Over a year ago, I lost my beloved wife Lenora to cancer and chemo. I have certainly cried more in the last 16 months than in the rest of my life combined. To lose your best friend and life partner is a grievous burden. The apostle Paul wrote that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Death is our enemy. Death destroys life, beauty and potential. It is a curse from the Fall. The wages of sin is death.
The Certainty of Death
In a multitude of ways death can come to anyone, at anytime, anywhere. Vehicle accidents, crime and violence, through war and disease, through infections, viruses and medical malpractice, from adverse reactions to vaccines, from heart attacks, strokes and cancer. It can take the very young as well as the very aged.
Death and Taxes
Benjamin Franklin quoted Daniel Defoe when he said: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
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“I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to put riders on them!” Isaiah 36:8. This challenge was made by one of Sennacherib’s generals, Rabshakeh, during his speech demanding the surrender of Jerusalem.
A Message of Intimidation
The Assyrians had come down upon Judah, “like a wolf on the fold.” Rabshakeh presented a powerful piece of propaganda, laced with lies, half-truths, boasting and blasphemy. His speech was designed to demoralise and discourage God’s people and persuade them to give up all hope and surrender to the Assyrians. In his speech, he insulted and taunted the representatives of King Hezekiah. One of his memorable taunts was: How could they possible resist the overwhelming military might of Assyria. Even if he, Rabshakeh, were to give them two thousand horses, it could do them no good for they had no trained cavalry to ride them.
A Message of Inspiration
However, the Word of the Lord came through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Surely I will send a spirit upon him and he shall hear a rumour and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.” Isaiah 37:6-7
The Hand of God
“Then the Angel of the Lord went out and killed in the camp of the Assyrians, 185,000; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses, all dead. So, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, departed and went away, returned home and remained at Nineveh. Now it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch, his god, that his sons… struck him down with a sword…” Isaiah 37:36-38
An Important Insight
However, amidst the remarkable propaganda speech by Rabshakeh, is a gem of wisdom and insight. Horses for those who are able to ride them.
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“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
Faith in Action
We are not saved by good works. But once saved, we should do good works. Salvation is by the grace of God alone, received by faith alone. However, we are saved to serve. We are blessed in order to be a blessing. To whom much is given, much is required. To whom much more is given, much more is required. Those who have been forgiven much, love much.
The Fruit of Faith
Good works are a fruit of faith. Not the root. The grace of Almighty God is the root of faith and the fruit of faith is seen in: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in action.
Learn to do Good
We read in Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Glorify God by Good Works
In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord Jesus taught us: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Be Fruitful in Every Good Work
“That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:10
Be Rich in Good Works
“Let them do good, that they may be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.” 1 Timothy 6:18
Maintain a Pattern of Good Works
“In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility.” Titus 2:7
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:15-20
Our Highest Priority
We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). We are to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
Peaceful, Joyful and Thankful
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word, or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:15-17
Preaching and Teaching the Word of God is a Vital Part of Worship
Teaching and preaching the Word of God is a vital part of worship. Congregational singing and music are also part of the ministry of the Word of God. Songwriters ought to be as skilled in the Scriptures and as concerned for Biblical integrity and Theological accuracy as the preacher and teacher of the Word of God.
God Ordained Work
At the very dawn of history God called man to work. God ordained work before the Fall. Work is not a part of the curse. Adam was commanded to tend the garden before he fell into sin (Genesis 2:15). Labour is a God-given responsibility. Work is not a curse to be avoided, nor is it an undesirable activity only to be pursued when necessary. In the Bible we are commanded to:
“be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed…” 2 Timothy 2:15
Heathen Nations Despised Work
Before the coming of Christ, the heathen nations despised physical work and consigned it to slaves. When Christ was born, half of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves. Three-quarters of the population of Athens were slaves. When Luke visited Athens he noted that
“all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Acts 17:21
Jesus Revolutionised Labour
But Jesus revolutionised labour. By taking up the axe, the saw, the hammer and the plane, as a carpenter our Lord imbued labour with a new dignity. Christianity undercut slavery by giving dignity to work. By reforming work Christianity transformed the entire social order. In time this gave birth to the free enterprise system which brought unparalleled prosperity and progress to billions of people.
“The hand of the diligent makes one rich.” Proverbs 10:4
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“Which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the Resurrection from the dead.” Romans 1:2-4
Careful Investigation is Encouraged
There is nothing wrong with being cautious and careful when it comes to eternal matters. Indeed there is much in the world that we should be skeptical about. We should not be gullible. There is far too much superstition and ignorance in the world. We should carefully investigate and establish what the facts are. We need to have the courage to face the facts.
Faith in Facts
Christianity does not require one to make a blind leap into the dark. False religions require blind faith. Christianity is an intelligent step into the light, in response to facts. We do not promote faith in faith, but faith in facts. It is not the amount of faith you have, but in where you place your faith.
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“Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days, He ate nothing and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word of God.’ Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You and their glory; for this has been delivered to me and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Get behind Me, satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall serve.’ Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the Temple and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.” Luke 4:1-13
Expect Opposition and Temptation
After the dove at the baptism came the devil in the wilderness. When you have the approval of God you can expect the assaults of the devil. Immediately before this time of fasting and tempting in the wilderness, our Lord Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit came down as a dove, the Words of the Father was spoken from Heaven, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh and strength to your bones… My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:5-12
The Worst Pope
When Professor Martin Luther was asked which pope had caused him the most trouble, he replied, “Pope self – the pope who sits on the throne in my heart. No pope in Rome has caused me as much trouble as I have caused myself!”
The Most Trouble
When “the Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon had built up Baptist Tabernacle to over 5,000 members, he was asked, which member gave him the most trouble? Without hesitation, he responded, “Charles Spurgeon!” “You mean you have a member here who has the same name as yourself?” “I refer to myself,” explained Charles Spurgeon. “No one has given me more trouble than I have given myself.”
This is true for ourselves personally, for families, for congregations, for denominations, organisations, companies, countries and continents. The worst wars are civil wars. The United States of America lost more men killed in action in the war between the States of 1861 to 1865, than in all the other foreign wars it has ever fought, including the First and Second World War, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq War, combined. More South Africans are murdered every year than died in the First World War, Second World War and Angolan War combined.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways’, says the Lord. ‘For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’.” Isaiah 55:6-11
How can you tell the difference between real guilt and false guilt?
Corporate Guilt or Personal Responsibility?
We live in an age of guilt manipulation, where many reject the concept of an objective standard of right and wrong. Yet, while denying personal responsibility, many will accuse whole nations of corporate guilt.
A Brazilian Confession
An example of this was seen at the Cape Town 2010 Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation. On the final Sunday, at the Africa regional meeting, a delegation from Brazil asked to speak to the African participants. Their spokesman then read out a very long declaration, which in very categoric terms declared their guilt for the Slave Trade: “We are guilty of having kidnapped Africans from their homes, transported them across the Atlantic, to excavate our mines and to build our cities.”
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“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His Name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” John 2:23-25
The year was A.D. 155. The persecution against Christians had swept across the Roman Empire. It had come to the city of Smyrna. The Pro-Consul of Smyrna, swept up into this persecution, put out the order to arrest Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp was to be arrested and brought to the local Coliseum, for execution.