Dead in sin, alive in Christ

Communion Service – association with and participation in Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Colossians 2:13-3:4

Introduction

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

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

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

Old Testament Covenant

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

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

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

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

New Testament Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author of Hebrews underscores this by saying

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

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

One with Christ in holy living

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

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

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

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

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

He also stresses the same point in Rom 8:

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Finally, after several minutes, Newton spoke,

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

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

Amen.

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

Wee Waa Community Carols

Carols

Community Carols

Come and join us for a night of carols to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

WHEN:  Sunday 14 December 2014 @ 7.30pm

WHERE:  Wee Waa Hospital lawns

Bring your own chairs and rugs

Glow sticks, etc for sale on night

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11)

Abraham Father of all Believers (10)

Sodom: A matter of perspective?

Scripture Readings

  • Genesis 19

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in the Lord,

Perspective on something is important.  One’s perspective is formed by many experiences and inputs.

Ask me about horse riding, and I remember the I tried it.  I nearly fell off and the next day was torture.  My perspective on horse riding is also shaped by races, outlandish fashion parades and lots of money wasted through betting.

Others have a completely different view on horse riding. Some actually love it!

When we look at Sodom, what do we see?  For us who have known the story  since Sunday school days, we look upon Sodom and Gomorrah as evil cities.  But I bet something is creeping into our society today which make us look at those ancient cities differently.

The Bible provides us with four different perspectives:  the inhabitants of Sodom, Lot, Abraham and God.

The Sodomites

Luke describes the fall of Sodom in the same terms as he described the days of Noah:

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. (Luke 17:28, NIV)

God said to Abraham,  “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin grievous” (Genesis 18:20, NIV)

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were a law unto themselves. Every time the Scriptures  expresses evil, it referred to Sodom.  2 Peter 2:7 says “the city was depraved in conduct of the lawless.”  What stood out about the lawlessness of Sodom was its “sexual immorality and perversion.” (Jude 7).  It seems as if these two things go hand in hand.  A licentious lifestyle, where man has become its own benchmark for right or wrong, leads to sexual immorality and perversion. To those in Sodom all seemed right.  It became a code to live by:  they decided what the rules for their society would be.  There was no concern for God or his law.

To knock a man’s door down to demand sexual pleasures of a visitor became a right.

Let’s divert a bit here.  For those who in our day arguing that if Christians find homosexuality offensive for them, they should not expect of non-Christians to have the same conviction.  But the point is Sodom and Gomorrah were not Christian cities, they were not included into the elect people of God in the first instance, but what they did was to, as the Bible itself states,

“… Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities… indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

Paul writes about the same thing.

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

Australia prides itself for being a secular society.  We have now freed ourselves from our Judeo-Christian heritage, and we have become our own benchmarks for what is right and wrong.  We have the Sydney mardi gras, partly sponsored by taxpayers’ money, protected by the police, broadcasted by national TV stations, and promoted as a money-spinning tourist attraction.  The official website invites visitors to …

a cavalcade of fabulousness that includes dancing boys, marching girls, the famous Dykes on Bikes, floats, music, glitter, leather and more spray tans than Beverly Hills. The aim of the parade, which begins with the raising of the rainbow flag, is to lift the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) communities. Underneath all the fun, frivolity and feathers lies a serious message: it’s a statement of pride, diversity and acceptance.

Members our of own parliament push for the introduction of same-sex marriages under the guise of marriage equality.

Ministers of the church are under pressure to perform same-sex marriages, and venues who refuse to have a reception for these people can lose their licences, or even receive penalties.  Even baker shops in America refusing to bake wedding cakes with same-sex partners on it, are getting warnings and receive penalties.

Some evangelical churches have changed their views on homosexuality and have allowed gay ministers into their pulpits.  And these actions are heralded as steps in the right direction.

Look at Sodom.  What do you see?  Look at the state of the moral decay in Australia.  What do you see?  Sodom saw nothing wrong – but what did not see coming was the condemnation of God.  God is not mocked.  Let’s wake up.  Sodom served as a example.  Listen!  Jude says their punishment serves as “an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Lot

We know the story of Lot.  His fall did not happen at once.  It started when he looked.  He then moved to the plains of Sodom, then close to the city, then into the city, and finally he became part of them.  His wife seemed lost the moment they got there, and his daughters were about to be married to men of the city.

When we find Lot as the gate of the city, it could imply that he became part of their judgement team, because that’s where the judges of the city gathered.  Maybe he thought he could have an influence on the city.  The remark in verse 9, “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them,” (Genesis 19:9) could mean that the city people had enough of him who tried to judge them.  But the fact of the matter is that he was living in their midst.

Peter says of Lot that he was “a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless.” (2 Peter 2:7).

And I think Lot is typical of most Christians today.

Yes, we are distressed by the depravity and the sins around us; we cringe when the Name of our Lord is blasphemed through the media; we are hurt when people hurl insults against the church of our Lord; we are concerned about the future of Christianity and Bible classes in our schools; we mourn when Christians in other parts of the world are killed and slaughtered like animals – but, we have lost the impact of our testimony and witness to the world – just like Lot – because in may cases we have become too close to the world.  In some way, what the world has on offer, we have come to love, even if it means that we do it in the privacy of our home, watching the same programs as the world, enjoying it and laughing as the same crude jokes of some so-called comedians.

We have become soft as we listen to the arguments of this world about God’s standards for marriage, bad language, detestable business practices, lies, and morality in general.  Yes, when we find ourselves in private with our God, we confess and like Lot we are distressed, but rarely are Christians prepared to stand up publicly for the Name of Christ.  Our witness have become weak and incredible, difficult to take seriously.

Lot called the brutal sinners of Sodom “friends”  (or brothers in other translations).  Let’s face it, there is a line in the sand when we deal with those who openly mock the living God of heaven; there is a time when being friendly, nice and kind becomes fanciful.  The Lord calls us to be salt and light, a city on a mountain.  It is our job to proclaim the message, without fear of condemnation or being and offence.  If they hate us for doing so, then good – our Lord prepared us for it.

Are you perhaps a Lot, distressed by what you see and hear, but silent, weak and unproductive, or even having a witness which has lost its credibility because of the fact the secretly, or not even that secretly, you have come to love the world.  Worldliness is the death nail in the coffin of the church.

Abraham

Abraham walked with God and trusted God.  God revealed to him his plans to destroy the city, but he did not argue with God.  He trusted God, believed God, and just knew that God was just and full of grace.  He was at one with the plan of God.  For him the glory of God is what counted.

When he got the dry stoney hill country and Lot got the green valley of Sodom, he did not argue with God or accused God of being unfair.

But because he knew God’s grace and faithfulness, he looked at Sodom and saw the evil of the city.  He did not try to make it look a bit more attractive.  When God said the evil city became an outcry against heaven, he knew it was true.  At that stage he did not try to excuse Lot and his family, or to condone the fact that they had become part of the promiscuity of the city.  He knew sin in the eyes of God was sin.  He knew God was just in condemning the city.

But he also understood that God is a God of his word.  He knew he could go to God in prayer.

Humbly he prayed,

“Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:24–25)

He was right.  God wouldn’t have done it, but there were no fifty righteous left in the city.  Abraham kept praying, knowing that his nephew and family were about to experience God’s wrath.  Finally, in all humility, he prayed,

“Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.” (Genesis 18:32, NKJV)

He did not give up appealing on the grace and justice of God.  If there were ten God would not destroy the city.  Abraham then left it in God’s hands.  God is good, just, righteous and holy.

What did Abraham see when he looked at Sodom?  Two things:  sin deserving punishment.  He did not try to intercede for the city on any ground, other than the fact that it was deserving of God’s justice.

But Abraham also saw God, the just, the forgiving, the faithful, the One who answers prayers.  And he trusted God.  So, he prayed for Lot.  And God answered his prayer.  I find it amazing that God remained faithful to the prayer of Abraham, even when it seemed that Lot resisted God’s grace:  the angels grabbed him and his family by the hand and urged them out of the city.  Then in verse 22:

Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” (Genesis 19:22)

God’s mercy on Lot because of Abraham’s prayer.  I think God will do the same if we start pleading for the world around us.  Listen to this verse:

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

God

He is righteous, just, holy, punishing the sin of sinners.  When God looked at Sodom He had all the right to be angry and show his judgement.  But verse 18-19 gives us a glimpse in God’s way of looking at this world.  He knew very well that, left to our own devices, nothing would ever save us.  Yes, homosexuals and promiscuous people, but all of us would end up like Sodom – all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God.

But the promise to Abraham looked forward to the nations who would be blessed through him.  Along his line God send his son, Jesus Christ; He took the punishment to save us from eternal destruction.  By grace we receive grace, not a burned out city, but the same city Abraham was longing to see, the city not built with the hands of a man – God’s city.

Those who long to see this city believe in Christ.  They repented of their sins, turned against this world, love Christ and do his work on earth till that day.

All those who do not love Christ, not only homosexuals and the promiscuous, who have not turned from their sins in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, can only look forward to a life after this in eternal destruction.  God is just and righteous – no-one who tramples the blood of his son underfoot will see heaven, but will be thrown in the lake of fire, prepared for the devil and those who worship him.  There is no other way to describe it.

Hide under the judgement of the cross of Christ and receive life; walk away from it, and God’s judgement rest upon you.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7th November 2014

 

We just want to pray

Is it just in Australia where people just pray?  Or does it happen in other countries and in other languages too?

Just praying

Just praying

I am referring to the the use of the word just.

It is not uncommon to hear this little word used just repeated ad nausea in a prayers.  “We just come to You …”  “We just want to ask …”  We just want to pray for …” “We just want to thank You for …”

I wonder, why just?  If someone new to the English language hear us use just over and over again, would they not think why just?

The word can mean fair (the punishment is just), merited (the reward is just), exactly, precisely (just five meters), recently (the phone just rang), directly (just next to the stove), simply (just so good), only ( just last year), perhaps (it just might work), almost (my work is just about done).

The average person praying to God using just will not have all these meaning in mind when he or she is just asking or thanking God. But just what do we mean when we use this little word?  Especially when we use it over and over again.  I counted more than 20 times in a prayer of about two minutes.

For the person of reformed background there is nothing just in himself to form any ground for his petitions. He merits nothing and just ask on the basis of God’s grace.

If just is used to describe any limits exactly (or precisely), we would need to think very carefully.  Isn’t it at times that we are just so vague in what we pray for that we fall back on just?  In these cases our just can actually mean only, which unknowingly would pray and put limits on

God’s power to really answer our prayers.  “We just pray for rain” can mean that’s the only thing we ask for. Isn’t it a good thing that God does not always answer our prayers they way we bring our petitions before Him?

I suspect just in most prayers might have the meaning of simply.  That’s good, because it reflects humility.  But maybe we should use the humbly, “We humbly ask…

Next time we pray and just ask, lets keep this in mind:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21, ESV)

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking 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)

No restrictions, no perhaps, no only, no just.

As a matter of fact, nowhere in the Bible is just connected to a prayer request.

The beauty and the beast

Dr R.C. Sproul

Dr R.C. Sproul

“In the ninth century, when the Latin Mass began to be enforced, I’m confident the same discussions took place. Some, I would expect, argued that the Latin Mass carried with it a gravity that communicated the glory of God, a certain sense of mystery and timelessness. Others, I’m quite sure, pointed out that the people for whom Jesus died could not understand what was being said. How can we say that this body was broken for you if you don’t know what we’re saying?”

Read more

The life-changing power of God’s Word

Reformation 2014

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 19
  • 1 Peter 1:13-25

Introduction

Us who grew up in modern times will find it hard to imagine life without electricity:  no running water in our homes, no fridges, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, TV’s, computers, air-conditioners … How annoying is it to have only one powerpoint in a room of older homes while we need ten for all the conveniences which depends on electricity.  One thing we can say about  electricity, is that life was literally darker without it.

The Bible describes the world before the coming of Christ also as a dark place; not literally dark, but spiritually dark. John puts it this way:

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (John 1:5, 9)

Peter in the second chapter, referring the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, of his first letter says God “called you out of darkness into his wonderful night.”

The Word of God

Everything about it is excellent

Life without the Word of God, both the Word as the Son of God, and the Word, the Bible is a life of darkness.  In Psalm 19 we read, “The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Read those verse again and you will understand everything about the Word of God is excellent:  it is perfect, reviving the soul; it is trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, they are sure, altogether righteous, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey, and in keeping God’s Word there is great reward.

Paul endorses by saying it is

“able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)

because

“…all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Timothy 3:17)

Without the Word everything else is horrible

There was a time in the history of the church, that it was considered a crime for a member of the church to read to the word of God.  In cases where there were copies of the Bible, uneducated people couldn’t read it because it was in Latin.  There are recorded cases of parishes with a priest who couldn’t read, or did not even have a copy of the Word of God to have someone else read it.  Ordinary churchgoers were then left to believe that strict observance of the seven sacraments of the church of Rome would put them in the right relationship with God.

People like Wycliffe who translated the Scriptures were declared heretics and excommunicated from the church.  He died in 1384, and about 150 years after his death his bones were exhumed and burned to ashes.

So, what was the church of God like without the Word?  In one word:  dark!  Not only for members of the church, but for those who were ordained in the offices.  Moral depravity was rampant, and theological teaching was absent and without life-giving truth.  People believed what they were told without the Scripture to test the teaching.

Financial gain was important for the church to build cathedrals, and to support the priesthood.  Indulgences were introduced, making people believe that their sins were forgiven on account of the amount of financial support they give to the church.  What  further kept people from freedom was the belief that souls could be prayed and bought out of purgatory – all without any Biblical foundation.  The average churchgoer lived in fear for a vengeful God who had nothing but punishment for the sinner.  Not having the promises of the Word of God to read for themselves, they had to rely on the absolution of the priest as their middleman between them and God.

To make things ever worse, because the message of the church was that its government was above and over the civil governments, disobedience to the state also meant disobedience to the church.  It also meant that civil leaders were appointed by the church.  Society was held in fear of a revengeful God who served his punishment through the church who did not hesitate to burn people at the stake.  Thousands upon thousands died, not because they believed in the Bible and Jesus Christ, but because they dared oppose the authority of the church, even if it meant that they ate any thing else but fish on a Friday!

How God uses the Word

We now have to go to the words of 1Peter 1:

… since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God… (1 Peter 1:22–23)

Peter here connects with what he had  already written in verses 10-12. He referred to the work of the prophets as recorded in the Bible, the word of God.  What did these prophets research and write about?  “The Spirit of Christ in them was pointing” to the “sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” which became “the Gospel preached” by people “by the Holy Sprit”.  Peter says in verse 25, “This is the word that was preached to you.”

These sufferings of Christ are the “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”, which He gave to “redeem” us “from the empty way of life.”  This word is the truth:  “You have obeyed the truth.”

So, what happens in the normal scheme of things is that God uses people whom He calls to preach the Word, which is from God, driven by the Holy Spirit.  This word is the truth.  All in the Psalms and the prophets were pointing to Jesus Christ and his redeeming work.  The simple, but treasured message of the Gospel is about Jesus Christ who came into this world to set the sinner free by grace.  His blood is more precious than gold or silver which cannot save and will count for nothing when we appear at the judgement throne before God.  “Through Him you believe in God.”  Why is this so important?  Because only He gives new life!  “God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him.”  The only way to heaven is by faith in Him who redeemed the lost by his blood, by taking their punishment as his own, to die the death they should have died, to raise victoriously from the grave, so that they who believe in Him will live with Him into all eternity.

The redemption God provided for us is complete.  Being dead in our trespasses we would not have the capacity to change ourselves to believe and make what Jesus has done for us our own.  So, the next miracle happens:

“… you have been born again, … through the living and abiding word of God. The word of the Lord stands forever, and this is the word that was preached to you.”

The Spirit of God who once breathed to Word into existence uses this word about Jesus Christ and his life-giving grace to sinner, uses the Word the bring about life from above.  What this new birth makes us children of God.  John also referred to this in his Gospel:

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13)

Paul puts in these terms:

But God … made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:4–6)

Listen to this wonderful word of grace and hope:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:3–4)

No paying of indulgences, no purgatory, no ongoing moneys, no ongoing life-wrenching fair.  Its grace, free grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The truth of this Gospel sets us free!  It is through the Word of God, brought about by the Holy Spirit, speaking about Jesus Christ, that we believe:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

Now we understand the cry of the reformers: the Word alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, all for the glory of God alone.

A holy life

If salvation is ultimately for the glory of God, it speaks for itself that our lives should forth his glory.  As his “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” we are called to live holy lives, because God is holy.   One of the main ingredients of the diet of the Christian to live to the glory of God, is to

“… like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.

Why?  “We have tasted that the Lord is good.

Conclusion

My friend, allow me to say that your spiritual life, if not rooted in the Word of God, and your walk in the Lord, if not daily fed by the spiritual milk of the Word of God, is most probably almost dead.  I say this because it’s the truth based on the Word itself.  As children of the Reformation we have to go back to where it all started:  a rediscovery of the Scriptures.  Don’t allow your walk in the Lord to be lifeless because your study of God’s Word is wanting.  It is by this Word that you will be able to stand against the onslaught of the enemy.  The Word is after all, in our battle against evil, the only weapon of offence; all the other things are for defence (Ephesians 6).  May God help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 November 2014

Abraham, the Father of all Believers (9)

See, I make everything new

Scripture Readings

  • Romans 4:16-25
  • Genesis 17:1-19

Introduction

When I went to high school I met a giant.  He was in year eleven and stood six foot and 10 inches tall in his shoes.  When he finished school at the age of eighteen, he was a full seven foot tall.  In the new language it is 2.13 meters.

Andrew Hall’s hight came in handy at the end of school days when he could close any school classroom window without ever reaching out for a stick.  He would take the rugby ball and just through it where he wanted on the rugby field.

Andrew met a girl about six inches shorter than him.  Their car was a Mini, with no back seat; the front seats were mounted on extra long rails, which made them look like they were filling all of the Mini.

Interestingly, the seven foot tall Andrew Hall had a nickname which he carried into the rest of his life:  Tiny.  I heard his boy were also called by that name.

Abram

Abram’s name, unlike that of Tiny, was not something given to him to mock him, although it would have been quite easy to do so.

In the time of Abram it was the tradition to, when, introduced make much of the name of every person.  Names meant something.  It was common to ask this question, because it was important to the people of the middle east. It would go like this:  “Good morning, what is your name?”  “Abram.” “Well that means ‘father of many’.  May I ask how many children do you have?”   “One.”  “One?”

It is not impossible, because of his riches, that Abram met many traders in his tents.  These questions would be asked over and over again, and every time Abram faced the surprised faces of his guests.

He was now ninety nine years old, and still there was only one child.  And in the back of his mind, Abram knew that that son, was not the son of the promise.  He held on to the promises of the Lord, but his name, “Father of many” began to sound like the seven foot Tiny’s nickname.

Between the year Ismael was born and now, thirteen years passed by and not a word of the Lord.  Was it impossible to think that Abram was thinking of getting himself another name to spare him the possible ridicule?

God Almighty

And then God appeared to him again.  Abram and Sarai was that old that if they had given up hope to have a child of their own, getting one would all the more point to the glorious power of God who can do what no man can.

It was the first time God introduced Himself by this Name:  El Shaddai! This name revealed something about the Person of God that made Abram fell flat on his face.  Like Daniel and John:

While He was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. (Daniel 10:15, NIV)

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:17, NIV)

Abram was unable to bear the sight of the divine glory.  He humbled himself in reverence before the holy God who bowed down from heaven to speak to him personally.

Our fellowship with God may never lead to familiarity.  If we ever thought that we can get God to our level, we need to ask ourselves if we indeed know the glorious God of creation and re-creation.  It is a sickness of our time that reverence for God has flown our the back door when we gather for his worship.  No, in worship we are gathered in the throne room of the Creator of the universe who is holy, clothed in majesty, glorious in power and great in limitless wisdom, power and might.  It is only when we understand what it means to bow in adoration, giving Him the glory of due his Name, that we will find meaning worshipping Him.

God Almighty speaks to Abram.  He is the all-sufficient God who always does enough in completeness.  He is enough in Himself; He is self-sufficient; He has everything, yet He needs nothing.  He calls us into covenant with Him and therefore He is enough for us, we have enough in Him, because He satisfies all we need.  David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I will lack nothing.” The Psalmist confesses:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25, NIV)

Facedown before the Almighty God Abram is commanded to blamelessly walk before God.  The holy God demands that those who believe in Him and walk in a covenant relationship with Him would reflect something of his own character.  “Be holy as I am holy.”  The right attitude of a sinner living in a relationship with God would be the same as that of David:

Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13, NIV)

It calls for integrity, honesty, it is to set God always before us, and to think, and speak, and act, in everything, as if we are always under his eye. It is to have a constant regard to his Word as our rule, and to his glory as our end in all our actions, and to be continually in his fear.  Listen to these verses:

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

If Abram thought his name was embarrassing because he had only one son at that stage, what God had to say would change his life.  Abram’s name would change from “father of many” to “father of many nations”.  Not only was the covenant something God promised, but now it would be established and sealed with a sign. How God would do this would be spectacularly impossible for any human being:  a man of almost hundred, and his wife ninety, will have a son.

Sarah

Sarai’s name was changed too.  She was now a princes, the mother of many kings; the mother of many nations.  It all had its beginning with one son.  God honoured the marriage between Abraham and Sarah to fulfil his promise to them.  Not Ismael, who was born from a marriage not blessed in the first instance by God; not a son born out of the plans made by a man and his wives, but a son born when all seemed so impossible, so that God would receive all the honour.

Isaac

Within a year, the barren princess Sarah would give birth to a son.  God gave him his name:  Isaac! Verse 17, I think, does not tell us that Abraham mocked God if God could not do what He said he would.  No, I see a man flat on his face on the ground, in joy, laughing as laugh of jubilation.  Yes, there was initial unbelief, because he was still thinking that maybe Ishmael would have a part in it.

Abraham’s unbelief is met with the confirmation of God, “Yes your wife Sarah will bear you a son.” Ismael will be blessed, but not in the same way.  The name Isaac, which means laughter or joy, will bring joy to millions others whom God by grace will include into his covenant. All believers in every age should be looked upon as Abraham’s spiritual seed, and that he should be called, not only the friend of God, but the father of all believers.  Years later Paul writes:

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (Romans 4:17, NIV)

God’s covenant with Abraham was everlasting in an evangelical sense. The covenant of grace is everlasting. It is from everlasting to everlasting in its consequences.  In his body Abraham got the irreversible sign of circumcision, the very organ used to procreate and bring forth seed, is now externally marked:  Abraham became the father of all who believe because in him God established the covenant from which “The Seed”, Jesus Christ would come.  The covenant had an internal blessing which was by the Spirit of Christ’s seed to gather children for God in every age.

Christian

By the same grace God showed to Abraham, and through the same covenant we get a name change too.  By faith in God and his Son Jesus Christ we become children of God and we are called “Christian” – we belong to Christ.  God promised to his people:

The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 62:2–3, NIV)

John and James, disciples of Jesus, had a name change too.  First they were “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), then John became the apostle of love.

Paul writes that every family in heaven and on earth derives its name from the Father (Ephesians 3:14–15).  John even refers to disciples of Christ who went out for the sake of the Name, forsaking everything to bring glory to Christ (3John 7)

I make everything new

For Abraham and Sarah that day was a new beginning:  a new name, a new sign, a new promise, a newborn son – all by God Almighty, who says what He does, and does what He says.  And it ultimately pointed forward to Christ, whose name is Immanuel, and Jesus, the one who saves. Because of his death and resurrection we hear:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

This Christ, the seed of Abraham, now seated on the throne promises:

“I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5, NIV)  He also promised:

 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17, NIV)

Conclusion

We have real names, and we have nicknames.  But what really counts is the name we received when we believe like Abraham and Sarah:

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Romans 4:20–24, NIV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 September 2014

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