Only Jesus Christ – no if’s, no but’s (1)

Series title:  Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Ephesians 4:1-13
  • Colossians 2:9-15

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Our series from Colossians goes under the heading “Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.”  We find terms like fulness, wisdom, understanding, every way, all power, all things, everything, glorious riches, all wisdom, perfect in Christ, all energy, full riches, complete understanding, all treasures, etc. are terms driving the message of this letter.  And these things point to Jesus Christ, the One perfect Saviour between God and us.  To know Him is life-changing; eternity depends on it.

Last week we looked at the necessity to grow in the knowledge of our Saviour.  This week we continue and examine the effect of a poor knowledge of Jesus Christ

The effect of a poor knowledge of who Christ is

Verse 8 spells out the devastation of a poor understanding of the Gospel.  It spells out the result of a church where people are in no position to defend the Gospel.  Let’s read:

 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

The language of this verse is very openly that of a struggle or battle.  This side is the truth, the other side is false gospel.  One is about Christ, the other is about the devil.  One is about light, the other is about darkness.  On one side the forces of the Gospel are gathered; on the other side the forces of darkness.  The fight is between two kingdoms:  the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love, the Crown Prince of the living God, against the kingdom of darkness, rules by the destroyer of souls.

Those gathered under the banner of Jesus Christ look at the cross where He defeated the powers of darkness.  His victory there is their victory.  Under his banner they march forth.  He is the head of every power and authority.  When they were baptised, they were baptised in Him; through faith they received all that belongs to Him sealed and signified in the sacrament.  Spiritually they rose with Christ from the dead by the power of God. They believe Him who raised Christ from the dead.

False doctrines 

Ceremonialism

Under those who joined the church in Colossae were people with Jewish background.  Judaism still dictated their theological thinking.  To become part of the people of God they taught that men had to be circumcised.  This was only one aspect of their teaching which became a problem in that church.  Next week we will look at other aspects of their teaching.

For these people the act of circumcision was the thing, and not as much as what it signified.  Right through the Old Testament God held the charge against Israel that they were uncircumcised in heart.  Moses warned the people:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16, NIV)

The prophet Jeremiah delivered the Word of the Lord to the people:

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:4, NIV)

Outwardly (ceremonially) they held to the practice but inwardly there was no sign of trust in God.  Paul writes about this:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. (Romans 2:28, NIV)

This is what Paul refers to in verse 8:  “these things depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.

When Paul addressed this problem in Colossae he pointed them to Christ:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9–10, NIV)

Now, we need to understand the following two verses very carefully.  Paul argues that the sign and ceremony which visibly made man part of the Old Testament people of God, circumcision, is replaced by something else, while what was spiritually required to become part of the covenant people still remains:  what remains is the act of God’s grace

which took away one’s sinful nature…  Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ (Colossians 2:11, NIV)

How did that happen?  God’s saving grace is seen only in Jesus Christ:

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

Listen carefully to this text.  What does it say?  Let’s take it apart, step by step.

  • We need a circumcision of the heart to become part of God’s family.
  • The circumcision we get is through the saving grace of God in Christ.  He circumcise us spiritually.
  • The salvation we need is in Him and is our gift because of his death and resurrection.  He was buried and He was raised from the dead.
  • Through our union with Him we are not buried or brought to life through the sacrament of baptism; we plainly receive what He accomplished for us.
  • What makes salvation a reality in our life is a living faith and trust in Him who was buried and was made alive.
  • Baptism therefore does not require of us to ceremonially be buried in the water to be spiritually made alive.  This is to add to the verse.
  • Baptism is nothing less and nothing more than a sign and symbol that what Christ has done by dying and being raised from the dead in our place.
  • By faith what He has done, is now mine.  Baptism means therefore nothing more and nothing less than the sign circumcision in the old Testament.
  • Nothing changed as far as the substance of our salvation is concerned (it God’s work of grace!), but what has changed is the sign

That’s exactly what Paul states in the next verse:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, (Colossians 2:13, NIV)

We find the same idea in Romans 6:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3–5, NIV)

When were we buried with Him?  When He died.  When were we raised to life?  When He rose to life.  Did it happen when we were baptised?  No.  Baptism was the sign that it surely did happen, but it was grace which united us with Him.

The claim of the ceremonialists in the time of Colossae that circumcision was still necessary was to deny the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  In fact, it was to deny the fruit of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Little wonder then that they wanted to add all sorts of legalistic requirements as we shall see next week.

But what is also true is that those who demand that all babies should by baptised as soon as possible after their birth less they die outside Christ has no Biblical warrant.  The Roman Church teaches that the sacrament acts as a funnel through which grace is poured out on the soul.  It is therefore not uncommon to attend a funeral in that church and then to hear over and over again that the deceased person was baptised, and therefore saved.

It is equally unbiblical to teach that if one was not immersed into water through baptism one will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  What saves us is not the water and the quantity of it;  what saves is God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a sign of grace and receiving that sign is setting one apart from the world as being owned by God.

The theology of Jesus Christ

On the other hand Paul gives a few remarkable statements:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9–10, NIV)

  • Christ is God, the second Person of the Trinity, who came to dwell with us in all his fulness.
  • When in Him we lack nothing , we were brought to fulness.  To his work we add nothing, but we cannot take from it, or diminish the work of his salvation.
  • In Him we were circumcised not with a circumcision done by hands (Colossians 2:11)  Not like the Jews believed!
  • We are saved by God’s act of grace, not be ceremonies (Colossians 2:12) Not like the Jews believed!
  • Our sins are forgiven and by faith we are united with Him who is our Saviour (Colossians 2:13)

Conclusion

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

Amen

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 January 2015

 

 

A life worthy of the Lord

Series Title:  Growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Hosea 4:1-9
  • Colossians 1:3-14

Introduction

Millions of people attended Christmas worship services just two day ago right across the world.  One can only wonder how many those attend the services today.  And one would probably more amazed by the small number whose life is changing, or has changed, because of what they learned or understood about the reason why Christ came into the world.

Many cannot get beyond the manger and the lowing cattle.  A great multitude love the carols, while others only enjoy the Christmas pudding after the service with relatives and friends.

But that is not how we continue on from the manger, the Baby in the crib, star, the wise men and Bethlehem of 2000 years ago.  There we meet Him who had been promised by the prophets, but from there we follow Him to become his disciples.

The Gospel summed up

On Christmas day we heard the glorious message of Christ who was sent into the darkness of this world to be the light leading us back to the Father.  The last verse we read this morning from Colossians 1 explains it perfectly:

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

This verse is the gospel summed up:

  • God rescued us from darkness who held us in bondage.
  • God saved us from that kingdom and brought us into the kingdom of his Son.
  • God loved his Son, and by extension, He loves us.
  • We are redeemed, bought with a price.
  • Our sins are forgiven.

What this verse teaches us is that there was something which created a deep gulf between us and God:  sin.  Sin is described as living in darkness.  God, who is powerful over all things in the universe had the power and the will to get us out of that darkness.  His plan was put into motion and then executed by his Son, Jesus Christ.  What did He do?  He saved us, He redeemed us from the grip of darkness of sin and made us members of his kingdom.

This is the message which signalled the beginning of the Gospels.  It all started in Bethlehem when Jesus Christ was born in a meagre out-building of the inn.  He surely did not strike anyone as a king then, but that was the beginning of God’s rescue plan to destroy the power of the darkness. Remember, the darkness could not overcome it!  (John 1)  Why?  Although he was just a baby in a crib, He was also the eternal Son of God on a mission to save the lost out of darkness and bringing them into the light of God’s presence and freedom of the bondage of sin.

When one studies the letter of Paul to the Colossians one cannot otherwise but come to the conclusion that Paul had one major purpose for writing the letter:  He wanted the Christians in Colossae to know Christ better, and therefore live lives that would glorify Him.  The purpose of the Holy Spirit including this book into the Bible is nothing short of the same purpose.  We will get to more specific indicators of this truth just a bit later.

The change in Christ: anarchy to love

Paul is filled with thankfulness towards his Father for the salvation of those who were once lost but have now found new life in Christ Jesus.  Once they lived in darkness, but now they are people of love and faith, hanging on to a living hope stored up for them in heaven.

This is a mighty statement: by nature we are born into darkness; we are not inclined to love, but rather hate.  Born sinners gossip, they steal, they hate, they murder, etc.  Paul puts it these words in Galatians 5:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19–21, NIV)

You say we are not like that!  Well, the first son of Adam and Eve after they fell into sin murdered his brother.  We might not go to these extremes, but it seems reasonable to believe the very inclusion into the Ten Commandments a command against murder, means that sinful mankind is capable of murder at some point in the bondage in sin.  Add to this all the other commandments.

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and the Holy Spirit does the job of regeneration, the opposite of all these things begin to reign in the life of a sinner.  Once again, let’s here Paul:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

The good news of Jesus Christ

Paul refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ in verse 5:

… the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel (Colossians 1:5, NIV)

When the Colossians heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, something amazing happened:  they were taken out of darkness, out of bondage, into the kingdom of light.  Now, all of this message would have come to nothing if what the apostle preached to them was only a set of philosophical ideas.  The Christian message is not theory, or a set of self-help rules of morality.  That’s what some people think, and even some church people might think so.  The only reason why they come to church or read the Bible is to brush up on their do-it-yourself endeavours to become a better person.  This is not the Gospel of Christ who took us out of the bondage of darkness putting us into the kingdom of light of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Progress in the Gospel

But this verse continues into the next:

In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. (Colossians 1:6, NIV)

Epaphras was their pastor.  He continued to preach the Gospel once preached by Paul.  The Gospel has the effect that God’s people grow in their understanding of its message.  This truth of the Gospel is the truth about Jesus Christ who sets man free.

When they heard this Gospel they were put on a road of discovery and service.  Their service was a service of love:  they began to love one another as fellow believers who now share the same hope.  Their discovery was what Paul prayed for when he said:

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, (Colossians 1:9, NIV)

And this is what so many Christians are in need of.  We need to grow in our understanding of who the baby in the crib of Bethlehem was.  Growing spiritually in our knowledge of who Jesus Christ is and what He wants us to be in Him and under Him, leads to a life which is to the glory of God.

Paul prays for the church to be filled with the knowledge of his will.  This implies spiritual growth.  We read a bout the people of God in the time of Hosea.  Their problem was that they were destroyed by a lack of knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ comes through the fervent study of his Word and communication with Him in prayer; it comes by worshipping together with others members of God’s family in corporate worship; it comes from studying with others in Bible study groups; it comes by reading books and contemplation about God – something which our generation has lost the art of.

We don’t read, we’re addicted to electronic media, and the riches of contemplation and private time with the Lord has been replaced by words about God, short soundbites regarding Him, and summarised experiences of what we hear of others in their walk with God.  But of the authentic, genuine relationship with God meditating on his Word and talking with Him we don’t really know.  We are so noise addicted that we sometimes need to have a radio on while we spend time with God.

My dear friend, don’t be surprised if your spiritual life is dry and lifeless, don’t be shocked if your spiritual life is stunted and fruitless if this is the description of your spiritual life.  I am afraid that the church of Jesus Christ has become a illiterate church.  I heard about a study which found that only 2% of people who attend church on a Sunday actually read the Scriptures during the week.

If we take the words of Paul within its context this morning we have to say that such a life is not worthy of the Lord.  Why?  We simply don’t know “how to please Him in every way” (verse 10)

Paul uses very strong words and expressions here.  Listen:

so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, (Colossians 1:10–11, NIV)

Do you get the gist of his thought:  “every way”, “every good work”, “growing in the knowledge of God”, “strengthened with all power”?  Paul was not looking for church members who had a date of conversion; he was not looking for people who understood something of a baby in a crib; he was looking for people who showed signs of growing up and have become useful in the kingdom of God.  There must be fruit, there must be knowledge, there must be growth.

We are struggling with all sorts of theories and teachings coming our way, and we need to stand on the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In Ephesians 4 Paul writes:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14–16, NIV)

To the glory of the Father

Our chapter this morning ends with an humbling pronouncement:

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:11–12, NIV)

The spiritually healthy Christian, the Christian who is growing in knowledge of the Gospel and Jesus Christ, is someone with “great endurance and patience”.  Being a Christian in the time of Paul was not easy task, and its nothing better now.  The spiritually exercised and fit Christian can run the long distance without becoming out of breath at this first hurdle.  You can remember those painful stitches in your side when you had to run and you were not fit. Those things was a sure pointer of running on a lack of oxygen.  Only spiritual exercise brings the stamina to be patient as we run to the winning post which might look so far.  Sometimes we see athletes run the last round of the marathon with agony and pain clearly visible on their faces.  It seems the Christian race should somewhat different: our verse talks about endurance, patience – and joy!  And along along we should give thanks to the Father.  What a calling, what a challenge!

Is all of this meant to see if we can stack up enough good deeds to eventually enter heaven?  Fortunately not.  Listen to the good news of the Gospel:

God has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (verse 12)

Am I qualified to be in the winning team of heaven?  Yes!  But how?  Listen again:

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

Let’s put it this way:  redemption began at the crib of Bethlehem, but it culminated in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Son of God did it all:  He satisfied the standard of God for righteousness and holiness.  He rescued me.  By faith now God looks at Him, and by faith I’m qualified.

If that is the case, I need to know Him better; I need to serve Him by serving Him more and more.  Only then will my life be “worthy of the Lord.”

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 27 December 2015

Marriage as an effective tool for evangelism (2)

Series Title:  Better things are coming

Scripture Readings

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
  • 1 Peter 3:1-7

Introduction

A wool growing farmer on an outback station once made this remark about Christians and effective evangelism (and he probably just applied some principles of breeding and selecting stock to build up his sheep):  “Pastor, there’s one sure way for Christians to get the upper hand over non-Christians – we need to start breeding Christians!”  He went on to say, “If every Christian marriage can be successful in raising Christian children, and they do the same thing, before long we would populate this planate.”

His premise is probably somewhat naive and simplistic, but there is something about the truth in it.  Can you for just one moment let your mind go and work out how much different this planet would have been if every child growing up in a Christian home, would continue to do the same – generation after the other.

Biblical framework:  Marriage

I find it very significant that the Bible, right at the beginning, states that God created animals and made it possible for them to multiply – and this was possible because there were generally two opposites, male and female.  When He eventually made man to rule over what He had made, He gave him a helper – and both of them were created in the image of God.  So, creation was blessed by the first marriage mentioned in the Bible – a work of God’s hand.

When Jesus began his ministry on earth, He chose to perform his first miracle at a wedding celebration.  it is as if Christ knew the importance of marriage as a way of building the kingdom of God.

The last few pages of the Bible take us again to a wedding:  this is the wedding of the Lamb, Christ Himself.  Right now He is preparing the rooms and the mansion of his Father, and when the fulness of time arrives, He will come back and take his church to be with Him.  The marriage will be consummated when He purifies his bride with fine linen, and being washed clean from all sin in the blood of the Groom Himself, they will be united with Him forever.

Three images of marriage;  right in the beginning with creation, right at the beginning redemption in Jesus Christ, and then the image of and eternal union with the Groom at the end of time.

The day God “took a wife”

The Bible is full of images of a marriage relationship between God and his people.  Some might find it offensive to think about our relationship with God is this way, but we cannot escape the expressions pointing to this in the Scriptures.  Let’s listen to a few Scripture passages:

For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:5, NIV)

As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5, NIV)

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. (Jeremiah 3:14, NIV)  

It all began when God rescued his people out of Egypt.  The very same word the Bible uses for a man who “takes” a woman in marriage is used in Exodus when God rescued his people from sin.  For instance:  when Abraham pretended that Sarah is his sister and give her to Abimelech the Lord appeared to Him with these words:  But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him,

“You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” (Genesis 20:3, NIV)  

Deuteronomy 24:1 uses the expression.  When Boaz married Ruth, he used the same expression.  Now, let’s go to Exodus.  God sends Moses to his fellow Israelites with these words:

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6–7, ESV)

Ezekiel chapter 16 in very explicit way describes the relationship between God and his people:  God picked up this young girl who was rejected by every one else and took her to be his wife.  The book of Hosea is all about the marriage relationship between God and his people.  Their unfaithfulness is expressed as adultery.

Now, what was God’s purpose of taking Israel as his wife.  We can only look at one passage:

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her (or Hephzibah) , and your land Married (Beulah); for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:3–4, ESV)

Without confusing you, “husband” in Hebrew is ba’al.  It can also mean “owner”, or “lord”.  In this sense God is the husband, or the Lord and owner of his people:  He bought them in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  The world Beulah in the verse in a way refers to the other partner of the marriage:  the woman, or the bride.  The whole picture is so beautiful:  the diadem, the beauty, the lonesomeness change into the delight of the groom.

The point to make further is this:

The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. (Isaiah 62:2, ESV)

The relationship between God and his bride-church is to show the nations who both God and the church is.  The whole idea is that this attractive and beautiful marriage will draw people to be part of it, seeking the God who so loves and cares for his bride that they too will want to be part of it.

The husband under God

With all of this in mind, we now go to 1 Peter 3:7

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, ESV)

This is not the easiest verse in the letter of Peter.  But a good way of interpreting Scripture is to have other passages help you.  Now, quite often in the Old Testament where the wife is referred to as “vessel” it has in mind the marriage relationship.  The husband, the “lord” “took” his “vessel” and cared for her and loved her.  In a sense, both of them are “vessels” in the hands of God as part of his bride-church, but the husband caring for his “vessel”, his wife, cares for here using the relationship of God between Him and his people as example:  he cares for her as he cares for his own body.  As a matter of fact, this is what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (Ephesians 5:28-29, ESV)

She was made from the man, in a sense he is not complete without her.  So is the wife always part of her husband.  The husband acts like the Lord God, who will do everything to see that his “weaker vessel” is cared for, that she is loved.

Commentators see the resemblance between this verse and 1Thessalonians 4:4

that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, (1 Thessalonians 4:4, ESV)

The Greek in this verse uses the word “vessel” (translated as “body”), and adds the word “own” (translated as “control”).  The context here is very clear:  live holy, avoid sexual immorality, not in passionate lust like the heathen, no one should wrong his brother (which in the context means to not defile the marriage of another).  Another translation of this verse can then go like this:

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you keep yourselves from fornication, that every one of you know how to hold his own vessel in sanctification and honour (i.e., live with his wife in sanctification and honour), not in passionate just like the Gentiles who know not God.

This corresponds with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:2

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2, ESV)

The unfaithfulness and spiritual adultery of God’s people stood in the way of the nations to seek God.  In the same way, unfaithfulness in the marriage will stand in the way of outsiders seeking the Lord.  On the contrary, the faithful and godly marriage reflects something of the relationship between Christ and his church, and it’s at this point that marriage is such a mighty tool for evangelism:  it is not only an example to your children to love the Lord, but it is attractive to outsiders.  It becomes one of the best and successful tools for evangelism.

Understanding and knowledge

A translation of 1 Pet 3:7 reads:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way  (1 Peter 3:7, ESV)

Most of us will never know how to understand our wives!  So, what does this verse tell us?  I know one can stretch the point a bit, but “know” and “knowledge” in the Scriptures very often refers to the intimate relationship between husband and wife.  In the same way do we find the word in Hosea – the book about God’s marriage relationship with his people – and brings out this charge against the people:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you …(Hosea 4:6, ESV)

Of course this knowledge implies knowledge, but the lack thereof stems from their poor relationship with the Lord.

In the same way, it is possible to understand the words in 1 Peter 3:7 that the husband’s relationship to God is somehow conditioned by or dependent on his relationship with his wife, and vice versa.  If husbands do not apply everything they know about God and his Word in their marriage relationships, marriage will suffer.  The verse says:  both will receive the gift of life.  It is God who gives it, and He is most pleased when husband and wife live in a relationship which reflects his relationship with his church.

A good marriage and answered prayers

A crippled marriage relationship has a result a crippled prayer life.  A healthy marriage has a result a healthy prayer life.  A husband who does not know Christ and his redeeming love for his church, which is his bride-church, will not know how to pray for his family, or even the word around him.  We cannot try to get around this.  We may say how many prayers, and we might even be serious about it, but according to this text, we will have unanswered prayers if there is something wrong in our relationship as marriage partners.

I think the same applies for the wives:  if they do not understand their relationship with Christ correctly, and live in perfect submission to Him as the Bible says, they prayers will remain unanswered.

A house that prays together is a house that stays together.  I wonder if our stale prayer life as a church can not be taken back to unfulfilled marriage relationships.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 4th October 2015

Be Wise (2)

Mind your wife (or your mother)

Scripture Readings

  • Ephesians 5:22-32
  • Proverbs 31:10-31

Introduction

They say it’s Mother’s day, and we need a day like this.  But for the church Christ every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ.  Every sermon should be about Him and his work of salvation.  Every worship service should bring honour to God in the first instance; that’s our chief aim in life. But, even on a day like today, we want to thank God for our mothers.  We want to bring Him thanks for having mothers who love, care and live by example. So wen we read Proverbs 31 about the Excellent Mother we need to look further.  We might be surprised to see that mothers, how much we love and adore them (and we should!), should be loved and adored through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ – the wisdom of God.

Wives

Let’s learn from a man who knew women far better than anyone on the face of the earth.  We can say this because all up he had 1,000 of them – 700 wives in his harem, and another 300 as concubines, more or less the slaves of the wives he had.

(Was he really wise having a thousand? Must be; there are times I yearn for more wisdom to really understand the one I have! Not really,  she is a gift from God, and I truly love and adore her.)

Solomon wrote the best part of Proverbs and has quite a few things to say about a wife:

A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones. (Proverbs 12:4, NIV) He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22, NIV) Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord. (Proverbs 19:13–14, NIV)

There are also a few negative things about a wife:

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 21:9; 25-24, NIV) A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; (Proverbs 27:15, NIV)

So, Solomon makes it very clear that we need to be careful when it comes to the the choice of who we marry: is it God’s choice for us? Further, how we live with them.  It is of the outmost importance to make sure that we marry within the will and providence of the Lord.  It flows then that a man needs to do whatever in his power to keep his wife happy, and (of course) vice versa – marriage is after all a partnership, requiring two people to make it work.  Who wants to live on a corner of a roof instead of inside the house!   Who wants to live in a house with a leaky roof in a rainstorm!  We will do whatever we can to avoid it.  This calls for wisdom.  Happy wives means happy marriages and happy families. To be fair, the same can be said about husbands.

Mothers

When it comes to wives being mothers, Solomon also had a few things to say too:

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. (Proverbs 10:1, NIV) A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother. (Proverbs 15:20, NIV) Whoever robs their father and drives out their mother is a child who brings shame and disgrace. (Proverbs 19:26, NIV) If someone curses their father or mother, their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness. (Proverbs 20:20, NIV)

Once again the point here is to be wise, to make the right choices and bring joy to the heart of a father and mother.  The best gift any child can give their mother is to be wise and to follow the Lord with a complete heart.  Yes, sending roses and cards, buying gifts and making telephone calls are all important.

To tell our mothers that we love them is of utmost importance, but to tell our mothers or wives that we love them because we love the Lord would be the best news.

There are many mothers who weep for their children – the children of the verses we heard today:  they are foolish, they set their hearts on the wrong things, they chose bad friends and put their hopes on the things of this word.  When evening comes the mother would open her heart and pour out her grief before God for a child who lost direction.  Many mothers fear to openly move around in their circle of friends because of ridicule for her son’s bad life-choices.

How many times have I sat and prayed with mothers who weep for their wayward children.  How many times have I listened to the heartbreaking story and hurt of a mother who can’t sleep out of concern for her children.

Today is perhaps just the occasion to make things right between you and God and then tell your mother about it.  Confessing towards God and then confessing to mother (and dad) for despising the teaching and example they set. Or perhaps today might be the best day and opportunity, if she does not know the Lord yet herself, to tell her about Christ, pray for her and with her.

The excellent wife

Let’s now turn to Proverbs 31. I look at this chapter and I remember my mother. Mom was not perfect, but to us she was a gift from God.  She was indeed noble, and a woman of strength. Let’s go quickly through this chapter again:

This wife’s husband had confidence in her.  This was not only a “for-better-and-for-worse-thing”. This word expresses that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence.  It conveys something or reliability.  some place it is translated as “hope”.  It is that sense of “all is well”, the feeling of being safe or secure; trust; contentment, fulfilment.  Something in the original verse speaks of no need for plunder – take what belongs to others.  The truely happily married husband has no need to wander into the paddock of his neigbour – his own wife is all-satisfying.   His wife greatly enriches his life.  The noble wife supports her man who manages the land.  He is well-known in the gates of the city among the civic leaders.  She spurs him on to serve in his community with integrity.  She brings him good:  her love and companionship is to him a recompense and reward.  Where this word is used elsewhere in the Bible it is contrasted with harm.  If conveys the nurture of a mother who breastfeeds a baby up to the point when she weans it.

She is wise, industrious, and clever. She works hard and provides for her family like a lioness looks after her cubs.  She gives instructions to her servants – she has everything in control as she plans the day.  She is energetic and strong, a hard worker (she girds her loins with strength, an expression which is through the Scriptures reserved for soldiers.

When she speaks, her words are wise, she gives instructions (torah) with kindness.  She carefully watches over everything in her household.  She is not lazy in her care and provision for her family. She inspects a field, she acquires it with the fruit of her hand (actually, palms).  She complements her food she grows and prepares with wine.She makes sure (tastes) her business dealing are profitable.

She is a discerning and wise women. She spins wool for clothing for her family – she provides clothing for her family.  When she is done with the care of her own family her care spills over into the community.  She cares for her community and the poor.  Her family is looked after in cold weather. the reference in verse 21 to scarlet scarlet is reference of well-being and with luxury.  There is something in the original that talks about double layered clothes which protects against the cold of winter.  There is more than enough from the clothes she makes so that she can trade with it. She herself is clothed with dignity, she laughs without fear of the future.

She knows well charm is deceptive and beauty does not last.  The fear of the Lord surpasses them all, and that is what instills in her family: true values that will last. She makes her children happy, and they called her blessed for it.  They return her dedication with likewise love and dedication. She is their tree of life. She is best of the best: the best wife, the best mother, the best friend, the bast companion.

This is the woman we want to reward her for all she has done.   Her deeds publicly declare her praise. We thank God for our mothers.

Mothers as wisdom examples

Maybe somewhere through this chapter some mothers here today felt a bit like the boy at the funeral of his father.  In the eulogy his father was praised for all the things he did and how well he did it.  In reality he was a lousy husband and father.  So this little fellow poked his mom and said, “Let’s go Mom. I think we are at the wrong funeral.”

Let’s face it, not all mothers can ever display all the qualities of Proverbs 31.  And if you feel a bit guilty about certain things you don’t do or never achieve as mother, for a moment just sit back and relax.

I believe this chapter tells us something very important:  mothers can be a wonderful example of wisdom – that wisdom which is also described as a woman in Proverbs.  By living out the fear of the Lord and knowing Him and following Him, being satisfied in Him, expecting all good from Him, looking up away from earthly wisdom and riches, the wise mother exemplifies wisdom and attracts her family to wisdom which became her only goal and purpose in live.  This same applies to the menfolk as husbands and fathers. Of wisdom is said about the same which is said about the excellent and noble wife of chapter 31.

Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention; the price of wisdom is beyond rubies. (Job 28:18, NIV)

She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 3:15, NIV)

… for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 8:11, NIV)

So, in the final analysis, our mothers are not the measuring stick or the benchmark of what is perfect life.  Like we heard last week:

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. (Proverbs 4:6–8, NIV)

To despise wisdom is to love the other woman, the bad one with loose morals.  She is also dressed in fine linen; but she looks and acts like a prostitute.  She destroys and her paths lead to death.

Wisdom will reward us in the same way as our mothers do when we put our minds and hearts to loving wisdom and be wise.  We will be looked after, we will be clothed and fed, we will be satisfied and safe when we are wise and love Gods’ wisdom revealed in his Word and made know to us by his Son.  This is the ultimate lessen of Proverbs 31.

We follow our earthly mother’s example to love wisdom.  It this, the calling of a mother is extremely high. But ultimately we hear the call of wisdom which leads us to God.  We hear the call of the Gospel of Christ which leads us to God.  We follow Him who makes us wise to now live as wise people to please God, glorify Him and think his thoughts after Him.  We listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit who takes the Word and writes it in our heart so that we will know to turn from the folly of the world and set our minds on Christ.

The church as the bride of Christ

Just a final thought:  the church is the bride of Christ.  Our relationship with Him will be consummated at his coming when we will live with Him into all eternity. But it seems reasonable to think that the perfect wife of Proverbs 31 should also apply to the church:  our example of service to our Lord, service to our community, hard work and integrity, our dependence upon Christ, and making his Name great in this world, living wisely making clever choices, should be as attractive to those living around us so that they will be drawn into a relationship with Him who call us his bride.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21–33, NIV)

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:1–7, NIV)

Make God give us the wisdom to live like his church bride on earth. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 May 2015

Abraham the Father of all Believers (6)

God’s unilateral agreement of grace

Scripture Readings

  • Galatians 3:6-18
  • Genesis 15

Introduction

Dear family of God,

It is impossible for the sinking swimmer to negotiate with the lifesaver agreements before he is rescued.  At that point in time the lifesaver is in charge; the troubled swimmer is in need.  To survive he needs to obey the commands shouted out to him; he has to trust the lifesaver with his life.  There is no time for doubts; he does not have the luxury to question the credentials of the lifesaver or his equipment.  If he wants to survive he has to cooperate because it is a matter of life and death.

When God calls us into a relationship with Him the Bible calls it a covenant relationship.  In this relationship we, as the sinking sinner, have no say, other than to, against all odds, stretch out our hands to the saving God who delights in saving us and making us his children.  That obedient stretching out of our hand is faith.  Faith is not a form of good works; it is what you do when you know you deserve nothing else but to sink into eternal hell, and then see the saving hand of the Saviour.  At that stage faith does not ask questions, or it cannot doubt – it is the only possible option to survive:  all preparations for the rescue operation are done; God does not initiate a rescue plan with flaws in it.  It is complete, and God has to be trusted for it.

To then stretch out our hand is what the Bible calls faith.  To not do so is called unbelief which leads to eternal condemnation.

Do not be afraid

I am your shield

Our chapter begins with, “After this …”  It clearly takes us back to chapter 14.  There Abraham rescued his nephew, Lot, from the hands of the mighty kings.  One might think that those kings could get it in their hearts to call another campaign in retribution to punish Abraham.  But God assured him that he should not be afraid.  He promised to be his shield.  In seeking righteousness according to the principles of God’s kingdom and for the sake of Christ, Christians expose themselves to the hatred of the world.  We must remember:  Do not be afraid, God is our shield.  The enemy might be able to destroy our bodies, but they will never be able to touch our souls.

The son of the HMAS leader, who converted to Christ, declared in an interview after he very strongly spoke out against Islam, that his life might be in danger, that he might be hunted down for what he is saying, but he is confident that they will never silence his testimony and they have no right on his soul.  May God protect him.

I am you reward

Abraham decided to not take his award for the campaign against the mighty kings, and he gave it all away to the king of Sodom.  Although he put his life in danger to rescue Lot, he put his trust in God to provide for him.  God had already promised him all of the land to the west, eats, north and the south.

In this verse God assured him that He is Abraham’s reward.  God is our portion; or put it the other way round, our portion is God.  The elder son in the parable of Jesus did not understand this, although he lived with is father while the younger brother squandered is inheritance.  While refusing to call his lost brother “brother”, but rather refer to him as “this son of yours”, he complained with his father that he never got anything, not even a goat to celebrate with his friends, but his father said:

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’ (Luke 15:31, NIV)

To be joyful in the Lord we, by faith, need to embrace this reality:  God is our portion.  In Christ our reward is sins forgiven, and life everlasting with Him in the world to come.

What if circumstances proves different?

Personally I think that Bible translators gave us a translation leaving us with the idea that Abraham did not believe God.  Verse two in our translation begins with “but”, whereas it can and should rightfully be translated as “and”.

Abraham did not complain with the Lord in a “but” sense; he accepted God’s blessing upon him, but he wanted to know how this is going to work out.  His language is almost that of the man who prayed, “I believe, help me to have faith.”

His reply to the Lord, “What can you give me?” is not a challenge to God as if God’s promise was meaningless.  It was more with a sense of anticipation that he asked this question.

When I was involved in the Inland Mission, more than once I found myself in a financial predicament.  In those times I would constantly ask God if He wanted me to continue with the work; and every time I was assured that He indeed wanted me to continue.  That assurance did not put money in my pocket to pay for diesel or the rego.  God taught me not to doubt Him and it became a matter of faithful anticipation of his provision every time I opened the mailbox.  At one time the rego ran out and I needed about $650.00 to renew it.  I prayed about it and later went to the post office knowing that God will provide.  I got a letter in the mail for a ladies group, which read, “We thought you might need money to your rego.  Please accept this donation.” Rego was due that day, and the amount was $650.00.

Abraham did not question the Lord in unbelief; rather he, with anticipation asked, “How?” With him he only had his financial manager, Eliezer of Damascus.  Was he the one God would use to fulfil his promises?  No children of his own yet?  No, not Eliezer,

This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4, NIV)

Look up to the heavens and look at the stars.  You cannot count them. and the Lord said to Abraham:

“Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5, NIV)

Looking at the mighty and glorious display of the handiwork of God clearly visible in the night sky, Abraham believed God.  If God could call of that stars into existence out of nothing, surely giving Abraham an offspring in not such a great deal.

Abraham believed God.  This takes us back to the previous chapter where we first read about the king of righteousness.  We then understood that Abraham, in his meeting with Melchizedek, had a glimpse of the ultimate King of Righteousness and Peace, Jesus Christ.  What seemed humanly impossible is possible with God, and every promise God made with Abraham, and every step He took Abraham through would point to Christ who is the eternal High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.  Abraham was still on his maturity in faith, but the light, although dim, was burning.  He had to learn more for God.

God took him back to his salvation from the futility of serving idols and who brought him to that point in his life:

“I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Genesis 15:7, NIV)

God used his covenant Name, YHWH.  He is the creator of heaven and earth.  He holds nations in his hands; He holds time in his hand.  He had all the right to give Abraham and his offspring any land He wanted to. Little wonder then that Abraham called out: “O, Sovereign Lord!” Lord of Lords!  God of gods!  “Show me how this is going to work out.  Give me a sign.”

So, what if circumstance proves different?  Trust God.  Don’t give up.  The Almighty God of gods is working out his eternal plan.

God’s Comprehensive (unilateral) agreement of grace

How would God accomplish his plan with Abraham?

Through sacrifice

God ordered Abraham to bring a heifer, a goat and a ram, together with a dove and a young pigeon.  The bigger animals were of perfect age – three years.

In ancient times kings made agreements by cutting animals in half and then walk in the middle between the different parts as a sign that if they were not faithful to the agreement the lot of the animals would be their lot.

What God introduced here is his covenant of grace sealed in blood. The animals mentioned here are those that were later used in the later sacrificial system.

Through suffering

At first it seemed that God was not in it.  In waiting for God birds of pray descended upon it.  God later made it clear to Abraham that these birds symbolised the Egyptians who would enslave his descendants. The dreadful dark clouds we read about which Abraham saw in this vision stressed the point even further.  The deep sleep of Abraham symbolised that time where it would seem as if Israel was forgotten, and that God had forgotten his promises to Abraham. God wanted Abraham to know that through much suffering God will call his people back to the promised land.  All of this called forward to Christ who was God’s suffering servant who saved by suffering himself to free those who are in bondage of sin.

A limited time

In all of this God gave Abraham two promises:  the time of slavery will be limited, and the oppressors will be punished.  For those who are currently brutally oppressed in the Middle East and Africa, this should be comforting.  Let’s all remember this, God will avenge the blood of those who are beheaded because of their testimony of Christ.  The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what is happening behind the scenes and why:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9–11, NIV)

Back to Abraham’s vision.  Why wait?  Why can’t God give him what He promised there and then?  Because of God’s long-suffering, patience and grace.  The Amorites, then living in the land, still had time to repent.  if they didn’t, their sin will reach full measure.  Then God will make the descendants of Abraham return.

God’s grace alone

With Abraham still looking on, and with the darkness of night approaching, something happened:  there was a smoking pot and a blazing torch passing between the pieces of the animals. God often appeared in smoke, like on the mountain when He gave them the Law.  He also appeared to his people leading them through the cloud column by day and the pillar of fire by night.  This was God passing through the cut animals.  He was alone.  He did not ask Abraham to be with him, as was the custom when people made an covenant. There was nothing Abraham could bring to make the agreement valid.  It rested upon God alone.  He saved by grace, and whoever believes in Him will not be ashamed.

Our Lord went through Gethsemane alone, He walked the streets of Jerusalem as the despised, and there on Calvary’s Hill He took the punishment alone. The curse of covenant-breaking which was ours, He took on Him, and his body was broken, his blood was shed like the animals of Abraham.  Abraham was an onlooker; God’s covenant was one of grace.  And so it is today.

The Gospel to us through Abraham

We read from Galatians 3 this morning.  Paul writes:

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Galatians 3:8, NIV)

How did this work out?  Let’s hear from Paul again:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16, NIV)

Yes, God did give the Promised Land to Abraham and his descendants, but they were merely custodians of the land for as long as God prepared they way for the Messiah to come, for from them He was born.  After Christ fulfilled  his work of salvation the prominence of Israel as God’s sole covenant people was superseded by the Church.  Listen:

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:14, NIV)

And Jesus commanded his church to evangelise the nations, baptise them and teach them all the things He commanded.  All who believe in Christ are now children of Abraham according to the promise.  We in Wee Waa, not from the Jewish line, by faith have become children of Abraham:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28–29, NIV)

Conclusion

This is our Gospel:  Not relying on us, not asking anything from us, God made an agreement, one-sidedly, by grace to make us his children.  Through Christ, the blessings of Abraham are ours – but only because of Christ.  Take it by faith, and be saved by grace.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 August 2014

Remember your creator

Public Profession of Faith of new members

Scripture Readings

  • 2 Timothy 3:10-17
  • Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8

Introduction

My dear young friends,

Today is one of the most important days in your life:  Today, before God and his congregation, in the Name of Jesus Christ, you made profession of your faith in God.  You did it publicly, so that all might know that you love the Lord Jesus Christ.  This public profession of your faith will now be followed-up by repeatedly sitting at the table of the Lord where you will declare that you remember that He died for your sin, that He rose to give you new life, that He called you to serve Him with all your heart, mind and soul; you will also proclaim to the world that you are waiting for his return and that you long to be with Him into all eternity.

You would want to get some wise words today; some ideas that will keep you on track as a young Christian till the day of Christ’s return.  We can go to some people of fame for advise.  Like:

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. (Charlie Chaplin)

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. (Abraham Lincoln)

Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die. (General McArthur)

Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. (Helen Keller)

But we should go to the Bible.  The verses I chose to preach from today is from Ecclesiastes.

It’s all in vain

It is generally accepted that king Solomon, or at least someone who were close to him, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.  It was maybe a collection of his thoughts when he became an old man – even after he strayed from God.  Solomon, although an exceptionally wise man who got what he had as a gift from God, did not end up dying as a wise man.  We read this about Solomon:

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. (1 Kings 11:4, 9–10, NIV)

It seems then that Solomon entered the last stages of his life as a man who lost his vision of life and on God.  The first verse of the book of Ecclesiastes begins like this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV)

To him wisdom became meaningless, pleasures became meaningless:  he tried out wine and laughter – that was meaningless!  He tried out great projects – houses, gardens, parks, silver and gold, women (ending up with 1,000 altogether!) – yes, he says, “I denied myself nothing” (Ecc 2:10), but even that seemed meaningless in the end.  He found out that both human wisdom and folly, both hard work and laziness lead to nothing but meaninglessness.

He even got to the low point in his life to argue that there is not much difference between the righteous and the unrighteous:  both comes under the judgement of the Lord (Ecc 3:18-19).  His life spiralled down into what seems like a depression;  it seems he became lonely with no one to cheer him up, so he writes about the value of having a friend:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:10, NIV)

Squandered opportunities

It was not that the king did not know better.  No, he was privileged to have it all in his hand, but somehow he let go of it.  Listen:

Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. (Ecclesiastes 4:13, NIV)

There was a time that he stood in the presence of the Living God who chose him to be the king of Israel.  He made certain promises to God, but now it seems that he had not been not sincere.  Now he understands the value of being honest with God:

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfil it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfil it. Therefore fear God. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5,7 NIV)

After living in a period of extraordinary wealth in which he accumulated chariots and horses, and the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills (1 Kings 10:26–27, NIV), he ended up saying:

Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. (Ecclesiastes 5:15, NIV)

Someone said the shroud of death has no pockets.  Solomon understood that very clearly.

He ended up saying that instead of searching of riches and pleasure, his time would have been better spent with those mourning the death of a loved one.  He says, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3, NIV)

There is still meaning in life

In amongst all this pessimism and meaningless Solomon found something which is worthwhile and meaningful.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26, NIV)

Then, apparently much later in life, he gives this testimony:

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9, NIV)

There is almost a sadness in this verse.  This wise king who had everything going for him, wasted his opportunities, his gifts, his talents – he was just a bad steward of the things God apportioned to him.  Now, at the end of his life, he looks back and instead of thanking God for all he had, he fears God’s judgment.

We have to understand that God did not put us on earth to never experience joy and happiness.  It is also wrong to think that to follow one’s dreams is sinful.  No, all of us received from God talents, skills, friends, family and opportunities to enjoy the time God appointed for us on earth.  What is more unattractive that a lemon-faced Christian!  As a matter of fact, the fruit of the Spirit are all things which make the children of God so much different that those who do not believe Him:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

We are not meant to be locked up in cloisters and monasteries where we have to renounce all pleasures and joys.  Paul writes about people who just can’t help themselves but to add to the Gospel, making rules of “Do not handle!”, “Do not taste!” and “Do not touch!”  What sort of life is that?  The word “joy” is repeated over and over again in the Bible.  The Christian, of all people, should be joyful and happy.

But for the Christian joy does not lie in getting drunk of be given to all sorts of worldly pleasures.  The concept of joy in the bible is always connected to the child of God’s life in the presence of God.  In his letter to Timothy Paul writes:

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22, NIV)

Worldly pleasures, or sinful pleasures are a killer.  This is what got Solomon where he found himself:  his joy abandoned him, and his life was filled with regret and sadness.  Ask about every adult here today about their regret about sin and the pain it brought in their hearts and their relationships with one another and above all, their relationship with God.

Remember your Creator

There is a remedy against spiritual nothingness and meaninglessness.  It would be horrible to live a life, to have had all opportunities, skills and talents, and then, when one is old to then say, “I find no pleasure in life.”

The good advise of a man who seemingly threw it all away is this:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV)

What does this “remember” mean? It surely means more than to remember someone’s birthday, or to remember when the exams start.

The Biblical “remember” has something of “constantly keeping in one’s mind”, so that one’s path is determined by what you are thinking about.

To remember our Creator is exactly that:  to always understand the God created you.  He created the world, time, talent and opportunities.  To remember this is to then direct one’s way in obedience to the Creator to please Him in all one does.  This is why the Bible teaches:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23, NIV)

So, when you now start your journey as communicant members of the church of Christ, you must remember your Creator.

But the “remember” of the Bible constantly takes the people of God back to the salvation of God; through Christ and his Spirit he re-created us.  To remember God is to remember his acts of mercy.  Our minds should be filled with thanksgiving for the fact that Jesus Christ took our punishment upon Him when He died on the cross.  It also means that our minds must be filled with thankfulness that his resurrection means our new life.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1, NIV)

The days of trouble

Just briefly this warning:  the opposite of remember is to forget, or at least to delay – tomorrow, or later.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV)

There are millions of people who found the way to eternal hell just because they thought there would be another day.  Besides, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But the reality is also that constant delay may lead to a day that the delight of the Gospel will not be the pleasure of your soul.  O, the number of old people I come across who repeat these words, “I find no pleasure in the Gospel!”  The brain has become misty and foggy; the heart is hard and the mind stubborn.  What tragedy then that they unwittingly repeat the words of Solomon, “It is all meaningless; all comes to nothing!”

Conclusion

You have made a good choice to make profession of your faith now while you are young.  We praise and thank God for you.  It is with excitement that I recommended you to the elders for membership.  Your knowledge of the things of our Lord and the Scripture is exemplary.  I look forward to work with you in the body of the Lord – for his glory.  I plead with the congregation to stand by their commitment to set a godly example for you, to pray for you and to encourage you in your walk with the Lord.

But you will eventually move on, leave school, meet friends and chisel out you career, and get married.  I plead with you in the Name of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer:  “Remember your Creator!”  Do this and life will never be meaningless.

AMEN

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 August 2014

Abraham the father of all believers (3)

A straight blow with a crooked stick

Scripture Readings

  • Matthew 14:22-36
  • Genesis 12:9-13:4

Introduction

It happens slowly, gradually:  we enjoyed the glow and presence of the God who called us out of darkness to his wonderful light.  There was a time that we found ourselves on cloud nine:  we cherished the goodness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ; we marvelled in the provision of the Lord, and our prayer life set the temperature for our daily walk with Him.  We, almost romantically, expected of God provision for every day in every circumstance, and hardly did we let the opportunity go by to speak to Him and to speak to others about Him.

But then, slowly and gradually the glow seemed to become colder, our dedication and wonder for God’s grace declined.  Our expectation of his provision faded, and our Christian walk became a drag and a tedious chore.  The spark of trust and expectation have gone, and more and more we leaned on our energy to keep our relationship with God going, sometimes even feeling that it is all gone.  Our prayer life halted, we found it difficult to speak about our Saviour, and our study of the Scriptures became dry and meaningless.  We know our spiritual life has nothing more to offer than those who do not believe.  It is just so dry within.  And in these times we hear the constant charge of the Accuser that we have failed, and that following the Lord after all is not such a big deal.  The effect of all of this is that we allow compromises in our life, and the world becomes an attractive place.  We are now more inclined to let go of some of our dear-held principles.

To sum it up, we are not in a place where God wants us to be; we are exposed, vulnerable and spiritually fragile.

This is where Abraham found himself in the last part of Genesis 12.  And in some way, this is where Peter found himself when he took his eyes off Jesus on that stormy night:  he saw the wind, he was afraid and he began to sink.

The crooked stick

Abraham, a man like us

A brave move in faith

For some reason, we think Abraham must have been a very special person, even a sort of supernatural human being.  But have we have seen last week, God saved him our of Mesopotamia where he was worshipping other gods (Joshua 24:2-3).

Yes, this is something in Abraham which makes us look up to him.  When God called him to leave his country, his family and his father’s house, it took a special kind of obedience for him to back his bags and set out to a place where had he no idea about what it would be like.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)

This land did not mean easy living:  there were Canaanites there who were a hostile, war-hungry, devil worshipping, and child-sacrificing group of people. For Abraham then to build an altar to the God of glory who appeared to him in Mesopotamia right at the place of worship of the Canaanites is something we admire.  This is the sort of thing God wants of his people: we need to brave to go out in this world to proclaim the wonders of Him who saves by grace.  That’s why some leave home and loved ones go to places like Portugal, and others almost put their lives on the line to tell about Christ in our public schools.

A gradual shift away

But not long after we read about Abraham claiming the land in the Name of the God of glory, we hear about him setting out to the Negev, this is the southern parts of Judah, of which some were known to be desert-like. (Map) The Hebrew, if we would translate very literally, could sound like this: “Abram pulled up his tent pegs, and kept pulling up the pegs into the Negev.” It was a process; gradually he moved south.

I don’t think Abraham going south into the Negev was a such a sinful thing to do. He was still in the land which God promised to him.  But there are two very important geographical markers in our text:  in verse 8 he built a second altar to the Lord and worshipped Him there.  Chapter 13:4 takes us back to this point, and Abraham once again worshipped the Lord; that’s the one geographical marker:  the altar built to God where Abraham worshipped God.  The second place which plays a role in this episode of Abraham’s life is Egypt – and we don’t read about Abraham worshipping God there.  As a matter of fact, it is almost as if Abraham thought God is not in Egypt.

So, I think we need to focus on these markers to help us understand the story of Abraham.

A test of faith

Whilst in the Negev God allowed a drought to happen – not just and ordinary drought, the Bible says it was severe. Where Abraham found himself then there was a sort of a highway which ran north to south, from Damascus to Egypt.  It was most probably here where Abraham heard that things looked  much better in Egypt than in Canaan.  It seems then that Abraham lent an ear to the rumours more than he would listen to the voice of God.

Point is, he thought had to do something: his existence was endangered because of the famine.  He wanted to provide for his family.  The man who trusted God earlier so much that he left everything behind for the sake of following God, now was in charge of his own plans. If we read Hebrews 11 correctly, he very well understood that going back to Ur or Haran was not the right thing. (Hebrews 11:15)

If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. (Hebrews 11:15, NIV)

So, Abraham must have been convinced that Egypt was the only option, but we don’t hear him speaking to God about it. In essence it was his idea to escape the famine. It was only later in his journey of faith that he learned to wait upon God.

Only temporary – “sojourn”

Abraham’s plan was not to leave Canaan permanently.  The word for “live” in verse 10, comes from the Hebrew to live among people who are not blood relatives. It was not that Abraham gave up upon God’s promises, but, as we shall see in the rest of this series, Abraham sometimes understood them wrongly.  Here he thought he had to step in and do something.

This is what happens when we slowly drift away from the presence of God and we think we need to step in for what seems like God is not with us.  The problem of course is not that God is not with us anymore, but we are not with God anymore.  Now we take things in our own hands.  And it more often than not leeds to some sort of mess-up.  Faith means trust; faith does not mean starting out in our own direction and then trust that God would follow.  We might think that we are not moving away permanently or giving up on God’s providence, but the fact it we are moving away from Him.

Bargaining to save himself

Moving out of the Promised Land, Abraham is faced with a custom of the Egyptians:  the Pharaoh had the first choice when it came to women. He held a huge harem out of which would pick and choose partners to give him children to secure his posterity.  If you were married to a women, the marriage could annulled with you dying.  If you were not married, the father or eldest brother would be given a handsome dowry and the women then became part of the harem.  David had Uriah killed in the same way to get Bathsheba as wife.

Abraham and Sarah were actually half brother and sister (Genesis 20:12), but they were also married.  For convenience sake when it was necessary he fell back on the “she-is-my-sister”act.  A half truth is nothing else but a full lie. Abraham was extremely selfish: “Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:13).  Maybe Abraham just could not work out that God honoured his marriage to Sarah and that both of them were important in the promises of God.

Abraham’s eye were not on God – he had to bargain for his future, and in the process is marriage, and God’s promise to give them children, were put at risk.

Humiliation

Unbeknownst to Abraham’s in his faithfulness God intervened.  He kept their marriage from being desecrated, and inflicted the Pharaoh and his clan with serious diseases.  Abraham’s half truth exposed his full lie:  he and Sarah were married.  The both of them were sent away in humiliation.  They were not welcome even in the place they thought they would temporarily seek refuge.  The chosen one of God faced the rebuke and a slap in the face by the world.

Their grand plan did not work out.  It was a disaster.  It was back to the drawing board for them, back to where they started to drift away from worshipping and trusting God.  They journeyed back through the Negev.  Not much is mentioned about his walk with the Lord until he got back to Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier; then we read, “There Abraham called on the Name of the Lord.” (Genesis 13:4)

Abraham is our father in faith, not because he was a hero.  He is our father in faith because he was just like we are:  there were times that he drifted away from God, he relied upon his own wisdom, he failed – but he learned from his mistakes.  We should learn from him:  life outside of the place where God wants us to be is doomed to fail, it is dangerous and precarious.  We need to go back to our first love, there where we got to know God as He declared his promises to us, now true and fulfilled in his Sons, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  With our eyes fixed on the waves around us, in stead of on Jesus Christ, we are doomed to sink.  Drinking from the cisterns of this world leads to spiritual thirst and starvation.  A fountain cannot have fresh and brackish water; the water of this world does not satisfy – in fact, it causes diseases.  So, lets go back to where we belong:  at the altar where found grace, there where all the promises of God came true in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In Him we have an eternal promised land.

The straight blow

The Egyptians did treat Abraham well: he had been a wealthy man before all this happened, but now he got even more.  But what he got more was nothing of his own doing.  God bestowed it upon him.  Not because he was disobedient as a form of reward for unbelief.

A precursor of salvation

We have to look at this episode in the light of the rest of the Scripture.  Further in God’s dealings with his people He sent a famine in the Promised Land.  This led to Jacob and his family of 70 souls to dwell in Egypt as sojourners.  Then 430 years later God brought them out because He loved them and because kept his promise. In preparation for this mighty act of salvation Joseph was sold out by his brothers and was the reason for their survival, in the same way Jesus was sold out by his brothers to prepare salvation for us.

When they left Egypt, like Abraham, they left with the belongings of the Egyptians as God’s provision for them to survive the journey home.

A precursor to the cross

The story of Abraham is the story of man’s disobedience, but is also the story of God’s faithfulness.  It is the story of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to not leave us completely fall when we lean on our own devises, but to provide for us on our journey home.  It’s the story which points to Jesus Christ who remained faithful to the end, but was sent to the spiritual Egypt of this world to redeem us and take us home.

It’s the story which should be a warning to those who oppose God:  don’t curse those whom God blessed; He will curse those who curse those who belongs to Him – all because Christ became the cursed One in our place.  He is our only hope for salvation.  In Him we will arrive home to call on the Name of our Father – forever!

Conclusion

Are we backslidden?  Are we trying to work out our own thing?  Are we where God wants us to be?  If not, let’s go back to the altar of the cross, confess our sins, and follow Christ.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 July 2014