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

 

Abraham Father of all Believers (10)

Sodom: A matter of perspective?

Scripture Readings

  • Genesis 19

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in the Lord,

Perspective on something is important.  One’s perspective is formed by many experiences and inputs.

Ask me about horse riding, and I remember the I tried it.  I nearly fell off and the next day was torture.  My perspective on horse riding is also shaped by races, outlandish fashion parades and lots of money wasted through betting.

Others have a completely different view on horse riding. Some actually love it!

When we look at Sodom, what do we see?  For us who have known the story  since Sunday school days, we look upon Sodom and Gomorrah as evil cities.  But I bet something is creeping into our society today which make us look at those ancient cities differently.

The Bible provides us with four different perspectives:  the inhabitants of Sodom, Lot, Abraham and God.

The Sodomites

Luke describes the fall of Sodom in the same terms as he described the days of Noah:

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. (Luke 17:28, NIV)

God said to Abraham,  “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin grievous” (Genesis 18:20, NIV)

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were a law unto themselves. Every time the Scriptures  expresses evil, it referred to Sodom.  2 Peter 2:7 says “the city was depraved in conduct of the lawless.”  What stood out about the lawlessness of Sodom was its “sexual immorality and perversion.” (Jude 7).  It seems as if these two things go hand in hand.  A licentious lifestyle, where man has become its own benchmark for right or wrong, leads to sexual immorality and perversion. To those in Sodom all seemed right.  It became a code to live by:  they decided what the rules for their society would be.  There was no concern for God or his law.

To knock a man’s door down to demand sexual pleasures of a visitor became a right.

Let’s divert a bit here.  For those who in our day arguing that if Christians find homosexuality offensive for them, they should not expect of non-Christians to have the same conviction.  But the point is Sodom and Gomorrah were not Christian cities, they were not included into the elect people of God in the first instance, but what they did was to, as the Bible itself states,

“… Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities… indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

Paul writes about the same thing.

“Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26–27, NIV)

Australia prides itself for being a secular society.  We have now freed ourselves from our Judeo-Christian heritage, and we have become our own benchmarks for what is right and wrong.  We have the Sydney mardi gras, partly sponsored by taxpayers’ money, protected by the police, broadcasted by national TV stations, and promoted as a money-spinning tourist attraction.  The official website invites visitors to …

a cavalcade of fabulousness that includes dancing boys, marching girls, the famous Dykes on Bikes, floats, music, glitter, leather and more spray tans than Beverly Hills. The aim of the parade, which begins with the raising of the rainbow flag, is to lift the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) communities. Underneath all the fun, frivolity and feathers lies a serious message: it’s a statement of pride, diversity and acceptance.

Members our of own parliament push for the introduction of same-sex marriages under the guise of marriage equality.

Ministers of the church are under pressure to perform same-sex marriages, and venues who refuse to have a reception for these people can lose their licences, or even receive penalties.  Even baker shops in America refusing to bake wedding cakes with same-sex partners on it, are getting warnings and receive penalties.

Some evangelical churches have changed their views on homosexuality and have allowed gay ministers into their pulpits.  And these actions are heralded as steps in the right direction.

Look at Sodom.  What do you see?  Look at the state of the moral decay in Australia.  What do you see?  Sodom saw nothing wrong – but what did not see coming was the condemnation of God.  God is not mocked.  Let’s wake up.  Sodom served as a example.  Listen!  Jude says their punishment serves as “an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Lot

We know the story of Lot.  His fall did not happen at once.  It started when he looked.  He then moved to the plains of Sodom, then close to the city, then into the city, and finally he became part of them.  His wife seemed lost the moment they got there, and his daughters were about to be married to men of the city.

When we find Lot as the gate of the city, it could imply that he became part of their judgement team, because that’s where the judges of the city gathered.  Maybe he thought he could have an influence on the city.  The remark in verse 9, “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them,” (Genesis 19:9) could mean that the city people had enough of him who tried to judge them.  But the fact of the matter is that he was living in their midst.

Peter says of Lot that he was “a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless.” (2 Peter 2:7).

And I think Lot is typical of most Christians today.

Yes, we are distressed by the depravity and the sins around us; we cringe when the Name of our Lord is blasphemed through the media; we are hurt when people hurl insults against the church of our Lord; we are concerned about the future of Christianity and Bible classes in our schools; we mourn when Christians in other parts of the world are killed and slaughtered like animals – but, we have lost the impact of our testimony and witness to the world – just like Lot – because in may cases we have become too close to the world.  In some way, what the world has on offer, we have come to love, even if it means that we do it in the privacy of our home, watching the same programs as the world, enjoying it and laughing as the same crude jokes of some so-called comedians.

We have become soft as we listen to the arguments of this world about God’s standards for marriage, bad language, detestable business practices, lies, and morality in general.  Yes, when we find ourselves in private with our God, we confess and like Lot we are distressed, but rarely are Christians prepared to stand up publicly for the Name of Christ.  Our witness have become weak and incredible, difficult to take seriously.

Lot called the brutal sinners of Sodom “friends”  (or brothers in other translations).  Let’s face it, there is a line in the sand when we deal with those who openly mock the living God of heaven; there is a time when being friendly, nice and kind becomes fanciful.  The Lord calls us to be salt and light, a city on a mountain.  It is our job to proclaim the message, without fear of condemnation or being and offence.  If they hate us for doing so, then good – our Lord prepared us for it.

Are you perhaps a Lot, distressed by what you see and hear, but silent, weak and unproductive, or even having a witness which has lost its credibility because of the fact the secretly, or not even that secretly, you have come to love the world.  Worldliness is the death nail in the coffin of the church.

Abraham

Abraham walked with God and trusted God.  God revealed to him his plans to destroy the city, but he did not argue with God.  He trusted God, believed God, and just knew that God was just and full of grace.  He was at one with the plan of God.  For him the glory of God is what counted.

When he got the dry stoney hill country and Lot got the green valley of Sodom, he did not argue with God or accused God of being unfair.

But because he knew God’s grace and faithfulness, he looked at Sodom and saw the evil of the city.  He did not try to make it look a bit more attractive.  When God said the evil city became an outcry against heaven, he knew it was true.  At that stage he did not try to excuse Lot and his family, or to condone the fact that they had become part of the promiscuity of the city.  He knew sin in the eyes of God was sin.  He knew God was just in condemning the city.

But he also understood that God is a God of his word.  He knew he could go to God in prayer.

Humbly he prayed,

“Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:24–25)

He was right.  God wouldn’t have done it, but there were no fifty righteous left in the city.  Abraham kept praying, knowing that his nephew and family were about to experience God’s wrath.  Finally, in all humility, he prayed,

“Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.” (Genesis 18:32, NKJV)

He did not give up appealing on the grace and justice of God.  If there were ten God would not destroy the city.  Abraham then left it in God’s hands.  God is good, just, righteous and holy.

What did Abraham see when he looked at Sodom?  Two things:  sin deserving punishment.  He did not try to intercede for the city on any ground, other than the fact that it was deserving of God’s justice.

But Abraham also saw God, the just, the forgiving, the faithful, the One who answers prayers.  And he trusted God.  So, he prayed for Lot.  And God answered his prayer.  I find it amazing that God remained faithful to the prayer of Abraham, even when it seemed that Lot resisted God’s grace:  the angels grabbed him and his family by the hand and urged them out of the city.  Then in verse 22:

Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” (Genesis 19:22)

God’s mercy on Lot because of Abraham’s prayer.  I think God will do the same if we start pleading for the world around us.  Listen to this verse:

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

God

He is righteous, just, holy, punishing the sin of sinners.  When God looked at Sodom He had all the right to be angry and show his judgement.  But verse 18-19 gives us a glimpse in God’s way of looking at this world.  He knew very well that, left to our own devices, nothing would ever save us.  Yes, homosexuals and promiscuous people, but all of us would end up like Sodom – all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God.

But the promise to Abraham looked forward to the nations who would be blessed through him.  Along his line God send his son, Jesus Christ; He took the punishment to save us from eternal destruction.  By grace we receive grace, not a burned out city, but the same city Abraham was longing to see, the city not built with the hands of a man – God’s city.

Those who long to see this city believe in Christ.  They repented of their sins, turned against this world, love Christ and do his work on earth till that day.

All those who do not love Christ, not only homosexuals and the promiscuous, who have not turned from their sins in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, can only look forward to a life after this in eternal destruction.  God is just and righteous – no-one who tramples the blood of his son underfoot will see heaven, but will be thrown in the lake of fire, prepared for the devil and those who worship him.  There is no other way to describe it.

Hide under the judgement of the cross of Christ and receive life; walk away from it, and God’s judgement rest upon you.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7th November 2014

 

Life, Death, Heaven, Hell (4)

Hell

Scripture Readings

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot topic, but not popular

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

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

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

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

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

Two people – two lifestyles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two men, two different destinations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the punishments and the torments of hell?

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

The all-sufficiency of the Scriptures

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life, Death, Heaven, Hell (3)

Heaven

Scripture Readings

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

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

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

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

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

More than Paradise

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

Possibility of sin

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

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

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

Satan

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

Time and space

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

Not the final destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heaven, only possible through Jesus Christ

Our reading of John 14 this morning says:

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

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

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

Our eternal home

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

The return of Christ 

Paul writes:

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

Jesus also taught his disciples:

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

The resurrection

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

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

Judgement

Paul writes:

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

John writes:

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

The new creation

Peter writes:

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

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

Eternally with God

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

No Bible, Church or Mediator

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

The earth redeemed

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

No sea – the enemy defeated

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

The bride of Christ

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

Paradise redeemed

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

Absolute perfection

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

God with his people

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Life, Death, Heaven, Hell (2)

Death, the wage of Sin


Scripture Readings

  • Romans 6:15-23
  • Genesis 3:1-19

Introduction

Dear brothers and sister in the Lord,

I bought snow peas this week.  I tried to grow it myself.  What is easier to push a few snow pea seeds into the ground, water it, and wait for it to come up, push out its little fellers and grow into a fruit producing plant!  Not mine, there is something which just sits and wait for the peas to appear above the surface of the ground and chew them off.  It tried many times.  So I went and bought more mature plants in a punnet.  This way I would fool the little killer of snow peas.

I was really disappointed and angry when I got there yesterday morning to find out that my enemy discovered the seedlings.  What is most disturbing, is that whoever is responsible for it does not eat the plant – it just chews off the stem and let the plant die.  Why?  What seems to be the problem?  What am I doing wrong.  Why is the insect so vicious and cruel?

In preparing this sermon I of course read the paradise account of the fall of man.  And when I look at my dying peas, I ask the question the Lord asked Eve in Genesis 3:13:

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:13, NIV)

Should I curse the insect munching away on my peas?  Or should I ask, “What is this you have done?”

You know the experience:  the weed and pests in your crop, the droughts, the floods, wars around the world, failed plans, disappointments, misunderstandings – and the pain of losing someone in death.  “What is this you have done?

The Deeds

What God created was good.  Everything was good.  He provided Adam and Eve and the animals with all they needed to live – all in abundance.  Listen to what Eve said:

“We may eat from the trees in the garden.” (Gen 3:2)

They were in a covenant relationship with God.  Perfectly innocent they had the privilege of choosing to do his will.  But what was also true, is that they were under probation.  The relationship between them and God is expressed by theologians as a covenant of works.  They were absolutely in the position to execute the will of God – up to that point there was no sin – and there was no death.  Nothing impeded their consciences to not do the will of God. Yes, Adam and Eve, up to that dreadful day, had a freedom of will.

With this Eve implied they may eat from all the tress in the garden except those God prohibited them from eating.  There was surely enough – in abundance.  They lacked nothing.  Add to this the privilege they had to communicate with God as He walked the garden in the cool of the day.  They had dominion over everything God created.  And they had one another.

But then, the father of all lies appeared on the scene.  The serpent tempted Eve.  What did he do?  Instead of holding out before Eve what God provided for them, he points out what God withheld from them.   He then reduced God’s command to a question over which one had the right to argue. Once he did that, he planted doubt about God’s genuineness:  can God be trusted? Moving into this phase he slandered God motives. Once Adam and Eve believed this the next step was easy: he challenge the truthfulness of God’s threat.

Little wonder then that our Lord had this to say of the Devil:

He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44, NIV)

Eve gradually yields to Satan’s denials and half-truths by downgrading her privileges.  Then it was easy to do the next:  twist the command of the Lord by saying that God commanded that they should not even touch the fruit.  in adding to the prohibition (“nor shall you touch it,” v. 3), and when she had the fruit in her hands, the command of the Lord completely disappeared in her mind and all she could see was the goodness of the fruit and its desirability.  How can a good God who made it look so desperately good and desirable threaten one with death if you eat of it!

They failed the test.  Their covenant with God was broken.  They did not set the rules and conditions – God did, because He made them and put his breath into them. God being the prime partner in this agreement kept his word and promise.  It is his world, He was not dependent on them to make it work; they were dependent on Him for life.

Death entered this world.  When Satan said, “You will surely not die,” he put doubt in the mind of Adam and Eve.  In Hebrew “surely die” is do “die death”, but he puts in a way to sound as if it could be understood as if it is not death, but something less.  But God was serious:  the punishment upon their failure, rebellion and sin, was “dying death.”

Grace in the face of rebellion

Because God is all-knowing, what Adam and Eve did was known to them before they could confess to Him what they had done. And yet, although they were hiding from them, He still did as He had done before this dreadful day:  He still went out in the cool of the day to meet with them.  They hid from Him and yet He called out, “Where are you?

He had the right and power to condemn them straight away, to banish them from the face of the earth or the strike them dead as He promised, but He still called them, “Where are you?

This is still the case today.  All mankind is struck with the full curse of sin, getting what they deserve because of their rebellion against God, and yet He still seeks.  Yes, his agreement still stands: sin brings death and eternal punishment, but in Christ He is seeking to redeem those not worthy of grace, to restore them in grace.  Today He calls out, “Where are you?”  For some this call is the best words they can ever hear, because it means forgiveness and restoration; but for others it means that they cannot hide from God, and that He knows their hearts.  They flee from God, only to realise they can’t get away from Him:  time and space belong to Him, He created it.  It is only a matter of time and the call of grace and mercy will turn into judgement and eternal punishment.

O, that we will hear the call of the gracious God, kneel before Him in confession of sin and beg mercy on account of his son, Jesus Christ and be saved from eternal death!

The consequence

Satan tricked them into believing his words rather than the command of God.  Listen to his version:

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, NIV)

As soon as they took of the forbidden fruit something of what Satan said came true – but they were not like God.  They then the difference between good and evil, their eyes were opened to it, but they were not like God.  They then understood they had known and lived in the presence of God, only experiencing good, but now evil had become part of their experience.

Multiplication threatened

The very first thing they realised, (the original text says “they, the both of them knew”) is their nakedness before God.  Once they were under the command of God, having received the breath of life from Him, to pass on this life to their children by being under creators, or under-procreators under Him in multi0lying and filling the earth as husband and wife, but sin made them aware of the fact that they are blemished, struck with death. Their nakedness was so obvious:  Although they could still be parents and have children, they would be in effect passing on death from one generation to the other. The mechanism which God ordained by which multiplication would take place is threatened:  Adam and Eve almost became strangers and did whatever they could to hide the fact by sowing together fig leaves to cover them up.

What was created to be beautiful, pleasurable and holy – the physical union between husband and wife in marriage under God, was now sure to be abused.  Through it man would want to become his own god, pleasuring himself, living for himself, and even use the very act of sexual union to spread death, or to bring about death and destruction.

The old form for the baptism of children contained these words:  “life is nothing else but a way of dying slowly.”  I always thought that maybe the changing of these words would be a good idea, especially when you have parents so proud of their little baby appearing in church.  They changed the words, and it sounded better, but with it a valuable lesson to parents got lost:  be sure to teach your child to fear the Lord as soon as he or she can understand because death is lurking in the shadows of life.

War with Satan

They say the Eskimos did not know a word for white before they came in contact with people who did have a word for white.  Before that, the only word they knew was “snow”.  White meant snow and snow meant white.  To use another example:  the deep sea diver swam passed the two fish and asked them how the water was.  When he swam away the two of them looked at one another and asked, “Water, what does he mean by ‘water’?”

Adam and Eve only knew peace with God.  They had no word for war and enmity – it just did not exist.  But everything suddenly changed.  Where before the serpent could talk to them, although sly and crafty, now it was outright war.  The one who started it all now became their enemy.  He is indeed the father of the lie, and a murderer from the beginning.  Not only was this war external, but it became part of their lives – evil would live in their hearts, and the best Satan could award them with, was death.  Just think about their two eldest boys: one killed the other because of the evil that lived in his heart.

Pain now part of life

If there was pain involved in bearing children before the fall, that pain would be increased – greatly increased.  Some commentators take this pain further than just the pain of bearing children:  it is a lifelong pain – rearing children would be painful.  In the children would live the same spirit of rebellion and sin, compounding the rebellion.  Don’t we see this in our day?  President Obama, who declared that he wanted to be known as the abortion president, declared:  “I am going to teach them [his two daughters] first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” The more both parents and children are moving away from Biblical principles and God-ordained commands, the bigger the rebellion, and the bigger the pain.  On the side of extremist feminists children are unnecessary and abortion has become the right of every women – irrespective the stage of the pregnancy.  This is plainly rebellion against God who ordained women to bring children into this world; it is a way to evade the pain of sin in childbearing and childrearing.

A sin-stained world

Adam was in charge of all God created on earth.  He was the head of it all, but the head failed, sinned and lost his crown.  With him them, as a result, everything under him fell under the curse of sin.

“Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17, NIV)

Thorns and thistles, symbol of the curse, ensured hard work:  the very soil which was blessed for him to work and to till, became an enemy:  by the sweat of his brow Adam and his posterity would fight the environment they live in to make an existence.  Death will be everywhere:  droughts, hail, floods, famine, pestilence – a never-ending struggle.  We know it – we will never win the battle against weed and pestilence.  Paul writes:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:20–22, NIV)

Physical death

Adam was cursed to die:  he was from dust, and he will return to dust.  Death is a reality, and there is no one here today who can say death will not get hold of him one day or another.  The problem is just, we don’t know when it will hit us.  The Bible says it is like a thief in the night, you don’t know when it will strike.  Sin made us perishable, we are not invincible, even if we think we are.  Rich, poor, old, young, healthy, sick, influential or humble – all will face the last minute of our life.

What then?  Will be be ready when it strikes?

Conclusion

Natural life, the way we are born in sin as the inheritance from Adam and Eve, our first parents, stinks.  It’s painful at it best.  It’s struggle.  Yes, it is a slow way of dying.

But without getting ahead of ourselves and we thin about heaven in next week’s sermon, let’s remind ourselves of the promise God made to our first parents, even after their rebellion:  someone would crush the head of the serpent.  Jesus did on the cross and by the empty grave.  And because of Him, God still calls, “Where are you?

I trust you are not hiding, not even behind you good works.  The buzz word of our time is to “come out”.  Come out, acknowledge you are a sinner and beg forgiveness, follow Christ and seek his Kingdom – and heaven will await you.  More about than next week.  Amen.

Sermon Preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on 8 June 2014

 

 

Life, Death, Heaven, Hell (1)

Life, a gift from God

 

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 139:1-24
  • Matthew 25:14-30

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Today is the first in four sermons, a series under the heading Life, Death, Heaven, Hell.  We can, of course, not cover everything about these major topics in the Bible, but my intention is to focus on where we come from, why we are here, when and how does it all end, and what awaits after this life.  Rather trying to exhaust the topics, we will take a flight through the Scriptures to see how it is that we ended up on earth, what difference it makes knowing it, how to prepare for the end, and then know what lies behind our days on earth.

Studying Psalm 139 we get away with one overwhelming theme:  God knows us.  He knows our plans, our thoughts, our ways.  He is before us and behind us.  He guides our earthly path from the beginning to the last.  We cannot escape Him, because He created the world we live in:  the heavens are not too high from Him and the depths of hell are not hidden from Him.  No darkness can separate us from Him, because darkness is as light to God. This is good for the child of God:  He is with us, his hand guides us and hold us fast.

But why is all of this true?  The answer is simple – He made us.  Fearfully and wonderfully.  David confesses something in this Psalm that overwhelms us:  God was not only there when He made Adam and Eve, forming them out of dust for his glory, but He is still at work at the formation of every human being in the womb of the mother.  “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13).  Every bone, every ligament, muscle, nerve, sinew and blood vessel is the creation of the Creator God.

The Psalmist then declares that every day on earth is a gift from God.  He will not give one day without purpose, and will not add another day which was not planned from all eternity.

All of this led David then to worship God and praise Him for greatness and majesty.  But it also led him to see himself in the light of this wonderful God who made him and desires a relationship with him:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24, NIV)

Living in relationship with the One who made you, direct your ways and gives you each day to live to his glory, calls for sanctification.

Created by God

If we go back to the beginning of the Bible, to Genesis 1, we understand that spontaneous creation is not possible.  Another name for this is of course evolution.  Nowhere in the Scripture is there any hint that man evolved out of some lower kind of life into what we now might see as the final development.  What is clear from the Scriptures is that God indeed made all creatures according to its kind over the span of just a few days – and all He made was good.  But as the crown of it all, God made man.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26, NIV)

David in Psalm 8 declares:

what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour. (Psalm 8:4–5, NIV)

Yes, man is created in the image of God, in the likeness of God,  crowned with glory and honour – just a little lower than angels.  Man is not the result of millions of years of development out of slime; rather he is the result of a direct act of creation of God.  Into his nostrils God breathed the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) so that he became a living being.  The wild animals and other creatures did not get this breath of life as man got; this distinguishes man and animal from one another.  Although man had the right over animals and could kill them for sacrifices, as Abel did (Genesis 4:4), killing an animal did not demand a life; but for taking the life of a fellow human being, God demanded that the murder’s life be taken.  God said in Genesis 9:6

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind. (Genesis 9:6, NIV)

That’s the reason:  mans is made in the image of God; killing a human being is to despise the work of God, robbing a human being of the highest gift he received from God, and an attempt to disrupt God’s plans and purposes for his creation.  It is barbaric to murder, not barbaric to punish murder  in the light of Gods’ Word.

Blessed by God

The Bible says that God, after creating our first parents Adam and Eve, He blessed them.  The act of blessing was peculiar to Adam and Eve – it is not said about the rest of creation.  After the Flood, for Noah and his family to repopulate the earth under God He gave them his blessing too.  This blessing is God’s way to assure mankind the He is with them, that He established a relationship with them in the form of a covenant, in which He gives them his word that they did not need to do what He intended for them to do on their own.  Therefore David can sing:

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:5, NIV)

This is also the meaning of the blessing God gave to Abraham:

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

It is always God who goes ahead, God who prepares the way, He would curse those ho curse.  He builds a wall around those whom He blesses.

That was his intention from the beginning – it was only mankind, in Adam and Eve, who turn away fro this blessing and brought upon themselves the very curses of those who are not blessed by God.

Under-creator under God

When God created the heavens and the earth, He made everything wonderfully.  We are still trying to work out how God made what He made.  Everyday is a discovery and revelation of God’s works.  We will probably never get to understand everything, or know everything God made.

He made everything for a main purpose:  for his glory.  He was not compelled to create, but He wanted to.  He delighted in creating.  By creating the universe He did not add to his glory or majesty, because He is not dependent of praise and glory from what He created.  But one thing is sure:  He is God; the universe belongs to Him.  So when He created things, He did it so that what He created would not obstruct his eternal plan for his creation.  When He created man, it was not his intention for man to become independent, or for man to seek his own plan, glory and purpose.

Adam and Eve Psalm 8 learned this lesson:  when they stepped outside the plan and command of God, what He gave to them to a blessing to them became the very curse for them.

Now that we know this, we need to understand that God created man for a special purpose.  What is it?  Let’s put it this way.  When God created, He called into existence which had not been there before.  God created everything, but not everything was complete.  I know it might sound dangerous to say this, but it is true.  God made it possible for man to discover things which were not known then:  yes, He made electricity, but it too mankind a long time to work out that it exists and how to harness the power of it.

God created man, but he did not create all human beings when He created them.  In this sense, then,  Adam and Eve became under-creators under God.  God put them in charge of his creation to develop it, to cultivate it, yes, to increase in number, to multiply.  God made Adam and Eve fruitful to increase; He gave them the skill to control the birds of the air and the animals of the land and the sea.  Adam catalogued the animals (that’s it the verse means when it says Adam named them – Genesis 3:19-20).  He understood something of how the kinds of animals looked, but the development of different species and sub-species was something for the future.  Breeding and cross-breeding was still to be explored.  But nowhere is it stated that Adam’s could become a purpose for Adam.  Whatever he did, and whatever we do, still stands under the principle of being under-creators under God:  we are merely here to cultivate and develop what God made for Himself in the first instance.  What we have, what we control, what we own is not for ourselves, it if for Him to whom it belongs.

Pro-creators under God

For this reason we must see the relationship between husband and wife as something holy.  There is sanctity in marriage, because it is an institution made holy be God for the purpose of multiplying the human race – something God could have done if He wanted to, but he chose to include man in the process.

In his holiness, righteousness and perfect design, God ordained living creatures to multiply and bring forth offspring to fill the earth (Genesis1:22, 28).  He therefore created mankind and animals as male and female (Genesis 1:27)

God’s command to multiply and fill the earth came before the rebellion and fall of man.  Man’s fall was not the result of sex, but the result of his rebellion against God’s explicit command.

What amazes me is that God, in some sense, made man to be “under creator”;  Adam also had sons “in his likeness” (Genesis 5:3).  We understand from the Bible that the act of sex is therefore not exclusively and primarily for man’s enjoyment; it was God’s design to continue his creation of the human race on earth.

When the Bible refers to sexual immorality (and this phrase occurs a lot of times in the Bible!) it describes sex, but practiced not for the purpose for which God ordained it.  He designed it to be enjoyed within the confines of God ordained marriage between a man and a woman. It is only when we do not keep this in mind, that some want to redefine marriage, or see sex as something we may practice at will, with whom we will.  But decisions like these, as any other way we may try to make our sins look like good choices, always bear fruit – bad fruit ultimately.

Just imagine, God includes us in the creation of human beings, the crown of his creation.  What is born out of the union between husband and wife has the breath of God in it!

Just imagine then that our world shouts it out in rebellion against the Creator that it would use the ultimate tool given to us for his glory, for its own pleasure and will, trampling on marriage as something which has no purpose anymore, sleeping with as many bed-partners as they like, destroying by abortion the fruit of their lust and licentiousness in rebellion to its Maker, and still expect God to maintain his care over his creation.  Look to what happened in the time of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah. Are we any better?

Gifts under God

What distinguishes man from animal is also his ability to do more than just breathe.  Man received from his Maker gifts.  In Genesis four we discover how God gifted people:  some were gifted working with livestock – they were nomads; others got the gifts to make and play musical instruments – like Jubal (Genesis 4:21).  Then there were the miners and metal workers of the time: Tubal-Cain.  Their record in the Bible is there for us to see what happens if people employ God-given talents, not for his glory, but for their own glory.

Let’s be clear, we received talents to glorify God, and when we use it for his glory, it enriches our lives.  When the sculptor glorifies God by what he forms, many others sees it and is edified by it.  When the poet writes about the greatness of God, it invokes something greater in the heart of the reader.  When the composer discover the greatness of God in the structure of music, what he composes becomes bigger than him and survives time – and it becomes a blessing to those who listen and sings his music.  Never, ever, can anyone use his or her gifts to focus on the self or to boost his own image – that is idolatry.  We are mere stewards of our talents, our gifts, our time.

Accountability before God

Matthew 25:14-30:  God has the right to demand responsibility over what is essentially “his property” entrusted to us as stewards. He indeed does harvest where He has not sown and gathers where He has not scattered the seed.  That He left in our hands to do with the talents He gave us.  We are “under-creators” under Him.  What belongs to Him has indeed all the potential to grow into something to his glory.  Not using it for his glory and returning it to Him to whom it belongs, is an insult to his face.  If we just lived for ourselves, using what we received from Him, we are indeed like the man who brought back only what he received.  For that He was condemned.  What he had was taken from him.  He was not faithful; he could not be given a share in his Master’s happiness.

Christ, our righteousness

We stand condemned before God – yet, Christ is our righteousness.  He made good what we have wasted before God.  More of this in the rest of the series.

Next week

Man’s rebellion

Death

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on 1 June 2014

The glory of the Son revealed through death

That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

Scripture Reading:

  • John 11:1-44

Introduction

We continue our new series of sermons following the Gospel of John. In the next few weeks we will look at the theme of life and death, as we follow our Saviour, from closely before He was arrested, to the end of his ministry.

Towards the end of his Gospel, John explains the purpose of his Gospel in these words:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)

As we hear the Word of God speak to us from John’s Gospel chapter 11 and what follows, this stated purpose of John will be our guide.  So, we pray that God will enlighten our minds as we read and hear the Word preached, that we will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing we will receive life in his Name.

Our theme for this sermon is: The glory of the Son revealed through death.

We will open the Word of God under these headings:

  • Jesus Christ, in control or circumstances for the glory of God
  • Jesus Christ, acting for the benefit of his disciples: so that they may believe
  • Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life
  • Jesus Christ, Lord over death as the Son of God

Jesus Christ, in control of circumstances for the glory of God

During his earthly ministry, our Lord, who was also hundred present human being, made friends.  He made a point to visit friends.  And, of course, there were those who befriended Him.  They loved having Him in their home, and even invited and prepared meals for Him and in his honour.

There was this family of two sisters and one brother.  John 12 actually tells us what happened before John 11 and the resurrection of Lazarus took place.  There is even another chapter in the Bible telling us about these two sisters and their brother.  Luke 10:38-42 introduces us to this family:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42, NIV)

It is almost as if in this family we see the typical family:

  1. There was the sister, Martha, who was preoccupied with daily life.  She was not happy with her sister who did not help her with the daily chores.  She complained to Jesus:  “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!
  2. There was the other sister who couldn’t care less about the household chores.  She was the spiritual one, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching. Later she would take a very expensive and exquisite perfume, worth about a year’s wage, and anointed the feet of Jesus with it, while she wiped it with her hair.
  3. There was Lazarus, the brother.  He never said a word, at least nothing of which was recorded in the Bible.  He was the quiet one.  And yet, what followed in the rest of chapter 11 is about what happened to him.
    It was what happened to him, but it was not about him.

Anyway, of this family we read the Jesus loved them (John 11:5).  The point of this sermon is not to focus on this family, but to focus on what Jesus did in the lives of this family.  I find it however encouraging to think that Jesus is loved this family, just as much as He would love any other family.  Where the door is opened to Him to come in and dine with them, He will enter – and there He will do his marvellous work to reveal himself to them as the Son of God.

All along, our Lord knew what would happen in the near future to this family.  He knew there would be heartache and pain as death would knock on their door.  He knew about the bewilderment and doubt only death can bring to us.  He knew they would understand that death would be final.  He knew these things, because when He saw them again He wept with them.

In the meantime however, He would not be close to them.  Lazarus fell ill, a sickness which would lead to his death.  They sent for Jesus, because they though He would want to know about it and be there for Him.  He did not go, but stayed where He was two more days.  To his disciples He said:

“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4, NIV)

Lazarus died.  But Jesus did not go, yet

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (John 11:5)

What do we make of this?  From Martha, Mary and maybe even Lazarus’ point of view Jesus did not care.  But all along, Jesus was in control of circumstances.  Although He loved them, He loved his Father more.

There might have been anguish in the heart of our Lord to know that He forsook his friends, but the peace of knowing that He was doing the will of the Father would overcome it.  After all, what would unfold on the next day, would be to the glory of God, to the benefit of all who saw and heard Him in Bethany as He revealed Himself as the Son of God.

So He took his disciples and went back to Judea.  They were not so happy with the announcement of Jesus:

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” (John 11:8, NIV)

Yes, that’s true, but the Name of the Father had to be glorified in his Son by destroying death in what was going to happen in the next six days.  First, He had to stop in Bethany at a house of friends in mourning because death entered their home – his friend was in the clutches of death, and He had to set him free.  Then He would continue on the road to Calvary where He would destroy death. This explains the expression of Jesus when He said, “Let us go to Judea.”  He did not tell them that He was going to Lazarus or to Bethany.  His focus was Judea, Jerusalem, and Calvary.

But Jesus also tested his disciples, if they would put their trust in God to protect them, and to see the glory of God.  They had to learn whatever the danger, it is better to be with Jesus; whatever the outcome, it is comforting to know that our times are controlled by God.

Then verse 9 and 10 follow:

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” (John 11:9–10, NIV)

Why are these verses included here?  I wondered and pondered, and found these in the Commentary on John by James Montgomery-Boice:

“First, God gives each of us a certain amount of time, and nothing can shorten it. The day of our life will not finish before it ends. This applied to Jesus.  Jesus’ life was not going to be cut short by his enemies one minute before the time appointed by the Father. And neither is ours. I am not going to die too soon. You are not going to die too soon. If we are God’s children, he has given us a certain number of days, and we shall have them.

Second, Christ’s question to the disciples suggests that if God gives us each a certain amount of time and if nothing can shorten it, then there is time enough for everything that needs to be done.

The third truth suggested by Christ’s question—“Are there not twelve hours of daylight?”—is that, even though we have sufficient time to do all that God has given us to do, nevertheless, we have only that time, and the time should not be wasted. Are there twelve hours to the day? Yes! But there are not thirteen. So we cannot afford to waste even sixty minutes.” [Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: An expositional commentary (834). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]

In control of time and circumstances, Jesus then set out to go to Judea – but via Bethany, via the house of his mourning friends, and via the grave of his good friend Lazarus. 

Jesus Christ, acting for the benefit of his disciples: so that they may believe

Now Jesus, who knew everything, told his disciples:

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” (John 11:11, NIV)

Maybe they were still fearful of what might happen to them if they followed Jesus into Jerusalem as they countered what our Lord said, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”  If we are going to be there or not, he will get better.  At least, we will be out of harm’s way!

Our Lord then told them bluntly the reason why He is on his way to Judea.  This is the reason why He has come into this world:

Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14–15, NIV)

They could only see death; Thomas said, “Let’s go and die with Him.”  To this our Lord said nothing, but what He would do, would give them a complete new perspective on the ministry of Christ and their ministry after He had gone to be with his Father. No, the point here is not death; it is life!

God’s perfect timing is at display in what follows now. 

Lazarus had been dead for four days, he was buried, and according to Jewish thought his spirit had left his body after three days – any possible resurrection was impossible.

There were many Jews visited the house of Martha and Mary to comfort them.  The perfect crowd for the perfect plan of God to unfold.

Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life

It was Martha who met Jesus even before He entered the home.  Now it was she who left the business of the home to be with Jesus, while Mary seemed not bothered.   “Martha troubling herself with questions of “How?” and “Why?” and “What if?” and so missed the blessing that could have been hers if she would only believe more simply. Such faith always attempts to limit God or, which is the same thing, to scale down his promises. Notice that Martha limited the Lord’s working both to time and place, for she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21). She felt that Jesus could have done something four days earlier but that he could not do what was obviously necessary now.” [Boice]  Martha’s faith was both faith and unbelief, something we can understand very well.

Jesus revealed who He was:  in the midst of half developed faith and obedience of his disciples, the unbelief of Martha, the disbelieve of the Jews, facing death, at the graveside of a beloved friend, we hear the words of the Gospel: Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26, NIV)

What happens now?  Remember, all that Jesus said, all He did, all He was willingly giving Himself to do in the Name of the Father is summarised in that verse we took as the banner for this series:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31, NIV)

What happened then with Martha?

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27, NIV)

Oh, that wonderful moment when the light of God’s grace shines upon the heart of a sinner to believe!  What a testimony!  When Peter used about the same words to testify about Jesus, our Lord told Him:

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17, NIV)

In a way then, what was about to happen to Lazarus in his body, happened to Martha in her soul.  Yes, indeed she lived and believed in Him and therefore she would never die, even though she would die; Lazarus believed in Christ, and even though he had died, He would live.

So Martha became a witness of Christ as she ran back into the house to call her sister.  She came out to Jesus, followed by the Jews who gathered with the sisters in their house, and said the same as her sister had said.Her faith, although always sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teachings, was still not complete.  She had to witness the power of Christ over the power death.

Jesus Christ, Lord over death as the Son of God

Then there, at the revelation of the Christ to complete the faith of his followers; there where our Lord faced his earthly enemy, the Jews who would only six days later nail Him to the cross; there where had to deal with the enemy of enemies, death – there, we see two things in our Lord: deeply moved, He wept; deeply moved his soul was troubled.

Why did He weep?  Did He not see the sorrow of sin in the death of his friend?  Did He not experience the pain of loved ones left behind?  Did He not look back on the broken lives of millions through the ages who were in the clutches of death, all because of sin?  Yes, He saw and experience all of it.  That is what makes Him our perfect Mediator.  Listen,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15–16, NIV)

His soul was troubled.  Why?  He had to pay the price with his own life, taking the sin of the world upon Him, to be rejected by the Father in order to bring them to the Father.  There at the tomb of Lazarus, He would face the reality of his own grave ahead of Him only six days.  There He would face the anguish of dealing with sin and death – finally.  He soul was troubled, because God’s punishment of our sin would be on Him in its extreme measure, to give us forgiveness in extreme measure.

Jesus looked at Mary and Martha:

Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, NIV)

Then He prayed to his Father:

“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41–42, NIV)

With a loud voice He then called, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out and Jesus commanded, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.
Jesus is Lord over death, hell, sin and satan.  Why?  He is the Son of God – God Himself with the Father!  That’s why.

Conclusion

The Gospel is preached – even today it has been preached.  It is the Word of God.  It was God’s eternal plan for us to hear it.  Why?

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)

Did we hear his voice?  Do we believe He is the resurrection and the life?  The reason why we heard this message today is to hear his voice – and believe unto eternal life.  It’s either death or life; it’s either Christ or death. 

Let’s thank God for his Son, our Lord.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on 14 April 2013