So that you may believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah the Son of God
- Exodus 19:1-6
- John 14:15-24
Dear friends in the Lord,
Let’s begin this morning with a wild statement, “I think religion is dangerous.”
The person who practices religion invariably finds himself somewhere on a road to find some place where he would be convinced, or at least try to convince himself, that he has a right to salvation. God will allow him in heaven because of his achievements. Religion is therefore a way upwards and towards God. Religion thinks it can rest upon earned good works, for which God will reward the self-improved person with eternal life.
Religion can have many forms: self-infliction, self-denial and asceticism. It might manifest itself in a monastic and pietistic lifestyle. People may chose to go on extended hunger strikes, sitting on a pole, and even periods of absolute silence. A very popular phrase in some self-help religious books is “to connect with God”.
Even very devout church people might find themselves in this category where regular attendance of worship services, contributing to the finances of the church, voluntary service to the aged and the poor are seen as a form to climb the ladder to God. The Roman Church encourages this form of dedication, and after certain requirements are met of a certain standard, even long after the person has died, someone can be declared a saint, based on these works.
A person can be raised to sainthood and the first step is beatification, which allows a person to be honored by a particular group or region. In order to beatify a candidate, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle. Martyrs – those who died for their religious cause – can be beatified without evidence of a miracle. In order for the candidate to be considered a saint, there must be proof of a second posthumous miracle. If there is, the person is canonised and are then know to be a saint.
Of this, of course, we find nothing in the Scriptures.
Gospel, on the other hand, is a way downwards from God towards man. When God finds that man, he finds an individual who has nothing in his hand to impress Him or to win his favour. In fact, God finds the sinner in a state of being an enemy of God, unable to rescue himself, and in desperate need of being saved. Gospel is based on grace, having it’s origin in the mercy of God. It does not require of man to improve himself, but provides the means to man whereby God makes it possible for man to see his terrible state before God so that he may know that he needs salvation, which is provided freely by God in Jesus Christ.
Grace in the Old Testament
There are people who think God’s people of the Old Testament had to comply to the Law of God and that grace was then given to them on account of their good deeds. In this sense then people who think this way, say that they lived under the Law and we now live under grace. This of course leaves us to understand that God had two ways of saving people: one by works, and the other by grace.
This is not true. Our reading of Exodus 19 and 20 (the Ten Commandments) tells the story of God grace given to his people while they were still in bondage and slavery.
‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:4–6, NIV)
First there was God’s wondrous act of salvation through providing them with life when the Egyptians suffered the lost of their firstborn. Then, time and time again, God provided mercifully and miraculously for them in the form of food, water, and deliverance from their enemies. He indeed carried them on eagles’ wings and brought them to Himself.
This is stressed in Chapter 20:1 It is because God did what He did, Israel found themselves in a place where they could be called God’s people. God did not give the Law first and then after some time rescued the few who could comply with that law.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2, NIV)
Moses reminded the people of God’s redeeming love with these words:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6–8, NIV)
Exodus 3:7 is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible:
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land … (Exodus 3:7–8, NIV)
Although they were hard of heart and stubborn of spirit, the Lord kept his promise to Abraham be bringing them into the Promised Land.
That is what grace does. It is God bowing down from heaven, being moved by the inability of man to rescue himself, and providing salvation when it was undeserved and impossible to repay. This is the opposite of religion – it is Gospel.
Grace in the New Testament
Grace in the New Testament is nothing different. The whole gist of the message of John in his gospel points to the fact that man was living in darkness, unable to know God, unable to see God, unable to recognise God; yet, God sent his Light, his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be the light, to open the spiritual eyes of the lost so that they can see salvation.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
God gave his Son- his Son accepted the mission of the Father wholeheartedly and freely He gave his life as the Good Shepherd. He said:
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18, NIV)
Jesus declared in John 6:
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (John 6:63, 65, NIV)
No-one can come to the Father unless He enables him. He enables him based on his eternal love shown in Jesus Christ who took the sin of the world on Him. Our Lord will never drive away anyone who comes to Him, becomes they come because the Father calls them (John 6:37).
Last week we heard from the Word that Jesus said to his disciples that they could not go where He was going to go – they could not because He was the only acceptable sacrifice, the perfect Passover Lamb, to satisfy the wrath of God upon sin. He alone had to be crucified because He alone was sinless – He alone could atone. In this sense then Jesus told his disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them. His perfect atonement is the only basis for them to enter the Father’s home. Only based on his perfect sacrifice can we now say that we can go where Jesus went – we do so by faith in Him who calls us, takes us as his own. When, by faith, you know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Son of God – remember the theme of this series of sermons – my brother and sister, you have a room in heaven. I say so because it is what Jesus said.
Your room there awaits you not because of your religion – things you have done to reach up towards God; your room in the Father’s house awaits you purely and only because you heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ that He came down from heaven to seek and save the lost. As so were all of us before grace and mercy found us out.
God with us
Let’s turn the Bible to John 14:15 and following verses. There is a phrase running through these verses like a golden thread, proclaiming the Gospel to us in all its glory. You have to grasp this, as its message will carry you through all the dark days of doubt and uncertainty – those days when the devil would want to you think that you have to do more to deserve more grace until God will save you through your good deeds.
My dear friend in Christ, never give in to his musings, it is based on a lie. You will never have peace with God if ever you do not grasp the glorious message of these verses.
What is that golden thread? Look at verse 16.
And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— (John 14:16, NIV)
Another advocate – because the first was Jesus Christ Himself. What will He do? He will help them and be with them, in the same way as Jesus did while He was with them. (His name is Immanuel – God with us).
Read verse 17:
The world cannot accept him [ the Spirit], because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for He lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17, NIV)
Do you get it? He lives with you and will be with you. This is Gospel: God with us; religion wants to achieve some else – it wants to be with God; and it cannot.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18, NIV)
Jesus says, He will come to us. This promise is fulfilled in the Holy Spirit, but it will be completely fulfilled when He comes to takes us to the Father’s house. In verse 19 He says, “Because I live, you also will live.”
Then, almost in an abundance of words, Jesus wants us to understand that we, by the grace of God shown to us in Him, and by faith which unite us with Him eternally, cannot be separated from Him:
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:20, NIV)
“On that day”, which day? Of course it ultimately points to the return of our Lord, but they will know this for sure on that Sunday morning when He rose victoriously from the dead. When you see the risen Saviour you will know that He completed the mission of the Father to save the lost, to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, to give them new birth through the Holy Spirit so that they can see the Kingdom of God, that they were drawn to the Father, that He would not drive them away – all those things He had taught them – and He is teaching us a the moment – they and we realise by faith that God has send his Son to seek and save the lost, we realise He united us with Him so that His accomplished work before the Father becomes as good as if they were our accomplished work; we believe that He is from the Father, with the Father and God with the Father.
When this happens, eternity breaks open. I understand Gospel, and I understand that I cannot seek God in order to be saved; but I understand that God sought me to save me; He provided a Saviour for me; and He binds me to Him through the cross and resurrection of the Saviour through the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit – and now I cry our in eternal thankfulness, “Thank you Lord Jesus, thank you Father, thank you Holy Spirit!”
Let’s read another verse to find the golden thread. Verse 23:
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23, NIV)
We will come and make our home with them. The Spirit is our Comforter (our Counsellor) – He continues the work of salvation by applying the grace of Christ to our hearts, now born from above; He teaches us about Christ, He is with us. He prompts us to love Christ, by helping us to understand and obey the commands of the Lord. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26, NIV)
The Spirit reminds us of the things Jesus said and did to satisfy the wrath of God on sin; He also changes our hearts to accept that message, because:
The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17, NIV)
Because Jesus was from the Father, his words were from the Father. The Father loves Him because He loves the Father. We know we love Him if we love doing what He commands us. If we love doing what He commands us, the Father and the Son will make their home with us. If we not not love Him and obey Him, our only Saviour who saved us by grace, the Father and the son do not live with us – we are on our own, lost – and there is no other way to the Father. Jesus said:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, NIV)
The golden thread again:
“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. (John 14:28, NIV)
“I am coming back to you.” Listen, there is nothing of trying your hardest to get to where He is. It is not religion; it is Gospel.
In some instances, I believe, the expression “if you loved Me”, that “if you” has the meaning of “loving me”, or “now that you love Me”. It is not conditional as if we first have to love Him and then after that we can expect certain things from Him. The same is found in verse 15, “Now that you love Me, you will obey what I command.” If doing his command was conditional on our love for Him or not, grace would not be possible. Or at least it should be understood in the sense that we will obey his command because we love Him – and He loved us first. What it does mean it that saying we love Him and we hate what He commands us is impossible. The two things go together.
I thank God that He does not require of my some sort of religion – trying to seek Him until He makes Himself available to me after I have done a series of things to earn salvation.
But I earnestly thank him that He in Christ came to me; by the Sprit live in me, and with the Father live in me. That is good enough to fill my heart with thankfulness to love Him and obey Him. To Him be the glory. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 June 2013