Month: March 2015

Palm Sunday Service: “Who is this?”

Text: And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” Matthew 21: 10

Bible reading: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” — Mark 11: 1–11

Message

God reveals himself to mankind in his son. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem marked the start of a decisive phase in salvation history. It led to the resurrection of Jesus Christ by way of His suffering and death, and brought the promises of the Old Testament to fulfilment.

Although the link between the messianic promises and their fulfilment was already revealed—and despite the fact that several prophetic predictions were fulfilled right down to the last detail (Matthew 21: 4–5) in the events of Palm Sunday—many failed to comprehend what had happened here: namely that God had visited His people and that the Almighty had entered the city in the form of His Son, Jesus of Nazareth.

The praises of the disciples, the tributes of the crowd, and the cries of hosanna could not conceal the fact that the significance of this event had not truly been recognized— not even by those who might have actually known better, namely the high priests and scribes (Luke 20: 1–2). Although they knew the Scriptures, had seen the deeds of Jesus, and had heard Him preach in authority, the fact that God had come down to them in Jesus Christ remained concealed to them. They had their own conceptions of God—and they did not match what they were now seeing in this Jesus, who sat together with sinners and who had proclaimed love as the core of the law.

God in the conception of human beings

Today too, people have their own conceptions of God. For some, God is the Almighty, who is to be feared. And they endeavour to keep His commandments and live in strict accordance with Scripture purely on the basis of this fear.

For others, God is a distant God who remains hidden from them, whom they must spend a great deal of time studying in order to be able to say anything at all about Him—and who nevertheless remains unfathomable to them.

For many, God is not even a person, but rather an abstract principle, a kind of cosmic energy, which one can only grasp in spiritual terms. And yet, everything is so simple.

God in Jesus Christ

God came to mankind in Jesus Christ. Those who want to know God need only look to Jesus: those who have seen Him have seen the Father (John 14: 9). The answer to the question “Who is this?” is very simple:

  • He is almighty, and yet filled with love, goodness, forbearance, compassion, and gentleness toward sinners. He is not distant, but very close to mankind. He is close to the suffering, the sad, the despised, and the weak.
  • He is not hidden or unfathomable, but reveals Himself to us and can indeed be recognized. Even children can experience Him.
  • He is true God and true Man. He knows what it means to be human and can empathise with us in all situations.
  • He demands nothing impossible of us, but is always prepared to help, support, and accompany us.

That is God in Jesus Christ: He is with us, for us, and near us. And He wants to share all things with us. That is why He will soon come for us.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle, adapted for service held on Sunday, 29 March 2015 at Midrand Congregation

Receiving the Word and the Light

He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. — John 1: 11

Message

Let us accept those who are sent to us by God in the present.

At this time of year in particular we commemorate the events preceding the salvation-bringing sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The prerequisite for this act of salvation was the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. The starting verses of John speak of God as the Word, through whom all things were created. They also speak of the Light that is to illuminate all human beings (John 1: 1–4). Both of these—Word and Light—took on form when God the Father sent God the Son to become Man (Philippians 2: 7–8). Thereby God intervened in the history of mankind in order to deliver man from sin.

This intervention was already announced in the Garden of Eden. The prophets tirelessly pointed to the appearing of the Messiah, last among them John the Baptist, who likewise testified of the Light (John 1: 6–8; Mark 1: 4).

It is thus all the more understandable that God’s activity of salvation through Jesus Christ should not find any acceptance (John 1: 5, 10, 11) especially considering that God first sent Him to His own. This refers to the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, because they had always been God’s people and had always had a special covenant with Him, and because Jesus came forth out of this nation and worked among its people (Isaiah 11: 1 et seq.). However, His own—the people of Israel—did not accept Him.

Accepting the Word today

The Son of God sends His disciples out in order to proclaim His doctrine. He does this with the words, “He who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10: 16). At the same time, He points out the danger of despising His messengers of salvation and thereby rejecting His offer of salvation. Jesus Christ has given the Apostle ministry to His church. This ministry has the commission to teach and to baptise. Those who hear the words of the Apostles and the ministers commissioned by them hear the Lord. In the Intercessory Prayer, Jesus interceded especially for those who would come to believe in Him through the word of those whom He had sent (John 17: 20). Thus it is important to accept the Lord in the word of His messengers.

This occurs in the right manner when we:

  • Keep the word from the altar of God holy and do not allow it to be robbed of its value by outward appearances. For Nathanael and many of the scribes, the lineage of Jesus was enough to make them view Jesus and His word with prejudice (John 1: 46; 7: 41–52).
  • Accept the words of the absolution in faith, even though they are spoken by sinful human beings. The Lord stands behind the commission of His servants, and believers will then indeed experience that their sins are forgiven!

Spreading the light to others

Light is the foundation of life and an image of knowledge. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reinforced His mandate to all Christians to spread the gospel and thus proclaim eternal life and the knowledge of God’s plan of salvation to all people with the words, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5: 14–16).

We can live up to this commission given by Jesus by:

  • Testifying of our faith with even greater courage, especially under difficult circumstances such as increasing injustice and remoteness from God.
  • Exhibiting the nature of Christ in our service to our neighbour. Without regard for status and standing, let us bring joy to others by coming to their aid with a strengthening word and a kind deed whenever we find the opportunity to do so.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle, adapted for service held on Sunday, 22 March 2015 at Midrand Congregation

Being a neighbour

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” — Luke 10: 30

Message

Love makes us neighbours and leads us into the proximity of God. The parable of the good Samaritan explains what it means to love one’s neighbour and what form this love might take in practice. From the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer it becomes clear that love for one’s neighbour is a high priority: it is an important expression of faith, which leads to eternal life (Catechism 4.8.2).

Click here to watch: Does appearance change how people are treated?

Click here to watch: Does appearance change how people are treated?

Click here to watch: Homeless man versus businessman

Click here to watch: Homeless man versus businessman

The situation

A lawyer tested Jesus with the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded with a question, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer makes mention of the dual commandment of love which Jesus had emphasised as the quintessence of the law (Luke 10: 25–27; Mark 12: 29–31). Now the man knows what he must do. But then he still wants to know how he is to fulfil this commandment, because his next question is, “And who is my neighbour?” It is in response to this question that Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan.

The parable

A man who went down to Jericho from Jerusalem was attacked by robbers. They took his clothing, beat him, and left him lying there half dead. A passing priest saw the man and simply continued along his way. A Levite also saw the wounded man and went right on by. A Samaritan—a man belonging to a nation despised by the Jews—felt compassion for the wounded man, and went and bandaged his wounds. He placed him on his own animal and brought him to an inn, where he cared for him further. The next day, he gave the innkeeper two denarii and instructed him to continue caring for the man. Any additional expenses would be reimbursed at his return.

Conclusion

Jesus closes His narrative with a question to the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?” Thereby He demonstrated another perspective: our neighbour is not necessarily the person who is in distress. It might also be the one who provides help. The lawyer answered the Lord’s question by saying, “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus concluded the conversation with the admonition, “Go and do likewise.” This means: be a neighbour to those around you by reaching out to them and helping them, and by doing more than is required!

Being a neighbour

The parable opens up several insights for us.

  • Might one not have actually expected the priest and the Levite to be a neighbour to the man who had been robbed and left half dead? Let us be careful not to judge! The parable also shines a light on our own weakness: we likewise fail to live up to the high demands of the commandment of love. No one is able to fulfil it perfectly.
  • The Samaritan who was so despised by the Jews—actually he would never even have been considered a neighbour—here becomes the exemplary fulfiller of the commandment. His active love surpasses the usual measure. He even stays with the injured man overnight and spares no expense to ensure that the man receives help. This is a work of love that has no equal! Someone we would never have suspected might actually be a neighbour to us!
  • Love for one’s neighbour is expressed through deeds. It is not enough to merely feel compassion. It is not for nothing that the Lord admonishes, “Go and do likewise!” (verse 37).

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle, adapted for service held on Wednesday, 18 March 2015 at Midrand Congregation

The serving of the Master

You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. — John 13: 13–14

Message

The serving of Christ is the standard for the serving of the Apostles and the congregation. On Jesus’ path to the cross, the washing of the feet takes on special significance. This event—which immediately precedes the account of the Lord’s Supper in the gospel of John—already reveals that which comes to expression in the suffering and death of Christ, namely the unconditional love of the Lord (John 13: 1), as well as His abasement and devotion to others. Just as He abased Himself in the washing of the feet to perform a service usually reserved for slaves, He—who is, after all, our Teacher and Lord—would later put Himself on the same level as the sinner doomed to die, and sacrifice Himself in service to others.

Teacher and Lord

When Jesus describes Himself as Teacher and Lord, this refers to the rank of honour bestowed upon Him by God. As our Master, He is the Teacher sent to us by God. As Lord, He is the ruler who knows that the Father has “given all things into His hands” (verse 3). Both positions are now completely redefined by Jesus. The Teacher is not condescending as He teaches, but bows down before His disciples and serves them. The Ruler does not rule by power and might, but in lowliness. In so doing Jesus set standards for the Apostles and His church that are fundamentally different from the standards that prevail in the world (Luke 22: 25–26).

What does the washing of the feet signify?

In the context of the time, foot-washing was the work of slaves. Indeed, it was the lowest form of service a slave could perform. At the same time, it was a sign of respect and honour accorded to guests. The washing of the feet signifies the threshold between outside and inside. Those whose feet were washed were, in a manner of speaking, accepted into the home. It is not difficult to see the connection between this and the washing away of sin, which liberates sinners from the remoteness of God “outside” and gives them access to the fellowship of salvation “inside”—in other words, to the house of God.

What does this mean for the disciples?

By instructing His disciples to follow His example and wash one another’s feet, Jesus set a standard for their service to the congregation.

  • Just as they themselves felt the devoted love of Jesus, they are also to serve one another and others in love.
  • Just as He, the Majestic One, laid aside His garments and made Himself a servant by girding Himself with a towel, so too they are to treat and serve human beings in humbleness and lowliness.
  • Just as He allowed them to have part in Him and have intimate fellowship with Him through His service (verse 8), they are also to share in one another and have fellowship with each other.

Such serving on the part of the Apostles, which serves as an example and then becomes the standard for the congregation’s members and their dealings with one another, is a sign of diligently following Christ, which is a requirement for entering into lasting fellowship with God.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle, adapted for service held on Sunday, 15 March 2015 at Midrand Congregation

True joy

Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. — Luke 10: 20

Message

The favours of God are grounds for true joy. In our Bible text Jesus mentions, in striking fashion, two kinds of joy that simply could not be more different from one another: joy in our superiority and joy in the Lord.

Grounds for true joy

When Jesus healed the boy who was possessed, the Twelve were disappointed by their own powerlessness to help (Matthew 17: 19). However, the joy of the 70 disciples – who experienced the power of God after they had been sent out – was great. We can quite easily comprehend the joy that can be found in superiority over threatening and adverse circumstances. Today Jesus tells us that our joy must have a different basis, namely God’s actions upon us. He has recorded the names of His own in heaven. The fact that we belong to God is thus grounds for true joy.

An expression of true joy

Such an insight leads us away from joy over our own accomplishments and causes us to rejoice and be thankful for God’s favours upon us. Such joy and gratitude is genuine, and allows the merit of Christ and His actions on our behalf to become great in our eyes. Under the activity of the Holy Spirit, this leads us to grow in a kind of joy that others can see and feel. We experience and profess our joy over:

  • the love of God for us and all human beings. Accordingly we also make this love the foundation for our own thoughts and
  • our This gives us occasion to pray with one another and to bring honour and glory to God through our worship and praise in the congregation. We also gladly seek fellowship with our brothers and sisters outside of the divine services.
  • the experience of grace. We are filled with the peace of God after we, in true remorse, pray for grace out of the merit of Christ. It is likewise the grace of God that involves us in His work of redemption by way of various tasks. “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15: 16).
  • our future with the Lord. This is the real joy of the gospel of Christ. What urgency there is in the prayer of the Lord Jesus, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me” (John 17: 24)! Let us feel the same sense of urgency in our endeavour to be worthy for the day of the Lord. In heaven, where the names of His own are recorded, the hope which is laid up for us will also be fulfilled upon His own (Colossians 1: 5).

Our expectant joy is focused on the day of the Lord. For this reason we make the endeavour to align our personal life and our congregational life with the gospel of Christ.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle, adapted for service held on Sunday, 8 March 2015 at Midrand Congregation

Reconciliation with God

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5: 20

Message

The Apostles call upon both the living and the dead to be reconciled with God.

In 2 Corinthians Paul writes that God has reconciled mankind to himself through Jesus Christ. This applies to us. He has reconciled us. Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and for me. We had not even been born yet and had not as yet done anything at all, whether good or evil. We had not earned anything and had not accomplished anything. And nevertheless God performed this great work upon us. Jesus died for us because he wanted to reconcile us with God and bring us salvation.

 

God sacrificed His Son for all human beings

When God sacrificed his Son, he could already see the people of today. He saw all those who mock him and deny him. He also saw those who do not respect his will and who fight against him. He saw all of those who work against him and destroy his creation. He saw those who today demean, kill, and torture other human beings. God saw all of this. And he sacrificed his son for all of these human beings. From this we gain a tiny inkling of how great the love of God really is.

God’s offer of salvation is valid both here and in the beyond

In our Bible text the Apostle calls upon mankind to accept God’s offer of salvation. It is directed to human beings both here and in the beyond. It is for this reason that the Apostle ministry is also active today in preaching the glad tidings, proclaiming forgiveness of sins, and dispensing the sacraments to the living and the dead. In the same manner, the work of redemption is also being carried out in the beyond.

God’s offer of salvation can only be accepted in faith

When people come to believe in Jesus, they profess that Jesus:

  • is the son of God,
  • has died for all mankind and that he has resurrected, and
  • is the deliverer through whom mankind comes to God.

Such people will be grateful, and it is on the basis of this gratitude that they will follow Jesus and live in accordance with the gospel. This is because they feel how great the love of God really is.

Effects of faith

Belief in the sacrifice of Christ has its effects both here and in the beyond. Faith produces:

  • Trust: True Christians trust in God. They have no reproaches or complaints against God.
  • Willingness to reconcile: Those who believe that God has reconciled them to Himself will likewise be prepared to reconcile with Out of gratitude and trust in God, they will be prepared to reconcile with their neighbour.
  • Longing for the day of the Lord: This longing will become apparent. It lives in the heart and defines wishes, attitudes, and conduct.

God offers eternal fellowship with himself to both the living and the dead. He does this through the Apostle ministry: “Come one and all! God desires to reconcile you completely! He wants to lead you into eternal fellowship with himself!” We do not need any merit of our own to heed this call. We need not be the best of people. The only requirement is to accept the gift of grace in faith!

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for departed service held on Sunday, 1 March 2015 at Midrand Congregation

Audition for the Chief Apostle Service

The Chief Apostle, district apostles and their helpers will be visiting the South East Africa area from 7 – 11 October this year. Please see below details for auditions for the adult and children’s choir as well as the orchestra.

March 2015: Where there’s smoke…

…there’s fire. So goes a familiar proverb which refers to the simple fact that one can, as a rule, judge an underlying reality by its outward manifestations. For example, if you make your way through the deepest forest, then smoke is an unmistakable sign that there must be people in the vicinity. Wherever there is a fire burning, there must be people!

How can I tell that Jesus is present here, in my congregation? What is it that shows me the presence of Jesus Christ? How can a person—who has, perhaps, never even given a second thought to faith—see that Jesus is active here? This can be perceived by effects that are visibly manifest everywhere that He is truly and genuinely present.

Wherever Jesus is, there will be peace, there will be love, and there will be unity. That is how one can recognize His presence. Wherever Jesus is present, understanding, forgiveness, and reconciliation will prevail. Wherever Jesus is present, one will bear the burden of the other. One can already see that Jesus is present in the way people deal with one another there. In such a place there will be no need for any longwinded explanations. There people will realize very quickly: here there is peace! Here there is love! Here there is understanding! Jesus is here! If we want to show that Jesus is in our presence, we must prove that peace, grace, love, and unity prevail in our ranks. Anything else would amount to nothing more than empty words.

When we think about this for a moment, we will immediately realize what our task is: “Whatever my place in the congregation, I want to ensure that all can see Jesus is here!”

Thoughts from a divine service by the Chief Apostle

Seeing the soul that is loved by God

Then he came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to him, and begged him to touch him. So he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when he had spit on his eyes and put his hands on him, he asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then he put his hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. — Mark 8: 22–25

Message

Jesus helps us to see our neighbour properly.

The account of the healing of a blind man near Bethsaida gives us some insight into a special event. The people brought a blind man to Jesus and asked him to help the man. Jesus “spit on his eyes and put his hands on him, [and] asked him if he saw anything” (Mark 8: 23). Already at this point, the man was able to see, but his vision was still not sharp: he saw people moving around as if they were trees. The miracle of healing was not yet complete. Jesus laid his hands upon the blind man once again, and this time the man was able to see everything clearly.

Seeing properly

People can only see things properly in the spiritual sense – in other words, gain the proper knowledge and understanding – when Jesus touches them, and when they allow themselves to be touched by him. This account emphasises that the healing of the blind man occurred in stages, beginning with an initial, as yet unclear kind of vision – which was really only more of a vague idea of things – and finally concluding with a clear vision resulting from the repeated touch of the Lord.

In view of the divine service on the coming Sunday, Jesus’ actions can also be applied to the realms of the departed. The spiritually blind are to have their eyes opened for divine salvation. However, in order for them to be completely restored – such that they can recognise the love of God, open themselves to it, and allow themselves to be overcome by it – they will need to be touched once more by the hand of the Lord.

On a second level of meaning, however, we can also derive something of note for ourselves. The Lord seeks to open up our eyes so that we can see our neighbour clearly – and in view of the coming Sunday, this refers to the souls in the beyond. This occurs when we allow ourselves to be touched by him.

Seeing our neighbour

Those who have been touched by Jesus Christ and his gospel will come to the initial insight: “I no longer want to think only of myself, but rather also give thought to my neighbour, think about his needs, and show compassion to him.” Such individuals are no longer blind to the cares and sufferings of others, but rather see their need.

Seeing the soul that is loved by God

Jesus leads us even further, however, such that we are even able to see in each human being the soul that is loved by God. Those who can be led to have such sharp vision will see the soul that God seeks to deliver, even if this soul does not believe in him, resists him, and mocks him at first. Those who have such sharp vision will see that Christ even died for those who once made war on one other, who failed to heed God’s commandments, and who destroyed his creation. They will see that he even brought his sacrifice for those who were rejected by everyone else, for those who were despised, reviled, and excluded from society. Jesus Christ already had all of these souls in mind when he brought his sacrifice on the cross.

Such sharp vision also gives us an inkling of the magnitude of God’s love. God gave his Son for the life of the world, and thus for all mankind. No human being who has ever walked the face of the earth is excluded from this.

Let us allow ourselves to be touched again and again in the divine services in order that we may always see properly.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for service held on Sunday, 22 February 2015 at Midrand Congregation

Do not be afraid

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. — Matthew 14: 27–29

Message

We recognise the Lord and trust in him.

Weathering the storms of life

Like the disciples of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, we too come up against winds at times and have to weather storms. Those who model their lives on the gospel will often meet with in – comprehension despite the fact—or precisely because of the fact—that they act in accordance with the law of Christ. However, even in such situations Jesus is near and calls out to us, “Do not be afraid!”

Acting on the law of Christ

It was the Lord, the Son of God, who gave us his law, namely the commandment to love God and our neighbour. The help of the holy spirit gives us the strength to put the law of Christ into practice even when things become difficult.

It can also happen that we are surprised by sudden misfortune. Even at such times, the Lord calls out to us, “Have no fear! I have permitted this trial.” We trust in the Lord and are certain that he will never allow us “to be tempted beyond what [we] are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13). For this reason we have the chance to prove our love for God even in such trials, and thereby draw even closer to the Lord.

The disciples could not imagine anyone being able to walk on water. They assumed that what they were seeing was a ghost. Jesus called out to them saying, “It is I!” — When we meet people who at first seem so strange and so different from us that we cannot imagine associating with them, let us remember the words of Jesus, “I was a stranger …” (Matthew 25:43). The Lord calls on us to approach our neighbour— even if he is different—and thereby fulfil the law of Christ, namely the commandment to love our neighbour.

Jesus draws near to us

The majesty of God fills us with holy reverence (Luke 5: 8). It is impossible for a human being to achieve perfection by his own abilities. Jesus knows this. That is why he meets us half way and extends his helping hand to us in order to strengthen and aid us.

Peter walked on the water, but then quickly began to doubt. When he saw that he was sinking, He called out to Jesus for help, and Jesus saved him. We too can at times have our doubts, namely:

  • When we see the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73: 3).
  • When we have to face various tests and trials and do not yet recognise their purpose properly.
  • In the face of the disinterest—and indeed hostility—of our neighbour.
  • When we find ourselves waiting too long for the blessing of God to manifest itself.
  • As a result of our mistakes and weaknesses.

When we find ourselves in doubt, let us not hesitate to call upon the Lord for help! He will draw near to us and extend His hand in order to save us!

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for service held on Sunday, 15 February 2015 at Midrand Congregation