Only Jesus Christ – no if’s, no but’s

Series Title:  Growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if the knowledge becomes scares?

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

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

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

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

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

Gnosticism – the old New Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very prominent environmentalist spells out a plan of action:

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

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

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

The knowledge of Jesus Christ

On the other hand Paul gives a few remarkable statements:

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

Conclusion

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

Amen

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

 

Jesus Christ: God’s Crown Prince

Series title:  Growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 2
  • Colossians 1:15-23

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crown Prince of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is Head of the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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