Only Jesus Christ – no if’s, no but’s (3)

Series Title:  “Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ”

Scripture Reading

  • Colossians 2:13-23

Introduction

The story was told about a city which was hit by a phenomenal disaster on a Saturday afternoon.  Hardly any piece of infrastructure was left standing, and many people lost their homes and possessions.  One of the pastors of the city spoke to another and asked him what he would be telling his congregation the next morning.  “What can one preach after a day like this?”, he asked.

His colleague replied with strong resolve, “I will just tell them who Jesus Christ is.  Once they understood the message of Christ, all other things fade away in the background.”

Many people who are followers of the Prosperity Gospel, something that preachers like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers and Robert Schuller present as “authentic” Christianity, would be very disappointed to hear a message about Christ only after they have lost all earthly riches and belongings.

The Apostle Paul had a visit from Epaphras the evangelist, where Epaphras also preached the Gospel.  The occasion might have been when the church in Philippi send him to encourage Paul with gifts in Rome where he was held in house arrest. Epaphras fell dangerously ill during this visit and Paul sent him home.  But what he told Paul about the church in Colossae gave rise to the letter of Paul to the Colossians.

There were false teachers in Colossae who were misleading the the church.  The only response strategy Paul had was to once again imprint on them who Jesus Christ was; to what He has done to save the church, no one should add, because to do that would amount to nothing else but blasphemy.

It’s still happening

What happened then, is still happening today.  There is a desire with Christians to “dig deeper” – they are after a more and deeper spiritual experience.  It is sad that some of these people then start looking at foreign places.  It is foreign to the Gospel, or what started as a honest search, ends up in a satisfaction beyond what the Gospel presents in Jesus Christ.

The problem in not a desire to grow in deeper understanding of Christ and obedience to Him – and as such, a better knowledge of the Bible; the problem arises when something is added unto the message.  Invariably this “added-on-to” part usually ends up being the major point of contention, and it leads to judgementalism:  if you don’t experience what I’m experiencing, your surely can’t be a real Christian.   The Biblical message about Jesus Christ becomes a stepping stone to get to the “deeper” and and “richer” – and all other who have not reached that point are looked down upon as lesser Christians.

The ceremonialists

That was the problem with the Judaisers, the group who still wanted to cling to the circumcision – you might be a believer in Christ, but if you are not circumcised, you’re not there yet.  Applied to our day, if you have not experienced credo baptism by immersion you cannot possibly be a Christian – and by extension, you will never receive the Holy Spirit.  And if you have not spoken in tongues – well, that’s a sure sign that you have never been saved.

We labelled these group of people the ceremonialists.

The Gnostics

Then, there was another group, the Gnostics.  They were the forerunners of the Modern New Age.  Their ideas were not new then, and it is not new now.  It actually takes us back to primitive theology were earth, air, water and wind – or broadly – all nature is worshipped.  Man is his own god, and god is in every man.  There is no sin, hell or Satan.  We cannot know God fully, but we can work our up to Him; if we don;t make it the first time, then we come back and we try all over again, and again, and again – till we make it.  Knowledge is the big thing, but it is secretive knowledge, airy-fairy stuff.

The legalists

But we now come to another group; they were the legalists.  As a matter of fact, it is right here where ceremonialists and Gnostics meet, because both of them is in essence a self-help or self-improvement religion.  It denies the grace of God in Christ Jesus and try to find a way to get up to God.

Special days and food restrictions

Paul writes of them:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16, NIV)

The text I just quoted begins with a therefore.  This is important, and we need to come back to it – next week, maybe.

Interestingly, both the Gnostics and the those who clung to the New Testament as if Jesus never came to fulfil the Law, had observed these things:  forbidden food, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and Sabbath days.  And we even have them today amongst those who promote legalism; in some cases it is just more refined.

The New Agers have their taboos in food and easily become vegans. You cannot eat anything you killed – that’s to disturbe the balance in nature!  As Christians we know how the answer this:  the world and everything in and on it belongs to God who created it.  We don’t worship it, and we understand that God gave us the mandate to cultivate the land and have dominion over creation – understanding all the way that we are accountable to Him for the way we do it; it is not ours to abuse it any way we like. Paul clarifies this in 1 Corinthians 8:

… for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:6, NIV)

The Jews on the other hand had lot of things they abstained from eating.  As golden rule we need to understand that all the foods Israel was forbidden to eat were scavengers: they lived off what was dead.  And this was important in the Old Testament because God is the holy God of the living.  Approaching Him after even touching the dead was forbidden, let alone eating food of things which lived on dead things.  But the curse on death was overcome in and through Jesus Christ.  Through his perfect sacrifice what kept us from God was overcome so now in his Name we come to God.  So, if people of other faiths try to ridicule Christians for the law against eating prawns, they just don’t understand the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The effect of all of this is that we are not bound by the dietary laws of the Old Testament anymore.  There is no theological reason as to why we cannot eat pork or prawns now.  But I know of people who for others reasons abstain from eating pork.  Let’s remember this principle:

… if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:13, NIV)

Eating or not eating has nothing to do with being saved or not.  Faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ only is what saves the sinner.  The apostle says:

But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. (1 Corinthians 8:8, NIV)

The same applies to religious festivals and New Moons.  Some in Colossae assigned special weight to these days and those who participated in it looked down on others to did not.  This was added as a necessary observance to show that one had really come to faith.  Once again, it was Christ-plus.  It was a way of adding good works as steps to God, a way of self-improvement.

Just a word about the Sabbaths and New Moons of the Jewish people.  In many cases these two were mentioned in the same breath.  I understand from the context in Colossians that this reference did not only refer to the seventh day of the week; there were other sabbaths in the Jewish calendar too.  There was for instance the Sabbath of the Years for the land to have a rest.

When it comes to celebrate one day out of seven for rest and worship, we understand that even this is fulfilled in Christ.  So, in strict terms, we do not have a sabbath day anymore – we don’t keep to the restrictions of a sabbath journey; we don’t have morning and evening sacrifices of lambs and bulls anymore; we don’t have special services by special ranks of people lighting the candles, putting oil in the lamps and presenting certain offerings anymore.  All that was fulfilled in Christ.

But we have a Christian sabbath:  on this day we celebrate the new life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  As Paul puts it:

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:17, NIV)

The New Testament calls it the Day of the Lord.  They gathered on the first day of the week for worship.  On this day we gather too for the same reason.  We come together in corporate worship, we fellowship and encourage one another in our faith-walk.  The principle of the Old Testament remains the same:  one in seven days belongs to the special worship of God by his church family.

The exact day, the seventh or the first day of the week is not the main point.  The main point is the celebration of Christ victory over death.  There are others who think differently; they hold to a Saturday.  I don’t necessarily agree with their theological and practical arguments, but just like as it applies to them, it should not be a point of contention.  The point is, do you believe that Jesus Christ came to fulfil the Law and bring us salvation?

But once again, if this day is another box we want to tick in doing good works, it is adding to the salvation of Christ, which is idolatry.

False humility

But the  practices of the legalists go even further:

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. (Colossians 2:18, NIV)

It can so easily happen that trying so hard to be good includes the attitude that those who have not attained what I have attained cannot be Christians.  There are some people who are so humble, they are actually proud of it.  This is what this text says.

Selling all you have and giving it to the poor is a good thing, but this can also become a show: Look at me, I’ve made the sacrifice and you continue to live in your fancy house and drive your expensive cars.  Even being humble can be wrong at times, especially if someone wants to tick the box and climb another notch to perfection.

The mystics

Messages from angels

What about people who got so advanced in their spiritual life that they even speak to angels and receive messages from them!  They must be special!  Is that something to strive for?  No!  The only voice I have allegiance to is the voice of God who spoken what He wanted to say in the Bible.  And yes, I need to read it more and more and put every effort in understanding it.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he had something similar in mind.  There were those who looked down on other members of the church because they did not speak in tongues.  Paul made a list of the gifts and every time he put the gift of tongues last in order of importance.  Then he says this to them:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, NIV)

A true sign of being filled with the Spirit of God is not the extra-special things, but the elementary principle of Christian life:  love.  Jesus did not say to his disciples that other would know that they are his disciples because they speak in tongues or have the gift of healing, or any other gift, but the gift of love.

Conclusion

My dear friend what saves is faith in the living Saviour who came to seek and save the lost.  It’s Him and Him only.  Of course faith has arms and legs and lips.  We’ll get to that some time in our study of this letter of Paul.

I found this illustration:

When interviewing Dr. A. J. Gordon as a prospective pastor of a Boston church, the pulpit committee asked: “If you are called to the pastorate of our church will you preach against the cards, the theatre, and dancing?” “I will,” solemnly affirmed Dr. Gordon. He was called.

Months passed and he didn’t say a word against the cards, the theatre, and dancing. The official board of the church said, “Almost a year has gone by and you have said nothing against cards, the theatre, and dancing. We wonder why.”

Dr. Gordon replied essentially as follows: “Gentlemen, it is true that I have said nothing against these things, but I have preached Christ who is the only Saviour from all evils. When He comes into one’s heart all evil things vanish from the life like the mist before the hot breath of the noonday sun.”

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 January 2016

The King who would destroy death, now anointed and glorified

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

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 118:22-29
  • John 12:1-19

Introduction

We continue our series of sermons following the Gospel of John. We follow the theme of life and death, as we follow our Saviour, from closely before He was arrested, to the end of his ministry.
Towards the end of his Gospel, John explains the purpose of his Gospel in these words:

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

Any sermon and worship service of the Lord should have this as purpose.  We do not get together to get a message to hear what we should do with our depression, or our financial troubles, or other worries.  The Bible is not a do-it-yourself pocket guide for “get-better” and “feel-good-about-yourself” help.  The purpose of the Gospel is to bring us to bow before Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

It is therefore my desire to bring to you this message with one prayer in my heart, and that is that everyone here this morning will hear about the Son of God and find in Him the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

If there is anything we need to understand from the reading of John 12 it would be that Jesus is the Lamb of God who gave his life to set sinners free.   In the centre of the drama unfolding in front of us is Christ on his way to be killed and to be handed over to the heathen to die the death that we deserve.

When did Jesus die?

I made a discovery this week in my preparation for this sermon.  I am cautious to proclaim what I have discovered as absolute truth, but there is enough evidence in the Scriptures that made me rethink the traditional view of church history.

When did Jesus die, and why is this question of any significance? Did He die on a Friday – which in the tradition became Good Friday?  Or is there a possibility that He died on Thursday?

I want to stress that the exact day He died will not make much difference in the bigger scheme of things:  The fact that He did die to take the sins of the world upon Him is the main thing here.  This is what you and I need to believe to experience his wonderful grace of salvation.

It seems as if the Bible does indeed place some significance on the days of the last week of our Saviour before He died on Calvary’s Hill.

We find ourselves with Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper where Mary poured out the nard perfume on the feet of Jesus.  John states the following:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. (John 12:1, NIV)

There were actually two festivals happening at the same time, one being the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the other Passover; Passover came first.

Passover was celebrated on the 14th of the month Nisan.

On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held. On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast. (Numbers 28:16–17, NIV)

Herman H. Goldstine published a book New and Full Moons from which it is possible to calculate the days of the week upon which the Jewish Passover had to fall in any given year during Christ’s lifetime or thereafter. Computer analysis points to 6 April A.D. 30 as the 14th of Nisan, which happened to be a Thursday.  Now, the day following the Jewish Passover was treated as a Sabbath day.  This means that apart from the normal weekly Saturday Sabbath, there was another sabbath that week – one on Friday and the other Saturday.  Keep in mind, Jewish days started on sunset of the previous day and ended on sunset the next day.  So, the Thursday we talk about actually commenced on the Wednesday evening and went through till the sunset of Thursday night.  That was the Day of Passover.  That evening was the beginning of the Sabbath of the Festival of the Unleavened Bread, which took them through till Friday night. The weekly Sabbath started on Friday night and lasted till Saturday evening with sunset.

If we now take the words of our Lord serious which spoke in Matthew 12:40,

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40, NIV)

We see the three days and three nights of this verse of Jesus being true if He was indeed crucified on the Thursday.  There are a few verses we also need to take into account.   When the Jews sent Jesus to appear before Pilate we read:

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. (John 18:28, NIV)

Here it speaks about the Passover, not the weekly sabbath, which would be the next day.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. (John 19:31, NIV)

The Day of the Preparation was that Thursday followed by the special sabbath of the 15th of Nisan.  This sabbath was the special sabbath which was celebrated on the Friday, followed by the weekly sabbath of Saturday.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, NIV)

Something interesting about this verse:  the Greek of this verse actually has the word “Sabbath” as “Sabbaths”, plural.  Most translations, however, translate the singular “Sabbath”.  Why?  One wonders.  But Matthew was probably perfectly correct in referring to “Sabbaths”, one which was the beginning of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread following the Passover of the 14th of Nisan, and the other the weekly Sabbath.

Jesus, the Passover Lamb

Why did Jesus enter Jerusalem as He did on Palm Sunday? Well, if the crucifixion occurred on a Thursday (the day of Passover when the Lamb was slaughtered in Egypt, which signalled the rescue of Israel), then counting backward we find that Palm Sunday was the tenth of Nisan.  This is important, because it was on that day that the thousands of Passover lambs that were to be sacrificed were taken up to Jerusalem and kept for three days in the homes of those who were to eat them.  I quote Dr James Montgomery-Boice:

“Not all are aware how many lambs were involved. So it is necessary to note that there was a great number. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that one year a census was taken of the number of lambs slain for Passover and that the figure was 256,500. In other words, with numbers this large, lambs must literally have been driven up to Jerusalem throughout the entire day. Consequently, whenever Jesus entered the city he must have done so surrounded by lambs, himself being the greatest of lambs. Four days later, at the time the lambs were killed, Jesus himself was killed, thereby becoming the ultimate Passover lamb on the basis of whose shed blood the angel of spiritual death passes over all who place their trust in him. (Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: An expositional commentary (932). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)

Preparation for the burial of Jesus

With what we understand about Jesus being the perfect Passover Lamb as the central figure of this chapter, we now understand the lead-up to his crucifixion. We understand the words of our Lord:

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7–8, NIV)

So, what Mary did was not to show us how much we should love Jesus, but why we should love Him much.  The precious nard perfume she used was not pointing to her love for Him, but to his precious death for those He loves so much that He would give his life.

Judas, on the other hand, wanted to distract the attention from Jesus by saying that the money for the perfume could have been given to the poor.  Mary did not want to draw attention to herself, but to Christ.  Deep down she understood that what He had told his disciples all along is about to take place. He told them this over and over again:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31, NIV)

Somehow Mary understood it but the disciples did not.  Even in our chapter we read these words:

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. (John 12:16, NIV)

On that Saturday night, immediately following the day hours of the Sabbath, sitting at feet of Jesus who raised her brother from the dead, she understood that He would indeed give his life and die to be buried.  She anointed Him for his death.

See, brothers and sisters, the message of the love of Christ our love for this world can easily bewarped.  The message of love we hear these days has become so horizontal that the message of the cross is rarely heard.  The death of Christ is taken as exemplary and not substitutional. It then sounds like the message of Judas who had no perception of the meaning of the death of Christ.  This passage tells us that true love for our neighbour cannot happen before we understand that we need to begin at the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Love for our neighbour which does not begin and end in the love of Christ who makes everything new as He brings us in the right relationship with the Father, is nothing but humanistic philanthropy.  But the substitutional love of Christ who gave his everything as the Passover Lamb to bring us back to the Father defines our love for our neighbour.  We then are not only concerned about their earthly needs of bread and clothing – surely that should not pass us by – but we will be concerned about their relationship with the Lord as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of this world.

This is what Mary’s act of anointing of our Lord should teach us: look at Him, He died and was buried to give you new life as He would forgive your sins and give you eternal life.

The king on a colt

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday has been regarded by many as a last public offer of himself as King to the people of Jerusalem.  Some say that Jesus at this point made a final attempt to gain a following, as if He would try to re-establish the throne of David in Jerusalem to overthrow the authority of the Roman Empire and set Israel free from political oppression.

But his kingdom was not of this world.  He would be King of another kingdom.  He knew about it.  A third time He told his disciples:

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32–34, NIV)

He entered Jerusalem not to win over the people (the time for that had long passed) but rather to provoke the Pharisees and chief priests into action and thus trigger the events that He knew awaited Him.  He said He would lay down his life for his sheep.  Now was the hour.

Jesus considered Himself bound by Scripture as an infallible expression of the will of the Father.  Both Matthew and John refer to the prophecy of Zechariah in which was written,

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).

The most important reason why Jesus entered Jerusalem, particularly when He did, was to show Himself to be our Passover Lamb who was to take away the sins of the world.

Later that week when He appeared before Pilate, when asked about his kingdom, Our Lord answered:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36–37, NIV)

What the people shouted when He entered Jerusalem was indeed true, although they did not understood it that way:

“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13, NIV)

The heading on most translations of this paragraph of the Bible says, “The triumphal entry.”  These words are not part of the original text.  It is correct but not in the sense that Jesus had some political victory; it is correct in the sense that it was the fulfilment of the Scriptures referring to Him as the King who was righteous and having salvation.  The words of those along the streets of Jerusalem had the same weight as the words of Caiaphas who prophesied that it is better that one man die than that the whole nation perish – neither understood or meant what they said.

But they were words of eternal significance in the scheme of God’s Kingdom.  The words screamed out in pure emotional ecstasy along the streets of Jerusalem, find its true meaning around the throne of God:

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. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10, NIV)

In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12, NIV)

Conclusion

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

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

Did we hear his voice? Sure we have. The question now:  Is Jesus Christ, by faith in Him, your King; is He your Passover Lamb?  Have you brought your sins to Him to be washed away?  Or:  are you sure you have eternal life because you believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God?

Reject Him in unbelief, shout meaningless good-sounding words with the crowd who eventually crucified Him, or worship Him as the Son of God.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 28 April 2013