Jesus said: “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:14). Wasn’t faith supposed to be the easy way? Who would willingly choose the hard and lonely “narrow way”?
In the previous verse Jesus elaborated on the way to “destruction”. We would think that, given the destination, people would avoid this way. Life is better than destruction, right? Sadly we don’t always consider the destination. Sometimes we are blinded by the journey.
Jesus highlighted the ease and fellowship of the wide way (Matt. 7:13). The wide way looks more enjoyable. The wicked always seem at ease (Ps. 73:12). You won’t be lonely. Sin loves company after all (Rom. 1:32). Compared to the narrow way, the wide way is a walk in the park.
The narrow way promises tribulation (John 16:33). On the narrow way you will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). The narrow way demands that we deny ourselves (Mark 8:24) and the pleasures that the wide way offers (1 John 2:16). This makes those on the narrow way very unpopular (1 Pet. 4:4).
If the journey was all that there was, then the wide way would be very appealing. Who would choose “hard” over “easy”? Asaph wrestled with the same question: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Ps. 73:3). He was tempted to join the wide way, until “I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Ps. 73:17).
The journey is not the only thing that matters. It matters a great deal, but only as it relates to the destination. The journey determines the destination. The destination makes all the difference and there is only one way that leads to God and eternal life: the narrow way.
Faith and faithfulness is not a matter of convenience – it is a matter of life and death. Yes, it is hard, but it is worth it. The temptation to leave the narrow way loses all its power once we remember the destination. John put it like this: “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3).
Keep your eyes on the destination and you will not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Jesus Christ is the destination.
Because of Christ,
We know that the gospel does not guarantee our comfort. In fact, faithfulness to the gospel might cause us great distress. Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). This is exactly what the believers in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) experienced. They were suffering because of their faith (see 1 Peter 2:19-25; 4:1, 12).
Yet somehow they remained joyful. How is that possible? 1 Pet. 1:6 tells us that they rejoiced in something. That something is described in verse 3-5: the living hope to which they were born again, the inheritance that is being kept for them and the assurance that they are being guarded for the inheritance. These truths look ahead at the glory that believers will receive, but they have an impact now. They bring us joy in the midst of trials.
This does not mean that the trials are easy. Peter goes on to describe the grief that the trials caused (v. 6), but their trials were not pointless. He says that they were “necessary”. What possible purpose could their trials have?
The word for “trials” refers to a test. The trial reveals someone’s character by submitting him to thorough and extensive testing. That is why Peter mentions gold being tested by fire in verse 7. The melting point of gold is 1064 degrees Celsius: you cannot test it at low temperatures. In the same way the genuineness of our faith is tested by a “fiery trial” (4:12). When our faith in the Lord Jesus survives the trial it proves that our faith is genuine. Genuine faith results in “praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 7).
This is one of the reasons we have to endure trials. Trials have a way of “proving” a genuine faith (v. 7) and of unmasking a false one (see Mark 4:16-17). Every trial brings an opportunity to be strengthened and reassured, or to repent and believe if our faith is found wanting.
What gives you hope? Avoiding the trial or enduring it? God has promised that we will not be tested beyond what we are able to bear (1 Cor. 10:13). Surviving the trial proves that God is faithful and that our faith in him is real.
Because of Christ,
Christianity is ludicrous without the hope of the resurrection. Think about it for a moment: what does God call us to in Christ? In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul reflects on some of the dangers he had to face for the sake of the gospel. In v. 30 he says that he was in danger every hour. Later, in 2 Corinthians 11:26 he records some the dangers he faced: “in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers”. No wonder Paul said: “I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31).
That is what taking of the cross meant for Paul (Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”). That is what it might mean for us.
If this is all there is to life – if death is the end – then following Jesus, risking for Jesus and dying for Jesus makes no sense. If death is the end, then we should “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But that is not what Paul chose.
Why did Paul choose the way of the cross instead of the ways of the world? 1 Cor. 15:20 & 58 gives us the answer: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
So ask yourself: what difference does the resurrection make now? How does the hope of the resurrection affect your life? At the very least it should give us hope, but more than that: it should give us courage – courage to do what God has called us to do, knowing it will be worth it in the end.
Because of Christ,
This excellent and timely series was preached by Pastor Pieter Pienaar in response to the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa's decision in October 2015 to approve same-sex unions and the ordination of homosexual ministers without the requirement of celibacy. Accompanying each sermon is a short video introduction providing some context and intended to be watched first. Listen here.
Dear Strand Baptist Church and friends
The City of Man stands today as a memorial to all the achievements of what human beings have done and can do. For everyone who is reading these words, whether on a computer or on A printed out office-copy, the reason why you can do that is clearly because someone has worked hard to produce these methods of communication. We are conveyed from point A to B by the collected wisdom of over 100 years of automobile expertise and industry. We are all borne along in all that we do by the hard earned achievements of previous generations. They have made us what we are today. And then comes Romans 9: 16 and says:
"So therefore it does not depend on the one who wills or the one who runs but on God who has mercy"
The perspective and work of God is deeper and broader than any of us can fathom. The famous Christian thinker and bishop, Augustine brilliantly said: "God is more truly imagined than expressed and He exists more truly than imagined" Here in Romans the inspired apostle plainly declares that the ultimate Person who is behind everything in this world of ours is God. Just as all the activity of human beings and all their accomplishments depend absolutely upon invisible nitrogen, oxygen and argon, so we are dependent upon the invisible God more than we are aware of. Here is the very important fact:
Without God dealing with each person alive on this earth today through His mercy, the entire human race would cease to exist. If the pure and holy justice of God were to come directly to us without going via the Cross, every human being would be damned in Hell forever. We are not worthy to be on God's good creation in the light of how we treat Him. 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God'. If God had to recall His spirit dealing in each human being, there would be no accusation of injustice from the council of heaven. This is a sobering truth that should cause us to walk humbly all our days.
Since the above is true all that is allowed to exist exists only because of the merciful pleasure of God. Since our appeal to rightness and fairness would only land us all in a place of banishment, that we are not there is because He has tempered His justice by His mercy. 'He has not treated us as our sins deserve'. Paul said earlier in Romans that this mercy and forbearance of God toward the world is meant to lead us to repentance (2:4). Sadly, it does not but only makes human beings doubly guilty. But the benefits of the Cross of Jesus still remain with every human being for God chooses to temporarily suspend His justice - which cries out for immediate fulfillment - on the godless for every second of their existence. Praise God for the Cross of Jesus Christ! It is the divine origin of the active mercy of God toward us right now. It only the world was more aware that it is not lungs that are allowing them to draw their next breath, but a merciful God!
How much more is it an act of mercy and grace that we should be called sons of God! How come we, who are more adept at sin than righteousness and are the ones who still go on eating the forbidden fruit, how come we are in such a place of grace with God? How can it be that we are the elect of God, the apple of His eye? This cannot be! Oh, but in Jesus Christ it is so! By grace alone and through the kind intention of God in every aspect of our faith in Christ, God has been forming and planning good things for us - by grace ALONE. As much as dead Lazarus was given new life through the word of the merciful Christ, so Christians have been given new life through the gift of another.
It all depends upon the MERCY OF GOD. How in debt are we to that Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ! Come, and receive light and life under its shadow!
See you Sunday, God willing.
Dear SBC and friends
What does the word 'inheritance' bring to your mind? Rather than a dictionary definition, we most likely think of patrimony and what was or will be left to you of your parents possessions. Most generally, the word refers to all that is legally passed on to the children after the death of their parents. It speaks of a great loss to one and a great gain to another, of great cost and great grace. So it is a very richly textured word that we all can relate to, though into different degrees.
Did you know that the Bible, in both the OT and NT, speaks much about inheritance? In the book of Joshua we see Israel receiving the inheritance of land from God. He gave them the land as a gift after they had come out of Egypt. All the tribes, except Levi, received a portion of Palestine. God was to be Levi's inheritance. In the NT there is also an inheritance that the church receives. Since a death has taken place, the people of Christ receive an inheritance from Him. This inheritance is one of salvation, in the most comprehensive sense of the word. Our inheritance is all the rich blessings that Christ died to bring us, from initial salvation to the final salvation of our bodies at the resurrection: the entire fruits that bequeath to us from His death. It is all that is in Jesus for us.
Yet Scripture is very clear that your spiritual inheritance is not automatic. It needs to be possessed and made ones own. This is clearly seen in the book of Joshua, where the tribes had to go into the land and dispossess the Canaanites, and make their own by faith what God had legally promised to them by His word. Likewise in the NT. Paul thus says:
"And now I commend you to God and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32)
Here Paul states that God's Word is the vehicle to bring us into all that He has for us. The Word is able to give something to you, able to give you your inheritance. As it richly abides in us and as we know all that Christ died to bequeath to us, so we can respond in faith and obedience. Oh what a blissful idea! Our great Heavenly Father has an earmarked inheritance for you now that His Son has died! It is a divine gift that waits to be appropriated. It includes intimacy with God, experiences of His Spirit, fellowship with Christ, victory over sin, opportunities of service in the Royal Household, the replication of the image of Jesus in you.. and so much more. Notice here that it is not through meritoriousness or moral goodness that we quality but through 'the Word of His grace'! - for inheritance is all about a gift of grace from another. That's good-news (Gospel) for all of us.
May you know that in Christ Jesus and in His cross - and only through them- you have a special inheritance from God. No matter how much you know you don't quality through sin, through His Son's death 'the Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light' (Col 1:12). Knowing this, we need to press into it and 'to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me' (Philip 3:12).
The Promised Land lies before you - and their is a piece of it allotted just for you! Go up and inherit it in Jesus Name!
Under the greater Joshua,
Dear brothers and sisters.
A good few years ago I preached a series of messages called 'Cultural Chameleons', in which I pointed out some cultural values that expose us to the risk of a fatal contamination.
The Word of God exhorts us to keep ongoing vigilance against the ungodly and dangerous assumptions of our culture, saying in 1 John 2:15 'do not love the world or the things in the world'. What this well know Bible verses says is one thing, but what it means for us today is another. In the past few Pastor's Weekly's I have been pointing out some aspects of our culture that we need to sit up and take note of, and immunize ourselves against. The cultural trend I want us to briefly consider is The Time of the Spectator.
Are you not aware of how much today entices us into the position of passive viewing? Consider a filled stadium crowded with observers waiting to be entertained by some event. Today, that spectator-experience is now delivered on-tap for us in our own homes and wherever we go (without the inconvenience of having to physically be at any event). We have access through a variety of media (internet, TV, smart phones etc) to a whole world full of engrossing activities whenever we want. What a time we are living in! I do not so much want to judge what is available for us to watch today, but I want the spotlight of your awareness to fall on how much we are tempted today to take up the posture of the irresponsible spectator before modern media.
This particular temptation is not new (the exponential bombardment is!). In the book of Proverbs the same temptation appeared in a different form. In chapter 7 and 8 the father warns his son not to be enticed by the 'grass-widow' seductress but rather to dearly embrace and follow Lady Wisdom. The 'simple' fool naively follows the attraction that is before his eyes, listens to her promises of 'entertainment' and passively follows where she leads. The father urges his son to choose rather to follow Lady Wisdom, 'who dwells with prudence and possesses knowledge and discretion' (8:12). 'Don't just follow passively what your eyes see son', the father says, 'but rather listen to the voice of wisdom and wise counsel. Guard your eyes and and choose to follow in the path of wisdom'. Though a different time and example, the urgent call of Lady Wisdom for us to responsibly follow in the paths of prudence and discernment is what we so need to hear and obey in our time.
I think that in all that is brought before our eyes today, we need to have 'minds that are alert and fully sober' (1 Peter 1:13) so that 'we may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ' (Philippians 1:10). This translates into subjecting all the media into the position of a good servant, and not allowing ourselves to passively take up the posture before it as a master. It will mean saying No to mind-filleting viewing and Yes to viewing that helps us to better understand our world and our responsibility within it. I personally believe that this must entail more active reading and less passive viewing. Unnecessary 'spectatoring' enfeebles the mind and leads it down the comfortable and wide road that leads to destruction. Necessary reading cultivates and strengthens the mind and leads down the road of life; it engages us in a way that makes us more human not less.
So friend, consider the temptations that are on offer today. Be aware that you need to make a daily responsible choice to engage your faculties more than pamper them. Let us keep our focus on loving and serving real other people in Christ's name, engaging with our families over Scripture and good literature, and keeping vital contact with our Father in prayer. Let us embrace with call of Lady Wisdom today.
Dear Strand Baptist and Friends,
When Archimedes, the Greek mathematician, working with a simple lever, said, “Give me a place to stand on and I will move the earth”, he was asking for a base for his lever’s fulcrum necessarily outside the cosmos. When asked for an illustration of his contention that a very great weight could be moved by a very small force, Archimedes apparently used a large and fully laden ship and to have employed a mechanical device by which any man was enabled to move it himself. The power of leverage! Now a fulcrum is a firm centre base that can support and implement a mechanism used to move another object. It is succinctly defined as ‘the point or support on which a lever pivots’. But here is the issue: in order for the lever to lift an object, the fulcrum for the lever must be outside of the object it is acting upon. I hope this is not either labouring the obvious or ‘mist-ifying’ (that’s not a spelling mistake!).
Do you likewise look for the fulcrum of life, that has the ability to lever your life above your present cul-de-sac’s and treadmills, burdens and bondages? Now the Cross of Christ is such a fulcrum, and in preparation for Good Friday it will do us good to be in awe of its peculiar power. The Cross is a veritable power and truth that stands rock-like and safely outside of us, eternal in the heavens. Paul says, ‘For us who are being saved, the cross is the power of God’. The message of the cross has the power to transform us and pull us out of ourselves, into that other world around us where, ‘behold, all things have become new’.
It is in that unique book of Hebrews that this ‘alien’ message is sounded out. Let us turn our minds and hearts there. As we read chapter 6, we hear the writer say, ‘we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain where Jesus has gone.’ As Jesus took His shed blood into heavens holy of holies, He was completing something on our behalf, doing something eternal and infinite for us outside of us, outside of humanity, outside of the earth and universe, but inside the very presence of God. And what did Jesus do once He had presented His blood as His provision for the responsibilities of all our sins? He sat down, waiting until His return. Oh, the cross of Jesus and the finished work of Christ for the world. Not the wood, or the physical agony, or the supposed magical qualities of the blood of Mary’s son – but the life which He gave up in death as an offering for our sins. He took all our guilt and sin, and having borne the reproaches of God that should have fallen upon us, He accomplished atonement (‘at-one-ment’) and reconciliation and cleansed the heavenly realms for us, once and for all.
The writer in Hebrews clearly states that Jesus has now ‘made purification for sins’ (1:3), has ‘PUT AWAY sin’ (9:26). The Greek word used for ‘put away’ (athetesis) is only used twice in the entire New Testament, here and also in 7:18. In chapter 7v 18 (read it please) it is used in the sense of ‘to set aside’, or ‘abolition’ or ‘set at naught’ – for the Levitical priesthood is no longer necessary, it is obsolete. Through His Cross, he abolished the old ceremonial machinery of the Old Covenant. It is a strong Greek word, with our English ‘abolish’ a fitting equivalent. So in the Cross, Christ absolved and abolished the power of sin. Marcus Dodds says of 9:26, “This was the great object of Christ’s manifestation, the annulling of sin, its total destruction, the counteraction of all its effects’. Hallelujah! Where the Old Covenant called sins to mind by the perpetual and regular sacrifices, He sacrificed Himself, once for all, and thus annulled sin (note: as He made purification for sins plural in 1:3, so here in 9:26 His total victory is over sin singular, that is, sin in its comprehensive and total power. Every word of God is inspired!) Absolute atonement was achieved. No higher cleansing can be reached in dealing with sin. Sin was vanquished, set at naught. The curtain is now torn, man can come in Christ before a Holy Father. Redemption is achieved and effected. What a gospel. Regardless of what sin is still doing in the world of men after that first Good Friday period, something final in Christ has occurred. This we must always preach. What good news it truly it!
Finally, going back to Archimedes. When king Hieron asked him whether a crown of gold made for him actually contained some proportion of silver, the famous scientist was initially puzzled. Then one day as he was stepping into a bath the solution dawned upon him. He was so overjoyed at the solution in his mind, having been rankled by the problem for some time, that he supposedly ran home without his clothes, shouting ‘eureka, eureka’ (Greek for ‘I have found it, I have found it’). Now readers, when you freshly discover the objective Truth of the Cross, and what it means for you and your relationship to God and the world, I would not be surprised if you did similarly!
With love, Pastor Paul
A Clear Word From Scripture
Just as there were globally publicized predictions of the End of the world in 2012, there will surely be many more to come. This is nothing new, and for most of the church's history sincere Christians have always fallen prey to such speculations. Yet in response to these delusive predictions, Christians have been sadly rather vague and unclear in their counter-responses. Because there has been no clear word from Scripture in answer to this growing chorus of count-down mentality, the vacuum of ignorance has only exacerbated the problem.
I believe that Scripture is unambiguously clear as to how we need to respond to such prognostications and I want you to know how to respond to popular claims that Christ's return is just around the corner. To know how to respond, we need to turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Please read it and then be like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11) who searched the Scriptures for confirmation of what they were told. Here we see that Paul gave (1) a Certain Sequence (2) of Observable Objects (3) as a Defence for Delusion. The church he wrote this letter to had forgotten what he had earlier taught them and had slipped from a sound stable mind into alarmed and agitated instability regarding the Second Coming (Advent) of Christ. Based on false prophecy, words of people, and also a spurious allegation from a letter of Paul, some people were believing that Christ's Advent had already happened. Many people in the church were unsettled and did not know how to counteract this 'new teaching'. Here is the gist of what Paul said to them:
1. The Certain Sequence:
Paul made it very clear that Christ's coming and our gathering to Him in the rapture (vs 1) could not happen at any moment but must be preceded by a certain complex of events (notice the temporal word 'first' in verse 3). Since there are certain events in history that must necessary transpire before the Advent, Christ could not have already returned. That is the gist of what Paul declares. No Returned Christ or any-momentism! - since the precursor signs have not happened yet.
2. The Observable Objects:
Paul spends most of this section describing the nature of the events that must happen before Christ returns, in order that his readers may (a) know if Christ is not returning yet and (b) know what things will look like on earth if His Advent is imminent Paul describes certain global international world conditions. His words centre around a Satanic parody of the Messiah, a real man who will make his debut on the world scene, who will be personally slain by Jesus Christ at His Coming. This is the Antichrist, the one side of the coin of the expected events. The other side of the coin is the expected 'rebellion' or 'apostasy' which must happen. This Greek word 'apostasia' can be variously translated, dependent on the context it is used. At bottom is means a defection from one position to another. If Julius Malema and his followers had to move out of the ANC and join to DA, the Greek word for that would be 'apostasia'. If thousands of Baptists had to leave their churches and join the Moonies, that would be an 'apostasia'. So Paul's words can speaks of a specific religious 'falling away' amongst Christians or Jews, or in a specific political realignment. Given the context (which is always determinitive for the meaning of individual words) where Paul describes the Antichrist as the 'man of lawlessness' who will appear and receive a global reception, the 'apostasia' is best understood in the broadest sense of a mass exodus from traditional law, order and religion to believe and follow the pretentious claims of this global demagogue. Also considering the context once again, the identity of 'the restrainer' is most reasonably a reference to Roman law and order (which actually saved Paul from being lynched by lawless mobs in Acts 19 and 22). As long as overall lawful governance was in operation in society, the full flowering of lawlessness and autocratic world rule would be keep in check. Overall, the logic of the inspired apostle is that these things are to be unprecedented and observable signs, clear for Christians to see, and that until these historical realities transpire, Christ will not be returning as yet.
3. The Defence for Deceit:
False teaching misrepresents the truth and immunizes God's people to the authentic teaching of the Word. Delusive speculations also immobilise and distract us to our present mission in the world. Paul wanted the church to be 'in the know', stable and confident as to these things. He wrote these things as a safeguard to Christians and to enable them to walk in the light of truth, immunized to the current speculations. The teaching is revealed to be known and to support the church a midst a growing world alarmism.
My friend, may you hear what the Word is saying on these things. Notice how clear Paul is! Unless we see Antichrist and the his 'abomination that causes desolation' in a Jewish temple, Christ will not return. Paul was teaching exactly what Jesus Himself taught in Matthew 24. Let us hear these words of Paul (and Jesus) afresh, know the truth, and by our service for Christ in this world 'hasten that Day of the Lord' (2 Peter 3:12).
Pastor Paul Hartwig