Monthly Archives: May 2015
Acts 2: 1-4
Romans 8: 18-39
Two weeks back we were looking at Romans 5 – about the love of God being poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us as believers. Romans 6 had its own challenges – how we die with Christ and die to self.
Romans 8 is the culmination of the whole discussion through this important letter in the New Testament. It reaches a highlight in that wonderful piece about the “all things” working for good and about the “no-things” that can separate us from the love of God. It’s what I call the 8-28-38 factor.
Verse 28 says this: 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Verse 38 follows: 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Okay 39 gets thrown in the mix too. But you can memorise this as the 8-28-38 factor!
It’s quite a radical assertion really – all this talk about suffering. Some people try to say that suffering or persecution are signs that God is not with us. There are many in the church worldwide that assume that God’s blessing should be seen in prosperity and permanent success.
In reality, suffering is there. Christ suffered – and we are likely to as well. We don’t seek suffering or purposefully inflict it on others – but when it comes along we embrace it and put our faith in God. We have to remain open to the truth that God is with us.
Romans 8 verse 28 is a favourite. Lots of people memorise this as a verse of comfort in bad times. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. In fact it is a difficult verse to translate. It is better like this – with God as the agent and subject: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. It is NOT saying that everything that happens is God’s will. For example if someone you love suffers, or someone else’s sin causes you pain – this kind of thing is not God’s will.
We find comfort in verse 28 – yes. But not everything is God’s will. Not everything happens for a reason – apart from the underlying infection of sin and evil in the human heart of course, which is multiplied in the institutional sin of organisations that commit evil atrocities. It is saying this – whatever happens God can work for good. His love and grace don’t have a boundary – they extend even over the horrible stuff.
Verse 35 raises the question: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Verse 38 lists these: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We see these terrible apocalyptic things in the movies – these great end of time fictional scenes of destruction. On real TV we see real war, terror and trauma around the world.
In those days they lived under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. Warfare, famine and death were that much more tangible. They knew suffering as the persecuted church.
Paul is writing to Romans in Rome – they knew “trouble, hardship, persecution, or famine, nakedness, danger, or sword…”
Simon Ponsonby in his commentary on Romans entitled “God with us” talks about the modern era and suffering and gives us these sobering facts: There is natural suffering – that which stems from the creaking creation we inhabit: tsunami waves, earthquakes, famines, droughts, the ecological crisis. Based on widely quoted statistics it is safe to estimate that over 500 people will starve to death during the time it takes you to read this chapter (of his book – 3.6 people per second).
There is also man-made suffering – that which is caused by human being against human, evidenced in the irresponsible handling of creation, wars, violence, theft, greed, and wickedness. There are an estimated 30 million slaves or bonded slaves in the world today, (203) more than at any time in recorded history. That number may in fact exceed 100 million (204) if we include sex-trafficked people and child labour. Worldwide, $2.4 trillion dollars are spent annually on an industry that creates or manages violence (the defence industry), while a tiny proportion – $175 billion – could eradicate world poverty with one investment. (205) And then there is suffering particular to Christians.
He goes on to day this: Being a disciple of Christ invites hardships, from discrimination to persecution. In all except thirty of the world’s 200 nation states Christians face oppressive measures, ranging from deprived economic or human rights to actual threat to life. And we must add to this the bitter war waged by the enemy of our souls, who aims well his targeted temptations, torments, and trials because we follow Christ. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (pp. 244-245). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
Earlier in Romans 8 (19-22) the text shows us how the world is warped – Luther says we are curved in on ourselves. God does not just fix human nature – but also all of creation needs to be straightened out as God recreates everything. In Psalm 96 and 98 creation also leaps for joy when God comes to judge the earth. Look at these verses:
Psa 96:11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; Psa 96:12 let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy Psa 96:13 before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.
Psa 98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Psa 98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy Psa 98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Which leads us to the other reading in the narrative lectionary today: Acts 2:1-14. This is the promised coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God moves in this mighty way, as the promise made by Jesus comes to fruition in the upper room.
This is the presence and power of God who speaks to us in our various personal languages. God is at work in power through the Spirit – and the restoring process of the coming of the Kingdom which began in Jesus continues! The boldness that the Spirit brings to the disciples propels them out with a message for the whole world. Pentecost Sunday is a significant reminder of this new beginning and launching of the church into mission.
God is still with us primarily through His Holy Spirit.
What does this work of the Holy Spirit mean for us?
How do we know that the Holy Spirit is at work?
- Well we come to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. We have a spiritual birth. Or in Paul’s terms, we are adopted children of God – as we read earlier on in Romans 8. (Both translations are quoted).
Rom 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Rom 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” Rom 8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (NRSV)
Rom 8:14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Rom 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (NIV 84)
- And of course the new birth Jesus speaks of in his conversation with Nicodemus: Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
- Christ became the presence and power of God for the early church and through history – by the indwelling Holy Spirit. (He left them at Ascension and promised to be with them always. How? Through His Spirit who is also called the “Spirit of Christ”.)
- I spoke this week at Rosedale – and we talked about the fruits of the spirit. You know the Galatians 5 list off by heart now! Paul lists the works of the flesh with them. Gal 5:22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, Gal 5:23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. We had a good chat about which of these we lack the most! You will know where you stand in terms of deficits here. (Like the little boy who prayed: Lord give me patience, and I want it now! Paul goes on to day: Gal 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (We spoke about dying to self last week didn’t we?) He goes on to say: Gal 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
- Then there is Pentecost – where the gifts of the spirit begin to manifest. Speaking in tongues, in other languages is one of them. 1 Corinthians 12 gives a list of the gifts of the spirit. There are people gifts in Ephesians 4, and other spiritual gifts in Romans 12. All of these are important.
- Then there is John 14-16 – rich in Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit the teacher, counselor and comforter. Have a look at these verses:
Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
Joh 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Joh 15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me
Joh 16:7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
Joh 16:8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: Joh 16:9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; Joh 16:10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; Joh 16:11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. Joh 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. Joh 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. Joh 16:14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. Joh 16:15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
THEN THERE IS THE GROANING – which caught my attention this week
Look again at this passage: Rom 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; Rom 8:23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Simon Ponsonby gives an illustration of this which I identify in my own response to all kinds of things: I recently watched news of wicked abuses in Uganda comprising child sacrifice and child trafficking. I groaned aloud, and told my wife to turn the TV off. I could not take it. The next day I was sitting in town when an African woman carrying a small child walked by me, and I instantly recalled the TV reports, the abuse of the children, and I involuntarily groaned aloud in pain. The Spirit within was moving me to groan at the pain in the world. God who sees all must be continually groaning. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 247). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
He explains this as follows: And Paul says we who have the Spirit groan inwardly as we await the great and glorious day when Christ returns and embraces us. We possess the Spirit but we still groan. This is important. Possession of the Spirit does not end or even dull our sighing and crying. Possession of the Spirit brings a deep joy, but it is joy amidst grief. We who have the Spirit still groan. Perhaps we groan more so. For possessing the Spirit, we possess the mind of Christ, and we see even more keenly the suffering in the world. And yet we also see by that Spirit the new world that is to come. And the chasm between the reality and the hope produces a deep longing and sighing. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 247). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
This groaning is not just a New Testament thing. Moses records in Exodus 2: 23– 24, “the people of Israel [in Egypt] groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 248). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
Ponsonby continues: John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, spent a total of twelve years in jail for preaching the gospel – something prohibited to all but licensed and ordained Anglican vicars! He wrote, “The best prayers have often more groans than words.” “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (8: 26). Our groan evokes the groan of God. God is neither absent nor indifferent. He is present and attentive and responsive – even if we don’t always perceive him as such at the time. He is there, deep within, and by his Spirit he joins his sighs to ours as a joint offering to the Father in intercession.
In verse 26 we see a wonderful triplet: the Spirit helps us, the Spirit intercedes for us, the Spirit groans for and with us. God is not passive – he is not in this context an unmoved mover! He is groaning by his Spirit, praying within us, praying for us, praying on behalf of us… groaning God. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 248). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
And in verse 34 we read this reminder too. Best read again from verse 31: 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
So what about you and me?
- When the Holy Spirit indwells us, transforms us, the comforter, (parakletos) – called alongside us – we see things differently.
- Nothing separates us from His love. That love disturbs us – we begin to feel more compassion for those in need, and we groan in the face of terrible pain and tragedy, abuse and violence.
- This love and power has to move us to more prayer, intercession, and action. Priorities change – we change – through the work of the Holy Spirit.
When the church (especially our local church) is not what it is supposed to be – the hope for the world (Bill Hybels often talks about this) – I begin to groan and sigh as well. I cry out to God for His transforming power to change us all.
The great news is that God is for us! This is clear from Romans 8: 31 – What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
The question which is raised is this: are we for God? Or are we in it for ourselves? That’s a challenging question.
You can generally discern of people are “for God” – there is an openness to the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth!
What is our response to this God who has done all this for us?
Come Holy Spirit! We need to cry out to God for His Spirit to move in the lives of all we encounter. In church, in our families, in our streets and our communities.
(I am indebted to Simon Ponsonby’s thoughts on this passage – as referenced in the sermon notes.)
Blessed are you, God of power and majesty, this day we give you thanks because in fulfilment of your promise you pour out your Spirit upon us, filling us with your gifts, leading us into all truth, and uniting peoples of many tongues in the confession of one faith.
Your Spirit gives us grace to call you Father, to proclaim your gospel to all nations and to serve you as a royal priesthood. For these and all your mercies, we praise you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Blessed be God for ever!
Readings: Romans 6:1-14; Matthew 6:24
C.H. Spurgeon, that famous preacher of the 19th Century, tells the story of a woman who claimed she had attained “sinless perfection” and had not sinned for years. Then he recalls that someone stood heavily on her toe (was it Spurgeon?) and “her sinless perfection departed her like the morning dew”.
Last week we referred to the Roman Road – Romans 1:16-17- about “the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”; Romans 3:23 (all have sinned – in fact you need to read Romans chapters 1-3 to see the extent of the sin) – and in Romans 5 in particular, how sin is dealt with (justification, reconciliation, atonement and grace were considered).
The key verses in Romans 5 in this regard are verses 8 and 9: But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. (NRSV)
Romans 6 – today’s passage – is a favourite passage for people who are enthusiastic about baptism. Most lean towards believers’ or adult baptism, as the symbolic aspects are not lost to us – in Romans 6:3 and 4: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Those who support infant baptism hasten to refer us to Colossians 2:11-12: In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (NRSV) The NIV translates the verse as follows: In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
The question is – whichever baptismal tradition you support – have you really died?
Simon Ponsonby gives us this account: George Müller, the 19th Century German (Prussian) saintly founder of orphanages and schools, was asked the secret of his success: There was a day when I died, utterly died; died to George Müller and his opinions, preferences, tastes and will – died to the world, its approval or censure – died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends – and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.) (2 Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. KJV)
In similar vein, Ponsonby speaks about the worldwide evangelist Billy Graham, who when asked how he coped being away from his wife with the temptations of travel and fame, commented: “I’m dead to every woman but my wife Ruth.”
If we are dead to sin, then things have to be different. Romans 6:2 and 6:6 confirm this.
The big question Paul asks here, though, is about grace. This question starts here: 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 6:2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Because we have this grace that we are positioned in, to which we have gained access to by faith (Romans 5:2) – does that give us a license to sin more to achieve more grace?
Romans 5 ends with these verses (which we did not read last week) – which of course raises the very question we are looking at: Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, Romans 5:21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
You can see the logic. A little boy spills milk all over the kitchen floor – and mum cleans it up. “Never mind” she says, “look how shiny it is now”. He responds with a smile: “maybe I should spill milk more often then!” You can also see the absurdity in this logic. Tom Wright uses this story to illustrate this (my version or summary follows): Think of the prodigal son – who has been welcomed back in an act of grace by the father who breaks protocol when he runs down the road. Life is pretty normal again – dad is getting older, the older brother more tolerant of the prodigal, and things are rather ordinary in the home. Suddenly it crosses his mind again – as he thinks of that wonderful day of being welcomed by his dad – how great the party was – suddenly he begins to wonder if he should run away for a while again – and “play the penitent and come back again. Maybe I’ll get another party!”
Wright goes on to say: Absurd? Unthinkable? Don’t you believe it. It’s exactly what a great many people think. ‘God will forgive me; that’s his job!’ declared a famous philosopher two centuries ago. (Christian Johann Heinrich Heine is the philosopher quoted here: December 13, 1797 – February 17, 1856. As an unrelated aside, Heine also said some more helpful things like this quote: If the Romans had been obliged to learn Latin, they would never have found time to conquer the world.)
Twice in this passage Paul asks whether it’s ok to sin more to essentially get more grace. (It also appears in verse 15 which we didn’t read). Twice he answers – “by no means” – literally “may it never be” – or as in the KJV “God forbid!”
Sin should not be our master. (v14). So we can’t make excuses. Simon Ponsonby also tells the story of a speeding fine he got in the post (in the UK). Included in the letter were a list of excuses that they indicated would not be accepted: these included “I did not know the road; I did not see the signs; I have a clean licence; I was late; I didn’t know cameras were there; the road was clear; I was momentarily distracted; the car behind forced me to speed up.”
Ponsonby says this about this power of sin: Paul accepts no excuse for sinning. Though he says Adam influences us, ultimately we are accountable in Christ for our sin, and if we sin we do so volitionally. Shall we sin? No! It is possible not to sin. Does Paul believe we can be free from sin? Yes! Does Paul believe we can live a life, moment by moment, sinless? Yes! Was Paul sinless? No (as Romans 7 will lead us to acknowledge). Have I ever met a sinless person? No. Nevertheless, Paul refuses to take sin for granted – he refuses to resign to its power.
SO WHAT’S TO BE DONE? What are the implications of this?
Have you noticed at the traffic light up the road (by the dentist where we can park on Sunday without fear of a needle or drill) that there are a number of permutations – possible combinations of who goes where and when? It takes a while – you can do quite a lot of praying and thinking at that intersection while waiting. The most interesting one is when you go along Anzac and turn left into Beach road by the VINZ workshop. There are times when the lights go red for those going straight and a green arrow allows you to go left. The moment those two are on at the same time, my brain has a fit. It’s the incongruence. The two signals contradict. (I encountered a similar thing recently in Auckland when there were two arrows pointing left – one was green and the other red. Symptoms of complex roads in a city that probably grew without planning!)
Red and green are opposites. Which do you obey? I want to slam on the brakes and the accelerator at the same time. Apparently in the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-76) they tried to change the colours so red would mean go (and thus match Chairman Mao’s red book). It didn’t work. Chaos ensued. A couple of things in relation to this then:
- We need to be clear about when to stop and when to go.
- Clear about what is okay and what is not.
- About what we are against and what we are for.
- About who we ignore and who we obey.
- About who we serve, and who we don’t. Listen again:
v13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
The translations differ here. We are not to offer parts of ourselves, parts of our bodies, or our members to sin as instruments of wickedness. Rather we are to offer them to God (in other words consecrate them to God). The NRSV uses the word “present”. We read in Romans 6:13: “…but present yourselves to God… and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” Present – means to place yourselves at someone’s disposal. To stand beside someone. Ponsonby says this: Baptized believers are to present themselves to God – again we have the Greek word parastemi, “standing beside” God.
He goes on to say: When Old Testament priests were ordained they were anointed with blood on the right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe, cleansing and devoting their extremities to God (Leviticus 8: 23). In Anglo-Catholic churches when the Gospel is read, the people often make the sign of the cross three times – on their forehead, mouth and over their heart – symbolizing that their mind, words and affections are consecrated before Christ. It is important to do this, if not physically then spiritually, throughout the day, presenting to Christ all our instruments, offered to righteousness, set apart for God.
We do need to present every part of ourselves to God. The mind, lips and heart actual cover a lot of areas where sin so often abounds in our lives – what we think, say, and feel. You can list the sins that you struggle with in each category!
And if they are persistent sins – we need to die to them. We are not to hang around (presenting our members, positioning ourselves to sin), but rather we are to present ourselves, or “stand” ourselves, or stand beside God.
And we need new habits that crowd out the old ones. Ponsonby says this: Sin is often a programmed habit, an auto-reflex of the flesh – body members and mind. Holiness can become a habit through habitually presenting yourself and your members to God.
The single Gospel verse today (Matthew 6:24) is also about who we serve, who we honour, who our master is: 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Money – wealth – mammon – you will find different words used in different translations. This struggle or choice we have to make is always there. Presenting ourselves before mammon, or wealth is probably a fertile ground for breeding sin! The persistent desire for more (shopping aka retail therapy) is a great example. If we die to sin, and live to God, presenting (positioning) ourselves before Him – we can change our habits.
Simon Ponsonby reminds us of that famous speech by Churchill at his old school Harrow: Never give in, never give in, never never never never, in nothing great or small, large or petty; never give in, never yield to force, never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
And this is Paul’s approach to the problem of persistent sin. Never give in to sin. Never, never, never, never: in sins large or petty, never surrender.
May this be so.
Footnote: I am indebted to Tom Wright and Simon Ponsonby for the great illustrations and arguments they provide on this passage: Tom Wright (2006): Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 1717-1719). SPCK. Kindle Edition. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (pp. 193-194). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
Preacher: Bill Davey, Elder at B.B.P.
Our texts: Matthew 9:10 ― 13 and Romans 1: 1 ― 17 (N.I.V.)
Our Lord and our God: ― Thank you for being here with us! We do believe that You love us and that You want us to know how much you care for us! Please open Your Word to us this morning. Amen!
I want to begin with a quote from Augustine of Hippo, an authority in the early church, who declared: “God made man without any help from man, but God will not grant salvation to any man without his help.”
Today we celebrate the 5th Sunday of Easter, still part of Easter. We continue to re-declare, re-proclaim and re-state the truth of the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, our Messiah and King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, let me address the title of the message:― The Gospel as Salvation
When we reflect upon the word, “Salvation“:― I want us to recall the day of the circumcision of our Lord ― (the baby Jesus) ― then only eight days old. In the Temple Court, an elderly man named Simeon proclaimed: ( Luke 2: 29 ― 32 )
“Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace, according to your word; For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have set before all the nations. As a light of revelation for the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.
Let us, therefore, recognize from the outset that “when we use the word, “Salvation” we are speaking of a person” (our Lord Jesus Christ). Jesus is our Salvation ― Our salvation is not a process or a procedure ― Our Salvation is the person of the only begotten Son of God, Himself!
When we use the words, “The Gospel“:― We often, rather glibly say the “Gospel” means the “Good News” ― and so it does ― However it may also be properly called the God-Spell (literally meaning the “God-word / s“.― This is also the meaning of the Jewish word “Torah“: meaning the “God-Teaching” or the “God Instructions“).
I think those of you who have heard me speak on previous occasions know that I often refer to the role of a Christian in one of two ways:
We are to: “Know God, Love God and Serve Him” and yet equally we are to:
“Listen to God, Obey God and Live in His Presence”
I now want us to reflect upon some Old Testament understandings of Who God is and how His Jewish people sought to know Him!
Following that, I want us to reflect upon a couple of names that Jesus applied to Himself as part of His ongoing teaching of His disciples.
As their Rabbi (tutor), Jesus was comfortable using illustrations from everyday life and using various comparisons as teaching tools. Today we can learn to understand His words in just the same manner as His disciples did those many years ago.
To Moses at the “Burning Bush” the Lord introduced Himself first ― as a Holy God and told Moses to take off his shoes for he was on holy ground ― while in His Presence. When God set a task for Moses ― Moses cross-questioned God about Who He was and what name Moses could use to tell the People Israel who had sent him, God declared His Name as: “I AM WHO I AM” see Exodus ch. 3: v 14
We probably, all know that religious Jewish people, then, and even to this very day, use the name of G-d because they regard G-d as too holy to have a name that is spoken by men! Our Christian Bibles use the name Yahweh (sometimes translated as LORD) to signal the most Holy Name of God. Other names afforded to God in the Old Testament are Adonai (Lord) and Elohe (God of Israel). It is most interesting that one Old Testament name for God was Saboath (Lord of Hosts). 1 Samuel ch. 1: v 3 and Isaiah ch. 6: vv 1 ― 3
In our Christian Bible we find the name Yahweh Saboath (God ― our Saviour and Protector). When we think of the first Commandment we can almost hear God proclaiming:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the ‘Land of Egypt’, out from the ‘House of Bondage’; You shall have no other Gods before Me!”
I want to suggest that God was declaring His own love, care and character to His People Israel, ― on the holy mountain ― to show His nature as Saviour, and to promise ongoing provision for His people, provided they observed no other Gods’ before Himself! Let us consider three of the names Jesus used of and for Himself:
Jesus uses simple words to explain the most glorious truth of Himself:―
I Am: the Way
that is Salvation ― as was declared in the Old Testament John ch. 14: v. 6
I Am: the Good (true) Shepherd of the sheep ― that belong to my Father!
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – John ch. 10: v.14
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. v.15
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. — v.16
They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. — v.16
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life ― only to take it up again. — v.17
I Am: the (true) Vine, you are the branches, my Father is the Vine Grower!
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. — John ch. 15 v. 7
Now to our Gospel Scripture: Matthew 9: 10 ― 13
I think these words convey a short but vital message that can be helpful to us in this present time: Matthew writes:―
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.
11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
When I checked the meaning behind verse 13 I found the following Old Testament references:―
Psalm 51: 16 ― 19 God isn’t interested in penance: he wants a broken and contrite heart.
Jeremiah 7: 21 ― 23 It isn’t sacrifices God wants; he desires our obedience and promises that he will be our God and we will be his people.
Micah 6: 6 ― 8 God is not satisfied with offerings, he wants us to be fair and just and merciful, and to walk humbly with him.
In the Epistle Scripture (Romans 1: 1 ― 17) the Apostle Paul writes:―
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
In our texts today, we find Jesus identifying:―
with sinners (the unclean ― the lost ones ― all the sheep of Israel), rather than the righteous.
while the Apostle Paul speaks of the practise of Christian charity:
He is not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Salvation is clearly intended for everyone, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. What can we learn from pondering our two Scripture texts?
Jesus taught His disciples:
Jesus Himself is our Salvation ― the only begotten Son of God ― When we know Him, we know we have the greatest of gifts ― He is Salvation ― i.e. We have become part of the Family of God, and we become progressively more like Jesus every day as the Holy Spirit moves in us and within us! Salvation is clearly intended to be shared with everyone! ― And we are the messengers!
Jesus also taught His disciples:
I Am the (true) Vine, you are the branches, my Father is the Vine Grower!
When you are grafted into the true Vine ― you become part of that Vine:―You have become part of your Lord Jesus!
Just for one moment, please consider the power of the words of promise, spoken by Jesus: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” John ch. 15 v. 7
You also now have the purest explanation of the understanding of Salvation when you receive the words of Jesus, who taught His disciples:
I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, (I.e. that is Salvation). John ch. 14: v. 6
Summary ― The Gospel as Salvation — Matthew ch.28: v 20
Please apply the truths of the message today into your response to the personal Commission your Lord has honoured and blessed you with. And remember ― the prophecy of Jesus, as He declared:
“When you teach others everything I have commanded you ― then, I will be with you always, even to the end of the Age!”
God and War — Sean Cloete (Session Clerk)
This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Good Morning Everyone.
And a warm welcome to any visitors worshiping with us this morning.I hope you are all well on this beautiful morning. It’s a privilege to be here today. Isn’t it wonderful to live in a country like New Zealand – and to be able to go anywhere and worship our Lord as and whenever we want to.We really have a lot to be grateful for. And if there is any help we need … just look around …. Its right here for you.
In James 5:13-16 – where we read:
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the Elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
And if any of you need prayer or healing …… all you have to do is ask.
Let us pray:
Father God, please show us today the many ways our lives can be surrendered to you, and then give us the strength to begin to act. Amen.
Did any of you attend an Anzac Dawn Service yesterday? There was an amazing spirit in Browns Bay all day yesterday – the Holy Spirit was out and about – and I felt His presence wherever I went. Just like I feel Him here today.
The Holy Spirit is a person not a thing – Corinthians 12:11
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
John calls Him the Helper – John 15:26
I was very impressed by the amount of kids I saw at the Anzac service, some with their parents and some who came with their Mates.By my calculations there were around 5000 people at the 6am service yesterday morning.I kept thinking to myself I’m glad this isn’t Good Friday – how are we going to fit all these people into the Rec Centre.
As dawn was breaking yesterday I thought about another dawn event – found in Matthew’s gospel Chapter 28 and verse 1 – and his account of the first time the world realised that our Lord and Saviour had risen from the dead. After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.
Ever since that ancient dawn, the dawn of Easter morning is a reminder of Hope. And that help is available to all because Jesus conquered death for us – He is alive.
On this Anzac week-end the landings at Gallipoli a century ago have been analyzed over and over again.The evidence had been presented and the outcome has been looked at from every angle. And many, many questions have been asked – some over and over again.But for me there is only one question “Why Does God Allow War” – Have you ever asked yourself that question? Is He responsible for all the bad things too – not just the good?
The Christian Author Max Lucado had this to say:
Since 3600 B.C., the world has known only 292 years of peace. During this period there have been 14,531 wars. An estimated 3,640,000,000 lives have been lost in them.
War, so costly. War, so awful. The dying, the maiming. Those who aren’t scarred physically are likely to be scarred emotionally.We divide history into pre- and post-war eras.People are remembered as ones who fought in such-and-such war. The smoke of battle lingers long after the bodies are buried and the armistice is signed. Then why does God allow it?Any discussion of war must revolve around the character of God.
First, remember that we have a loving God. Scripture overflows with this essential truth.“He loves whatever is just and good, and his unfailing love fills the earth.” (Psalm 33:5)
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)
If we are going to consider God and war, we must begin with God and love. God only does what is good. Just as important, God only does what is just. We have a just God.
However, Man’s arch-enemy is sin. Self-centeredness ravages our hearts. From the very beginning the wages of self-centeredness has been death.
“A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal. 6:7) If you sow seeds of peace, you reap the fruits of peace. But sow seeds of destruction and the result is destruction.
War is a consequence of sin.
Before we blame international conflict on finances or boundaries or religion, we must lay the blame where God does: our sinful nature.
War is a tool of God.
There are many unacceptable reasons for war. Imperialism. Financial gain. Religion. Family feuds. Racial arrogance.
There are also many unacceptable motives for war. But there is one time when war is condoned and used by God: wickedness. When calling the Israelites into battle. Moses carefully instructed them:
“After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say to yourselves, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are so righteous!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is doing it.” (Deut. 9:4)
Scripture also elevates the role of government to a high place.
All governments have been placed in power by God.
The authorities are sent by God.
The authorities are established by God.
Their role is clear: protect and punish.
Protect the innocent and punish evil.
When the government perceives that her people are under threat, when negotiations have proven fruitless and olive branches have gone unacknowledged, when the leaders of a country are convinced that an attack against evil will preserve that which is good and protect those who are innocent—then, and only then, war is justifiable.So as a result of this war is delegated by God to governments.
What those Governments do and the decisions they make are sometimes not part of God’s plan.Sometimes the government is called to turn the other cheek. We call this diplomacy, negotiation, and compromise.If such efforts prove fruitless, and if the leaders feel their constituency is under threat, they can then take steps to protect the innocent. War is justifiable only when other alternatives to protect the innocent have been exhausted. War is God’s righteous last resort.
God’s will, His choice, is to love you.
His desire is for you to love Him back – but love must be given freely or it’s not love at all, Love is a choice not a feeling. And remember surrendering to God and His plan for your life is through your own free will – which God has given to you.
Our choices are our decisions.And our decisions are controlled by our free will – and achieved through prayer. But – as Christians we are warned not to let our guard down.In the earlier readings from Acts I’d like you have a look at the following verses:
2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.
So what is Luke is saying?
The Holy Spirit had called Paul and Barnabas both in Antioch as well as in Lystra. He had a mission for them – only they could fulfill .Wherever they went they were healing people and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ – but wherever they travelled the spiritual battles they had to fight intensified. Every day we as followers of Jesus Christ are in a Spiritual War – a war which is as fierce as any armed conflict – and one in which we have more to lose than just our lives.
In Ephesians 6 the Apostle Paul instructs us dress accordingly when we do battle with Satan and his armies – He says:
Put on the full Armour of God.
The Belt of truth.
The Breastplate of Righteousness.
The Gospel of Peace.
The Shield of Faith.
The Helmet of Salvation.
Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
As Christians we need to understand the Sword of the Spirit – because it is through the Word that we will win this war.
Let me tell you a little more about this book ……..It’s far more than just a collection of sayings and stories. It was written over a period of 1600 years – from Moses writing in lonely Arabia (the first 5 books) to John writing Revelation in exile on the island of Patmos.
Written by 40 different Authors.
It was written by:
A Prince of Egypt
The authors were largely unknown to one another. Some, writing in different centuries. On different continents.In wartime and peacetime.Some writing in different languages.But with one Central Message
But Unless ……..
There was one Architect … one Designer?
So, using the authors’ own writing styles, experiences and personalities, God shows us who he is and what it’s like to know him.Unlike other religious writings, the Bible reads as a factual news account of real events, places and people.It is a remarkably accurate historical account of times it is written in.It’s also our best commentary on today’s news.Historians and archaeologists have repeatedly confirmed its authenticity.And continue to do so to this day.There is nothing fake about this book – nothing made up.
Its message may be repeated in different books.That’s because God needs us to understand his message.It is remarkably up-to-date for a book written over 2000 years ago.In it we can find advice as diverse as managing our finances and how to improve your marriage.The Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year.It’s been the best-selling book on the planet for the past 300 years.
It’s been estimated that over 7 Billion bibles have been printed .. in the USA alone.The Bible has been translated into 2,018 languages.To put this in comparison, Shakespeare, considered by many to be the master writer of the English language, has only been translated into 50 languages. So, why is there an Old Testament and a New Testament?In many ways the Old Testament serves as the foundation for the New Testament.The Old Testament chronicles God’s power and works, looking toward the coming Messiah.
The New Testament reveals Jesus as the Messiah, looking back at His life and teachings as the basis for the Church and the spread of the Gospel. Most Old Testament prophecies look forward to the future and were unfulfilled at the time of the Old Testament’s completion.The New Testament highlights the fulfillment of many of the Old Testament’s prophecies. There are over 300 alone in the life of Jesus Christ. A complete biography of Jesus Christ existed 500 years before He was born.
The world was expecting Him – so God made sure that we knew everything about even before He got here.The Bible is a guide to Eternal Life – and is also a confirmation that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Good advice is readily given throughout both the Old and New Testaments.The purpose of the Bible is not to transplant an ancient culture into this generation but to reveal the Gospel to it.The same power Jesus operated with is the same power available to us today – The Holy Spirit.
The Bible raises many, many questions.All of which leads us to the One who has all the Answers – Our Creator – and the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
It remains – to this day a source of inspiration to all as well as the cornerstone on which most of the laws around the world today are based. And, just to sum up in the words of the Apostle Paul from Philippians 4:13 –“I can do all things through Christ”
And from Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.
Let us Pray..
“Thank You Lord that You can take our lives and use them in way we never thought possible.Help us to be the instruments that convey the music of Your Love”Amen
Our final hymn this morning is “God Defend New Zealand” – and we will be singing all 5 verses.
Do you know that there are 18 references to God in the Anthem. By far – the most references to our Lord of any other National Anthem.
Makes you think ………… doesn’t it??
May God Bless us all.