Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Undivided loyalty to Christ, our King (2)

Scripture Readings

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

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emperor worship

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

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

Trade Guilds

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

Religious alliance

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

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

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

Why persecution?

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

The anti-trinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We learn from John about the anti-Christ.  

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

Another verse:  

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

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

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

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

Deception

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Undivided loyalty to Christ, the King (1)

Scripture Readings

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

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

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

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

God and his law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gift of an inheritance 

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

In Deuteronomy 7:22, Moses says:  

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

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

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

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

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

A fierce battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satan hates Christ and his church

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Amen. 

Living ‘in-Christ’ (4)

Bible Readings

  • Proverbs 10:18-32
  • Colossians 3:5-17

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

Successful advertising companies design their ads after careful market research, more so about the potential buyers.  Not only do they know their product, but they know who they want to buy their products.  

To get us to buy a product, they persuade us of two things:  you need something, and you deserve that thing.  Their product is always “better”, “bigger” or “faster”— but we’re not told better, bigger or faster than what! The clincher in the ad is using the words like “you deserve it!”

I sometimes wonder if most of them were looking over the shoulder of the serpent in paradise. The appeal then was on the desire to get what they thought they did not have!  The Bible tells:  

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis 3:6, NKJV)

When our first parents fell, the floodgates opened, and sinful desire became like a bottomless well which never runs out of enticement.

We got engaged in the war of Satan, sin and the flesh.  We need a lifeline out of this enslaving mess:  someone to destroy Satan, someone who is victorious over sin, and to help us overcome fleshly desire.  There is only one possibility:  Jesus Christ! We need to live ‘in-Christ’.

The sermon today is still following the theme of Living ‘in-Christ’; the title is Put your mouth where your heart is. Remember these three main points:

  • When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods 
  • When the heart is a fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth 
  • Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods

It is clear from our reading from Colossians this morning that those who received salvation in Christ have received a new address.  Because they, by faith, are ‘in-Christ’ they are principally seated with Christ at the right hand of God (3:1).  They are ‘in-Christ’, they died with Him (3:3), they rose ‘in-Christ’ into a new life Christian, and ‘in-Christ’ they will one day appear in eternal glory (3:4).

However, no Christian is exempt from battle with sin. The war against sin has been won ‘in-Christ’, but the battles are ongoing.  Therefore this verse:  

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5, NKJV)

The truth of this verse is important because when the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods.  

The expression ‘evil desires’ in verse 5 is a manifestation of the sin which dwells in man and which controls him; it is the persistent root in us to seek our wills instead of the will of God. This desire arises out of the world, make up its essence and perishes with it.  It is like a wildfire:  if not kept under a lid, it will destroy and devour.  

The essential point in sinful desire is that it is an impulse, a motion of the will. When sinful desire in whatever forms knocks on my door it promises satisfaction and enjoyment; it persuades me that if I don’t give in to its demands, I will be unsatisfied, deprived, unfulfilled.  It convinces me that life without fulfilling the desire is unfair.  It is nothing less than anxious self-seeking. It bursts upon us with the force of immediacy.

This is the old life without Christ.  Paul writes: 

… we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:3, NKJV)

Those who received Christ, who live ‘in-Christ’ “set their hearts” and “set their minds” “on things above” (3:1-2).  It follows as a necessity for those who once were dead in sins of the sinful nature, but who are made alive with Christ (2:13).  Because we are forgiven, because we are rescued, because we are ‘in-Christ’, we must “put to death” our sinful desires.

The Bible warns us that the earthly nature (3:5), the way we used to walk (3:7), the old self (3:9) will keep rearing its head. If our minds are set on earthly things (3:2) these evil desires will pounce on us and severely impede on our Christian progress.  We will be limping along, and our lives will bring dishonour to the Name of Christ who died and rose for us.  No, our lives should be ‘in-Christ’.  

The Bible here uses very explicit language to warn us:  giving in to the desires of the flesh—which is born in the deception of satan—is idolatry, and idolatry is invoking the wrath of God.

The essence then is to mortify these desires in the power of the resurrected Christ.  Our verse says, “Put to death.” 

There is a dire warning about desires.  Jesus told the parable of the seed.

Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18–19, NKJV)

Paul writes in Galatians 5

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:17, NKJV)

Keep in mind, when the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods.  It is only when there has been a change of heart, a change of mind, that there will be a change in life.

When the heart is a fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth 

Little wonder then that Paul continues:  

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8, NKJV)

The heart is the wellspring for the words of our mouths. Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language as to verbalise the thoughts of the heart.  When Paul practically applies this principle he uses a very familiar example:  Do not lie to each other. 

Why do we lie?  Invariably, we lie to either protect ourselves or to gain something unlawful.  Why would that be?  It’s purely because the desire to self-seeking has reared its head.  Sinful man will do the distance for as long as his self-interest is at stake.

Christians need to continually flee from this evil.  We need to remind ourselves to put off the old self and put on the new self (3:9-10).  We are called to display the image of our Creator who renewed in the image of Christ.  This means sanctification.  God made us his chosen people, and He calls us holy and dearly loved.  We are made new ‘in-Christ’, and we need to continue to live ‘in-Christ’.  There is no option.

You might have heard people saying something like, “I tell things the way they are; it’s in my nature.”  Or, “It just comes naturally to me to jump in, do things, and later feel sorry.  That’s the way I am.”

Some of us can indeed be a bit fiery, direct, stubborn and abrupt.  Honesty is a good thing, but there is also such a thing as a character being changed and renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit.   It must be true of any Christian! No Christian can hide behind old sinful traits.

Verse 11 almost seems out of place in this chapter.  It reads:  

…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11, NKJV)

What does it say?  At least two things:  

  • don’t hide behind your heritage when you get worked up and upset.  “I’m of Scottish heritage!”  “I am a Scythian!” (They apparently were fairly barbaric and could easily use their culture as an excuse for what might be unacceptable to others cultures. The once fiery, direct, stubborn and abrupt must put those things to death, because irrespective of your background, the demand is to live like a Christian.
  • always regard others in the family of Christ as your brothers and sisters, and treat them with the love of Christ, consistently putting them first. 

… bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Colossians 3:13–14, NKJV)

The injunction is to take off the old, and to put on the new:  

put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; (Colossians 3:12, NKJV)

Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

How do we mortify the desires of the flesh?  How do we overcome sin?  How do we have victory over Satan?

  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.  Dwell on the Scriptures.  Read it, know it, study it, and live by it.  It will drive you to live ‘in-Christ.” 
  • Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Let the Word be your standard when you want to criticise others.  And let’s be honest, it will be impossible to quarrel over petty nonsense if we sing together with grace in your hearts.  Right?
  • And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16–17, NKJV)  Set your whole life up to honour God and live in thanksgiving.

These things will guard your heart as the wellspring of life.  

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 4 November 2018

Heavenly shaped defence (1)

Bible Readings

  • Acts 20:25-38;
  • 1 Peter 5:1-11

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

If our Lord allows us, we will walk slowly through the last chapter of 1 Peter.  The topic of this sermon “Heavenly Shaped Defence”. We of course speak of our defence against the strategy of the devil.  To begin our study of chapter 5 with we will consider certain things leaving us defenceless against our adversary, the devil. More about that later.

We have had the privilege to walk through 1Peter over the last two months or so.  God has shown us many wonderful things about our heavenly shaped lives, as well our heavenly shaped future in Christ.  

  • We have an inheritance which can never perish, spoil or fade; it is kept in heaven. This inheritance is shielded by God’s power until the announcement of the last time (1Peter 1:3-5).
  • God revealed this salvation in Jesus Christ, who is the fulfilment of all prophesies of the Old Testament, now reality in the New Testament (1Peter 1:10-12).
  • The good news about the Gospel of Christ is that, by the work of the Holy Spirit—who works through the revealed will of God in the Bible (1Peter 1:24-25)—changed our hollow and meaningless existence, from being God’s enemies, by making us children of God (1Peter 1:14-15, 18).  For this Christ redeemed us by his precious blood, worth more than silver of gold (1Peter 1:19-21). 
  • Our life on earth is temporary, but one day Jesus Christ will return and will take us to Him (1Peter 1:13), but we called to, in the meantime, live holy lives, because we were called out of darkness into his wonderful light, to proclaim God’s praises (1Peter 2:9-10).  In fact, Christians, under Jesus Christ woh is the head, is like a temple, a spiritual house, and a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1Peter 2:5).
  • We live in this world as aliens, obeying the laws of governments, doing our daily work as if unto the Lord (1Peter 2:13-19).
  • Our marriage and family relationships must reflect the relationship between Christ and his church as a message of hope to the world (1Peter 3:1-7).

All in all, what we have heard up to now is absolute good news.  Our citizenship is in heaven, and we are kept in the hands of God: 

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, (1 Peter 3:18, NKJV)

But our summary of what Peter wrote in his epistle is incomplete.  Peter also prepares us for difficult times, precisely because of our faith in Jesus Christ. In 1Peter 1:6 he writes:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials … (1 Peter 1:6, NKJV)

Why does all of this happen?

  • The world, who rejects the Lordship of Christ goes after God’s children and whip up accusations against his church (1Peter 2:12), and Christians experience unjust sufferings (1Peter 2:19-21). 
  • If Christians suffer for what is right, they are blessed (1Peter 3:14), because it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1Peter 3:17).  
  • All of this should not come as a surprise to Christians, because being united to Christ implies that his sufferings will be our sufferings (1Peter 4:12-13).

Our sufferings and the glory of Christ

It is almost as if Peter leads us in our relationship with Christ, to have a look of what drives the drama behind the curtains, so we can understand the battle we are involved in.

There’s one thing our enemy would want to prevent from happening, and us from knowing:  that the glory of Christ will be known in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ.  Peter, on the other hand, cannot stress the point more:

Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:13, NKJV)

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. (1 Peter 4:14, NKJV)

Peter is confident about the fact he himself will share in the glory of Christ when it is revealed (1Peter 5:1). Elders are encouraged to discharge of their shepherding task well, because they will “receive the crown of glory” when the Shepherd appears (1Peter 5:4).  He ends his letter with this encouraging word: 

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10, NKJV)

So, the devil’s plan to have Christians going through suffering, in the hope that they might retreat and give up following Christ as Lord—and thus miss out on the eternal glory of Christ—fails in the great plan of God:  suffering, as we saw last week is a necessary process of refinement, but it also unites us with the glory of Christ.

We need to hang on to the words of our Lord in his Hight Priestly Prayer in the face of our suffering and our battle with our adversary.

And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:22,24, NKJV)

This prayer of Christ will ultimately surely be answered in full when He appears in glory: being already been gloried in Christ, those united to Him by faith will see his glory! The devil has no chance against Christ. In fact his place in the lake of sulphur is already prepared.  His tail feathers have been plucked, and his wings have been clipped.  Because he has been subjected to Christ, his is even more ferocious and dangerous. But God is not yet done with him. 

Our enemy

First, let’s look at the things leaving us defenceless. 

We look at five destructive dangers: 

  • our adversary, the devil
  • ungodly elders
  • insubordinate behaviour in God’s household
  • wavering faith in times of trouble
  • ignorance of prevalent danger

We will hear the Word of God on the first in this list, and continue next week.

The devil 

Although Peter mentions our adversary last, it does not mean that he is the least dangerous.  In fact, he is behind everything aimed at the destruction of the church of Christ.  

Let’s go to 1Peter 5:8

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

Of all the wild animals there is one we do not want to tackle with bare hands: the lion.  Even tame lions can be dangerous and in some cases be extremely unpredictable.  

Our adversary is more than such a lion.  He prowls around with one aim and purpose:  to devour and destroy.

David prayed in Psalm 7:2

O Lord my God, in You I put my trust; save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me, lest they tear me like a lion, rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver. (Psalm 7:1–2, NKJV)

Of his adversary the Psalmist writes:

He lies in wait secretly, as a lion in his den; He lies in wait to catch the poor; He catches the poor when he draws him into his net. (Psalm 10:9, NKJV)

John exposes the devil: 

He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:44, NKJV)

He has sinned from the beginning (1John 3:8).  He perverts the truth of God, precisely because he knows truth so well.  He believes and his fellow fallen angels believe God, and they shudders (James 2:19). He knew very well what God had commanded Adam and Eve, but he perverted the truth and trapped them into believing his version of the truth instead.  He tried to use his version of the truth to tempt our Lord by quoting verses of the Bible.  Here is some of his strategies:

  • To undermine your faith in Christ he whispers in your ear that it is impossible to know that you are a Christian, reminding you of your sins.  
  • Or he might even prevent your from  fully trust in Christ as your Saviour by trying to convince you that you are not a sinner to begin with.  A loving God will not possible throw sinners in hell! 
  • He might try to convince you that God’s Word is not the truth, and not enough to lead you to the knowledge of who God and your Saviour is.  How can God call you through a book which was written thousands of years ago.  Can the Bible be true?  Is there power in the gospel?
  • Was grace enough for you?  Can you have security that your inheritance in heaven cannot spoil, fade or perish, and that God is shielding it for you? What about your past rebellion against God?
  • Who says God really loves you, and that He will never let anyone pluck you from his hand? Who says God really exist?
  • Another great delusion from the devil is the suggestion that Christians should not suffer for the sake of Christ. Last week we dwelled on the abominable teaching of the Health and Wealth theology, also know as Prosperity Theology.  Our adversary will be ready to whisper in our ear that God does not love us as soon as suffering shows up in our life.  And what is he so good in convincing ignorant Christians with?  He does it as he did with Christ: he makes promises he know very well he cannot deliver.  Don’t fall for it.  It is a lie from hell.   

And so you are tossed about like a wave on the ocean.  Listen to him and he will rip your heart out and laugh about you on your way to hell.

In The Pilgrims Progress Bunyan writes:  “No king will willingly lose his subjects,” said Apollyon to Christian when he stretched himself across the road, “and I swear you shall go no further; here will I spill your soul.” 

I quote from a sermon of Charles Spurgeon: 

“Do you suppose that Satan would lose his subjects one by one, and not be filled with wrath? Assuredly not. As soon as he sees a soul hurrying off to the wicket gate, with his eyes fixed on the light, away go all hell’s dogs after him. ‘There is another of my subjects going; my empire is being thinned; my family is being diminished:’ and he tries with his might and main to bring the poor soul back again.” 

There’s far more to say about the devil, but let’s wrap it up with this from Revelation 12:  it describes the battle between him and the angels of God who protects the church of the Lord out of which would be born Jesus Christ.  An enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns with seven crowns on his head appeared on the scene.  Here we have an explicit reference to him “the ancient serpent, the devil, or Satan who leads the whole world astray” (verse 9). At the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, who would rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, the dragon wanted to devour the newborn child.  Satan lost the rebellion in heaven and was hurled to the earth and his angles with him (verse 8).  He then focussed upon the woman who had given birth to the son; he focussed on the church of Christ, but God is protecting his people (verse 14). Although overcome, Satan does not retreat.  He is still engaged in the battle, now honing in on all who call Jesus Christ their Lord.  Listen:  

And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 12:17, NKJV)

This is our enemy Number One.  Every soul who allows itself to be entrapped by this enemy is in great peril.  The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ has exposed itself by voices from within who denies the existence of its greatest enemy.

Conclusion

My friends, don’t be fooled or distracted.  Satan is not the little disfigured red-faced little fellow with sharp pointed ears and a pitch fork in his hands.  He is a dangerous, yet not almighty, fallen warrior.  He knows no love, although he can speak lovingly; he promises all, although he has nothing to offer; he prides as an angle of the light, yet in him is just darkness. The Bible gives us the instruction:

Resist him, be steadfast in the faith. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

Hide in the righteousness of Christ and hang on to your inheritance in Him which cannot spoil, fade or perish.  This is our only defence.

Amen.

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

 

Mark – Have You come to destroy us?

Mark – Have You come to destroy us?

The scene in this part of the Gospel of Mark is Capernaum, in the district of Galilee.

Read Isaiah 9:1-2 and Matthew 4:15-16.  What do these verse tell us about those living in Galilee?

 

Capernaum means “the house (or, town) of Nahum”; however, the identity of this Nahum is unknown. In New Testament times, Capernaum was a centre of commerce. Fishing and trade were important, and the town was a Roman tax polling station.  Capernaum was the home of Peter and became a kind of base of operations for Jesus’ Galilean ministry.

The lake on which Capernaum was built has four different names in the Bible:

  • Sea of Chinnereth (Num 34:11; Josh 12:3; 13:27)
  • Sea of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1; Josephus, Ant. 13)
  • Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1; 21:1)
  • Sea of Galilee (Matt 4:18)

Jesus performed the following miracles in Capernaum:

  • Healed Jairus’ Daughter (Matt 9:18–26; Mark 5:21–43; Luke 8:41–56)
  • Fed 5,000 people (Likely closer to Bethsaida, John 6)
  • Caught a miraculous amount of fish (John 21:4–14)
  • Healed a demon possessed man (Mark 1:21–28)
  • Healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:14–15)
  • Healed a paralytic (Matt 9:2–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–20)
  • Healed the centurion’s servant (Matt 8:5–13; Luke 7:1–10)
  • Healed the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:21–43)

Synagogues, buildings for worship, originated during the time of the Exile as the result of Jews meeting together for prayer and the study of the Torah.  Worshipping in synagogues did not replace the major festivals during which Jews had to worship in the temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus preached according to the “freedom of the synagogue” – a Jewish custom that permitted recognised visiting teachers to preach (based on the reading from the Law or Prophets) in the synagogue by invitation of its leaders—to bring the Good News to his countrymen.

Discussion

1.  Read verse 21:  What was the major purpose of Jesus going into the synagogue?

 

2.  Read verse 22:  What did those who attended the synagogue think of the teaching of Christ?  Where did Christ get his authority from?  Read John 8:28-29

 

3.  Read Mark1:23-24: The reading and the application of the Scriptures (Malachi 3:1-2, 4:5-6, Isaiah 40:1-3) had another response.  What was it? Read also verse 25.

 

4.  “What do you want with us?” indicates that the demons disassociated with and opposed Jesus. Make the question,“Have you come to destroy us?” statement; what does it mean?

 

5.  Read 1John 3:8.  What was the mission of Jesus Christ?

 

6.  Those who heard and saw what happened in the synagogue when Jesus preached and applied the Word of God, had another question.  What did they mean?

7.  Read Mark 1:27.7.  Discuss:  Do we need miracles to expose the works of Satan, or is it enough to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

8.  Christ’s commission to his church is also included in these verse: Matt 28:18-19,  Mark 16:17-18,  Luke 24:47-49, Luke 16:31Hebrews 4:12, Romans 10:17, 1 Peter 1:23-25, 2Timothy 3:15-17  – what do these verses say about miracles?

The theology of Christians and Atheists

Christians believe in God who created everything out of nothing – ex nihilo.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26, ESV)

God created everything, seen and unseen, by and for his Son, Jesus Christ.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17, ESV)

Christians understand this because God revealed it to them through Scripture, nature and his Holy Spirit.

…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, ESV)

Christians are happy, content and joyful in the Lord of the universe, because only after forgiveness of sin and restoration through the death of Jesus Christ and Him being raised to life, life makes sense, is meaningful, and leads to the goal God set for it.

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:16–19, ESV)

Christians understand that God ordained that they should be witnesses of God’s grace.

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46–48, ESV)

The reason for this is that this universe as we know it will come to an end when God will call all men to judgement, after which He will replace the old with the new.

And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (Acts 17: 26–28, 30, ESV)

Christians believe in the existence of evil.  The Bible is clear about the existence Satan, also called the evil one, or the devil.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9, ESV)

For this reason some Christians, over the ages, died for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They are not more than their Master, and should expect to be treated the same He was treated by this world.

Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. (John 13:16, ESV)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV)

Christians build on the promise of our Lord that nothing can stand against Him and his church.  To die in the process of witnessing to the truth of the Gospel does not mean that those who oppose it has had any victory.  Against all odds and in spite of gruesome persecution through the ages the Bible, the truth of the Gospel and the message of the Church is surviving.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18, ESV)

It is regrettable and deplorable that many who call themselves “Christian” do not hold to the teachings of the Bible as the infallible and inspired word of God.  They disgrace the message of the Church and compromise its truth.  Their life is no example to the world, and their message holds out no life, nor purpose for those who might benefit from Gospel.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:2–5, ESV)

Christians understand that not all who hear the Gospel will respond to it positively.  Only God can open the eye of the unbeliever.

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:8–10, ESV)

Christians believe it is their duty to scientifically search to understand God’s creation.  Many great scientist are Christians.

You [God] have given him [man] dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:6–8, ESV)

Christian, for this reason (only) could wholeheartedly agree with Richard Dawkins:

Isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be part of it?

But Dawkins seems to be inconsistent in this regard.  Atheists (like Richard Dawkins) don’t believe in the existence of neither God nor the devil; there is no good or bad; we come from nowhere, and we are headed nowhere; there is no purpose in life.

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”  (Richard Dawkins― River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life) 

This quote of Dawkins is a blatant acknowledgement of the philosophy and theology of the biological assertion of Darwinism.  After all, Darwinism – or Darwinistic evolution – cannot escape the reality that it has produced a worldview based on certain theological assumptions. For this reason there is truth in what Dawkins says:

A universe with a God would look quite different from a universe without one. A physics, a biology where there is a God is bound to look different. So the most basic claims of religion are scientific. Religion is a scientific theory.

Atheists therefore, like Christians find it necessary to hold conferences to promote their views – and attack Christians on the basis of what they believe.  They decorate buses with signage to tell they world their is no God; they erect billboards to spread their theology.

They also write many books and pamphlets, they fund TV programs to promote their view.  They fund chairs at universities and see that professors are appointed to tell their story.

One wonders: Why?  Why spend all the money and effort to convince people that they come from nowhere, live for no reason and are going nowhere?  If you did nothing, most people would believe it anyhow!

If God does not exist, if evil does not exist, if good has no absolute definition, and if morality has no basis, why attack which does not exist?  Why wage a war when there is no enemy?  You only do this if you really believe in something!  It is just inconceivable that you would go through all this trouble to tell people that the “universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

Or do they somewhere deep perhaps believe that God does indeed exist, and therefore need to wage war against Him, his Son and his people?

No external force

Though Satan instills his poison, and fans the flames of our corrupt desires within us,we are yet not carried by any external force to the commission of sin, but our own flesh entices us, and we willingly yield to its allurements.

~ John Calvin