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

Christ’s victory: all enemy defeated

Better things are coming (Series Title)

Scripture Readings

  • Genesis 6:1-8
  • 1 Peter 3:17-22

Introduction

There are days in the life of a minister that he needs to hide his pride in his pocket and admit that the Bible sometimes is not altogether easy to preach.  Today is one of those.

The readings for today come from two passages many theologians interpret in many different ways.  I pray that God will give me the grace to be a help rather than a hindrance.  We need to pray that the victory of Christ will be seen, and that all the glory will be his – even through our meditation on these two paragraphs.

The victory of Christ

I titled this sermon “Christ’s victory: all enemy defeated”,  because the context of 1 Peter 3, especially verses 17-22, is about the victory of Christ through his cross and resurrection.  Let’s just recapture:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NIV)

There is victory in this verse.  He died but was brought back to life. It takes us back to chapter 1:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Of another verse in chapter 2:  1 Peter 2:4 refers to the truth that we have come to Him, and then Peter says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6, NIV)

We have come to Christ, and Christ, according to our verse in 1 Peter 3:18, through his death and resurrection He takes us to the Father.  His vicarious, or substitutional work not only takes us to God, but is the anchor for us in difficult times.

The cross and the open grave

Peter is addressing people who knew better things were coming in eternity, but the here and now of their struggle against those who reject them because they rejected Christ, cause them a lot of suffering.  And Peter now wanted them to not only follow the example of Christ by being submissive, but to see the victorious Christ who, according to the last verse in this chapter, has all powers and authorities in submission to Him.

Peter mentions something in this section which is not easy to understand.  Let’s read verses 19-20 again:

After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, (1 Peter 3:19–20, NIV)

This fact of the ministry of Christ in not mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures.  It seems at first sight if this may be mentioned in chapter 4:6:

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

The end of this verse however refers to people who were dead but now live in regard to the spirit.  I have however no final resolution on this verse, because there are more than one way to interpret this verse.  We will get there next time we continue with 1 Peter.

So the question is, when did Christ go and preach to whose spirits are kept in prison, who were they, and what did He proclaim to them?

Sin, rebellion and destruction

Our verse refers to those who lived in the days of Noah, those who were disobedient, despite the patience of God to see them repent and be saved.

Let’s go to Genesis 6.  The first problem we walk into is the reference to “the sons of God who married the daughters of men.”  Who were the “sons of God” and who were the “daughters of men”?

Let’s just go back a chapter or two in Genesis. After the death of Abel and the  tragic life of Cain who became a refugee, Adam and Eve had more children.  Seth was born to them.  There is an interesting statement in chapter 4:26:

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. (Genesis 4:26, NIV)

Then in chapter 5:3 we read:

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. (Genesis 5:3, NIV)

If we read these two verses together within the context, it seems not impossible to deduce that and Enosh worshipped the Lord, and that they could be known as “sons of God”, or children of God.  As time went by and people increased on the face of the earth, some departed from the Lord in sinfulness.  It is not impossible to think that some actually started to intermarry with the offspring of Cain.  The expression “they married whom they chose” in 6:3 may indicating that man’s own choice, rather than the choice of God of who he could marry was his own standard.

It does not take long before a godly family can go astray and become worse than the worst.  Old Eli was a god-fearing man to begin with, but his two sons were evil to the bone.  David walk with the Lord, Solomon deviated somewhat, and his son rejected the fear of the Lord.

Point is, who was known as “the sons of God” got entrapped in marriages with daughters of this world.  The difference lies in their origins:  “of God” and “of men”.  It never works, and always leads to disaster.  The result of these unions was outright rebellion against God.  Like the people of Babel who rebelled against God and looked at themselves as important and great, so the people in the time of Noah drifted away from the worship of God to the worship of themselves and their own achievements; in their own eyes they were giants! And this pattern is repeated even into our day.  The wise, the great and the important thumb their noses at the King of the universe and his Son, and they refuse to bow the knee before Him who already have them at his feet.  Listen to Psalm 2:

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” (Psalm 2:2–3, NIV)

How does this Psalm warn them?  Listen:

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10–12, NIV)

Over and over again we read: in Genesis 6:

The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. (Genesis 6:6, NIV)

Righteousness calls for punishment

In his righteousness He sent the flood to punish sin.  He gave them 120 years to repent, but nothing happened.  And all along Noah drove one nail after the other in to ark, which would become the salvation for him and his family.  God promised that this will never happen again – no flood.  But it meant that God had to set in motion his plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Those who walked in darkness, those who were first not a people, are by grace -through the cross and resurrection of Christ brought to God.  Instead of rightfully punishing the world for their sin, He sent his Son to be punished in our place.  THat’s why we read about the victory of Christ through the cross and his resurrection.

Those who cause pain in the heart of God, who caused God’s judgment upon what He had made so that about everything was destroyed and God had to start from again, their spirits are kept in prison till the final judgement of the white throne before God.

Victory!

We don’t know exactly when, or at what point in time it happened, but the victorious Christ went to preach – or proclaim – something to the these spirits who are bound in the pool of fire till the last day of judgement.  From the context we need to understand that Christ proclaimed to them his victory.  They caused the world to be destroyed through their disobedience and hardened hearts, but Christ was the One who restored it and reversed the wrath of God upon this sinful world.  He did not preach to them grace; their fate is sealed.  They are with their leader, Satan, the father of lies, and the deceiver from the beginning, sealed up in the abyss till they will stand before the throne of Him who overcame:  Jesus Christ; and He will avenge the blood of those who fell by the hands of sinners by sealing them up in this lake of fire:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14–15, NIV)

Don’t be found with them.  No!  come to Christ who will take you to God through his death and resurrection.  United to Him (of which baptism and communion is a sign) you will stand and survive.  As a matter of fact, the tribulations of this world and it’s sufferings is for a moment compared to what is waiting.  Peter rights a bit further into this letter:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13, NIV)

See, we are united to Christ by faith; baptism is the sign and seal of our union with him.  Peter writes:

and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21, NIV)

Noah believed.  The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in accordance with faith. (Hebrews 11:7, NIV)

In closing

My dear friend, physical persecution has not come our way yet.  But it is true that if we live as true aliens, or passers-through, in this world, we are on its wrong side.  The life of a Christian is not always easy; on the contrary, it can be very hard and disheartening at times.  But it serves to test us.

Let us never forget this truth when we face difficulty for loving Christ and his Word:  Christ is victorious; in essence the enemy is defeated.  By union with Him your place is secured in heaven where your inheritance cannot be spoiled of fade.  Look up, better things are coming.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 18 October 2015

 

Marriage

A Statement by the Session of the Presbyterian Church of Wee Waa

The Session of Wee Waa Presbyterian Church met on June 3rd 2015.  After deliberation we wish to issue the following statement regarding marriage.

Introduction

  • The Church of Jesus Christ exists because of the grace of God and for the glory of God
  • The Church is the work of the Triune God:  the Father calls sinners to salvation; Jesus Christ gave his life for sinners to reconcile them to God; the Holy Spirit gives rebirth through the Word and binds saved sinners to the work of the Saviour, and empowers them for their task in the Name of Christ till His return
  • The work of the Church is defined only by God; his will for his Church is expressed in the Bible, the infallible and inerrant Word of God
  • God is glorified through his church where his will is done – He requires his people to serve in the world with love as defined in the Bible: the Church can therefore not love less than God, and it cannot love more than God
  • Acts of mercy, the task of Evangelism, and the calling of Mission are not restricted by humanly defined boundaries like race, colour, creed, language, social standing or sexual preferences.  It is the task of the Church to reach out to all people, always remembering that those who confess to be Christians were once alienated from God, but were shown grace in Jesus Christ
  • People who respond to the call of God through the Scripture to be reconciled to through Christ, repent from their sin and live a life of sanctification defined by God declared in his Word

Session observes that

  • members of the Church of Christ are in no way better than those who have not found forgiveness in Christ; Christians are mere sinners saved by the grace of God, called to glorify Him as Lord of all;
  • members of the Church of Christ are adopted into the family of the Lord and are called to live as God’s Covenant people;
  • the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (of which Wee Waa is part) has not always been true to its calling as defined by the word of God;
  • the Church of Christ has no right to withhold the Gospel message from any individual;
  • homosexuality/lesbianism is not an unforgivable sin, and should be recognised as all sins:  it is an offence to God, but through repentance can be forgiven by the grace of God in Jesus Christ;
  • members of the Church must constantly repent and grow in their obedience to God through sanctification

Marriage in the Bible

  • Marriage was designed by God who created a man and a woman and brought them together in union.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 1:27, 2:21–24, NIV)

Jesus Christ said:

“Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6, NIV)

  • A man is not superior/inferior and the women is not inferior/superior: both are created in the image of God.
  • Marriage is based on faithfulness: partners promise to not betray their love and trust.   They depend on God’s faithfulness who brought them together and promises to bless them.
  • Marriage is not an end in itself: God created marriage to His glory to display Christ’s covenant relationship to his blood-bought church.

Session observes that

  • Ministers and members who are Marriage Celebrants within the Church of Christ are bound to obey the commands of Christ when they are requested to officiate at marriages
  • It is extremely desirable that prospective couples should receive thorough instruction about the meaning of Biblical marriage and the nature of mutual responsibilities of man and wife towards one another and the children God might give them before entering into marriage
  • Married members of the congregation are called to preserve the holiness of marriage according to the Word of God, always remembering that their relationship with one another should reflect the relationship between Christ and his Church

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:23-25, 32, NIV)

  • Cohabitation (de facto relationships) has no covenantal binding in the eyes of God and as such mocks God’s deeper meaning of the relationship between Christ and his Church; without public vows to one another in the presence of God such a relationship between Christians is sinful
  • Divorce is an offence to God (Malachi 2:16), and should only be allowed in extreme circumstances (Matthew 19:9).  Those who were unfaithful toward their spouses and divorcees have not committed a unforgivable sin and should be restored into fellowship after heartfelt repentance
  • For millennia, even in communities other Christianity, have grasped what God says in nature — that marriage unites man and woman

Australian Law

  • The current Marriage Act (1961) acknowledge the principle for marriage as defined in the Scriptures and states that marriage as:

“the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

Session observes that:

  • the current secular definition of marriage reflects some Biblical principles
    • union between a man and a woman” is necessary with a view to multiplying the human race
    • for life” is necessary because children need the security and safety of a stable family
    • voluntarily” is necessary to guard against forced or arranged marriages where marriage partners can be used as commodities, and mutual love, respect, trust and faithfulness are no obligation.
  • The Marriage Act (1961) was weakened by the Family Law Act 1975, referred to as the “No Fault” Divorce, where one spouse must simply state a reason for the divorce that is recognised by the state.

International Human Right Laws

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (which does not [openly] take Biblical principles into account) declares*:

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

  • UDHR declares the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
  • UDHR stresses that “motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and protection”. In a same sex marriage, who of the partners is the mother?
  • Article 8 of the Convention on Rights of Children (CRC) states “the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognised by law without unlawful interference.” How would this be possible in the case of anonymous sperm and egg donours?
  • Article 18 of CRC declares that, “States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that for the upbringing and development of the child.

(*By quoting from the UDHR and the CRC Session in no way confers any authority to those statements; it is quoted merely to point out that proposed changes to the current law would even go beyond the scope of contemporary humanistic statements.)

New Marriage Act proposed

  • Those who propose a new definition of marriage do so to
    • to remove from the Marriage Act 1961 discrimination against people on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity;
    • to recognise that freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental human rights;
    • to promote acceptance and the celebration of diversity.

Session observes that

  • Marriage between and man and a woman has never been based on discrimination; it has been a mere recognition that it takes a man and a woman to marry and make up a marriage
  • Even the UHDR does not see the right to marry as a fundamental human right (UNICEF define human rights as “those rights which are essential to live as human beings – basic standards without which people cannot survive and develop in dignity.” – this also applies to those people who remain single)
  • “Equal rights” in marriage refer to them having these rights in a court of law: men are not favoured above women, and women are not favoured above men.
  • The current marriage act precisely celebrate diversity. What diversity is celebrated if the sexes are “the same”? (There is substantial difference between being “equal” and being “same”?
  • Members of the same sex cannot reproduce – it is how God designed human beings; they have to be different
  • If the law is changed as proposed, children will become a commodity, produced outside of marriage through surrogacy, sperm and egg donation, or ethically unaccepted methods
  • Children of same sex marriage partners could be denied the right to know their biological parents, and in some cases will never know their brothers and sisters (which of course puts a complete new interpretation on the Laws governing incest).

Conclusion

  • We affirm anew the Biblical principles for marriage as defined in the Bible.  We reject any definition or law concerning marriage that is not in agreement with the Word of God
  • We call on our Governments to strongly reject proposals to change the Marriage Act to include people of the same sex to enter into a marriage relationship
  • We repent of neglecting teaching the clear Biblical doctrine that the Christian marriage should reflect the relationship between Christ and his Church
  • Session calls the congregation to repent before God if their marriage relationships fall short of the Bible model
  • Married couples should strive for marriage enrichment and not allow marriages to rich a point where the only option is dissolving the marriage in divorce
  • We repent of the sin of neglecting our duty to our children and young people of not always setting the Biblical example of the holiness of marriage
  • We confess that failing to clearly live out the principles of God’s Word regarding marriage brought the Church of Christ, and ultimately our Lord and Saviour, in disrepute before those outside of the Church
  • We confess if we through speech or otherwise elevated the sin of homosexuality/lesbianism to be seen as a greater sin than idolatry, adultery, greediness, theft, slandering, or swindling (1Corinthians 6:9-10)
  • In our task of evangelism we will reach out to everyone, including homosexuals and lesbians, to hear the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • We confirm that all who truly repent and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour according to his Word will have a place in our fellowship

Dead in sin, alive in Christ

Communion Service – association with and participation in Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Colossians 2:13-3:4

Introduction

First, an illustration.  Heila and I visited a very interesting shop not so long ago during a visit to the Blue Mountains in NSW.  This particular shop is home to the largest collection of teapots in the world. On shelves about pelmet height, are displayed more than 4,000 teapots.  But that’s not all:  apart from this very extensive collection of teapots, you can find every conceivable piece of glassware.  Wherever to put your foot down or swing your arm or point your finger at, you bump into precious glassware.  Don’t go there with grandchildren; if you have to use a walking stick, stay away!

Now the question, how can the owners assure that they conduct a profitable business?  One possible answer to this intriguing question possibly lies in the notice at the entrance of this shop.  It says You brake it, you pay for it. Entering into the shop, accepting this condition, makes you a partner of the business for the duration of the visit, sharing in the risk of running it.

The operative words here are association and participation.  This takes us back to Colossians 2:11-15. I will try to explain this fairly complex paragraph in the word of God by breaking it up in little bits.

Old Testament Covenant

The background of the verses 11-14 is the Biblical doctrine of God’s Covenant with his people.  God called Israel, which is the Church in Old Testament times, to be his people.  He made an agreement with them in which He was the principle partner, and they the minor partners.  Because God is the only God who could save, provide, protect and assure safety, He by grace took Israel to be his people.  He placed upon them obligations stipulated in His covenant, requiring of them to live holy lives as people of God.

He also gave them signs as a seal of this covenant:  all male children had to be circumcised.  This circumcision was ultimately a circumcision of the heart, something not done by hands but by the Holy Spirit of God. This sign was a sign of God’s grace, but by this sign they would be set apart from the rest of the nations as God’s holy nation.  They had to turn from their evil practices, not live as the nations around them and worship God only as He commanded them. The term we may use for their sanctification within this context is the term we find in our verse of Col 2:11 – they had to put to death their sinful nature.

In Leviticus 19:2 God commanded Moses to speak to the people:  “Say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord you God am holy.’” They had to revere their parents, keep the Sabbaths, turn away from idols, serve God only and bring sacrifices to them in the prescribed way, love their neighbours, not steal, not cheat, do honest work, etc.  And about every time God gives them the command, He adds to it: “I am the Lord your God.”  Why?  Well, He saved them and made a covenant with them.  That’s why.  He owns them and the stipulations of his covenant demanded it.

The sign of circumcision (as an Old Testament sacrament) was accompanied by sacrifices.  All sacrifices had their fulfilment in the Passover Lamb (the other Old Testament sacrament). The sacrifices they were to bring to the Lord assured that they could enjoy communion with Him because of their sins being forgiven.  They did not die for their sins, but the animals did.  Their participation in the act of sacrifice and their association with the blood of the animal brought to them forgiveness.

New Testament Covenant

Let’s go back to Colossians.  God extended his covenant of mercy to all nations through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  People from all tribes and tongues and nations now become members of the household of God.  How?  The same way as the people of the Old Testament:  by grace, by covenant and through sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is like the animals killed for their salvation.  His death and resurrection now is just enormously more and ultimately more perfect than animal sacrifice.

God also gives to his New Covenant people a sign of his covenant.  It is the same circumcision not done by hands; it remains the mysterious and gracious work of the Holy Spirit. He gives them a circumcision of the heart, here called the circumcision of Christ.

Now we need to take it step by step to understand the argument of the apostle Paul.  The people did not die and pay the price of sin; but by association and participation in the death and blood of the sacrificial animal God granted them forgiveness.  The same now applies for the New Covenant people.  We don’t die or pay the price for our sins, but by faith we associate with and participate in the death of Jesus Christ.  So, when He died on the cross, we died.  When He was buried, we were buried.  When He rose again, we rose.  Now, and this is a very legitimate question, how do I know it is for sure?  God gave us signs as a seal and guarantee like He gave to the people of the Old Testament.  To them He gave the sign of circumcision, to us He gives us the circumcision of Christ’s complete righteousness and baptism is the new sign of the very same covenant of grace.  When we are baptised, all Jesus Christ did to meet the righteousness of God, by faith became ours.  Baptism is the sign that Jesus Christ is the One who died and was raised again in my place so I can become part of God’s family.  By faith I participate in his death.  As God worked in Jesus Christ to raise Him from the dead, so we are raised with Him through the eternal power of God.  By faith I participate in his resurrection. We only need the sign that associates us with Him and assures us of our participation in his redemption.  The rest is God’s act of mercy and grace.  Listen:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

The Passover Lamb was nailed to the cross of Calvary to take away our sins.  He cancelled the written code, always reminding us of our unrighteousness having all our trespasses written in and He nailed it to the cross.  This is what we remember and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.

There on the cross Jesus Christ also triumphed over all powers to that they may never have a claim over our lives (verse 15). Paul states it like this in his letter to Timothy:

“… our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10)

The author of Hebrews underscores this by saying

“Since the children have flesh and blood, He [Christ] too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14)

Two signs in the Old Testament and two signs in the New Testament, pointing to the same act of grace from God in two different dispensations.  Circumcision is replaced by baptism; the sacrificial system replaced by the cross of Jesus as we remember it at the Lord’s Table.  In both these cases the principle to have part in salvation applies:  by faith we associate with Him; by faith we participate in his victory over sin and death. This is the amazing, remarkable and incredible fact of the grace of God.

One with Christ in holy living

Now, just as circumcision did not save God’s Church in the Old Testament, so baptism does not save the people of God’s Church in the New Testament. It was a sign of God’s grace; it is not grace itself. Through Christ God’s people become members of his body, and we are called to live holy lives, dedicated to God.  We need to put to death our earthly nature.

This then takes us to chapter 3 where Paul resumes the argument:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1,3)

Here the principle of association with and participation in comes in again.  The Sacraments bind us to Christ.  This assures our participation in his death and resurrection, but it calls for our association with Him in setting our hearts on things above where He is, because our lives are hidden in Him. This is essentially the same as what Paul says in Rom 12:2:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

He also stresses the same point in Rom 8:

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:8, 11-13)

Conclusion

Let’s for one moment get back to where we started.  Remember the glassware shop and the notice You brake it, you pay for it? We pointed out to the principle of association with and participation in.  Going into that shop poses a risk:  I might enjoy what I see, but I might walk away from it a lot poorer than I walked into it.

It is so much different when I walk into God’s grace.  First of all, I enter into his grace by his invitation, not by my decision. Secondly, my broken life and the rest of God’s creation that I effected so badly because of my sinfulness do not have a notice You brake, you pay for it on it.  The wonder of God’s grace is that, although I am truly responsible, and therefore accountable to God, someone else paid to make it whole and repair what I broke.  Jesus Christ is that one.  By faith what He did becomes mine.  Faith gives what belongs to Him to me.  I associate with Him and participate in Him.  That’s grace!

Two or three years before the death of John Newton, well-known minister of the Word in the 18th Century and author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace, when his sight was so dim that he was no longer able to read, a friend and brother in the ministry called to have breakfast with him. Their custom was to read the Word of God following mealtime, after which Newton would make a few short remarks on the Biblical passage, and then they prayed. On a specific day, however, there was silence after the words of Scripture “by the grace of God I am what I am” were read.

Finally, after several minutes, Newton spoke,

“I am not what I ought to be! How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall be out of mortality, and with it all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!” 

Then, after a pause, he said. “Now let us pray!”

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 December 2014 (Communion Service)

Abraham Father of All Believers (7)

Do not be wise in your own eyes

Scripture Readings

  • Galatians 4:21-5:6
  • Genesis 16:1-7

Introduction

Dear fellow believers,

Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, had his portrait done by Sir Peter Lely.  Lely had the skill of painting away the not so flattering features of the royals, but when commissioned to do Cromwell’s painting,  the instruction of Oliver was clear:

“Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.”

If the Bible was my book and I had a say in what should be in it, it would be thinner and it would focus on the beauty of the glory of God only.  I would omit chapter 16 of Genesis.  Chapter 15 is good, because is records God’s grace to Abraham and his offspring.  But chapter 16 exposes the ugliness of what happens when a hero in faith relies on his own understanding.

But the path of faith is not walked by perfect feet.  Certainly, it tells about the glory and grace of the omnipotent and all-wise God who shows compassion towards fallen sinners; but, it includes the stories of fallen man like us.  Now I can understand how the holy God, through Jesus Christ, reaches out to me and make me his child: and all of that by grace!

Sarai speaks

Up to this point in Genesis, the Bible does not record any spoken word of Sarai.  The account of God’s dealing with Abraham excludes any direct dialogue between God and Sarai, and Sarai with Abraham.  It seems as if she was, included in the words and actions of Abraham, was the silent, believing partner.  Even in the story of what happened in Egypt where she was given into the house of the pharaoh, not a word of Sarai was recorded.

Then, after the mountain-top experience of her husband where God revealed his unilateral agreement of grace to Abraham and his offspring to make him the father of all believers, Sarai speaks.

Surely her husband had shared with her all the things God communicated with him.  She was included in the deal.  She thought about it. But she had a few of her own ideas about it.

She was barren

This was the first thing she spoke about: “The Lord has kept me from having children.”  Or, “The Lord restrained me.

She thought about what God said to Abraham, she looked at her own inability, and she understood (for a human point of view) that God would exclude her from what is going to happen to Abraham.  She, at this stage, did not protest her barrenness; she took it as something which God allowed to happen.  One could say that she, in all humility before the will of God, submitted to the idea that she will never have any children.

It seems a natural thing to look at your circumstances, weigh up the impossibilities, and then look at all other possibilities.  That’s how human nature works.

Perfectly acceptable custom

In those days it was perfectly okay and acceptable to give your personal slave girl to your husband as a surrogate to bear children if your proved to be barren.  Any child born out of that union would be regarded as the child of the first wife.

Sarai looked at this option.  She might even have thought that it was by the providence of God that she and Abraham had to go to Egypt so she could get Hagar as a slave: she was Gods hand-picked choice to bear the child of the promise.  There would be no shame in this arrangement; as a matter of fact this was an arrangement that would take away the shame from both Abraham and Sarai, because in those days there was a stigma to barren women.

Willing to stand back

In perfect submission to her husband and all which God promised to him, Sarai was quite willing to play second fiddle, stand back and disappear on the background. If this was God’s will for her life, so be it.  What as picture of submission and humility.

God’s kingdom be built

She said to Abraham:

The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” (Genesis 16:2, NIV)

In these words Sarai thought in some way she would be included, although not directly.  “I could built my family through her.”  It was the second option, but rather this than nothing!

It as surely the desire of Abraham too that Sarai would be included into God’s plan for all who would believe. Just imagine, God called this man and his wife, she agreed to be with him wherever he goes, whatever the circumstance, whatever the cost. But in the end she was not part of it, God had to launch “Plan B”: get Hagar into his plan, because He overlooked one small bit of detail:  Sarai was barren.

Abraham acts

Did God really intended Sarai to have direct part?

Maybe, at this point of time, Abraham went through all the encounters he had with God. “To your descendants I give this land.”  “Your descendants will be be as many as the the stars and the sand of the seashore.”  It’s about Abraham’s seed; Sarai is not explicitly mentioned here. The more he thought about it, the more it became clear to him:  “I’m the father; Sarai is barren; there’s another women in the house.  God allowed her to part of the family.  She is an Egyptian, and did God not say all the nations of the earth will be blessed through me?  This is from God.  I’s my second choice, but it could be God’s first choice!”

Mutual agreement

Abraham agreed to what Sarai said.”  Abraham was an honourable man; what he did was not without the consent of his lawfully wedded wife.  I suppose they talked about it, weighed up the pros and cons, and in the end a day was set for Abraham to formally take Hagar as his secondary wife.

This happened “ten years after they arrived in Canaan” (verse 3), still waiting for the promises of God to come true. I don’t think the inclusion of this line is in the Bible for nothing.  It is almost as if Moses wrote it there for us to understand that all possible human recourses were exhausted.

Sarai gave away her rights to Hagar, and Abraham did what he did for one thing, and one thing only:  they wanted to be obedient to the Lord to see his promises come true.

Hagar fell pregnant.  What a relief! It worked! It would still be better if this was a boy.

By faith?

Sarai

Sarai’s actions seemed plausible and laudable. But her actions speak of unbelief.  Her answer to her barrenness did not keep in mind the power of God.  Further, it seems as if Hagar had no say in the whole scheme.  She was treated the way you would expect of unbelievers.  It might have been politically correct to do pass on your maidservant to your husband as secondary wife, but it was not according to the plan of God. Sarai’s polygamous solution was conventional and proper in the eyes of everyone, but God.

Further, her words, “I can build my family through her” (verse 3) completely kept God out of the picture.  God could not do it, now I will have to step up and do it! Faith flew out the backdoor.

Someone comments:

It was wrong against God, Whose word had been given and Whose time should have been waited. It was wrong against Abraham, leading him out of the pathway of patient waiting for God’s will. It was wrong against Hagar, and did not recognize her individuality and rights in the matter. It was wrong against Sarah herself, robbing her of a high privilege as well as leading to disobedience

Abraham

Like Adam in the Garden, listened to his wife.  Although already legally married to one wife, Abraham here acted like the unbelievers in the country they came to live.  God’s calling for them was to be holy and different from the nations and their customs, but here he used the customs of heathen nations to justify has actions to become the husband of more than one wife.

Once he had followed the voice of God in Ur and obeyed.  He heard God’s promises spelled out to him over and over again.  In the shadow of chapter 15, where God explicitly, in a very unambiguous way, demonstrated to him that all is in God’s hands, he still fell back on his own wisdom.  There was no direction from God to take Hagar as his wife.  Instead, now he listened to the voice of his wife.

The language in this chapter is almost identical to that of chapter three.  There Eve said to Adam and he agreed; here Sarai said to Abraham and he agreed.  There Eve took and gave to her husband; here Sarai took and gave to her husband. Both Adam and Eve partook willingly; here, both Abraham and Sari partook willingly

The consequences

Hagar

Up to this point Hagar was treated like a commodity, a soulless baby machine.  She was dragged into this drama to solve the problems of the childless parents, and she was used for nothing else.

Little wonder then that she, after falling pregnant, despised Sarai.

This is what happens when we take things in our hands, and not wait upon God.  Someone said, “He who believes should never be in a hurry.”  If we are, we have to face the consequences.

One consequence is sin comes into our lives and dominate it.  At first there was just Abraham and Sarai; now it was Hagar first, then Abraham and Sarai.  What seemed to be background music, now became in-your-face-noise.  The fruit of our schemes become unwelcome quests, but we just can’t rid of it – it’s pregnant!

Hagar was treated badly – yes she was mistreated, the same word used for cursed.

Bitterness

The easy-going Sarai now became an erupting volcano. Bitterness sprang up, the blame game began:  “Your are responsible for my wrong.”  Even the fact that Hagar despised Sarai became Abraham’s fault.  She realises that what she and Abraham had done can only be judged by God, but she put it in such a way as she expected God to punish Abraham.

Too late!

This is where we see that Abraham was actually no hero.  Like Elijah who in one chapter saw the glory of God in victory of the Baal priests, and in the next find himself in the bush, wishing that he was never born, here we see Abraham falling from the heights of his experience with the living God falling to the depths of humiliation and weakness.

Your servant is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think best.” (verse 6) Yes, but she is pregnant with your child! What a love triangle; what a disaster! As a strong husband he should have assured Sarai of his love and that she was first. He should have accepted the full blame and responsibility. He should have dealt kindly and firmly with Hagar.  He didn’t. He should have sought the face of God in prayer, apologised to his wife and cared for the woman now carrying his baby.

It is interesting that neither Abraham nor Sarai referred to Hagar by name:  she was just “the servant”!

A commentator writes:

“The thing that shouts loudest here in the story is that there was not an honorable character in the lot. All were ignoble. Abram was the worst. He was pathetic, passive, impotent, and uncaring of either woman. Neither woman had any compassion on the other. Sarai was worse, but you get the idea that Hagar would have done the same if she could. Notwithstanding, Hagar was the prime victim. And Sarai was a not-so-distant second.

All of this started when one becomes wise in one’s own eyes, not trusting God.

Conclusion

Before we condemn Abraham, Sarai and Hagar, we need to be honest before God here.  Aren’t we just the same?  One moment on the mountaintop of grace, the next we take things in our own hands, and when it blows up we blame God for it!  Or we blame one another.

We learn from this to always trust God who is powerful, all-wise and perfect in his ways.  Never can we do God’s work for Him.  We’ll be sure to mess it up.

God honours marriage. Let’s leaner this from this story.  God has never intended for marriage to be between more than just one man and one wife.  The mere fact is very clear from what Paul later declared:

After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:29–31, NIV)

In matters spiritual beware of what might look like good advice, but not tested by the Word of God, even if that comes from those closest to you.  Even Job’s wife enticed him to curse God and die.

We need to confess to God that our plans are not his plans.  We need to submit to Him and ask Him to teach us patience, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

If we in the process wronged anyone we need to go back and beg forgiveness in the Name of Jesus Christ.

If in the process we have set things in motion which will have consequences beyond our control, we need to beg God’s forgiveness and pray that He will somehow teach us how to best deal with it.

As church, the body of Christ, we need to ask Him to keep us within his will, love his Word, keep praying for his guidance, not embark on any program if it may in any way be against his declared will in the Scriptures.

We need to go on our knees and thank God that He did not abandon his plan of salvation even in the face of disbelief and disobedience, but that He brought it to fruition by sending Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Redeemer through the true son of the promise, honouring the marriage of Abrham ans Sarai.

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Proverbs 26:12, NIV)

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:21, NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. (Proverbs 3:5–7, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 September 2014

Towards the cross

Eye for eye – God’s demand for justice

 

Scripture Readings

  • 2Corinthians 5:11-6:2
  • Deuteronomy 19:15-21

Introduction

Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

It took me many years to work out what “brotherly love” meant.  Our household, like many others I suppose, represented your typical family where brothers got stuck into one another – and it did not always portray love between brothers.  Later in life I worked it out that sin was part of our daily life – but we still loved one another.  And it is almost if I can still hear Mom’s rebuke, that was when things got a bit hot, “Do not repay evil with evil!

Even a word from the Bible sometimes did not help when you knew that you had a case against your brother.  You just felt you wanted justice.

Then one day I read this passage in the Bible: “eye for and eye, hand for hand, foot for foot.”  I had my verse.  I had grounds for retaliation and revenge!

But is this the meaning of the verse?

In preparation for this sermon I read quite a few commentaries.  When it comes to this particular verse some of them just skip it.  There was one who argued that this verse, and the other places in the Bible where it is mentioned, is the most embarrassing in the Bible and should be removed, or not referred to at all.

I beg to differ.  It is my clear conviction that this verse underlies the reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Whilst reading this verse in Exodus 21:23-24, I wrote a comment:

This principle, I believe, lies behind the cross of Christ. He bore the punishment of God on all harm and injustice in his Person to satisfy the righteousness of God. 

Justice, not retaliation

Study the paragraph of Deuteronomy, and you will know that the setting is that of disputes in a court of law.  There is no hint of personal retaliation or vindictiveness.

I am the Lord your God

Above and over all the regulations and case laws that Moses gave to the people of the Lord, stood the Ten Commandments.  The top line reads, “I am the Lord your God.” No less than 76 times do we read this in the first five books of the Bible.  God has a claim on his people, and his people were different, living under a different law, and were saved from slavery to be the possession of the Lord, their God.

When it comes to the second table it speaks about the love for the neighbour: God’s people was driven by the first table, which is the love for God and God’s love for them.  All relationships between the people of God stood under the overarching principle of love.  One would honour your father and mother because God loves them, gave them to you, they love Him and you love Him.  One would not murder another person, because God loves him, he loves God and you love him.  The same applies to adultery, stealing, and lying in court:  God loves me, I love Him; He loves my neighbour and I should love my neighbour.

Sin distorts justice

So when we go back to Deuteronomy 19 these principles are assumed – but sinful nature gets in the way:  people do lie, justice is perverted and retaliation becomes a reality.  They needed priests, judges, a thorough investigation and a verdict.

Sin makes life difficult.  We hate, lie, steal, and covet.  We know the law, and yet we trespass; we need a judge, we need a verdict, we need justice,we need punishment.  We need and eye for an eye – not driven by retaliation or vindication, but because we need justice.

In the presence of the Lord

Ever wondered where the custom to take an oath and be sworn in as witness in a court of Law comes from?  Where does “So help me God” come from?

“our law (like that of most civilized nations) requires a witness to believe, not only that there is a God and a future state of rewards and punishments, but also that, by taking the oath, he imprecates upon himself, if his evidence is false” (Simon Greenleaf)

Witnesses, even in the day of Moses, had to understand that truth is universal, because God is omnipresent.  That’s why the witnesses of Deuteronomy stood “in the presence of the Lord.”  The priests and judges also sat in the presence of the Lord and had to measure out justice as God determined: they could only take the side of truth, not of the circumstance or the person.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

To stem the possibility of retaliation, and only seek justice, any person who felt that he was dealt with unjustly, could approach the judges and priests.  Then, even the quality and quantity of the witnesses were tested:  two or three who were there when the alleged injustice took place;  their statements had to be tested as the truth.  And if it is proved that the witness is corrupt, what he wanted to be done to the person charged, would be done to him.

Punishment fits the Crime

Until very recently this was a principle accepted by the courts.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot and life for life.  Justice demands that the penalty for a crime should not inflict harsher punishment than the crime called for.  We know of no case in the Scripture where this law demanded an actual eye, foot, or teeth, but the compensation sought by a person for injustice against him could be measured out only in as far as he received injustice.

Justice good for the people of God

“You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid. and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:20)

Much can be said about punishment dished out be courts in our days, but fact is many law-breakers do not fear the law, and citizens in general have not much respect for the law, purely because the penalty does not fit the crime.  It is wrong to try to get rid of a cat by putting it in a rubbish bin, but if you did and you get caught it, your punishment could be harsher that someone who raped and elderly person, or even killed a partner.  We do not even mention injustices which might be legal, but still horribly wrong:  think of abortions!

God instituted the law of eye for eye, foot for foot, tooth for tooth and life for life to be an example of justice; it was meant to be a deterrent.  It was not “correctional” as we have it these days; it was exemplary punishment.

God’s righteousness demands justice

Whoever thought this verse in the Bible is an embarrassment, or thought it gives every individual to exercise personal retaliation, has it wrong.  The only principle laid down here is that of justice.  Fact is, God’s righteousness demands justice.  This principle helps us to understand the cross and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

God’s righteousness and the cross

We are all sinners

The Bible is clear about our position before God:  “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Listen to Isaiah 59:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched. Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace. So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2–10, NIV)

All the sins mentioned here goes back to the Law of God, and as such, to the paragraph in Deuteronomy:  hands are stained with blood (guilty!); false lips (guilty!); no justice (guilty!); utter lies (guilty!); evil deeds (guilty!); violence (guilty!); evil schemes (guilty!).  The result?  Justice is far from us.  We are like dead!

This is the picture Paul paints in his letter to the Ephesians:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

God cannot turn a blind eye on sin

There is a principle in the Bible which may crush every sinner if it is not read in the full context of the cross of Christ.  It reads:

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:18–19, NIV)

God is merciful and abounding in love and forgiving sin, yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  It seems contradictory:  He forgives in love, but does not leave the guilty unpunished!

This is true of the Bible message from the beginning to end.  Anyone who wanted to approach the Lord on his own terms would be crushed.  Yes, God is merciful and forgiving, but He demanded that a sacrifice be brought:  the blood of lambs and bulls satisfied God’s judgment on sin in the Old Testament; without that there was no forgiveness.

God does not turn a blind eye to sin

Point is, God does not turn a blind eye to sin.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.  We demand justice, but we need justice.  How can we demand justice if we are born in sin, and utterly corrupted by sin?  How can we ask for forgiveness if we are unforgiving?  Can God just say, “I forgive you”, without penalty on sin?  Would He still be holy if He did so?  Would He still be righteous if He let the unrighteousness off the hook without repentance and punishment?  Such a God I don’t want to worship.

Eye for eye, life for life

God solved our problem, not because we deserved it, and not because He just forgives or overlooks sin.  He solved our problem by being just.  He punished in righteousness, not compromising his holiness.  He gave his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord to be our mediator.

When Jesus walked this earth He constantly referred to the fact that He would be handed over in the hands of sinners.  When He was brought before them, all rules of justice went out the window:  no proper witnesses, no truth in the allegations; lies conjured up by people off the street; an illegal court meeting in the middle of the night; bribes paid to witnesses.  They let robbers free to have Him crucified.  They had Him flogged even though they found no reason to do so. Even those who followed Him, lied about Him (Peter) and others deserted Him (the disciples).

When they nailed Him to the cross, He prayed to the Father that He would forgive them.  Then, He faced the righteousness of the Father:  justice called for eye for eye, tooth for tooth and life for life.  He cried out, “Why have Thou forsaken Me?

Paul understood the cross and the Saviour and writes:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 21) NIV)

In Christ the righteousness of God is met:  He paid for our big sins, the small ones and every one in between – eye for eye.  We might think it is not a big sin, but all our sins are an offence to the holiness of God and demands his righteous justice.  When Christ died in our place, the punishment fitted the crime, though He did not deserve it;  if He did not do it, we needed to do it – and the consequence would have been disastrous, because we are God’s enemies.

Conclusion

My dear friend in the Lord, Christ’s death on the cross is your vindication;  those who do not trust in Him for forgiveness will find the justice of God’s righteousness calling for retaliation: eye for eye, life for life.

Make sure that your life is save in Christ who took God’s judgement and became your righteousness.  When He returns He will vindicated those who suffered under unbelieving and oppressing regimes; and his enemy will be punished.  All because of justice.  Eye for eye, and life for life.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 13 April 2014

 

Doing Good (1)

Lost in spite of being good

 Scripture Readings

  • 1Timothy 1:1-12
  • Philippians 3:1-11

 Introduction

Brother and sister in Christ Jesus,

Today we commence a series of sermons under the heading “Doing Good.”

Protestant Reformed Christians some time shy away from the whole idea of good works.  “Are we not saved by grace and not by good works?  We don’t deserve our salvation and therefore we only talk about grace.”

I think it was John Calvin who remarked that although we are saved by grace alone and not be good works, grace is never alone; it is always followed by good works.

Deep down in everyone of us there is a desire to be good.  Somehow we know it is good to be good.  We send our children off to school saying “be good”. We end a telephone conversation and might say “be good”. What exactly we mean both us and those we speak to do not really know, but we agree that we should be good.

We may even confuse being good with being Australian.  We, as a result, developed the expression when we think that general consensus would not allow certain behaviour that something is “un-Australian”.  When someone cheats his fellow-Australian, he is “un-Australian”, or when the tax man finds out we cheated on our form and fines us, we define that as un-Australian.  Australians are not that generous when it comes to drinking and swearing, because let’s face it, Australia is a beer-drinking and swearing nation.

The problem is defining “good”.  What is our standard for “good”?

Paul’s evaluation of himself before his conversion

Before Paul became a Christian every good Jew would pat him on the back and say, “Good on ye, Mate!  You’re an example of a good man!”

And so he was.  Look at his record.  He was in no way un-Jewish.  He was circumcised on the eight day.  His mom and dad took him to the priest not a day earlier and not a day later than what the law demanded.  By being circumcised he became part of the Covenant people of the Lord. You could say his life started in the temple – good start.

He did not become a Jew, he was born a Jew; he was not proselyte who converted to Judaism.  Coming from a good family, from the tribe of Benjamin, the same as king Saul.  Benjaminites were the smallest of the tribes, but they were brave warriors who stood up for what was right, and were very precise with the sword.  With their slingshots they could throw a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16).  Of all the sons of Jacob, Benjamin was the only one born in Israel, and besides Joseph, Benjamin was the favourite son of Jacob. The blood of the Benjaminites filled the veins of Paul.

Calling himself a Hebrew of Hebrews he probably add to his linage the fact that he spoke Hebrews as first language.  It was quite common in Paul’s days for Jews to speak Aramaic or even Greek as first language.

Add to this that he made a choice to become a Pharisee.  These was the sect that absolutely devoted themselves to the exact observance of the Jewish law.  They were the most zealous supporters and interpreters of Old Testament law, and Paul had studied under Gamaliel, its most celebrated teacher.

He took his understanding and devotion of being a Jew to the point that he persecuted the church in his efforts to promote Judaism.

He was no half-hearted Jew. If anyone wanted to judged him in accord with the righteousness the law demands, he would have been blameless. As a committed Pharisee, he paid scrupulous attention to the requirements of the law, and no one could have charged him disobedience to it.  He was legalistically faultless.  A real good bloke; an example of good living; a real Jewish icon and role model.

“Good on ye, Mate!”  He could have earned a headstone with the words “Rest in peace” on it.

Paul as he saw himself after his conversion

Now you have to turn with me to 1 Timothy 1:13 and further.

The first thing he says about, now looking back on those “good old days”, is that he was the worst sinner of them all.  The this he added that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man.

He knew what sin was.  As student of the Old Testament, there would be no doubt in his mind about sin and being a sinner. But according to his own standard he was not a sinner; he was a good Pharisee, always trying his best to be righteous, even more than the average Jew.

As blasphemer there was nothing good he wanted to know about Jesus Christ; there was nothing he wanted to know about any follower of Jesus.  Another translation of the word is to revile, or to stigmatise.  He did all of this because he supposedly was doing God a favour – or at least he found favour with the leaders of the Jews.

He persecuted the church.  Acts 9:1 says he was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, and should he find a Christian in Damascus, he got permission from the Jewish leaders to put them in prison.

He said he did these things because he was ignorant and he was unbelieving. He did not know the essentials of who Christ was, and as a result he did not believe in Christ.  This did not excuse him for what he did.  Jesus did not say to Paul, “You did not know, so you are not guilty of making fun of Me and those who believe in Me.”  Paul would later himself write that no one is without excuse.  But what he writes in 1 Corinthians 2:8

… these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit… The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:10, 14, NIV)

Point is, although Paul knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament by heart, he did not see Christ in them.  The Spirit made it possible for him to see, understand, know and believe. He says in 1 Timothy 1:14

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14, NIV)

He stresses the point:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  And he says “I am the worst.”  You see, when he was on his way to Damascus to throw Christians in jail, Christ appeared to him.  “Why are you persecuting Me?”  For all intends and purposes Paul could say that he was not persecuting Christ, because he thought Christ was dead and buried.  Our Lord said he was, because persecuting the followers of Christ was to persecute Christ.  At that moment something happened:  Paul spoke to Christ, “Who are You, Lord?”

This was a defining moment for Paul.  Christ revealed Himself to Paul.  He writes about it in Galatians 1:

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…  (Galatians 1:14–16, NIV)

Paul had this dramatic and definite change of course in his life.  First he saw himself as this super zealous, outstanding student of the Word of God, part of God’s people, a role model for every young Jew.  Maybe he dreamed about becoming a member of the elite Jewish Council.  Then, meeting Christ, he looked at himself and saw a pathetic, hopelessly lost sinner, an unbeliever, with books full of knowledge, yet knowing nothing.

I ask myself what many good churchgoers see when they look at themselves in the mirror.  They attended Sunday school; they made profession of their faith and became members of the church; they were baptised and they take communion on a regular basis; they put money in the plate; they might even have taught Sunday school; they support missionaries; and they are on the rosters of different activities of their congregation.  They help those in need, visit the sick in hospital, and even attend prayer meetings.  They hardly say any bad word about anyone and is loved by all.  All these things are good things, and quite frankly, anyone who calls himself a Christian and do not do these things is fooling himself.

But in the end, what is it that put us right with God? There is this day that all of us, on God’s appointed time, will stand before Him, looking Him in the face, and then we will have to explain why He should allow us into his eternal heaven.

“Lord, I have done all these things, I don’t need to tell you about all the good things I have done.  I never mixed with those who hate You, and I tried my best.”  Our God will want to know if we trusted in Jesus Christ only for righteousness.  In other words, God will want to know what we did with his gift, his Son, who was sent into the world, not to make as better people, but to make us new.

Our flesh, our old nature, the one we are born with, is one that can never please God, no matter how good we are or how hard we try.  Jesus said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21–23, NIV)

This tells us that God know no one who come to Him, unless that person comes in the Name of Jesus Christ;  He is our advocate; He is our righteousness; and He is the only one ordained by the Father who is the door through which we must go to enter heaven’s door.

What now?

This is the dead end, the cul de sac, for anyone who is honest and sincere about life, and about eternal life:  I am sinner, lost, unbelieving, not knowing God; all along I thought I had it all!

Honesty can sometimes be very painful; it drags one off of the throne of one’s life and smashes you to bits before the Holy God.  There is another possibility:  many have been at the point of understanding the consequences of not following Jesus Christ, but found the price is just too high.

Paul, by God’s grace, took his pride, his standing in social circles, his model life, the confidence the Jewish leaders put in him, all the good things he and others thought about himself, and weighed it up against value the of knowing Christ.  It became worthless.  He turned his back on those things, not because they were bad in themselves, but because as far as salvation in concerned, everything he considered valuable was worthless.  He became a fool in the eyes of his fellow Jews, and now like they did with Jesus and the Christians, they derided and mocked him.

That’s the cost of discipleship.  Oh, that God would give you the grace, if you have not done so yet, to not stop at this point.  My friend, go all the way – it is worth the while. Listen to what Paul says:

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:8–9, NIV)

Did you hear the crux of this verse:  that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.  His good works counted for nothing in the sight of God; Christ’s good work of obtaining and providing freely by grace a righteousness that satisfies his Father counted for everything.

Now, with his life direction having changed completely, he says:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

He just want to know Christ – even if it meant that he would suffer like Christ – but by knowing Christ he would attain everlasting life through the resurrection of Christ.  And at that point he could stand in the presence of God and know that God will indeed allow him into heaven – he knew Christ, trusted Him completely, obeyed Him with an undivided heart – all along clinging to the sure knowledge that becasue this is the case, heaven is a place to long for, live for and die for.

Conclusion

What now?  May I ask you this question, my dear friend?

It was nearly midnight in a church hall.  Some members of our congregation got together for some games and fellowship as we waited for the new year to begin.  About 11:45 we all sat down and I conducted a devotion.  The reading was from our text this morning. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  I want to be found in Him.”

I dropped the hint that maybe we should take these words a our New Year’s resolution, but also made it clear that we can only face the future if Christ is indeed our only righteousness. Very simply I invited those who do not have this sure knowledge in their hearts to trust Jesus Christ as Saviour.  The next day I heard that a young man, who was there the previous evening with his godly parents, realised that he was lost without Christ.  God made it clear to him that he needed to know Jesus.  That New Year’s day he committed his life to Christ, and his life changed – he began to live.  By God’s grace he is still standing strong.

What about you?

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 March 2014