Abraham, the father of all believers (2)

Pilgrim through a barren land

(audio file will be posted here)

Scripture Readings

  • Acts 7:1-8
  • Genesis 12:1-9

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

Someone said in a writer’s conference. “If you want to write, put glue on the seat of your pants and sit in a chair!” He said no amount of talent or conducive atmosphere can make up for hard work—stick-to-it-ive-ness!

As Thomas Carlyle neared completion of his masterpiece, The French Revolution, a thoughtless cleaner gathered up the his written pages and tossed them into the fire. Disappointed and heartsick Carlyle did not pamper himself with self-pity nor did he harm the cleaner—he sat down and rewrote it from memory.

Noah Webster thought he could complete his dictionary in “three to five years.” It required twenty-one!  What persistence!

It was faith and faithful obedience that kept Abraham going in a barren land with nothing to drive him, other than God Himself, and the promise of the God of glory who called him out of idolatry to freedom.

The God of glory

As we saw last week, Abraham was no better than all the people living around him before God called him.  In fact, the Bible tells us that he worshipped idols at the time of his calling.  God did not look from heaven for a good bloke to start a nation whom He would make a covenant with.  There was none.  All people after Adam were born professional sinners, by nature inclined to worship anyone else but God.  And that includes us. It calls for a divinely appointed work of grace to make us see who God is, and then become aware of our sin.  Once again it is only more grace that helps us turn away from the folly of our sinful existence to follow God.

Our reading of Acts 7 made mention of this in the life of Abraham.  Stephen was about to be stoned to death for his witness of Jesus Christ when he said:

“Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran.” (Acts 7:2, NIV)

The God of glory appeared to him.  That made the difference.  This expression is used of moments in the life of God’s people when He appeared in majesty to them to assure them of his holy presence.  It was usually in the form of a cloud or fire, or both.  When the Israelites left Egypt because God made redemption possible for them, we read, while they were still a short distance out of Egypt:

He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night. (Psalm 105:39, NIV)

When they faced the Red Sea ahead of them and the armies of the pharaoh behind them:

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. (Exodus 14:19–20, NIV)

This is the God of glory who revealed Himself as the Deliverer of his people.  When the people groaned before Moses about their food, Moses said:

In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him.” (Exodus 16:6–7, NIV)

When the people were grumbling because of the lack of water, this is how the Lord answered:

… and the glory of the Lord appeared to them [Moses and Aaron]. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” (Numbers 20:6–8, NIV)

When the Tabernacle was completed, and later the Temple, on both occasions we read:

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. (1 Kings 8:10–11, NIV)

This was the sure sign to the people of God that He was in their midst to guide them, protect them and to have communion with them.

It was this God of glory who appeared to Abraham while he was still worshipping other gods in Mesopotamia. This appearance is life changing.  This is, I believe, the same thing that happened to Paul on the road to Damascus.  It changed his life around from being a persecutor of the church to a missionary of the church of Christ.

The God of glory appeared to Abraham while his was still in Mesopotamia” – while he was worshipping other gods.   Joshua 24:2 shines a light on another aspect of Abraham’s salvation.  This is an act of God:

But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. (Joshua 24:3, NIV)

It is by an act of mercy from God that we are saved.  It is his work, revealing Him in his glory in Jesus Christ.  Have you read this next verse carefully?  Listen:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:8–9, NIV)

Jesus Christ is the glory of the Lord personified.  John puts this way:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NIV)

Let us not be amazed by the calling of Abraham, as if he was a special human being, having done special things before God in order to be called to be the father of believers.  They way in which he was saved – by grace, called away from the idols of this world to a new obedience – is exactly why he is the father of all believers: we are saved the same way.  We don’t deserve grace, but we are given grace.  This grace is life-changing.  It surely changed Abraham’s life from an idol-worshipper to a worshipper of the only God.

God’s claim on Abraham’s life

God’s call

What is conversion?  What defines one’s life as a converted sinner?

The Lord, calling Abraham, said:

‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ (Acts 7:3, NIV) 

This is stated in more detail in Genesis 12:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1, NIV)

It is important that we understand God’s call to Abraham, and as such, to us:  In Abraham’s case it involved a definitive separation from his past. Although Abraham had no good in him that could possibly commend him to God, but this does not mean that there was nothing for Abraham to do once God called him into a relationship with Him. An essential part of God’s call was for Abraham to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household.

Ur in Abraham’s time was apparently where the deep and rich soil, washed down by the Tigris and the Euphrates to the Persian Gulf, gathered in a delta.  It was a pleasant part of the world.  There were apples, grapes, pomegranates, and tamarisks growing wild. It called for a certain resolution to leave a country like that and trek across the Arabian desert to an unknown and less desirable land. But this is what God told Abram to do. He said, “Leave your country.…

But there was another part to God’s command to Abraham: he had to leave his people.  In those days being among one’s own people meant acceptance, prosperity, and security.  Abraham had to go out nearly alone into a world filled potential enemies.  As a matter of fact the Bible states:

At that time the Canaanites were in the land. (Genesis 12:6, NIV)

Applied to us, it does not demand of us to all pack our bags and go live somewhere else.  One commentator says, in demanding these from Abraham meant that he had to

… disentangle himself from the idolatries of his native land, and even sever his connection with the nearest and the dearest, rather than imperil his salvation by remaining in Chaldæa; and in a like spirit does the voice of Jesus in the gospel direct men to forsake the world … to renounce its possessions, occupations, amusements; yea, to dissolve its friendships and endearing relationships, if they would now be numbered among his disciples, and eventually enter into life.

That is conversion.

God’s mission

Added to the other things, Abraham had to leave his immediate relations behind.  It would not have been so bad perhaps if they could all have migrated as a clan, which would mean support and protection.  It was necessary for his spiritual growth to leave them behind. His environment was not conducive to that growth. His family would not help him in the pilgrimage.

The demands are still the same.  Jesus Said:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23–25, NIV)

It is to ask for too much?  If not, we could gain the world and forfeit our very self.

Ahraham met the God of glory, he encountered this glory and the his world did not stack up.  Consequently the Bible tells:  “So he left the land of the Chaldeans.”  He left, and God sent him.  That’s what Stephen says in Acts 7.  God enabled him to answer the call, and He enabled him to go.

We should not embellish on what the Bible does not clearly state, but to go and settle in Canaan the living God called and sent him there would not be easy.

It was a land where Baal and Astarte were the main gods in a pantheon of gods, most prominent were the gods of fertility and war.  Temple prostitution was common, and worshippers sacrificed their children.  The religion appealed to immoral and in-born sinfulness of the natural man.  It was almost like one does not believe in something; you just do what comes naturally, give yourself over to the sin that controls your life – what you then indulge in is your religion.   You only need to look at some programs on TV to understand that the world of Abraham was not much different – and it has become a religion in our day too.

Abraham journeyed into the land and found himself at the great tree of Moreh.  It seems as if this tree, or clump of trees, was the place where the Canaanites worshipped and where they got there oracles from.  It was at this place that the Canaanites gathered to indulge in their primitive religion of human sacrifice and prostitution.  What a place to come too after the holy God of glory called you into his service!  But what did Abraham do?  He built an altar to the Lord.  He distinguishes his God from the gods of the place and its tree by building an altar to Yahweh who has appeared to him.

What made the difference in Abraham’s life?  The God of glory who appeared to him in Ur is the God who sent him there, and He is the God who once again appeared to him – none less glorious than before.

God’s promise

There, at the altar and tree where the godless worshipped, there God appeared to him and promised him, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

A commentator remarks:

God’s [Yahweh’s] word to Abram and his response in setting up the altar together tear the seamless web connecting gods and people and land in Canaan.

Abraham’s altar may have looked the same as those already there, but God’s promise to give this land to his descendants, becomes to Abraham a sign of eventual possession of that land. Factually the Canaanites occupied the land as their sacred symbol showed, but Abraham occupied it in symbol only.  Abraham’s altar speaks of a future rooted in the past – God’s call and promise: he claimed his future, not by building a rival city, but by building an altar. His altar remained as witness to the fact that in this place a child of God once knelt and prayed, proclaimed the gospel of grace, and claimed that spot for God’s glory.

This is something the church of Jesus Christ must learn to understand.  We do not build rival cities by gathering earthly signs of power.  We spend our time on earth as pilgrims with no permanent address.  Abraham is an example of how we are to be in the world and yet not of it, of what it means to be a pilgrim.  Canaan was never exactly the same after he had passed through.  He built altars to the living God.  His business was God’s Kingdom.  What is our business?

A pilgrim is one who has left home but is also traveling to another home. A pilgrim has had a vision of a goal, a destination, and is determined to only have a tent until he can move in to the house.  When the Lord appeared to him at the trees of Moreh, he understood that God is in Canaan too, and that one day, in God’s own timing, the whole place will belong to his people; till then, he was just a pilgrim through the barren, trusting God only – although he sometimes misunderstood God’s guidance.

Conclusion

My dear friend, Abraham is in more than one instance an example to follow.  His faith in God was accredited to him as righteousness.  His obedience to trust God when all looked bleak should help us to trust God, even when we have to, as Hebrews puts it, have confidence in only what we hope for, and have assurance in the things we don’t yet see .

But more so was our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is far more than just an example.  He left his Father’s glory to establish the kingdom of God on earth.  Not a kingdom in political sense.  Pilate heard it from Him, “My kingdom is not from this world, it is from another place.” (John 18:36)  Yes, He is King.  Pilate was correct when he had the inscription made, “The King of the Jews.” (John 19:19) But that inscription was nailed with Jesus to the cross where He died, only to rise again, to open the door to the city Abraham saw by faith, built by God.  There was no other pilgrim like our Lord Jesus Christ. There was no barren land like the one He came to die in and for.

He now calls us to leave everything behind to follow Him, and to like Abraham erect spiritual altars in this godless Canaan to the God of glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on sunday 20 July 2014

 

Abraham, the father of all believers – Grace and promise

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 11:8-10
  • Genesis 11:27-12:8

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, today marks the first in a series of sermons on Abraham, the father of all believers.  Our series will take us through episodes in the life of Abraham and his responses to the covenant grace of God.

The challenge of every sermon is to see the redemptive plan of God at work at any point of history, how it is fulfilled in Christ Jesus and what it teaches about the reason why God called his church into existence.   May God help us to see that.

The sinfulness of man and the grace of God

It might help if we make a distinction between general history and redemptive history.  Why? We might understand the Bible better that way.

Every minute of the past belongs to God.  All history is therefore in the hands of God.  He is the reason for history, and history explains the way in which God unfolded his plan with his creation.

Historical facts recorded in the Bible are correct, but not all history is recorded in the Bible.  The Bible’s purpose was to record redemptive history.  There are chapters in the Bible, like Genesis 5 and 10 which serves as “fast-forward” events; it probably covers hundreds of years.  But the main message of the Bible here is to help us understand four major aspects of God and man:  man is sinful, God is holy, God punishes sin, and no sinful event can ever put a stopper on the plan of God to save his elect.

This explains the pattern:

  • man sins
  • God’s holiness demands punishment
  • God does not fully destroy man because of his sin
  • God fulfil his promises in Jesus Christ

Babel: the plan of man against the plan of God

In a certain sense the story of Babel is a repeat of what happened in paradise:  man wanted to be like God.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)

Two things we see in this verse:  they wanted to oppose God to be like Him and they wanted to oppose the command of God to fill the earth.

Their plans started with “Come!”.  This was the inception of a plan which most probably came from the likes of Nimrod.  The Bible tells about this man, who was a tyrant who had a kingdom (and this is the first time in the Scriptures we hear the word “kingdom”, not describing the kingdom of God.  He established Babel and Shinar.  A paraphrase of Genesis 10:8-12 might sound like this:

Cush became the father of Nimrod; he began to be a mighty despot in the land. He was an arrogant tyrant, defiant before the face of the Lord; of him it is said, ‘Nimrod, the mighty despot, is proud before the face of the Lord. And the homeland of his empire was Babel … in the land of Shinar. From this base he invaded the kingdom of Asshur, and built Nineveh, and Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah, and Resin between Nineveh and Calah. These made up one great city.

The Hebrew puts an emphasis on “for us”:  the purpose of building the city was to point to their greatness and their achievement.  When it comes to the tower that pointed to the skies, there are different ways to look at it.  Did they really wanted to build a tower that reached as high as the heavens?  The word “reach” is not in the original.  Montgomery Boice asked this question:  “Are we to think, then, that Satan was entirely absent from the original attempt to build a civilization without God? Was he absent from the formation of this first nonbiblical religion?” Boice quotes another scholar, Morris, who said,

“A great temple at its apex would provide a center and an altar where men could offer their sacrifices and worship God. The signs of the zodiac would be emblazoned on the ornate ceiling and walls of the temple, signifying the great story of creation and redemption, as told by the antediluvian patriarchs.

The problem was God was not in it.  It was a man-made religion which glorified man and his achievements.  Right through the Scriptures Babel represents false religion.

It is interesting that the same word used for “tower” here in other places in the Bible points to “greatness” and “importance”.  In Ezekiel 38:23 we read about God:  “And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 38:23, NIV)  In Isaiah 10:15 the same basic word is used to show how evil man attempts to magnify himself against the Lord.  I think  it is not impossible to think that Nimrod and his men had much of this in mind when they built their city and temple.

God put an end to this.  Nimrod and his comrades thought they built something majestic, but God still stooped down from heaven – not because He had no idea what was going on there, but to exercise punishment.  The “coming” of the Lord in most cases implied terror on sinners.  In one swoop He confused the language of the people and they could not finish their work.  Later, when the Spirit of God was poured out on Pentecost Day, this curse on Babel was redeemed:  all people may now hear the wondrous deeds of God in Christ and repent to forgiveness of sin.

Fast forward to redemption

In what follows in Genesis chapter 11 we see, as it were, a fast forward over many years to the next event of redemption.  We are presented with a list of names of the descendants of Shem, the son of Noah, out of which Abraham was born. We now move from grace in spite of rebellion, to grace presented in promise.  We are now introduced to another big theme of the Scriptures:  the Covenant of grace.

We usually find genealogies boring – and most of the time they are.  But there is something in Genesis 11:10-26 which we should not miss:  on average the men became fathers when they were 32-34 years old.  But when we come to Abraham’s father we read he was 70.  The story of Abram in the Bible begins when he was 70, and his wife was barren.  This rises tension – how would God fulfil his promises to Abram?  Redemptive history beyond this chapter hinges on how God dealt with Abraham.

Let’s go to the next problem.  Abram was not better than anyone around him.  This is what we learn from the Bible:

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. (Joshua 24:2–3, NIV)

Did you pick it up?  Abraham and his father worshipped other gods!  It was God’s plan to, through Abraham, call a nation in existence – his own covenant people – and from them the Saviour of the world would be born.

For God this was not impossible: a barren wife and old man who worshipped other gods would receive God’s grace.  God did the impossible:  by grace he redeemed and by grace He fulfilled his promises to them – and they believed!

Saving grace

This is God’s pattern through the ages, and it teaches us at least two things:

1.  We are not saved by our own works.  The great things of Nimrod came to nothing. God indeed resist the proud; all people and peoples receive redemption only because God wants them to have a part in his redemptive history.  The apostle Paul sums this truth up in Ephesians 2,

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:3–5, NIV)

Abraham was not justified by works.  Paul also writes in Romans,

“If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. (Romans 4:2, NIV)

2.  Abraham was not a good bloke and therefore got saved.  This has enormous implications for everyone who stands before God and the only thing they are aware of is that they deserve death because of the holy God’s punishment on sin.  There was the tax collector who knew he deserved nothing else but wrath, and then he called on the mercies of God, “Have mercy of my, for I am a sinner.”  The Lord says he went home a righteous man.  So, don’t have the devil tell you you can’t be saved because you are sinful.  God showed mercy to Abram in spite of him worshipping other gods.

God does his miracle of redemption even when it seems impossible.  Abram was and old man, Sarai was barren, but it is precisely in our weaknesses that God shows Himself powerful.  Otherwise we would want the glory for ourself.  The parents of Samson could not believe when the angel announced that they would become parents – but God gave them a son to deliver his people from their oppression.  The parents of John the Baptist had the same experience, but God did the impossible: He gave them a son to become the forerunner of the Messiah.  The message is the same today:  Don’t think God can’t raise a people for Himself out of the valley of dead bones of our godless culture.  He can, and He will.  Nothing can stand in his way.

Promises on promises

On that black day of Adam and Eve’s fall in paradise, God gave them a promise:  from them will come someone who would crush the head of the serpent.  God did not forget that promise.  After all the rebellions before the Flood and in the Tower of Babel, God stepped in to renew that promise, now in the different way.

He made a Covenant of grace with Abram.  He did not deserve it, he did not ask for it, he did not qualify for it, he had no idea about how God would fulfil it.  But he believed it.

Abram was slow in the beginning.  He did move out of Babylon, but he then stopped over in Haran. Then God spoke to Abram,

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2–3, NIV)

I will bless you”. It’s the blessing of God that made the difference, and the Bible says, “So Abram left.”  Hebrews says he did not know where he was going, but he understood the promise God made to him to be real, and he believed God.  That was accredited to him as righteousness.  Ultimately he had his eye on more than just Canaan:  his eyes were on his heavenly city, so real was his faith.  To the people of Canaan the altars he built when he arrived there was to just another god; but Abram believed the One who took him from the hollow worship of idols to the real worship of the God who made the heavens and the earth and placed him in a covenant relationship of grace.  That was what kept him going. With the altars he claimed the land God had promised to him.

Conclusion

My dear friend in the Lord, God is a God of grace.  His holiness demands justice because of our sins.  Ultimately, because it is all grace, He takes us as his church, not on account of what we have done, but because of Him who came long after Abraham, born from the loins of Abraham, Jesus Christ the promised Redeemer, who is our righteousness because of the sacrifice He made on the cross.  If we believe in Him we should proclaim his greatness to the world we live in, so that the blessing given to Abraham becomes the blessing of the peoples.

Our God is rich in mercy.  Our God keeps his promises. Let’s praise his Name.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 13 June 2014

 

 

Forfeited grace

To not honour the Lord

Scripture Readings

  • Acts 3:1-26
  • Daniel 5:1-30

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

They tell the story of the young man who wanted to rent a room off the old lady who lived right next to a railway line.  First she showed him the room, and showed him around.  Then the two settled on a rental amount.   Just to be honest the old lady pointed out to the young man that the place was right next to the railway line.  “The first week or so,” she said, “you will find the noise of the trains intrusive, but you will get used to it.”  “Never mind,” he replied, “I have a friend not too far away. I will stay with him for the first week.”

Being exposed to the noise of the train for some time can desensitise one so that after some time you might not even hear it.

How many times have you heard the Gospel of forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ?  Do you perhaps come from a family where the Lord is served by godly parents or grandparents?  You have seen the grace of God at work all around you; you heard about it; you see the effects of grace changing the lives of people as they become redeemed children of God. But what about you?  Have you responded to it?

Amazing grace at work

A life changed in the face of grace

Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, grew up in a palace where his grandfather, once the great king of the most powerful kingdom in the known world of his time, came to know the Lord in a most dramatic way. It changed his life and he saw to it that all of his subjects knew about it.

At the end of his life Nebuchadnezzar declared this about God:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

To which he added:

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)

There was a time that Daniel, who had been elevated by the king to a high position in his kingdom and moved very closely to the king at that time, were concerned about the king’s eternal life before God.  Daniel said to the king:

Please accept my advice: renounce your sin by doing what is right and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.  It may be that then your prosperity will continue.

By all accounts, after being humbled by the Lord for a time, Nebuchadnezzar heeded the advice of Daniel and became a worshipper of God.  The impact of this repentance of this once godless king must have been enormous, not only right through his kingdom, but also in his palace.  But fact is, the successors of old Nebuchadnezzar did not follow in his footsteps. This takes us now to Daniel chapter 5.

Amazing grace forgotten

A life lost in the face of grace

Who is Belshazzar?  He was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.  Nebuchadnezzar dies old, and his son Evel-Merodach took over the kingdom. His brother killed him, and took over as king.  But in a conspiracy an outsider, Nabonidus, gains the throne, marries Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter.  Their eldest son was Belshazzar.  With the Medes and the Persians about to attack the city, Nabonidus moved to Arabia, and gave his son Belshazzar the control of Babylon.

In the meantime the Medes and Persians under Cyrus were closing in.  They camped outside the city wall for several weeks.  Inside Babylon there is enough provision for years of siege if necessary.

The date is Saturday, October 12, 539 BC – and Belshazzar called a party for his officials.  In the face of sure destruction this dumb and thick-headed king chose to live out his philosophy:  if I worry I die; if I don’t worry, I die; so, why worry!  Let us drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!  Like the parachuter who realised his parachute won’t open.  Sure that he was going to die and that he was not able to do much about it, he decided to sit tight and at least enjoy the scenery.

In the midst of the orgy of lust and drunkenness where the officials, the kings wives and his concubines desecrated the holy objects which had been taken out of the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem when the people of Israel were taken into captivity, and at which they blasphemed the Living God of heaven and earth by worshipping the gods of gold and silver and bronze and iron and wood and stone, Belshazzar saw a hand writing on the wall of his great banquet hall.

Like with a cutting torch, this hand wrote four words on the wall into the plaster.  One gets the impression Belshazzar was the only one to see this miracle.  And in his drunkenness he became very scared. His face turned pale, his knees knocked together and he passed out on the floor.

The music stopped. The dancers looked at one another, and perhaps some thought the king had too much to drink.  For a moment they thought to carry on with their blasphemies. But the king was not hazy and unclear.  All of a sudden his mind was clear.  He knew this was something awesome and extraordinary.

He couldn’t get any sense out of his astrologers and wise men and diviners.  They were dumb-struck.  His nobles were baffled – and probably scared to death, because it was the whim of kings to have their astrologers killed if they could not declare a dream.

Just imagine the picture:  the Sovereign God of heaven had the mightiest king and his nobles in the palm of his hand, scared to death with their knees knocking together.  Such is our God.

There is one thing we need to take along this morning:  God is powerful and He is Sovereign.  The Bible is full of references to the fact that He disposes kings as He wishes.  He controls the universe and He controls kingdoms.  He brings down the haughty, and He exalts the lowly. Old Nebuchadnezzar understood that all to well.  And he knew to bow under this Sovereign God in worship.

But his grandson has this opportunity to learn slip through his fingers.  He had it in his hand, but then all was lost in one moment.

He had to learn once again from his grandmother, the queen-mother, who then made presence known in the banquet hall of the revellers, that God had gifted a man with knowledge.  She knew about it, because she saw the difference in the life of her late husband.

Grace – once again

And now Belshazzar had to face that man who was the messenger of the living God. Daniel walked in, now not as the young man we meet in the first chapters of this book, but as a man of well into his seventies, maybe eighties.  He was not interested in the gifts of the King.  After all, his God had provided for him all his life, and even rescued him from a sure death in the lions’ den.  “Keep your gifts”, he said, “I will nevertheless tell you what the dream means.”

When Daniel spoke to Belshazzar he was not beating around the bush.  He cut straight into it.  The reason he told him about his grandfather was not to tell him something he had not known; he wanted to apply to him the truth that he had been given grace, but that God tested him and found him wanting. It must have cut to the heart of Belshazzar when he heard these words:

But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. (Daniel 5:22)

You knew about God, about his sovereign power, about his grace and mercy as it was seen in the life of your grandfather, but instead, you spurned that grace and made of yourself a god.  You snubbed grace and trampled underfoot the grace of God by sinking so low in your sin that you desecrated the things holy unto God.

Grace forfeited

Listen Belshazzar, you think you can withstand the onslaught of the enemy who is right at your door as you are given in drunkenness and lust and idolatry because you have mighty army and high walls around your city, but listen:  God has numbered your days.  In fact, Belshazzar do not see the sun rise the next morning.

Further, Belshazzar might have many mighty friends in high positions scattered all over his kingdom and they thought the world of him and all his mighty deeds, but it was a different story in the eyes of God.  In the eyes of God he was nothing.  God put him on the scales and he was found wanting.

How dreadful the truth of this verse:  you might win the world, but you might lose your soul. One might be mighty and wonderful in the eyes of the world, but what if God shines his light upon one’s soul?  What if He puts one in his scales?  What am I in God’s eye?  Without Jesus Christ I am nothing, worthy of eternal condemnation.

For Belshazzar it was the end, not only of his life, but also of his kingdom.  But it was also the beginning of eternity in hell. As his counsellors and mighty men were gathered to celebrate their greatness, they had to learn that their show of force was the moment of their weakness: together they would fall in the hand of the enemy.  And, very suddenly, all was over.  It was gone.  The glitter, the power, the authority, the security, the esteem, life itself! – all was stripped from them.  All of a sudden they were before God and his judgement throne.

Conclusion

My dear friend, how many times have you heard the message of God’s grace?  How many times have you come very close to giving your life to God and turn away from eternal disaster?  How many times have you thought that you will have another chance?  I don’t know, and to be honest, no one knows, if there will be another opportunity. But one thing we learned from the Bible this morning is that not even a king in all his splendour and majesty can escape death and judgement, to face God on his own merits.  When we stand before God we stand stripped of all pretence, we can hide nothing, we can say nothing, we can present nothing – we are speechless and without excuse.  That’s the moment of truth when God will look at the scale and declare us wanting.

Unless, of course, we have found refuge in the Saviour, Jesus Christ.  He is God’s grace to us.  In Him we hear a Daniel calling us to repentance.  In Him we find the Friend who put his life in the scale of God’s wrath.  He took the full punishment of our sin and paid the full price of salvation.  He calls us through his infallible Word this morning to a new life of forgiveness.  Don’t go home this morning before you made very sure that you will be able to face God before his judgement throne, only to hear that He would welcome you into his heaven.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 6 July 2014

 

 

The Gracious Invitation to follow Jesus Christ

Discipleship

Scripture Reading

  • Luke 14

Introduction

Dear friend in our Lord Jesus Christ,

We have a tendency to think that the rich and the famous are in some ways better people to mix with.  Over the exit out of Wimbledon, boys and girls would wait with a large tennis balls or a printed program just incase the renowned tennis player would sign it.  The arrival of a film star on an airport can easily create chaos as fans gather to see their hero.  These days people take selfies with the famous.

The Pharisees in the time of Jesus did the same:  they picked the places of honour at the table of their hosts.

An invitation to Jesus Christ

There was a day that our Lord got an invitation to dine with a prominent Pharisee in his house.  Experts in the law were also invited.  They probably did not invite Jesus socially; they were most probably looking for a way to trap Him.  The text says, “He was carefully watched.”

Jesus Christ, the Son of God knew their motives, and it is almost as if Luke does not dwell on informalities.

The houses then were more “open”: neighbours or close relatives were not kept outside while invited guests had a meal. That’s why our text takes us right to the point of the man with dropsy being there too. We know that all things are ordained to the finest of detail by our Father; so it was on this day too.  He suffered from something which made his hands swell because of the retention of water.  In God’s grand design this man, and the way he was healed, served a marvellous purpose:  the way by which Jesus would heal him would expose the hearts of the Pharisees and the experts of the Law. What in their hearts was exposed to all present?

They did not understand the purpose of the law

“Is it unlawful to heal on the Sabbath day?”  To them the Law of God was nothing else but a set of rules as how to improve ones life in an effort to gain entrance into the kingdom of God.  They missed the mercy of God in saving his people altogether.  The preamble to the Ten Commandments proclaims this:

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. (Exodus 20:1–2)

For some reason they missed that, and jumped straight to the rest, which to them became a system of self-righteousness.  When Jesus later gave them a roasting in Matthew 23 He said:

You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.  (Matthew 23:23)

This is now exactly what Jesus tested them on:  is it unlawful to show mercy on a Sabbath?  They couldn’t answer.  There was just this uneasy speechlessness; staring at the ceiling of the floor.  He’s got us!

Mercy does not seek recompense

Jesus was looking for mercy in their hearts, but their was none.  Instead, they found it better to associate with those who were rich and influential, and forgot the poor and the needy.  Even at the very table they arranged themselves in order of importance – and the whole purpose of that was assure that they could get invitations back.  That’s why Jesus said:

“When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. (Luke 14:12)

Instead, Jesus said:

When you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13–14)

In other words, if you received mercy form God who had mercy on a wretched sinner, show mercy to a fellow sinner and fulfil the Law:  that’s what people do who are in the right relationship with God.

In this whole episode our Lord wanted them to understand that, although they were privileged Jews who in the first instance got the invitation from God to be his people, they might in danger to be humiliated when the host ask them to go sit in the lowly places.

They were speechless before the Son of God:  they did not understand mercy, and they did not receive mercy – unless they would listen to the words of Christ.

This says a lot about to us:  some people are of good standing, not really “sinners”, not really in need of salvation (or so they think), and they invite Jesus to dine with them – on their conditions, of course – and they are still lost.

What does it teach us?  We can’t invite Jesus into our lives and expect no change.  We dare not invite Him into our lives on our conditions.  Yes, we think we would probably have the privilege of having Him under our roof, but He would not be at home there.  It is only when we see ourselves as He sees us – wretched sinners – that we will have peace with Him.

The invitation of Jesus Christ

In the next part of the chapter Jesus told them of a man who was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  In the context of the parable, and in the wider context of Luke’s gospel, the invited guests foremost refer to the Jews, who later went on the rejected Jesus as the Son of God.  For many years they heard the invitation through the call of the prophets, but when it was time for the banquet they excused themselves.  What they basically did was to say they are not interested.  Jesus did not meet their expectations of the Messiah.

Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant:

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame!’ (Luke 14:21)

With this we are back in the first part of the chapter.  The invitation of Jesus are to those who could not repay Him.  They were blind, poor, crippled and lame.  If ever there is a picture of the state of a sinner in the eyes of God, this is it:  spiritually we are blind, sick, crippled and lame.

Think of it:  the rich man who had this big house prepared the great banquet.  It was a mega feast.  The original invitees rejected the invitation.  They were the privileged.  The rich man did not cancel the banquet:  he invited the wretched.

We don’t see it in our Bibles as clearly as the Greeks saw it, reading this in greek, but the word for guests in verse seven, is from the same word which is translated as to invite:  those of the back lanes now became the guests of honour.  They could not pay back.  They slept on card boxes in the alleys. They smelled, and had to be helped into the banquet hall. Those are the sort of people our Lord loves at his banquet.  Not because they smell, not because they have nothing in their bank accounts, not because they are blind or cripples, but because grace does not demand back payment.

The invitation to follow Jesus Christ is free. It is not like those ads on TV where you have to read the fine print after the asterisk – after it said it is free -and you work out it is not!  When Jesus calls us to follow Him He knows we have nothing to repay Him.  And that is grace.  And if we think we need to bring something along to compensate for grace, we’ve got it all wrong.  That is the whole point of this parable.  They could leave their card box beds, their filthy blankets and whatever they used to eat from, behind – at the banquet they would be provided for – more then they could imagine.

Why would we answer the call to follow Jesus?

He is God, the Saviour

First, I would say, is not because it is free.  We shall and must answer the gracious call of Christ to come to the banquet in the first instance, because He who calls is God, He is our Saviour, He is Lord.  There is no other call we should answer.  Others who might want our attention, energy, time, talents or money are phoney:  they cannot provide what they promise.  Their promises are hollow, and it leads to nothing.  It’s different with Jesus: He not only promises to give us new life, He secured it.  With his blood He paid for it.  In his death and resurrection He purchased our righteousness.  Therefore it is free.

It is a call of grace

The second reason why we must follow Him, is because his call is full of grace.  By this the Bible means He provides salvation free of charge.  We don’t need to work for it – He did all of it in our place.  There is no balance on the account of salvation – something that I need to contribute to complete the payment. No, when He calls me to his banquet, He knows I am broke, filthy, blind, lame, sick and crippled.  This is how sin scarred me, and this is how I was born.  There is no reciprocal, or give and take arrangement in grace; there is no such a thing as tit for tat in salvation.  It is all of Christ and nothing of me.  He fully satisfies the needs of any sinner.

There is no other who can give saving grace

Jesus Christ is the only Saviour; his is the only banquet I can go to.  He, by his righteousness dresses his church, his bride with the finest of white garments for his wedding feast.  Listen:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7–9, ESV)

Time is running out

Those who were originally invited had all sorts of excuses – all of which were invalid- and they ran out of time.  The date was set for the banquet, and it was set by the owner of the house.  We cannot set our own date.  God will not wait for us.  Therefore we need to leave behind what we are busy with, like the first disciples, and come while the invitation still stands.  But God hold eternity in his hands.  Only He know when time will run out – and run out it will.  Don’t wait as if you have time and eternity in your hands – you don’t.

Grace is free, but it not cheap

There too many people who proclaim a cheap grace, as if being a disciple of Jesus is going to cost you nothing.  Don’t understand this wrongly: it’s got nothing to do with payment for salvation; that Jesus took care of.  But associating with Jesus Christ has its consequences.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, ESV)  This “anyone” includes the privileged Pharisees, the teachers of the law, as well as the disadvantaged and undesirable sick, the blind, the lame and the crippled.  By free grace we are saved – all of us, but to follow Christ has its cost:

No love more important that the love of Christ

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  Hate?  The meaning here is to express a love for the Lord so strong that anything else will look like hate.  More so if any desire of theirs is in conflict with our discipleship.

Personal sacrifice

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27, ESV)

In coming to Him we turn from others, and in coming after Him we share what is his – and that is the cross.  Since there is no escape from some suffering for Christ’s and the gospel’s sake, it is impossible for anyone to be a true disciple without carrying this cross, whatever it is that is planned for to him or her.

There is a battle going on

This parable does not want us to see if we will have enough in ourself to make discipleship work. What it wants us to understand is following Jesus is entering war. To enter this war, we must give up everything and leave the battle and the outcome to our Lord (Luke 14:33).

Our Lord uses two examples to describe His kingdom:  building a tower and waging of a war.  The picture is that of a fortified tower used in warfare and the war is against an army double the size of your own.  Discipleship builds up something grand in us and strikes down something hostile outside of us.  Jesus wants us to become disciples, but no man can do this by his own natural ability.  We could never get beyond the foundation, mere outward profession of faith, mere outward attachment to Jesus. Where, then, is the money to come from to build this

Conclusion

The invitation of our Lord to become his followers is astonishing free; but it is breathtakingly challenging.  Yet, He made it possible.  So, let’s follow Him; the opposite is dreadfully dangerous.  Amen.tower? Grace furnishes us all that discipleship needs, grace alone. Jesus wants us to be his disciples, He wants this war, and He therefore warns us not to enter it with our inadequate strength, for we should then be doomed. That means that we take the armour of grace.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 June 2014

 

Theosis versus Sanctification

Introduction

A friend rang me up not so long ago.  He attended a worship service where the minister argued that the church should strive to attain theosis.

This concept was new to both of us.  He asked me to not indulge in too deep and elaborated theological discussion.  He just wanted to know what theosis means, and where this term comes from. I did some research.  This article is what I found.  It is by far not complete.  There is certainly much more to be said about the topic.  But I see some similarities between new developments in theological thought.

Actually, theosis is not something new; the Eastern Orthodox Church prefers to use the term theosis above sanctification.

Definitions

Theosis

The term theosis (deification) is fairly common in Eastern orthodox circles. By theosis the Orthodox mean the process of acquiring godly characteristics, gaining immortality and incorruptibility, and experiencing communion with God. As a result, deification corresponds somewhat to concepts which evangelicals describe using the terms sanctification, eternal life, and fellowship or relationship with God.

The Orthodox believe that gaining these blessings was the task which God set before humanity at creation, the task which through the fall humanity lost the capacity to achieve, and the task which the incarnation and work of Christ have made possible once again.  For Western evangelicals who are interested in Eastern Christendom, the most relevant aspect of Orthodox theology is its understanding of the means by which fallen people undergo this process of deification.

Eastern Christians see grace not as an expression of the undeserved nature of salvation, but as an energy of God, which can be communicated to people.  To be saved by ‘grace’ in Eastern theology means that people are deified as a result of God’s communicating to us his energies, by giving us those aspects of Himself which He chooses to share with people. When Protestants use the word ‘grace’, it describes an act of God in Jesus Christ, granting sinners salvation as a gift. Western understanding of grace is concerned primarily with forgiveness (declared righteousness), whereas the Eastern concept of grace has more to do with power or energy (deification as a process).

In some ways there are resemblances between Rome’s understanding of salvation and Eastern theology:  the primary means by which the Holy Spirit works to give grace and to deify people are the church’s sacraments and human effort.

The Eastern orthodox insistence that salvation involves human effort may not be a rejection of our belief in salvation by faith alone, but may rather be analogous to our assertion that genuine faith results in good works.

Sanctification

Calvinist hold to the Biblical teaching that justification and sanctification cannot and should not be confused with one another:  each teaches distinctive acts of grace in the life of the believer.

The Westminster Confession of Faith defines justification:

Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

The Westminster Confession of Faith defines sanctification:

They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them, the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

Charles Hodge rightly wrote:

“… justification differs from sanctification, (1.) In that the former is a transient act, the latter a progressive work. (2.) Justification is a forensic act, God acting as judge, declaring justice satisfied so far as the believing sinner is concerned, whereas sanctification is an effect due to the divine efficiency. (3.) Justification changes, or declares to be changed, the relation of the sinner to the justice of God; sanctification involves a change of character. (4.) The former, therefore, is objective, the latter subjective. (5.) The former is founded on what Christ has done for us; the latter is the effect of what He does in us. (6.) Justification is complete and the same in all, while sanctification is progressive, and is more complete in some than in others. (Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

In no way does sanctification add to our justification:  the progressive nature of sanctification does not make the saved sinner more justified.  In a sense even sanctification is a gift of grace (there is the distinction between definite and progressive sanctification)

Recent theological shifts regarding sanctification

New Perspectives on Paul (NPP)

In recent years theologians in Protestant circles challenged conservative theologians to rethink the concepts of justification and sanctification.  Ligon Duncan points out the dual instrumentality of faith and works in New Perspectives theology (of which NT Wright is probably most prominent):

“It seems dangerously close to teaching a dual instrumentality of faith and works as held by traditional Roman Catholicism, especially if it is said, ‘God gets us into his covenant but we keep ourselves there by non-meritorious works through the Spirit’s enabling.’” (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/nt-wright-and-new-perspective-paul/)

We live in a covenant of grace, but we have to do works to “stay in”.

Federal Vision (FV)

More recent than NPP, Federal Vision Theology, almost in cahoots with the NPP theologians began to offer this understanding:

“In baptism every baptized person receives all the benefits of Christ (election, union with Christ, justification, adoption) so that one is in “the covenant” by grace but one retains these benefits and either remains or becomes (they have said both) elect, united to Christ, and justified by cooperating with grace through trusting and obeying.”  (http://clark.wscal.edu/tuning.php)

Grace, but one has to retain the benefits of grace by cooperating with grace:  works?

Emergent or Emerging Churches (EC’s)

Emergent church exponents abhor (rightly so) the dead Christianity of the majority of members of established Reformed churches and promote “authentic christianity” – the search for the “deeper spiritual life”.  The Emergent or Emerging church is post-modern (whilst New Perspectives and Federal Vision  – and for that matter the Eastern Church – surely are not!) and its adherents look for a deeper “mystical” expression of “the real Christian life” and our union with Christ.

This inevitably leads to some form of works.

Some common ground

Adherents to the NPP and FV will deny any agreement with what is known as the Emergent or Emerging church.  Rightly so.

The common ground between the above theologies is the fact that sinful man just can’t live with the idea that he plays no part in the salvation of grace in Jesus Christ.  The point of contention in all the above movements and theologies is justification by faith – alone.  Pure Calvinism, or Biblical theology, to them leaves man completely without accountability (or waters down his responsibility to life a holy life), without him doing something to “do” include him in a “works” (even non-meritorious works) of salvation.

There is, it seems to me, a monumental confusion between the Biblical teachings of justification and sanctification:  sanctification as an imperative on the life of a saved sinner is confused with the forensic declaration of justification by faith alone, and becomes a system of good works which help the sinner to be saved.

Something wrong with Calvinism?

At this point I want to agree with this statement:

“There’s nothing wrong with our theology, except that we fail to live up to it. Our standards are not deficient; rather, our deportment is. Too often we fail to be in practice who we truly are in Christ. The solution to lives that are not what they should be is not theological reformulation, as Federal Vision proponents would claim, but faithful living within our already well-developed theological system. It is the best expression of Scripture that the church has, by God’s guidance and grace, developed thus far.” (http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=478)

Post-conservative Evangelical Theology

One would need to be blind to not see the effect of (modern-day) Neo Calvinism on the theological and ecclesiological landscape.  (I would have to disagree to put Abraham Kuiper in the box of New Calvinists – as many actually do).  If I really have to do, the debate would centre around theological issues, and not style ( http://reformedbaptist.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/the-new-vs-old-calvinism.html The author of that article does not seek to necessarily find theological grounds for his distinction between “old” and “new” Calvinists;  his argument for style is, I think valid:  in the end, the package in some ways determines how the content will be evaluated.  Just think what your spouse will think of a gift for your silver anniversary if it is wrapped in a used brown paper bag!)

At least for the sake of this article, some Neo Calvinists can be defined as Post-conservative Evangelists.

A definition

  • Post-conservative evangelical theology is that it is thoroughly and authentically evangelical. It is not ‘post-evangelical’.
  • For post-conservative evangelicalism experience rather than doctrine is the enduring essence of evangelical Christianity.  While affirming the importance of doctrine some say that it cannot take the place of or hold primacy over the experience of new life in the Holy Spirit that comes with faith and repentance and the continuous infilling of the Holy Spirit.
  • Post-conservative evangelical theology is uncomfortable with foundationalism:  post-conservative evangelicals worry that conservative evangelicals look upon Scripture as just that—a pre-systematised system of timeless truths just waiting to be organised into a coherent system which could then replace Scripture .
  • Post-conservative evangelicals have a strong interest in dialogue between diverse groups of theologians. (The unhappy postulation of “grace” against “doctrine”.
  • Post-conservative evangelical theology have a broad and relatively inclusive vision of evangelicalism.  For post-conservative evangelicals the ‘essentials’ category contains only those few beliefs that are central to the gospel and the experience of the transforming grace of God in Jesus Christ. (It is almost if there is a aversion for distinctiveness.  Post-conservative evangelicals prefer not to call churches by the name of the denomination:  it is sometimes hard to work out if a “ministry” is Anglican, Presbyterian or Baptist.  It could be “Downtown Ministries” not “Downtown Presbyterian Church”, or “Uphill Ministries” not “Uphill Baptist Church”.  It also seems as if this tendency is not accidental, but fairly deliberate.)
  • Some post-conservative evangelical theologians have a relational view of reality including a relational vision of God’s being.  The God of the Bible, they argue, is relational and not self-enclosed; this God allows Himself to be affected by humanity. (They show an aversion to dogmatics. (In recent times the emphasis is on Biblical Theology, rather than Systematic Theology (or Domatics.  They hold to a “non-doctrinal” understanding of soteriology (some even see themselves as ‘Five Point Calvinists’), but show a lack of biblical Christology, Pneumatology, ecclesiology, cosmology, missiology, sacramentology and eschatology.)
  • Some post-conservative evangelicals have an inclusivist attitude toward salvation. God is the supreme evangelist and post-conservatives do not limit his gracious work for the salvation of people to the extent of human missions and evangelism. By his prevenient grace God attempts to draw all people to Himself. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Post-conservatives hope for the salvation of many who follow the light of God’s truth flickering however dimly in their own cultures and religions and are met by the God of Jesus Christ on their journey toward ultimate truth. (The following remarks of Billy Graham are alarming:  “He’s [God is] calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven. (http://www.mercifultruth.com/graham.html).  It is true that Tim Keller rectified a misunderstanding he created (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/09/13/tim-keller-explains-his-remark-on-the-exclusivity-of-christ/,), but he appeared somewhat uncertain and hesitant to answer during the interview with Martin Bashir.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YkeKhA8BUw).

Although there is always a danger in creating a blanket definition, in some ways NPP, FV and E’C are post conservative.  Far be it from me to indiscriminately lump in what was said in the paragraph above with what follows, but what is common with what follows is their deviation from orthodox Calvinism about justification.  For some post-conservative theologians there are commonality between sanctification and theosis.

Clark H Pinnock

We follow the path of Clark H Pinnock.  I quote the work of R.E. Olson, in S.E. Porter and A.R. Cross (Olson, R. E. (2003). Postconservative Evangelical Theology and the Theological Pilgrimage of Clark Pinnock. In S. E. Porter & A. R. Cross (Eds.), Semper reformandum : studies in honour of Clark H. Pinnock. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster).

Olson makes these remarks:

“To follow Pinnock’s theological trail is to enter into the world of constructive and sometimes conflictive conversation with Christian theologians called Calvinist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, Anabaptist, Process, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic.”

“He remained Christ-centered and biblically-rooted, but now he also was a Spirit-animated risk taker prepared to hear anew the word of God on behalf of the church’s mission in a postmodern world. With this new stance came another professional move of teaching location.”

“Pinnock began a quest to help liberate the evangelical Christian community from what he came to see as its shackles of Reformed scholasticism, Hellenistic perversions, and other cultural accommodations. He has assumed that Christians are at risk of stagnating and losing the vitality of the Spirit’s witness to biblical meaning for our time when they ‘insist on conserving in ways reflective of past thought traditions and cultures more than of biblical thought and true Spirit life’”

“He had moved in the direction of the view typical of Eastern Christianity, namely that Christian theology is essentially a practical endeavor instead of a theoretical science.”

“In Flame of Love he encourages evangelicals to include within their scope of legitimate belief a broader range of ideas about Christ and salvation. For example, he endorses a version of the Eastern Orthodox concept of salvation as theosis—divinization—without discarding more traditional evangelical ideas of justification and regeneration.”

“According to Pinnock, one of the most unfortunate implications of believing that everything happens according to God’s will is that it encourages people to invest their energy in trying to accept things as the way they are rather than in changing them to the way God would want them to be.”

Conclusion

It seems, then, that post-conservative theology:

  • does not distinguish between justification and sanctification;
  • promotes the idea of good works as a means of “staying in” the grace of God (it strongly reminds of Roman Catholic theology) (The question to be answered here is:  what constitutes “good works”?  Can the best effort of man contribute to his “staying in”?)
  • in the extreme, some (like Pinnock and others) seek a deeper spiritual life (“living by the Spirit”) as a form of good works;
  • showing obedience may lead to a form of good works similar to the Eastern concept of theosis.  This amounts to a form of mysticism:  man becomes like God, and reminds strongly of the Perfectionist Movement. (http://www.ccwtoday.org/article/review-of-studies-in-perfectionism-by-benjamin-warfield/
There is a general modern-day confusion/misunderstanding/mixing up of things with some people when it comes to justification and sanctification.  The slippery slope of New Calvinism (or post-conservative theology) is their aversion to systematic theology, which leads them away from the conservative understanding of justification.  This unavoidably leads to one of two things:
  • an emphasis on emotion/mystical, feeling good theology in opposition to clear doctrine – hence a call for deeper spiritual life; Eastern orthodox theosis as a unity between the sinner and the Saviour enters on the scene.
  • antinomianism (sanctification is seen as legalism, and attempts to godliness are dismissed).

Life, Death, Heaven, Hell (4)

Hell

Scripture Readings

  • Luke 16:19-31
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12

Introduction

My friends in Jesus Christ, in this short series “Life, Death, Heaven, Hell” we looked at the two markers in the life of every person on the face of this earth.  Everyone is born, and everyone will die – Life and Death.  During our earthly journey we need to understand that there are only two destinations after death:  either heaven, or hell.

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s way to call us out of spiritual death to spiritual life in preparation for our eternal life.  All of us will experience death – that is if we die before the day of the return of Christ, in which case we will be changed in a moment so that we can receive an immortal body.  Those who died in Christ, trusting in his death on the cross and resurrection bringing them new life, will be raised to life – eternal life.

But there is something more that we need to know:  there is something the Bible describes as the second death.  That is a form eternal life too, but not in the presence of God; it is in the place, the Bible says, which is prepared for the devil and those who chose to reject the Gospel call to trust and follow Jesus Christ.  The Bible uses this language:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (Revelation 20:14, NIV)

This second death is not death as we might know it; it is a place of torment, pain, tears and every possible state of misery we can imagine – and more.

The purpose of this sermon is not to scare anyone for the sake of scaring;  if is part of the counsel of God, and as such, it is a subject we need to talk about.

Hot topic, but not popular

It was my privilege to take the funeral of one of our faithful members in a previous congregation.  I chose to read and preach from the passage we read this morning, coming from Luke 16.  I wanted to be responsible before the Lord to make the best of every opportunity to tell those who attended about life and death, with Christ, or without Him.  I was sensitive to the occasion and honestly I tried to be as calm as I possibly could, just stating the biblical facts as found in the Gospel.

Later that afternoon I received two telephone calls.  The first was to encourage me.  It was from a friend, Bill was his name – he was not a member of our congregation.  “You’re a brave man,” he said.  “Why?” I replied.  “I think you are going to be in the hot water for bringing up hell in your sermon today.  It is not a popular subject and people don’t want to hear about it.  I know the subject has been deliberately avoided by the Presbyterians for quite some time.”  I asked him if he thought I was pastorally insensitive in the sermon; he thought I was not, but nonetheless I touched a very offensive subject.  I asked him to pray for me.  He did.

Not long after this call there was another.  It was from an elder of our church.  He asked me why I did not comfort the people who attended the funeral. “Instead,” he said, “you chose to scare the daylights out of them by talking about hell.”  I thought it was a good thing, if only they listened.  “But what about that part where I spoke about being in heaven – and how to get there?”  “I was only concerned about them hearing about hell.  I don’t think we will ever see them in church again!”

I thought by myself, “I was the first time I ever saw them, and if they message of the Gospel would have reached their hearts, by the grace of God we will surely see them again – if not in church, then in heaven!

And this is what I trust God’s Spirit for today:  that his Gospel will do a mighty work so that those who are touched by it will survive the second death, and that we will together gather at the throne of God sining his praises.

Two people – two lifestyles

The rich man in our parable wore the clothes of a king, fine linen, and purple, living in luxury every day.  He wore these garments all the time, and lived ostentatiously.  His whole life was one spectacular celebration.  He lived in a big mansion with slaves doing his bidding.

The Bible mentions “fine linen and purple” together in other contexts too, but both these contexts depicts the tyrants who oppressed the people of God.  We find this expression in Ester 1:6 and in Revelation 18:12.  In both these paragraphs what the rich relied upon, was taken from them.  The Persian Empire of Xerxes is now only a long-forgotten historical fact.  Revelation 18 deals with the fall of Babylon, the seat of all evil against God and his people.  In God’s timing, that city fell in one moment, and her splendour was gone.  All who committed adultery with her were in mourning about her, and said about her, “All your splendour have vanished, never to be recovered.  The music and merriment in her will never be heard again.

The rich man of our parable lived like that – in the shadow of the phantom of earthly bliss – as if it would never come to an end.  Our Lord did not give him a name, and one commentator says, “It is as if Jesus had looked into the book of life and found the name of Lazarus there but failed to find the other man’s name.”

At the grand entrance to the rich man’s house, probably more than just a door, it refers to a gate which usually led to the entrance of the portal to the rest of the complex, there was a man called Lazarus.  His name means “God helps”. This is the only parable that Jesus told where a character got a name.  The name marks this man as being one who put all his trust and faith in God.

He was worse off than poor. He was a beggar with sores all over him. It is interesting that our translation does not translate the original more explicitly.  The Greek uses the word “to cast, to throw.”  In the most literal sense of the word, Lazarus was an outcast.  He had been dumped and was now lying there. He could not move himself even on crutches and those who carried his diseased body just dropped it down regardless of the groan of pain they caused.

The rich man and his friends had to pass, and had to see him in his wretchedness.  They had to hear his faltering, begging voice as he stretched out his hand. That is why he was put there—a golden opportunity for them show mercy to a downtrodden fellow human being.

The things falling from the table of the rich man were the waste to be thrown away into the street for the scavenger dogs to devour. It was surely not by order on the part of the rich man that the beggar receive any of these scraps; it is most probably by the kindness of a slave boy who was sent out to throw out the scraps.  The beggar and the dogs became one in their eagerness to have just something to eat.

Dogs in the Bible are not regarded with the same affection as in our society.  Dogs then were not desirable, and if you wanted to speak in a derogative way of your fellowman in the Bible you would call him a dog.  Like the younger son in the pigsty, Lazarus found himself with the trash of life.

Two men, two different destinations

The two men died.  Verse 22 puts it very meaningfully:

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. (Luke 16:22, NIV)

There is no full stop behind the statement of Lazarus’s death. He was carried over the chasm into the arms of the father of all who believe: Abraham.  The rich man’s death is described with a full stop, almost symbolic of the futility of a life without God.  “Abraham’s bosom” is a Jewish designation for heaven. Abraham is the father of believers who stood at the head of the old covenant. When the soul goes where he is, that means entrance into heaven.   This expression tells of intimate association with the father of believers, accepted and acknowledged as a son of Abraham (19:9). So all true believers are borne into Abraham’s bosom.

The rich man also died.  It is not impossible to think that this man had an exorbitant funeral.  People mourned his death, especially those who joined in his parties.  But there is no mention of angels when he died.  In fact, the very next words are:

In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:23, NIV)

The Old Testament uses the word which is translated here as hell in a specific sense:  it refers to the wicked alone, who go down to a place of terror, the direct opposite to heaven, the abode of the damned.

Abraham and Lazarus are pictured as being in heaven, the rich man as being in hell.  The rich man calls out, “I am in agony in this fire.”

How did the rich man know Abraham when he saw him now for the first time? Exactly as Peter, James, and John knew Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. No introductions are needed in the hereafter.

He who did not know mercy when human need called out to him day after day at his own portal, now himself cries out for mercy: “Mercy me!”  All mercy is ended in hell. Even the least mercy as when a mere drop of water is asked for a tongue that is burned to a crisp.  He whose tongue daily tasted the finest wines and the most delectable cooling drinks now burns with ceaseless flame.

It would be wrong to take this statement to mean that because a man has good things in this life therefore he is anguished in hell, and because a man has good-for-nothing things (κακά) in this life, therefore he is comforted in heaven. Abraham does not say this, nor would it be true.  “Your good things,” those the rich man alone thought good, while he cared nothing for spiritual and heavenly treasures and showed that his life was bare of these by his lack of mercy.  His benchmark for good things was himself, what he could enjoy at the time, and never did he measure his life against the standard of God.  On the other hand, Lazarus did not receive his bad things; the bad things he experienced were to refine his faith and to make his trust rest on God alone.  Patiently taking and bearing the bad things God sent Lazarus, keeping his faith all circumstances, hoping only in God, the good things of heaven were now his.

What are our good things?  There was another rich man, the Bible says.  He was satisfied with his riches and boasted in them.  But, the Lord said, his soul was demanded of him that night.

In his judgment God has also separated heaven and hell forever.

Between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:26, NIV)

The sense of the statement is that death decides forever, it is either heaven or hell.  In my mind’s eye I see the hands of those who tried to cling to the ark when the water rose to cover the world:  God shut the ark, there was not chance to open it again.

Heaven is eternal, perfect and good, without any possibility of sin and pain or tears.  The number of the saved is full, none will be added to it after the new creation.  Of the previous things, no one will ever think of.

Hell is eternal, but eternally imperfect.  The previous things, and the opportunities to prepare for eternity, will be the gnawing worm which will never go away.  “If only I could tell my brothers”,  “If only I listened to the Word of God.”

What are the punishments and the torments of hell?

  • It is the loss of all earthly kind, benevolent and good things.  Even the ungodly now receives with the godly good things.  Then only the opposite will happen.
  • The ungodly will be excluded from the favour of God.
  • They will experience the final withdrawal from them the Holy Spirit.
  • They will constantly live under the unrestrained dominion of sin and sinful passions.
  • Their consciences will be like the never-ending gnawing of the worm that never dies. Their lives will be driven by despair.
  • The best friend will be another doomed soul without hope in utter despair.
  • Their suffering is not exclusively the natural consequences of sin, but also includes inflictions as deliberate punishments of God. All of this will never end.
  • Those who depart this life unreconciled to God, remain forever in this state of separation, and therefore are forever sinful and miserable.

The all-sufficiency of the Scriptures

If I had someone who personally came from heaven to warn me about the torments of hell, do you think I would have abetter chance of getting my life in order so that I will not end up in heaven.  Would you?  No I wouldn’t.  Nothing speaks clearer.

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:31, NIV)

Although the rich man sees Abraham in heaven, knows that Moses and the prophets are there likewise, he says “no” to all for which they stood, to all that brought them to heaven. Even the fires of hell bring no unbelievers to repentance and faith, and that is why they are in hell forever.

The rich man pictures one from the dead going to his wicked brothers who would then repent. A hellish repentance that would be, scaring them by a threat of the fires of hell.  Repent?  He knew nothing about repentance.  They would be scared like hell, but being scared of hell does not put faith in God and his Son in ones heart.  We don’t go to heaven because we are scared to go to hell.  We go to heaven because we believe with all our heart what the Bible says about Jesus Christ and his sacrificial blood shed on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Conclusion

I once again want to conclude with God’s grace.

The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling with us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 11:14). 

For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16) 

… you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:15–16, NIV)

This you have to believe to go to heaven.  If not, there is one other destination:  hell.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 June 2014

Life, Death, Heaven, Hell (3)

Heaven

Scripture Readings

  • John 14:1-7
  • Revelation 21:1-4, 22:1-5

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

In this short series we are looking at two major event markers in the life of every human being on the face of this planet:  life and death.  What is left of this series will look at one of two major destinations of every human being.  All of us will one day experience our last breath.

Without God’s plan of redemption in Jesus Christ who comprehensively crushed the head of satan, we have no choice but to inherit eternal destruction as God’s judgment on sin and rebellion.

But because of God’s plan of salvation in Christ we may by faith in Him alone, look forward to heaven.  This is what this sermon is about.

More than Paradise

Although Adam and Eve were put in the most beautiful place on earth paradise was not absolutely perfect.

Possibility of sin

Adam and Eve were God’s ambassadors.  But the mere fact that they were forbidden to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden put them in a relationship with God which in it had the possibility of disobedience.

We are not trying and pry into things we are not supposed to, asking questions we know very well we will never have all the answers to, because we are warned not to:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29, NIV)

Satan

The crafty snake, used by the devil to do his job, was present in paradise.  He is the father of the lie and murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).  In this sense then paradise was not absolutely perfect.

Time and space

The phrase “morning and evening” is used repeatedly in Genesis 1.  Even the time of fellowship between God and man was “in the cool of the day.”  Space was defined in terms of the rivers surrounding the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were confined to the specific space allotted to them: the garden.

Not the final destination

There are verses in the Bible which indicate that, although it does not refer to the actual location of the Garden of Eden, paradise was intended to be something intermediate.  When Jesus said to the criminal on the cross next to his, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), that man was assured of the fact that his soul was forever safe with Christ.  But was also true, is that his body was that very day, buried in some gave.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, sums up what happens when the believer in Christ dies:

The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.

In other words, when we die in the Lord, all that He provided for, us will come true.  We are safe with Him, and we enjoy the gifts of his righteousness, justification, victory over death and glorification. But our souls and bodies are separated, and our bodies will see decay.

…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7, NIV)

It is only at the return of Christ that our bodies will be reunited with our souls into a glorious body, without the possibility do decay again:

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

Not all of us will see death; some will still be alive at the return of our Lord.  Their bodies will be changed, at the wink of an eye.  Of that day when the sound of the trumpet announcing the coming of the Lord is heard, Paul writes:

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51–55, NIV)

These things, at least, help us to understand that when we talk about the consummation of things at the return of Christ, that God had more in mind for his creation than what He created for Adam and Eve to live in.

Heaven, only possible through Jesus Christ

Our reading of John 14 this morning says:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3, NIV)

We’ve already heard the words of Jesus to the criminal on the cross next to Christ.  There, the Saviour of the world could make that statement because He was paying the price for heaven’s door to be opened.

The heaven of Islam, or the heaven of Free Masonry, or the eternal bliss of all other religions is therefore only a pie in the sky when you die.  There is only one Creator of the universe, there is only one Mediator of the universe, there is only one Spirit who intercedes for us in our waiting for the revelation of the new creation (Romans 8:26-27).

Our eternal home

The Bible holds out for us something of the events that will take place at the return of our Lord.

The return of Christ 

Paul writes:

For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, NIV)

Jesus also taught his disciples:

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:30–31, NIV)

The resurrection

Those who died before his return will be resurrected and their souls and bodies will be reunited.  Jesus Himself said:

“… a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28–29, NIV)

Judgement

Paul writes:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

John writes:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12–13, NIV)

The new creation

Peter writes:

The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare… That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10–13, NIV)

The destruction of the heavens does not refer to the abode of God, but to everything subjected to the influence of sin:  all heavenly bodies, including the earth.  Everything will not be completely destroyed as if God will create a complete, until then unknown universe;  He will destroy the complete influence of sin, purify it as the smelter ends up with what was actually already there when he first put the ore into the furnace.  So God will give those whom He gives eternal life in and through Jesus Christ a world to live in which is completely purged from all possibility of sin and its destruction.

Eternally with God

Let’s look at that home Jesus said He is preparing for us.

No Bible, Church or Mediator

The will and Person of God is revealed to us through the Bible, but when all is made new, that will not be necessary anymore.  Our Mediator, Jesus Christ dealt with sin and there will not be any sin in eternity.  Our Lord will still be there, but He will not make intercession for us at the throne of God – we will know Him as He is and He will be amongst us as Lord.  In the same way the Holy Spirit will be with us, not to intercede for us as we pray to God, but we will worship Him as He is.

The earth redeemed

The old earth and old heavens are transfigured and redeemed. This is the work of God who will not forget his promises to his Son and to those whom he redeemed through his death. Not only did God create the universe through his Son, He also redeems it through his Son:  sin is gone, and never will those who are redeemed ever want to talk about the old.

No sea – the enemy defeated

In Revelation the sea is the origin of cosmic evil, the unbelieving, rebellious nations who cause tribulation for God’s people, the place of the dead, and the primary location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity.  One may also think the sea is what separates us now.  Then we will not be separated, but be one in Christ.

The bride of Christ

Those redeemed by the Saviour is the bride of Christ, united to Him in eternal relationship.  Revelation 19 tells us about it.  The picture is one of purity, beauty, and eternal love.  Jesus said He will come and take us to Him after He prepared the home for us.

Paradise redeemed

We will have paradise and much more:  God will dwell with us, we will be his people, there will be no reason for tears, no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain.  People once afflicted with the deadly wound of sin, full of evil inclination and sin, are now shining and reflecting the glory of God, with the reflection of precious jewels and clear crystal.  The people now is the city.  It fills the earth.  The great high wall is a symbol of protection:  no evil will ever enter it.  What follows is a description of all people, from all ages who are washed in the blood of the Lamb living in it:  twelve gates and twelve foundations:  the Old Testament period and the New Testament period.  Not a single soul for which the Lord Jesus gave his life will be missing.  The number will be full – 12 times 12 multiplied by a perfect 1,000.

Absolute perfection

The city is a perfect cube the same shape as the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle.  The measurement of 12,000 stadia by 12,000 stadia takes us to 144,000, which corresponds with the 144,000 people of chapter 7, sealed in the blood of Christ.  Even the thickness of the wall reveals something of this perfect number.

God with his people

There is no need for a temple to assure communion with God, no candle sticks as was necessary in the tabernacle, because the glory of God will give light.

Conclusion

We cannot talk about going to heaven, without talking about Christ, the Son of God.  No one will enter heaven without the righteousness and justification of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Some people might say if everything they heard about heaven is true, they would like to go there, but going there without knowing and serving the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is impossible.  It is Him who said that He is preparing the rooms in his Father’s house; it is Him who will return to take to the Father to live with Him forever.

I trust that you understand that first of all, to get to heaven and be with Christ, you need to be united to Him in faith now.  If not, you might end up in hell.  More about that next week.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 15 June 2014

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