Only Jesus Christ – no if’s, no but’s

Series Title:  Growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if the knowledge becomes scares?

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

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

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

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

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

Gnosticism – the old New Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very prominent environmentalist spells out a plan of action:

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

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

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

The knowledge of Jesus Christ

On the other hand Paul gives a few remarkable statements:

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


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


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


Be Wise (2)

Mind your wife (or your mother)

Scripture Readings

  • Ephesians 5:22-32
  • Proverbs 31:10-31


They say it’s Mother’s day, and we need a day like this.  But for the church Christ every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ.  Every sermon should be about Him and his work of salvation.  Every worship service should bring honour to God in the first instance; that’s our chief aim in life. But, even on a day like today, we want to thank God for our mothers.  We want to bring Him thanks for having mothers who love, care and live by example. So wen we read Proverbs 31 about the Excellent Mother we need to look further.  We might be surprised to see that mothers, how much we love and adore them (and we should!), should be loved and adored through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ – the wisdom of God.


Let’s learn from a man who knew women far better than anyone on the face of the earth.  We can say this because all up he had 1,000 of them – 700 wives in his harem, and another 300 as concubines, more or less the slaves of the wives he had.

(Was he really wise having a thousand? Must be; there are times I yearn for more wisdom to really understand the one I have! Not really,  she is a gift from God, and I truly love and adore her.)

Solomon wrote the best part of Proverbs and has quite a few things to say about a wife:

A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones. (Proverbs 12:4, NIV) He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22, NIV) Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord. (Proverbs 19:13–14, NIV)

There are also a few negative things about a wife:

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 21:9; 25-24, NIV) A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; (Proverbs 27:15, NIV)

So, Solomon makes it very clear that we need to be careful when it comes to the the choice of who we marry: is it God’s choice for us? Further, how we live with them.  It is of the outmost importance to make sure that we marry within the will and providence of the Lord.  It flows then that a man needs to do whatever in his power to keep his wife happy, and (of course) vice versa – marriage is after all a partnership, requiring two people to make it work.  Who wants to live on a corner of a roof instead of inside the house!   Who wants to live in a house with a leaky roof in a rainstorm!  We will do whatever we can to avoid it.  This calls for wisdom.  Happy wives means happy marriages and happy families. To be fair, the same can be said about husbands.


When it comes to wives being mothers, Solomon also had a few things to say too:

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. (Proverbs 10:1, NIV) A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother. (Proverbs 15:20, NIV) Whoever robs their father and drives out their mother is a child who brings shame and disgrace. (Proverbs 19:26, NIV) If someone curses their father or mother, their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness. (Proverbs 20:20, NIV)

Once again the point here is to be wise, to make the right choices and bring joy to the heart of a father and mother.  The best gift any child can give their mother is to be wise and to follow the Lord with a complete heart.  Yes, sending roses and cards, buying gifts and making telephone calls are all important.

To tell our mothers that we love them is of utmost importance, but to tell our mothers or wives that we love them because we love the Lord would be the best news.

There are many mothers who weep for their children – the children of the verses we heard today:  they are foolish, they set their hearts on the wrong things, they chose bad friends and put their hopes on the things of this word.  When evening comes the mother would open her heart and pour out her grief before God for a child who lost direction.  Many mothers fear to openly move around in their circle of friends because of ridicule for her son’s bad life-choices.

How many times have I sat and prayed with mothers who weep for their wayward children.  How many times have I listened to the heartbreaking story and hurt of a mother who can’t sleep out of concern for her children.

Today is perhaps just the occasion to make things right between you and God and then tell your mother about it.  Confessing towards God and then confessing to mother (and dad) for despising the teaching and example they set. Or perhaps today might be the best day and opportunity, if she does not know the Lord yet herself, to tell her about Christ, pray for her and with her.

The excellent wife

Let’s now turn to Proverbs 31. I look at this chapter and I remember my mother. Mom was not perfect, but to us she was a gift from God.  She was indeed noble, and a woman of strength. Let’s go quickly through this chapter again:

This wife’s husband had confidence in her.  This was not only a “for-better-and-for-worse-thing”. This word expresses that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence.  It conveys something or reliability.  some place it is translated as “hope”.  It is that sense of “all is well”, the feeling of being safe or secure; trust; contentment, fulfilment.  Something in the original verse speaks of no need for plunder – take what belongs to others.  The truely happily married husband has no need to wander into the paddock of his neigbour – his own wife is all-satisfying.   His wife greatly enriches his life.  The noble wife supports her man who manages the land.  He is well-known in the gates of the city among the civic leaders.  She spurs him on to serve in his community with integrity.  She brings him good:  her love and companionship is to him a recompense and reward.  Where this word is used elsewhere in the Bible it is contrasted with harm.  If conveys the nurture of a mother who breastfeeds a baby up to the point when she weans it.

She is wise, industrious, and clever. She works hard and provides for her family like a lioness looks after her cubs.  She gives instructions to her servants – she has everything in control as she plans the day.  She is energetic and strong, a hard worker (she girds her loins with strength, an expression which is through the Scriptures reserved for soldiers.

When she speaks, her words are wise, she gives instructions (torah) with kindness.  She carefully watches over everything in her household.  She is not lazy in her care and provision for her family. She inspects a field, she acquires it with the fruit of her hand (actually, palms).  She complements her food she grows and prepares with wine.She makes sure (tastes) her business dealing are profitable.

She is a discerning and wise women. She spins wool for clothing for her family – she provides clothing for her family.  When she is done with the care of her own family her care spills over into the community.  She cares for her community and the poor.  Her family is looked after in cold weather. the reference in verse 21 to scarlet scarlet is reference of well-being and with luxury.  There is something in the original that talks about double layered clothes which protects against the cold of winter.  There is more than enough from the clothes she makes so that she can trade with it. She herself is clothed with dignity, she laughs without fear of the future.

She knows well charm is deceptive and beauty does not last.  The fear of the Lord surpasses them all, and that is what instills in her family: true values that will last. She makes her children happy, and they called her blessed for it.  They return her dedication with likewise love and dedication. She is their tree of life. She is best of the best: the best wife, the best mother, the best friend, the bast companion.

This is the woman we want to reward her for all she has done.   Her deeds publicly declare her praise. We thank God for our mothers.

Mothers as wisdom examples

Maybe somewhere through this chapter some mothers here today felt a bit like the boy at the funeral of his father.  In the eulogy his father was praised for all the things he did and how well he did it.  In reality he was a lousy husband and father.  So this little fellow poked his mom and said, “Let’s go Mom. I think we are at the wrong funeral.”

Let’s face it, not all mothers can ever display all the qualities of Proverbs 31.  And if you feel a bit guilty about certain things you don’t do or never achieve as mother, for a moment just sit back and relax.

I believe this chapter tells us something very important:  mothers can be a wonderful example of wisdom – that wisdom which is also described as a woman in Proverbs.  By living out the fear of the Lord and knowing Him and following Him, being satisfied in Him, expecting all good from Him, looking up away from earthly wisdom and riches, the wise mother exemplifies wisdom and attracts her family to wisdom which became her only goal and purpose in live.  This same applies to the menfolk as husbands and fathers. Of wisdom is said about the same which is said about the excellent and noble wife of chapter 31.

Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention; the price of wisdom is beyond rubies. (Job 28:18, NIV)

She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 3:15, NIV)

… for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 8:11, NIV)

So, in the final analysis, our mothers are not the measuring stick or the benchmark of what is perfect life.  Like we heard last week:

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. (Proverbs 4:6–8, NIV)

To despise wisdom is to love the other woman, the bad one with loose morals.  She is also dressed in fine linen; but she looks and acts like a prostitute.  She destroys and her paths lead to death.

Wisdom will reward us in the same way as our mothers do when we put our minds and hearts to loving wisdom and be wise.  We will be looked after, we will be clothed and fed, we will be satisfied and safe when we are wise and love Gods’ wisdom revealed in his Word and made know to us by his Son.  This is the ultimate lessen of Proverbs 31.

We follow our earthly mother’s example to love wisdom.  It this, the calling of a mother is extremely high. But ultimately we hear the call of wisdom which leads us to God.  We hear the call of the Gospel of Christ which leads us to God.  We follow Him who makes us wise to now live as wise people to please God, glorify Him and think his thoughts after Him.  We listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit who takes the Word and writes it in our heart so that we will know to turn from the folly of the world and set our minds on Christ.

The church as the bride of Christ

Just a final thought:  the church is the bride of Christ.  Our relationship with Him will be consummated at his coming when we will live with Him into all eternity. But it seems reasonable to think that the perfect wife of Proverbs 31 should also apply to the church:  our example of service to our Lord, service to our community, hard work and integrity, our dependence upon Christ, and making his Name great in this world, living wisely making clever choices, should be as attractive to those living around us so that they will be drawn into a relationship with Him who call us his bride.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 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 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 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.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21–33, NIV)

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:1–7, NIV)

Make God give us the wisdom to live like his church bride on earth. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 May 2015

Abraham, Father of all Believers (8)

The God who sees

Scripture Readings

  • Acts 10:30-48
  • Genesis 16:8-15


My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

There are certain types of people I don’t particularly like. There are those who openly hate God and mock his Son, Jesus Christ. I add my voice to that of David when he says,

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? (Psalm 139:21, NIV)

Then there are pedophiles.  And dishonest people.  And because of what I have seen about the ISIS people, who in the name of their god behead people, sell children and women as slaves, and brutally kill the husbands, I made up my mind that there is at least a certain kind of Muslim that I don’t like.  It is probably because of this that I don’t particularly like Hagar.

Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, who became the father of the Arab people, and most Arabs are Muslims.  In my mind I made this jump from what I see today about violent Muslims around the world to project my dislike on Hagar of Genesis 16.  What I conveniently forget is that Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, received his so-called visions in 610 A.D. – this was about 2,300 after Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael.  Interestingly, after Mohammed got his visions he and his followers were mostly resisted by Arab people.  Huge wars were waged before Islam finally took root in most Arab peoples, about 200 years later.

True, Hagar was not Abraham’s first wife.  Her son, Ishmael, was not the son of the promise.  The blessings to Abraham and Sarah would reach to the end of the world through their children, Isaac and Jacob.  Out of them the Christ would be born, and through his death and resurrection salvation has come to all peoples on earth, including the sons of Ishmael.  They, like all of us, must bow before King Jesus and receive salvation from Him to be saved.  Salvation for them is indeed the only possible way in which we would meet each other as brothers and sisters.

The apostle Peter learned this lesson very early in his ministry after Pentecost, as read about it in Acts 10:

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Acts 10:34–36, NIV)

Hagar, the refugee

We dwelled on the terrible, sinful mistake Abraham and Sarah made to include Hagar into their family line.  This was not the plan of God, and dreadful consequences followed their disobedience.  Sarah’s full wrath and jealousy descended upon Hagar.  Knowing that Hagar became her rival, expecting the child of her husband, the Bible says Sarah mistreated Hagar.

Abraham though he could get of this by washing his hands and pretend nothing happened.  “Do with her whatever you think best.  She is in your hands!

Then, one day, Hagar was missing. Neither Sarah, nor Abraham went looking for her.  She was on her way back to Egypt where she was originally from.  She took the known highway down from Beersheba to Egypt.

I don’t think the absence of Hagar from the tents of Abraham andSarah necessarily brought peace between them.  They knew she was pregnant and that the blistering hot sun could kill her.  The Bible does not tell us that they showed any mercy to her.  She disappeared, running away from her master and mistress – something which was possibly, from a legal point of view, not the smartest thing to do: slaves had no rights, she had no legal ground to stand upon, and could be severely punished if found – which is probably why she wanted to go back to Egypt as soon as possible.

Her fleeing the tents of Abraham signalled her flight away from the blessings of God through Abraham.

The story of Hagar running away from the tents of Abraham is in many ways the story of every sinner:  we run, not going somewhere in particular, but surely away from God.  Without a sense of direction we find ourselves deeper into a desert, alone, forgotten, forlorn, without hope, with no future.  Paul describes this in Ephesians 2:

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. Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:3,12, NIV)

The worst part is that we find ourselves on a road we reckon will rescue us from what we are running away from.  We think we dealt badly by God and other people, so we don’t even think of calling upon Him.  Our natural instinct is not to seek God – sin prevents us from doing so.

Hagar found

In some ways, because I don’t really like Hagar, my sinful nature would think that she should have been left to die.  But there is something amazing in this text.  Forgotten by Abraham and Sarah, lonely in the desert, without hope for a pregnant women to ever survive her escape, the Bible reads:

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. (Genesis 16:7, NIV)

Without going into a deep theological discussion about who the Angel of the Lord is (there are good and well-documented articles to read in this subject) most theologians believe the this Angel is the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity.  Wherever we read about “The Angle of the Lord” in the Old Testament, it is in connection with the salvation of people.

In any case, angles were messengers of God, and God sent this angel to find Hagar.  Why?  She was lost and needed to be brought home.  Arthur Pink makes a lot of finding people at wells in the Bible, but let’s just think for one moment the meaning of the well here points to.  First, it points to life.  God directed the steps of Hagar to the well where she would find water.  He caused the well to be there in the first instance, then He caused her to be there.  The water meant life to her, in the same way as Jesus Christ is life to the sinner.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37–38, NIV)

His mission was to seek and to save the lost.  So He comes after the sinner, not to condemn, but to save.

The grace of God is shown in the two questions asked to Hagar:

  • Where have you come from?
  • Where are you going?

When Jesus spoke to the women at the well in John 4, He also asked questions.  They were meant to take her to the point of admitting her sinfulness before God.  She wanted the water Jesus was talking about, and Jesus was about to give her it for free, but she needed to own up to her sin.

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. (John 4:16–17, NIV)

The question of the Lord is not meant to hurt, but to set free.  This is true to every sinner.  Sometime we want the are Jesus gives, but we are not willing to own up to our sins – the very reason Jesus came into the world for and the very reason He gave his life.  So, the question is still very applicable for everyone who hears the searching grease of Christ.  The Heidelberg Catechism, in its second question and answer nails it right on the head when it states:

What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?  First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance. 

This is the purpose of the question, “Where have you come from?”  My dear friend, let’s own up before God and confess our sins to Him who knows everything about us.  We leave our past with Him, and in truth He sets us free from our past through the blood sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.

The next question exposes our spiritual bankruptcy.  Fact is we are at the point of dying without a future, hope and we are terribly exhausted – spiritually.  Hagar had nothing left of her own resources to make her keep going.  So, be a man today, and answer this question honestly before God.  What is your future?  God asked the same question to Adam and Eve in Paradise:  “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) Are you sure you are on your way to God’s heaven?  Or should you today admit that your sinful flight is taking you further away from Him – which will eventually end up in a never-end death in hell where you will cry out like the rich man for just a drop of water (Luke 16:24, while you now have the life-giving well in front of you?

Make the most of God’s grace now presented to you.  Paul writes:

“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2, NIV)

Hagar owned up to her past.  She admits, “I am running away.” O, what great verse this is.  Hagar was in distress purely she was running away from blessing.  Like the lost son she needed to go back home; it is just so much better there: it is where life is.   Say this to God today, admit your sin before Him because He wants you to go home ad have rest.

In more than one instance going back calls for restitution.  Hagar was after all the “servant of Sarai” (Genesis 16:8) by God’s will.  But we can make restitution because God has given us forgiveness through his Son.  We can and should love others because we have be given love.  Paul writes to Philemon about Onesimus his run-away slave:

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. (Philemon 15–16, NIV)

What is the basis for Paul’s plea with Philemon?  “I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.”  (Philemon 9, NIV)

So, based on the forgiving grace of God, who is at work in both you as sinner and those whom He sends you back to, go home!

Hagar restored

Hagar received blessing from the Lord.  In her case it had to do with her son and his descendants, and as such, we can’t just draw a straight line between what He promised her and us – other than to say we are blessed through Abraham, the father of all believers, through the Son of Abraham, Jesus Christ.

Hagar’s reaction on what happened there at the well of Shur is preceded by God’s grace.  Two things stand out:

  • God hears
  • God sees

The name of the unborn son is given in advance:  Ishmael, which means “God hears“.  Every time Hagar, Abraham and Sarah would address this son, they would be reminded of this fact.  Hagar never prayed to God to come and save her – He did so out of grace.  But to his saved child He gives this promise, “If you call on God, He will hear.”

Further, Hagar called this well, “The One who sees“.  God saw Hagar in her misery, the outcast one without hope and about to die.  His seeing meant that He did something to save her.  The same thing happened in Egypt with the people of the Lord, then in bondage:

 “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land … (Exodus 3:7–8, NIV)

God saw and He heard – not that they were crying to Him for help.  Their cry was a cry in slavery.  They forgot the Name of their God.  Moses had to ask God by what Name would should he appeal to the children of Israel, for they have forgotten the Name of their covenant God!  “I AM” was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:15).

Hagar saw the God who hears – and who saves!  My dear friend, listen to this:  God sees and knows your misery, and in seeing, He gives you the promise sealed up in Christ.  His name is “Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)


What do we learn from this passage in the Bible?

The grace of God is:

  • seeking, hearing, finding, rescuing, restoring
  • triumphing over catastrophic human sin – just look at the cross of Christ!
  • calling us to come back home
  • providing the strength to face difficulties
  • extends to all types of people in Jesus Christ of all nations in Abraham through Jesus Christ, descendants of Hagar included
  • extends to all, not only to those I like

Like Peter in Acts 10, we need to learn this lesson.  What is the answer to the problem of ISIS and those who brutally murder people, including the people of God?  The grace of God.  And for this reason we as the church of Christ is called to proclaim to the them the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

May God give us the grace to be obedient.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 September 2014


Remember your creator

Public Profession of Faith of new members

Scripture Readings

  • 2 Timothy 3:10-17
  • Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8


My dear young friends,

Today is one of the most important days in your life:  Today, before God and his congregation, in the Name of Jesus Christ, you made profession of your faith in God.  You did it publicly, so that all might know that you love the Lord Jesus Christ.  This public profession of your faith will now be followed-up by repeatedly sitting at the table of the Lord where you will declare that you remember that He died for your sin, that He rose to give you new life, that He called you to serve Him with all your heart, mind and soul; you will also proclaim to the world that you are waiting for his return and that you long to be with Him into all eternity.

You would want to get some wise words today; some ideas that will keep you on track as a young Christian till the day of Christ’s return.  We can go to some people of fame for advise.  Like:

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. (Charlie Chaplin)

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. (Abraham Lincoln)

Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die. (General McArthur)

Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. (Helen Keller)

But we should go to the Bible.  The verses I chose to preach from today is from Ecclesiastes.

It’s all in vain

It is generally accepted that king Solomon, or at least someone who were close to him, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.  It was maybe a collection of his thoughts when he became an old man – even after he strayed from God.  Solomon, although an exceptionally wise man who got what he had as a gift from God, did not end up dying as a wise man.  We read this about Solomon:

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. (1 Kings 11:4, 9–10, NIV)

It seems then that Solomon entered the last stages of his life as a man who lost his vision of life and on God.  The first verse of the book of Ecclesiastes begins like this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV)

To him wisdom became meaningless, pleasures became meaningless:  he tried out wine and laughter – that was meaningless!  He tried out great projects – houses, gardens, parks, silver and gold, women (ending up with 1,000 altogether!) – yes, he says, “I denied myself nothing” (Ecc 2:10), but even that seemed meaningless in the end.  He found out that both human wisdom and folly, both hard work and laziness lead to nothing but meaninglessness.

He even got to the low point in his life to argue that there is not much difference between the righteous and the unrighteous:  both comes under the judgement of the Lord (Ecc 3:18-19).  His life spiralled down into what seems like a depression;  it seems he became lonely with no one to cheer him up, so he writes about the value of having a friend:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:10, NIV)

Squandered opportunities

It was not that the king did not know better.  No, he was privileged to have it all in his hand, but somehow he let go of it.  Listen:

Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. (Ecclesiastes 4:13, NIV)

There was a time that he stood in the presence of the Living God who chose him to be the king of Israel.  He made certain promises to God, but now it seems that he had not been not sincere.  Now he understands the value of being honest with God:

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfil it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfil it. Therefore fear God. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5,7 NIV)

After living in a period of extraordinary wealth in which he accumulated chariots and horses, and the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills (1 Kings 10:26–27, NIV), he ended up saying:

Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. (Ecclesiastes 5:15, NIV)

Someone said the shroud of death has no pockets.  Solomon understood that very clearly.

He ended up saying that instead of searching of riches and pleasure, his time would have been better spent with those mourning the death of a loved one.  He says, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3, NIV)

There is still meaning in life

In amongst all this pessimism and meaningless Solomon found something which is worthwhile and meaningful.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26, NIV)

Then, apparently much later in life, he gives this testimony:

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9, NIV)

There is almost a sadness in this verse.  This wise king who had everything going for him, wasted his opportunities, his gifts, his talents – he was just a bad steward of the things God apportioned to him.  Now, at the end of his life, he looks back and instead of thanking God for all he had, he fears God’s judgment.

We have to understand that God did not put us on earth to never experience joy and happiness.  It is also wrong to think that to follow one’s dreams is sinful.  No, all of us received from God talents, skills, friends, family and opportunities to enjoy the time God appointed for us on earth.  What is more unattractive that a lemon-faced Christian!  As a matter of fact, the fruit of the Spirit are all things which make the children of God so much different that those who do not believe Him:

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

We are not meant to be locked up in cloisters and monasteries where we have to renounce all pleasures and joys.  Paul writes about people who just can’t help themselves but to add to the Gospel, making rules of “Do not handle!”, “Do not taste!” and “Do not touch!”  What sort of life is that?  The word “joy” is repeated over and over again in the Bible.  The Christian, of all people, should be joyful and happy.

But for the Christian joy does not lie in getting drunk of be given to all sorts of worldly pleasures.  The concept of joy in the bible is always connected to the child of God’s life in the presence of God.  In his letter to Timothy Paul writes:

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22, NIV)

Worldly pleasures, or sinful pleasures are a killer.  This is what got Solomon where he found himself:  his joy abandoned him, and his life was filled with regret and sadness.  Ask about every adult here today about their regret about sin and the pain it brought in their hearts and their relationships with one another and above all, their relationship with God.

Remember your Creator

There is a remedy against spiritual nothingness and meaninglessness.  It would be horrible to live a life, to have had all opportunities, skills and talents, and then, when one is old to then say, “I find no pleasure in life.”

The good advise of a man who seemingly threw it all away is this:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV)

What does this “remember” mean? It surely means more than to remember someone’s birthday, or to remember when the exams start.

The Biblical “remember” has something of “constantly keeping in one’s mind”, so that one’s path is determined by what you are thinking about.

To remember our Creator is exactly that:  to always understand the God created you.  He created the world, time, talent and opportunities.  To remember this is to then direct one’s way in obedience to the Creator to please Him in all one does.  This is why the Bible teaches:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23, NIV)

So, when you now start your journey as communicant members of the church of Christ, you must remember your Creator.

But the “remember” of the Bible constantly takes the people of God back to the salvation of God; through Christ and his Spirit he re-created us.  To remember God is to remember his acts of mercy.  Our minds should be filled with thanksgiving for the fact that Jesus Christ took our punishment upon Him when He died on the cross.  It also means that our minds must be filled with thankfulness that his resurrection means our new life.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1, NIV)

The days of trouble

Just briefly this warning:  the opposite of remember is to forget, or at least to delay – tomorrow, or later.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV)

There are millions of people who found the way to eternal hell just because they thought there would be another day.  Besides, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But the reality is also that constant delay may lead to a day that the delight of the Gospel will not be the pleasure of your soul.  O, the number of old people I come across who repeat these words, “I find no pleasure in the Gospel!”  The brain has become misty and foggy; the heart is hard and the mind stubborn.  What tragedy then that they unwittingly repeat the words of Solomon, “It is all meaningless; all comes to nothing!”


You have made a good choice to make profession of your faith now while you are young.  We praise and thank God for you.  It is with excitement that I recommended you to the elders for membership.  Your knowledge of the things of our Lord and the Scripture is exemplary.  I look forward to work with you in the body of the Lord – for his glory.  I plead with the congregation to stand by their commitment to set a godly example for you, to pray for you and to encourage you in your walk with the Lord.

But you will eventually move on, leave school, meet friends and chisel out you career, and get married.  I plead with you in the Name of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer:  “Remember your Creator!”  Do this and life will never be meaningless.


Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 August 2014

Abraham, the father of all believers (5)

The battle belongs to the Lord


Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 7:1-10
  • Genesis 14:1-24


My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

It was told of Charles William Eliot, once president of Harvard University, who had a conversation with a campus labourer who said: “There is not much difference between men, but the little difference there is makes all the difference in the world.”

There was not much difference between Abraham and those around him living in Canaan.  But the difference between him and other leaders made all the difference for the rest of history as we know it.  Abraham was not a special man, with an extraordinary skill-set;  he was just a man who trusted the God who called him out of the futility of worshipping idols, and he trusted the God promised to carry him all the way till those promises were fulfilled – even long after he died.

Things did not always work out for the man of God and his wife.  Their life in more than one way is our experience as Christians every day.  They expected fertility, but they found famine.  There were conquering armies and disputatious stockmen. Maybe Sarah had dreams of a peaceful home, instead she experienced temporary exile.  Abraham possibly had visions of many little children running around, instead he found himself preparing for the battlefield to rescue his nephew. If anyone of us received the promise of Genesis 12:1–3, we might have felt being deceived – at face value at least, nothing seemed to come to fruition.

Abraham and the first war in the Bible

It is almost as if the first verse of Genesis 14 takes us back to the world out of which Abraham was called.  It is sort of a reality check.  The first king mentioned in that verse is Amraphel, king of Shinar.  It was from this valley that Abraham had come.  In coalition with two other kings he descended onto the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and three other cities in the Jordan valley and brutally subjected them.  For twelve years long they became servants of the northern kings, but in the 13th year they rebelled.  This invoked the anger of their oppressors which then went on a rampage by taking far more territory that previously had.  At first the folk in the Jordan Valley thought they could stand against the northern kings, but soon they realised their weakness against the superior armies and withdrew in humiliation.  They lost their cities and livelihood.  The people were taken into captivity – which included the nephew of Abraham, Lot.

This was not just a little localised squirm between insignificant personalities.  It was a major shift of political powers of international importance which, in terms of land mass, covers an area inclusive of all of modern day Israel, Lebanon, Syria and parts of the present day Iraq.

Lot, who in the previous chapter, chose go and live in the green Jordan valley where everything looked so attractive – and remember he went there because he had many possessions – lost everything.  He went there to increase his possessions but ended up with nothing.  This holds a great lesson for us.  In a way I think Lot’s history is a practical outworking of what God said in Genesis 12:1-3:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1–3, NIV)

Lot was not under the blessing of Abraham anymore.  Yes he was of the same family line, but he deliberately chose to move out from under that blessing.  Now he found himself with nothing, destined to serve as a slave to godless people.

Abraham – and the Most High God

It seems that at that stage Abraham had gained influence in the Promised Land.  For security reasons Mamre and his two brothers, Eschol and Aner, allied with Abraham, who had trained 318 men as soldiers.  This number reminds us of the small army of men with Gideon.

Without hesitation Abraham mustered his men and went in pursuit of the armies of Kedorlaomer and his allies to rescue his nephew.  Abraham had no political ambition, although it would have been the perfect opportunity to claim his stake on the land if God would allow him the victory.  God had already promised him the land, he had no need to fight for it.

As Christians we have no need to go into military battle for the world; Christ defeated the powers of this world on the cross and He declared that all power and authority have been given to Him.  We don’t go into battle with destructive weaponry; we don’t don’t demand of people, facing the barrel of a gun, to repent of die. We don’t blow up buildings – we don’t need any military power to achieve what God wants us to do.  Christians may not find themselves involved in a holy war with real armies and battle gear.  It is not by power and by might, but by the Spirit of God.

Abraham did not blame Lot for what happened to him.  He did not say that he should sleep on the bed he made.  The case was not lost; rescuing Lot was possible, and maybe he might come to his senses to trust God once again in and with his life.

For all practical reasons the pursuit was doomed even before it began: who in his right mind would go after established armies with a handful of people with no real war experience.

But for Abraham the cause was right.  It was God’s will that he rescue Lot – and that was the end of the argument.  The God who rescue him from slavery of sin, made promises to him, and he trusted that God to bring him home safely.

He also trusted God for wisdom as to how he should plan and execute the rescue.  David more than once said God taught him to battle against his enemy:

He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. (Psalm 18:34, NIV)

With the wisdom which God gave him he pursued the armies where they were going to the north, even north of Damascus.  God gave him the mercy to rescue the goods and people stolen from Sodom and Gomorrah.  He brought back his nephew Lot too.

The battle belongs to God.  It was not the strength of military expertise of Abraham or his courage that brought about the victory.  It was God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, who delivered hi enemies into his hand. (Genesis 14:19-20)

What grace it was to Lot!  You would have thought that he would not go back to Sodom, the evil place.  One would have thought that even Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented to worship the God of Abraham.  But it apparently made not impact on them.  Lot settled there again and the sin of Sodom compounded. Their next visitation as not from hostile earthly kings, but from the holy, just and righteous God.

Abraham and Christ

On his return, as he went past Salem, two very important people came out to meet Abraham.  If I were in Abraham’s shoes I would have thought, “Rightly so! I have just routed the armies of the enemy, gained some international recognition as a military leader. I have put my life on the line while these folks did nothing!”

In the Valley of Kings these two kings met with Abraham. The first was Melchizedek.  He was also a priest of God Most High.  With him had bread and wine.  He was king of righteousness, while at the same time, as king of Salem, he was king of peace. As priest he was ministering, not to one peculiar people, as the Levites afterwards did, but to mankind at large without any distinction.

He blessed Abraham.  This was the first person Abraham came across in the Promised Land whom he could relate to: they served the same God.  The Bible gives us very little about Melchizedek, but God sent him to Abraham for encouragement.  I don’t think it’s beyond comprehension to think that these two men spent wonderful moments of fellowship in the Lord:  the Valley of Kings that day became the Valley of The King – God Most High.

God revealed something to Abraham in his meeting with Melchizedek:  there is something great about who that man represents.  By faith he saw something that is hidden to the unspiritual eye:  Abraham was not great, even after his victory; Melchizedek and who he represented was great! We need to go to Hebrews 7 now.  Verse 2:

First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” (Hebrews 7:2, NIV)

It is by the righteousness that God provides through the priesthood of Jesus Christ that peace comes to us.  The writer of the Hebrews explains to us that Christ is priest in the order of Melchizedek: not according to the tribe of Levi – Jesus was born from the tribe of Judah. He met the righteousness of God by being far more than any earthly priest could be:  he was sinless and there was no need for him to make atonement for Himself.  He was an end to the earthly priesthood of intercession by the blood of bulls and calves: his won perfect sacrifice of body and blood brings peace to us.  He is is “the great High Priest” that once ministered on earth, and is now passed into the heavens to offer incense before the throne of God. In Him alone, after Melchizedek, were combined the offices of King and Priest: He and he only is “a Priest upon his throne.”

By faith, this is what Abraham saw on the Valley of the Kings.  That’s why he give gave him a tenth of all of the loot.  One does not give something like this to human beings – only to God.

Did you notice that Melchizedek did not offer sacrifices when he met with Abraham?  He had bread and wine to feed the hungry and weary soul just back from war.  In this he also exemplifies our Lord who feed us on the signs of wine and bread: his body and his blood – and we look back to his victory on the cross, and we look forward to the eternal rest when He comes again.

Abraham went on his journey as happy man.  God sealed his promise to Abraham through the ministry of Word and sacrament.  But there was another choice to make.

Abraham and the anti-Christ

While still in the Valley of the Kings, another king arrived.  It was Bera the king of Sodom.  Although he was in no position to deal with Abraham, he made him an offer. The devil is good at this.  He even tried to trick Jesus into giving Him what rightly already belonged to Him: the kingdoms of the world. Communists are good at this game too: they often want you to sit down around the negotiation table so that they can discuss how to deal with the things belonging to other parties.

Keep in mind Bera was a defeated king.  That part of his people now in the custody of Abraham and their possessions only existed because of Abraham, but he insisted on getting his people back in exchange for their possessions which he thought Abraham could keep.  If Abraham went into a deal with him this could be held against Abraham in the future.

But after his dealings with Melchizedek and the vision of God’s Kingdom in Jesus Christ, Abraham did as God requires of us in our conduct with the world:  no deals!  There is no fellowship between light and darkness.  There is no harmony between Christ and Belial.  What does a believer have in common with and unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2Corinthians 6:15-16)

Abraham had made up his mind:

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ (Genesis 14:22–23, NIV)

Give the devil no honour.  Abraham’s honour was the glory of God who delivered his enemies into his hands.  If his allies, Mamre, Aner and Eschol wanted something of the lot, they could take it, but he would not take a thing.

Does it surprise us then that in the next verse God appeared to Abraham and said:

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1, NIV)

There is a real possibility that the church of Christ, and of course members individually, find themselves in compromise with the devil:  but one’s spiritual life suffers as a result.  The spiritual life of the church suffers when we make deals with the world:  God’s Spirit cannot minister to us the riches of God’s grace if there are certain corners of our lives we have compromised because we are not walking in the pure light of God’s Word.


There was this day that all of this became very clear to Abraham: it was either Christ – as the king and priest Melchizedek ministered to him the righteousness and peace of God, and they ate the bread and drank the wine – all pointing to the One who would fulfil everything, according to the same order as that of Melchizedek, as the perfect priest, king and prophet of his Father by giving Himself a ransom for many to bring them to God.

… they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:15–16, NIV)

May God give us such a vision:  that we would be satisfied with Him, that we would feast on his promises, that we would not compromise ourselves with the devil – that indeed we, like Abraham, would march out in the power of the Lord Jesus, for the battle belongs to HIm.  To Him all glory in heaven and on earth.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 August 2014

Abraham, the father of all believers (2)

Pilgrim through a barren land

(audio file will be posted here)

Scripture Readings

  • Acts 7:1-8
  • Genesis 12:1-9


My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

Someone said in a writer’s conference. “If you want to write, put glue on the seat of your pants and sit in a chair!” He said no amount of talent or conducive atmosphere can make up for hard work—stick-to-it-ive-ness!

As Thomas Carlyle neared completion of his masterpiece, The French Revolution, a thoughtless cleaner gathered up the his written pages and tossed them into the fire. Disappointed and heartsick Carlyle did not pamper himself with self-pity nor did he harm the cleaner—he sat down and rewrote it from memory.

Noah Webster thought he could complete his dictionary in “three to five years.” It required twenty-one!  What persistence!

It was faith and faithful obedience that kept Abraham going in a barren land with nothing to drive him, other than God Himself, and the promise of the God of glory who called him out of idolatry to freedom.

The God of glory

As we saw last week, Abraham was no better than all the people living around him before God called him.  In fact, the Bible tells us that he worshipped idols at the time of his calling.  God did not look from heaven for a good bloke to start a nation whom He would make a covenant with.  There was none.  All people after Adam were born professional sinners, by nature inclined to worship anyone else but God.  And that includes us. It calls for a divinely appointed work of grace to make us see who God is, and then become aware of our sin.  Once again it is only more grace that helps us turn away from the folly of our sinful existence to follow God.

Our reading of Acts 7 made mention of this in the life of Abraham.  Stephen was about to be stoned to death for his witness of Jesus Christ when he said:

“Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran.” (Acts 7:2, NIV)

The God of glory appeared to him.  That made the difference.  This expression is used of moments in the life of God’s people when He appeared in majesty to them to assure them of his holy presence.  It was usually in the form of a cloud or fire, or both.  When the Israelites left Egypt because God made redemption possible for them, we read, while they were still a short distance out of Egypt:

He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night. (Psalm 105:39, NIV)

When they faced the Red Sea ahead of them and the armies of the pharaoh behind them:

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. (Exodus 14:19–20, NIV)

This is the God of glory who revealed Himself as the Deliverer of his people.  When the people groaned before Moses about their food, Moses said:

In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him.” (Exodus 16:6–7, NIV)

When the people were grumbling because of the lack of water, this is how the Lord answered:

… and the glory of the Lord appeared to them [Moses and Aaron]. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” (Numbers 20:6–8, NIV)

When the Tabernacle was completed, and later the Temple, on both occasions we read:

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

This was the sure sign to the people of God that He was in their midst to guide them, protect them and to have communion with them.

It was this God of glory who appeared to Abraham while he was still worshipping other gods in Mesopotamia. This appearance is life changing.  This is, I believe, the same thing that happened to Paul on the road to Damascus.  It changed his life around from being a persecutor of the church to a missionary of the church of Christ.

The God of glory appeared to Abraham while his was still in Mesopotamia” – while he was worshipping other gods.   Joshua 24:2 shines a light on another aspect of Abraham’s salvation.  This is an act of God:

But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. (Joshua 24:3, NIV)

It is by an act of mercy from God that we are saved.  It is his work, revealing Him in his glory in Jesus Christ.  Have you read this next verse carefully?  Listen:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:8–9, NIV)

Jesus Christ is the glory of the Lord personified.  John puts this way:

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

Let us not be amazed by the calling of Abraham, as if he was a special human being, having done special things before God in order to be called to be the father of believers.  They way in which he was saved – by grace, called away from the idols of this world to a new obedience – is exactly why he is the father of all believers: we are saved the same way.  We don’t deserve grace, but we are given grace.  This grace is life-changing.  It surely changed Abraham’s life from an idol-worshipper to a worshipper of the only God.

God’s claim on Abraham’s life

God’s call

What is conversion?  What defines one’s life as a converted sinner?

The Lord, calling Abraham, said:

‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ (Acts 7:3, NIV) 

This is stated in more detail in Genesis 12:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1, NIV)

It is important that we understand God’s call to Abraham, and as such, to us:  In Abraham’s case it involved a definitive separation from his past. Although Abraham had no good in him that could possibly commend him to God, but this does not mean that there was nothing for Abraham to do once God called him into a relationship with Him. An essential part of God’s call was for Abraham to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household.

Ur in Abraham’s time was apparently where the deep and rich soil, washed down by the Tigris and the Euphrates to the Persian Gulf, gathered in a delta.  It was a pleasant part of the world.  There were apples, grapes, pomegranates, and tamarisks growing wild. It called for a certain resolution to leave a country like that and trek across the Arabian desert to an unknown and less desirable land. But this is what God told Abram to do. He said, “Leave your country.…

But there was another part to God’s command to Abraham: he had to leave his people.  In those days being among one’s own people meant acceptance, prosperity, and security.  Abraham had to go out nearly alone into a world filled potential enemies.  As a matter of fact the Bible states:

At that time the Canaanites were in the land. (Genesis 12:6, NIV)

Applied to us, it does not demand of us to all pack our bags and go live somewhere else.  One commentator says, in demanding these from Abraham meant that he had to

… disentangle himself from the idolatries of his native land, and even sever his connection with the nearest and the dearest, rather than imperil his salvation by remaining in Chaldæa; and in a like spirit does the voice of Jesus in the gospel direct men to forsake the world … to renounce its possessions, occupations, amusements; yea, to dissolve its friendships and endearing relationships, if they would now be numbered among his disciples, and eventually enter into life.

That is conversion.

God’s mission

Added to the other things, Abraham had to leave his immediate relations behind.  It would not have been so bad perhaps if they could all have migrated as a clan, which would mean support and protection.  It was necessary for his spiritual growth to leave them behind. His environment was not conducive to that growth. His family would not help him in the pilgrimage.

The demands are still the same.  Jesus Said:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23–25, NIV)

It is to ask for too much?  If not, we could gain the world and forfeit our very self.

Ahraham met the God of glory, he encountered this glory and the his world did not stack up.  Consequently the Bible tells:  “So he left the land of the Chaldeans.”  He left, and God sent him.  That’s what Stephen says in Acts 7.  God enabled him to answer the call, and He enabled him to go.

We should not embellish on what the Bible does not clearly state, but to go and settle in Canaan the living God called and sent him there would not be easy.

It was a land where Baal and Astarte were the main gods in a pantheon of gods, most prominent were the gods of fertility and war.  Temple prostitution was common, and worshippers sacrificed their children.  The religion appealed to immoral and in-born sinfulness of the natural man.  It was almost like one does not believe in something; you just do what comes naturally, give yourself over to the sin that controls your life – what you then indulge in is your religion.   You only need to look at some programs on TV to understand that the world of Abraham was not much different – and it has become a religion in our day too.

Abraham journeyed into the land and found himself at the great tree of Moreh.  It seems as if this tree, or clump of trees, was the place where the Canaanites worshipped and where they got there oracles from.  It was at this place that the Canaanites gathered to indulge in their primitive religion of human sacrifice and prostitution.  What a place to come too after the holy God of glory called you into his service!  But what did Abraham do?  He built an altar to the Lord.  He distinguishes his God from the gods of the place and its tree by building an altar to Yahweh who has appeared to him.

What made the difference in Abraham’s life?  The God of glory who appeared to him in Ur is the God who sent him there, and He is the God who once again appeared to him – none less glorious than before.

God’s promise

There, at the altar and tree where the godless worshipped, there God appeared to him and promised him, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

A commentator remarks:

God’s [Yahweh’s] word to Abram and his response in setting up the altar together tear the seamless web connecting gods and people and land in Canaan.

Abraham’s altar may have looked the same as those already there, but God’s promise to give this land to his descendants, becomes to Abraham a sign of eventual possession of that land. Factually the Canaanites occupied the land as their sacred symbol showed, but Abraham occupied it in symbol only.  Abraham’s altar speaks of a future rooted in the past – God’s call and promise: he claimed his future, not by building a rival city, but by building an altar. His altar remained as witness to the fact that in this place a child of God once knelt and prayed, proclaimed the gospel of grace, and claimed that spot for God’s glory.

This is something the church of Jesus Christ must learn to understand.  We do not build rival cities by gathering earthly signs of power.  We spend our time on earth as pilgrims with no permanent address.  Abraham is an example of how we are to be in the world and yet not of it, of what it means to be a pilgrim.  Canaan was never exactly the same after he had passed through.  He built altars to the living God.  His business was God’s Kingdom.  What is our business?

A pilgrim is one who has left home but is also traveling to another home. A pilgrim has had a vision of a goal, a destination, and is determined to only have a tent until he can move in to the house.  When the Lord appeared to him at the trees of Moreh, he understood that God is in Canaan too, and that one day, in God’s own timing, the whole place will belong to his people; till then, he was just a pilgrim through the barren, trusting God only – although he sometimes misunderstood God’s guidance.


My dear friend, Abraham is in more than one instance an example to follow.  His faith in God was accredited to him as righteousness.  His obedience to trust God when all looked bleak should help us to trust God, even when we have to, as Hebrews puts it, have confidence in only what we hope for, and have assurance in the things we don’t yet see .

But more so was our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is far more than just an example.  He left his Father’s glory to establish the kingdom of God on earth.  Not a kingdom in political sense.  Pilate heard it from Him, “My kingdom is not from this world, it is from another place.” (John 18:36)  Yes, He is King.  Pilate was correct when he had the inscription made, “The King of the Jews.” (John 19:19) But that inscription was nailed with Jesus to the cross where He died, only to rise again, to open the door to the city Abraham saw by faith, built by God.  There was no other pilgrim like our Lord Jesus Christ. There was no barren land like the one He came to die in and for.

He now calls us to leave everything behind to follow Him, and to like Abraham erect spiritual altars in this godless Canaan to the God of glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on sunday 20 July 2014


The Gracious Invitation to follow Jesus Christ


Scripture Reading

  • Luke 14


Dear friend in our Lord Jesus Christ,

We have a tendency to think that the rich and the famous are in some ways better people to mix with.  Over the exit out of Wimbledon, boys and girls would wait with a large tennis balls or a printed program just incase the renowned tennis player would sign it.  The arrival of a film star on an airport can easily create chaos as fans gather to see their hero.  These days people take selfies with the famous.

The Pharisees in the time of Jesus did the same:  they picked the places of honour at the table of their hosts.

An invitation to Jesus Christ

There was a day that our Lord got an invitation to dine with a prominent Pharisee in his house.  Experts in the law were also invited.  They probably did not invite Jesus socially; they were most probably looking for a way to trap Him.  The text says, “He was carefully watched.”

Jesus Christ, the Son of God knew their motives, and it is almost as if Luke does not dwell on informalities.

The houses then were more “open”: neighbours or close relatives were not kept outside while invited guests had a meal. That’s why our text takes us right to the point of the man with dropsy being there too. We know that all things are ordained to the finest of detail by our Father; so it was on this day too.  He suffered from something which made his hands swell because of the retention of water.  In God’s grand design this man, and the way he was healed, served a marvellous purpose:  the way by which Jesus would heal him would expose the hearts of the Pharisees and the experts of the Law. What in their hearts was exposed to all present?

They did not understand the purpose of the law

“Is it unlawful to heal on the Sabbath day?”  To them the Law of God was nothing else but a set of rules as how to improve ones life in an effort to gain entrance into the kingdom of God.  They missed the mercy of God in saving his people altogether.  The preamble to the Ten Commandments proclaims this:

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. (Exodus 20:1–2)

For some reason they missed that, and jumped straight to the rest, which to them became a system of self-righteousness.  When Jesus later gave them a roasting in Matthew 23 He said:

You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.  (Matthew 23:23)

This is now exactly what Jesus tested them on:  is it unlawful to show mercy on a Sabbath?  They couldn’t answer.  There was just this uneasy speechlessness; staring at the ceiling of the floor.  He’s got us!

Mercy does not seek recompense

Jesus was looking for mercy in their hearts, but their was none.  Instead, they found it better to associate with those who were rich and influential, and forgot the poor and the needy.  Even at the very table they arranged themselves in order of importance – and the whole purpose of that was assure that they could get invitations back.  That’s why Jesus said:

“When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. (Luke 14:12)

Instead, Jesus said:

When you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13–14)

In other words, if you received mercy form God who had mercy on a wretched sinner, show mercy to a fellow sinner and fulfil the Law:  that’s what people do who are in the right relationship with God.

In this whole episode our Lord wanted them to understand that, although they were privileged Jews who in the first instance got the invitation from God to be his people, they might in danger to be humiliated when the host ask them to go sit in the lowly places.

They were speechless before the Son of God:  they did not understand mercy, and they did not receive mercy – unless they would listen to the words of Christ.

This says a lot about to us:  some people are of good standing, not really “sinners”, not really in need of salvation (or so they think), and they invite Jesus to dine with them – on their conditions, of course – and they are still lost.

What does it teach us?  We can’t invite Jesus into our lives and expect no change.  We dare not invite Him into our lives on our conditions.  Yes, we think we would probably have the privilege of having Him under our roof, but He would not be at home there.  It is only when we see ourselves as He sees us – wretched sinners – that we will have peace with Him.

The invitation of Jesus Christ

In the next part of the chapter Jesus told them of a man who was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  In the context of the parable, and in the wider context of Luke’s gospel, the invited guests foremost refer to the Jews, who later went on the rejected Jesus as the Son of God.  For many years they heard the invitation through the call of the prophets, but when it was time for the banquet they excused themselves.  What they basically did was to say they are not interested.  Jesus did not meet their expectations of the Messiah.

Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant:

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame!’ (Luke 14:21)

With this we are back in the first part of the chapter.  The invitation of Jesus are to those who could not repay Him.  They were blind, poor, crippled and lame.  If ever there is a picture of the state of a sinner in the eyes of God, this is it:  spiritually we are blind, sick, crippled and lame.

Think of it:  the rich man who had this big house prepared the great banquet.  It was a mega feast.  The original invitees rejected the invitation.  They were the privileged.  The rich man did not cancel the banquet:  he invited the wretched.

We don’t see it in our Bibles as clearly as the Greeks saw it, reading this in greek, but the word for guests in verse seven, is from the same word which is translated as to invite:  those of the back lanes now became the guests of honour.  They could not pay back.  They slept on card boxes in the alleys. They smelled, and had to be helped into the banquet hall. Those are the sort of people our Lord loves at his banquet.  Not because they smell, not because they have nothing in their bank accounts, not because they are blind or cripples, but because grace does not demand back payment.

The invitation to follow Jesus Christ is free. It is not like those ads on TV where you have to read the fine print after the asterisk – after it said it is free -and you work out it is not!  When Jesus calls us to follow Him He knows we have nothing to repay Him.  And that is grace.  And if we think we need to bring something along to compensate for grace, we’ve got it all wrong.  That is the whole point of this parable.  They could leave their card box beds, their filthy blankets and whatever they used to eat from, behind – at the banquet they would be provided for – more then they could imagine.

Why would we answer the call to follow Jesus?

He is God, the Saviour

First, I would say, is not because it is free.  We shall and must answer the gracious call of Christ to come to the banquet in the first instance, because He who calls is God, He is our Saviour, He is Lord.  There is no other call we should answer.  Others who might want our attention, energy, time, talents or money are phoney:  they cannot provide what they promise.  Their promises are hollow, and it leads to nothing.  It’s different with Jesus: He not only promises to give us new life, He secured it.  With his blood He paid for it.  In his death and resurrection He purchased our righteousness.  Therefore it is free.

It is a call of grace

The second reason why we must follow Him, is because his call is full of grace.  By this the Bible means He provides salvation free of charge.  We don’t need to work for it – He did all of it in our place.  There is no balance on the account of salvation – something that I need to contribute to complete the payment. No, when He calls me to his banquet, He knows I am broke, filthy, blind, lame, sick and crippled.  This is how sin scarred me, and this is how I was born.  There is no reciprocal, or give and take arrangement in grace; there is no such a thing as tit for tat in salvation.  It is all of Christ and nothing of me.  He fully satisfies the needs of any sinner.

There is no other who can give saving grace

Jesus Christ is the only Saviour; his is the only banquet I can go to.  He, by his righteousness dresses his church, his bride with the finest of white garments for his wedding feast.  Listen:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7–9, ESV)

Time is running out

Those who were originally invited had all sorts of excuses – all of which were invalid- and they ran out of time.  The date was set for the banquet, and it was set by the owner of the house.  We cannot set our own date.  God will not wait for us.  Therefore we need to leave behind what we are busy with, like the first disciples, and come while the invitation still stands.  But God hold eternity in his hands.  Only He know when time will run out – and run out it will.  Don’t wait as if you have time and eternity in your hands – you don’t.

Grace is free, but it not cheap

There too many people who proclaim a cheap grace, as if being a disciple of Jesus is going to cost you nothing.  Don’t understand this wrongly: it’s got nothing to do with payment for salvation; that Jesus took care of.  But associating with Jesus Christ has its consequences.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, ESV)  This “anyone” includes the privileged Pharisees, the teachers of the law, as well as the disadvantaged and undesirable sick, the blind, the lame and the crippled.  By free grace we are saved – all of us, but to follow Christ has its cost:

No love more important that the love of Christ

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  Hate?  The meaning here is to express a love for the Lord so strong that anything else will look like hate.  More so if any desire of theirs is in conflict with our discipleship.

Personal sacrifice

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27, ESV)

In coming to Him we turn from others, and in coming after Him we share what is his – and that is the cross.  Since there is no escape from some suffering for Christ’s and the gospel’s sake, it is impossible for anyone to be a true disciple without carrying this cross, whatever it is that is planned for to him or her.

There is a battle going on

This parable does not want us to see if we will have enough in ourself to make discipleship work. What it wants us to understand is following Jesus is entering war. To enter this war, we must give up everything and leave the battle and the outcome to our Lord (Luke 14:33).

Our Lord uses two examples to describe His kingdom:  building a tower and waging of a war.  The picture is that of a fortified tower used in warfare and the war is against an army double the size of your own.  Discipleship builds up something grand in us and strikes down something hostile outside of us.  Jesus wants us to become disciples, but no man can do this by his own natural ability.  We could never get beyond the foundation, mere outward profession of faith, mere outward attachment to Jesus. Where, then, is the money to come from to build this


The invitation of our Lord to become his followers is astonishing free; but it is breathtakingly challenging.  Yet, He made it possible.  So, let’s follow Him; the opposite is dreadfully dangerous.  Amen.tower? Grace furnishes us all that discipleship needs, grace alone. Jesus wants us to be his disciples, He wants this war, and He therefore warns us not to enter it with our inadequate strength, for we should then be doomed. That means that we take the armour of grace.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 June 2014