearts, all their minds, all their might and all their soul.  

The Apostles rejoiced when they were flogged after they refused to be silent about their Lord and Saviour because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41)

Sufferings for Christians are nothing abnormal

And wherever the followers of Christ were scattered a pattern developed:  suffering and opposition.  

That’s why Peter wrote that Christians should not be surprised at the painful trials and sufferings.  Rather, we would rejoice.  Why? When trials come our way, our being ‘in-Christ’ proves to be true!  We are hated because Christ is hated.  If they love us, it’s because we are loveable, but not by Christ.  James writes: 

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)

Peter writes: 

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in [because of] that name. (1 Peter 4:16, ESV)

Conclusion

The Bible is clear about it:  the world hates Christ, and they will hate us too.  They will one stand in judgement before the throne of God for treading the blood of Christ underfoot and for the way they treated his church.

We might not yet have endured all the hardship the Bible is preparing us for, but the mere fact that we today pray for the persecuted church is proof that there are real, present struggles and battles which have and are claiming life and belongings.  Some fellow believers were killed just last week. Thousands are imprisoned, and many more are fleeing to who-knows-where.

My friend, we need to now put our faith to the test and become spiritually competent and worthy of the name of Jesus Christ.  We have to, time is running out.  Entrust your life in the hands of Him who has overcome, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 November 2018

 

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God’s act of redemption: Sanctification

Important points

  • Being saved by grace, and adopted as God’s children, we now live in the household of God
  • To be holy is to be set apart to glorify God
  • We cannot continue to live the same way as we lived before we became children of God
  • In God’s household, God sets the rules
  • Keeping to these rules does not make us his children, but shows that we are indeed his children
  • Sanctification means that we more and more become what we already are in Christ
  • Sanctification does not make us more righteous, but indeed more useful in the Kingdom of God

Definition

Definitive sanctification as an initial gift from God

We are by faith united to Christ, we are joined to Him at all points of his activity on our behalf: 

  • We share in his death (we were baptised into his death—He does not die all over again when we take the sacraments; they are the seal and sign that we share in his death)
  • We share in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ—He did not raise from the dead when we believed. The sacraments are the seal and sign that we share in his victory over death.)
  • We share in his ascension (we have been raised with Him)
  • We share in his heavenly session (we sit with Him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God)
  • We will share in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with Him in glory) (Romans 6:14; Colossians 2:11-12; 3:1-3).

Definitive sanctification is:

  • is “a once-for-all” event
  • happens simultaneously with effectual calling and regeneration
  • transfers us from the sphere of sin to the sphere of God’s holiness, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God 
  • marks us out (or separates us) as God’s chosen people – His treasured and covenantal possession (Acts 20:32; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11)
  • redeems us from the dominion of sin by uniting us to Christ, particularly in His death, resurrection and ascension. 

Sanctification, in this sense, refers to a decisive and radical break with the power and pleasures of sin. 

Progressive sanctification

  • is a progressive work of God the Holy Spirit and man, freeing us more and more from sin to be like Christ in our daily lives 
  • is the outworking of the new life we received in regeneration 
  • it involves the gradual, incremental work of the Holy Spirit of both putting to death the remains of “indwelling sin” as well as putting on the likeness of Christ.

Illustration

The effect of the Gospel message is even more surprising than this little illustration:

A man is charged with a crime – let’s say he committed murder.  All evidence points in his direction, even his defence lawyer cannot come up with anything better than to plead for a lesser penalty.  The judge listens to the charges laid; he weighs up the evidence and faces the reality of condemning the charged murderer with the death penalty.  He looks at the accused and begins to love him, and in his own heart, there is big sorrow that this young man appearing in court might never see his wife or children again.  But as the judge he must be impartial:  the law demands that a murderer is charged—even with capital punishment.

The judge now does the unthinkable: He does not have the crime of murder go unpunished—the law demands punishment—but he commands his own son to stand in the place of the accused, and charge the innocent son with murder to provide ground for the murderer to go free.  Because his own son completely pay the penalty, the law is satisfied, and the murderer may go free after the judge declared him not guilty.  

The judge now does something even more unfathomable: he takes the murderer as his own child and promises to be his father, to care for him, to give him shelter, and to provide him with a daily guard to protect him as a child of the new household.

  • We stand as accused before God.  We fall short of his glory because we are sinners.  The reward for sin is death. 
  • Now, the unthinkable: He commands his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place.  Christ do so willingly, because He is the only one without sin, and yet He took on the nature of us human beings, and He died on the cross as God’s curse upon sin.  
  • We gratefully believe, and His righteousness becomes our righteousness because God declares us not guilty: He imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.  
  • God freely, without our influence, adopts us as sons into his household, and gives us his Holy Spirit to teach us, guide us and protect us. The charge against us is wiped out, and the guilt of sin is removed.

This is the Gospel.  

We do not become members of God’s Covenant people based on our merits in the past, or on the good things we might do in the future.  A well-known theologian says we need to “keep the muscles of sanctification attached to the tendons of our faith.  Only thus will it be apparent that sanctification embraces all of life.

We now live in God’s household.  In his house, there are rules for good order.  We can’t carry on living as we lived before God declared us righteous in Christ; it is not fitting, it does not become Christians to live like unbelievers.  We are called to sanctification.  

Sanctification is not something we do out of fear that we might up on the streets again.  We live to serve the One who had pity on us when we were on our way to eternal condemnation.

Recent shifts in Biblical teaching

Hardly anything has shaken the Reformed world as much as the so-called New Perspectives on Paul.  Authors like EP Sanders (in Paul and Palestinian Judaism), and NT Wright (in What St Paul Really Said) reinterpreted the doctrine of justification, blurring the lines with sanctification.

According to this interpretation, justification is not God’s declaration based on the righteousness of Christ. We get into the Kingdom by faith, but we need to please God to stay in the Kingdom.  Justification and sanctification are mixed into the same recipe!

Sanders writes:

“Salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works’…God saves by grace, but… within the framework established by grace he rewards good deeds and punishes transgression.” (see: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/new-perspective-paul-calvin-and-nt-wright/

The issue is not concerned with how to get into a right relationship with God, but how to stay in his covenant. This has sometimes been compared to the issue of “keeping” or “losing one’s salvation.” 

Difference between justification and sanctification 

Justification Sanctification
Based entirely upon the work Christ has already done for us Principally a work God does in us
A righteousness without us A holiness brought about in us
By Christ as Priest, and has regard to the penalty of sin By Christ as King, and has regard to the dominion of sin
Cancels the condemning power of sin Delivers from its reigning power of sin
A judicial act, by which the sinner as declared righteous A moral work, by which the sinner is made holy
Solely to do with our standing before God Chiefly concerned with our state in Christ
Based on the merits of Christ’s satisfaction Proceeds from the result of Christ’s satisfaction
Bestowing a title to everlasting glory the way which conducts us there.

If we cut sanctification loose from justification we will drive a wedge between them. We will then be in danger of slipping into moralism (good works), and we will find ourselves between two extremes: 

  • self-conscious pride (“I have done my part and should be saved”), 
  • nagging uncertainty about being saved (“Have I done enough to be saved?”).

Blurring the lines between sanctification and justification leads to:

  • Sanctification being described as a series of meritorious acts performed by the previously justified man to make him more justified 
  • A battle of the subject of each action: God or man—who is responsible for what? 
  • Salvation becomes a 50-50% arrangement between God and sinner:  God does one half, and we must do to the other half; if we can’t do our part, we lose all hope of being saved
  • Salvation ultimately then does not rest on God’s saving grace, but the sinners’ completion of that salvation. This is Rome in full bloom!

Scripture teaches something completely different:

And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV)

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV)

Christ prays:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17–19, ESV)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV)

Substance of Sanctification

God himself chose his people Israel and separated it, He made it a holy people. This separation did not, in any sense, rest on Israel’s moral strength or piety, but had its foundation solely in divine election. 

When God commands his people to be holy, He does not introduce a new element in the relation between Him and his people. Instead, He demands of them to become conscious of the sanctity with which He has sanctified them and to walk and live accordingly.

God disciplines his children because He owns them.  Over and over again we read, “I am the Lord.”  He called them out of slavery, saved them by grace, and now demands them to live to his glory.  Because they belong to Him, they are different, they are separate from the rest of the world.  They are to be different, or set apart because God is holy.  

God’s children are not called to be like God, but to act God-like.  Sanctification, some say, is God’s appeal to our hearts not to live Christ’s life, but to live a Christ-like life.  Someone else says we need to think God’s thoughts after Him.

Holiness does not mean perfect sinlessness.  Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness of sins because we are still living in this broken world.

Holiness means to act with the mind of Christ.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2, ESV)

Romans 1-11 first describes the mercies of God, then follows the call to a life displaying something of a sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God.

Sanctification is not a sort of second blessing which we will escape us until we surrender entirely to the Lord and subsequently receive the Spirit in His fulness.

Sanctification is also not a lengthy process by which will the Christian is made fit for Heaven. We are made fit for heaven through justification.  Arthur Pink asks: “At what point was the penitent prodigal unsuited to the Father’s house?

However, process and progress are not the same.  Paul writes:

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1, ESV)

Peter writes:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3, ESV)

Sanctification is not a cooperative relationship between divine grace and human action.

Summary

Sanctification is that work of Divine grace in the believer which brings him back into allegiance to God, regulating his affections and actions in harmony with His will, writing His law on the heart (Hebrews 10:16), moving him to make God’s glory his chief aim and end. That Divine work is commenced at regeneration and completed only at glorification.

 

Study

1.  Read Exodus 19:1-6

1.1 Think about our previous chapter about Adoption. We looked at Exodus 6:6-7 where it says God “brings out” and “takes” us his own his elect.  Which words in Exodus 19:4 would have the same meaning?

 

1.2 God wants his people to keep covenant with Him (verse 5).  He wants them to be holy (verse 6).  Does God expect his people to be holy before or after they are saved?  (Keep verse 4 in mind.)

 

1.3 One of the purposes of God’s Covenant Rules (the Ten Commandments) is that God’s people would live lives “different” to the other nations.  When did the Israelites receive the Ten Commandments, before or after the rescue out of Egypt? (Read Exodus 20:1)

 

2. Read Leviticus 11:45 and 19:2

On what does God’s requirement to be holy rest?  Think of two things.

 

3. Read 1Corinthians 6:11

According to this verse who is the author of our sanctification?

 

4. Read John 17:17-19

What does Jesus ask of his Father in verse 17, and on what ground are the disciples of Jesus sanctified?

 

5. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Who, according to this verse, sanctifies us?

 

6. Read Galatians 4:6 and 5:24-25

Who lives in our hearts?  What does the Spirit of God do in our hearts according to 5:22-25?

 

7. Read Leviticus 20:7-8

Who does the consecrating (sanctification) mean here?

 

8. Read Romans 12:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5, Hebrews 12:14, 1Peter 1:14-15

 Sanctification in these verses seems to be a command.  Do you agree? Why/why not?

 

9. Read Ezekiel 32, 25:8, 1Peter 1:17 and Romans 12:1-2

9.1 What is the difference between Israel in Ezekiel and God’s people in the other verses?

 

9.2 With this in mind, write down your definition of holiness/sanctification.

 

10. Read Romans 6:11-14

What does practical sanctification look like?

 

11. Read Philippians 3:12 and Romans 7:18

Does sanctification mean perfect sinlessness?

 

From what we have learned up to this point we understand that God’s acts of mercy in our lives are that He:

  • justifies us in Christ Jesus – He declares us righteous because of the complete work of Christ!
  • adopts us as his children – He cares for us, promises to protect us, provide for us and prepare for us an inheritance as heirs of his Kingdom
  • sanctifies us – we need to display the character of our Father who is holy – but also calls us to be sanctified

Jesus Christ only – no if’s no buts’ (2)

Bible readings

  • Romans 6:1-11
  • Colossians 2:8-15

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Some 24 years ago we migrated from South Africa. Heila and I had to meet the requirements of the Government at the time. All along, our children, then under the age of sixteen, had nothing to do to meet any regulation. We can say they walked off the plane in-parent.  We were their legal requirements to live in Australia.

They qualified for Child Allowance and Medicare, they could attend school, and like us, they could rely on police protection. They did not need to prove anything other than to say they belong to us, because they were still in-parent.

Some years later Heila and I became citizens.  When we became citizens, them still being still in-parent, became citizens too as if they themselves met all the requirements, although they contributed and did nothing above what we as parents had done on their behalf.

In-Christ

In some sense those who are in-Christ receive all the rights and privileges as children of our heavenly Father purely based on what Christ has done on their behalf, because He satisfied God’s righteousness; what He has done is all we need to receive the same righteousness as the passport to enter the Kingdom of the Father.

The Bible records that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).  Nowhere else in the Scripture do we find this term.  It seems that the world who looked down on the followers of Christ gave them the derogatory nickname of “Christians” to mock them in the same way as they mocked Christ.  But followers of Jesus Christ were known among themselves as “in-Christ’s”.  The expression “in Christ” appears 87 times in the New Testament, depending on the translation one uses.  This was most probably because it more correctly describes the Biblical position of those who are children of God.  

We are called children of God purely because of our relationship with Him through of Christ.

The message of today, “Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s” rests on this understanding from the Bible.  Two verses from Colossians 2 underscores this truth:

…and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ… (Colossians 2:10–11, NKJV)

Add to this the related expression with Him.  Let’s read verses 12-13 

[you were] buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:12–13, NKJV)

Gnostics, Jews and ceremonies

Under those who joined the church in Colossae were people with a Jewish and Gnostic background.  They did not hold to the principle of Jesus “Christ only, no if’s, no but’s”. Both of these groups wanted to bring something along of what they believed prior to becoming members of the congregation in Colossae as ceremonies which they demanded to make their salvation complete.

The Gnostics had some initiation rituals which they demanded.  Judaism still dictated the theological thinking of Jews who became Christians.  To become part of the people of God they taught that men had to be circumcised.

For these people, the act of circumcision was the thing, and not as much as what it signified.  Right through the Old Testament God held the charge against Israel that they were uncircumcised in heart.  Moses warned the people:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16, NIV)

The prophet Jeremiah delivered the Word of the Lord to the people:

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:4, NIV)

Outwardly (ceremonially and sacramentally) they held to the practice but inwardly there was no sign of trust in God.  Paul writes about this:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. (Romans 2:28, NIV)

This is what Paul refers to in verse 8:  “these things depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.

Why was this wrong?  And, so by the way, some Christians argue that baptism and other sacraments save.  When Paul addressed this problem in Colossae he pointed them to Christ:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9–10, NIV)

When we look at sacraments, not as signs, but as instruments, we add something to the work of Christ and his perfect work of salvation.  Further, we think we need to do or show something in addition to faith before our salvation will be complete. This is not what the Bible teaches.

Paul refutes the argument of both the Christian Jews and the Gnostics that something more than faith in Jesus Christ is needed.

Open the Bible with me at Colossians 2:9-10

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9–10, NKJV)

The in-Christ principle.  

1. Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness

If Christ is the fulness of the Godhead, when we are in-Christ, in the eyes of God we are declared righteous because Christ is righteous.   This is the first truth we need to grasp. Now let’s move on.

2.  In Christ, we were initiated into the family of God

2.a  He is our circumcision 

God demanded that Abraham and his descendants must be circumcised.  Circumcision did not make them the people of God, but it was a sign that God received them by grace into his family.  Romans 4 states very clearly:

And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, (Romans 4:11, NKJV)

For God’s people of the New Testament, the same principle stands.  They too need to be grafted into the family of God.  Just as God gave his Old Testament the righteousness they needed, He now gives the New Testament people the righteousness they needed.  How?  In-Christ!

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, (Colossians 2:11, NKJV)

In Him you were circumcised; this is passive tense.  We do not perform the circumcision; we did not do it with our hands.  It was done for us and on our behalf.  Who did the work?  Christ!  What did Christ do?   He gave us now clothes—this is what “putting off the body of sins” refers to. He died on our behalf in his flesh, on the cross, for our sins, and as such, He is our circumcision.  In Him and through Him we may be counted as part of the family of God.

2.b We died in-Christ, we were buried in-Christ and we rose in-Christ

We hang on to the in-Christ principle.  In-Christ we receive the full redemption. So, we don’t need to die for our sin and we, therefore, can’t be buried or raised from the dead as if we contributed anything to our righteousness.  But Jesus died, He was buried, and He rose again.  By faith we are in-Christ, which means—like my children who became citizens because I met the requirements on their behalf—so in-Christ we spiritually died and were buried; in-Christ we were raised to become new creations.  Verse 13 spells it out in no uncertain terms: 

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him [Christ], having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:13, NKJV)

Paul argues that what was spiritually required to become part of the covenant people still remains:  the act of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. 

However, the sign and seal which visibly initiated sinners into the Old Testament people of God, circumcision, is replaced by something else.  How did that happen?  God’s saving grace is seen only in Jesus Christ:

… having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

Been buried.  Passive tense.  We are not doing the burying; by faith, God in Christ buried us and made us alive again.  

Listen carefully to this text.  What does it say?  Let’s take it apart, step by step.

  • We need a circumcision of the heart to become part of God’s family.
  • The circumcision we get is through the saving grace of God in Christ.  He circumcises us spiritually.
  • The salvation we need is in Him and is our gift because of his death and resurrection.  He was buried and He was raised from the dead.
  • Through our union with Him we are not buried or brought to life through the sacrament of baptism; we plainly receive what He accomplished for us by faith.
  • What makes salvation a reality in our life is a living faith and trust in Him who was buried and was made alive.
  • Baptism, therefore, does not require of us to ceremonially be buried in the water to be spiritually made alive.  This is to add to what the verse says.
  • Baptism is nothing less and nothing more than a sign and symbol of what Christ has done in his death and resurrection in our place.
  • By faith what He has done, is now mine.  Baptism means, therefore, nothing more and nothing less than the sign and seal of circumcision in the Old Testament.
  • Nothing changed as far as the substance of our salvation is concerned (it God’s work of grace!), but what has changed is the sign and seal.

That’s exactly what Paul states in the next verse:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… (Colossians 2:13, NIV)

When were we buried with Him?  When He died.  When were we raised to life?  When He was raised to life.  Did it happen when we were baptised?  No.  Baptism is the sign and seal that Christ surely accomplished full salvation, but it is grace which united us with Him.

Those who demand that all babies should be baptised as soon as possible after their birth lest they die outside Christ has no Biblical warrant.  The Roman Church teaches that the sacraments act as a funnel through which grace is poured out on the soul.  It is therefore not uncommon to attend a funeral in that church and then to hear over and over again that the deceased person was baptised, and therefore saved. It is plainly not true.  We’re saved by Christ’s full demotion, nothing else.

It is equally unbiblical to teach that if a person is not immersed into water through baptism he/she will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  What saves us is not the water and the quantity of it;  what saves is God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a sign and seal of grace, and receiving it is setting one apart from the world as being owned by God, being-in-Christ.

Conclusion

Do we need to do something to show that we received Christ?  Some argue that baptism is the public declaration that we have died and they we raise from the water to a new life in Him. I strongly argue this is not what the Bible teaches. Sacraments are not what we must do, it’s a sign of what God has done.   So what do we need to do?  

Chapter 3:1-2 helps us: 

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:1–2, NKJV)

Let’s thank God for the fulness of his Son who has become our Saviour.

Amen

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Bible Readings

  • 1Corinthians 10:5-17
  • Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction

There are 7.6 billion people on earth.  Of this 7.6 billion a great deal are not Christians.  About 2.3 billion profess to be Christians, which, in theory, makes Christianity the largest religion by numbers.  Between 2010 and 2015, an estimated 223 million babies were born to Christian mothers and roughly 107 million Christians died – a natural increase of 116 million. But among Christians in Europe the reverse is true: Deaths outnumbered births by nearly 6 million for the same period. In Germany alone, there were an estimated 1.4 million more Christian deaths than births from 2010 to 2015.  Most interesting, or maybe, mostly interesting.

There is a big problem with these statistics, in America, of the people who identify as Christians about only 10% believe that the Bible is the only Word of God. So, obviously, there are Christians who think it is possible to believe in God without reading, studying, or even knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we read it in the Bible.

So, here’s a challenge:  If we have to begin the church all over again, how would we do it, and what mechanism/s would we use? Are we going to follow a different strategy than the early apostles and even the evangelical church over the last few centuries?  People like Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, John Huss, Hudson Taylor, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon and others used only one tool: the Bible.  

It is the same tool the apostles had at their disposal.  Is it still the most effective tool, or should we add development programs, leadership seminars, growth strategies, and other leadership strategies of which the bookstores are so full these days?

According to our statistics, we’ve established the not all Christians are Christians.  And this begs the question, “What is a Christian?

The Shorter Catechism asks this question, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?  In other worlds, “What is a Christian?

 The answer:  Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, through which we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation as He offered to us in the Gospel.

Three things stand out:  

  1. The proclamation of the Gospel 
  2. Jesus Christ alone 
  3. Salvation by grace 

With this in mind, let’s turn to our reading from Colossians 1:1-8.  Keep in mind the topic of this sermon, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The proclamation of the Gospel

We take two verses together:

…you heard … the word of the truth of the gospel which has come to you… you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras…(Colossians 1:6–7, NKJV)

First thing, “the Gospel has come to you.”

In the normal scheme of things, God uses the proclamation of the Gospel through servants He calls and appoints.  This is what Paul stresses in Romans 10:

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13, NKJV)

Paul asks the next logical question,

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14, NKJV)

This then begs the next question,  

And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15, NKJV)

Is this “Gospel of peace” the only tool in the hands of the Church to reach out into the darkest and deepest corners of the world?  Will people really give an ear to just the Gospel?  

Now we may ask if not everyone is impressed by the preaching of the Gospel, should we not try other methods?  We might even try entertainment—we can have dramas based on the Bible or plays to bring across the central messages in the Bible. Some Christian groups have gone this way.  Instead of reading and preaching the plain text of the Bible, which they think is just too boring, they act it out in dramas—all along to make it more attractive.

We need to have loud and up-beat music, or programs for the children and youth or they would not come.  We might think to preach to the seekers in a way they would find interesting.  Listening to the preaching of the gospel is boring, especially certain parts of the Bible should be avoided to not put people off. 

Paul answers this question in the next verse,  

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Romans 10:16, NKJV)

In another text, Paul puts it this way, 

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ, we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (2 Corinthians 2:14–17, NIV)

Some people, purely because of the nature of the Gospel, receive it as an aroma the brings death; there’s not much we can do about it; they will even find the drama and the concert boring as soon as they find out it’s about Christ, sin, grace and their commitment to flow Him.  

But thank God, to other the aroma of the Gospel brings life.  This life does not spring from the eloquence of the preacher or the beauty of the music; it is forever the work of the Holy Spirit who through the Gospel calls people to Christ and gives them the new life. Preachers are just sowers; the growing of the seed is God’s business.

Paul was not peddling with the Gospel, because he preached Christ in the presence of God, of whom he was only the messenger.  It is to God he would give account.

This is exactly what he means with the introductory words of his epistle to the Colossians, 

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, … (Colossians 1:1, NIV)

Paul understood very well that he had only one mission:  to speak the words of God who called him.  

So did Epaphras.  He too was a “faithful servant, a faithful minister of Christ”.  The only words in their mouth were the words of Christ—no additions, nothing omissions.

May God forgive us when we assume the Gospel is not the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16), for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, sa righteousness that is by faith from the first to the last … (Romans 1:17) 

Jesus Christ alone

The gospel is about Jesus Christ, nothing more and nothing less.  The Bible tells us that the message the Colossians heard was the truth of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).

The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had an everlasting effect on them.  What happened?  Verse 4, they believed the Gospel.  What happened in the process?  Paul spells it out further down this chapter.  The Gospel of Christ qualified them to share in the inheritance of the holy people of God. At first, they were enslaved under the dominion of darkness—which is just another way to say they were in the clutches of the prince of this world, the devil—but after they heard the Gospel of Christ and believed it, they were brought into the dominion of the son of God.  They received salvation in his Name because of the perfect redemption He procured through his death and resurrection, and they received forgiveness of their sins.

What our Lord said is so true:  the truth will set you free.  The Gospel is the word of truth!

The marvellous thing about this Gospel is that it seeks out the lost.  Paul writes, “the Gospel has come to you.”  God calls and equips his preachers—as we learned it from Romans 10—and sends them out. They herald the Gospel, and through their message, the Gospel goes out to sinners and set them free.  Why? The Gospel is the gospel of Christ, the Son God loves.  Can you see the connection between this verse and John 3:16, 

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

Or we can just move on to Colossians 1:21 to hear the same message in other words:

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— (Colossians 1:21–22, NKJV)

What a message!  By grace sinners are reconciled and made holy, spotless, and free of accusation.

If we trade this Gospel for another means of getting through to sinners, we have no hope to have any effect.  People may enjoy the music, the lights, the clapping, the fellowship, the meals, the conversation, the activities—but if they have not heard this Gospel, they will never be changed; they will forever be searching, or just walk away in disappointment.

The outworking of the Gospel 

What does the Gospel do?  It brings faith in Jesus Christ—and because of this, is brings salvation and the forgiveness of sins—but it also has very visible consequences.  Paul writes, 

… we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints… Epaphras also declared to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:4-5, 8, NKJV)

Something they never experienced, they then experienced—true love and true hope in Christ which stands firm in heaven.  That spurred them on to love one another as only God’s people can do.  They way they loved one another was contagious; it was remarkable to the point the Epaphras returned to Paul and told him, “Those people really love one another.  They love one another the same way as the Holy Spirit loves Christ and the children of God.”

When lost sinners are called to become the people of God, something of heaven must be evident.  If God is a God of love, then surely, his church must be people who know love and live out love.  

The church is different from all groups of people.  You may join a tennis club but love for the other members is not a prerequisite; you may become a member of a political party, but you not sing up just because you love them and they love you.  With the church it’s different; members in Christ share their love of Christ with others who also love Christ.  More than that, they love all people they come in contact with. This is what sets the church of Christ apart from all other institutions. This is the attractive part of the Gospel.

How different would the church be if Christians understood this principle!  How attractive will the church be if we really love one another because we understand that Christ loves us and has taken us out of the clutches of Satan to call us his children of one family?

We would then not need all special programs and activities to attract people.  By our love for Christ and for one another, they will know.  And does this world not need true, meaningful relationships purified in and by the blood of Jesus Christ!

Conclusion

What is Christian?  It is someone who heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believed it.

How does someone become a Christian?  He hears the Gospel, and by the work of the Holy Spirit he receives it and believes it.

What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ about?  It is the true message of salvation and forgiveness based on the grace of His Name who on our behalf has made it possible to know God as our gracious Father.

What is the outworking of the Gospel?  A new community of Christian believers, with one faith, love and hope—a community of people who knows and practices true love as exemplified in Christ Jesus.

May we be such a community.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 August 2018

Life as God’s adopted child (1)

Bible readings

  • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • 1 Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

The Bible, in our reading this morning, refers to being “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18)

Don’t we just all remember the joy of blowing and chasing bubbles? All the expensive toys could not compete with the exhilaration of try to catch and hold a bubble.  In the end everyone one of them bursts and disappears into thin air. And what about the balloons?  How long do they last?

We have examples of ostrich and emu eggs which we keep in a safe place in our home.  From a distance they look like the real thing — and they actually are; but look closely and you will see the holes on each end, made to blow out the contents.  It is impossible for those eggs to produce chicks.  They are empty and hollow.

I remember the first Easter egg  my neighbour across the street gave us soon after we arrived in Australia.  Where we come from, chocolate was a rarity, and our culture never took the story of the Easter chocolate eggs seriously.  Soon after church we got stuck into it and ripped the shining foil off it.  How big was my disappointment that the egg was nothing but a shell of a thin layer of chocolate! I thought we were going to have chocolate till Christmas.

Peter writes about a life outside of Christ.  It is a hollow, empty life.  It was worthless, and can only promise the joy of the moment.  In contrast, the Christian life is rich, and it is determined by the best of all riches, now kept and sealed up in heaven.

Up to this point in time we learned from Peter that Christians live this life with their eyes focussed on a hope, guarded by God in heaven.  This hope is anchored in the faith that Jesus Christ will be revealed then in more splendour that He had when He first came into the world to work out our salvation.

We also learned that this salvation had its roots in all of God’s revelation through the Scriptures and promises of the Old Testament, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, whose ministry it is to, through the preaching of the Gospel, constantly help us to understand an apply the salvation of Jesus Christ.

God’s children are Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ

It is fair to say that the message of the Bible would be hollow and meaningless if the concept and reality of redemption was not central to it.

Let’s try to sum it up:  God made a covenant—a solemn agreement—with Adam and Eve.  They sinned against God and dragged all of their descendants into sin.  God promise them a Redeemer who would trample upon and crush the head of the serpent.  

In and through Abraham God made another covenant—a covenant of grace— with his people to be their God.  Through sinful covenant breaking, the people walked away from God and under satan became slaves to idols which could not save them.  Although God punished them, and even had them do slave labour in distant countries, He remained faithful to his promises and He Himself became their Redeemer.  “Redeemer” is a legal term, and meant that some close family member had to pay a ransom to get those under the curse of the law out of that curse, out of slavery into freedom.  This are classical verses to illustrate this:  

But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? (Hosea 13:14, NIV)

It is this act of saving grace Peter is referring to when he says that we are redeemed:  the two components of saving love and the ransom price are prominent here.  In Christ Jesus the love, justice and righteousness of God comes together in the act of redemption.  The ransom price which would satisfy the wrath of God upon sin was the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  The reference to “the Lamb without blemish” not only points back to Passover night and the miraculous redemption out of Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:5), but to all offerings which had to do with satisfying God’s righteousness over sin and broken relationships.  Christ was that ultimate perfect Lamb without blemish.  His blood not only washes away our sins, but it is the ransom, the price, which satisfied the righteousness of God. Of this sacrifice the writer to the Hebrews writes: 

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11–14, NIV)

Christ brings us to God so we can believe in God.  Why?  Not only because He died for us, He also rose in our place to overcome death.  

Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21, NIV)

Christians are redeemed people.  They are not sinless, but they are saved sinners.

God’s Children are born by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God

We have to take a small step backward into Peter’s first chapter, verses 10-11.  These verses refer to the Old Testament, which pointed forward to Christ.  The apostles preached what the prophets prophesied;  it was “the Gospel” of Jesus and about Jesus “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 12).  There is an extremely close relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word regarding Jesus Christ’s work and ministry.  To see this we go to verse 3: 

In his great mercy He [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)

  How did this come about?  Let’s read verse 23:  

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)

The imperishable things refer back to the blood of Jesus Christ, our redemption and ransom price.  How do we know about this redemption?  Through the enduring Word of God.  The new birth of every Christian, without which our Lord declared that no one can enter or see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3,5) is the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which applies the redemptive work of Christ to our souls through the preaching of the Word.  The preaching of the Word is always connected and undergirded by the ministry of the Holy Sprit.  It is always related, and it as such the only God-ordained way by which sinners hear about redemption.  

Peter knew that very well.  He therefore declares the enduring  work and certainty of the outcome of the ministry of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word: 

For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24–25, NIV)

When Paul writes to the Romans he said exactly the same thing:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17, NIV)

To apply this we can draw a few conclusions:

  • The most important activity of the church is to make available the Word of God.  It happens through translation, printing, preaching and studying the Word of God.
  • Ultimately the fruit and growth is not in our hands, but it is the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
  • The message the church should keep itself busy with the message of the redemption from of sin, and the restoration to God through the redemptive work of the Lamb without blemish, Jesus Christ. Nothing more will do; nothing less will do.
  • When the Gospel is twisted to only present Christ as a example of moral living, it has forfeited the privilege of being servants in the hands of the Saviour.
  • Where this message is traded for social gospel, property gospel or feel-good pop-psychology, and when worship services have become therapeutic self-improvement sessions, the church stands condemned before her Saviour.
  • When the Gospel message has been reduced to a dry theological discussion which is aimed at discrediting the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures, the church has failed its mission.  Souls will not be saved because it is not the Gospel which was preached by the apostles.

God’s redemptive work endures forever 

This is a glorious truth of the Gospel:  not only is the Gospel by nature the enduring Word of God, it’s effect is enduring.  Simply speaking:  The new birth brought about by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is not temporary.  

What is said about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church.  

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:16, NIV)

But when the Spirit has given a sinner new life, that sinner can bank on the fact that the Spirit will sustain that new life till the end of time.  This is what we refer to as the perseverance of the saints.  For this we must Give God all glory.  No matter how severe the test, how dire the refining, how dreadful the persecution, how terrifying the opposition, God will not withdrew the grace He once poured out by his Spirit, based on the redemption of Jesus Christ.  To sustain us in times of trial and tribulations his enduring Word, the Bible, is our bread, our light, our lamp, our compass, our comfort, and indeed a hammer to crush the hardest of hearts.  That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and life by it.  

Conclusion

There is the world which presents is with fleeting bubbles, the colourful bursting balloons, and the empty eggs — all examples of hollow promises and and empty way of life.  This will cost you your life.

And then there is the new life in Christ which is enduring:  it speaks of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, hope and and eternal home. This come free, because the price is already paid.  May God give us the grace to see life and follow it and set out hope fully on grace in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 April 2018

God’s Good News is not fake news

Bible Readings:

  • Psalm 119:41-48
  • 1 Peter 1:10-12, 22-2:3

Introduction

According to a story doing the rounds on the internet, an amateur genealogy researcher in Queensland and had been doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that a relation, who was a prominent politician, had a great-great uncle, named Remus, who seemed to have a checkered past, and she decided to do more investigation.  

She emailed the office of the politician for information about their great-great uncle.

Believe it or not, says the internet story, the staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

“Remus was famous in Victoria during the mid to late 1800s. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Melbourne-Geelong Railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad.

”In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the Victoria Police Force. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour, when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.’’

Our researcher had one photograph of Remus; it shows him standing on the gallows at the Melbourne Gaol.  On the back of the picture the researcher obtained during her own research is an inscription: “Remus, horse thief, sent to Melbourne Gaol 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Melbourne-Geelong train six times. Caught by Victoria Police Force, convicted and hanged in 1889.

The truth is sometimes very far removed from the political spin.  And we all know about fake news and False Flags.

There are people who claim that the message of the Bible is fake news, and religious spin which cannot be trusted.  One fellow put it this way:  the anecdotes about Jesus have been told over and over again and over time more and more were added to it, until people started believing it as the truth, and the church put it all together in one book.  

This salvation

Last week’s sermon ended with 1 Peter 1:9, which reads:

you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9, NIV)

Concerning this salvation we heard in the previous verses: 

In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)

This faith is shielded

“… by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5, NIV)

The sum of the Old Testament

The story of this salvation was not something which dropped out of the skies after Christ was born and completed his ministry.  It is surely not a story the church came up with; the church came as a result of this story.

The prophets

This salvation was the theme which the prophets pondered and explored over hundreds of years.  They carefully examined everything about this salvation; they studied very carefully to know all about it.  

trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. (1 Peter 1:11, NIV)

The books of the Bible, although we have it in one volume today, were not originally grouped together.  It took a long period of time and development for that to happen.  The person who rejects the Bible as a whole, is misled about this development. One has to understand the message of each of the books and how the books a a whole fit together before one can reject all of it as fake news. 

What we need to keep in mind is that the prophets and there contributors to the Old Testament did not get together on a Saturday morning after Sabbath service to decide what they are going to include in their prophesies.  No, independently from one another, separated by long distances for their time, they did their research—and they came to the same conclusion very time. The same applies to the Gospel writers and others in the New Testament.  Why the agreement on prophesy and doctrine?  Because of the “Spirit of Christ.” Peter later writes:  

You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, NIV)

Some, like Isaiah and Micah, were prophesying 700 years before Christ was born.  Can we trust Isaiah?  

Only in 1946, manuscripts of all the books of the Old Testament, with the exception of of Esther, were found on scrolls in caves on the north west shore of the Dead Sea.  The prophecy of Isaiah was the best preserved, and agrees with the text which forms the basis for the translation in our Bibles.  The original text of Isaiah has not changed for almost 3,000 years!

The time and circumstances of Christ’s ministry

Peter states that the prophets researched the time and the circumstances for the sufferings of Christ.  The word for time in the verse is significant:  it describes a decisive, turning-point event; a watershed.  This is precisely of significance of the birth and sufferings of Christ.  It had to be in Bethlehem to fulfil the prediction of where Christ would be born.  He had to born along the line of David to fulfil God’s promise to David.  Peter on Pentecost Day said about David:  

He was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. (Acts 2:30, NIV)

His death needed to be on a cross to fulfil the Scriptures about the curse of someone who was nailed to a tree; that’s why no-one could capture Him before then, although they wanted to kill Him at more than one occasion.  The soldiers could’ve killed Him in the Garden of Olives and all would be over, but it would not be according to God’s timetable and purpose.  It needed to be on Passover for Him to be the Lamb without blemish. All these things the prophets researched and wrote down.  

These things are in the Bible for our benefit. It was something the prophets longed to see, but they only saw it in a spiritual sense.  Like the people to whom Peter addresses in his letter, they did not physically see Jesus, yet they believed and rejoiced.  Peter and the other apostles had the privilege of seeing and hearing Jesus.  They then took the prophecies, interpreted them as Christ made them clear to them and proclaimed it as far as they went.  During forty days after Christ’s resurrection He appeared to his disciples and taught them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).  

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:45–48, NIV)

  This is what Peter referred to in 2 Peter 1

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16–18, NIV)

Paul when he was about to suffer in jail for his faith in Jesus Christ declared: 

I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— (Acts 26:22, NIV)

This is compelling evidence that the Gospel as God’s Good News is not fake news.

The Message we preach

Peter reminded those to whom he wrote this letter, that in the midst of their suffering as Christians in a hostile world where they were strangers with no fixed address, what was foretold in all of the Bible up to that point was fulfilled in Christ.  

For those who understand “the sufferings of Christ” as sufferings of Christians on behalf of Christ, “glories” is understood as triumphs, or victory instead of defeat. The “sufferings into Christ” then refers to the sufferings that Christ himself experienced, that is, his death on the cross, 

The “glories” then refer to the events following that: his resurrection, his exaltation, the gift of the Spirit to the Church, the winning of both Jews and Gentiles to the Christian faith, and finally Christ’s return in victory.

This is the crux of the Gospel:  the Good News that God gave salvation by grace to those who He elected from all eternity through Jesus Christ.  God’s hourglass is full; the time has come.  Salvation is available.  Not only did his sufferings wipe out their sins before God to give them, but they had far more than they ever had before they became Christians: they share in the glories of Christ. And it is all locked up on heaven and kept by God.

Paul understood this:

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, (Ephesians 3:8–10, NIV)

Conclusion

This is our message today:  Jesus Christ, the sum of the Gospel, the fulfilment of all prophesies. God’s Good News is not fake news.  It does not contain human spin, for if it did there would be many embarrassing stories about many sinners recorded in the Bible missing—including the fact that David was a murderer, liar, thief and a man who took another’s wife in lust. 

When the storms of life gather, what do we hold on to?  The message of the Bible concerning Christ, his sufferings and his glories.

Jesus loves me, yes, I know, for the Bible tells me so!  

If the media sometimes make you feel downcast, rejoice in this message.  Read the Word, study it, take God on his promises, make them your own, let them guard your heart against the onslaught of unbelief.  Don’t neglect the teaching of the Word; don’t neglect the study of the Word; don’t neglect to encourage others through the Word:  In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance than can never perish, spoil or fade.  Amen

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 15 April 2018

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

When the truth becomes a lie, and the lie becomes the truth

Bible Readings

  • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
  • Romans 1:18-32

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

During the next three weeks Australians will have the opportunity to have their say in the battle to redefine marriage. Pressure from the world is mounting against Christians to separate what they think as Christians when they attend church from what they think when they go to the ballot box. Without a thorough Biblical worldview Christians stand and fall

The church as an institution does not participate in political processes, because we believe there should be a separation between church and state.  The Church as institution, and likewise the state, have boundaries or spheres to which they must stick.  This was the original intent behind the principle.  However, when Christians vote they do not stop being Christians.  Christians do not represent a denomination when they cast their votes; they stand in the ballot box as representatives of the Saviour.  This is the challenge.

In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord said:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13, NIV)

The modern cry for separation between church and state is an aberration of the original principle and is reduced to mean this:

  • (Individual) Christians need to keep their principles at home when they vote.
  • Adherents to all other religions are exempt.
  • Atheists are always neutral, because they don’t worship a specific god.

A Biblical worldview

The question then is what is the Christian of Biblical worldview?

The Bible teaches us that we must

… not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  (Romans 12:2, NIV)

Without going into too much detail, let’s sum up what the Bible teaches about the world and those who live in it.

When truth reigned over the lie

1. God created the world out of nothing, without the aid of anything outside of Himself, by the power of his word. We therefore do not believe in the idea that everything come about by nothing; that everything exists by chance, and there is not really any purpose in life. This notion makes all meaningful life impossible, because it rejects absolute values and truths, while it only relies on subjective truths and values to determine right and wrong.

2. Although created without defect, but now stained by sin, God can be known through the works of his creation.  We read about this in Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20, NIV)

3. Created things were made according to its kinds, but mankind was created after the image of God. All people should be treated as such. This we know from Genesis 1:27

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27, NIV)

Our Lord also taught this truth:

“Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ … (Matthew 19:4, NIV)

4. God created the first human beings male and female.  They were made to be one another’s companion and helper. Adam and Eve stood as equals before God, complementing one another according to God’s design. God gave them the command be fruitful, because they were created male and female with that capacity, the only basis on which other created things too could multiply.

5. Mankind was created for the purpose of ruling over God’s creation in a way which pleases the Creator.  Creation does not belong to man, but we are placed over it as stewards to look after it and develop it according to God’s design for it.

When the lie are presented as truth

Our first parents rebelled against God and dragged all of creation into misery.

1. What God created to be good—yes, very good—fell from its perfect design to a miserable state: man’s nature became corrupted, nature itself became corrupted and subject to death. Our reading from Romans 1 helps us:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21, NIV)

Another manifestation of how sin corrupted man is the foolishness of worshipping created things rather than Him who created all things:

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:22–23, NIV)

Why does the Bible call this foolishness?  Creation itself is corrupted by sin.  Romans 8:20-21

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20–21)

2. When mankind fell in sin they lost their innocence and freewill, but are still under the grace of God who provide in our everyday need. This is called common grace.

3. This misery affected the relationship between Adam and Eve and all human beings born after them, it affected relationships between members of families, and between nations on earth.  The result is idolatry, distrust, lies, hatred, jealousy, war, stealing, envy, diseases, pestilences, etc., and ultimately death. Romans 1:29 spells it out

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. (Romans 1:29–31, NIV)

4. Diseases and abnormalities became part of human life on earth.  Paul writes in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.”

5. We don’t accept cancer as normal just because it exists; on the contrary, we keep researching ways to eradicate it. Purely because they exist, we do not regard abnormalities as normal. Just because everyone lies, we still need to speak the truth, and we don’t introduce laws making it unlawful to demand the truth in a court of law.

6. Irrespective of what post-modernists say, the truth can be known.  This is the basis for the command of God:

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour. (Exodus 20:16, NIV)

This is something the mass media needs to understand:  half truths and fake news are not normal—it is just as abnormal as cancer, and with truth we need to combat lies in the same way as we battle against diseases. For this reason we are called, as Romans 6:12 puts it:

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

5.Sexual desires became deeply affected.  As a result of our fallen state these desires may manifest itself in ways humans rebel against their Maker in an effort to normalise what was not according to God’s original design. Once again we read Romans 1:26-27

Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26–27, NIV)

Reflection

Just before we move on, let’s just pause for one moment and ponder what we have just learned.  It is important to know that Romans 1 does not refer to “them” sinners; it refers to sin and “us” sinners in general. In other words, before we begin to think that we are not included into the description of sinful corruption as Romans 1 spell it out, we have to understand it is not about “us” and “them”—it is about all of us.  How do we know this?  Let’s just read Romans 2:1

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1, NIV)

It might be true that not all of us committed all of the sins mentioned in Romans 1, however the fact remains that one human being cannot claim higher moral ground above others based on inborn qualities.

So, when you find yourself exercising your vote, pray about it, remember were it not for saving grace in Christ, we would all fall short of the glory of God.  As you vote, do so with a prayer that God would show our nation mercy, and pray for those who still do not know Christ, that they would turn from their rebellion and find salvation in Him.

When truth destroys and exposes the lie

1. The message of the Bible is one of hope:  sinners are saved by grace.  Jesus Christ, the son of God, was God’s gift to the world as perfect redemption.  By faith in Him alone all sinners, irrespective of the kind of sin they have committed, are forgiven and restored as God’s children. Although not perfect, relationships between forgiven people have a good chance of success as we forgive one another as we are forgiven in Christ. The Word states:

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10, NIV)

Let’s heed to this verse too:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

2. Christ being the Head of both, husband and wife now should live submit to Christ in reverence of Him; in faithfulness to one another they must strive to live for the glory of God. By God’s design they bring up children for the glory of God within the confines of marriage.

The Bible sees marriage as a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his church. Paul writes:

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:32–33)

3. Family relationships are sanctified in Christ.  Children must obey their parents, “for it is right.  Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2–3)

4. Christ’s grace, which reconciled sinners to God, calls them to gather as his people, the church.  Until Christ returns according to his promise, the Holy Spirit dwells with us as we fellowship with one another.

5. When Christ returns all people will be called to judgement where there will be a separation between those who were made righteous and those who rejected Christ’s righteousness.  The restoration in Him we know and experience now, will then be made complete as we will live on a new earth where sin will not enter to destroy the work of God.

Conclusion

These are the basic aspects which make up the worldview of Christians.  We don’t grab these out of the air; we base them on the Scriptures, which are the infallible and inerrant Word of God. These principles should be your guide when you vote.

Next week, Lord willing, we will endeavour to point out the principles of those oppose the truth of the Gospel in an effort to present it as the new truth.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on 10 September 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