Only Jesus Christ – no if’s, no but’s

Series Title:  Growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 8:1-13
  • Colossians 2:13-23

Introduction

We are still approaching this letter of Paul under the topic, Growing in our knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We continue from where we stopped last week, and the sermon title is still “Jesus Christ only, no if’s no but’s”.

One of the conditions imposed on me for having a dog in the house, was that it should be bathed at least once a week, less it starts smelling like a dog.

I quite like dunking the little fellow in the water and pouring the shampoo over him.  Of course I have to use the dedicated towel for him.  So, after shampooing and scrubbing he gets a good rub with the towel.  See, his feet need to be dry before he hits the ground so he does not leave any footprints.

What I’ve notice over and over again, is that, although I know I have done a good job of drying him, he still adds that shaking that dogs do when they come out of water.  And every time I think he thinks that I am not doing a good job of drying him.

It seems sinners are by nature not happy and satisfied with the work of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Although his work on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven, and his intercession before the Father is really all we need, we still want to give that final “shake” to complete the job.

This was the problem with some members of the church in Colossae.

We in part looked at the problem of some Christians who had been Jews before.  They still demanded, that although we are saved by grace and not be good works, that members of the church must be circumcised like in the time of the Old Testament.  Paul’s argument is that neither circumcision, nor baptism saves.  What saves is the gif of grace in Jesus Christ.  Both circumcision and baptism are signs of the grace of redemption, and must not be seen as an addition to grace to complete it.  This can be understood as ceremonialism.

But there were other people, the Gnostics, who had an impact on the theology of the Colossians.

What if the knowledge becomes scares?

If becomes so easy to fall for every good sounding theology if we don’t know the Scriptures.  Dr Albert Mohler wrote and article and titled it “The scandal of Biblical illiteracy.”  He quotes researchers in his essay:

“Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. ‘No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.’Multiple surveys reveal the problem in stark terms.”

According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better–by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.

Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble. 

If we don’t know the Bible everything which is sugar-coated with something that sounds like a Bible verse will be excepted for the truth.

Gnosticism – the old New Age

Ceremonialism and gnosticism are almost opposites of one another. But Paul calls both of them hollow and deceptive. They are mere philosophies, which sound interesting but are devoid of any meaning.  And the reason why Paul calls them deceptive is spelled out in verse 19:

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:19, NIV)

The term “head” here clearly refers to Jesus Christ.  Any theology or teaching that preaches something or someone else than Jesus Christ is distracting from salvation, it’s misleading, it’s false, it’s like Paul says in Galatians 1:

Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:7–9, NIV)

In direct contrast to these descriptions stands the gospel: where the “philosophy” deceives people, the gospel is “true,” “reliable” (1:5); where the “philosophy” is “empty,” “devoid of spiritual value,” the gospel is powerful and transforming (1:6, 23).  Human philosophies depends on human tradition and does not put the sinner contact with the Saviour.

Gnostic texts often describe God as incomprehensible, unknowable, and transcendent.  Gnosticism held (and here it sounds like the Bible) that God cannot be observed with our senses nor easily grasped with our understanding.  Where it really differs from the Bible is the way to know God.  They taught to know God was through mystical knowledge – a way of working your way up to God.  Paul contrast this with the statement:

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:2–4, NIV)

Gnostics held that the world was not created by the “Ultimate Ground of Being” (God), but by a lesser deity resulting from the fall of the divine personification of Wisdom.  Paul answers this with this statement:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17, NIV)

They believed that humans are split between the physical and spiritual world where the true human self is as alien to the world as is the transcendent God.  According to gnosticism the true human self or soul is naturally divine, belonging to the same realm as the Ultimate Ground of Being, but is trapped and imprisoned by the material world.    Gnosis, or knowledge, is what frees man.  The problem is just that there is no specific knowledge of knowledge. This knowledge is not factual, intellectual, rational knowledge.  Man will forever be searching.  It is airy fairy stuff.

Paul gets stuck into the philosophisers and call what they preach weak and miserable elements.  They thought they were wise and clever; but their teaching is just what Paul refers to in Galatians 4:

So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. (Galatians 4:3, NIV)

Maybe what they preached was nothing but primitive religion dressed up in learned terminology.  Gnostics of the day were in essence the dressed-up philosophers of primitive ideas about this world where fire, air, water and earth played very important pillars in their worldview.  These elements were then looked upon as divine elements, and the so-called balance between then should not be disturbed; they were worshipped as deities.

And of course the modern day version of this is Green theology:  we worship Mother Earth and keep her happy so we can be happy!

The danger then for the Colossians was that these philosophies was presenting something else in the place of Christ.

Modern day full blown gnostics believe in reincarnation, the duality of God as both masculine and feminine, and cling to ideas how we can best advance our souls for God – while living with the negativity here on Earth. And how much do we here about karma these days!

There were and are hybrid gnostics too.  They are the sugar-coated ones. Although they might broadly refer to the Scriptures, they apply post-modernistic principles in understanding it.  Some believe in finding their own truth, and don’t believe in “hell,” “sin,” or that Jesus came to die for our sins. He was a human messiah who served as a living example of how we should think and behave. They believe in an all-loving, all-merciful and benevolent God and in the power of prayer (or meditation – this form of prayer is nothing less than a DIY-feel-better, self-improvement religion).

They teach that we write a ‘chart’ for each life, and we must learn the life lessons we have chosen to learn through experience – to reach our own desired level of perfection for God, who loves us unconditionally and equally.  How many times are we bombarded with the text not to judge others!

Modern day New Age philosophies, earth theologies with it’s importance to preserve mother earth (or as we know Green political principles), are not much different from the primitive philosophies of Paul’s time.  What is somewhat difficult these days is that it is sometimes presented as academic speech.  Someone writes:

“Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.”

The Theology or Environmentalism is hostile towards Christianity.  Some environmentalists blame Christians for the so-called destruction of the environment, basing their arguments on Genesis 1:28

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

A very prominent environmentalist spells out a plan of action:

“Even though ‘no new set of basic values’ will ‘displace those of Christianity,’ perhaps Christianity itself can be reconceived. Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious.” 

Churches who have lost their grip on the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him only have fallen for this and designed a new theology of the environment.  A new phrase in theology is “creation care” – good well sounding phrase, but loaded with undertones.  In the end what Paul says in Romans 1 can once again capture the so-called modern mind:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:21–25, NIV)

The knowledge of Jesus Christ

On the other hand Paul gives a few remarkable statements:

  • In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, (Colossians 2:9)  He is the perfect King and Saviour.  Not like the gnostics believed!
  • In Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3).  Not like the gnostics or modern day human philosophies believe!
  • By Him and for Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16).  Not like the gnostics believed!
  • This Jesus, this Christ, we may know!  By faith we are united with Him.  In prayer we can talk to Him, knowing the He intercedes for us at the throne of the Father.
  • We are saved by God’s act of grace, not be ceremonies (Colossians 2:12).  Our sins are forgiven and by faith we are united with Him who is our Saviour (Colossians 2:13)

Conclusion

We will have to continue next week and find out more about Christ alone, no if’s, no but’s.  Let’s thank God for the fulness of his Son who has become our Saviour.

Amen

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 January 2016

 

Jesus Christ: God’s Crown Prince

Series title:  Growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 2
  • Colossians 1:15-23

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, I preach the Word of God to you under the heading “Jesus Christ, God’s Crown Prince.”  I do so because, according to our text, He is supreme over all creation, and Head of his Church.

Since 1301 the Prince of Wales has usually been the eldest living son of the King or Queen Regnant of England.  The title is not automatic; it merges into the Crown when a prince accedes to the throne, or it lapses on his death leaving the sovereign free to re-grant it, should another candidate qualify.

The person as heir to the throne is important, but the title that comes with it is a sure indication of the past as well as the future of the title holder.

On 14 November 1948 Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor was born in England.  It was a very historical day.  On this day was born as the eldest to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Charles was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 26 July 1958, though his investiture as such was not conducted until 1 July 1969, when he was crowned by his mother at Caernarfon Castle, and gave his replies and speech in both Welsh and English.  Unless something unforeseen happens the people of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth know who their future king will be.

Only a few weeks ago we celebrated Christmas.  For most of the world Jesus is the little baby in the crib.  For most the story of Christmas does not go any further and the nativity scene of the family of Christ in Bethlehem.  In the background there might be an angel flapping its wings and a few donkeys chewing away on hay.

But there is infinitely more about Christmas.  There is infinitely more to say about Jesus Christ.

Out of fear for saying more that what the Word of God allows us to deduct I want to refer to what is referred to as the Eternal Council of God.  Before the creation of time and space, God the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit existed supremely, without the aid of anything, the need of anything, ever glorious and omnipotent, never in need of praise and honour.  But then, if we think about it in human terms, God determined to create the universe. God the Father spoke to Jesus Christ, his Son.  We read about it in Psalm 2 this morning.

“You are my Son, today I have become your Father.  Ask of me and I will make the nations Your possession, the ends of the earth your inheritance.  You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

To his Son God gave a title:  He would be called Jesus, the Christ.  He is the Redeemer, the Saviour, the Messiah, the blessed One of the Father.  This is where we ended the sermon last week.  Colossians 1:13-14 reads:

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

The Crown Prince of God

Christ is the image of the invisible God.  The word for “image” here is our word for “icon”, an embodiment or living manifestation of God, as a visible manifestation of the invisible and heavenly reality of the Person of God.  He is the first-born of the Father and therefore He shares the same substance and nature of God. Man was created, not born of the Father.  We are from dust; Christ is from the eternity God.  The invisible God becomes visible to men in the “Son of his love”.  Jesus declared, “He that has seen me, has seen the Father”. (John 14:9)  John sings about the glory of Christ:  “We have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father.” (John 1:14)

He is before all things.  This does not only mean that He was there before all things were created; it certainly does mean it.  But it also means that He is superior over all things created.  He is the pinnacle of God’s creation.  He is the beginning of it, the centre of it, and the end of it.  That’s why the Bible than says, “In Him all things hold together.”

It is not possible to think about creation without thinking about Christ.  Without Christ no creation would be possible.  For some Christian thinkers to then argue the possibility of Darwinian Evolution, as well as the Kingship of Jesus Christ over all creation becomes an impossibility.  No Christ, no creation; no creation, no Christ!  There is no two ways about it.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)

This has profound implications for the way we think about Jesus Christ.  In general, the message of the Church is narrowed down to the work of salvation of Christ, and even narrower if this salvation is presented as the personal salvation of the individual Christian.  If we think this way, we don’t have a Christian and Biblical worldview.  The message of the Church is then confined to the walls of the Church.  Politicians may then demand of the Church to keep Christianity out of politics.  Educators can do the same and scientists may demand of us to keep in our corner and mind the souls of the unhappy pursuers of eternal bliss.

But this is not what the Bible teaches about Christ.  To the humanistic scientist it might come as a surprise:  what he or she is researching is the work of God through Jesus Christ.  It belongs to Him, it exists because of Him and holds together because of Him.  Without Christ no scientific research is possible, because without Him there is nothing to research.

To the humanistic sociologist and psychologist, and even the historicist this might also come as a surprise.  The study of their field is possible because of Christ, even if they don’t believe it.  And like me when I try to fix my lawn mover without the technical knowledge and the instruction manual issued by the manufacturers, without the knowledge of Him through whom God created the universe, fixing and fully understanding it will remain a dream that will always escape them.

God’s agent of Creation: the ruler of all creation

To his Crown Prince God assigned a kingdom: all of creation. The Father wanted to give to his Son everything He created.  In this sense Jesus Christ became the agent of God through whom He created the world.  So, everything in heaven and on earth, all things visible and invisible, thrones and powers or rulers or authorities were created by Him and for Him.  There is no kingdom, no king, no ruler, nothing visible or invisible which is not under the feet of our Saviour.

The political leaders of our day will do well to heed the advise of the Word of God.

Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge I Him.” (Psalm 2:12)

We understand then from this chapter of the Bible the glory of the Kingship of the Son of God’s love.  He is God’s Crown Prince.  All areas of life, all spheres of thinking, must be under the Headship of Christ.  This applies even if people don’t believe in Him – He is still the first-born of the universe, the image of God, the agent of God’s creation, the One in whom all things hold together.

It will help us as Church people to order our life and to understand the promise of our Lord:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This truth drives our missionary work, it drives our efforts in the Lord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it helps us to not cringe before the pressures of kings and rulers.  This truth strengthens us to do our work as Christians to be light to the word and salt to the world.  It helps us to understand that God is with us even if it means we have to pay the highest price for the sake of the Gospel.

Do you think too human of Jesus Christ?  Is He the One who has come so that your problems can be fixed and you may live well?  Do you perhaps think of Him as a remedy which you take when you feel depressed or unhappy?  Or is He the One before whom you bow in adoration and worship?

There was something which really crippled the work of the Church in the past. It is called pietism.  Pietism is a disease which locks the church into its corner, no taking note of the world around it.  It locked people up in cloisters for them to become holy as they would turn away for this evil world to only focus upon heaven.  The problem is that they become so heavenly-minded that they were of no earthly use.  This can happen in our day too.

The way in which this evil can make itself master of the Church is that people worship ideas.  Christ is nothing short of an idea.  He becomes a mystical concept.  People go away for weekends to connect with God and experience Him.  They come back with great feelings about Him, but the only thing they do better now is meditate, perhaps sitting in a specific posture.  This form of worship of Christ does not really differ much from so-called the New Age worship of concepts and ideas.

This is not the message of the Scriptures about Jesus Christ.  He is King of the universe, He is known by the works of his hands and to Him all thoughts must be made captive.  The apostle Paul writes:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Christ is Head of the Church

There was a price attached when God decided to give an inheritance to his Son.  God ordained to send his Son into this sinful world to redeem it through his blood.  Jesus Christ had to buy back for God what sin destroyed and stole from God.  Jesus was the One through whom God would reconcile the world to Him.  The reconciliation is the real peace-making process the world was in need for – and it is still the case. Without Jesus Christ there is not peace possible between God and the sinful world.

Verse 21 describes our hostility towards God.  We were alienated from God and enemies of God.  We walked away from God and declared war against Him.  We turn our backs on Him and thought we could work it out for ourselves.  We shut the door in God’s face and shut Him out of our lives.  This made us God’s enemies, not only because we are rebellious, but also because God cannot stand the ugliness of our sinfulness.  He also turned away from us.  Our first parents were driven from the presence of God out of Paradise.  But as God drove them out of his presence He gave them a promise of hope:  One day they would be reconciled to Him through the eternal sacrifice of the Son of his Love.

Christ’s physical body was nailed to the tree of Calvary.  His blood was shed. And He died on that cross to present us holy to the Father.

This is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, God’s own precious Crown Prince to whom not only the Church belong, but all of the universe.

The death of Jesus Christ on the cross meant a few things:  his sinless life now becomes our sinless life by faith.  Upon Him I lay my sins, He washes it away and grant me his righteousness. Although still sinful and always unworthy of God’s grace, He now looks at me through the redemption of his Son. I become free of blemish and the accusation of sins is taken away.  I become free of the burden of sins.  The accuser tries his hardest to make me feel miserable when I stumble and fall, but the blood of Christ is stronger; it washes me en declares me free.  No accusation anymore.

Such is the Headship of Christ over his Church. We heard this morning the other part of the story:  He qualified us to be counted amongst the saints washed in his blood, dressed in white robes, which are the righteous deeds in Christ.  He conveyed us from darkness into light, carrying us over the chasm between the holy God and sinners, and He brought us into the kingdom of light belonging to his Son.  This is possible because we are washed clean in his blood.  We have received the forgiveness of sins.

But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— (Colossians 1:22, NIV)

Conclusion

There is a warning in this chapter to those who do not stand firm, who are not determined to engage in the battle an run the race to the end.  If we don’t continue in our faith, and if we are moved from the hope held out in the Gospel, we might forfeit this eternal peace and reconciliation with God. Listen to the verse:

if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard… (Colossians 1:23)

For this reason then does the apostle makes this statement in verse 28:

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

Don’t give up.  Always remember:  Christ is supreme over all creation, He is your Head and Master, the One who reconciled you to God.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 January 2016

Vision restored

Series title:  “From wrack and ruin to blessings and beauty”

Scripture Readings

  • Revelation 3:1-6
  • Haggai 2:1-9

Introduction

In the 1700’s a little man in England, a cobbler by trade, who kept a map of the world on a wall of his workshop so that he could pray for the nations of the world, became burdened for a definite missionary outreach. When he shared his burden at a meeting of ministers, he was told by one of the senior men of God: “Young man, sit down. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine.”

But the young shoemaker did not let the fire of his enthusiasm be dampened by such a response. That man had a vision of the greatness of the love of God for the lost.  He trusted God more than anyone or anything else.  If it was the will of God for him to become a missionary, he believed God would provide.

So he left the shores of England for those of India, where he engaged in pioneer missionary work, doing work of God. His name was William Carey.

Vision lost

We saw last week when the word of God came to us from the first chapter that the mixed up priorities of the Israelites who returned from captivity out of Babylon, led them to lose sight of the glory and the greatness of God.  Their own program and own interests led them to stop building the temple for more than 16 years.  They blamed the bad economic and security circumstances, and came to the conclusion that they cannot give to the work of God, because they do not have anything to give.  When Haggai appeared on the scene he turned their thinking upside down by telling them that they do not have anything because they do not give anything.  God’s work became last, and their’s first; whereas He should be first and their’s last.

We ended the sermon with the work of God in the hearts of the depressed people by stirring them up to work, and within weeks they were where God wanted them to be:  busy building His temple.

What they needed was a fresh vision from God about who He is, how He would provide for them, what they could expect from Him, and God’s long-term vision for his work of salvation of which they would become part.

Vision restored – Who is God?

Dates in this little prophecy are very important.  In chapter 1:1 the date, put in our modern calendar, 29 August 520.  In verse 15, after they received the first message from God through Haggai on 21 September 520. In other words, it took them only three weeks to get working on getting the needed building material and to start the work.

In between the celebrated a very important festival on the Jewish calendar, the Festival of the Booths.  During this feast, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after the crops of the land had been gathered, the Israelites were meant to ‘live in booths’. The Bible teaches them:

On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. (Leviticus 23:40, NIV)

The feast was a time of celebration and thanksgiving to the Lord for his protection and provision during the wilderness wanderings.

Interestingly enough the temple of Solomon was finished in the same time of the year, and the ark of the covenant was brought into the temple.  What happened at that point in time was:

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

Now, let’s go back to Haggai.  The next mention of a date takes us to the last day of this festival, which was 18 October.  The problem for the people then gathered in Jerusalem was first, they did not have any first fruit to bring, and secondly, to them it seemed as if God is not with them anymore.  There was no temple.

But God’s timing was perfect.  In what He will tell them to give them a new vision their eyes would be opened to his faithfulness and his provision.

The God of the Covenant

Through Haggai God’s word came to them:  But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord.

‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ (Haggai 2:4-5, NIV)

This was language they would understand.  “Be strong!”  This was the command of the Lord to Joshua when he took over from Moses; Moses himself used these words to strengthen Joshua.  When?  When they was about to walk into the Promised Land to inherit it.  They God provided for them and made the nations fall before them.

But even more:  God refers back to their delivery from Egypt, when He ransacked Egypt, freed his people and made the Egyptians give them gold and silver and all things they would need for their journey into the Promised Land.

The very fact that they had to have the Festival of the Booths, was to remember how God provided for them through the wilderness.

And once again so He did:  He brought them back out of slavery a second time, now out of Babylon.  As if He would say, once again He would provide for them, even as He did then and defeated the enemy before them.  On that day they had nothing, but what they has was their Saviour, the God of Hosts – all armies belongs to Him.

He reminds them of the fact the He was with them as He walked with them through Egypt, the wilderness, the Jordan into the land He had promised to their fathers.  “I am with you!”  And as the Spirit of god filled the temple when the ark was brought into the temple of Solomon, so God says, “My Spirit is with you.  Do not fear!”

The God who controls the nations

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. (Haggai 2:6, NIV)

Their forefathers had firsthand knowledge of God shaking mountains – they first saw it on Sinai.  And afterwards God would send earthquakes when He so desired, He even made the sun stand still in the days of Joshua.  All nations are under Him.  Hew determines the times of their existence, the time of reign of their kings, and when He would make them disappear in history.

Not long after these words to the people in Haggai’s time God put his plan into action. Only twenty years, later in 501 B.C, the Greeks rebelled against Persia, and invaded it.  Darius was king at this time. He led a great army, but he was defeated at Marathon in 490 b.c. in a victory the Greeks still remember with pride. Shortly thereafter, Darius’s successor Xerxes marshaled an even larger army and a powerful navy. The army contained 1.8 million men. The navy was the largest ever seen. But in 480 b.c. the Greek boats scattered the Persian navy, and the Greek army defeated the Persian army. A year later the reassembled Persian navy was again defeated. Thus Persian hopes of conquering the Greek mainland were forever crushed.

As the Persian Empire began a gradual collapse, Alexander the Great came to power and led the Greek armies over the Bosporus against Persia. At his death the Greek empire broke up and was eventually replaced by Roman rule of the Mediterranean countries. The Romans were in control at the time of Christ. If there was ever a shaking of the nations and a redistribution of power, it was during this period.

All of this happened exactly as God prophesied through Daniel.  All these once powerful king, armies and kingdoms were in the hands of God and prepared for the Messiah who was promised through the ages.  A detailed study of these events is fascinating.

God’s purpose with the message of Haggai was to tell them that the main thing is not the substance of the temple as such, but the greatness of Hom will bring it about.  He wanted them to know that, however they saw themselves in their need as only a speck of dust on the great drama unfolding over history, they were indeed part of the plan of god to bring in the nations to bow the knee before Him.

He held what they desired and looked upon as precious in his hand.  And when it was time, they would give up their treasures so that the kingdom of God could be built and his name be glorified.

Not everything yet fulfilled

In the vision God gave to his people in the time of Haggai He indeed lifted their horizon above the everyday:  He would provide for them, He would shake the nations, He would make them bring in their riches, because it belongs to them.

But He also gave Haggai the word to make the people look through the binocular in see far into the future.  Yes they were restoring the temple, and later Herod would build an even more beautiful one.  But God promised:

‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Haggai 2:9, NIV)

The glory of the temple was not limited to the beauty of the structure;  it was dependent on the presence of God.  Indeed the temple they built never looked as grand as the one Solomon built.  And not very long after they completed their building it was once again attacked and damaged badly.  And then, Herod built another, even bigger and grander.

In than temple our Lord once walked.  What He saw then horrified Him.  The people made it a house of robbers and thieves.  Jesus had to cleanse the temple twice.  God was not there anymore.  Yes, they had the building, but not the glory which filled it.  Then, towards the end of his ministry we read this:

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5–6, NIV)

In John 2 Jesus said:

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple He had spoken of was his body. After He was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what He had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19–22, NIV)

Israel in the time of Haggai was part of God’s unfolding plan of redemption.  They would see the glory of God return to the temple as He would once again dwell with them, but they was an ultimate temple which would be fulfilled in the body of Christ who was crucified and was raised on the third day to be to his people the temple of the living God:  the peace of God.

Application

  • For the church of the Lord Jesus to become a power in this world again, we must focus on God’s plan, and get an understanding of God vision for his church.
  • We need to understand that God has a grand plan which cannot be thwarted by any power of this world.
  • For the work God has assigned to his church, God will provide the needs.  He holds the nations and the riches of the nations in his hands and what He needed is to his disposal when He needs it.
  • We need to get the vision of the promise of Christ who assured us that He is with us till then of the age.
  • We need to understand that the Spirit of God is with us to strengthen us and guided us to the victory already belonging to our Lord.
  • We need to be strong, not because it means we need to apply positive thinking.  We need to be strong because the same God who rescue his people out of Egypt and provided for them is with us;  He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant in Christ Jesus.
  • We need to understand that we indeed have a future.  Everything is not fulfilled yet, we are on our way still; but our destination is firm in Christ who is our Prince of Peace.  His Kingdom cannot be shaken – and one day He will return to take us to our eternal home where there will be no temple:  his glory and the glory of the Father will be our eternal light (Revelation 21:22, 22:5)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 6th December 2015

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