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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Where Every Road Leads to Christ
Text:LD 25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-10-14
Updated:2018-10-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 67:1

Ps 105:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – 1 Corinthians 1:18 - 2:5

Ps 118:5,6,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 25

Hy 61:1,2

Hy 23:1,3,4,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, you’ve probably heard the saying: “All roads lead to Rome.” Back in the days of the Roman empire, it was literally true. There were hundreds of roads throughout the Mediterranean region, but every mileage sign was set according to the capital. So wherever a person was, he’d be traveling in one of two directions only: away from Rome, or towards it. It was always clear: Rome was the centre, the hub!

The Christian faith has a centre, too. Not long ago in the Catechism we went through the Apostles’ Creed. Over fifteen Lord’s Days, we covered a lot of ground: God the Creator, the sinfulness of man, the coming judgment, the character of the church, the work of the Holy Spirit, and more. Every year the Catechism students too, are busy learning about “all the things that they need to know in order to live and die in the joy of their salvation.” So they’ve been studying the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and many other things besides.

Is there one unifying theme for all this Christian teaching? Across so many miles of doctrinal road, is there one compass point by which to set our course? We find the answer in Hebrews 3:1, where it says, “Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” We find the same answer in the Catechism, “The Holy Spirit teaches in the gospel and assures us by the sacraments that our entire salvation rests on Jesus Christ” (Q&A 67). He’s the centre! Every road leads to him. So this is our theme,

The Holy Spirit focuses our faith on Christ:

  1. by the Word

  2. by the sacraments

 

1) by the Word: Lord’s Day 25 begins by stepping back for a moment, “Since faith alone makes us share in Christ and all his benefits, where does this faith come from?” (Q&A 65). It’s stepping back so that we can pick up the key teachings of Lord’s Day 23 and 24. We learned there that sinners can only be restored to fellowship with God by a true faith in Jesus Christ. Our faith isn’t perfect, of course—on its own it’s an insufficient reason for God to save us. Even so, faith gives a sinner free access to all the riches of salvation.

And so if we’re paying attention, we should be keenly anticipating that first question in this Lord’s Day: if faith is so essential to the Christian—if faith is actually a matter of life and death—how can we get faith? And the answer is not complicated. Faith doesn’t arise from your genetic makeup, caused by who your parents happen to be. Faith can’t be traced to environmental factors, like growing up in a Western country with a capitalist economy.

No, faith is always the result of proper diet. That is, it’s the outcome of a steady intake of the pure spiritual food in the Word. It’s the result of a regular enrichment through the sacraments. The Spirit works faith in us by the preaching of the gospel, and by holy baptism and holy supper.

First, the gospel, or the Word of God. What is it? We might picture a book—probably a big book. Easily more than a thousand pages. Maybe with a soft leather cover, and thin pages, gold-gilded, with a red bookmark. That, to us, is the Word. And it is the Word, something to read and study. But the apostles often used another phrase for Scripture, a phrase that’s very revealing of what we need to focus on whenever we open it.

We find an example in 1 Corinthians 1:18, when Paul is talking about the kind of preaching he did. And there he calls his preaching “the message of the cross.” Literally he says he brought “the word of the cross.”

Because if the Word of God is about anything, this is what it’s about: the cross! The good news that we’re allowed to hear every Lord’s day, and read every day of the week, is entirely centred on the life and death of Christ. God’s plan and provision for redemption through him is the whole theme and thrust of Scripture. All texts lead to Jesus! This is why in Colossians 3:16 the Spirit calls Scripture “the word of Christ”—“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

And there’s a good reason for this: it’s only through Christ that we’re saved! Think again of 1 Corinthians 1:18, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” When we hear the gospel, the message of the cross, the word of Christ, we’re being connected to something immensely potent. When we connect to it, the message of Christ has an incredible potential. The potential is that those who receive it in faith will be saved from condemnation and given life eternal.

So the writer to the Hebrews says, “The word of God is living and powerful” (4:12). In telling us about Christ, the Bible is alive—even powerful. It does things! When you really link up with its message, it changes you. Challenges you. Comforts us. Convicts you.

Many technologies will go out of date—the iPhone that you bought this week will be obsolete in less than a year. Many ideas come and go—today’s hot topic is gender identity, but it won’t be so long and they’ll be talking about something else. In this world things are always changing. Yet, says Peter, the Word of God “lives and abides forever” (1 Pet 1:23). You can count on it. No matter how long it’s been around, its saving power will not weaken or diminish.

As the Word is preached with authority on Sunday, God is at work creating faith and solidifying faith. And then also as the Word is opened at Bible study, as it’s taught in school, as it is prayerfully considered during your time of personal devotions, God is at work. He’s telling us about the promise of the gospel. “And this is the promise: that God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross” (Q&A 66). Those are glad tidings, because He’s in the spotlight.

But strangely enough, some people don’t want to hear about Christ. In the first couple chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul reflects on how people receive the message of the gospel in very different ways. Some believe it, others reject it—and why? Because at bottom, humans who don’t have the Holy Spirit won’t comprehend what the gospel of Christ is all about.

As Paul says in 1:22, “Jews request a sign…” In his day many of the Jews wanted a miraculous display, some special effects. They wanted a powerful confirmation of the gospel before they’d believe it. It was just like during Jesus’ ministry, when they came to him asking to see a healing or a feeding. Yet once you start asking for a sign from God, one is never enough—you’ll always start to doubt the last one: “But was it really true? Can I actually trust it?” And the Jews refused to accept the greatest sign of all in the person of Christ, born of a woman, crucified and risen. If the Word in flesh wasn’t enough to convince them, nothing would.

The Jews requested a sign, while the Greeks were seeking something else, “seeking after wisdom” (1:22). The Greeks loved philosophy and knowledge, so they wanted any truth claim to be carefully established by logic and human reason. They wanted ideas that they could set forth, discuss and debate—concepts they could get a handle on and control. But the true God can never be subject to human investigation, and his ways cannot be fully understood.

No matter what the Jews and Greeks were after, this was the constant focus of Paul’s ministry: “We preach Christ crucified” (1:23). That’s the true sign. That’s the true wisdom. And to many, that’s a message which is deeply unsettling.

Paul says that Christ is a “stumbling block” (1:23). If you’ve ever encountered a stumbling block, you’ll know that they can hurt, even if they’re very small. Someone left a piece of Lego on the floor in the kitchen, and you tread on it with a yelp. Or you’re out for a walk in the forest, and you don’t see the stone on your path. A stumbling block causes pain, causes offense!

That’s what Christ does, because He calls us to empty ourselves. He call us to simply trust in his death on the cross as our one hope for life, and then to serve him as our Lord. There’s actually a lot that’s disagreeable about the message of Christ. It clashes with what we want for ourselves, things like freedom and honour and glory and independence.

Not just a stumbling-block, but to many people the cross is “foolishness” (1:23). It doesn’t make sense, that God would give up his own Son to die for sinners. Have you ever done that, loved someone who was actively hostile to you? It seems silly, it would make you hesitate—feels like madness. But this is what God did, and Paul says it’s foolishness—the Greek word for that is where we get the word “moron.”

And sure enough, today all you have to do sometimes is mention that a person is a Christian, and the insults start flying. To those who’ve already rejected the cross, Christ is a fool, and his followers are no better.

When the apostles preached Christ to Jews and Greeks, they had to counter many of these wrong ideas. Today we don’t look for signs and wonders to accompany the preaching, and not many of us are hungry for philosophical speculation. Yet in every age, there are objections to preaching Christ. Sometimes even God’s own people have ideas and expectations for sermons which can lead to the cross being overshadowed.

For example, we might prefer to hear much more about what we need to do, how we need to live. A few years back I was a minister’s conference. One of the things we do at these conferences is discuss the ways and means of preaching. So we were talking about the kind of feedback that ministers receive. A lot of them said a similar thing, that what church members ask for is more application. “Tell us how it applies to our day-to-day life! Make it relevant. Tell us what we need to do!”

It was striking that only one minister said something different. He said that his consistory had told him plainly: “In your preaching, make sure you tell us about Christ. We want you to spend more time on the good news. Preach the cross—because that’s what we need.”

Of course, it’s good to apply Scripture. It’s true that God’s people need something to work with when we leave church on Sunday. But if we’ve come to church and not heard about Christ, then what have we heard? If the sermon hasn’t led you to the Saviour, then the message is a dead end. If it’s about us, and our holiness and our good deeds and our prayers—if it’s mostly covenant obligation with a bit of promise—then the message is without hope.

May we never miss that core message: God has graciously granted the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ. That’s where everything else begins. More about him, and less about us! Our faith will only truly be invigorated with a Christ-centred Word. Our life will be energized through knowing and loving the gospel of grace.

This is why Paul insists so strongly: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Not that Paul’s preaching was like some album put on endless repeat—always the same, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. We know that he and the other apostles expounded the whole counsel of God. We know that they opened up a whole variety of Scripture passages to preach Christ: the law, the prophets, the Psalms, the wisdom writings. Yet through whatever text is being explained, the destination of preaching needs to be the same: we must arrive at the gospel of Christ, “and him crucified.” That’s where the real power is, the power of salvation for all who believe.

So let’s always be eager to hear more about Christ. Reflect on how the gospel applies to your life. Be busy with works of service. But never forget the great riches of what God has already done in Christ Jesus. Never make a detour around the cross, but seek it out in every text. As we listen to the preaching, as we do our own devotions, as we study the Bible together, may all roads lead to Christ!

 

2) by the sacraments: When you’re on the highway to somewhere unfamiliar, you learn to depend on signs. Maybe you look for the signs about how soon your exit is coming up. Or maybe they’re getting hungry, and the kids look for signs announcing good food. The sign might only be a golden “M,” but you know what it means: Big Macs in 10 kilometers! That’s what a sign does: it’s a visible thing that points to something else, to a reality not seen with the eye.

That’s what the sacraments are too: signs. The Catechism uses the word “signs” to describe baptism and Lord’s Supper. The Belgic Confession too, calls them “visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible” (Art. 33). And just like the “golden arches,” the sign is not the thing itself, but the sign points attention away from itself. “Look!” the two sacraments say, “See what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Remember, and believe.”

This Lord’s Day puts it, “[The sacraments] were instituted by God so that by their use He might the more fully declare… to us the promise of the gospel” (Q&A 66). Once more you can see that it’s all about Christ. Though the Word is perfectly clear, God wants to make sure we don’t miss out on the message. God knows that the best lessons are those we can see, and even taste and touch. The sacraments reinforce and intensify what we read in the Word of Christ, and they present God’s grace very plainly to our eyes.

The sign of the Lord’s Supper is that bread and wine. The bread is broken, the wine is poured out—like Christ was broken, and his blood spilled. And then the bread and wine are handed out, and they are taken in with the mouth—like Christ’s body and blood were offered for us, to nourish and refresh our life.

Jesus gives the Lord’s Supper because He knows us, knows that we’ll so easily forget what’s important. Our minds wander, and we overlook the heart of the gospel, so He gives this physical demonstration to what He has accomplished, something that can be written onto our minds. His body was broken, his blood was poured out—I can taste it, I can see it. And so “as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death” (1 Cor 11:26). The Supper is a visible proclamation of Christ!

And what about the sign of baptism? How does God focus our faith on Christ through holy baptism? The sign of baptism, of course, is that simple act of water being sprinkled on a person’s forehead. Again, the water isn’t the thing itself. The water points to a powerful reality that can’t be seen with the eye—it points us to the promise of the gospel, the Father’s washing away our sins. For the sake of Christ and his work on the cross, we’ve received the status of children of God, holy sons and daughters.

We’re probably used to that sort of language, used to saying, maybe even without thinking, “I’m a child of God.” For nearly all of us were baptized as infants and enjoyed the blessing of being raised in a Christian home. We’ve always known the privilege of praying to God as our Father.

Yet it’s actually an amazing thing to reflect on. For the Bible also tells us what the alternative is. Ephesians says that before we were brought into the family of God, “we were by nature children of wrath.” But by Christ we’ve been saved from eternal misery and given eternal glory. We’ve been brought into the Father’s household and welcomed into the security of his home. We’ve been made kings and queens, granted a kingdom, and promised an inheritance.

And it’s all by grace—there was no reason for God to choose us as his own. Paul reminds us about how undeserved it is: “You see your calling, brethren, that not many [were] wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” (1 Cor 1:26). God doesn’t pick the most attractive candidates, doesn’t save those whom the world would call wise, mighty or well-born. Instead, He chooses those deemed “most likely to fail.” In his grace He picks the helpless and the lowly and the wicked.

How powerfully He shows that in baptism! For He gives the sign of his Son to little children who are just a week or two old. He gives the sign of grace to those who didn’t even ask for it. God says his saving promises are for those who can’t do anything in themselves. His promises are for those who were without a future, so that his name receives all the glory.

With that sprinkle of water, God confirms it. With that sprinkle of water, God puts his official stamp on it: “You’re mine. You’re a child of the Father. And as a Father, I promise to take care of you forever.” God promises to be our Father in Christ, and as our Father, He promises to give everything we could ever need. As the Form says, “When we are baptized into the name of God the Father, God the Father… promises to provide us with all good.”

This means we can put away our worries and we can be happily confident, for we have God’s promise! He’s told us: “My child, I’ll provide everything needful. I’ll teach and forgive you. When you ask, I’ll always give my mercy and my Spirit.” Beloved, know his promise, and hold onto his promise! Wherever we happen to be, in our baptism we have the reminder that we belong to Christ—we have the sign that points straight to his storehouse of mercy, an everlasting banquet of his love.

Drink deeply every day from the gospel of Christ, you won’t ever be able to drain or exhaust his refreshing power. Fix your thoughts daily on Jesus, for both Word and sacrament compel us to look to him. They confirm to us that “our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross” (Q&A 67). In him, it all holds together.

So that’s where we always need to end up. In this life, we can be brought many different places, near and far. Maybe you’ve ended up in a place you didn’t expect, or you’re traveling a road that you didn’t really choose. But wherever you are, your point of reference should always be this: How close are you to Christ? Are you being directed each day by his gospel? Are you walking in a manner that’s worthy of his holy calling?

Like in the days of the Roman empire, it’s still true today: a person can travel in only two directions, away from Christ, or towards him. Each day, we can be getting closer to Christ, or we can be wandering farther from him. You might be drifting with the tides of sin, pulled away by a godless culture, coasting in a false comfort. Or you might be getting closer to Christ, closer by listening to the Word of Christ and cherishing the sacraments, closer by being with his people and surrendering everything to him as Lord. Christ is in the centre. So where are you? Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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