Doing Good (7)

Taking hold of true life


Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 13:7-16
  • 1Timothy 6:3-19

Introduction

Daniel Petrie was once a vice president of Microsoft.  When his only sister died in a car crash he took stock of his life.   He commented:

And it made me think about well, what would we put on my tombstone if I dropped off the twig? And what it occurred to me is that pretty much it would say ah, you know, “Vice President of Microsoft, hopefully soon to be Senior Vice President of Microsoft!” And that was pretty much it. And I thought at that moment that wasn’t enough, that I wanted to say that I was a really good father, I was a good partner, I was a good and contributing member of the community. 

He came to Australia and became chairman of a big Internet company. With others like Greg Poche, he is known today as a philanthropist who says, “That it’s your responsibility to give to the community within which you’ve earned your money, not your choice.

Not “richer”

Paul in 1 Timothy 6:17, the paragraph we read today, says:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)

There is just a possibility that we may understand this verse wrongly.  We might understand it as if it means that we have the right to do two things:

  • We can shrug our responsibility to do good with what has entrusted us with, because most of us do not fall within the category of the super rich like Daniel Petrie of Greg Poche.
  • The second thing we may do is to judge the super rich if they do not give away their money for the good of their communities.

But this is not what the Bible has in mind.  The Bible does refer to those who are richer than us; it plainly just refer to being rich.  We cannot sit in church and think of richer people than ourselves, even members of our own community of believers and say, “Well, this message has no bearing on me.  In fact, the Bible is going to hit the rich today.”

There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that being rich is wrong, and being poor is somewhat of a virtue.  There is nothing in the Bible which sets a standard of what is rich and what is poor.  Surely we read of rich people like Abraham, Solomon, Job and Joseph of Arimathea.  Compare them to the average person, surely they were richer; but it does not imply that all others were poor.

Being rich is somewhat relative.  Kings of 100 years ago were rich, probably richer than most of their subjects, but they not all had cars, telephones and electricity.   Not long ago having a car, a home and a academic qualification was to be rich.  Today we think those without flat screen TV’s, cars with air-conditioning, mobile phones and computers, and the ability to enjoy at least one take-away meal per week are poor.

We are all rich

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)

Let’s look at this last line:  God provides richly for us everything for our enjoyment.

We have nothing which is not from God.  Paul says:

And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:25, NIV)

God provides even beyond our actual needs! His hand is lavish. When He withholds He does it and for his purposes.

The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15–16, NIV)

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26, NIV)

Did not our Lord teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread?” What we need, God will provide for us.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:9–12, NIV)

The phrase “for our enjoyment” in our text is significant. God does not bestow wealth merely in order that we may hang on to it, but that as Christians we must use and enjoy it with all gratitude. Refusal to enjoy it is as much a sin as misuse, waste, or overindulgence.

Indeed, we are all rich, but not all of us are equally rich.

Where is your hope anchored?

Not all of us are rich in a monetary sense.  But why do we compare ourselves with others?  Is this what this Paul wants to bring across to his readers?

So, comparison between who is rich and who is richer is not in the mind of Paul when he wrote this letter.  What was his benchmark? One commentator makes this remark:  “Paul considers only two classes: those (whether they are actually poor or rich) whose intention it is to be rich (v. 9); those who are actually rich.” 

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)

There is a fine line between greediness and ambition; between never satisfied with what one has on the one hand, and working hard with the gifts and opportunities God is providing on the other hand.  The Bible has nothing against hard work and healthy ambition, but everything against greed and always being dissatisfied.

The Christian must always be on his guard, because even the most honourable and legitimate wealth could harbour the danger of falling into temptation and traps – for the love of money, not money in itself, is the root of all kinds of evil.

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10, NIV)

On the other hand, being wealthy also accounts for blessings; it is a means for all kinds of good works, a means that is not in the hands of the poor.

The wealthy person who does not acknowledge the hand of God in his success easily becomes “high-minded,” and then thinks of himself as being better to poorer people.  The world of the Greeks, and in our growingly atheistic, materialistic society, despised the humble, lowly mind, admired the self-assertive mind which imposed its will on other men. The Christian should live as Christ wants him to live as lowly-minded servant in true humility before God, loving helpfulness to men, knowing the life from the spirit of Christ.

Earthly riches may disappear overnight or may dwindle and melt away like snow in the sun. Sure hope must have a sure and certain basis, and wealth is not such a basis.  Hope that is placed on God will never be disappointed.

The rich investments of doing good

What is the “good” in good works.  I referred to philanthropists who do good things for other people, but even they can have a wrong principle to work with.  Any good work that does not have its root in the goodness of God does not qualify for the biblical definition of good works.  Our good works as saved sinners, expressed the essential goodness of God, which consists in His goodness or kindness shown to us by being merciful to us and making us his children based on pure grace and love in Jesus Christ.

The good the Christian does is nothing else but the outworking of Ephesians 2, which we already looked at some Sundays ago:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

Paul writes to the Colossians:

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, (Colossians 1:9–10, NIV)

Our good works flow from our salvation and is only good because of the work of the Holy Spirit.  We do good works because we, in the Spirit, are rich in noble works, which God bestowed on us in Jesus Christ. We are given good works, and now in Christian love we give good works away.

When we then do good works many of these works benefit us more than they benefit others. Earthly riches are means to be used to accomplish true riches. Good works through the gifts which we received from our good Saviour and Father becomes wealth that remains.

To invest our blessings in people is not throwing a coin to a beggar; it is more than just handing out alms. It is giving so that others may have “together” with us.  That is the essence of sharing:  I don’t share when I mindlessly give; I share when I draw the other person into my life to enjoy the good things God his giving me.  This enriches both the poor and the rich.  This sharing then becomes fellowshipping.  The Christian rich man is to be in fellowship with all his Christian brethren, down to the poorest and the humblest, is to be wholly one with them just as if he had no wealth.

Eternal investment in true life

This form of good works, this sharing of God’s riches with others in fellowship with one another and Jesus Christ, is an enormous investment.  Paul says it is eternal investment capital, the beginning of great things to come.  Indeed, the good things we do now, the capital investments in the Spirit, we make in other people not as richly endowed as us, lays the foundations for what awaits us in eternity.  In fact, this is the true life.

Paul does not teach a salvation by works, in the same way as Jesus does does Jesus in Matt. 25:34:

“I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.’ …’Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.’ (Matthew 25:34–40, NIV)

Good works are the evidence of faith and justification which assures us of the true life; but good works will also count as evidence of how we lived as Christians in the verdict that will be handed down at the time of the Lord’s appearance.

Let’s do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share.  May God bless us with obedience.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 April 2014

 

A Journey from death to life

Meeting the risen Lord

 

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 116:1-19
  • Mark 16:1-11

Introduction

We find comfort in knowing a good doctor.  We call them family doctors.  They know everything about us; and we trust them with our secrets.  We trust them with our health.  Once we get to know the doctor, we love going back.  Our doctor becomes some sort of anchoring point.  He is the one who might receive a telephone call in the middle of the night.  We do that see them as friends.  And when the doctor retires or moves away, or when we move away, we go through the agony of finding a new one.

Mary Magdalene – living in a dark world

Was she dumb and deaf?  Was she blind?  Was she recognisable by her bodily deformity?  Did she suffer from mental illness?  Did the evil spirits cause her to rant and rave, leaving her with mental disorders? Were there times that she had uncontrolled fits – maybe in public?  Did she behave in an antisocial manner?  We don’t read about the husband of this Mary, which means that he could have divorced her because or the state she was in.

We don’t know, but these things were common to those riddled by evil spirits.  Mary, the woman from Magdalene, had seven evil spirits.  She lived in a dark world.  She lived on the edge.

But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who grew up in Nazareth, not too far away from Magdala in Galilee, was sent by his Father to destroy the power Satan and the evil spirits under his control.  He preached that the Kingdom of God has come.

There was the day in Magdala on which He preached.  The sermon was about the Kingdom of God.

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. 

The evil spirits were no mach for Him.  They submitted and were cast out of those who suffered.  They even admitted that Jesus came to destroy them.

And Jesus healed Mary.  She is named with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases.  From her seven demons had come out:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1–3, NIV)

Living under the wings of Life

Her life changed. She met new friends: Joanna, the wife of Chuza – Chuza was the person in charge of the finances of Herod; and Susanna, another woman cured and healed by Christ.

Together they formed a group who would support the Messiah with their possessions.  They were apparently from high social standing, well-off or very industrious.

The Twelve, the Apostles also benefited from this service of love.  These women were disciples of Jesus, and followed Him wherever they could.

Their lives changed and more and more did they learn about the Kingdom and about God.  As they looked back, the existence in darkness, possessed by the evil spirits, faded on the horizon.  The days shone brighter and brighter.

But every now and then, as they were listening to the teachings of their Redeemer, they heard about an immanent catastrophe.  We read in Luke 9:22, only a chapter after we meet Mary for the first time:

And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

As the light shone brighter for them each day, the shadow of the cross gradually rose up over the group as they followed the One who healed them.  He would eventually die the cruel death on the cross.  His death would be the result of the fact that every person is in some way responsible for the cross of Jesus.

In the shadow of the cross

When Jesus was arrested that night in Gethsemane, all his friends left Him.  One betrayed Him, the other denied Him. The women were not allowed anywhere near Him.

When He carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Golgotha, his followers looked on from afar.  As the plan of God’s redemption was unfolding, there was nothing they could do to prevent it from happening.

Overcome by fear and disappointment, they just looked on.  Hear the words of Matthew 27:55

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.   Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:55-56)

They were there when Jesus was buried.  Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who also had become a disciple of Jesus, took the body of Jesus and put it in a grave and sealed the entrance with a heavy stone.  And we read:

Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:59-61)

The pain of unbelief

The next day was a long day.  It was a Sabbath, the day of the Passover. On this holy day they devoted themselves to the feast of deliverance out of Egypt.  They ate the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread.  It was a solemn day and a solemn atmosphere.

Most of all, Mary lost her doctor.  The man who gave here back her life, the man who healed her from her infirmities is dead.  Cruelly they nailed Him to a cross, together with criminals.  The man who became a dear friend, the man she and the other supported even with their own possessions, is dead.

Some in Jerusalem celebrated.  They were too pleased that this Jesus was out of the way.  But Mary’s attention was divided:  she could not wait till the sunrise of the Sunday morning.  The agony of waiting.  Surely, it was a Passover that she will never forget – not because of rejoicing, but because of the great personal loss.  On Sunday morning, she would go to take care of the body of this Jesus of Nazareth.

Life out of death

She probably didn’t sleep well that Saturday night after the Passover and the ensuing Sabbath.  Her mind was at the grave.  She remembered the sight of Joseph as he laid Jesus in the tomb and rolled the stone in front of it.

Early Sunday morning, the first day of the week, she and the other women, rushed to the grave.  What a disappointment:  the body of Jesus was not there.  They concluded that He must have been stolen.

Then there was the voice of the angel:

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:6)

They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth.  That was their problem!  If they knew the man whom they served out of gratitude for the new meaning of life given to them, and if they understood that He was not only the son of the carpenter of Nazareth, named Jesus, they would have believed.  But their eyes were still shut to the fact that Jesus was also the Christ, the Son of God.  And even if they knew it, they didn’t believe it.

They were looking for a dead body;  what they should have been looking for, was the risen Christ. Listen again to the teaching of the Christ:

And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

He has risen!  He is not dead.  His body may be precious to you, but not a dead body!  He has risen!  Now they had a task as commanded by the angel:  Go, tell the others!  Jesus will see them in Galilee – in the region where cast the evil spirits from them.  There He would finally show his power over the forces of darkness.

From unbelief to faith

A few things happened then.

Mary wept:  she was so disappointed.  Her faith in Jesus was still not the faith she would later have in Him as the Christ.  If only she could touch Him for the last time! If only she could her gratitude towards Him by tending to his body in the grave.  This privilege was taken from her.

They fled from the tomb – they were afraid and scared.  They trembled and were amazed.  They stopped speaking.

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8, NIV)

Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she clung to Him, never to let go of Him again.  This act was more than only reserving the Christ to themselves, it also turned into an act of worship!

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped his feet and worshiped Him. (Matthew 28:9, NIV)

But Jesus gave her the command to go and tell the others. Their fear was replaced willingness to become witnesses of the resurrection of the Messiah.  Now they were filled with joy.  The bewilderment was replaced with joy and worship.  Then there was the haste to get to the others. It was important for them to tell them the good news:  because He was resurrected, because what happened to Him was exactly as He had said would happen, they understood that He was more than the carpenter of Nazareth:  He was the promised Messiah and Christ.

Their must have been disappointment with them when the disciples regarded their words as “idle talk” (Luke 24:11).  They did not believe the message of the women.

But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Luke 24:11, NIV)

Conclusion

There is a distinct difference between acknowledging and believing.  We need to understand the difference between knowing and believing.  Or let’s put it better: there is a huge difference between having faith in general and having saving faith. The Larger Catechism says faith is an instrument by which we receive and apply Christ and his righteousness. It is far more than just an acknowledgement of who He is was and what He did.

Many people find themselves where Mary found herself whilst following Christ on earth, but it was only after she saw the open grave and spoke to the risen Lord that she worshipped Him as Lord and God.

Sunday school knowledge and Scripture in school knowledge of Christ does not mean we live in this saving faith relationship with Him.  Worse even is that He is just the babe of Bethlehem! It is only when we can see past the crib and cross into the open grave that our spiritual life actually begins.  And that, like in the life of Mary and the others, made them disciples of the Lord in the Kingdom of God – they became mouthpieces of Christ’s Lordship.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 20 April 2014

 

The Cross of Jesus Christ

Satisfaction for our sins

Scripture Readings

  • Daniel 9:4-19
  • Hebrews 9:11-28

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

I personally favour the terms Day of the Crucifixion and Resurrection Sunday, plainly to steer away from the secular connotations to these very important events on the Christian calendar. For many people these days Good Friday is good because it introduces the first long weekend of the year.  Easter Sunday has lost its meaning in everyday speech because Easter Monday, which has nothing to do with anything in the Scripture makes for an extra long weekend which is and is muddled up with bunnies, eggs and chocolates.  I think it is important that we are very specific about things we believe in.

These two events, Day of the Crucifixion and Resurrection Sunday taken together tell of the total gift of grace in Jesus Christ.  On the Day of the Crucifixion Jesus died on the cross to be our righteousness before God.  On Resurrection Sunday He overcame death to procure a new life for those whom He died on the Day of the Crucifixion.

We do not use the word righteousness loosely and without meaning.  The portion we read from Hebrews 9 has this verse in it:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)

Biblical righteousness describes God’s requirement of what is needed for man to come into a relationship with God.  God is righteous and He demands those in relationship with Him to be righteous too.

He, the Righteous One, established a covenant with his people; He lovingly redeemed them, and graciously promised to be their God and the God of their children. This covenant relationship was not dependent on the righteousness, past, present, or future of the people. The Law was an impersonal instrument which found its complement in a righteous leader by whom righteousness was to be advanced, but ultimately God’s demand for righteousness was someone He, the only righteous One, could and would provide.

This doctrine is fundamental to the understanding of salvation. If we don’t understand this correctly we fall into the trap of a DIY religion and we try to work out our own salvation.  Here major division within Christianity starts, and here all other religions oppose the teachings of the Bible.

Righteousness

To be righteous in the eyes of God, then, God needs the kind of satisfaction He prescribes before He will prepared to forgive.  And for God to forgive there is a necessity for someone to be a substitute for those who are by nature unrighteous.

Sir Alister Hardy, a very prominent British Scientist, could not reconcile himself with the idea that God’s righteousness can only be satisfied by a person who would be a substitute for sinful man.  In his book The Divine Flame he states:

“I feel certain that He [Christ] would not have preached to us of a God who would be appeased by the cruel sacrifice of a tortured body.  I cannot accept either the hypothesis that the appalling death of Jesus was a sacrifice in the eyes of God for the sins of the world, or that God, in the shape of his Son, tortured Himself for our redemption.”

And yet, the Bible is clear (unless one deliberately tries to read it other otherwise, or delete certain portions of the Bible):  man cannot satisfy the righteousness of God and man cannot make atonement for himself.  On the way to Calvary we see the Son of God carry the cross; He is tortured, scorned, forsaken; and on the cross He paid the penalty of our sins to purchase our standing in the presence of God.  He is our righteousness before God and He satisfied God’s demands to be blameless and without sin.

The cross did not satisfy the devil

There are some people who argue that we are not in the grip of sin, and therefore under the domain of the devil, but that we are born as children of the devil.  For us to set be free God had to pay a price for Satan.  The price was that Jesus would die on the cross to satisfy the demands of the devil.

This view of course puts the devil in direct opposition to God as far as his power is concerned.  In fact, he is given more power than God, that’s why God then has to pay him to set us free.

Let’s get this straight:  the devil has no right over us.  What he has was given to him by God.  God has no reason to pay him some sort of ransom price for those He wanted to save.  Those who keep on sinning and keep on rejecting the free offer of the Gospel are handed over to Satan.

Further, Christ is God, and no gift to Satan.  Christ defeated Satan because He is more powerful than Satan.  Christ declared that no one can take his life; He lays it down voluntarily, of his own accord.  Christ is not in the hands of Satan, or under his power now that God has paid the ransom price for believers.  The opposite is true:  the devil is bound and thrown into the pit and Christ reigns eternally.

The cross satisfied the curse of law

God is holy and his law is holy, but the law is not something on its own.  It was instituted by God to give us a glimpse on his holiness and righteousness. The demands of the law are the demands of God for holy living.

Daniel, in the chapter we read this morning, prayed this:

  1. He entreats God on the grounds of his covenant grace:  “The awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with all who love Him.”
  2. He confesses his sins and those of the people:  “We have sinned and done wrong.”
  3. He understands that God is righteous and we are unrighteous:  “Lord, You are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame.”  “You have fulfilled the words spoken against us.”
  4. God is gracious:  “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him.”
  5. We deserve God’s punishment:  “The curses of the covenant have been poured out on us.” 
  6. He pleads on the grounds of God’s righteousness, power and faithfulness:  “… our God who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”  “In keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath.”
  7. His is not hiding their sin:  “We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.”
  8. All about the glory of God:  “For your own sake do not delay.”

The so-called God-delimma

This presents what some people now refer to as God’s dilemma:  God is holy; we know it by his Law and we see it in his covenant stipulations.  On the other hand, man is sinful, unrighteous and deserving of punishment.  God demands righteousness and man in return cannot live righteously.  And God does not turn a blind eye on sin.  Someone puts it this way:  “God cannot abolish that moral constitution of things which He has established.”  God is not fair, for if He was, He would have forgiven us without demanding righteousness. God is not fair; He is righteous and holy, but also gracious.

So how does God solve this so-called dilemma?  Without a sacrifice there is no forgiveness of sin.  Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  He demanded the High Priest to go into the Most Holy and there sacrifice a perfect lamb and shed the blood of that lamb onto the altar.  Then there was forgiveness.  But the problem was that this had to be repeated over and over again.

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (Hebrews 9:9-10)

There was a cry for something better, something which would last into eternity and satisfy the righteousness of God altogether. This is now what we read about in Galatians 3:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:13-14)

Christ redeemed us from the Law in two ways:  He paid the price of our disobedience to the law, and therefore our rebellion against the righteousness of God, but He also meet the righteousness of God by living in accordance with the Law.  It is only by believing in Him and being clothed in his righteousness that we can be counted righteous as we ourselves accomplished that righteousness.

The cross satisfied the holiness of God

Our relationship with God does not rely independently on us, as if we are making the choice to serve God.  It is the other way round:  God sovereignly makes a covenant with us.  In this covenant He makes the rules and sets down the standards of living in relationship with Him.  We owe Him everything because He redeems us and promises to be our Father.  We sin when we do not serve Him rightly.  We take from his glory and want it for ourselves.  Sin is an insult to the holiness of God.  The problem then is that all of us have sinned.  We need to repay God and give him honour and glory, but sin robbed us from that possibility.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)

If we are to be forgiven, we must repay what we owe.  John Stott writes:

“Our present obedience and good works cannot make satisfaction for our sins, since these are required of us anyway.  So we cannot save ourselves.  Nor can any other human being save us.”

The only possible way out of this human dilemma is that there is no one who can make this satisfaction, except God Himself; but no one ought to make it except man, otherwise man does not make satisfaction.

On the cross hangs Jesus Christ:  his name is Jesus, because He is the Saviour born in Bethlehem who grew up in Nazareth and worked in a carpenter’s shop. But his name was also Christ, because He was the Messiah sent by God to bear the iniquities of his people.  When He gave Himself up He did not pay a debt, because He was sinless, but He died for the honour and glory of God.

Daniel prayed:  “For Your sake, O Lord, look with favour.”  The Lord made for Himself a name by saving the people out of bondage, and it is for the glory of that Name that God is called to restore his people by a righteousness only He can provide.

It is for the glory of that Name that Jesus died on the cross.  By nature people hate God and dishonour his Name, but when they find salvation in the cross of Christ, they live for the glory of that Name.  They can do it, because between them and the holy and righteous God stands a holy and perfect Saviour.  Through Christ a living relationship with God is possible, and more than that, it is demanded.

The cross satisfied God

When our Lord died on the cross, and when He cried out, “Why have Thou forsaken me?” God’s anger against sin is played out.

We cannot experience Crucifixion Friday or Resurrection Sunday if we cannot see the anger of God against sin.  God hates sin and in order to satisfy his righteousness against sin, God had to discharge of his anger by condemning do death the sinner.

2Corinthians 5 teaches us:

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-21)

Because Christ was made sin for us, God had no choice to bring upon Him the curse which was meant for us.  The wages of sin is death and as such Christ had to die by taking our sins upon Him in order to give us free life in God.

In this sense we learn from the Bible that God is true to Himself:  in order to satisfy Himself, the cross was a necessity. When we then say that Christ “shed his blood” we do not mean that He cut Himself and let some blood; we mean that He gave his life. And that He died. He paid our ransom and satisfied God.  He turned God’s anger upon us into God’s favour now seen in his grace.

Conclusion

Brothers and sister in the Lord, the cross is defining event in history. Without the cross on which our Lord died to become our righteousness there is no peace with God.  There is only eternal fear and punishment as a way by which the righteous and just God will deal with those who rebel against Him.  The Bible is not DIY book instructing us how to work out our salvation.  The Bible is about Christ as the only way to the Father.

These are the things we need to remember this time of Crucifixion Day and Resurrection Sunday. To this Saviour on the cross we must cling.

May God bless us richly.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on The Day of the Crucifixion, 18 April 2014

 

Towards the cross

Eye for eye – God’s demand for justice

 

Scripture Readings

  • 2Corinthians 5:11-6:2
  • Deuteronomy 19:15-21

Introduction

Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

It took me many years to work out what “brotherly love” meant.  Our household, like many others I suppose, represented your typical family where brothers got stuck into one another – and it did not always portray love between brothers.  Later in life I worked it out that sin was part of our daily life – but we still loved one another.  And it is almost if I can still hear Mom’s rebuke, that was when things got a bit hot, “Do not repay evil with evil!

Even a word from the Bible sometimes did not help when you knew that you had a case against your brother.  You just felt you wanted justice.

Then one day I read this passage in the Bible: “eye for and eye, hand for hand, foot for foot.”  I had my verse.  I had grounds for retaliation and revenge!

But is this the meaning of the verse?

In preparation for this sermon I read quite a few commentaries.  When it comes to this particular verse some of them just skip it.  There was one who argued that this verse, and the other places in the Bible where it is mentioned, is the most embarrassing in the Bible and should be removed, or not referred to at all.

I beg to differ.  It is my clear conviction that this verse underlies the reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Whilst reading this verse in Exodus 21:23-24, I wrote a comment:

This principle, I believe, lies behind the cross of Christ. He bore the punishment of God on all harm and injustice in his Person to satisfy the righteousness of God. 

Justice, not retaliation

Study the paragraph of Deuteronomy, and you will know that the setting is that of disputes in a court of law.  There is no hint of personal retaliation or vindictiveness.

I am the Lord your God

Above and over all the regulations and case laws that Moses gave to the people of the Lord, stood the Ten Commandments.  The top line reads, “I am the Lord your God.” No less than 76 times do we read this in the first five books of the Bible.  God has a claim on his people, and his people were different, living under a different law, and were saved from slavery to be the possession of the Lord, their God.

When it comes to the second table it speaks about the love for the neighbour: God’s people was driven by the first table, which is the love for God and God’s love for them.  All relationships between the people of God stood under the overarching principle of love.  One would honour your father and mother because God loves them, gave them to you, they love Him and you love Him.  One would not murder another person, because God loves him, he loves God and you love him.  The same applies to adultery, stealing, and lying in court:  God loves me, I love Him; He loves my neighbour and I should love my neighbour.

Sin distorts justice

So when we go back to Deuteronomy 19 these principles are assumed – but sinful nature gets in the way:  people do lie, justice is perverted and retaliation becomes a reality.  They needed priests, judges, a thorough investigation and a verdict.

Sin makes life difficult.  We hate, lie, steal, and covet.  We know the law, and yet we trespass; we need a judge, we need a verdict, we need justice,we need punishment.  We need and eye for an eye – not driven by retaliation or vindication, but because we need justice.

In the presence of the Lord

Ever wondered where the custom to take an oath and be sworn in as witness in a court of Law comes from?  Where does “So help me God” come from?

“our law (like that of most civilized nations) requires a witness to believe, not only that there is a God and a future state of rewards and punishments, but also that, by taking the oath, he imprecates upon himself, if his evidence is false” (Simon Greenleaf)

Witnesses, even in the day of Moses, had to understand that truth is universal, because God is omnipresent.  That’s why the witnesses of Deuteronomy stood “in the presence of the Lord.”  The priests and judges also sat in the presence of the Lord and had to measure out justice as God determined: they could only take the side of truth, not of the circumstance or the person.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

To stem the possibility of retaliation, and only seek justice, any person who felt that he was dealt with unjustly, could approach the judges and priests.  Then, even the quality and quantity of the witnesses were tested:  two or three who were there when the alleged injustice took place;  their statements had to be tested as the truth.  And if it is proved that the witness is corrupt, what he wanted to be done to the person charged, would be done to him.

Punishment fits the Crime

Until very recently this was a principle accepted by the courts.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot and life for life.  Justice demands that the penalty for a crime should not inflict harsher punishment than the crime called for.  We know of no case in the Scripture where this law demanded an actual eye, foot, or teeth, but the compensation sought by a person for injustice against him could be measured out only in as far as he received injustice.

Justice good for the people of God

“You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid. and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:20)

Much can be said about punishment dished out be courts in our days, but fact is many law-breakers do not fear the law, and citizens in general have not much respect for the law, purely because the penalty does not fit the crime.  It is wrong to try to get rid of a cat by putting it in a rubbish bin, but if you did and you get caught it, your punishment could be harsher that someone who raped and elderly person, or even killed a partner.  We do not even mention injustices which might be legal, but still horribly wrong:  think of abortions!

God instituted the law of eye for eye, foot for foot, tooth for tooth and life for life to be an example of justice; it was meant to be a deterrent.  It was not “correctional” as we have it these days; it was exemplary punishment.

God’s righteousness demands justice

Whoever thought this verse in the Bible is an embarrassment, or thought it gives every individual to exercise personal retaliation, has it wrong.  The only principle laid down here is that of justice.  Fact is, God’s righteousness demands justice.  This principle helps us to understand the cross and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

God’s righteousness and the cross

We are all sinners

The Bible is clear about our position before God:  “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Listen to Isaiah 59:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched. Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace. So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2–10, NIV)

All the sins mentioned here goes back to the Law of God, and as such, to the paragraph in Deuteronomy:  hands are stained with blood (guilty!); false lips (guilty!); no justice (guilty!); utter lies (guilty!); evil deeds (guilty!); violence (guilty!); evil schemes (guilty!).  The result?  Justice is far from us.  We are like dead!

This is the picture Paul paints in his letter to the Ephesians:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 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. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

God cannot turn a blind eye on sin

There is a principle in the Bible which may crush every sinner if it is not read in the full context of the cross of Christ.  It reads:

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:18–19, NIV)

God is merciful and abounding in love and forgiving sin, yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  It seems contradictory:  He forgives in love, but does not leave the guilty unpunished!

This is true of the Bible message from the beginning to end.  Anyone who wanted to approach the Lord on his own terms would be crushed.  Yes, God is merciful and forgiving, but He demanded that a sacrifice be brought:  the blood of lambs and bulls satisfied God’s judgment on sin in the Old Testament; without that there was no forgiveness.

God does not turn a blind eye to sin

Point is, God does not turn a blind eye to sin.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.  We demand justice, but we need justice.  How can we demand justice if we are born in sin, and utterly corrupted by sin?  How can we ask for forgiveness if we are unforgiving?  Can God just say, “I forgive you”, without penalty on sin?  Would He still be holy if He did so?  Would He still be righteous if He let the unrighteousness off the hook without repentance and punishment?  Such a God I don’t want to worship.

Eye for eye, life for life

God solved our problem, not because we deserved it, and not because He just forgives or overlooks sin.  He solved our problem by being just.  He punished in righteousness, not compromising his holiness.  He gave his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord to be our mediator.

When Jesus walked this earth He constantly referred to the fact that He would be handed over in the hands of sinners.  When He was brought before them, all rules of justice went out the window:  no proper witnesses, no truth in the allegations; lies conjured up by people off the street; an illegal court meeting in the middle of the night; bribes paid to witnesses.  They let robbers free to have Him crucified.  They had Him flogged even though they found no reason to do so. Even those who followed Him, lied about Him (Peter) and others deserted Him (the disciples).

When they nailed Him to the cross, He prayed to the Father that He would forgive them.  Then, He faced the righteousness of the Father:  justice called for eye for eye, tooth for tooth and life for life.  He cried out, “Why have Thou forsaken Me?

Paul understood the cross and the Saviour and writes:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 21) NIV)

In Christ the righteousness of God is met:  He paid for our big sins, the small ones and every one in between – eye for eye.  We might think it is not a big sin, but all our sins are an offence to the holiness of God and demands his righteous justice.  When Christ died in our place, the punishment fitted the crime, though He did not deserve it;  if He did not do it, we needed to do it – and the consequence would have been disastrous, because we are God’s enemies.

Conclusion

My dear friend in the Lord, Christ’s death on the cross is your vindication;  those who do not trust in Him for forgiveness will find the justice of God’s righteousness calling for retaliation: eye for eye, life for life.

Make sure that your life is save in Christ who took God’s judgement and became your righteousness.  When He returns He will vindicated those who suffered under unbelieving and oppressing regimes; and his enemy will be punished.  All because of justice.  Eye for eye, and life for life.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 13 April 2014

 

Doing Good (6)

Doing good to our enemy

 

Scripture Readings

  • 1 Samuel 24:1-13
  • Luke 6:27-36

Introduction

When Wycliffe translator Doug Meland and his wife moved into a village of Brazil’s Fulnio Indians, he was referred to simply as “the white man.” The term was by no means complimentary, since other white men had exploited them, burned their homes, and robbed them of their lands.

But after the Melands learned the Fulnio language and began to help the people with medicine and in other ways, they began calling Doug “the respectable white man.”

When the Melands began adapting the customs of the people, the Fulnio gave them greater acceptance and spoke of Doug as “the white Indian.”

Then one day, as Doug was washing the dirty, blood-caked foot of an injured Fulnio boy, he overheard a bystander say to another: “Whoever heard of a white man washing an Indian’s foot before? Certainly this man is from God!” From that day on, whenever Doug would go into an Indian home, it would be announced “Here comes the man God sent us.”

Love made the difference.

The call out of this world

Let’s try to pick up on the context of Luke 6.  On a Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields and his disciples began to pick some of the heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels.  This, to the Pharisees was unlawful and questioned Jesus about it.  Then on another Sabbath Jesus healed a man with a shrivelled-up hand.  This good deed put Jesus off-side with the Pharisees again.  What follows gives us a clue what this chapter is about:

“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9, NIV)

After Jesus had healed the man, the Pharisees “were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:11)

In the paragraph following Jesus called and named the apostles from amongst the number of disciples who already had been following Him. This event is crucial to the understanding of what follows in the chapter.

With the crowd of people who came to listen to Jesus and be healed by Him, He addressed “his disciples” (Luke 6:20).  Two things are significant here:

A different kingdom

Jesus called out his disciples and apostles, He looked at them, and taught them.  The “you” in the Sermon on the Mount is therefore not aimed at the world; the “you” are those who left everything behind to follow Jesus. (Luke 5:11, 28)  They are the ones who now stand between Christ and the crowd, between the Saviour and those who are still lost.  They are not mediators for them; only Christ can mediate between sinners and God; but Peter would now know what Jesus meant when He said he will make him a fisher of men (Luke 5:10). Amongst all the “Blessed are you …” phrases Jesus adds this one:

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. (Luke 6:22–24, NIV)

That would be a verse that I would leave out of my first sermon to now converts to a new church.  Just imagine how different seeker-sensitive churches are these days – give the consumeristic crowd a sugar-coated gospel, easy on the ear, and palatable to digest.  Tell them that to follow Jesus will them make them rich, influential and powerful.  What a disgrace and folly this consumeristic easy-going gospel is.

And if this is not enough, our Lord adds:

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26, NIV)

Woe to you…”  This verse is immediately followed by the command: “Love your enemies.”

The word enemy convey the inner disposition from which hostility arises, “hatred,” and means “hostility” as such.  What is happening here is the war between two kingdoms:  the church of the Lord Jesus Christ stands diametrically opposed to the kingdom of this world – these two kingdoms have different kings, different mindsets, different principles, different goals.

Where one is aimed at selfish gains, self-love, esteem and materialistic accomplishment, the other is opposed to it:  a disciple of Christ does not seek his self-interest or esteem; it is never about materialistic gain, but always about self-sacrifice.

Sent into the world

A consumeristic crowd

The crowd was representative of those who initially wanted nothing more of Jesus than temporary gain:  they were sick and wanted healing; they were possessed of evil spirit and wanted freedom; they wanted to touch Jesus “because power was coming from Him”.

The Gospels tell us that people followed Jesus for bread, but left Him when the fountain dried up; they listened to his teaching but walked away when things got personal, or if did not fit their idea of who the Messiah was, or what He was sent for; they were as easily taken along in spreading palm branches in shouts of “Hosannah!” before Him as He entered Jerusalem, as they were in shouting, “Crucify Him!”  

Our Lord knew that his disciples, and so his church in all ages, can easily fall victim to a crowd who’s mind is not attuned to the kingdom of God.  When things do not go their way, the very same people will turn around and become enemies – fearsomely and vindictively opposing all the Kingdom stands for.  They easily hurl insults and mistreat God’s children.

Enemy

It is now important to understand that “enemy” and doing good to “those who hate” us do not mean we have to deal with people who don’t like us.  All of us know people who just don’t like us.  In their eyes we speak too loud or too much, they dislike our fashion tastes, we listen to a different kind of music, we don’t like the colours they like, or we follow different footy teams.  And let’s be honest, we don’t always like them for the same reasons.

The “enemy” in this paragraph of the Bible does not refer to the fellow who is off-side with with me because of personal preferences, choices or disappointments.  The “enemy” here is in the first instance not my enemy, but the enemy of the Gospel.  Enemies of the Gospel might dislike and hate me personally without understanding that they actually hate the cause for which I stand as a disciple of Christ.

Verse 27 is an interesting one.  It begins with, “But I tell you who hear Me.”  Of course the disciples were close enough to Jesus to hear Him, and this phrase does not mean that those who couldn’t hear Him had no obligation to do as He commanded.  This “hear” is to take to heart what Jesus is saying; it is something that dare not be forgotten when someone is considering the blessings and the woes of the previous paragraph.  Jesus is singling out the true believers. To them, as the blessed ones, all that He now says applies. A new life-principle dominates their hearts: that of the kingdom of God.

Disciples of Christ will show their presence in the most distinctive and tangible way to the world. The fruits of repentance which Jesus names are those which the world cannot achieve by any ethics it may invent or practice.

Love your enemies

This “love” is special:

It sees all the hatefulness and the wickedness of the enemy, feels his stabs and his blows, may even have something to do to ward them off; but this fills the loving heart with only the one desire and aim to free its enemy from his hate, to rescue him from his sin, and to save his soul. (Lenski, R.C.H., 1961. The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House. 

How do we express our love for our enemies?  It seems to me verse 27 speaks of three ways our love should respond, and the tense of these commands in Greeks speaks of actions based on ongoing princples:

[Continue] to do good

The Pharisees interpreted the Law of God to fit their bill.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” (Matthew 5:43)  That’s easy!  Our Lord gave the original meaning of the Law back:  “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44–45, NIV)  That’s exactly what He did!

To those who detest and abhor us for being Christians we must continually do good.  Overcoming this hate is to keep meeting it with kind deeds.  If our enemy goes on hating in spite of us doing good, our conscience will be clear, we shall be showing the true spirit of the disciple, and the Lord’s favour will be ours.

[Continue] to bless them

The enemy of the cross can sometimes be vicious.  The word “curse” has the meaning of calling on a supernatural force to condemn.  This this not imply that enemies of the cross really have someone powerful to call upon, but it expresses the hatred which they have for the church.  We see the hatred of Muslims against Christians all over the world today.  Allah is invoked to pour judgement on the so-called infidels. Then, the command comes, “bless them” – it means the opposite of what they are doing:  they curse, we bless. It is not always easy, but the heart of the Christian always want that God may do him all manner of good.  Our prayers for their blessing in the Name of the Almighty God must act as a counter attack on their prayers to condemn us.

Brother Andrew of Open doors says:

“…as followers of Christ, we must take a bold step: we must shed the ‘enemy image’ we have of those who persecute us. Because the moment we have an enemy image of anyone, God’s love can no longer work through us to reach them! We must pray for and even love those who hate us.”

[Continue] to pray for them

The buzz word of our day is “human rights”.  It is surely not implied in this verse, but can be paraphrased this way:  “When your enemies treat you inhumanely, pray for them.”  Our Lord sets the example, “Father forgive them.”

Be different

God’s people are different from this world. We need to love one another, we need to do good to one another, and sometimes we find it extremely hard to do that. The everyday-Christian is renowned for back-biting and lovelessness.

The true disciple of Christ has a different principle at work in him:  he goes beyond the expectation of everyone and loves and does good to those who do not deserve his love and good deeds.  It requires patience, forbearance, willingness to forego our rights and to suffer wrong in order to overcome the evil with good.  Indeed, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, who endured all the insults and still loved to the end – to save those who were once his enemies.

About all television drama of our day has as retribution as theme – even family cooking shows.  It is seen as a virtue to get even.  But the biblical principle is, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)

It is better to sometimes let go of one’s rights to be treated well, or one’s possessions and money not returned to you, than to let passions and wrong desires possess the soul. Jesus speaks here about his disciples; the enemy who wrongs the disciples will have to deal with God.

We are different because, as verse 35 puts it, we are sons of the Most High.  No one will ever understand the love of the Father who loved an undeserving world full of sinners.  No one will ever understand why He love us so much that He sent his Son to die for sinners.  Our verse says He is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

What a statement:  the word “ungrateful” describes everything which is opposite to the very nature of God.  Our Father is good, kind, compassionate, forgiving, merciful; the sinner is bad, nasty, self-centred mean-spirited, and merciless. God is love, pure, holy, faithful; the sinner is wicked, cruel and abominable – yet, God forgives this enemy and him He turns into his child.

God commands us to merciful too.  What a calling!

Conclusion

Our Lord is not hiding from us that we will have enemies in this world.  They hated Him, they will hate us too.  “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12–13, NIV)

This is the world we live in.  This is the world we need to live as disciples of Jesus Christ:  we are called out of this world, we are sent into this word – but we must live differently!

May God help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 6 April 2014