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Friday, November 29, 2013

Advent 1: Characters of Christmas: Zechariah

Almighty God, who sent Your servant John the Baptist to prepare Your people for the coming of Your Son: inspire the ministers and stewards of Your truth to turn our disobedient hearts to the law of love; that when He comes again in glory, we may stand with confidence before Him as our judge; who is alive and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Advent marks both a beginning and an end. It begins the church year as a season of preparation for
all the festivities that surround the commemoration of Christ’s birth. More significantly, Advent also
anticipates Christ’s coming again in glory. The theologian Paul Tillich once preached that “our
time is a time of waiting … waiting for the breaking in of eternity.  All time runs forward. All time,
both history and in personal life, is expectation.

Advent is a season of longing, waiting expectantly for eternity—for the fullness of the reign of God to break in......and there is a very real sense in which the fullness of the reign of God broke in upon Zechariah; a righteous, elderly, long-married priest who had had no children.  An angel of the Lord, Gabriel, appears to him in the Temple of the Lord.

As a priest in the Temple, Zechariah was a minister of God, working in the Temple, managing its upkeep, teaching people the Scriptures, and directing the worship services.  At this time, there were about 20 000 priests throughout the country.  Priests were divided into 24 separate groups of about 1000 each (according to David’s instructions in 1 Chronicles 24:3-17.)  Zechariah was a member of the division of Abijah.  Each division served in the Jerusalem Temple twice each year for one week.  Each morning one of the priests would enter the Holy place in the Temple to burn incense, which was burned twice daily.  Lots were cast to decide who would enter the sanctuary, and one day during the week, Zechariah was chosen.  Offering incense before the Lord was considered a great privilege.  A priest was allowed to do so only once in his lifetime, so many priests never had the opportunity.  But it was not by chance that Zechariah was on duty and that he was chosen that day to enter the Holy Place.

It is not by chance that you are here, today, at the start of Advent 2013.

An angel of the Lord appears and gives Zechariah a message from the Lord.  Now, angels are powerful beings, certainly awesome in their appearance and no wonder Zechariah was afraid,......so the angels first words to him are, “Don’t be afraid.

Now, while Zechariah had been burning incense, he would have been praying, most likely for Israel’s deliverance and for the coming of the Messiah, and the angel’s words must have astounded him: “God has heard your prayer.”  And he no doubt thinks, “Wow, at last God is going to send His Messiah” but the angel says, “Your wife will bear you a son.”  God in fact had heard both his prayers (and of course, all his prayers), because we know He was preparing the way for Jesus, and He was giving Zechariah a son who would play an important role in that.

And Zechariah is faced with a choice……to believe that, in their old age, he and his wife will have a child, or to doubt……"Hmmm.................., that’s not really possible, we are too old."  He chooses to doubt, which is such a pity, because, while it doesn't stop God from fulfilling His promise, his doubt makes his life miserable,...............he can’t speak or hear until 8 days after his child is born – at least 10 months later.

What does Zechariah, our first character of Christmas, teach us as we enter Advent 2013?

3 things:

1. Many of us are afraid.  We live in scary times. The news this week has reminded us that it's dangerous and scary to be a baby in S.A. ……it’s dangerous to be a woman in S.A. as the 16 days of Activism campaign reminds us.....
...some might even feel it’s dangerous to drive around some of our shopping centers where mafia hits have taken place recently……this week we heard that economic growth in our country is at its lowest since the 2008 worldwide recession and the prospect of an improvement in 2014 is poor……scary times.

Just as He said to Zechariah, the Lord says through his Word (365 times!) to us: “Don’t be afraid.”  I think there’s a sense in which He says, “You don’t need to be afraid……not because I’m going to take all the scary things away……but rather you don’t need to be afraid because I am with you……I am with you.

2. Just as He sad to Zechariah, He says to us: “I have heard your prayers”.......I really hope that this truth will bring you hope and comfort, in the Advent season of hope and comfort....Our LORD has heard, hears and will hear, every one of your prayers.

and finally……

3. Zechariah chose to doubt……let us choose to believe.
Believe that, just as Zechariah wasn't in the Holy Place by accident that day,……so too you aren't here in this place, celebrating Advent this day, by accident.
Believe that God wants you to hear that you need not be afraid.
Believe that He wants you to hear and to know that He has heard your prayers.

Choose today, choose this Advent season, to believe, rather than to doubt.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Questions based on Characters of Christmas: Zechariah

Read the sermon here
Luke 1:5-25

  1. Who was Zechariah?

  1. Why was he in Jerusalem?

  1. Why was he burning incense that day?  (Think carefully about this one.)

  1. What do you think verse 6 means?

  1. Discuss whether it was reasonable for him to doubt.

  1. Discuss the “fairness” of his “punishment” for doubting.

  1. Why does God tell us so many times in His Word, to not be afraid?  Is this a reasonable command?

  1. What are you afraid of and why?

  1. Is there any comfort in knowing that God has heard all our prayers?

  1. What will it mean for you to choose belief this Advent Season?


Friday, November 22, 2013

Pentecost 27: Christ the King Sunday and Salvation by Faith Alone



Text verse: Ephesians 2:8

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God

The lectionary for this week has us journeying to the place called the Skull where they crucified Jesus and two criminals, one on His right and one on His left.  It’s a very appropriate reading for this Sunday, which marks the death, the end of another lectionary, liturgical year.  Next week is the first Sunday in Advent, which is the start of a new liturgical/lectionary year.

And so we find ourselves at the Cross, at the end, with three men who know that they won’t touch the ground beneath them until they are dead.  And on that ground around them are people grumbling, ..............mocking,.................... and some just looking and listening.

As we look and listen from a distance of 2000 years, you will notice two things that are repeated:  
The first is the idea of salvation, which seems to permeate the scene.
“He saved others, let Him save Himself” say the Jewish leaders.
“Save yourself” say the soldiers.
“Save yourself and us” says one of the criminals.

And this is what it’s all about for most of us – save yourself if you possibly can – look out for Number One – be concerned primarily with yourself, your own welfare and your own well being.

So while Jesus is doing His saving work, this word, save……save……save is being shouted out from every place. 

The second word or phrase we notice is: “King” and “King of the Jews.”  This in fact, is a coronation service taking place, but only two people seem to be aware of it – Jesus and……one of the criminals.  And its that criminal I want to focus on, because he recognizes Jesus as King and he ends up saved by Jesus the King, on his deathbed.  


Behold our KING


  This sinful person finds favour with God……that should have us shouting: "Amen!  Alleluia!"  That a sinful person should find favour with God can only be described as grace upon grace.  How does he “achieve” this salvation – I will show you that it is the same way you and I do, namely, he is saved because of his faith.


Why does God choose to save him – for no reason other than that He just wants to, not because the criminal deserves it..........  this undeserved mercy is what we call grace.

You and I can experience the same grace and salvation day by day by day.  Isn’t that good news?  Our text reminds us that it is by grace we are saved through faith.

What kind of faith is it that saves?  It is easier to first say what kind of faith does not save before describing the faith that saves.

  1. Many people believe in a god or in gods and this is not surprising because the world as we look at it points to a God who made it and sustains it.  But this belief/faith in a god does not save.
  2. The devil and the demons believe in God.  It is on the lips of demons in the gospels that we hear, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” and in Acts “These men are servants of the most high God who shows you the way to salvation.”  So the devil believes in God, but it is not a belief that saves.  Many people have a belief in God that goes no further than the belief that the devil has in God.
  3. The disciples of Jesus had faith in God, they believed in a God who could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, raise the dead, because they had seen that God at work in their midst in Christ.  But that faith doesn't save either. 
Don’t settle for a faith that only believes all these things of God in Christ.  

So what faith does save – a faith in Christ that doesn't just believe the facts about Him, but rather a faith which changes your heart. A faith that changes you at your very essence. This is what we see in the criminal. The other Gospel writers tell us that he also cursed Jesus at first, but Luke shows us that his heart changes through his experience of Christ on the Cross next to him. And here we see the key element to saving faith: it is based on a Jesus, a Messiah, a King...... who suffered and died. 
It sees being put right with God (we call that justified) as something which someone else, Jesus ,did for us when He died on the Cross. The criminal hanging next to Jesus, sees, in the way Jesus is dying,....the criminal sees the Promised Messiah, the promised King, that he had heard about in his life, ....................he sees the suffering, dying Jesus as King, Christ the King, and realizes, more than the disciples had, that death is not going to hold this King.  He obviously sees the resurrection by faith before anyone else, because he says, “Remember me, Jesus, when You come as King.”  
Isn’t that beautiful – do you want to say that now: “Remember me, Jesus, when You come as King.” It's a proclamation of great faith.
And Jesus says to him……OK!!!
And we see here, how by God’s Grace we are saved by faith.

Faith in a dying, dead, raised again and living forevermore Jesus, who does everything to put us right with God.
That is grace upon grace.  That is amazing grace.

Now, what exactly is this salvation?

Firstly, it is something we experience, here and now.  We don’t wait until we are dead to experience this salvation.  Salvation IS……for you and for me……NOW.

What is it that we are saved from?
In a word, we are saved from……sin. We are not saved from suffering……from struggle……from pain……from disease……from death. You see, none of these things separate us from God. Only sin separates us from God – it puts us “in the wrong” with God-- which is why it is so important to see and believe that what Jesus did puts us “in the right” with God.
We are saved from sin and from the guilt associated with it and from the fear of punishment that goes with it.  
We are saved from sin.  
We are also saved from sinning.

Let me ask you this: Do you have to sin?

I’ll answer for myself: As I reflect on the week that has passed……the truth is – I didn't have to sin. The truth is that if I really let God’s Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, if I let that Holy Spirit truly reign in every part of my life, there is not a habit, a willful sin or sinful desire that need gain victory over me. That is the truth for me, and that is, I suspect, the truth for you too.
I don’t have to sin, neither do you, that is the TRUTH.

Now, through the ages, people have had many objections to this truth; that we are saved by faith purely because of God’s Grace.  Many find it scandalous that a thief under execution should be saved by God; that a prostitute like Mary Magdalene and a wicked tax collector like Zaccheus should be saved by grace through faith.  That someone like Saul of Tarsus should experience this grace and so on and so on and so on.

Worst of all, scandal upon scandal, that someone like Cedric Poole should be saved by grace through faith……but…… he is and so he stands before and proclaims with Wesley, with Luther, with Paul that it is by grace that you are saved by faith.

So what now?

The thief teaches us that when we come to the Cross, the ground is level……we are all sinners in God’s eyes.
True repentance has me realizing that, compared to Jesus, I am a sinner. We are getting what we deserve, but He has done no wrong.”  We are all on death row, and true repentance has us recognizing that we deserve to die. That should leave us feeling hopeless, which in fact we are because there is no court of appeal.  All that would happen in a heavenly court of appeal is we would compare ourselves to other sinners.  
“Your honour, compared to Mr Hitler, I’m not so bad.”  
“Cedric, I don’t compare you to Mr Hitler; I compare you to my Son, Jesus.  How do you fare up compared to Jesus, Cedric?” 
“I don’t your Honour.”
An earthly judge would then say: “Well, sit down and shut up.”
But in Heaven, Jesus will jump up and say:
Father, this one asked me to remember him when I come as King.  He turned to Me in his hopelessness and trusted Me to get him through this very moment.”

And God will say: “Ah……why didn’t you say so Cedric?  Come on in because it is by my grace that you are saved by your faith.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Question based on Christ the King and Salvation by Faith Alone

Read the Sermon here

  1. What is grace?


  1. Identify three types of faith that don’t save.


  1. What type of faith saves?


  1. What is the key element of the faith that saves?


  1. What is salvation?


  1. What are we saved from?


  1. Discuss the statement:  We are saved from sinning.



  1. What does the repentant thief on the cross teach us about salvation by faith alone?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pentecost 27: Christ the King and Salvation by Faith Alone

JW's sermons can be quite difficult to work through. I've been reminded of this once again as I've worked through Number 1 this week in preparation for my sermon prep on Friday. I think I am going to use the account of the thief who is promised salvation on the cross (the lectionary reading for this week) to preach on Salvation by Faith. Below is JW's sermon, but to make it a little easier for you to work through I've bolded the main points, so if you just scroll through you'll get a quick overview.
If you read only one part in full, let it be the part highlighted inorange because this is the part that offends most people;
If you have time to read more, try the yellow section;
Then the green part
Salvation by Faith

Ephesians 2:8
By grace ye are saved through faith.

1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour: his free, undeserved favour, favour altogether undeserved, man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that 'formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul', and stamped on that soul the image of God, and 'put all things under his feet'. The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand. 'All our works thou, O God, hast wrought in us.' These therefore are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this also is the gift of God.

2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God's. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable, being 'come short of the glory of God', the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his 'mouth is utterly stopped before God'.

3. If then sinful man find favour with God, it is 'grace upon grace'. If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us—yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation—what can we say to these things but 'Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!' And thus it is. Herein 'God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died' to save us. 'By grace', then, 'are ye saved through faith.' Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation.

Now, that we fall not short of the grace of God, it concerns us carefully to inquire:
  
I. What faith it is through which we are saved.

II. What is the salvation which is through faith.

III. How we may answer some objections.

I. What faith it is through which we are saved.

1. And, first, it is not barely the faith of a heathen. Now God requireth of a heathen to believe 'that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him'; and that he is to be sought by 'glorifying him as God by giving him thanks for all things', and by a careful practice of moral virtue, of justice, mercy, and truth, toward their fellow-creatures. A Greek or Roman, therefore, yea, a Scythian or Indian, was without excuse if he did not believe thus much: the being and attributes of God, a future state of reward and punishment, and the obligatory nature of moral virtue. For this is barely the faith of a heathen.

2. Nor, secondly, is it the faith of a devil, though this goes much farther than that of a heathen. For the devil believes, not only that there is a wise and powerful God, gracious to reward and just to punish, but also that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, the Saviour of the world. So we find him declaring in express terms: 'I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.'a Nor can we doubt but that unhappy spirit believes all those words which came out of the mouth of the Holy One; yea, and whatsoever else was written by those holy men of old, of two of whom he was compelled to give that glorious testimony, 'These men are the servants of the most high God, who show unto you the way of salvation.' Thus much then the great enemy of God and man believes, and trembles in believing, that 'God was made manifest in the flesh'; that he will 'tread all enemies under his feet'; and that 'all Scripture was given by inspiration of God.' Thus far goeth the faith of a devil.

3. Thirdly, the faith through which we are saved, in that sense of the word which will hereafter be explained, is not barely that which the apostles themselves had while Christ was yet upon earth; though they so believed on him as to 'leave all and follow him'; although they had then power to work miracles, 'to heal all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease'; yea, they had then 'power and authority over all devils': and which is beyond all this, were sent by their Master to 'preach the kingdom of God'. Yet after their return from doing all these mighty works their Lord himself terms them, 'a faithless generation'. He tells them 'they could not cast out a devil, because of their unbelief.' And when long after, supposing they had some already, they said unto him, 'Increase our faith,' he tells them plainly that of this faith they had none at all, no, not as a grain of mustard seed: 'The Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the roots, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.'

4. What faith is it then through which we are saved? It may be answered: first, in general, it is a faith in Christ—Christ, and God through Christ, are the proper object of it. Herein therefore it is sufficiently, absolutely, distinguished from the faith either of ancient or modern heathens. And from the faith of a devil it is fully distinguished by this—it is not barely a speculative, rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent, a train of ideas in the head; but also a disposition of the heart. For thus saith the Scripture, 'With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.' And, 'If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe with thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.'

5. And herein does it differ from that faith which the apostles themselves had while our Lord was on earth, that it acknowledges the necessity and merit of his death, and the power of his resurrection. It acknowledges his death as the only sufficient means of redeeming man from death eternal, and his resurrection as the restoration of us all to life and immortality; inasmuch as he 'was delivered for our sins, and rose again for our justification'. Christian faith is then not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ, a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us. It is a sure confidence which a man hath in God, that through the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God; and in consequence hereof a closing with him and cleaving to him as our 'wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption' or, in one word, our salvation.

II. What salvation it is which is through this faith is the second thing to be considered.

1. And, first, whatsoever else it imply, it is a present salvation. It is something attainable, yea, actually attained on earth, by those who are partakers of this faith. For thus saith the Apostle to the believers at Ephesus, and in them to the believers of all ages, not, 'Ye shall be' (though that also is true), but 'Ye are saved through faith.'

2. Ye are saved (to comprise all in one word) from sin. This is the salvation which is through faith. This is that great salvation foretold by the angel before God brought his first-begotten into the world: 'Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.' And neither here nor in other parts of Holy Writ is there any limitation or restriction. All his people, or as it is elsewhere expressed, all that believe in him, he will save from all their sins: from original and actual, past and present sin, of the flesh and of the spirit. Through faith that is in him they are saved both from the guilt and from the power of it.

3. First, from the guilt of all past sin. For whereas 'all the world is guilty before God'; insomuch that should he 'be extreme to mark what is done amiss, there is none that could abide it'; and whereas 'by the law is only the knowledge of sin', but no deliverance from it, so that 'by fulfilling the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified in his sight'; now 'the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ', 'is manifested unto all that believe'. Now they are 'justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. Him God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for (or by) the remission of the sins that are past.' Now hath Christ 'taken away the curse of the law, being made a curse for us'. He hath 'blotted out the handwriting that was against us, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross'. 'There is therefore no condemnation now to them which believe in Christ Jesus.'

4. And being saved from guilt, they are saved from fear. Not indeed from a filial fear of offending, but from all servile fear, from that 'fear which hath torment', from fear of punishment, from fear of the wrath of God, whom they now no longer regard as a severe master, but as an indulgent Father. 'They have not received again the spirit of bondage, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father: the Spirit itself also bearing witness with their spirit, that they are the children of God.' They are also saved from the fear, though not from the possibility, of falling away from the grace of God, and coming short of the great and precious promises. They are 'sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of their inheritance'. Thus have they 'peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . They rejoice in hope of the glory of God. . . . And the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts through the Holy Ghost which is given unto them.' And hereby they are 'persuaded' (though perhaps not all at all times, nor with the same fullness of persuasion) 'that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate them from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

5. Again, through this faith they are saved from the power of sin as well as from the guilt of it. So the Apostle declares, 'Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.' Again, 'Little children, let no man deceive you. . . . He that committeth sin is of the devil.' 'Whosoever believeth is born of God.' And, 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.' Once more, 'We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.'

6. He that is by faith born of God sinneth not,
(1), by any habitual sin, for all habitual sin is sin reigning; but sin cannot reign in any that believeth. Nor,
(2), by any wilful sin; for his will, while he abideth in the faith, is utterly set against all sin, and abhorreth it as deadly poison. Nor,
(3), by any sinful desire; for he continually desireth the holy and perfect will of God; and any unholy desire he by the grace of God stifleth in the birth. Nor,
(4), doth he sin by infirmities, whether in act, word, or thought; for his infirmities have no concurrence of his will; and without this they are not properly sins. Thus, 'He that is born of God doth not commit sin.' And though he cannot say he hath not sinned, yet now 'he sinneth not'.

7. This then is the salvation which is through faith, even in the present world: a salvation from sin and the consequences of sin, both often expressed in the word 'justification', which, taken in the largest sense, implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment, by the atonement of Christ actually applied to the soul of the sinner now believing on him, and a deliverance from the power of sin, through Christ 'formed in his heart'. So that he who is thus justified or saved by faith is indeed 'born again'. He is 'born again of the Spirit' unto a new 'life which is hid with Christ in God'. And as a 'newborn babe he gladly receives the sincere milk of the word, and grows thereby'; 'going on in the might of the Lord his God', 'from faith to faith', 'from grace to grace', 'until at length he comes unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ'.

III. Objections to the Doctrine of Salvation by Faith

1. That to preach salvation or justification by faith only is to preach against holiness and good works. To which a short answer might be given: it would be so if we spake, as some do, of a faith which was separate from these. But we speak of a faith which is not so, but necessarily productive of all good works and all holiness.

2. But it may be of use to consider it more at large: especially since it is no new objection, but as old as St. Paul's time, for even then it was asked, 'Do we not make void the law through faith?' We answer, first, all who preach not faith do manifestly make void the law, either directly and grossly, by limitations and comments that eat out all the spirit of the text; or indirectly, by not pointing out the only means whereby it is possible to perform it. Whereas, secondly, 'We establish the law', both by showing its full extent and spiritual meaning, and by calling all to that living way whereby 'the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in them'. These, while they trust in the blood of Christ alone, use all the ordinances which he hath appointed, do all the 'good works which he had before prepared that they should walk therein', and enjoy and manifest all holy and heavenly tempers, even the same 'mind that was in Christ Jesus'.

3. But does not preaching this faith lead men into pride? We answer, accidentally it may. Therefore ought every believer to be earnestly cautioned (in the words of the great Apostle): 'Because of unbelief the first branches were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear. If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.' And while he continues therein, he will remember those words of St. Paul, foreseeing and answering this very objection: 'Where is boasting, then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay; but by the law of faith.' If a man were justified by his works, he would have whereof to glory. But there is no glorying for him 'that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly'. To the same effect are the words both preceding and following the text: 'God, who is rich in mercy, . . . even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved),. . . that he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace ye are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves.' Of yourselves cometh neither your faith nor your salvation. 'It is the gift of God,' the free, undeserved gift—the faith through which ye are saved, as well as the salvation which he of his own good pleasure, his mere favour, annexes thereto. That ye believe is one instance of his grace; that believing, ye are saved, another. 'Not of works, lest any man should boast.' For all our works, all our righteousness, which were before our believing, merited nothing of God but condemnation, so far were they from deserving faith, which therefore, whenever given, is not 'of works'. Neither is salvation of the works we do when we believe. For 'it is' then 'God that worketh in us'. And, therefore, that he giveth us a reward for what he himself worketh only commendeth the riches of his mercy, but leaveth us nothing whereof to glory.

4. However, may not the speaking thus of the mercy of God, as saving or justifying freely by faith only, encourage men in sin? Indeed it may and will; many will 'continue in sin, that grace may abound'. But their blood is upon their own head. The goodness of God ought to lead them to repentance, and so it will those who are sincere of heart. When they know there is yet forgiveness with him, they will cry aloud that he would blot out their sins also through faith which is in Jesus. And if they earnestly cry and faint not, if they seek him in all the means he hath appointed, if they refuse to be comforted till he come, he 'will come, and will not tarry'. And he can do much work in a short time. Many are the examples in the Acts of the Apostles of God's working this faith in men's hearts as quick as lightning falling from heaven. So in the same hour that Paul and Silas began to preach the jailer repented, believed, and was baptized —as were three thousand by St. Peter on the day of Pentecost, who all repented and believed at his first preaching. And, blessed be God, there are now many living proofs that he is still thus 'mighty to save'.

5. Yet to the same truth, placed in another view, a quite contrary objection is made: 'If a man cannot be saved by all that he can do, this will drive men to despair.' True, to despair of being saved by their own works, their own merits or righteousness. And so it ought; for none can trust in the merits of Christ till he has utterly renounced his own. He that 'goeth about to establish his own righteousness' cannot receive the righteousness of God. The righteousness which is of faith cannot be given him while he trusteth in that which is of the law.

6. But this, it is said, is an uncomfortable doctrine. The devil spoke like himself, that is, without either truth or shame, when he dared to suggest to men that it is such.'Tis the only comfortable one, 'tis 'very full of comfort', to all self-destroyed, self-condemned sinners. That 'whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed'; that 'the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him'—here is comfort, high as heaven, stronger than death! What! Mercy for all? For Zaccheus, a public robber? For Mary Magdalene, a common harlot? Methinks I hear one say, 'Then I, even I, may hope for mercy!' And so thou mayst, thou afflicted one, whom none hath comforted! God will not cast out thy prayer. Nay, perhaps he may say the next hour, 'Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee'; so forgiven that they shall reign over thee no more; yea, and that 'the Holy Spirit shall bear witness with thy spirit that thou art a child of God.' O glad tidings! Tidings of great joy, which are sent unto all people. 'Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; come ye and buy without money, and without price.' Whatsoever your sins be, 'though red, like crimson',97 though 'more than the hairs of your head', 'return ye unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon you, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.'

7. When no more objections occur, then we are simply told that salvation by faith only ought not to be preached as the first doctrine, or at least not to be preached to all. But what saith the Holy Ghost? 'Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ.' So, then, 'that whosoever believeth on him shall be saved' is and must be the foundation of all our preaching; that is, must be preached first. 'Well, but not to all.' To whom then are we not to preach it? Whom shall we except? The poor? Nay, they have a peculiar right to have the gospel preached unto them. The unlearned? No. God hath revealed these things unto unlearned and ignorant men from the beginning. The young? By no means. 'Suffer these' in any wise 'to come unto Christ, and forbid them not.' The sinners? Least of all. He 'came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance'. Why then, if any, we are to except the rich, the learned, the reputable, the moral men. And 'tis true, they too often except themselves from hearing; yet we must speak the words of our Lord. For thus the tenor of our commission runs: 'Go and preach the gospel to every creature.' If any man wrest it or any part of it to his destruction, he must bear his own burden. But still, 'as the Lord liveth, whatsoever the Lord saith unto us, that we will speak.'

8. At this time more especially will we speak, that 'by grace ye are saved through faith': because never was the maintaining this doctrine more seasonable than it is at this day. Nothing but this can effectually prevent the increase of the Romish delusion among us.'Tis endless to attack one by one all the errors of that Church. But salvation by faith strikes at the root, and all fall at once where this is established. It was this doctrine (which our Church justly calls 'the strong rock and foundation of the Christian religion') that first drove popery out of these kingdoms, and 'tis this alone can keep it out. Nothing but this can give a check to that immorality which hath overspread the land as a flood. Can you empty the great deep drop by drop? Then you may reform us by dissuasives from particular vices. But let 'the righteousness which is of God by faith' be brought in, and so shall its proud waves be stayed. Nothing but this can stop the mouths of those who 'glory in their shame', 'and openly deny the Lord that bought them'. They can talk as sublimely of the law as he that hath it written by God in his heart. To hear them speak on this head might incline one to think they were not far from the kingdom of God. But take them out of the law into the gospel; begin with the righteousness of faith, with 'Christ, the end of the law to everyone that believeth', and those who but now appeared almost if not altogether Christians stand confessed the sons of perdition, as far from life and salvation (God be merciful unto them!) as the depth of hell from the height of heaven.

9. For this reason the adversary so rages whenever 'salvation by faith' is declared to the world. For this reason did he stir up earth and hell to destroy those who first preached it. And for the same reason, knowing that faith alone could overturn the foundations of his kingdom, did he call forth all his forces, and employ all his arts of lies and calumny, to affright that glorious champion of the Lord of Hosts, Martin Luther, from reviving it. Nor can we wonder thereat. For as that man of God observes, 'How would it enrage a proud strong man armed to be stopped and set at nought by a little child, coming against him with a reed in his hand!'—especially when he knew that little child would surely overthrow him and tread him under foot. 'Even so, Lord Jesus!' Thus hath thy strength been ever 'made perfect in weakness'! Go forth then, thou little child that believest in him, and his 'right hand shall teach thee terrible things'! Though thou art helpless and weak as an infant of days, the strong man shall not be able to stand before thee. Thou shalt prevail over him, and subdue him, and overthrow him, and trample him under thy feet. Thou shalt march on under the great Captain of thy salvation, 'conquering and to conquer', until all thine enemies are destroyed, and 'death is swallowed up in victory'.
Now thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be blessing and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, for ever and ever. 

Amen.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pentecost 26: Right now, in this place, God is making a new Earth

Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 21:5-19


Text verse
I am making a new earth and new heavens.
Isaiah 65:17 GNB

Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah and our gospel reading from Luke really compliment each other today and I'm going to move between the two, referring to one, then to the other, because they both speak of the same reality, namely:

Right now, God is making a new Earth, a new Alberton, a new Alberton Methodist Church, and you and I are not only living in it, but are even invited to be part of God’s creative effort…. part of the building process. Here in South Africa a few years ago, we had the Fifa 2010 World Cup, part of which was a massive building programme, huge construction projects, but you and I didn't really play a role in the building process, other than through our taxes.

God is making a new Earth and you and I, and all people in fact, are called to be involved, not just with our money, but by hands on construction work. And there is no job reservation, there is no special skill required, in fact you are equipped and empowered on the job, and best of all, it is a project, which although huge in nature, definitely has no trace and no possibility of corruption or scandal. Your effort will make a difference and will not be wasted. Isn't that good news?

All people can do this work, in fact all people need to do this work and be involved in project re-creation. Every worker can be assured that the work they are doing is making a difference, and best of all, each of us can do our part of the job to perfection.

I am making a new earth, says God through the prophet Isaiah….. not…. one day I will make a new Earth and until then you are stuck with the earth you are living in….. no….. I am making a new earth.

This building project is nothing other than the kingdom of God coming on earth. Isaiah describes such a place, such a kingdom, such a new earth:
it is a kingdom where the people of full of joy;
a kingdom where there will be no weeping, no distress, or calling for help.
It is a kingdom where there will be no more babies dying in infancy…. our own country has a shockingly high infant mortality rate, doesn't it? Do we have to wait for eternity for this to change.....? Of course not.
It is a kingdom in which people will live out their lifespan.
The Psalmist considered three score years and ten as the blessed life, 70 years, but in this new Earth, 100 years old will be common and even considered young!
People will build homes and get to live in them, they will not be used by someone else, says God through the prophet Isaiah.
We live in a country where the majority of people who build homes, laying one brick upon another, then plastering, then painting etc….. the people who do this in South Africa generally never get to live in a house themselves. Homelessness in our nation is a disgrace. 

Against this background, doesn't the kingdom of God sound good? Many of you have never lived in your own home, and many live on the streets of our cities.
Doesn't this kingdom, this new earth that God is making right now sound good?

Isaiah goes on and says that the work you do in this new earth that God is building....... that He invites us to be a part of........ will be successful.

And best of all, this new place will be...................... peaceful.

On Monday we remembered fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day, millions who have died on battlefields. God says this new earth which I am building and which I invite you to help me build, is a place which is as peaceful as a world where wolves and lambs eat together, not each other, where lions eat with cattle, and snakes will no longer be dangerous! 

That's a peace that passes all understanding, isn't it? 

And yet, God says, it's what I am doing. That is what I am making, right now. Do you want to help me? The New Testament teaches that the time for that peace, which passes all understanding, is now! 

Jesus began his ministry, as you might remember, with words like this: ' The kingdom of God is at hand ' meaning, this kingdom, this new earth which Isaiah spoke about, is close.

Jesus would teach us to pray: 'your kingdom come'; in other words, this new earth, let it come, let it be,….NOW.

And then He showed in His life how, when we live like He lived, this kingdom comes, this new earth... happens. We see in the Gospels that where Jesus was, and especially when He was accepted and really made welcome into people's lives, there was joy, even in the midst of the brutal Roman occupation. Remember the story of Zaccheus a few weeks ago?

He showed that this new earth was coming and being established, because when people died before the proper age for their dying, well...... He stood at the deathbed or the grave, of children and adults, and said: 'Wake up! In this new earth you which I have begun making, you need not die before its actually time to die. '

Jesus showed and taught in many different ways that with His arrival on earth, the new earth, the kingdom of God, was and is, in our midst.

And He showed how by a small step of faith one can enter into this new earth, and be born again and empowered and equipped for life and work in this new earth.

Are you born again, and have you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and His power, and are you living and working in and for the kingdom of God, so that where you are, the kingdom of God is coming, and where you are, God's will is being done?

We were ministering in Cape Town in 2010 and the old Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town had to be destroyed before the new Cape Town Stadium could be built. Sometimes things have to be destroyed, broken down, before new and better things can come about.

The Temple in Jerusalem was one such place. It was a hindrance to the fulfilment of Judaism, which is really what Christianity is. It was a hindrance to God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being fulfilled at the time of Jesus and after His ministry.

In verse five of Luke chapter 21, we see pride in the disciples as they look at the Temple, marvelling at its beauty, and the beauty of the gifts, the sacrifices, the fine bulls, and sheep and lambs being offered to God. The first fruits and the tithes of all harvests going up to the Temple.

King Solomon had built the first Temple in about 900 BC and it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. 70 years later, Zerrubabbel rebuilt the Temple, and about 500 years later, when Jesus was born, Herod the Great built the new Temple, which was so huge and grand, it took him 46 years to build, and it was the Temple that was in Jerusalem during the life of Jesus. It was a source of great pride in Judaism.

And in this reading Jesus is predicting/prophesying/foretelling the destruction of this temple. Listen to verse six: all this you see, the time will come when not a single stone here will be left in its place, every one will be thrown down.”

And that prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70, just 37 years after Jesus spoke it. The Romans absolutely destroyed the Temple and all the things Jesus prophesied, wars, revolutions, earthquakes, famines, strange and terrifying things in the sky….. all these came about in A.D. 69 and 70. You can Google 'fall of Jerusalem and Jesus prophecies' and you will see Roman historians and Jewish historians recording all these things.

Of course for the disciples hearing these words, it sounded like the end of the world. They could not imagine a world without a Temple. Where would they bring their fine cattle, and lambs, and calves,… where would they bring their beautiful first fruits, their produce and harvests? Most of all, where would they bring their tithes?

And there we see why the Temple had to be destroyed,…. because what people had to learn is that God doesn't want your best bull, your finest lamb, one 10th of all your income………………..,

He wants….. YOU! (He knows that when he really gets you, he gets everything else.)

The Temple didn't encourage the giving of self to God, so it had to go.

It also had to go because while in the old kingdom, the old earth, God dwelt in the Temple, in the new kingdom, the new earth, God's dwelling place is with his people,….. remember,….. He is Emmanuelle,…. God with us.

So the old Temple had to go and it wasn't the end of the world, it was the beginning of a new world, the one which Isaiah had looked forward to, and which Jesus told us to pray for, and which comes when God's will is done on earth, in ....Alberton [insert your own hometown here], by you, by me, even as it is done in heaven.

When you and I walk with the Lord and do his will, there is joy….. and…. the new earth is built.
When you and I live as Jesus showed us to live,…… the new earth is built and God's kingdom comes.

Isaiah said there would be no weeping and calling for help…. well, in this new earth, there is certainly no calling for help, because as the born-again people of God, we offer help before people have to call for it and if there are tears, we wipe them away as we comfort them and……as we live this new way, the Way Jesus lived and calls us to live….. the new earth is built. As we offer our clean water to others to drink, and then perhaps even work for clean water where they live….. babies no longer die in infancy and people live out their lifespan, because waterborne diseases disappear and….. the new earth is built.

And as we follow Jesus’ example, and love instead of hate, and turn our enemies into our friends, it is like a world where wolves and lambs eat together…. it is peaceful and it remains peaceful because we let the Lamb of God give us His peace….. we no longer rely on the peace that the world offers and…….. the new earth is built. And so we could go on and on and on.

And it is my hope that we will, as we leave here, go on and on and on, reaching out to others, wiping away tears, even stopping babies from dying unnecessarily, loving our enemies, and so on and so on and so on. Because when we do these things, and of course many others, the new earth is built, brick by brick, by you and me as we work together with God.

I am making a new earth, says God.

These are ways (among many) that we can help him build it, so that His kingdom comes and His will is done, here in ....Alberton [insert your hometown], by us, even as it is done in Heaven.