The lonely barber

It was time for a haircut.  I’ve been to this barber before and was impressed by his old-style professionalism.  His wealth of local knowledge was another drawcard.

The narrow alley to his shop was almost void of any pedestrian traffic, and as I walked into his shop I found the old man sitting on an old leather couch, bent forward as he read the daily newspaper.  Or had he nodded off?

“Do you have time to cut my hair today?” I asked.

“My customers have deserted me.  I’ve been open for two hours already and no one has come in yet.”

I remembered seeing the hand-written sign out on the kerb.  “Barber open Sundays and Tuesdays. 9.00am – Noon.”  The letters in different colours of chalk seemed to be written by a hand who knew the spelling, but lost its steadiness between points.

“Well, then I’m the lucky guy today,” and followed his gesture to sit in the grand old leather chair with shiny steel lattice footrest.

In front of me an array of scissors, combs and brushes were neatly arranged on dark green narrow pieces of towels.

He took my glasses off, carefully collapsed the sides and rested them on an open space on the towels.

The mirror in front of my reflected the face of a man well over seventy behind me.

“I’ve been in this business for more than forty five years now.  I choose to keep working, but have cut it back to two days per week.  I’m seventy seven this year.”

The way he selected and handled the scissors surely tells the story of a master of the trade.

“How do you want me to cut it?”

“There’s not much on top, but don’t cut the rest too short, thanks.”

He draped the barber’s mantle over my shoulder, took a sheet of paper towel, folded it neatly and tucked it between the mantle and my neck before he pulled the velcro tight.

With remarkable speed he sniped-sniped-sniped the scissors – all in the air.  That was just the warm-up.

“I used to have enough customers to have the shop open for six days a week.  People came in from the smaller towns too, but they have deserted me.  I wonder if I should just shut the doors and walk away.”

I tried to comfort him.  “May people do not even cut their hair these days; the styles changed. It’s become fashion to have one’s hair unkempt.  And others just do it themselves.  You can tell by the untidiness of the young folk’s hair, can’t you.”

He was not fishing for comfort, neither was he looking for an solution to his problem.

For a while the only sound was the clicking of the blades of the scissors.

He broke the silence by telling me and abbreviated version of his life story.  After migrating from Italy following the war, the two newly weds settled in one of our of capital cities, but later, for the good of the two children, they decided to move out to our town.

“It was good then.  It took some time to get to know people, but we were well received.  And the kids loved it.”

He carefully selected another pair of scissors, and even chose another comb.

“They finished school and left to go back to the big smoke, leaving us alone.”

Alone.  Deserted.  The words rang in my ears.

From what I saw in the mirror he should have been finished by now.  But there were apparently some hair on the back of my head that needed more attention.

“One came to visit us last week.  She just left this morning.  It was terrible!”

“I know. We always find it hard to see our lot go after a visit”, I chipped in.

“No, not that.  The whole week with her here was terrible.   We quarrelled all the time.  All of the past and all the mistakes we make rearing them were brought up, over and over again.”

I was beginning to wonder if my ears were safe in the way of the sharp blades of the scissors, now markedly unsteady in his hands.

“It happens all the time.  My wife stopped talking, and I am left to do the fending.  I’m tired of doing it.  Maybe if it’s better if she does not come to visit again.  Just leave us alone.”

It’s funny how the Lord sometimes put you in a position where you don’t have a choice but pastorally care for people.

I tried, “Well, you have some grandchildren.”

“No!”  I traced helplessness in his voice.  “There is only one, but we may not contact him, and he is barred from contacting us.  We haven’t  seen him in four years.  We can only sent money for Christmas presents.”

Why me, Lord?, I secretly asked.  Why do I have to listen to this angry tirade of a lonely barber?  I gathered my thoughts as I heard the words of the apostle, “Make the best of every opportunity …”

“This is where we have to apply our faith,” I said.  “God is a God of the lonely and forgotten.  He is always listening when we pour our our grief and sorrow at his feet.”

“I do go to mass from time to time, but I think I should stop doing that too.  My wife is nagging me to go every day.  Why?  God is not listening. And He abandoned my children!”

I was sure there was nothing on my head to be cut any shorter, yet he picked up another smaller pair of scissors, which disappeared in my ears and my nose.

“Oh, boy,” I thought.  “Just take it slow.  At least I visited your shop today!”

“I’m ready to give it all away.  A life of hard work, rearing children who now turn their backs on us, relatives who died in my homeland, and customers who left me alone.”

Maybe he should ask someone else to write more steadily on his chalkboard; the shaky handwriting might scare some customers away, especially if one keeps in mind the sharp scissors and the barbers razor.

Speaking of it.  He gave a step towards mirror and picked up the sharpest instrument in his shop.  With remarkable skill he unfolded the blade, grabbed what seemed like a leather belt hanging from a hook and swiped the blade forwards and backwards over the belt to give it an even better cutting edge.

It was time for me to say something, not only to help him not to injure me, but to calm his heart.  As he was scraping the blade to line the edges down the hairlines of my neck, I said, “Christmas is coming.  And it’s the story of God showing mercy to lonely and lost sinners by giving us his Son.  Perhaps you have reached a point in your life where you need to put your hand in the hand of Him who died and was raised to make us His children and give us joy.  You now that carol, ‘Joy to the world’, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, trust Him who knew loneliness better than any of us.”

I could also tell Him about Christ who cried out, “Why have You forsaken Me!”, but left it to the Spirit of God to convince my old barber that a living faith in Christ is what his heart was crying out for.

With a tearing sound he undid the velcro of the mantle, removed the paper towel, puffed some powder onto my neck and brushed it away.

At the counter our hands exchanged money, and I noticed that the till was empty.

And so was his heart.  And mine.

May the words of the Gospel reverberate in his mind when he hears, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

Written by D. Rudi Schwartz

 

Priorities mixed up

Series Title: “From wrack and ruin to blessing and beauty”

Scripture Readings

  • Revelation 2:1-7
  • Haggai 1

Introduction

Can God really save?

You grew up with the idea that you are different; your family is different, and your people are different.  For as long as you can remember your mother has been telling you that you are a member of God’s own people, and that you should not mix with children and people who worship other gods.

For as long as you can remember the history of your family and people has been recited to you, and the great deeds of the God of heaven are told when you prepare for the day to begin and when you go to bed at night.

But deep in you little mind you are struggling with questions which seem that even your parents have struggled with:  where is this wonderful God?  Why can’t you worship Him freely?   Why are you not living in the land this God promised with an oath to your forefathers?  Why is everyone who carries the name of you people as slave.  If God is this wonderful and good, why the tyranny and slavery of your people?

Your people have been in slavery for more than one generation.  The king under which they were driven from the Promised Land has been replaced by another from another kingdom, ostensibly even more brutal.  The odds of being free again, of being back in your homeland, speaking your own language, and even more important, to worship the God of your forefathers in the place of worship He promised will stand forever, are not stacking up.  Your parents have a living hope, but quite honestly you doubt.  The probability of a political solution is zero.  It might be just better to convert to the religion of the people who hold you captive!

God’s plan in action

But then, out of the blue, the new king changed policy:  you and your people may go home, you may freely associate with those who worship the same God, you may once again speak freely and worship in the temple of your God.  More than this, the king has ordained that your people must be treated differently, given special treatment, and he even announced that money from his treasury must pay for the rebuilding of your place of worship, which was destroyed by your enemy some 70 years before!

Why all this?  Your God, who control all kings and kingdoms, moved the heart of this godless king  in favour of your people.

Your people were arranged in family groups, and even the religious leaders were appointed according to their linage.  Moreover, the special golden objects taken from your place of worship were handed back with the express purpose of being put to use as soon as that place was rebuilt.

Oh, the joy of being free and saved!  Throngs of people sang songs of worship as they travelled back, crossing one hill after the other, and crossing one creek after the other.

Rebuild the ruins

Great was the joy of all the travellers to arrive back in your homeland only to find that no-one was missing and all the objects of worship were protected and safe.  O, the greatness of God!  His Name must be blessed and worshipped forever!

When the people got to the place of worship where so many generations worshipped the God of heaven and earth, people broke out in crying and lamenting.  What happened to the most beautiful place of worship in the world?  All that was left were rubble and heaps of broken stone.  The only thing visible were the foundations of this once-glorious building.

The leaders called everyone together.  “We must rebuild this place.  God is with us and He made it possible for us to be back again.  Go, find the farms and homes of your ancestral families, settle in and we will begin with this work.  We must worship God and thank Him for his long-suffering, mercies and grace towards his people.”

The people were filled with jubilation and hope.  “God is with us!”

They almost just put their belongings back in the shattered homes their grand-parents grew up in, and returned to the place of worship to start rebuilding it. Other people of other religions had settled in some of the towns, and they have been living there for more than one generation.

Opposition and bad times

But as soon as the work on the temple started, those who worshipped other gods began with a strategy of opposition.  It was terrible.

“Maybe we understood it wrongly.  Maybe we should first settle in our different towns and cities first, see that our own crops are growing, see that we increase our flocks, and see that we are financially and otherwise stronger to withstand the enemy before we continue with the place of worship.”  It seems as if most people thought they could not be on the building site while paying attention to their own daily needs at the same time.

Drought set it.  Crops failed.  Business was bad.  Inflation eroded the value of the currency.  And on top of all things, the security situation got worse everyday.

Maybe later

“God is reasonable, fair and gracious to understand that we cannot continue with his work if we don’t have the means to do so.  Did He not say that a man must look after his family first?  It is not that we do not believe in Him – we still have our devotions from time to time, and we surely is thankful for the fact that we are back in our own country, but the conditions are tough, and we find it hard to make ends meet now.  It will get better one day, and then we will restore the place of worship.”

Every penny the people got from selling something, and every hour of every day went into restoring their homes and putting their lives back together.

In the end the work on the temple stopped – completely, for quite some time.

And the conditions got worse.  Opposition to your people just being there increased.  Famine spread.  “Maybe, we should not have returned from where we come from.  We had it better there.  Surely we could not worship freely, but it was better then than now!”

God’s voice

But then – who knows where this man came from, and what his background was? – Haggai appeared on the scene.  He claimed to be a prophet of the God of the forefathers.  He had the audacity to walk up to our leaders and deliver some sort of a prophecy.  It was not kind, and lacked all forms of diplomacy.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ” (Haggai 1:2, NIV)

But he used the same words as some of the prophets of many years ago.  “This is what the Lord Almighty says.” And the people listened.  He was from the God of hosts – all forces, powers, kingdoms and authority know to man are under his control – the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  When He speaks, you listen, you bow down in worship!

Never doubt God’s timing

“These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ”

It was not that they were against building the temple, it was just not the best time to do so!

But the implication of the words of the prophet was that God thought it was the right time.

By reinterpreting God’s timing we can sometimes be so wise that we do four things:  we forget who God is; we forget what our salvation is about; we inhibit the work of God, and most importantly, we miss the splendour of his communion and presence.  In short, we lose sight of the greatness of his Person and the power of his love.

The presence of the Lord

Why was it so important for them to restore the temple?  Even Solomon knew this truth:

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27, NIV)

So what was it about the temple?  Listen:

May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. (1 Kings 8:29, NIV)

The ark of the Lord was in the Host Holy Place.

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. Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that He would dwell in a dark cloud; I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever. (1 Kings 8:10–13, NIV)

The temple was symbol of God presence with his people.  And this is what the returned refugees lost sight of!  God was pushed onto the back burner.  “Not now, God, but later, yes!”

And God says, “Now, or there is no later!”

What we sometimes forget is that God can never not be present.  Yes we can act as if He is not important, we can try to push Him aside, or leave his work for later.  But who are we to dictate to God?  Who are we to think we can stop God from having in influence in what we do?  Listen:

I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands.” (Haggai 1:11, NIV)

God is not absent when the drought comes; He is in it.  He brought it on and caused it to happen.  He is in control of the economy and the inflation, and in politicians making bad decisions, in the low cattle prices and the high cost of stock feed, diesel and electricity.

Think about what you’re doing

Not once, but over and over again Haggai drew the people’s attention to what they’re doing.  And it was plainly the wrong way round.  They had the cart before the horse; they drove the header and the picker backwards into the crop and complained that there was nothing to pick or gather in the bin!

Not only did it cause financial inflation, but also spiritual inflation.  Nothing worked out.  Everything they did became a daily struggled just to survive – and even that was not working out.

Year after year we have had drought after drought in our land.  And every time our community finds itself in a bind, we look ways to get out of trouble.  We blame all things: the government, low commodity prices, high costs, and now – climate change.  I’m the last to draw a straight line between bad economic, agricultural, political and even security situations.  But I surely think it’s time we heed the word of God:  Give careful thought to your ways!  Think what you’re doing.  It seems as if our world is constantly chasing after what can never satisfy.

Build my house

Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the Lord. (Haggai 1:8, NIV) 

Get your priorities right.  It is not that we should not have things keeping us busy, but it is the order of things.  Who and what comes first?

To build the house is to have God smack bang in the centre of our lives; from there all things are prioritised.  To build the house of God is to understand that his will comes first, that obedience and dedication to Him stands above our own plans and schemes.  To build the house is not to have a neat and tidy church building; it does not even in the first instance mean that we should be involved in evangelistic and missionary outreach.  All of these things will come to nothing if God is not in the centre of our existence.  Ephesus, as we hear in our reading this morning have forsaken their first love.  They has a wonderful ministry going, but they lost their love for God, and God called them to repentance, warning that He would remove them from amongst the churches should they not do so.

To build the temple in the days of Haggai meant restored worship:  they would be once again sacrifices, sin forgiven, fellowship offerings and the hearing of the word of God.  Without the temple communication with god was cut off.

When Jesus came, He showed the way:  the temple had no meaning in his sacrifice, because He was the sacrifice, the High Priest and the way to God.

With building the house, the church of the new Testament will enjoy their buildings, laud their programs, marvel in their outreaches, invite others to their spectacular worship services – but all would be nothing more than the activities of a religious club, because Jesus Christ is not the Cornerstone, the One loved above all things.

I sometimes think about the child driven from the music class to the gymnastic practice, and then again to the ballet and the athletics – all meant for his good.  But one day he would cry for his parents to just stay home and give him or her a hug and assure him or her of their love.  Is it possible that God could ask us in amongst all our “ministries”, “Yes, but do you really love Me?

We need to stop and think what we doing.  “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all the others things will be added unto you.”  That is the house we should be building – the rest – all our glorious ministries – will then bear fruit.

I am with you

… the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. (Haggai 1:12, NIV)

This is the reaction our Lord is calling for:  obedience and holy trust.  What happens next is important:

Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. (Haggai 1:13, NIV)

God stirred them up, they trusted Him and they began with the work.  It took only three weeks for them to cut the first timber – and God blessed their work.

I am with you.  Immanuel – Christ born for us.

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)

This Christ, our Lord said:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV)

He brought us home from slavery and bondage.  He is with us – this is what we will hear in the message of Christmas.

He call us to think about what we’re doing.  Give careful though to your ways!  Get your priorities right!

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 November 2015

 

The best for last

Series Title:  “Better things are coming”

Scripture Readings

  • 2Chronicles 12:1-12
  • 1 Peter 5:5-11

Introduction

My dear fellow believers in Christ Jesus,

Like all children I always wondered why the dessert is served last.   Why the need to eat the cabbage, broccoli, spinach and the pumpkin first, while the ice cream and custard  have to wait till last?  Does a child have to suffer through “bad” stuff to get to the “good” stuff.  And Mom was adamant about it, if there was still veggies on your plate, forget about the dessert – even if it took hours, with Mom knitting a full part of a jumper sitting across the table.  In the end one learns too swallow the veggies as soon as possible because it means that you will have the ice cream still frozen, not having to drink it.

What seems “bad” for any child is usually good.  And the same applies to Christian life.  Our “bad” times are for our good.  The believers whom Peter addressed in his letter experienced the same:  they suffered under the hands of godless people, and if they had the choice, they would rather go straight to heaven and cut out the suffering part.  Peter instructed them that, like gold and silver, they needed to be cleansed.

Humility under the mighty hand of God

Submission

We’ve come across the idea of submission in our study of this letter, haven’t we?  Peter returns to it.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:6, NIV)

All of us know this old song:

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

when you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait to look in the mirror

cause I get better looking each day.

To know me is to love me

I must be a hell of a man.

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

but I’m doing the best that I can. 

The reality of a life of suffering is that one can upset with God.  When things are not going to what we mapped out for ourselves we start pointing the finger at God and accuse Him of not being loving and kind.  “Why, Lord!  Why do I need to go through this?  How can You say You love me and then take me through this suffering and unhappiness?

How can Mom say she loves me and then withhold the ice cream from me, having me eat cabbage?

When this form of bitterness springs up in my heart I better learn from the words of Peter.  “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Humility

Someone writes that humility is that to the Christian which holiness is to God.  He says

“humility is the coil in the Christian’s loom; all other graces, whether of a lively or sombre hue, are the yarn, by which the piece is transformed.  But from beginning to end, humility permeates it all.”

Rehoboam and his people resisted God and became proud.  The Lord sent the enemy against them, which plundered the temple of the Lord and took all the treasurers of gold which Solomon in this splendour put there.  It was a complete disaster.  What happened then?  The prophet Shemaiah took the message of God to them:  “You have abandoned God, now He is abandoning you.”  And then this verse:

The leaders of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, “The Lord is just.” (2 Chronicles 12:6, NIV)

What follows speaks of the grace of God:  When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, this word of the Lord came to Shemaiah:

“Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance. (2 Chronicles 12:7, NIV)

We remember the parable of our Lord.  There was the Pharisee and the tax collector.  Both of them prayed.  the Pharisee rattled off all his good deeds.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (Luke 18:11–12, NIV)

It was a different story with the tax collector;  he had only one line in his prayer:

He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13, NIV)

How does our Saviour look at these two people?

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14, NIV)

Suffering

Suffering is temporary.  A friend of mine visited a lady of his congregation in hospital.  She was terribly ill and suffered a lot of pain.  He ministered to her and prayed for her.  He thanked God for the pain and the suffering He has sent the way of that lady.  When he finished his prayer, she was visibly angry with him.  How dare he thank God for her illness and suffering.  He paged through the bible to Philippians 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7, NIV)

He cares for you

Suffering serves a purpose in the great plan of God.  The good advise of the Word of God is this:  when we are perplexed and filled with anxiety – like Rehoboam and his officials in the face of the Egyptian king Shishak – when we can’t see the purpose of the suffering, and when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, then:

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7, NIV)

What!?  I am suffering!  Just be calm, sober-minded and self-controlled.  Focus upon the fact that He who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light, He who says if you put your trust in the precious Cornerstone you will never be put to shame, his Word stands forever.  Yes, He cares for you, trust Him; believe Him, entrust your life to Him.

The devouring lion

If you don’t and start to waver now, just keep this in mind:

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

He is ready to hear your groaning against the will of the Lord in your life -even if it includes suffering.  He is ready to once again whisper in your ear, “Did God really say…?”  When we start doubting the will of God in our lives, he stands ready to rip us to pieces.  No, resist him, stand firm in your faith.  Why?  You’re not the first Christian, and you won’t be the last to go through suffering.  Listen:

“ …because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:9, NIV)

Further:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. (Hebrews 12:7–8, NIV)

The best for last

The God of all grace

Verse 10 takes us back to the God who called, who sustains, who made us part of his household.  He is the God of all grace.  Grace has no true meaning outside of the actions of God.  the Old Testament uses a word chesed which encompasses all of God’s love, his long-suffering, mercy, and grace.  This is what Peter has in mind in this text.  We can say: all the acts of God which took us, who deserved nothing from Him, to be his own through the saving work of Jesus Christ – that is grace.  It is boundless grace, from the beginning to the end.

In Christ Jesus

What God did in grace was done in Chris Jesus, his only begotten Son.  By faith in Him we are joined and united with Him.  What He experienced by faith becomes our experience – we don’t need to go through the same experience.  The Father looks at those who are by faith united to the son as if they did what only the Son could do.  He died and paid the penalty for sin because we couldn’t ;  He rose in victory from the dead because we could, but in the eyes of God those who cling to Him as their only righteousness and salvation achieved what Christ achieved.  And now this:  Because Christ ascended into heaven to the right hand of God the Father, God the Father bestows honour and security, as well as authority, on believers.  In fact, all the blessings of the Covenant of God fulfilled and sealed in the blood of Christ, now become the blessings to the people saved by Christ.

This is precisely what our verse (10) conveys:

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10, NIV)

God brings all things under Him

A perfect conclusion

God Himself – not by proxy or passed-on authority to angels or any other celestial being – after this temporary suffering we might go through (yes: in the big scheme of things earthly suffering is only “for a little while” – there is a definite limit to our suffering) – God himself will restore us.  A better choice of word here is “to bring to conclusion”, or “bring something to the point of purpose”, or to “perfect, bring to a closing”.

What seems without purpose now will then be seen as perfect; the loose ends with so many question marks will then be tied into the the neat master piece of God where we will see exclamation marks.

Reaching maturity

I many ways we are just children in faith.  Peter called us in chapter 2 to grow up from being new-born babies in faith by the Word of God.  But all of us are on our way.  After all of this God’s work of salvation in Christ will take us to the full stature of Christ where we will be made strong and reach maturity.

Firm and steadfast

We need to become pillars in the temple of our Lord.  That requires strength and steadfastness.  Here we stumble and tremble, but then, when things will be brought to fulfilment in the Christ God will make us strong, firm and steadfast so we will be able to do all things to his will and purpose.

The all-powerful God

Omnipotent

This takes us to the climax of the teaching of this letter:  God and his omnipotent power.  Think about it: nothing can stand against God.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39, NIV)

Not bound by time

“For ever and ever” – He created time and is not prisoner of time or space.  No other creature his this power.  And God Himself, because of what Christ did for lost sinners, will take us into this timeless glory where we will bow before Him to whom all things brings glory.  And we will call Him “Father” – for ever and ever.

My dear fellow-believers, look up!  Better things are coming

Conclusion

A dying member of his church called her minister to talk about her funeral.  They discussed the hymns and Bible readings and the place of her grave. She then had this last request.  “No flowers, please.  I just ask that you put a dessert spoon on my coffin.  it must be clear for every one to see.  And if they ask you what that means, just tell them I looked forward to the sweetness of the dessert of being with God.

Better things are coming.  Amen

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 November 2015

My funeral, my life

Series title:  “Better things are coming”

Scripture Readings

  • Romans 6:1-14
  • 1 Peter 4:1-6

Introduction

There’s only one thing more sure than life, and that is death.

Death is so final.  The time of death can’t really be postponed to create opportunities for the person who is dying or for the close relatives to put things right.  It is only in very rare occasions that people have this opportunity.  But once death has arrived, it’s all over.  Those who are left behind can speak, but there is no reaction from the one who just passed away.

Death is decisive and absolute.  There is this final moment of moving from this world into the next.  There is the final heartbeat and the final breath.  Once death has stepped in, it’s over; nothing can beat or cheat death; it always has the last say, and it leaves human beings speechless in its power.

Death is certain.  Apart from Enoch and Elijah, who did not die the normal, but was taken to God by Himself, death has a 100% success rate.  It’s inescapable.  It was not so from the beginning, but man’s rebellion and sin against God brought death into our world, and life on earth has become a painful place.  If God left man to himself he would live in misery and he would die in misery.  Nothing would have any meaning, not even meaning itself.

Spiritual death – a life without Christ

Apart from dying physically, every person born into this life has to reckon with the fact that he/she is spiritually dead.  Not only does our heart stop beating and do we stop breathing and do our bodies become lifeless, but spiritually we are headed for a spiritual death, the second death.

The non-Christian or non-believer in God, is controlled by human desires.  This is the “me”-life.  It’s about what I want for myself; it’s self-termination and a life determined by what my heart desire.

It’s a life of thumbing the nose at God.  When it’s all about me and my desires, it quickly becomes an immoral life.  I become the standard of who I do and what is right.

Verses 3-4 of 1 Peter 4 refers to (1) sexual sins—indecency, lust; (2) sins displaying a lack of restraint—drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties; and (3) wrong religious practices—disgusting worship of idols.

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. (1 Peter 4:3–4, NIV)

Drunkenness conveys not only excessive drinking, but habitual intoxication Orgies describes the result of excessive drinking; another way of expressing it is excessive feasting, wild parties. Drinking parties is similar to orgies, but one is result of drunkenness, and the other provides the occasion for it. Included in the word is the idea of drinking competitions to see who can drink the most. I get a vision pub crawls. Wild parties used to be the exception; it seems as if people are now creating reasons to have it.  Going to a sporting event now has become the reason to be drunk and drugged.  One’s heart cringes to think ahead of the coming Christmas season!

To better understand what Peter is conveying here one can combine the meanings of orgies and drinking parties.  It’s not uncommon in our day for people to habitually and specifically create occasions to get together to drink a great deal and act in a shameful manner, and almost consider it as a human right to be drunk and become immoral and disgustingly silly.

Peter refers to a flood of dissipation.  Literally it means to pouring out, or to overflow, like a river which bursts its banks; here it refers to the overflowing in immoral acts. The way of life of the prodigal son was reckless (Luke 15:13, the same word is used there). Paul uses the same word when he writes:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18, NIV)  

Applied to the life of an elder, Paul writes:

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (Titus 1:6, NIV)

The flood of dissipation describes a person who no longer cares about anything as long as he can enjoy the pleasures of life. In reckless living he lives a life without any limits, or living in such a way as to fulfil every desire of his body.  We live in the “who cares” generation.  In other words, living without concern for the consequences of what one is doing.  This was the way hippies chose to live.  Of course one can only live this way if some others don’t:  at the least the doctor, nursing staff, police and the ambulance driver need to be responsible and sober-minded!

Living such a life is to be a nothing, a non-entity in the eyes of God.  Peter writes in 2:10:

Once you were not a people … once you had not received mercy … (1 Peter 2:10, NIV)

This leads to judgement.

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:5, NIV)

Some who heard the message of the Gospel did not respond to the grace of God and they died.  Peter says:

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6, NIV)

What does it say?  They hear the Gospel; they reject the grace of the Gospel call; they die; what they did in their bodies stand as judgement against them; and at the day of judgement God will deal with them applying the standards of his eternal judgement.  Spiritual death leads to the second death, which is eternal and like physical death final, irreversible, and certain.

Spiritual Funeral

The verse we look at now is 1Peter 4:1

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. (1 Peter 4:1, NIV)

It’s the last part of this verse we need to look at now.  “… whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.

Paul helps us to understand this better:

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:2, 6–7. NIV)

Paul continues:

… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:11–13, NIV)

Back to 1Peter 4:1-2.  One of the marks of a Christian is his union with Christ.  He is willing to suffer with Christ, for Christ and like Christ – but thank God, not the same way Christ suffered, and surely not for the same reason and purpose.

This verse implies that anyone who in his/her walk and witness as Christian suffers physically at the hands of those who reject Christ has turned his back on sin, and no longer has any desire to keep on sinning.  He has said no to sinning and has turned away from sinning.  This takes us back to chapter 2:11

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11, NIV)

There we have seen that this abstain has the meaning of being satisfied with what what one has in Christ.  The Christian is not controlled by his own desires, but now lives under the control of God’s will.

This life-changing event makes to non-Christian wonder.  Why not enjoy the so-called good things in life?  You choose to become one of those who can’t enjoy yourself!  What’s wrong with you?  And you call what we do wrong?  Come one, just one night of wild parties, what can go wrong?  If a wild night results in the conception of a child, just abort it!   Do you really tell me that you will forever be satisfied with one woman or man?  Are you keeping your body from enjoying what everyone enjoys?

I find it interesting that a so-called scientific study has now found that being homophobic is the result of something that is psychologically wrong, which calls for treatment.  Those who practice homosexuality just do what is naturally right!  In a matter of a short space of time right has become wrong, and wrong has become right.

But living under the grace of God changes everything.  It changes the way I look at things, the way I laugh and what I laugh about; I changes the way I choose my friends and who I hang out with;  it changes the way in which I spend my money;  and moreover, the saving grace of God changes the way I spend my time. My previous life was a waste of time, it was a waste of oxygen and energy.  God loves me in Jesus Christ and gave me eternal life, and I owe my life to Him:  I need to love Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength and all my mind.

Conclusion

I met this lady in Sydney.  I was billeted to her during one of the Assemblies.  She was well into her seventies.  I was surprised to see many theological and other very good Christian books on her bookshelf in the sitting room.

The way she spent her days also intrigued me:  every day of the week was filled activities connected to the church of which she was a member – Bible studies, hospital visitation, evangelism, caring for those in need, feeding the hungry.

I asked her one night to tell me more about her life in the Lord.  She told me her husband had become very ill and ended up in hospital, terminally ill.  At that stage he was not a Christian, but the pastor of the church of her daughter came to visit him and led him to Christ.  He died in peace knowing that his sins were forgiven.  At his funeral the same pastor preached.  The pastor told the story of how her husband repented of his sins, confessed it to the Lord and asked for forgiveness, accepting God’s grace in Christ.  He then said, “We will  join him in heaven one day.”  Next to her were her daughter and son-in-law, a minister himself.

My lady-host said God worked it in her heart to understand that if she wanted to see her husband again, let alone see Christ and God and heaven, she must do the same:  before the sun set that day she confessed her sins to God and received the grace of Christ.  She was a new person.

Then she said to me,

“I have wasted a lot of time in my life.  There is so much to know about God, and I can’t stop reading about Him; there are so many people who do not know God, and I can’t stop helping them to learn more about his love and forgiveness.”  

Her life without Christ was spiritual death, aimed at herself – but it led her nowhere.  Her turning to Christ was her spiritual funeral – there she said no to sin and she became obedient to the will of God; she learned to reckon that she was dead to sin.  She heard the Gospel call and she responded with her whole life.  Her life in Christ was the beginning of her walk to eternal glory.  She was prepared. She knew better things were coming.

I enquired about her when I saw her son-in-law last time.  He told me she went into glory with God.

The big question now today:  have you been to your spiritual funeral?  Are you living a life to the glory of God where only his will counts?  Can you face the ridicule of the world and the sufferings of a Christian? Do you do so because by faith you know better things are coming?  Amen

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 1st November 2015

 

Christ’s victory: all enemy defeated

Better things are coming (Series Title)

Scripture Readings

  • Genesis 6:1-8
  • 1 Peter 3:17-22

Introduction

There are days in the life of a minister that he needs to hide his pride in his pocket and admit that the Bible sometimes is not altogether easy to preach.  Today is one of those.

The readings for today come from two passages many theologians interpret in many different ways.  I pray that God will give me the grace to be a help rather than a hindrance.  We need to pray that the victory of Christ will be seen, and that all the glory will be his – even through our meditation on these two paragraphs.

The victory of Christ

I titled this sermon “Christ’s victory: all enemy defeated”,  because the context of 1 Peter 3, especially verses 17-22, is about the victory of Christ through his cross and resurrection.  Let’s just recapture:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NIV)

There is victory in this verse.  He died but was brought back to life. It takes us back to chapter 1:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Of another verse in chapter 2:  1 Peter 2:4 refers to the truth that we have come to Him, and then Peter says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6, NIV)

We have come to Christ, and Christ, according to our verse in 1 Peter 3:18, through his death and resurrection He takes us to the Father.  His vicarious, or substitutional work not only takes us to God, but is the anchor for us in difficult times.

The cross and the open grave

Peter is addressing people who knew better things were coming in eternity, but the here and now of their struggle against those who reject them because they rejected Christ, cause them a lot of suffering.  And Peter now wanted them to not only follow the example of Christ by being submissive, but to see the victorious Christ who, according to the last verse in this chapter, has all powers and authorities in submission to Him.

Peter mentions something in this section which is not easy to understand.  Let’s read verses 19-20 again:

After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, (1 Peter 3:19–20, NIV)

This fact of the ministry of Christ in not mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures.  It seems at first sight if this may be mentioned in chapter 4:6:

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6, NIV)

The end of this verse however refers to people who were dead but now live in regard to the spirit.  I have however no final resolution on this verse, because there are more than one way to interpret this verse.  We will get there next time we continue with 1 Peter.

So the question is, when did Christ go and preach to whose spirits are kept in prison, who were they, and what did He proclaim to them?

Sin, rebellion and destruction

Our verse refers to those who lived in the days of Noah, those who were disobedient, despite the patience of God to see them repent and be saved.

Let’s go to Genesis 6.  The first problem we walk into is the reference to “the sons of God who married the daughters of men.”  Who were the “sons of God” and who were the “daughters of men”?

Let’s just go back a chapter or two in Genesis. After the death of Abel and the  tragic life of Cain who became a refugee, Adam and Eve had more children.  Seth was born to them.  There is an interesting statement in chapter 4:26:

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. (Genesis 4:26, NIV)

Then in chapter 5:3 we read:

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. (Genesis 5:3, NIV)

If we read these two verses together within the context, it seems not impossible to deduce that and Enosh worshipped the Lord, and that they could be known as “sons of God”, or children of God.  As time went by and people increased on the face of the earth, some departed from the Lord in sinfulness.  It is not impossible to think that some actually started to intermarry with the offspring of Cain.  The expression “they married whom they chose” in 6:3 may indicating that man’s own choice, rather than the choice of God of who he could marry was his own standard.

It does not take long before a godly family can go astray and become worse than the worst.  Old Eli was a god-fearing man to begin with, but his two sons were evil to the bone.  David walk with the Lord, Solomon deviated somewhat, and his son rejected the fear of the Lord.

Point is, who was known as “the sons of God” got entrapped in marriages with daughters of this world.  The difference lies in their origins:  “of God” and “of men”.  It never works, and always leads to disaster.  The result of these unions was outright rebellion against God.  Like the people of Babel who rebelled against God and looked at themselves as important and great, so the people in the time of Noah drifted away from the worship of God to the worship of themselves and their own achievements; in their own eyes they were giants! And this pattern is repeated even into our day.  The wise, the great and the important thumb their noses at the King of the universe and his Son, and they refuse to bow the knee before Him who already have them at his feet.  Listen to Psalm 2:

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” (Psalm 2:2–3, NIV)

How does this Psalm warn them?  Listen:

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10–12, NIV)

Over and over again we read: in Genesis 6:

The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. (Genesis 6:6, NIV)

Righteousness calls for punishment

In his righteousness He sent the flood to punish sin.  He gave them 120 years to repent, but nothing happened.  And all along Noah drove one nail after the other in to ark, which would become the salvation for him and his family.  God promised that this will never happen again – no flood.  But it meant that God had to set in motion his plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Those who walked in darkness, those who were first not a people, are by grace -through the cross and resurrection of Christ brought to God.  Instead of rightfully punishing the world for their sin, He sent his Son to be punished in our place.  THat’s why we read about the victory of Christ through the cross and his resurrection.

Those who cause pain in the heart of God, who caused God’s judgment upon what He had made so that about everything was destroyed and God had to start from again, their spirits are kept in prison till the final judgement of the white throne before God.

Victory!

We don’t know exactly when, or at what point in time it happened, but the victorious Christ went to preach – or proclaim – something to the these spirits who are bound in the pool of fire till the last day of judgement.  From the context we need to understand that Christ proclaimed to them his victory.  They caused the world to be destroyed through their disobedience and hardened hearts, but Christ was the One who restored it and reversed the wrath of God upon this sinful world.  He did not preach to them grace; their fate is sealed.  They are with their leader, Satan, the father of lies, and the deceiver from the beginning, sealed up in the abyss till they will stand before the throne of Him who overcame:  Jesus Christ; and He will avenge the blood of those who fell by the hands of sinners by sealing them up in this lake of fire:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14–15, NIV)

Don’t be found with them.  No!  come to Christ who will take you to God through his death and resurrection.  United to Him (of which baptism and communion is a sign) you will stand and survive.  As a matter of fact, the tribulations of this world and it’s sufferings is for a moment compared to what is waiting.  Peter rights a bit further into this letter:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13, NIV)

See, we are united to Christ by faith; baptism is the sign and seal of our union with him.  Peter writes:

and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21, NIV)

Noah believed.  The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in accordance with faith. (Hebrews 11:7, NIV)

In closing

My dear friend, physical persecution has not come our way yet.  But it is true that if we live as true aliens, or passers-through, in this world, we are on its wrong side.  The life of a Christian is not always easy; on the contrary, it can be very hard and disheartening at times.  But it serves to test us.

Let us never forget this truth when we face difficulty for loving Christ and his Word:  Christ is victorious; in essence the enemy is defeated.  By union with Him your place is secured in heaven where your inheritance cannot be spoiled of fade.  Look up, better things are coming.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 18 October 2015

 

The right answer about our hope

Better things are coming (Series Title)

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 34
  • 1 Peter 3:8-18

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

One thing about a Christian is that the direction of his/her life completely changed when Jesus Christ appears on the scene.   One day the apostles were professional fishermen, the next they became followers of Jesus Christ. leaving everything behind.  On one day Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, the next he was worshipping the same Jesus he tried to stop.  The Ethiopian was on his way back to Ethiopia, probably expecting to continue his life the same way he had done before, but when he met Christ his life changed.  Paul, Peter and the other disciples in the end chose to die for the One who saved them from eternal hell to bring them to God. It still happens today.  I want to read parts of a report :I received this week.  It’s about Christians in Syria.  The Syrian ministry workers in those villages chose to stay in order to provide aid in the name of Christ to survivors.

“I asked them to leave, but I gave them the freedom to choose.  Every time we talked to them, they were always saying, ‘We want to stay here—this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do.’ They just wanted to stay and share the gospel.”  The 41-year-old team leader, his young son and two ministry members in their 20s were questioned at one village site where ISIS militants had summoned a crowd. The team leader presided over nine house churches he had helped to establish. His son was two months away from his 13th birthday.

“All were badly brutalised and then crucified.They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them.”  The women, ages 29 and 33, tried to tell the ISIS militants they were only sharing the peace and love of Christ and asked what they had done wrong to deserve the abuse. The Islamic extremists then publicly raped the women, who continued to pray during the ordeal, leading the ISIS militants to beat them all the more furiously.  

As the two women and the six men knelt before they were beheaded, they were all praying.  “One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!'”

She knew her hope.  These people knew Christ, and they knew their hope.  They died in with honour, and the doors of heaven were opened for them.

The Christian understands and fully believe his position in Christ: pardon and acceptance with a reconciled God; fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and constant grace and peace out of his fulness; the preserving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit; victory over death and hell; and an everlasting possession of heaven as a inheritance gift.  By hope he understands it all, anticipates it all, enjoys it all.

The world has no idea

Why does the Christian turn his/her back on this world?  Why allow good prospects of career advancement pass you by just because you are a Christian?  Why does the Christian choose to be the odd one out to not laugh when bad jokes do the round, or when the outcast is ridiculed?  Why not grab take the bribe and go on the promised holiday?  Why give some of your income to support the poor or missionaries far away, while you can enjoy it yourself?  Why not allow the white lie to go through if the truth is going to hurt your chances in life?

These questions and the answers and Christians give stuns the world.  Are you out of your mind?  Grab the day!  No one is going to pick you up when you have fallen.  No one is going to stand in for you when you tell the truth and get fired.  Wake up to yourself!  Get real!

The Christian answers, not with any smugness or self-pity, but with gentleness and respect,  “I have never been more real in my life!  See, the difference in Christ!”

For this the Christian is more often than not excluded from friendship circles,; they are not invited to parties anymore; they are not included in deals anymore; they sometimes become lonely; they become the outcast, the weird, the dumb, the stupid.  When they resist temptations to immoral activities, when they stand up for the sanctity of marriage as God intended it to be, when they speak up against abortion and one night stands or any change in the definition of marriage, they are condemned as unloving, bigots and downright evil.  That’s when we know that evil has become good and good ahas become evil.  Woe to you when men speak well of you, our Lord said.

Christians are not welcome in the world

When we did our series from John we heard our Lord said:

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19, ESV)  

When Jesus called his disciples He warned them:

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12, ESV)

The prophet Isaiah prophesies about these things:

Hear the word of the Lord, you who respect what He has to say! Your countrymen, who hate you and exclude you, supposedly for the sake of my name, say, “May the Lord be glorified, then we will witness your joy.” But they will be put to shame. (Isaiah 66:5, NET)

Our chapter takes us to Psalm 34 to teach us how we should react to the hostilities of this world and even those who proclaim to be Christian, who are not.

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:12–14, NIV)

Who said these words?  David.  When?  Although Samuel anointed David as king, he was nevertheless forced to become a refugee before Saul. David, the elect of God, was forced to suffer on the earth as an exile.  Twice during those refugee years David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life. On the first occasion David cut off a corner of Saul’s robe when Saul had come unknowingly into the cave where David was hiding.  After Saul arose and left, David called to him from the opening of the cave, and Saul replied:

“Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.  When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. (1 Samuel 24:16-17, 19, NIV)

On the second occasion David spared Saul’s life while he slept in his own camp. He did not take Saul’s life, only his spear and helmet.  Saul then said:

The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness. May you be blessed, David my son; you will do great things and surely triumph.” (1 Samuel 26:23, 25, NIV)

Our chapter says of those who are wronged by this world while they submit to the Lord:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:9, 12, NIV)

God knows our struggle and our loneliness when we are rejected and would, if things were in our hands, love to see retribution:  His eyes are upon the righteous, and his ears listen to our prayers.

When the time comes and people want to know why we act differently, and why it sometimes look as if we don’t have any backbone to stand up against those who would love to tread us underfoot, we regroup, we fix our eyes upon Christ, we reaffirm our submission to Him – we set Him apart in our hearts as our Lord – and we take his Name as the sweetest of all names on out lips as we stand firm for his glory; we pray that He will give us his gentleness, and we look at those who want to ridicule us as God’s own creatures – with respect -; we pray that Christ will keep us from falling and so defile our own conscience before Him and those who falsely accuse us – because we only want to see glory of our Lord on display – and we tell them of Him who called us our of darkness into his marvellous light.  He gave us a hope which cannot fade, an inheritance which cannot be spoiled, now already put away for those who hope in Christ in heaven.  And we leave it to God to use our testimony to the salvation of the lost, or to the hardness of heart of those who revile our Lord.

This is how Jesus set the example

Peter continues in his letter:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NIV)

He was reviled and denounce, mock and spat upon.  They hated Him to the point that they stripped Him naked, put a crown of thorns on his head and nailed Him to a cross, all they way mocking and jeering the Son of God!  He was willing to take this treatment to bring up to God.  So, we should not be surprised if those of the same spirit do the same thing to us.

But, and this is the great BUT, He was made alive.  Peter records something which is hard to understand because it is only here we read about Christ preaching to the spirits of the disobedient.  We don’t know when it happened, and we don’t really know who the disobedient spirits were.  What we know is that their disobedience is connected to Noah and the flood.  These people probably thought old Noah was some stupid and off his mind when he, the righteous preacher warned them of the pending judgement of the Lord upon their sin – they thought they had the last word – but they were wrong!  the victorious Christ who was raised by the Spirit of God did not go to preach to them any message of hope as Noah would have done; no, his message as the Victor over death, hell, sin and Satan was to seal their condemnation – forever!

And, united by faith to Him through baptism – and we can say today, through the sacrament of wine and bread, we share in his victory.

Conclusion

Truely, the Bible teaches us today that better things are coming.  So, my dear friend, when the hard times come, or when you face the ridicule of this world because of your testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, follow the example of David’s Son – Jesus Christ.  Take it on the chin, but never, ever forget this:  victory is ours through Jesus Christ.  We have a hop which cannot spoil of fade, kept in heaven for us, shielded by the power of God.  In the meantime, follow in the footsteps of our Saviour:  submit to all authority, but never disobey or disown your Lord.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 11 October 2015