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

 

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

Series title:  Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

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

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

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

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

The effect of a poor knowledge of who Christ is

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

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

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

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

False doctrines 

Ceremonialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We find the same idea in Romans 6:

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

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

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

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

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

The theology of Jesus Christ

On the other hand Paul gives a few remarkable statements:

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

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

Conclusion

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

Amen

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

 

 

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

A life worthy of the Lord

Series Title:  Growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Hosea 4:1-9
  • Colossians 1:3-14

Introduction

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

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

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

The Gospel summed up

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

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

This verse is the gospel summed up:

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

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

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

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

The change in Christ: anarchy to love

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good news of Jesus Christ

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

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

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

Progress in the Gospel

But this verse continues into the next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul uses very strong words and expressions here.  Listen:

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

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

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

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

To the glory of the Father

Our chapter this morning ends with an humbling pronouncement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vision restored

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

Scripture Readings

  • Revelation 3:1-6
  • Haggai 2:1-9

Introduction

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

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

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

Vision lost

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

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

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

Vision restored – Who is God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God of the Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God who controls the nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not everything yet fulfilled

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

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

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

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

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

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

In John 2 Jesus said:

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

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

Application

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

Amen.

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

Priorities mixed up

Series Title: “From wrack and ruin to blessing and beauty”

Scripture Readings

  • Revelation 2:1-7
  • Haggai 1

Introduction

Can God really save?

You grew up with the idea that you are different; your family is different, and your people are different.  For as long as you can remember your mother has been telling you that you are a member of God’s own people, and that you should not mix with children and people who worship other gods.

For as long as you can remember the history of your family and people has been recited to you, and the great deeds of the God of heaven are told when you prepare for the day to begin and when you go to bed at night.

But deep in you little mind you are struggling with questions which seem that even your parents have struggled with:  where is this wonderful God?  Why can’t you worship Him freely?   Why are you not living in the land this God promised with an oath to your forefathers?  Why is everyone who carries the name of you people as slave.  If God is this wonderful and good, why the tyranny and slavery of your people?

Your people have been in slavery for more than one generation.  The king under which they were driven from the Promised Land has been replaced by another from another kingdom, ostensibly even more brutal.  The odds of being free again, of being back in your homeland, speaking your own language, and even more important, to worship the God of your forefathers in the place of worship He promised will stand forever, are not stacking up.  Your parents have a living hope, but quite honestly you doubt.  The probability of a political solution is zero.  It might be just better to convert to the religion of the people who hold you captive!

God’s plan in action

But then, out of the blue, the new king changed policy:  you and your people may go home, you may freely associate with those who worship the same God, you may once again speak freely and worship in the temple of your God.  More than this, the king has ordained that your people must be treated differently, given special treatment, and he even announced that money from his treasury must pay for the rebuilding of your place of worship, which was destroyed by your enemy some 70 years before!

Why all this?  Your God, who control all kings and kingdoms, moved the heart of this godless king  in favour of your people.

Your people were arranged in family groups, and even the religious leaders were appointed according to their linage.  Moreover, the special golden objects taken from your place of worship were handed back with the express purpose of being put to use as soon as that place was rebuilt.

Oh, the joy of being free and saved!  Throngs of people sang songs of worship as they travelled back, crossing one hill after the other, and crossing one creek after the other.

Rebuild the ruins

Great was the joy of all the travellers to arrive back in your homeland only to find that no-one was missing and all the objects of worship were protected and safe.  O, the greatness of God!  His Name must be blessed and worshipped forever!

When the people got to the place of worship where so many generations worshipped the God of heaven and earth, people broke out in crying and lamenting.  What happened to the most beautiful place of worship in the world?  All that was left were rubble and heaps of broken stone.  The only thing visible were the foundations of this once-glorious building.

The leaders called everyone together.  “We must rebuild this place.  God is with us and He made it possible for us to be back again.  Go, find the farms and homes of your ancestral families, settle in and we will begin with this work.  We must worship God and thank Him for his long-suffering, mercies and grace towards his people.”

The people were filled with jubilation and hope.  “God is with us!”

They almost just put their belongings back in the shattered homes their grand-parents grew up in, and returned to the place of worship to start rebuilding it. Other people of other religions had settled in some of the towns, and they have been living there for more than one generation.

Opposition and bad times

But as soon as the work on the temple started, those who worshipped other gods began with a strategy of opposition.  It was terrible.

“Maybe we understood it wrongly.  Maybe we should first settle in our different towns and cities first, see that our own crops are growing, see that we increase our flocks, and see that we are financially and otherwise stronger to withstand the enemy before we continue with the place of worship.”  It seems as if most people thought they could not be on the building site while paying attention to their own daily needs at the same time.

Drought set it.  Crops failed.  Business was bad.  Inflation eroded the value of the currency.  And on top of all things, the security situation got worse everyday.

Maybe later

“God is reasonable, fair and gracious to understand that we cannot continue with his work if we don’t have the means to do so.  Did He not say that a man must look after his family first?  It is not that we do not believe in Him – we still have our devotions from time to time, and we surely is thankful for the fact that we are back in our own country, but the conditions are tough, and we find it hard to make ends meet now.  It will get better one day, and then we will restore the place of worship.”

Every penny the people got from selling something, and every hour of every day went into restoring their homes and putting their lives back together.

In the end the work on the temple stopped – completely, for quite some time.

And the conditions got worse.  Opposition to your people just being there increased.  Famine spread.  “Maybe, we should not have returned from where we come from.  We had it better there.  Surely we could not worship freely, but it was better then than now!”

God’s voice

But then – who knows where this man came from, and what his background was? – Haggai appeared on the scene.  He claimed to be a prophet of the God of the forefathers.  He had the audacity to walk up to our leaders and deliver some sort of a prophecy.  It was not kind, and lacked all forms of diplomacy.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ” (Haggai 1:2, NIV)

But he used the same words as some of the prophets of many years ago.  “This is what the Lord Almighty says.” And the people listened.  He was from the God of hosts – all forces, powers, kingdoms and authority know to man are under his control – the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  When He speaks, you listen, you bow down in worship!

Never doubt God’s timing

“These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ”

It was not that they were against building the temple, it was just not the best time to do so!

But the implication of the words of the prophet was that God thought it was the right time.

By reinterpreting God’s timing we can sometimes be so wise that we do four things:  we forget who God is; we forget what our salvation is about; we inhibit the work of God, and most importantly, we miss the splendour of his communion and presence.  In short, we lose sight of the greatness of his Person and the power of his love.

The presence of the Lord

Why was it so important for them to restore the temple?  Even Solomon knew this truth:

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27, NIV)

So what was it about the temple?  Listen:

May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. (1 Kings 8:29, NIV)

The ark of the Lord was in the Host Holy Place.

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that He would dwell in a dark cloud; I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever. (1 Kings 8:10–13, NIV)

The temple was symbol of God presence with his people.  And this is what the returned refugees lost sight of!  God was pushed onto the back burner.  “Not now, God, but later, yes!”

And God says, “Now, or there is no later!”

What we sometimes forget is that God can never not be present.  Yes we can act as if He is not important, we can try to push Him aside, or leave his work for later.  But who are we to dictate to God?  Who are we to think we can stop God from having in influence in what we do?  Listen:

I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands.” (Haggai 1:11, NIV)

God is not absent when the drought comes; He is in it.  He brought it on and caused it to happen.  He is in control of the economy and the inflation, and in politicians making bad decisions, in the low cattle prices and the high cost of stock feed, diesel and electricity.

Think about what you’re doing

Not once, but over and over again Haggai drew the people’s attention to what they’re doing.  And it was plainly the wrong way round.  They had the cart before the horse; they drove the header and the picker backwards into the crop and complained that there was nothing to pick or gather in the bin!

Not only did it cause financial inflation, but also spiritual inflation.  Nothing worked out.  Everything they did became a daily struggled just to survive – and even that was not working out.

Year after year we have had drought after drought in our land.  And every time our community finds itself in a bind, we look ways to get out of trouble.  We blame all things: the government, low commodity prices, high costs, and now – climate change.  I’m the last to draw a straight line between bad economic, agricultural, political and even security situations.  But I surely think it’s time we heed the word of God:  Give careful thought to your ways!  Think what you’re doing.  It seems as if our world is constantly chasing after what can never satisfy.

Build my house

Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the Lord. (Haggai 1:8, NIV) 

Get your priorities right.  It is not that we should not have things keeping us busy, but it is the order of things.  Who and what comes first?

To build the house is to have God smack bang in the centre of our lives; from there all things are prioritised.  To build the house of God is to understand that his will comes first, that obedience and dedication to Him stands above our own plans and schemes.  To build the house is not to have a neat and tidy church building; it does not even in the first instance mean that we should be involved in evangelistic and missionary outreach.  All of these things will come to nothing if God is not in the centre of our existence.  Ephesus, as we hear in our reading this morning have forsaken their first love.  They has a wonderful ministry going, but they lost their love for God, and God called them to repentance, warning that He would remove them from amongst the churches should they not do so.

To build the temple in the days of Haggai meant restored worship:  they would be once again sacrifices, sin forgiven, fellowship offerings and the hearing of the word of God.  Without the temple communication with god was cut off.

When Jesus came, He showed the way:  the temple had no meaning in his sacrifice, because He was the sacrifice, the High Priest and the way to God.

With building the house, the church of the new Testament will enjoy their buildings, laud their programs, marvel in their outreaches, invite others to their spectacular worship services – but all would be nothing more than the activities of a religious club, because Jesus Christ is not the Cornerstone, the One loved above all things.

I sometimes think about the child driven from the music class to the gymnastic practice, and then again to the ballet and the athletics – all meant for his good.  But one day he would cry for his parents to just stay home and give him or her a hug and assure him or her of their love.  Is it possible that God could ask us in amongst all our “ministries”, “Yes, but do you really love Me?

We need to stop and think what we doing.  “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all the others things will be added unto you.”  That is the house we should be building – the rest – all our glorious ministries – will then bear fruit.

I am with you

… the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. (Haggai 1:12, NIV)

This is the reaction our Lord is calling for:  obedience and holy trust.  What happens next is important:

Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. (Haggai 1:13, NIV)

God stirred them up, they trusted Him and they began with the work.  It took only three weeks for them to cut the first timber – and God blessed their work.

I am with you.  Immanuel – Christ born for us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NIV)

This Christ, our Lord said:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV)

He brought us home from slavery and bondage.  He is with us – this is what we will hear in the message of Christmas.

He call us to think about what we’re doing.  Give careful though to your ways!  Get your priorities right!

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 November 2015