Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

The Long Road to Bethlehem (2)

Scripture Reading 

  • Judges 13:24-14:20

Introduction

All Sunday school children will encounter the story of Samson.  About all children’s Bibles will have a full-colour page of Samson tearing the lion to bits.  

What do you remember of Samson?  How should we understand the story of Samson? 

The official synopsis of the 1951 film reads: When strongman Samson rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah, she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret. In that movie, Samson won his bride after a contest of strength.  The woman he married then betrays him and fell in love with another man.  Samson went after them and killed them.  Her sister Delilah who had loved Samson in secret, seduces Samson into a relationship, in an attempt to avenge the death of her sister. She succeeded, and Samson dies a blind man.

That’s it! That’s the plot! It that we need to know about Samson?

The story of Samson was not included into the Scriptures to provide the script for a movie or even a large colour page in a children’s Bible. Samson was not a precursor to Superman.

One of the keys to understanding the Bible is to compare the Bible with itself.  Whit this in mind we need to bring into account what the Bible centuries later said about him:  

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions… And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-22, 39, ESV)

 If the name of Samson is mentioned along with the heroes of old for his faith and he is commended for it, then surely we have to try to understand why Samson’s story is included into the Scriptures.

In my research for this sermon, I found precious little theology about Samson.  Not a lot of sermons are recorded, and the commentaries are at best skimpy.  So, it is with fear end trembling that I preach this morning.  Think with me, and test the word of today against the Scriptures. May God’s Spirit give us understanding.  

Prayer:  That the Holy Spirit gives us understanding

God gave Samson to perform a specific task

Samson’s birth was unexpected and humanly impossible. His mother had been barren.  His birth was because of God’s direct intervention.

Both Samson’s parents would play an active role in his birth and upbringing.  They had to raise Samson as a Nazirite—a child dedicated to the service of God.  Even before his birth, they had to treat him as God’s chosen instrument.  Manoah knew that Samson would be unique when he asked what his son’s mission would be (13:12).  From birth, Samson would be set apart to “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (13:5)

The encounter of the parents with the Angel of the Lord has all the marks of a covenant between God and them.  It was sealed with a sacrifice, which God accepted. 

Samson grew up as a specially consecrated instrument in the hands of God.  His name was carefully selected:  “Sunshine” as if his mother saw the mission of her son as God giving light to his people.

Through his diet, appearance and everyday activity his parents would imprint on him God’s calling for his life.  One can be sure that his extended family and neighbourhood knew about God’s mission with the young man. God affirmed his intentions with Samson; we read,  

And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:25, ESV)

 Samson’s misguided program to of attack

Timnah was a Philistine town only a few miles away from where his parents raised Samson, on the other side of the border. He probably went there often.  In the back of his mind the words of his parents echoed:  You must deliver the people of God from Philistine oppression.   

In his mid-twenties, he met a girl and fell in love with her.  Maybe he thought he could overcome the enemy by first becoming part of them, he would thus gain a platform to execute his mission.  All along we read: the Lord was seeking an occasion [the right moment/time] to confront the Philistines.  Samson knew this fact very well, but his personal strategy went along a different path.  

His patents protested because they disagreed with his strategy.  Samson insisted, “She’s the right one for me.” (Or: “She’s right in my eyes”.) This was probably not the action of a man only blindly in love.  He understood his mission, and all along he probably still thought God will bless him through his marriage to get a foothold on the oppressors.  

So, the parents went along to make arrangements for the marriage.  They had to negotiate the dowry.  This made the betrothal to be married binding.  (So by the way, in this word betroth, the word for truth is buried.  This, of course, leads us to understand marriage between man and wife as a relationship based on truthfulness.) 

But on the way to Timnah, something extraordinary happened.  In the Sorak valley of vineyards, God’s Spirit came upon Samson.  When a lion attacked him, God gave him the strength to rip it apart as if was a young goat.  This must have impacted Samson to know getting married to the Philistine woman was not in God’s plan. Keep in mind, the Bible gives us no indication that Samson was physically stronger than any other person of his age.  He most probably never was, but God enabled him with exceptional strength when only he needed it. 

Samson suppressed God’s plan, but even subconsciously he must have known it was the right thing to do.  Contrary to what one might expect, he hid the episode with the lion from his parents,.  Would you not tell your parents that God empowered you and you just killed a lion with your bare hands? He was probably afraid that they might see it as a sign of God to not go ahead with the marriage.

If it was my mother, she would be quick to tell me that God wanted me to listen to God’s voice!

But his heart was set:  if he had to deliver the enemy, he would do it his way!  He did not abandon his mission, he just went about it in his own strength, thereby rejecting the power by which God wanted him to go about it. 

On his way for the actual wedding day, he diverted into the vineyard and had a look to see if the carcass of the lion was still there.  Yes!, and this time it had bees and honey in it.  He took the honey and gave it to his parents—but did not tell them where he got it from?  Why?  

Once again he missed the message.  He probably saw it as a sign that God would bless his marriage, but he lost the picture as a followup of him killing the beast:  if he could kill a roaring lion by the strength God provided, he would lead the people to restore the Promised Land to a place of milk and honey.

Samson did not overcome the enemy; he only somewhat distressed them

From what we gather from the Scriptures, unlike the custom of the day, the wedding feast did not take place in the house of the groom’s father.  That was in some sense humiliating for Manoah:  having a wedding feast in the house of your oppressors. If his relatives were present, those who had been told that God gave Samson to deliver Israel from the hand of their oppressors, this wedding celebration was instead a sign of defeat and further oppression.  It would be a riddle to the Israelites who attended it.

But maybe God can still hit a straight blow with a crooked stick.  Samson, as God’s special consecrated man, might have other insights regular folk did not have!

It lasted a full week. The guests were intrigued by Samson’s riddle:  Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” If only Samson’s heart were receptive to understand his own riddle, he would have followed God’s plan: he would have assumed that the eater, the Philistines, would be defeated and God would restore his people in the land of milk and honey.

Instead, Samson, the consecrated Nazirite, frivolously squandered the opportunity amongst the enemy known for their wallowing in drunkenness and hedonistic self-gratification. Does it remind you of the lost son in the parable of our Lord? 

Surely, Samson did infiltrate the enemy, but only thirty Philistines lost their lives, and that because the Spirit of God enabled him.  It was hardly a comprehensive victory!  Even more so when this episode in Samson’s life ended up where his ministry started: in his father’s house:  he lost his wife and went back to live with his parents.

Application

There are other examples in the Bible of men of God who made the same mistake as Samson.  

  • Abraham:  instead of staying in the land God promised to him and his descendants, he went down to Egypt, gave up his wife, only to return humiliated.  He misunderstood the promises of God, and he wanted it to come true as he saw it. Through the school of faith, Abraham learnt to fully trust and obey God, even if it were needed to sacrifice his only son.
  • Lot:  He thought he could gain something by living in Sodom.  He chose wrongly.  Yes, the Bible calls him a righteous man (2Peter 2:7), but his witness became weak, and none in Sodom believed him when he told them to flee the city ahead of God’s judgment.  By the grace of God, he was saved.
  • Samson: Samson had it wrong and initially squandered the opportunities God gave him because of his own stubborn understanding of God’s purposes.  Pigheadedly, he insisted on being the leading player in his life drama, instead of being like clay in the hand of the Holy Spirit.

Borrowing from Spurgeon’s sermon, we have to say that the secret of Samson’s strength only lied in his consecration as God’s instrument. Never should we think that we have any power and understanding of our own.

We have to guard our consecration; it must be sincere; we must mean it, and then look up to the Holy Spirit, relying on Him to give us daily grace.  It is not by any grace or insight, or power we have in us, but by the grace that is in Christ, and that must be given to us hour by hour, or we will fall.  Then, when we have done all required of us, we will be crowned last as a faithful one, who has endured unto the end.

Just one last thought:  Samson, and all human deliverers before and after him, was born of a man; they were sinners.  They were born on the long road to Bethlehem.  It was only then that the Messiah, not born of a man, but of the Holy Spirit, was born.  Being sinless, being one with the Father, His mission succeeded.  He totally destroyed the enemy.  For his wedding feast we, his bride, are waiting.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 December 2018

 

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Spiritual growth in Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:9-16
  • Philippians 1:3-11

Introduction

Who present today would like a 10-page book on 3 easy steps to spiritual maturity? You may go to sleep tonight as a babe, then wake up tomorrow with full knowledge of God’s Word, able to discern the most excellent things in life. But, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. In fact, Christian growth can be likened to our ageing. As we grow older, we acquire knowledge and learn how to discern right from wrong, good from bad. Yes, this takes time. But Christian maturity goes beyond this, and will often take long bouts of persevering against the world. 

In Philippians1:6, we observe a vital verse concerning sanctification, the process of our spiritual growth. It says, 

“that He (God) who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. 

God is the one who created us as His new creatures. Who had, “begun a good work in you…”, and it is God who brings it to completion. It is the Holy Spirit who is leading us along this journey of our spiritual growth, ‘until the day of Jesus Christ’.

This spiritual maturity, according to Philippians 1:9-11, involves a more in-depth knowledge interlaced with wisdom, a life that is lived according to God’s Word, producing righteous fruit, and most importantly having the Spirit of Christ instructing our renewed heart.

NO Easy Steps to Christian Maturity

Christians today, are not growing up to spiritual maturity. We have become people who look for the easy way up. People who only spend a few minutes in ‘self-centred’ prayer. A few moments reading a passage in the Bible. There is no contemplation, no meditation, and no application. Finishing just in time for our favourite television program, or that book we just can’t put down, and we waste several hours just idly sitting there. Now I’m not saying television or books are evil, but the devil uses things such as these to keep our attention away from what is essential, away from studying the Bible, thereby robbing us of our joy in Christ.

What Happed…?

One of the main events that happened in the reformation 500 years ago was the translation of the Holy Bible into the common language of the people. Now the man on the street could study, and apply God’s word to his life, he could grow up spiritually. We, on the other hand, have several translations on our bookshelves but rarely open them. We really have become lazy in our dedication to knowing God Word.

We read in v9, “That your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. This love must be a continual overflowing love that is built on knowledge, but this isn’t just common knowledge. It is an ever-deepening knowledge of God in His word, of the world and of ourselves. And especially important is understanding how to put that knowledge to practical use. Commentator Steven Lawson says, 

“Rightly exercising Christian love requires God-given insight into people and situations. It necessitates the practical wisdom that only God can impart.”. 

Love that continually overflows is nurtured by seeing God in Holy Scripture, knowing how the world operates, and proper knowledge of ourselves, our own failings, and weaknesses. 

We find the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 13:12, 

“Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 

Here the first ‘know’ is the common meaning of the word know. I know the Prime Minister. But the second ‘know’ is the same word used in Philippians 1:9. It refers to an over knowledge and is conveying to the reader a fuller or an informed, knowledge. Just having a partial knowledge isn’t going to do it. Real knowledge understands how we are to live in this world, in a biblical, godly manner. 

The Bible Clears the Path Ahead

Having real knowledge helps us to have “all discernment”, and our path ahead will be clearer. What Paul is saying is that we are to develop a depth of insight, or be discriminating, in all areas of life. 

The first point of call is, and always should be, the Word of God. No worldly activity, no matter how godly it seems, should take precedence over it. God’s holy word alone is our ultimate authority for being discerning. In other words; God’s Word is the standard of how we grow to maturity in Christ, how we live. God has used many Christ centred people, both past and present, to illuminate His Word for us and we would be wise to use all of that which God has given. Ultimately, though, the Spirit of God is our teacher, and we need to be asking Him to illuminate His word, for correct understanding. 

Then we must live the God centred life. If we are to be God’s light and pure salt in this world, then we really need to be out there living in it, but we cannot allow it to influence how we live as God’s people. Just as James puts emphasis on the knowing and doing, we too must wisely live in this world acting on what the Bible teaches.

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3

As our “love continues to abound in knowledge and all discernment” (v. 9) we will be able to (v. 10) “approve the things that are excellent”. When we have the knowledge of God’s word, the world we live in, and sober judgement of ourselves, we will be able to approve, or ‘test for purity’, the things that are excellent. Paul is praying that we will be able to make a distinction between what is good and what is better. 

Knowing good from evil is relatively easy, but knowing what is better from good can be a lot harder to determine. Knowing whether or not to touch a poisonous snake is easy. But knowing which ministry to put your finances and effort into can more difficult. We shall discern, better from good, when we know the Word of God. John MacArthur, a well-known preacher, puts it this way; 

“Christian character at its highest level comes from a divinely implanted and ever-growing love. That both leads to and is directed by, a rich understanding of and faithful obedience to the divine truth revealed in Scripture.”

Above Reproach

Why does God want His Children to have this knowledge and discernment? If we continue, v. 10 gives us the answer, “that you may be sincere and without offence”. Here is the result of living out the abounding love in knowledge and all discernment. 

‘Sincere’ comes from a Greek word which means, ‘to test by sunlight’. In Ancient Near Eastern markets there was thick, easy to make, pottery and then there was fine pottery, a lot harder to make, but it broke easily. What some merchants would do was glue the broken pottery back together with wax, then pretty it up with paint. The buyer became aware of the problem when the impure pot got too hot, the heat of the sun or near fire, the wax would melt, and the pot was ruined. But we are called to be pure vessels, without flaws, and able to stand ‘the sunlight test’.

‘Without offence’ comes from a term that means blameless. Other than unbelief, there is probably no greater sin that Jesus condemned more than hypocrisy. Especially the religious kind, like that which was shown in the Pharisees and scribes in passages such as Matthew 7:5; 15:7; Luke 12:56; 13:15. Paul writes to both Timothy and Titus about the office of elders. Elder, he demands, must be above reproach, this is the same thing he is praying for in our current passage. Colossians says in 1:10, “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him”.

Are We There Yet?

We know that Paul isn’t writing just to the early Church at Philippi but to all believers in all times. How do we know this? We know this because of the clause that follows in v10; “till the day of Christ”. The day of Christ is referring to the end of time, when Christ, as the Judge will separate the sheep from the goats. The goats will receive eternal punishment, but the sheep will receive eternal life. 

The need for spiritual growth must be a focus of every believer. We need to remember that abounding love, which is both sincere and non-offensive, involves both the mind and heart for proper godly growth. 

Is There Fruit Yet?

Flowing on then, is a life that produces righteous fruit, v11 “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ”. In the Christian life, there are two types of righteousness. The first is that of the righteous life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and which is credited to our account when we are reborn. 

The second meaning of righteousness in the Bible is the right acts that we do and stems from wisely acting on a proper understanding of God’s Word.  James 2 asks: How does someone who confesses faith in Christ demonstrate that faith? If you profess faith in Christ, it will be seen in the way you act. James 2:26 is a massive wake-up for us. If you do NOT possess what you confess, you’re dead.

We are saved from our previous sinful lives to display God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” These verses tell us that we are not saved by good works, but for good works. The ‘fruit’ produced by a righteous life has its source in the Word of God, which is illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit. 

The Meaning of Life / Where is God?

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is; 

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

Christian love that continues to grow and grow and overflow into everyday life comes from God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Spirit. Our sanctification will only stagnate if we are not placing God at the centre of our heart. A regular study of God’s Word together, with meditating on it, and apply it is our daily act of worship, Romans 12:1-2. 

Conclusion 

In Australia today many Christians have allowed the world to dictate to them what they should believe on many things. These Christians confess Christ as their King, but by allowing the world to dictate their beliefs, they are acting like the impure pots filled with wax. When it heats up, they fall apart. We must be like the pure pots, sincere and without offence.

Let me leave you with 3 questions:

  1. How are you abounding in knowledge and all discernment? 
  2. Are you able to test and approve what is excellent in light of God’s Word? 
  3. How are you equipped to live to the praise and glory of God?

The reformers had a motto; Reformed and Reforming. They knew that the process of holiness is a lifetime’s work, it requires prayer, dedication, and spiritual effort. And, it will continue until the day of Christ Jesus. 

May we be continually reforming to God’s standards, by abounding in love “still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. So we may be sincere and without offence, producing righteous fruit in Christ, and above all, giving praise and glory to God.

Sermon preached by Mr Ken Mobbs on Sunday 18 November 2019

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

Living ‘in Christ’ (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 25:1-15
  • Colossians 3:1-11

Introduction

 Dr Joseph Haroutunian, a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary, came to America from Armenia. One day a well-meaning friend said to him, “Your name is difficult to pronounce and difficult to spell–it could hurt your professional career. Why don’t you change your name to  Harwood or Harwell or something like that?” 

Dr Haroutunian asked, “What do those names mean?”

His friend said, “Well, nothing. They’re just easier to remember.”

Dr Haroutunian said, “In Armenia when my grandfather was baptised, they named him Hartounian which means  ’Resurrection.’ I am Joseph Haroutunian, and I will be a son of Resurrection all my days.”

This man knew Christ. He knew that his life was hidden with Christ in God.  He knew when Christ, who is his life, appears, that he also will with Him appear in glory.

 God who is hidden to sinful man

“Your life is now hidden with Christ in God”.  (Colossians 3:3)

The Bible teaches us that it is impossible for a human being, sin-stained and mortal, to see God.  The holiness of God demanded distance between Him and man.  No-one ever saw God personally.  He was the One concealed in the cloud, and when He appeared to his people, He kept distance between Himself and man.  The people saw the manifestation of his power and holiness, but Him they never saw.

When God commanded Moses to build the tabernacle, He was very specific about the holy and the holiest sections of the temple.  These were designed to keep the people away from the holiness of God.  In fact, the whole sacrificial system was designed to assure that the people would always be reminded that they are sinful in opposition to the holy God.  It is almost as if everything about the Old Testament worship was designed to keep the people away from God, not because He did not love them, but because his holiness demanded it.

Everything about the sacrifices called for the perfect to come:  a perfect High Priest, a perfect sacrifice, a perfect righteousness, a perfect love, a perfect holiness. Everything about the sacrificial system screamed out, “Inadequate!” It called for a sacrifice which would bring God and man together again like it was before sin entered into the world through the rebellion of Adam and Eve.  Yes, it called for a second Adam.

 God from whom nothing is hidden

However, nothing is hidden from God.  No-one ever saw Him, but He knows everyone and everything.  Nothing is hidden from the eyes of God.  Daniel, talking to king Nebuchadnezzar, declared about God:

He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:21-22)

Jeremiah writes about God:

Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)

David said in Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)

 Man’s desperate situation

If we just take these two aspects about God into consideration, we will understand that mankind finds itself in a desperate situation.  First, there is an impossible mountain and unbridgeable distance between God and us.  Second, God knows all about us, and that is enough to condemn us all to eternal destruction.  To compound this problem, we, according to our human nature, are not even sensitive to the things of God and heaven.   Our hearts are inclined to sin and we enjoy the road to our eternal destruction. Also if we wanted to, we could not bridge the distance between God and us.  No good works, good intentions, good thoughts or anything we may deem as acceptable are acceptable before God.  Our hands are stained with sin, our minds are corrupted by sin, our hearts are spiritually dead, our eyes are blind to the things of God, and our ears cannot understand the sound of the Gospel.

 The way to God

Based on what we heard as Gospel from the previous chapter we now with joyful hearts and minds accept with the apostle the excellent news of the Gospel in Colossians 2:13, 14

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

The sum of this argument is this:  The way to God is the way which is from God.  

Can you remember the words participation and association of last week? By faith, I associate with Christ, and the result is that I participate in what He did when He came to fulfil his mission from the Father, which was to bring eternal life to sinners whom His Father loves.  Therefore, when Christ died, by faith I participated in his death.  When He rose again, by faith, I associate with Him and consequently, I participated in his resurrection.  This is possible because the death of our Lord and his resurrection are our righteousness before God. Through baptism, we hear the Gospel sound clearly:  your sins are forgiven because by faith and grace Christ’s death took away the curse and sting of death.  At communion, we hear the Gospel sound clearly:  When Christ died on the cross, God was satisfied, because the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world.

This then takes us to chapter 3:3

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

The result is astounding and amazing.  You died, but you live.  How is that possible?  Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  What a transformation!  God who was hidden to the sinner now hides the sinner in Him!  How is this possible?  It all revolves around the salvation in Christ.  In the Old Testament, the regulations were designed to keep sinners away from the holiness of God because of the imperfect sacrifice and righteousness of both the High Priest and the sacrifice. It resulted in atonement to be done over and over again by a fallible human being.  

It is a different story now.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews puts it this way:

 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings, you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’ ” (Hebrews 10:1-7)

He concludes the same chapter with these marvellous words of grace:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith … (Hebrews 10:19-22)

This is grace and mercy:  through Jesus Christ, we now have access to God’s throne of grace.  Our life is hidden with Christ in God.  

The word hidden also means that our lives are safe with Jesus Christ in God.  That safe indeed, that it will be kept by God till the day of the return of our Lord.  Peter writes in 1Peter 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

 Paul declares in Colossians 3:4: “Christ is your life”.  He is the only One, the only possible way to God, the only possible salvation, the only righteousness acceptable to God. With Him one lives; without Him one is dead.  John in 1 John 5:12 hammers in this truth:

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12)

This, of course, begs the question:  Do you have that life?  Do you know Jesus Christ this way?  Do you know Him as your Saviour?  Mr Joseph Haroutunian knew, and he proclaimed it loudly and clearly.

If so, you probably look forward to the day of the revelation of Jesus Christ.  On that day, every knee will bow before Him and acknowledge that He is the son of God.  And with Him, He will have the names of those belonging to God, bought in his blood.  And He will call those who died in Him to live with Him; He will call those who are still alive at his return to Him.  In his hand, He will hold the scroll of the names of the elect written in the Book of Life, sealed by his own blood.

And eternity will break forth. What a marvellous future do the children of God have!  It is just such a pity that some who hear this Gospel might harden their hearts and reject the righteousness of Jesus Christ. They have no life, no future other than eternal destruction away from God.  I sincerely hope this is not the case with you.

Conclusion

When we ponder these things and apply it to our lives, what impact does it have? Let’s just name a few things:

  • We, who were spiritually dead and operated from God, by his grace in Christ Jesus are now living in Christ, and to the glory of God.  You have been given the fullness of Christ.” (Colossians 2:10)  You were raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raise Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12). “You have been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1)
  • With Christ, we already have a place in heaven.  Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
  • We will see the glory of our God at the return of our Saviour:  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4, ESV)
  • This means that our sinful mindset and rebellious hearts were renewed and we were made new. Paul writes,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

  • The implication is that we are called to become what we’ve been made.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, ESV)  The command is “set your hearts” and “set your minds”.  Paul is not saying that we should seek to possess the things above, but that we must seek, or attune, ourselves entirely to the heavenly realities in Christ. We don’t need to strive to make heaven our own—we already have it in Christ—rather, we should make our heavenly status the guide for all our thinking and acting.  
  • Those who associate with Christ and by faith participate in the salvation He worked out, intentionally seek the things above by deliberately and daily committing themselves to Christ to display the values of the heavenly kingdom and the living out of those values.  In other words, we need to continually develop a heavenly mindset in all we do.  
  • How do we develop this mindset?  It takes us back to chapter 1:  

  that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:9–10, ESV)

How?  Through a growing knowledge and a life grounded in “the word, the Gospel of truth” (Colossians 1:5)  Know your Bible!

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 October 2018

 

Jesus Christ only – no if’s, not but’s (3)

Bible Readings

  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
  • Colossians 2:13-23

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Today is the third sermon on the topic Jesus Christ only, no if’s, no but’s. 

In our first sermon, we drew the conclusions from Paul’s theology about the Person of Christ in Colossians 1:15-23, God’s mystery kept order wraps for ages till the fulness of time. To know Him is to listen and learn from the Gospel, which is the God’s revelation about his plan of salvation which He made possible, and executed, in Jesus Christ.   To know Christ is to know God’s treasures of wisdom for all eternity.  This stands in stark contrast to the Gnostics, who taught that man can be initiated into some kind of esoteric knowledge of the gods, and then eventually reach into eternal life by virtue of constrained self-help knowledge only available to those who received the spark of life.

In our second sermon on this topic, we considered the notion of sacramentalism.  Both the Gnostics and Christians with a Jewish background who argued that only if one receives, or goes through, an initiation process.  

  • For the Gnostics, it was withdrawal from this material world into the airy-fairy world of unknown angels and drifting off in some kind of always-escapable core life-giving knowledge which sees God as incomprehensible, unknowable, and transcendent. 
  • For Jews it was circumcision.  He who is circumcised is automatically included into the covenant people of God and counted as the privileged.  

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is this:  faith unites us with Christ—we are in Him, or in-Christ— which means that what He did to meet the righteousness of the Father, we don’t need to do because we can’t work out our own righteousness.  Being in-Christ by faith, his work becomes ours.  The sacraments of Baptism and Communion is a sign, not of what we have done or are doing, but what God in Christ has done for us.  That’s why Paul states: 

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)

He adds: 

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 2:13, NKJV)

Which this in mind we say, Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no buts!  

Although God commands us to be baptised and to celebrate Holy Communion, the sacraments are signs and seals of what Christ already completed; these signs remind us of this fact but does not add to our salvation.  We cannot say that baptism, or any other initiation right, saves anyone.  What saves us, is the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  This we need to believe with all our hearts.  There are scores of baptised people who will end up in hell because they are never circumcised at heart—think of Ananias and Sapphira who were members of the new church in Jerusalem, who must have been baptised, but lied to the Holy Spirit and died on the spot. On the other hand, some unbaptised people put their faith in Christ and die in Him—think of the thief on the cross next to Jesus. 

Son, once again, we have to say, Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s. Why?  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, 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. (Colossians 2:11–12, NKJV)

Moralism and legalism

We have come to the verse in Colossians 2 which tackles the problem of morals.  Paul writes:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, (Colossians 2:16, NKJV)

Moralism is the idea of attaining some better standing before God by following some rules of self-discipline to improve one’s chance of getting into heaven. 

Interestingly, both the Gnostics and the those who clung to the New Testament as if Jesus never came to fulfil the Law, had observed these things:  forbidden food, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and Sabbath days.  And we even have them today amongst those who promote legalism; in some cases, it is just more refined.

Special Diets

Paul writes:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16, NIV)

The Gnostics, in more than one way, were the forerunners of the Modern-day New Age.  Their ideas were not new then, and it is not new now.  It actually takes us back to primitive theology were earth, air, water and wind – or broadly – all nature is worshipped.  Man is his own god, and god is in every man.  There is no sin, hell or Satan.  We cannot know God fully, but we can work our way up to Him by sticking too strict self-imposed rules of self-self-improvement and self-purification. Knowledge is the big thing, but it is secretive knowledge, airy-fairy stuff.

The Gnostic New Agers have their taboos in food and easily become vegans. “You cannot eat anything you killed – that’s to disturb the balance in nature!”  

As Christians, we know how the answer this:  the world and everything in and on it belongs to God who created it in and by Jesus Christ.  We don’t worship it, and we understand that God gave us the mandate to cultivate the land and have dominion over creation – believing that we are accountable to Him for the way we do it; it is not ours to abuse it any way we like. Paul clarifies this in 1 Corinthians 8:

… for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:6, NIV)

Messages from angels

Gnostic saw themselves so spiritually advanced that they even speak to angels and receive messages from them!  They must ’ve been special!  Is that something to strive for?  No!  The only voice I have allegiance to is the voice of God who spoken what He wanted to say in the Bible.  And yes, I need to read it more and more and put every effort into understanding it.

False humility

But the  practices of the legalists go even further:

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. (Colossians 2:18, NIV)

It can so easily happen that trying so hard to be good, includes the attitude that those who have not attained what I have achieved cannot be Christians.  Some people are so humble, they are actually proud of it.  This is what this text says.

Jesus told a parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. (Luke 18:9,11, NKJV)

Selling all you have and giving it to the poor is a good thing, but this can also become a show: Look at me, I’ve made the sacrifice, and you continue to live in your fancy house and drive your expensive cars.  Even being humble can be wrong at times, especially if someone wants to tick the box and climb another notch to perfection.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he had something similar in mind.  He made a list of the gifts and comes to this conclusion:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, NIV)

Special calendar items

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16–17, NKJV)

The same applies to religious festivals and New Moons.  Some in Colossae assigned a particular weight to these days, and those who participated in it looked down on others to did not.  This was added as a necessary observance to show that one had really come to faith.  Once again, it was Christ-plus.  It was a way of adding good works as steps to God, a method of self-improvement. We have Earth Day celebrations!!

When it comes to celebrating the Lord’s Day, we understand that the Old Testament Sabbath fulfilled in Christ.  So, in strict terms, we do not have a sabbath day anymore – we don’t keep to the restrictions of a Sabbath journey; we don’t have morning and evening sacrifices of lambs and bulls anymore; we don’t have special services by special ranks of people lighting the candles, putting oil in the lamps and presenting specific offerings anymore.  All that was fulfilled in Christ.

We have a Christian Sabbath:  on this day we celebrate the new life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

The New Testament calls it the Day of the Lord.  They gathered on the first day of the week for worship.  On this day we gather too for the same reason.  We come together in corporate worship, we listen to the declared Word of God fulfilled in Christ Jesus, we fellowship, pray, sing in the Name of Christ and encourage one another in our faith-walk.  The principle of the Old Testament remains the same:  one in seven days belongs to the special worship of God by his church family. The main point is the celebration of Christ victory over death.

Food laws

The Jews, on the other hand, had a lot of things they abstained from eating.  As a golden rule, we need to understand that all the foods Israel were forbidden to eat were scavengers: they lived off what was dead.  And this was important in the Old Testament because God is the holy God of the living.  Approaching Him after even touching the dead was forbidden, let alone eating the food of things which lived on dead things.  But the curse on death was overcome in and through Jesus Christ.  Through his perfect sacrifice, what kept us from God, was defeated, so now in his Name, we come to God.  So, if people of other faiths try to ridicule Christians for the law against eating prawns, they just don’t understand the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The effect of all of this is that we are not bound by the dietary laws of the Old Testament anymore.  There is no theological reason as to why we cannot eat pork or prawns now.  But let’s remember this principle:

… if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:13, NIV)

Eating or not eating has nothing to do with being saved or not.  Faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ only is what saves the sinner.  The apostle says:

But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. (1 Corinthians 8:8, NIV)

Conclusion

My dear friend, what saves is faith in the living Saviour who came to seek and save the lost.  It’s Him and Him only.  We cannot say that baptism, or any other initiation right, save anyone; similarly, no moralistic or legalistic of being right, or doing our best, will save anyone.  

These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:23, NKJV)

I found this illustration:

When interviewing Dr A. J. Gordon as a prospective pastor of a Boston church, the pulpit committee asked: “If you are called to the pastorate of our church will you preach against the cards, the theatre, and dancing?” “I will,” solemnly affirmed Dr Gordon. He was called.

Months passed and he didn’t say a word against the cards, the theatre, and dancing. The official board of the church said, “Almost a year has gone by and you have said nothing against cards, the theatre, and dancing. We wonder why.”

Dr Gordon replied essentially as follows: “Gentlemen, it is true that I have said nothing against these things, but I have preached Christ who is the only Saviour from all evils. When He comes into one’s heart all evil things vanish from the life like the mist before the hot breath of the noonday sun.”

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 30 September 2018

 

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 Christ of the Gospel

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 2
  • Colossians 1:12-23

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, 

When we began our series from the letter to the Colossians, we first looked at the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We moved on to the next, Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel.  I preach the Word of God to you under the heading “The Christ of the Gospel.”

I suppose something of the Gnostics we learned about last week, might still be in your minds. Gnosticism was, and is, an almost undefined idea, something one might search for without really knowing what knowledge is and where to find it.  Gnosticism is esoteric, mystic, hidden in the mist of something untouchable.  It distinguishes between soul, spirit and body, the body is merely the tomb of the spirit and is of no use.  If man finds knowledge he/she becomes godlike and can look forward to eternity because knowledge set him/her free.

Are we today in a much different situation?

I don’t want to wander too widely, but it will help us when we understand that some of the so-called New Age ideas indeed find its origin in Gnosticism.  

Let’s see how we got to where we are today.

First, there was the age of faith.  Man had a Biblical understanding of knowledge, but knowledge had nothing to do with salvation.  Faith in Christ saves.  The Reformation reawakened this faith. It led to the age of Enlightenment.  

The Age of Reason came after the Enlightenment.  Man’s mind was the ultimate yardstick for knowledge.  Everything had to be scientifically proven before it was worthwhile talking about. 

The period of Modernism followed.  Modernism questioned science as man moved into the centre of his world. Individualism and consumerism appeared on the scene.  Man took from science what he preferred.

We are going a bit quickly here.  We now arrive at the age of post-modernism, which is just the logical next step:  because everything is questioned, and man is his yardstick of what he wants to believe, we now live in a world without any objective truth or standards.  We can believe nothing, but it is just possible that we can believe something.  The logical way out is so-called tolerance.  I tolerate your view, which might be right or wrong, but you have to tolerate mine because I might be right or wrong.  The rule is that there are no rules.

In this whole mess we ended up with esotericism, presupposing that, although we might try to explain things rationally and scientifically, there are hidden forces that transcend ordinary sensory experience and analytic thinking.  Although scientific research proves otherwise, we live by widespread consensus, which in itself has no basis. 

Now we live by rules that no-one wrote down, it cannot be tested, but it should not be disobeyed.  Political correctness is one branch of this.  We need to strive by way of unknown principles to overcome traditional institutional structures to set up an invisible fellowship of global village citizens. Everything of with a whiff of conventional religion is suspicious and rejected, but the end-goal is nothing less than a new religion where Mother Earth is worshipped according to old age gnostic principles.  The rigidity of traditional faith must be vanquished, to make way for the fantasy of manmade eternal salvation.  

These ideas more or less formed the philosophical background of the time in which Paul wrote to the Colossians.  Some wise guys took what they already believed regarding Gnosticism and mixed it with elements of Bible teaching, but reinterpreted essential concepts with Gnostic ideas. The main two ideas were that man cannot know God, and that man can only be saved if he strives hard to be elevated from the mundane world to the godly. 

Do we live in a much different world?  Moreover, Christians are looked down upon because we still believe in an outdated book which teaches about absolute truth and infallible teachings.

Christian knowledge

Can we know God?  Yes!  We know him through his creation, we know Him through the Gospel, the Bible.  We know Him through Jesus Christ.  Where does it leave us? We go back to Colossians 1:12-14

… [we] give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12–14, NKJV)

This Gospel is the Gospel we know; about this gospel, we need to know more and more as we immerse ourselves in the study of the Bible, at every opportunity, as often s possible.  This Gospel is the sword with which we go into the battle of our souls.  We need to know how to handle it, or we will not survive!

Who is the Christ of the Gospel?

For most of the world, Jesus is the baby in a crib.  For most the story of Christmas does not go any further and the nativity scene of the family of Christ in Bethlehem.  There is infinitely more to know about Jesus Christ.

Keep in mind Paul writes to the Colossians to help them stand up against the error of Gnosticism.  What is the essence of the Gospel? 

Before the creation of time and space, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed supremely, without the aid of anything, the need of anything, ever glorious and omnipotent, never in lack of praise and honour.  However, then, if we think about it in human terms, God determined to create the universe. God the Father spoke to Jesus Christ, his Son.  We read about it in Psalm 2 this morning. 

“You are my Son, today I have become your Father.  Ask of me and I will make the nations Your possession, the ends of the earth your inheritance.  You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

To his Son, God gave a title, the Christ.  He is the Redeemer, the Saviour, the Blessed One of the Father.  Here we ended the sermon last week.  Colossians 1:13-14 reads: 

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

God’s Crown Prince

Why can we believe in Christ? 

He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  The word for “image” here is our word for “icon”, a living manifestation of God, as a visible display of the invisible Person of God.  The invisible God becomes visible to men in the “Son of his love”.  Jesus declared, “He that has seen me, has seen the Father”. (John 14:9)  John sings about the glory of Christ:  We have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father.” (John 1:14)  

He is the first-born of the Father and therefore He shares the same substance and nature of God. Man was created, not born of the Father.  We are from dust; Christ is from the eternity God.  He is before all things.  He was there before all things were created, He is also superior over all things created.  Of God’s creation, He is the beginning, the centre, and the end.  That’s why the Bible then says, “In Him all things hold together.”

It is not possible to think about creation without thinking about Christ.  Without Christ, no creation would be possible.  Darwinian Evolution, as well as the Kingship of Jesus Christ over all creation,  is an impossibility.  No Christ, no creation; no creation, no Christ!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)

This teaching has profound implications for the way we think about Jesus Christ.  In general, the Gospel is narrowed down to the salvation in Christ, which becomes even narrower if this salvation is purely the personal salvation of the individual Christian.  This Gospel is not the Christian and Biblical worldview.  The message of the Church is then confined to the walls of the Church, which becomes a trap with unbelieving politicians demand of the Church to keep Christianity out of politics.  Educators and scientists require of us to stay in our corner and mind the souls of the unhappy pursuers of eternal bliss.

However, this is not what the Bible teaches about Christ.  To the unbelieving scientist it might come as a surprise:  what he or she is researching is the work of God through Jesus Christ.  It belongs to Him, it exists because of Him and holds together because of Him.  Without Christ, no scientific research is possible, because without Him there would be nothing to research.

To the humanistic sociologist and psychologist, and even the historicist this might also come as a surprise.  The study of their field is possible because of Christ, even if they don’t believe it.  Also, like me when I try to fix my lawn mover without the technical knowledge and the instruction manual issued by the manufacturers, without the knowledge of Him through whom God created the universe, fixing and fully understanding it will remain a pipe dream.

God’s agent of Creation: the ruler of all creation

The Father wanted to give to his Son everything He created.  In this sense, Jesus Christ became the agent of God through whom He created the world.  So, everything in heaven and on earth, all things visible and invisible, thrones and powers or rulers or authorities were created by Him and for Him.  There is no kingdom, no king, no ruler, nothing visible or invisible which is not under the feet of our Saviour.

The political leaders of our day will do well to heed the advice of the Word of God.  

“Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge I Him.” (Psalm 2:12)

Jesus Christ is God’s Crown Prince.  All areas of life, all spheres of thinking, must be under the Headship of Christ.  Even if people don’t believe in Him – He still is the first-born of the universe, the image of God, the agent of God’s creation, the One in whom all things hold together.

He said:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This truth drives our missionary work; it drives our efforts in the Lord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it helps us to not cringe before the pressures of kings and rulers.

Do you perhaps only of Jesus Christ as the One whose only mission is to fix your problems and you may live well?  Is He merely a remedy for your depression or unhappiness?  Alternatively, is He the One before whom you bow in adoration and worship?

For some people, Christ is nothing short of an idea.  He becomes a mystical concept.  People go away for weekends to connect with God and experience Him.  They come back with great feelings about Him, but the only thing they do better now is meditating, perhaps sitting in a specific posture.  This form of worship of Christ does not differ much from so-called the New Age worship of concepts and ideas.

No, Jesus Christ is King of the universe, known by the works of his hands and to Him, all thoughts must be made captive.  The apostle Paul writes:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Christ is Head of the Church

There was a price attached when God decided to give an inheritance to his Son.  God ordained to send his Son into this sinful world to redeem it through his blood.  Jesus Christ had to buy back for God what sin destroyed and stole from God.  Jesus was the One through whom God would reconcile the world to Himself.  The word is in need of this reconciliation because it is the only peace possible.  Without Jesus Christ, there is no peace possible between God and the sinful world.

Verse 21 describes our hostility towards God.  We were alienated from God and enemies of God.  Born in darkness, we were at war with Him.  When our first parents were driven from the presence of God out of Paradise, He gave them a promise of hope:  One day they would be reconciled to Him through the eternal sacrifice of the Son of his Love. 

Christ’s physical body was nailed to the tree of Calvary.  His blood was shed. Moreover, He died on that cross to present us holy to the Father. He reconciled us with the Father (Colossians 1:22). His sinless life now becomes our sinless life by faith.  We are united to him by faith!

Such is the Headship of Christ over his Church. He qualified us to be counted amongst the saints washed in his blood, dressed in white robes, which are the righteous deeds in Christ.  He conveyed us from darkness into light, carrying us over the chasm between the holy God and sinners, and He brought us into the kingdom of light belonging to his Son, now possible because we are washed clean in his blood.  We have received the forgiveness of sins.

But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— (Colossians 1:22, NIV)

Conclusion

There is a warning in this chapter if we do not stand firm if we are not determined to engage in the battle and run the race to the end.  This can easily happen if I regard Christ as nothing more than the Saviour of my personal world, and not the King of the word and the King of the church.  Listen to the verse:

… if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard… (Colossians 1:23)

For this reason, then does the apostle makes this statement in verse 28:

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

Don’t give up.  Always remember:  Christ is supreme over all creation, He is our Head and Master, the One who reconciled us to God, the One who is conquering over all enemies.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz in Sunday 2 September 2018

 

Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:129-136
  • Colossians 1:9-14

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

Last week we commenced a series of sermons from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  This series goes under the title, United with Jesus Christ. 

Last week the message was about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We looked at what the Gospel is about, how we hear the word through God’s messengers, and we heard about the effect of the Gospel on those who believe it.  The Gospel is about Christ and the salvation He gives to those who hear and accept it.  Faith comes by hearing the message, and we hear the message through the Word of Christ. The effect is that people are saved and changed to live for the glory of Christ by loving one another as He loved is.

We would be delighted if we know only this is happening in our congregation, and of course all over the world.  

However, it seems as if Paul knows these things are the foundation and not the building.  Faith in Christ, adhering to the Gospel, loving and caring for one another, and providing for God’s messengers to keep proclaiming the Gospel is essential, but it is not comprehensive.  These things are the first steps for every Christian and church, but that’s only where the mission starts.

The basis of Paul’s prayer

Paul was repeatedly and steadfastly praying, for growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because he had heard from Epaphras that the Colossians heard, received and understood the Gospel and that they grasped the basics of it by loving one another, Paul wanted them to know that he is praying for what is essential to advance in their faith as a congregation of Christ. This prayer we desperately need to pray for ourselves, for our fellow Christians, and for the church of Jesus Christ all over the world.

Too quickly do we stop interceding for others when we hear that they received Christ and the message of the Gospel.  Seldomly do we make it our prayer for the church to grow in its knowledge of the Gospel. If this is not happening, if we stay immature Christian babies, we will be ineffective in our mission into the world.  

A church might be teeming of new converts and might seem to be growing because of special programs for specialist groups, but if there is little emphasis on growth in the knowledge of the Gospel, it will remain a church with adolescent Christians.  We know about adolescence, don’t we!  It’s the time in life where there is no-one more important in the universe than yourself.  It’s the phase when mood swings can be explosive; it’s time when everything is questioned, and nothing is believed.  A church where there is not growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like that.

Paul writes in Ephesians that God gave pastors and teachers to equip the people of God for works of service, Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, 

…to make the body of Christ stronger. This work must continue until we are all joined together in the same faith and the same knowledge of the Son of God. We must become like a mature person, growing to the full measure of the fulness of Christ. Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about by the waves, carried one way and then another by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. (Ephesians 4:12–14)

The content of Paul’s prayer

Paul writes, 

… we … do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; … that you may increase in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10, NKJV)

Just a bit of the cultural background of the prevailing philosophy at the time in Colossae.  One of the most devastating philosophies floating around was that of Gnosticism.  It is challenging to grasp the teachings of this philosophy because there is no single or sharply defined definition.

Gnosticism, the word comes from the Greek word knowledge was, and still is, about the search for true knowledge, how to find it, and how to be liberated by it. The agnostic on the other hand, says the only thing man can know is that he can’t know.

Bear with me; I’ll try to make sensible remarks out of the most chaotic system of thought known to mankind.

Gnosticism says there is only one ultimate being or group of divinities. The difference between the ultimate and the lower class exists as a result of an error in what is good. One has to point the finger to Sophia, the Greek term for wisdom.  

Wisdom, Sophia, lusts for the Ultimate Depth. This ultimate god cannot tolerate distortion in the godhead, and exiles wisdom, or Sophia, to a lower heaven.  

Sophia with the help of her lesser gods -often called fates – became the creator of the physical world where they parade as ultimate gods.

The upper godhead deviously manoeuvres the Lower Wisdom into creating human beings,  which happens through the process of, not only passing on the breath of life but also divine light particles. But not all humans got these particles! 

The upper god provided the tree of knowledge to awake humans to the state from which they have come.  However, the lower god, the one who created the world and humans, opposed the upper god by providing a tree of life, only to trap humanity into bondage instead. The lower god, still at war with the upper god, forbids access to the tree of knowledge, gnosis.

Human beings, deprived of knowledge, only have wisdom, which holds their spirits captive in a human body.  The upper godhead then sent a saviour, an alien messenger with gnosis, knowledge, to save humanity.  This gnosis, knowledge, enabled the spirits of human beings to know even more than their lower god creator.  With gnosis (knowledge) humanity can conquer the spiritual senselessness that had come upon him when the creator imprisoned its spirit in a physical body. However, only those human beings who have the light particles are capable of being received the gnosis.

The process of salvation in most gnostic myths is therefore very deterministic. Redemption indeed occurs at the end of the Gnostic’s life when he seeks to escape from the created world. Only then, the gnostic strips off the created elements of the body from his spirit, and climbs through the fates to the heavenly realm.

What is the most frustrating part is that gnosis—knowledge—can never be defined.  It remains an esoteric, cryptic, and mysterious something.  It remains something which is only understood by those with the particles of light in them.

In the verses, Colossians 2:9-10, Paul uses three words to cut through the possible influence of agnosticism upon the new believers in Colossae:  knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  More than that, he prayed that the believers in Colossae might grow in their knowledge and understanding.

The questions we now need to answer are:

  • Is it possible to know God and where can we find wisdom and understanding?
  • Why do we need this knowledge?
  • Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?

Is it possible to know God?

When Paul prays that the church would grow in their knowledge about the will of God, he does not speak about God granting wisdom about the choice of cars or holiday destinations.  Knowing God is not to know more about my future or my needs.  Paul did not have this in mind.  

Unequivocally, yes!  

There are at least three ways in which God reveals Himself.  Firstly, by what He created.  Psalm 19 proclaims, 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1–2, NKJV)

Paul writes, 

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (Romans 1:20, NKJV)

We need to understand that even nature is sin-stained, and cannot bring us into a personal relationship with God.  Our hearts may be prompted to get to know Him better, but ultimately, nature is not the only revelation of God.

Secondly, God reveals Himself by his Word, the Bible.  The Bible is God’s self-revelation; in it, He speaks and communicates with us, far more focussed and precisely than in his creation. We read Psalm 119 this morning, 

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:129–130).

It is in the Bible where we find this principle, 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10, NKJV)

Thirdly, God revealed Himself through Jesus Christ.  

All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:3-4; 14, NKJV)

Jesus declared,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. (John 14:6–7, NKJV)

In the previous verses of Colossians 1, Paul made it very clear:  they heard the truth, which is the Gospel; in the Gospel God’s grace in Jesus Christ is revealed; the Gospel is the truth, and God’s messengers minister the Gospel. How much different is this to the teachings of Gnosticism, which spurs one on to seek knowledge, but it does not give knowledge.  It teaches something about God, but it keeps mauling in mystical uncertainty.  It teaches about a messenger of a so-called god, but it does not tell anything about the message.

Let’s add another element to the certainty about the truth.  Paul talks about spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9);  this is not esoteric wisdom. Instead, it is wisdom which comes from the Holy Spirit.  

Our Lord said about the Holy Spirit, 

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26, NKJV)

Paul makes it clear, God’s wisdom is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 2:10). He says, 

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12, NKJV)

Peter writes, 

…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, NKJV)

Is it possible to know God?  Yes, we only need to open our eyes to see Him in creation, we need to study the Bible, and we need to know Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this knowledge?

Without dwelling too long on this question, the plain answer is, without knowing God, we would not know Jesus Christ.  Without knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He did to save us, we will live in misery, we will try to save ourselves and continually fail to do so, we will have no hope, and the devil will continue to accuse us, till he receives us in hell.  

The grace of the Gospel is this, 

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14, NKJV)

Moreover, the truth to remember is this; we will never know any of this if we do not hear the Gospel, believe it, and worship the One who made it all possible.

Do we need this knowledge?  Without a shadow of a doubt!

Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?

Paul prays: 

… that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10, NKJV)

When we hear God’s call through the Gospel, when we understand the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and understand that it is by justification through Him alone that God declares us righteous in Him, we don’t need more to be saved. However, we have just given our first steps in the faith.  We are babies and need to be nurtured to maturity.  

When we grow in the knowledge of the Gospel we understand more and more of the will of God; we are guided by the Holy Spirit to gain wisdom and understanding of who God is, as well as his declared will which is recorded in the Bible.  It is necessary to know because only through it will we know how to please God in our very conduct; it is by reading and studying the Bible that God trains us in his spiritual gymnasium: we become fit, become stronger in our faith, and we the stamina to endure the race joyfully.  Unfit people struggle in a race, and they don’t do it joyfully.  All along we run for the prize for which God qualified us: we have an inheritance in the kingdom of light.

Conclusion

Can we know God? Yes!  From where do we get wisdom and knowledge? From the Bible. Do we need this knowledge?  Without it, we live in the darkness of sin. Do we need to grow in this knowledge? Surely! However, Paul prays for more.  Listen, 

… we ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and endurance with joy. (Colossians 1:9–11, NKJV)

My friend, do not be satisfied with the minimum.  Go for the full thing, and don’t miss out on any little part of it.  Then you will be fruitful in the Lord.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 26 August 2018

 

 

Temporary suffering and eternal glory

Bible Readings 

  • Isaiah 40:6-11
  • 1Peter 5:6-14

Introduction

Dear friends in Christ,

Plastic changed our world. The toys we used to get as gifts were cars made of thin pressed metal.  The doors and the windows were painted on with real paint.  The wheels were from a sort of a cast iron and the axels were from real steel pins. Inside was an engine with a real metal flywheel.  Sometimes they had a winding spanner with which one could wind a real metal strap.  This made the car go like crazy.  

I saw one valued at hundreds of dollars the other day.  But after all, there were just toys.

But then plastic came in.  Things became cheap.  So cheap, that  they are not precious anymore.  You can replace them easily with another one.  These days you get it for free if you buy a hamburger and a cool drink.

In some way we have become plasticky, and plastic has now enemy number one, even plastic cool drink straws. Our generation became addicted to temporary things.  We became addicted to instant gratification, and in the process we lost our sense for value.  The display cases in the corner of the lounge room with the valuable items created by skilful craftsmen is replaced by the television which constantly feeds us with instant and cheap entertainment. As someone remarked, we amuse ourselves to death.

Our day is rotten if the power goes out and we can’t watch TV!  We lost a view on what really matters; we lost our view on eternity!

Be sober and alert

Let’s go back to where we left it last week.  The verse is:

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)

The Christian who has his mind controlled by the principles of this world cant’ be sober of vigilant.  Such a Christian is easily trapped and devoured by the devil who like a lion seeks to devour.

So what’s the antidote?  The next verse gives the answer: 

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

Would it be too brash to put it this way, “Get real! When you resist the devil you’re in for suffering.  But get this, your suffering is not unique; it’s is a common thing for Christians.  But stand your ground!

To resist him is to treat the devil as your enemy.  To stand firm is to dig in your heals on the truth of the Scriptures.  If we need encouragement if we want to give up, there is encouragement galore from other Christians who have gone and are going through the same sort of suffering.  

I have a precious book by author Alexander Smellie, Men of the Covenant.  It tells of Scottish Christians in the time of the Reformation.   Amongst many recounts of men who trusted God it tells of a certain Donald Cargill, an 80 years old preacher.  It was said of him that his praying and preaching were at its best when his was in great danger and distress. Cargill said the more adversaries thrust at him that he might fall, the more sensibly and discernibly his Lord had helped him.  His favourite Bible verse was, “The Lord is my strength and song, and has become my salvation. Whom shall I fear? 

On the day he died on the scaffold he proclaimed, 

“God knows, I go up this ladder with less fear, confusion or anxiety of mind than I ever entered a pulpit to preach.  Farewell, all relations and friends in Christ; farewell all acquaintances and all earthly enjoyments; farewell reading and preaching, praying and believing, wanderings, reproaches and sufferings. Welcome, joy unspeakable and full of glory. Welcome Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” 

We need to indulge in the testimonies of brave Christians of yesteryear, as well as those going through persecution in modern times, to be encouraged to resist cheap Christianity and discipleship.

How do we resist and overcome?

Verse 10 gives us the answer.  This verse is so stacked up with the riches of gospel truths that it actually deserves days of meditation. 

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)

Before we look at this verse in depth, let’s briefly reflect on our reading from Isaiah this morning.

God’s people had been in Babylonian captivity for seventy years—the time God had appointed.  But the time of punishment for its unfaithfulness has passed.  Israel’s suffering was for a short while, but it was time to hear the good news of God’s mercy to restore them to their land.  Now the prophet proclaimed the good news that, although man is like grass, “the Word [promise] of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  Sovereign God, who rules forever, would care for them as a shepherd, and tend them like they were his lambs (verse 11).

Why would they believe the prophet?  Their God is the Creator of heaven an earth who made everything without the help of anyone (verses 12-14).  His wisdom and power are infinite.  More than that, He holds nations and their rulers in the palm of his hand (verse 17).  No god can be compared to God who sits enthroned above all he has made.  He controls kings and princes (verse 23).  He is the everlasting God (verse 28).  But although He is above all He has made, in mercy He bows down to give strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak (verse 29).

God never changes.  He is the sovereign God Peter knew and worshipped too.  He is the One who speaks to us today—and his word is encouragement all the way.

He is the God of all grace

This phrase is rich in meaning ’God who loves us completely’, or ‘the God who shows his love for us without holding back,’ or ‘the God whose gifts are sufficient for every need and for every situation’. Because He is the God of all mercy, mercy is only limited to Him.

God called us

This call is far more that just talking to us and calling towards us. When God calls, He calls us into a relationship with Him.  In this relationship He provides what is necessary to make the relationship possible.   God calls His own by grace and to grace. He does this finally and only through Jesus Christ, who is the fulness of grace.

The fact that God is the One who calls and that Christians are the ones who are called, makes it clear that call is a another word for salvation.  God calls men in Christ through His own means and for His own purpose.  This is how we understand Romans 8:28-31

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28–31, NKJV)

This call is through the work of the Holy Spirit, it comes by the Word of God, and it is possible because of the work of Christ.  This is what we heard about in chapter 1.

… you were … redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He … was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God… having been born again … through the word of God … which is the gospel … preached to you. (1 Peter 1:18–21, 23, 25 NKJV)

God’s eternal glory

God’s call to salvation is a call through which we share in his eternal glory.  It is a call ‘into his greatness which will last forever’, or, ‘it’s a call into his greatness which will never cease.’ 

In other words, when God calls, included into that call is all He provides to make it possible for sinners to be lifted out of the slimy pit of sin and to become holy because He is holy.  In the process God grace us a new identity in Christ, a new heavenly address, and an incorruptible inheritance.  The result is—we will see his eternal glory! 

When will we see his eternal glory?

We will see his eternal glory, now bound up and secured in Jesus Christ, after a short time of suffering.  The suffering we might experience now is only a short time compared to the eternal glory which awaits us when we receive the final call into glory.  

Israel had been in captivity which them probably felt like an eternity, but in God’s scheme of things, it was just for a little while.  The gospel through the prophet was good news summed up in these words, “This is your God”, or, “Your God is here!” (Isaiah 40:9). The wait is over, salvation has come!

But between suffering and glory God provides for us.  God Himself will restore us.

He will not forget our suffering.  There is a limit to suffering, and God will end it in his own time.  Till that time, we need to trust Him. The ‘himself’ in verse 10 is important.  It means He is constantly aware of our suffering, He is with us in our suffering, and He will call an end to it when He reached his purpose with it. All along, the suffering Christian is not in the hands of those who cause the suffering; those who cause  it are instruments in the hands of God. 

God will make us strong, firm and steadfast

The emphasis is on spiritual and inner strength, and it means  the God will ‘cause your heart to be strong’, or ‘cause your thoughts to be strong.’

God will see to that we will be firmly rooted in a strong foundation of trust and confidence in Him. Further, He also provide what we need to always endure.  He holds us by the hand so that we will not be moved in our trust in Christ.

Peter knows what he is talking about.  There was an episode before the cross of Christ when Christ gave him this assurance.  And the Lord said, 

“Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31–32, NKJV)

Yes, there was the terrible failure to own Christ, and if Satan had his way, it would haven the end of Peter.  But Christ prayed for him, and his faith did not fail.  Almost all what Christ said to Peter then is now encapsulated in what is written verse 10.  What Peter wrote in our verse was to show that God’s word never fails.

Conclusion  

So, Peter ends his letter:

I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. (1 Peter 5:12, NKJV)

My dear friend, stand in the grace of God.  Hang on to the Bible; it’s the true Gospel.  When the temporary plastic toy of no value leaves you disappointed and empty, seek God for permanent glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 12 August 2018

 

Heavenly shaped defence (3): Submission, Humility, Trust

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 133
  • 1Peter 5:1-9

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lords Jesus Christ,

Let’s for one moment think of our congregation as an army.

We are called to battle because we have an enemy seeking to devour and destroy.  The Bible calls him our adversary, or the devil.  

…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

The army into which we are called is spread right across the world.  In one sense then this is a world war. 

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

In this army there are officers, the Bible call them elders.  Their calling is to care for the army like a shepherd cares for the flock.  

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; (1 Peter 5:2, NKJV)

Over us all we have our Officer-in-Command, Jesus Christ.  The Bible calls him the Chief Shepherd.  In another place the Bible describes him as the general.

He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11–16, NKJV)

For this army to be effective, it needs to follow closely the commands of the officers, because the officers—or the elders—received their orders from the Commander-in-Chief.  This then takes us to this verse: 

…you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Submission and humility

I spent a few years in the army.  There are a few golden rules for any army to survive in battle.  

Number one: every soldier has to follow commands; and there is a line of command. 

Discipline is drilled into every soldier with the purpose that every soldier will follow commands even sometimes without thinking.  The sergeant calls out the commands which in the beginning seem silly.  They tell you when to sit, when to stand, when and what to eat, and when to sleep.  If your boots are not shiny enough to their liking you have to it all over again.  Why? There is no place for the wise guy with his own ideas about what it good and what not.

Number two:  No soldier has the luxury of questioning the authority of those above him.  Disaster strikes if the men on the ground starts to question the authority of their officers.  Soldiers then can follow their own heads, run in different directions, become divided—and as such become target of the enemy. Moreover, the commanding post would not know where to go looking for them when they get lost of are wounded.

One of the most clever tactics of the enemy is to divide and conquer.  A divided army is an army in defeat.  There should be no wise guys in an army.  Officers follow commands they themselves receive from those over them, and they are equipped with leadership qualities which make them leaders. Wise guys have to bury their wisdom and follow commands.  Their lives depend on it.

There are times when the officers might bark out commands over the radio which the infantry do not understand, purely because they don’t have a view on the whole offensive.  Officers do.  As reports come in  from the battlefield they can work out where the attack should be and when soldiers should open fire, or even retreat.

Let’s apply this then on the church. One can take the equation too far, of course.  Elders are not like army officers who bark out commands which everyone else must obey.  But in a certain sense they, as under-shepherds, received from God not only the task to shepherd the follow, but also see that discipline within the church is exercised.  No elder can demand unquestioned submission of any member of the congregation.  The authority of the elders do not make them lords over God’s people.  Elders themselves are and discharge of their duties under the Lordship of Christ.  The manual for discipline is the Word of God, under which the elders bow themselves.  But their is the injunction that elders must be respected, not for their person, but for Him who called them to represent Him.  Therefor this two pronged verse: 

… you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility… (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Both younger people and elders must be submissive to the Headship of Christ.  Actually, the “all” in this verse refers to all in the congregation.  “All” must bow under the Headship of Christ, and “all”must be servants one of the other.

There are two things the devil exceeds well in, and he has been using this tactic since day one:  He undermines the authority of God, “Is it true that God said…?” Adam and Eve fell for it.  Once they fell in sin the unity between them was affected and they started to accuse one another.

A congregation where their is disunity will not stand against the onslaught of the prowling lion.  A congregation where there is no humility, and a sense of serving one another as fellow-soldiers in the battle, is weak and there is no advancement of the Gospel.  Infighting and selfish divergent views in strategy lead to a sick congregation which forgot about the real battle as the focus of energy is aimed at keeping people apart, with members of smaller sub-groups try to oust other groups. 

Let us beware:

“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Trust

It’s one thing to have the prowling lion as an formidable enemy, but it is a completely different thing to have Him, the mighty God before whom even the lion has no chance, as one’s enemy.  No one has disregards God’s good discipline for his church will survive if he faces God who gave his Son to redeem a people for Himself.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6, NKJV)

There is another thing which can severely hamstring an army; it is something which effects them to the point that they become paralysed at the sight of the battle.  What is it?  Anxiety and fear.

I remember this young soldier who was almost useless as he was beset with fear.  In a commanders meeting it was agreed that he would be send home.  His fear not only put him in danger, but also his fellow soldiers.  He was in control of a automatic machine gun, but his hands were shivering.  Then, one Sunday night, the enemy attacked our base.  27 mortar bombs rained down on us.  Plagued by fear that soldier had not left his post, which means he was the first one to open fire.  And he did not stop.  One belt of rounds after the other were emptied into the darkness of night—and all along he lost his fear.  The next morning revealed that his braveness diverted the enemy as they thought there was a full army aimed at them.  He was awarded for bravery.

Fear and anxiety might overcome a Christian in the battle against the prowling lion.  Even more, the cares of the things of this world and the fear that one might lose it, draws one’s attention away from both the ballet and the Commander-in-Chief. Sober-mindedness go out the backdoor.  So Peter writes:

cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV)

We can get so busy with our cares, and with the things we see as valuable, that we take our eyes off God.  The moment we lose sight of how great and powerful God is we are not alert to the enemy.  Did not our Lord teach us, 

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33, NKJV)

We need to heed the warning of Christ in the parable of the seed.  One part of the seed initially sprouted, but then disaster struck: 

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)

How much of the things we see as important are standing in they way of us being devoted soldiers of the Lord?  When the time of choice come we act like the rich young man: uselessly and lost we walk away because our love is divided, and we just can’t pay the price of discipleship.

Conclusion

My dear friends, we are engaged in the battle between the evil forces of Satan who seeks to destroy the church, and the Kingdom of heaven.  There is only one way to survive: we need to be church as God designed it to be:

  • We need to bow under our Commander-in-Chief, Jesus Christ
  • The elders need to really understand their role as sherds under the Chief Shepherd and care for, and protect, the flock to the best of their ability.
  • We need to look up and respect godly leaders as people put there by God to be our guides in this battle
  • There is no room for divided loyalty and personal preferences; all should submit to the will of God.
  • We need to get our priorities in order, so that we are not distracted.  Focussing on the real thing will conquer our fear and help us to be self-controlled and alert.

May God help us.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 August 2018