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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:Christian in Confession and Life
Text:LD 12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-05-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 125:1,2                                                                                         

Ps 99:1,2,3  [after Apostles Creed]

Reading – Matthew 3:1 - 4:22

Ps 48:1,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 12

Hy 82:1,2,3,4

Hy 6:1,2 

* 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, what’s the story behind the name “Christian,” a name that we all bear? To see its origins, we have to go back a long ways, to the time of the early church, those years when the apostles were spreading the gospel. People in many places received Christ by faith, then got together to learn, to have fellowship, and to worship.

Almost as soon as any new group forms, it needs a name. People want to know: Who are these people? What are they all about? Every group has a label, whether it’s the Millennials, or tree-huggers, or something else. Also the early believers needed a label. At first their group was called “the Way.” For by his sacrifice, Jesus had opened a new “way” to God. This name stuck for a while, then it was replaced.

Acts 11 told us about how the name “Christian” was given to the believers in a place called Antioch. That was where people first had to distinguish between these folks and the Jews. Regular Jews and the disciples of Jesus believed many of the same things—at that point in the time, they even had the same Bible! But only some accepted that Jesus was the promised Christ. They prayed to Christ. They had meals to remember Christ. They recalled Christ’s words, and tried to live by them. They were Christians, or followers of Christ.

That name has lived on for many centuries. Now, to some people our country, the name “Christian” has become almost an insult. It’s associated with things like intolerance, homophobia and narrow-mindedness. Telling someone you’re a Christian doesn’t always get a good response. But Peter tells us that this just means we’ve got work to do: “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pet 4:16). As Christians that’s our high calling, for we are allowed to know the Triune God in the fullness of his glory! Let’s consider the lesson of Lord’s Day 12 on this theme,

In confession and life, we are Christians. This means we are:

  1. members of Christ
  2. sharers in the Spirit
  3. children of the Father

 

1) members of Christ: Being a Christian obviously has a lot to do with Christ—it’s right there in the name. And we don’t want to overlook the place of the Holy Spirit or the Father in our identity as believers. Still, if we’re going get anywhere in this sermon—or anywhere in life and eternity—we have to begin with the Son!

Consider the way in which the Bible speaks of Jesus Christ. Christ is called the cornerstone of the building that is God’s people, because He is our unity and stability. Christ is also called the capstone of God’s house, because He stands as its highest glory and crown. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. His is the only Name given under heaven by which we must be saved. Christ is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and the very anchor of our souls. You couldn’t speak of Christ more highly!

In short, if we don’t begin with Jesus Christ, we’ll never get started. If we don’t build on him as the foundation, everything else will crumble—we’ll be doomed to misery in this life, and destruction in the next. So we must start with him. The Catechism does too, in Q&A 32, when it opens with the question, “Why are you called a Christian?” And then with the very first words of the answer, it points us in the right direction, “Because I am a member of Christ by faith.”

Let’s talk about what that means. What is “a member of Christ?” We’re familiar with that word. To get into certain places, or to make use of certain services, you have to be a member. For example, being a member at the fitness club allows you to use the gym and the pool. If you pay the annual fee, you’re granted the benefits of membership.

As Christians, we’re members of Christ. We have a membership in him, granted freely! And here the Catechism echoes the rich language of the Bible. As Christians, we’re not just individual numbers in a vast multitude of believers or share-holders in some huge corporation, but being a member of Christ means we’re actually a part of his body. As members of Christ, you and I are intimately connected to the Saviour—even as the different parts of our body are connected to one another. In the body of Christ, there’s a blessed closeness.

For Christ, Scripture says, is our Head. Again, He’s not CEO. He’s not President. But He’s the Head of the church, “which is his body” (Eph 1:23). It’s a lesson in basic anatomy, and at the same time, a lesson in basic Christianity. For the head gives the body its direction; the head gives the body its life and purpose. So as the living parts of Christ’s body, we share in all his benefits. He calls us his own, and He takes care of his own!

Because we are connected to Christ we receive so many blessings. And the greatest privilege has to do with our status before God. We’re united to Christ, and we share in everything He’s done, and everything that He is.

This was the lesson He taught John the Baptist in Matthew 3. Then, as John was baptizing, Jesus came to him and requested this washing with water. “John tried to prevent him,” and rightly so (3:14). Why should a sinless one be baptized? Why should one who is the King of Israel go through this humbling ritual of washing? He certainly wasn’t dirty or stained with sin.

These same questions could be asked about all of Jesus’ life and ministry. Why should the Son of God become a man? Why should Christ concern himself with sinners like us? Why go through all those years of suffering—teaching the ill-informed, healing the ungrateful, feeding the complainers—only to be killed by them in the end?

Jesus’ answer is simple. Standing next to the waters of the Jordan, He says to John, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). Though it didn’t seem at all necessary, Jesus would be baptized. And though it didn’t seem at all rational, Christ would reach out to his haters. The Son of God would even die for the lowly. He’d do this, He says, “to fulfill all righteousness.”

This means that He’s going to meet all of the requirements set out by the Father. His mission on earth was to obediently carry out his Father’s will—even being humbled in his baptism, and in his suffering, and finally in his death. He would fulfill all righteousness, and He would do it for us! All the things that we couldn’t offer to God, Jesus did. Christ gave love. He gave faith. He gave devotion.

On that day by the river, Jesus says, “Let it be so now. By my life I will make salvation possible.” So this was the message He brought continually: “Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (4:17). As John had been a prophet, Jesus would be a prophet—but one who preached with even more urgency, and a greater message. As the Catechism puts it, He “fully revealed… the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption” (Q&A 31). Hard to imagine, but as a prophet, He went around prophesying his own death!

And in the same breath, Jesus invites everyone who hear his message. He says, “Now is the day of salvation—will you have a part in it? Will you accept it?” Christ invites sinners to be joined to him, like He said that same day to Peter and Andrew, “Follow me” (4:19). And they want to share in what He was giving, for somehow they know that Jesus has the words of life. So “they immediately left their nets and followed him” (4:20). The disciples left their nets and the attachments of their old way of life, because now they’d be fully dedicated to Christ.

The same call of Christ goes out whenever his gospel is proclaimed, “Follow me.” And it puts the question to us: Are there things that we should forsake, things that we must leave behind? Is there anything we should drop—that we should drop today—so that we can better follow Christ?

You can be sure that there is. The Scriptures tell us, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). Lay it aside: everything that hinders you, all that distracts you, everything that keeps you from the whole-hearted service: a bad habit, a grudge, a painful memory, a harmful relationship. Leave it behind, for being a member of Christ means there’s work to be done.

This great prophet now expects us to be prophets, for He calls us to confess his Name here in church, to confess his Name to our neighbors, to confess his Name to our children.

This high priest now calls us to be priests, to present ourselves as living sacrifices to his glory, in thought, word and deed.

And this mighty king now calls us to join his fight against the powers of darkness—yes, even if we have to suffer insults and hardship for bearing his name. We can do it, because we share in his Spirit.

 

2) sharers in the Spirit: There was a lot going on at Jesus’ baptism. It wasn’t just about how He was going to be humbled in our place, because on this same occasion Jesus receives the Holy Spirit. Matthew recounts: “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon him” (3:16). Visibly, God the Spirit is making his presence known in and with the Son.

Hearing that, a question occurs to us: Did He really need the Spirit? Wasn’t He God, and capable of doing anything He wanted like calming storms and turning water into wine? He was. But Jesus is also a man. Matthew reminds us that He comes “from Galilee” (3:13), just an ordinary, earthly place. As He begins his work, Jesus faces the limitations that we’re familiar with: limitations of energy, of stamina, of needing food and sleep. And experiencing physical weakness is so often a time when our spiritual weakness is made very obvious.

Jesus will also be tempted by the temptations we’re so familiar with: tempted to rely on himself, to forget about God, to be cruel to those who get in his way. Without the gift of the Spirit, his mission will end in failure. Like a car without petrol, or a sailboat without wind, is a person in service without the Holy Spirit—lifeless, and useless.

So He receives the Spirit, and we see the Spirit’s significance to Christ in what happens right after the baptism. Notice how Matthew puts it, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (4:1). The Spirit who has just descended upon Christ, now brings him to his first test. All eyes were on him: Will this Jesus now carry out his calling? Will Jesus be so devoted to his Father that He’ll withstand the devil?

Three times the tempter comes to him, and three times he is denied. The devil throws at him a trio of enticements: the desire for food in a time of hunger, the desire for protection in a time of danger, the desire for glory and power—even as the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor lay before him. Each of these temptations was calculated to knock Jesus off his mission. Each of them appealed to his human heart, to that natural urge to be #1. These temptations had a real power.

But Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit. In the power of the Spirit, and with the wisdom of the Word, Jesus is able to turn the devil away. And this victory wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Realize that Satan was using everything in his arsenal—his best lies, his trickiest cunning, his supernatural ability—to lead Jesus astray, to break his focus on doing God’s will. This was the time to do it, when Jesus was alone, when He’d just started his work.

I wonder sometimes how hard Satan has to try in order to get us to sin. Probably not very. For we often forget our spiritual armour in the closet. We leave our flabbiness exposed, and we show our lack of conditioning. Or in our thoughts, or with our feet, or with our eyes we sometimes wander towards those dark places where the devil is busy. And then somehow we’re surprised by the evil we meet—not only surprised, but quickly trapped. Or we neglect the power of prayer for a few days or weeks, and then find ourselves stumbling over the smallest anxiety or the faintest doubt. Even when the smallest temptation to evil comes, we’re like grass that bends over in a gentle breeze. We’re ready to yield.

So by contrast, just think of what an effort Satan was making to ensnare our Saviour! Christ was no spiritual sluggard. He knew his Bible inside-out. This was a fight He’d been getting ready for, his entire life. Satan’s attacks on our Lord must’ve been ten thousand times as severe as the things we face. Yet Christ stood firm.

And not just at the beginning, but throughout his life and ministry, Jesus was tempted. “Tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15, NIV). How could He do it, and be so strong? The Spirit made it possible. The Spirit made him holy, and He kept him holy, so one day He could be ready for the cross, and make that acceptable sacrifice for sin.

But that’s not the only benefit of the Spirit’s work in Christ. See how the Catechism puts it: as members “of Christ by faith… [we] share in his anointing” (Q&A 32). It’s our gift too! The living Spirit who was received by our Saviour, we also receive. The Holy Spirit who anointed him, anoints us also. And that’s exactly what John promised about Jesus, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11). To his followers, Christ sends his own Spirit, the Spirit who came at Pentecost, and who hasn’t stopped coming ever since—filling the hearts of his disciples, making us ready, making us willing.

As Christians, we’re sharers in Christ’s Spirit, and we are ablaze with his fire! Ponder for a moment what that means. We have the same Spirit who empowered Christ for his marvelous work. We have the same Spirit who helped him turn aside the best temptations that the devil could devise. We have the same Spirit who equipped Jesus for a life of miraculous ministry. Even if the Spirit’s power has been dialed down a little in us, it’s still a mighty power!

Christ has given us the permanent gift of his own Spirit. His Spirit descends like a dove, and makes his home in us—as a Christian, you’re his nest, you’re his temple. Not a temporary home, but permanent. And we need the Spirit, all the time. When a person has the Spirit, you’re led to see the glory of Christ the Saviour, to trust in him, and to worship him. When a person has the Spirit, you’re ready to do the Father’s will. When a person has the Spirit, you gain the power to hate sin and the desire to chase after holiness.

We sometimes think too little of the Spirit’s power. I hear that when we give up on people, when there’s someone who doesn’t repent, or who’s been struggling such a long time, we say: “He’ll never change!” But can’t the Spirit change him? Or we look at the church and thinks it’s hopeless—there’s just not enough enthusiasm, or there’s too much worldliness.

In our own lives too, we might not reckon with the Spirit’s true power. We know we have the Spirit. “He’s there to bring me comfort when I’m down. And He might guide me when I’m confused. But most days I don’t think of him. The Spirit’s kind of like one of those energy drinks loaded with caffeine: you take the Spirit in when you need a quick boost.” Otherwise, the Spirit is kept on the shelf and is forgotten.

But with the Spirit we share in Christ’s anointing. It’s God’s potent strength that is at work in us, “to will and to work according to his good purpose” (Phil 2:13). That means even the hardest hearts the Spirit can soften. Even the greatest sinners He can change. Even the weakest church He can reform.

So whatever our obvious limitations, the Spirit can use us! You can be a prophet, confessing his Name, even when you’re intimidated by the people around you. You can be a priest, presenting yourself to him, even when you’d rather do your own will. Kings, fighting and winning against sin, even at that moment when temptation seems too great to bear. “Not by might, or by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty (Zech 4:6).

So are we making use of this power that’s available? Are we keeping in step with the Spirit? Are we taking up the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God? Are we praying for the Holy Spirit? The Bible speaks about the converse side of that too: Are we quenching the Spirit by our lack of prayer, grieving Him by our deliberate sin? Are we making sure Christ’s Spirit can find his home within our hearts?

 

3) children of the Father: We’re called Christians, but it’s clear by now that our salvation isn’t just about Christ. Faith in Christ comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, and redemption itself arises from the Father, the one who sent his Son to save! This is another truth we see at Christ’s baptism. For remember what the Father said: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3:17).

With those words God places his stamp of approval on Christ, gives his full endorsement. What had Jesus done to earn this high praise? Remember that Jesus was already thirty years old by that time. That’s a lot of life. All the way up to this time, He had walked the hard path of obedience. As a child, as a teenager, as a young man, Jesus had aimed to honour his Father—and He had. This why Jesus was called Christ, the Catechism says, “because He has been ordained by God the Father” (Q&A 31). He was ordained: appointed, equipped, assigned to service. This is what He came to do.

And that stayed his focus, to his dying day. Jesus will be a proper Son, and He will live as a faithful child. Throughout his ministry, Jesus will speak only what the Father told him to speak, He’ll do only what the Father told him to do. Then, even when the burden of his calling became clear in the garden, Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Always the obedient child, Jesus does his Father’s will.

Now for Christ’s sake, for the sake of his faithful Son, God accepts us as his own children. Because God is “well pleased” with Christ, He is now “well pleased” with us. God approves of us; He honours us; He blesses us. The Father looks at us, and He sees us not as we are in ourselves. In ourselves, we’re dirty, covered in shame. Weak and unworthy. But God looks at us in Christ!

In Christ we are made whole. Perfected, in Christ. Legitimate sons and daughters, through Jesus. This is the reason you can pray to the Father for whatever He has promised in his Word. This is the reason you can depend on the Son for strength and comfort, and the reason you can ask for his Spirit. What a privilege we have as children of the Father!

And then think of the example we have in Christ. Parents will do that sometimes, and expect the older kids to set a good example for the younger ones: “You should be more like your brother…” We don’t always like to hear that, but that’s what we have in Christ. The eternal Son teaches us adopted sons and daughters how it’s done. We have to ask: How did Jesus live? How did He worship? How did He speak with the Father? That’s the life that you and I are called to live. We are called to a life of which God the Father will say, “With you, I well-pleased.”

For just as Christ was ordained by God the Father, so we are ordained—not to save the world, but to bring to the Father all our glory and praise. The Father lays on us this calling, more important than any other calling we might have on earth. You are appointed to kingdom service. You are equipped by the Holy Spirit. You are assigned to a life-consuming but glorious mission. 

That’s your name, brothers and sisters: It is Christian. It means that you’re a member of Christ. That you’re a sharer in the Spirit. And it means that you’re a child of the Father. So now live like who you are! Live up to your name, to the praise of our Triune God!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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