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

 

The throne of the Servant King

Series title: From wrack and ruins to blessings and beauty

Scripture Readings

  • Revelation 5
  • Haggai 2:20-23

Introduction

Dear brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

In just more than a week this year will be history.  The old calendars will disappear from our walls and the back of our doors, and we will replace it with new one for 2016.

Some of us will then write in the major events in our family life, like birthdays and anniversaries.  We do it because these dates are markers of our earthly journey:  it will be thirty eight years since we got married; it will be so many years since our first child was born, and so many years since the first grandchild was born.  On those days we will give special thought to the occasion, and we will thank the Lord for every day, month and year He has added to our lives.

The book of Haggai has a few markers on the calendar.  It starts with 29 August 520 when the prophet delivered the first message from the Lord to them.  They were struggling to keep the cash flow going after their return from Babylonian exile: crops failed, pestilence chewed the crops away, and what was left the drought and inflation slurped up.  Haggai showed them what their problem was:  they had their priorities wrong – God was shoved to the back-burner, and their own interests were high on their wish list.  Get this right, his message was, and God will take care of the rest.  His words were:

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. (Haggai 1:5, NIV)

Only a few weeks later, after the Lord stirred their hearts and the hearts of the leaders, on 21 September 520, what they thought was impossible, happened:  they found time and money and began the work of the temple.

Another month away, on 18th October 520, the word of the Lord came to them again.  This time it was to encourage them:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. (Haggai 2:6–7, NIV)

This spurred them on to keep working in spite of severe opposition, and on 18 December 520, now almost finished with the work, or at least after the groundwork was done, the word of God came to them again:  He requires holiness from his people, and – as we saw last week – this is only bound to the altar and the sacrifice.  For as long as they understood that they cannot meet the demand of God to be holy by themselves, but only by continued sacrifice and salvation by the blood of the sacrificial animal as God demanded, and therefore living in the right relationship with God, He would be pleased with them.  A new temple means nothing if the people worshipping there are not made new.

From our perspective after the cross of Christ, it means our continued relationship with Christ as we cling to his righteousness: only then have we become royal priests as Peter puts it:

As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5, NIV)

Mark this date

Then, as we have read this morning the word of God continues:

“ ‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. (Haggai 2:15, NIV)

As if God takes them back to the days when they had their priorities wrong, He reminded them of their failures.  Nothing worked out, everything failed.  But now, with priorities restored and with God having restored their relationship with Him, things are going to be different.

‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: (Haggai 2:18, NIV)

Go to your calendar and circle this date and take God on his word, ponder what He says and what He promises.

‘From this day on I will bless you.’ ” (Haggai 2:19, NIV)

We need to be careful to not fall in the trap of the so-called prosperity Gospel here.  Where this so-called gospel is teaching is not much different to the teaching of the Roman Church before the Reformation when sinners, loaded with guilt of their sins and the sins of those who died outside of grace, were told that if they put their money in the collection basket, grace will come to them in all sorts of ways.  Prosperity Gospel may not be as blunt, but where it goes wrong is their teaching is that the grace is not the main thing.  This theology attracts people not through teaching that Christ by forgiving us from our sins, restoring us as God’s children, giving us far more than what we even can dream and fathom in the sense of a new family in Christ, and granting us a place in heaven.  Their teaching almost bypasses the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and draws a straight line between the good things I do, more so in terms of giving money, and the output of ever greater blessing in the form of earthly possessions.  If I follow Christ and serve Him with my money, He will give me more money and earthly possessions.  It’s almost like the people who followed Jesus only because of the bread and the food He provided.

This is not what this passage teaches.  What it does teach is that without God, even what God provides in the form of earthly blessing, has no value – it will eventually loose all value.  On there contrary, holiness because of Christ’s cross and our clinging to that righteousness pulls everything in life into meaning:  what we gain in Christ has eternal value.  But more than that:  we may expect God to, by his grace and mercy, add to our spiritual blessings; but we understand this life from our perspective from eternity, and not the other way round.  A ploy of the devil is to make us think that we need to have everything here and now, and if we don’t get it, well, then there is something wrong with God.

No, the blessings promised by God were strictly connected to the rebuilding of the temple.  And it was not primarily their achievement, but the glory of God which was now in their midst.  That was the reason for their future blessings.

The servant king

To mark the day of blessing is to look at Christ, our servant King.  This is what the second part of the sermon of Haggai wanted to teach the people on the 18th of December 520:

I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother. (Haggai 2:22, NIV)

This verse pointed to the work of God and not to the power and achievements of Zerubbabel.  Their change of heart to begin with the building of the temple was because of the stirring of God and the encouragement through his word by the prophet.  Now, in the same way, what was about to happen, was God’s work again.

God would do wonderful things in and through Zerubbabel, all because God chose him.

“ ‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Haggai 2:23, NIV)

Who was this man, this Zerubbabel?  He was the son of Shealtiel and thus grandson of King Jehoiachin.  Jehoiachin was appointed king of Judah by the Babylonians following the revolt and death of his father Jehoiakim who was king of Judah.  He was the son of Josiah whose place he took at the command of Neco II of Egypt. His name was changed from Eliakim to Jehoiachin.  Why is this so important?  Well, it is important to understand that God was true to his promises to David that there would also be one of his descendants on his throne.

For the returned exiles it almost looked like God had forgotten David.  But now, after the exile, God remembered and made true his promises.  There was only one son left – one to continue the line of David.  Now God renewed his covenant with the words:  “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.”

This promise is directed primarily to Zerubbabel, the Lord’s representative, in order to help him supervise the work on the temple, control the whole community and stand firm in faith amid the surrounding turmoil. The verb ‘take’ emphasizes the Lord’s choice, his special election and appointment of Zerubbabel. He will advance, honour, defend and own the adopted leader of his people.

Zerubbabel was not only ‘governor of Judah’ (2:21) but also ‘my servant’. This title was given to David.  Zerubbabel, a descendant of the line of David, will be heir to the throne of his forebear and predecessor, David, because he will have an absolute and universal reign.

A ‘signet ring’ was a token of authority that was worn by the king either on his right hand or on a chain around his neck. It was engraved with the monarch’s seal, and used to endorse official documents and decrees. It was the legal representative of the man himself and corresponded to the throne.

Zerubbabel would re-establish the throne of David, re-establish the Israelites as God’s chosen people, and as such the people of God would be a blessing to the peoples around them.

Oh, how great are the promises of the faithful God.  No worldly king or authority can stand in his way.  He will have his kingdom come.  Mark this day:  it is written in the plans of God as the day of the Lord.

The unbreakable link

When Matthew wrote his gospel, he thought it good to begin to explain God’s plan though the generations. We don’t like genealogies, but listen to this:

After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, (Matthew 1:12, NIV)

Matthew worked his way through the generations from Abraham, through Zerubbabel and ends it with these words:

and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:16, NIV)

Even Luke, the good doctor who “searched carefully everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3) writes:

the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, (Luke 3:27, NIV)

Luke began with Jesus, worked his way through Zerubbabel and ended up with Adam.

God’s unbreakable link of promise to give his people One who would crush the head of the serpent and deal with the enemy of the cross, worked itself out through the returned exiles from Babylon, their leaders, Zerubbabel, and all the way to Christ.  And if Zerubbabel wore the signet ring of God, then, Jesus was the signet ring of God.

We have seen the glory of the Father!  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)

The blessings the Bible is referring to in Haggai were not primarily a better price for the grain, or a better economic climate, or a bigger house, and more cars and a fat bank account; no, it pointed forward to the blessing in Christ.

Of Him we have read this morning:

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9, NIV)

And to his coming again we are looking forward.  The earth and the heavens will be shaken when He comes to judge the living and the dead:  The Rider on the white horse will sit victoriously on his galopping horse as He overthrows the thrones of them who resisted his kingdom:

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. (Revelation 19:15–16, NIV)

This is the Christmas Child.  Let us worship Him.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 20 December 2015

 

The best for last

Series Title:  “Better things are coming”

Scripture Readings

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

Introduction

My dear fellow believers in Christ Jesus,

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

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

Humility under the mighty hand of God

Submission

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

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

All of us know this old song:

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

when you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait to look in the mirror

cause I get better looking each day.

To know me is to love me

I must be a hell of a man.

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

but I’m doing the best that I can. 

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

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

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

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does our Saviour look at these two people?

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

Suffering

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

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

He cares for you

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

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

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

The devouring lion

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

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

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

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

Further:

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

The best for last

The God of all grace

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

In Christ Jesus

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

This is precisely what our verse (10) conveys:

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

God brings all things under Him

A perfect conclusion

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

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

Reaching maturity

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

Firm and steadfast

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

The all-powerful God

Omnipotent

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

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

Not bound by time

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

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

Conclusion

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

Better things are coming.  Amen

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

My funeral, my life

Series title:  “Better things are coming”

Scripture Readings

  • Romans 6:1-14
  • 1 Peter 4:1-6

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Spiritual death – a life without Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applied to the life of an elder, Paul writes:

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

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

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

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

This leads to judgement.

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Funeral

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

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

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

Paul helps us to understand this better:

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

Paul continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Then she said to me,

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Marriage as a tool for Evangelism (1)

Better Things are Coming

Scripture Readings

  • Ephesians 5:22-33;
  • 1 Peter 3:1-7

Catching up

Christians are people who once were lost, but:

  • who received a new life from God by grace
  • who have an eternal hope which cannot be destroyed
  • who believe that the Bible is about God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ
  • who now live as aliens in this world
  • who are now satisfied in Christ, and say “no” to sinful desires
  • who now freely submit to worldly authority for the honour of God
  • who only fear and ultimately obey God as their highest authority
  • who need to bring holiness into the work place

Today’s message

  • Irrespective of social standing, race or gender, all who believe in Christ are heirs of God’s grace in Christ
  • All Christians submit to authority as God ordained for his glory
  • The beauty of a Godly marriage is attractive, even to the unbelievers

Introduction

More and more people seem to forget Henry Ford’s sage advice when asked on his 50th wedding anniversary for his rule for marital bliss and longevity. He replied, “Just the same as in the automobile business, stick to one model.”  He’s talking about faithfulness.  This advice does not rest on sound Biblical principles, but it reflects the principle which God instituted.  Yes, marriage is between one man and one woman for live, with the exclusion of any other person.  Any other definition cannot stand the test of Scriptures.

The fundamentals:  all who believe in Christ are heirs of God’s grace in Christ

Peter writes:

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 3:7, NIV)

There are people out there who want to discredit the Bible, leaving the impression that it endorses an idea that men are superior to women.  What a nonsense!

The verse we just read states very clearly:  husbands and wives are both partners of the gracious gift of life.  As far as a husband standing before he became a Christian is concerned, there is no difference between him and an unsaved wife:  both stand guilty before the throne of God and both will end up sharing the same eternal punishment.  If the husband became a Christian, God’s grace turns him over from eternal damnation to become someone who shares in the grace of God; the same thing happens with his wife.  Other religions might want to treat women as second class citizens with no rights to forgiveness and salvation – this is not true of Christianity.  Paul writes:

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)

As a matter of fact, up to this point in the letter Peter works on the principle that all who respond to the Gospel call and come to Christ, are partakers of the new birth through the Word of God.  All, and this includes husbands, wives, sons, daughters slaves and free,  become part of the holy nation and the royal priesthood spoken of in chapter two.  Yes, they were once living in darkness, but are now called into the marvellous light of God.  All thus changed by the grace of God find in themselves war against the things of this world, and find themselves on the road of a pilgrim in a world where they have no permanent address.

One very important lesson we need to take along from the Scriptures is this:  most forms of relationships mentioned in the Bible reflects something of the relationship between God and his people.  God says of Israel:  I am your husband.  Of the church the Bible says that she is the bride of Christ.  God’s people are known as the sons and daughters of God.  Even the relationship between slave and master reflects something of the relationship between God and his people.  We saw that last week:  Christian slaves in this world become salves to Christ, and brothers to other Christians.

This is an extremely important principle:  healthy earthly social relationships do reflect the relationship God has with his people;  warped earthly relationships make people to look at God in a bad way.  We will come back to this point.

God ordained authority for his glory

As we have seen two or three weeks ago, God is a God of order:  He ordained authority, even the authority of kings and rulers.  Paul writes:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1, NIV)

The fifth Commandment forms the basis of all authority:  “Honour your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land Lord your God is giving you.”  The Larger Catechism puts is this way:  “… not only natural parents but all superiors in age and gifts and especially … those over us in authority , whether in family, church or government.

As such we all honour governments, even the bad ones – although we reserve our highest respect and fear for God, who put all authorities in place;  we also respect and honour those over us in the workplace and in the school.  And, now – and this is the prickly point for some – we submit under God to what He instituted for the best way for a marriage and a family to work:  wives submit to husbands, and husbands submit to God – not because the husband is intrinsically better or superior, or because the wife is fundamentally inferior.  No, the same principle is valid in the workplace:  the employer is not better than the employee, in the same way as the policeman is not intrinsically better that the citizen, or the judge is superior than the witness of the one charged.

God ordained order, because He is a God of order.  And as far as marriage and family is concerned, God ordained for the husband and father to lead his family.  It is never about the husband, but it is always about the husband between God and his family – all for the sake of God’s glory.  In the end, my dear brother, you lead your family not to honour you; you are not the one who gets the glory – your responsibility is to live in such a way before your wife and children that they – and the world around you! – will find it easier to believe in God as Father.  There are children wandering the streets who just can’t reconcile the idea of a loving God because they cannot fathom a Heavenly Father who loves, respects, is trustworthy and caring if they look at their own father.

The beauty of a godly marriage

O, if only we had enough time today to step by step go through the verses of our chapter.

Remember the remark of last week:  the best gift the church of Christ can give to the world would be to live like the church of Christ.  If only husbands and wives can be like these verses instructs us; if only dads and moms can consequently reflect the principles of these verse our world would be so much different.

Wives/mothers

The very principle that applied to all to submit to worldly authority, even to the godless Caesar, and the same principle that applied to salves in relationship to their masters, and to masters to their slaves, is continued into the next section.  What does it say:  Christians, now aliens and pilgrims in this world live under God, but obey Him as they submit to what He ordained for an orderly society.

For wives to submit, or to be submissive to husbands in our day is heresy.  The spirit of our time, especially driven by the Feminist Movement, is to reject male authority, and even to hate it.  Let’s add to this that scores of men hate the idea of being the leaders of their families.  Yet, the God of order ordained it, and as such it must be good.

If wives really understand what God demands of husbands this godly submission will be a delight, and not a infringement on their social rights.

The behaviour of a submissive wive is ruled, first of all be here submission to God.  God through his Spirit living in her, changes her whole attitude to those around her.  If she became a Christian as a married wife, her life – even without words – can draw her husband closer to God.  Everything she does is to live like the church as the bride of Christ before her husband.  She is pure and reverent in living out the Gospel – the Word which her husband still does not want to hear, but now see being played out before his eyes.  They way she does her homework, care for her family, and live in marriage relationship with her husband becomes a sermon preached well.  Her obedience to God sets the example of reverence and worship to God.  Her true beauty does not lie in outward adornment, but comes from her heart.  If she can obey me because she loves her Saviour even if do not treat her well, then surely there must be something in this Saviour.

The Christian wive is not forbidden to have jewellery, but her beauty does not rely on the glitter and gold.  Her beauty is not dependent on her hairdos, however, she will always present well, not because she represents a paint company or a cosmetics house, but because she represents her Saviour and his bride, washed and purified in his blood.  The beauty she wants to display to her husband and family is the ageless beauty of a sinner restored to God.

That is why she has a gentle spirit.  She is gentle, calm and collected.  Why?  She reflects the fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (Gal 5:22). This is what God looks on as being really beautiful; its the kind of beauty which God values greatest.

God-worshiping women who lived long ago did the same.  Take Sarah as example.  She was confident that God would fulfil what He had promised, and although Abraham kept seemingly aimlessly wandering from one point to the other, only holding on the the promise of God, Sarah called him, “My lord”.  Although not always, she hoped in God and were tender and obedient to her husband.  If Abraham is the father of all believers, then surely Sarah is the mother of them all.  Take her example:  even when she was beyond her years of childbearing, she trusted God through Abraham, and she experienced the joy of holding a baby of her own at the age of ninety.

Conclusion

My dear friends, the wives gathered here this morning, does your life display these qualities?  Do you represent your Saviour to your husband and children with the beauty that lasts and comes from within?  Are you a picture of the bride of Christ wishing to do the bidding of your Groom?

Evangelism, winning souls for Christ, can and should begin right in your house.  Your family should always be your first target.

I love the words of this old gospel song:

While kneeling by her bedside in our cottage on the hill 

My mother prayed her blessings on me there 

She was talking there to Jesus while everything was still 

And I heard my mother call my name in prayer

She was anxious for her boy to be just what he ought to be 

And she asked the Lord to take him in his care 

Just the words I can’t remember but I know she prayed for me 

For I heard my mother call my name in prayer

So I gave my heart to Jesus and I’m living now for Him 

And someday I’ll go and meet Him in the air 

For He heard my mother praying and He saved my soul from sin 

Yes He heard my mother call my name in prayer

Chorus
Yes I heard my mother call my name in prayer 

She was pourin’ out her heart to Jesus there 

Then I gave my heart to Him and He saved my soul from sin 

Yes I heard my mother call my name in prayer

Summing up

  • All who believe in Christ are heirs of God’s grace in Christ
  • God ordained authority for his glory
  • The beauty of a godly marriage – evangelism begins at home

Sermon Preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 20 September 2015

Holy Aliens (2)

Series:  Better things are coming

Scripture Readings

  • Exodus 19:1-9
  • 1Peter 2:11-12

Summary of the series so far:

  • Christians are people who once were lost, but:
  • who received a new life from God by grace
  • who come to Christ and honour Him
  • who obey the Gospel
  • who all have a part in priest-like service to God
  • who spiritually sacrifice praise to God
  • who draw from eternal hope to overcome present suffering

Main thoughts for this sermon

  • Who/what is “the world”?
  • Christians are sojourners/pilgrims
  • Why abstain from this world?
  • Why engage with this world

Introduction

Florence Nightingalec, the Lady with the Lamp, was indeed a light on the dark pages of war history. She wrote in her diary,

God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.

In 1850 she visited a Lutheran religious community working for the sick and the deprived. She regarded the experience as a turning point in her life.  She gathered around her volunteer nurses who dedicated themselves to caring for British soldiers in the Crimean War.

During her first winter ten times more soldiers died from illnesses than from battle wounds. Although Florence’s immediate tasks was the care of sick, she understood that God called her to engage with all who were sick: when circumstances called for her to do so, she even cared for the wounded of the enemy.  Florence was in the war, but not of the war – she was engaged in the war.  She helped the sick, trying to eradicate the source of sickness.

Peter pleaded with the Christians he wrote to:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11–12, NIV)

If we listen carefully to this urgent call we hear two things:

  • You are foreigners – abstain
  • You are foreigners – engage

What/who is the “world”?

Christians are not from this world, but they are part of this world; this is the basis for the Bible to call us to abstain, but to also engage.  So what or who is the “world”? There is probably more uses of this term “world” in the Bible.  Let’s get three.

What God created

God created this world/universe and everything on/in/above it.  All things seen and unseen He made.  When Christ returns to give us a new heaven and new earth, God will demand from us accountability of how we cared for it.

The people

The nations, tongues and tribes living on earth are also referred to as the world.  They received their languages and their territories to live and have children from God.  If we do not have love and concern for their spiritual well-being, we do not understand the Gospel and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He sends us out to the ends of this world.

The evil/morally corrupt/those who oppose God

When Christians are called not to love this world, they should not identify with the enemy of God.  Sometimes the Bible uses another word within the same context:  it talks about the flesh, or things of the flesh.  Paul writes:

When we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. (Romans 7:5, NIV)

He also states:

The mind governed by the flesh is death… the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:6–7, NIV)

James  writes:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NIV)

John writes:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15–16, NIV)

Jesus prays for his disciples the night before He was arrested:

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:14–19, NIV)

Not from this world

When Peter writes to the scattered Christians, he over and over again calls them strangers or aliens in this world. Our home, address, new nature because of our new birth by the Holy Spirit gives us a new identity.  The cross of our Lord is the place where it all changes.  Paul writes:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NIV)

So we ask ourselves, “Whose side am I on?  Where do I belong?  What is my hope?  Where is my home? Where do my priorities in life lead me?” The way we live is the telltale of where we come from and where we are going.  It was said of Richard Sibbes, one of the godly people of his time, “heaven was in him before he was in heaven.”

Abstain from this world

The text for today calls us to abstain from this world.  Why?

We are sojourners

We are from a foreign country, we live here temporarily, and here we don’t have citizenship rights; we are passing through.

What is it to “abstain”?

This is a very interesting Greek word.  It has in its root the word “to have”.  In some contexts it means to have enough.  When someone paid you for the debts he owed you, your account is settled – you have had enough; you should abstain from taking more of that person.  Mom taught us to say “no” when we had enough pudding; only gluttons would have more.

What is it that Christians already have in full so that they should say “no”, or refuse this world?  Let’s see.

“In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4, NIV)  

That’s not all.

“You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)

More than that a Christian does not need.  In fact, anything of this world will tarnish and corrode that hope.  You’ve had enough!  Hands off!  Your satisfaction is the cross of Christ and his free offer of grace and salvation.  The Israelites looked for more that God.  Jeremiah cries out:

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13, NIV)

It’s war!

This morally corrupt world has nothing to offer Christians.  This world is under the control of Satan, the prince of this world (John 14:30)  He is the father of the lie, he was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. (John 8:44, NIV).

The world’s friend is God’s enemy.  The spirit of this world opposes the Spirit of God.  There is the Kingdom of light, and the kingdom of darkness, complete opposites, ruled by opposite principles, practices and ends.  If we set our hearts on the things of this world we will necessarily find ourselves turing our back upon God and abandon his people.

Abstain from this world!  It will destroy you.

Engage with this world

Verse 12 of 1 Peter 2 continues:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

Yes, Christians find themselves in a hostile world.  But we can choose to lock ourselves up against the sin of this world to remain untouched by its sin, like those who lived in cloisters and monasteries – and have no impact on this world – and in the process be disobedient to the command of our Saviour to go into the world.  Or we can maintain a distant ignorance:  we would not bother you as long as you don’t bother us, and in the process disobey the command of our Lord to be light and salt of the world.  Or we can be so occupied with the world that we want to do everything the way they do, as long as we sugarcoat it with a Bible verse.  That way we have become worldly.  This not God’s plan for his church.

Like Florence Nightingale we need to be engaged, without becoming sick ourselves.  We need to serve this world by Christian and holy living so that they might see our good deeds and glorify God.

Yes, we might get the blame for every thing wrong in this world.  There are those who blame Christians for the wars in the worlds; other blame us for not being loving, hanging around us the tag of bigots and homophobes because we stand by the Word of God about sexuality;  they will blame us for all evil if stand on the Word and oppose same sex marriages or expose the evil of abortion.  In Caesar Nero’s time Christians even got the blame for the fire that destroyed Rome.

Christians are not called to go out and pick a fight with the world; they only need to keep doing what they are supposed to do and persecution will come.  If we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, they will hate us for it.  If we proclaim that God is the creator of the world and that things did not happen by evolution, they will hate us for it.  If we proclaim that people are born sinful and need redemption, they will hate us for it.

But these things we need to do.  We are the priests between g\God and the lost.  We need to love with the love of Christ.  We need to engage in a world full of misunderstanding and opposition, because there are scores who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.  They hurt, they search, they are alone.  If we shine the light of the Gospel in this dark world, the Bible says, they will glorify God the day He visits them.  This should be understood in a positive way:  when God reveals Himself in grace to the lost, there will be those who will thank God for the faithful witness of his people, who in spite of persecution and opposition did not compromise the Gospel – and that Gospel and witness will lead them to salvation.

Conclusion

Joseph understood something of this when he became ruler of Egypt:  he was never at home in the palace of the pharaoh, but he was a blessing to the Egyptians.

Daniel too understood this principle well; he served his God under the king of Babylon and was a blessing to them, but he never worshipped their gods – he was willing to spend time in the lion’s den to not compromise his principles.  In the end Nebuchadnezzar believed in his God.  Daniel’s friends did the same.

Through Jeremiah God commanded his people who were taken into captivity:

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. (Jeremiah 29:7–8, NIV)

May God help us to abstain from this – it’s war against our souls.  May He give us the grace to engage in this world, so He will receive the glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on 30 August 2015