Preekvoorstelle vir Geloofsgemeenskap

Week 9: Mense van hoop

Teks: Gen 18:1-15

Agtergrond

18:1-2: Hierdie verse dui ’n paar belangrike sake aan. Die plek, tyd en besoekers word vermeld. Daar is drie mans, klaarblyklik die manier waarop God homself aan Abraham en Sara bekend maak. Dit is in die middel van die dag. Volgens Kidner staan die verhaal in teenstelling met die gebeure hierna (Gen 19), waar alles in die nag gebeur. Die Godsverskyning staan teenoor die donker elemente van verwarring en vernietiging. Die plek is Mamre, wat later ’n welbekende heiligdom sou raak, is die plek waar God verskyn.

Die meeste geleerdes hanteer die probleem dat die Here in die “vorm” van drie besoekers aan Abraham en Sara verskyn as heel natuurlik. Die verhaal wissel tussen die Here wat verskyn en die mans wat namens die Here ’n belofte aan Abraham maak. Later (vrs 13) is dit weer die Here wat aan die woord is. Gunkel het gesê dat goddelike gebeure altyd verrassend is. Walter Lüthi sê dat dit nie ter sake is of die mans geëet, gedrink of gekuier het nie. Dis ook nie ter sake of die verteller konstant wissel tussen God en die mense nie. Waaroor dit gaan, is dat Gód aan hulle verskyn het. En dan vra Lüthi: Kan dit anders as geheimenisvol wees? Verder word God se vryheid om homself te openbaar soos Hy wil, in Gen 19 afgewissel met twee besoekers in plaas van drie.

’n Gedagte wat deurgaans afgewys word, is dat hier geen verwysing na die Drie-eenheid ingelees kan word soos die vroeë kerk gedoen het nie.

18:3-8: Die gasvryheid van Abraham is klaarblyklik ook die motief wat in Heb 13:2 ’n rol speel. Na my mening behoort ’n mens nie te veel te maak van hierdie motief in die prediking nie (sien Burger se perspektief in Woord teen die Lig II/3). Von Rad en Aalders verwys beide na die ou verhaal wat in die Griekse mitologie bestaan het toe drie gode (Zeus, Poseidon en Hermes) die kinderlose Hyrieus in Boeotia besoek het. Na sy gasvrye optrede teenoor die gode is ’n wens aan hom gegee. So is die seun, Orion, aan hom en sy vrou gegee. Of die Griekse verhaal ingespeel het in hierdie verhaal, is nie regtig ter sake nie. Die punt is dat Israel hierdeur bely het dat húlle Here aan hulle verskyn het en die nageslag gewaarborg het. ’n Uiters belangrike verskil is dat die kind nie gegee is op grond van ’n wens nie, maar uit vrye guns beloof word.

Brueggemann wys daarop dat daar ’n duidelike versnelling van gebeure in die verhaal is. Die stadige tempo wat deur die middaghitte veronderstel word, die skielike verskyning van die drie man en die aanbod van Abraham dat hulle daar kan oorbly, word vinniger met Abraham se haas om vir die mense gereed te maak. Dit is ’n aanduiding daarvan (‘hint’) dat iets buitengewoon kan gebeur.

18:9-10: Dit is nie sonder rede dat God op hierdie manier besoek aflê by Abraham en Sarah nie. Die geboorte van hulle kind word aangekondig. God bevestig deur hierdie belofte dat hy nie van sy verbond vergeet het nie. Dat dit God is wat deur die een besoeker praat, word bevestig in die skielike vraag waar Sara is. Dat hulle haar naam ken is aanduiding hiervan (Aalders; Von Rad).

18:11-12: Die beklemtoning dat Abraham en Sara al baie oud was, vind weerklank in Sara se gelag oor hierdie uitspraak van die besoeker. Haar gelag is te verstane (Von Rad), aangesien dit dat vroeër moontlik was om ’n kind te hê, maar nie nou meer nie. Die verteller se klem is nie om dowe neute nie. Deurgaans beklemtoon die aartsvaderverhale dat die belofte God se beloftes bly en nie gebou word op menslike moontlikhede of potensiaal nie. Onvrugbaarheid is daarom ook een van die belangrike temas in hierdie verhale. Die skrywer benadruk hierdeur dat die beloftes van God geskenk word. Wat van die mens gevra word, is om hierdie beloftes te glo, daarin te rus. Abraham en Sara vertoon die voortdurende geneigdheid om God nie regtig te vertrou nie. In Gen 12:10-20 neem Abraham reg in eie hande deur te lieg oor sy vrou. In Gen 16 (nadat God in Gen 15 nogeens sy beloftes deur die verbond bevestig het) besluit Abraham weer om reg in eie hande te neem: ‘The story is constructed to present the tension between this inscrutable speech of God (that comes as promise) and the resistance and mockery of Abraham and Sarah who doubt the word and cannot believe the promise. Israel stands before God’s word of promise but characteristically finds that word beyond reason and belief. Abraham, and especially Sarah, are not offered here as models of faith but as models of disbelief’ (Brueggemann).

18:13-15: Dit is die hoogtepunt van die verhaal. Teenoor die ongeloof van Sara (en Abraham) staan die kernvraag van die geloof: ‘Is iets te buitengewoon vir die Here?’ Von Rad noem dit die klimaks van die verhaal. Dit is ’n oop vraag en word ook nie beantwoord nie – behalwe met Sara se leuen dat sy nie gelag het nie. Treffend wys Brueggemann daarop dat God se beloftes nie afgehang het van hulle geloof nie: ‘The resolve of God to open a future by a new heir does not depend on the readiness of Abraham and Sarah to accept it. God keeps his own counsel and will work his own will. It will happen, if not in a context of ready faith (which is here denied), then in a context of fearful, resistant laughter. The narrative ends. Sarah and Abraham still doubt. But the word has been uttered. Sarah and Abraham and the listening community can never again live pre-promise. All their lives are now impacted by this promissory word which will find its own fulfillment.’

Selfs hulle ongeloof kan God se vaste voorneme om vir Hom ’n volk te vergader, nie ongedaan maak nie. Selfs die onvrugbare ouderdom van twee mense kan God se plan nie stuit nie. Die belofte van God berus in sy trou en is daarom altyd ’n geskenk van God.

’n Belangrike vraag waaroor ons moet nadink is dit: Het ons nie dalk op ’n punt in baie geloofsgemeenskappe gekom waar die moontlikheid van buitengewone dinge vir die Here deur ’n siniese gelag begroet word nie. Walter Lüthi maak baie hiervan in sy preek oor hierdie gedeelte. Hy sê dat ons almal aan eksamens onderwerp word. Teoreties kan ons heel goed op sekere sake antwoord, maar die geloofseksamen is baie moeiliker as enige ander eksamen. Hier slaag min mense regtig die toets. Ja, ons sal bely dat alles vir God moontlik is, maar as dit teen die grense van ons redelikheid ingaan, kry ons ’n glimlag oor die ‘belaglikhede’ van wonderverhale waarmee mense ons dikwels verveel. Ja, dis waar dat God die hemel en die aarde geskep het, maar as dit van ons gevra word om ons op die God van hemel en aarde te verlaat, vind ons dit bietjie ‘onrealisties.’ Ons is ook maar versigtig vir elke vreemde storie van ‘wonderwerke’ omdat dit soms regtig onsin en verbeelding is. Maar die verhaal konfronteer ons tog met die vraag of ons in die God van die onmoontlike glo. Soos Brueggemann sê: ‘We must say it is the fundamental question every human person must answer. And how it is answered determines everything else. If the question of the Lord is answered, ‘Yes, some things are too hard, impossible for God,’ then God is not yet confessed as God. We have not conceded radical freedom to God. We have determined to live in a closed universe where things are stable, reliable, and hopeless.’

Ek dink dat Brueggemann se opmerkings oor hierdie saak van baie groot belang is wanneer daar oor hierdie teks gepreek word. Volgens hom moet ons ’n duidelike onderskeid maak tussen wat moontlik is en wat belowe word. Natuurlik is alles moontlik, maar die uitspraak deur die Here of daar iets te buitengewoon vir die Here is, moet binne die konteks van die beloftes van God aan Abraham gelees word. God gee nie hier aan Abraham en Sara ’n skoon blad waarvolgens ons God se arm kan draai deur ons geloof nie: ‘The exposition we have urged leaves itself open to misunderstanding, as though faith makes every desirable thing possible. But not everything is promised. What is ‘possible’ is characterized only as everything promised by God. That is, only what corresponds to God’s good purposes is possible. He has promised a future in a new community, but not everything we would seek. To the disciples seeking salvation in Mark 10:27, Jesus gives his uncompromising answer. Poignantly, the issue surfaces for Jesus himself in the scene at Gethsemane. There he, too, seeks and raises the question of Gen. 18:14, praying: Father, all things are possible to thee. Remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt (Mark 14:36). Everything is possible to God – except one thing. The one thing not possible is the removal of the cup. What God will not (cannot?) do is to circumvent the reality of suffering, hurt, the cross. Thus, our text does not permit a casual triumphalism that simply believes everything is possible. Because of the character of God, everything is possible for those who stay through the dark night of barrenness with God. For Abraham and Sarah, there is no simple, painless route to an heir. And when we come to the shattering of Genesis 22, we shall see that the “impossibility of God” freely given is not a painless, tension-free possibility. Thus the strangers departed (Gen. 18:16) with the question still unanswered.’

Natuurlik is God ook groter as sy beloftes, maar dit bly altyd God wat skenk. Sy doel met sy beloftes in die aartsvaderverhale is baie duidelik: die nuwe begin na die troostelose verhale van Gen 1-11, naamlik die belofte van ’n nageslag en die belofte van ’n land, is Gód se nuwe begin.

Preekvoorstel

  1. Een van die ergste dinge wat in ’n mens se geloofslewe kan gebeur, is as jy tevrede geraak het met die hopeloosheid van die lewe. Mens aanvaar dan dat alles maar is soos dit is, dat daar geen moontlikhede vir verandering is nie, geen nodigheid om te hoop nie. Daar is geen waagmoed, geen doelwitte, geen vernuwing, geen hoop op verbetering van omstandighede of geen drome meer nie. Die sekerste pad hel toe is die geleidelike een – die geleidelike skuinsste, die sagte pad sonder enige skielike draaie, sonder mylpale en padtekens (C S Lewis).
  2. Die verhaal van Abraham en Sara het hierdie punt bereik. Nie in God se oë nie, maar in hulle oë. ’n Mens sien telkens hoe die verhaal van Abraham en Sara wissel tussen hoop en wanhoop. By verskeie geleenthede neem hulle die toekoms in hulle eie hande en probeer hulself beskerm (sien die bespreking van 18:11-12). Maar hier is dit die punt waar God se beloftes regtig nie meer sin maak nie. Jare en jare het sedert die beloftes van ’n land en ‘’n nageslag verloop en niks is nog bewaarheid nie. In Gen 15:1-3 is dit reeds duidelik dat Abraham moed verloor het. In Gen 17:17 lag Abraham ook vir die belofte van ’n nageslag omdat hy die punt bereik het waar hy dit menslik onmoontlik gevind het. Nou lag Sara oor dieselfde storie. Hulle is regtig hier ’n duidelike toonbeeld van mense wat “rockbottom” bereik het: ‘Abraham and Sarah have by this time become accustomed to their barrenness. They are resigned to their closed future. They have accepted that hopelessness as ‘normal.’ The gospel promise does not meet them in receptive hopefulness but in resistant hopelessness’ (Brueggemann)
  3. Daar is natuurlik wonderlike uitsprake wat gemaak word oor die krag van geloof. Ons praat selfs maklik van iemand se ‘groot’ geloof.   Ongelukkig is sulke geloof dikwels soos ’n ballon wat tussen doringbosse waai. Solank dit nie aan die bosse raak nie, is dit goed. Maar die eerste doring van teëspoed laat dit bars. Dit is een ding om te glo terwyl dit goed gaan. Dis iets totaal anders as ’n mens moet glo wanneer dit voel of die lewe sy rug op jou gedraai het, wanneer menslike hulp gefaal het, ons denke doodgeloop het. In die kerk kan ons sing: ‘Vol vertroue, vas en veilig, bou ek kommervry my hoop op die Here wat, almagtig, heers oor voorspoed en or nood’ (Ges 45:1) of ‘Leer ons om ons nie te kwel nie, of oor môre te ontstel nie …’ (Ges 49:2). Verskeie liedere of selfs ons gemeentevisies (wat soms baie triomfalisties is) kan hier aangehaal word om te beklemtoon dat dit heel maklik is om in die kerk te bely. As ons egter uitgaan in die doringbosse van die werklikheid bars ons ballonnetjie baie gou. Dit is dan wanneer ons maar maklik glimlag as die beloftes van die Here so maklik deur predikers aangehaal word en daar in die kerk so maklik gesê word dat die Here sal sorg. Een van my donkerste oomblikke as prediker was dat iemand vir my gesê het dat ek die helfte minder vreugde op die kansel sal betoon oor God se beloftes as ek my vrou of kind verloor het. Abraham en Sara is mense soos ons wat dit moeilik vind om op God se tyd te wag. Ons ongeduld met God bereik soms die plek waar ons wil sê: ‘beloftes, beloftes, beloftes …’ Dis al.
  4. Natuurlik kom ons op hierdie plekke in ons geloofslewe. Dis ook baie normaal. De Reuver skryf dat sekerheid van geloof iets totaal anders is as sappige selfversekerdheid in windstil weer. En Calvyn verklaar dat wie nog nooit gevrees het, nog nooit geglo het nie. Waar die vuurtjie van geloof brand, trek ook die rokie van twyfel. Omstandighede maak soms dat ons op moedverloor se vlakte sit en regtig nie kan antwoord op die vraag of iets vir die Here te buitengewoon is nie. Hoewel ons nie openlik sal sê dat ons nie glo nie, lag ons tog maar in ons harte vir die belaglikheid van sommige beloftes van die Here.
  5. In hierdie verhaal gaan dit egter nie oor die broosheid van ons geloof nie. Dit ook. Die broosheid van ons geloof moet egter in perspektief gesien word. Die God van die belofte is die hooftema van hierdie verhaal. By hierdie God alleen is daar sekerheid. Hierdie God laat nie sy beloftes afhang van die krag of ‘prestasie’ van ons geloof en vertroue nie. Sy beloftes is nie so beperk dat die beperktheid en breekbaarheid van ons geloof dit gaan kortwiek nie. In hierdie gedeelte is it duidelik dat God sy beloftes waarmaak omdat Hy God is. Die aankondiging is nie eens afhanklik van Abraham se gasvryheid teenoor die besoekers nie (soos in die verhaal van die Griekse mitologie).
  6. Die verhaal van Abraham en Sara is natuurlik nie afgehandel nie. Ja, God het sy beloftes aan Abraham nagekom ter wille van sy trou. God het ook die onmoontlike moontlik gemaak met die geboorte van sy Seun uit die maagd Maria (Sien die gebruik van ‘moontlik’ in Luk 1:26-37). God het die onmoontlike moontlik gemaak deur mense te red wat volgens menslike berekening nie gered moes word nie (Sien die verhaal van die ryk jongman in Matt 16:16-30). God het die onmoontlike moontlik gemaak deurdat Hy die dood oorwin het (1 Kor 15). Maar eeu na eeu, jaar na jaar sit Christene op moedverloor se vlakte. Wanneer die kanker en die rampe, die misoeste en die depressie toeslaan, is dit of al die God se beloftes nie sin maak nie. Al hoor ons dan dat die Here ons deur die dood sal dra, glimlag ons sinies agter ons hand.
  7. Die storie van ons pa en ma in die (on)geloof is ’n noodsaaklike verhaal vir die Christelike lewe. Dit konfronteer ons met die vraag of ons geloof nie dalk maar net met die grense van redelikheid werk nie. As dit die geval is, verval ons geloofslewe in die vervelige groewe van menslike moontlikhede. Godsdiens wat altyd binne die grense van redelikheid handel, is ’n ontbinde godsdiens (Don Affleck). Geloof wat altyd met rekenkundige beginsels werk is geen geloof nie: ‘Faith is not a reasonable act which fits into the normal scheme of life and perception’ (Brueggemann). Nee, die verhaal daag ons uit om op God se beloftes te bou. Dit daag ons uit om die ‘ongemak’ van God se beloftes te betree. Abraham en Sara het aanvaar dat die koeël deur die kerk is, dat God se beloftes nie meer waar kán word nie. Hulle ‘comfort zones’ van hopeloosheid word deur die aankondiging van die besoeker geruk. Daarom lag Sara … net soos Abraham gelag het … en ons dikwels lag
  8. Wanneer ons aan die einde van die pad gekom het, hoop verloor het, verras God ons met die herbevestiging van sy beloftes. Daarom kon Luther sê: Christen is soos ‘n held wat met die louter onmoontlike omgaan. Dit is om God om sy hals te val. Dit is getrooste twyfel.

Neil Verwey van Japan vertel die volgende verhaal. ‘Gedurende Kersfees en Nuwejaarstye rol die geld in Japan. Onder andere spandeer die Japanners baie geld aan gelukbringers. Een van die populêrste items wat glo geluk bring, is ‘n pop sonder bene en arms. Een van die darumapop se eienskappe is sy vorm, wat maak dat dit regop spring as dit omgestamp word. Binne-in die onderkant van die pop is ‘n stukkie lood ingebou, wat hom in staat stel om altyd regop te kom, al val hy ook hoe!   Die darumapop is vir die Japanner ‘n goeie voorbeeld van hoe ‘n mens moet optree as ‘n ongeluk jou tref – jy moet weer ‘n manier vind om op te staan. Elke keer as ek val of neergevel word, het ek nie ‘n gelukbringer nodig om my weer regop te laat kom nie. Ek het die lewende God wat my hand vat, my ophelp en my ewewig in Hom herstel.’

Miskien is dit belangrik dat ons ’n slag sal besef dat ons geloofsarms en bene afgekap is en dat geen lood in ons ons kan regop hou nie. Net God se beloftes dra ons.

Bronne

G Ch Aalders: Genesis Vol II. Michigan. Zondervan, 1981. Walter Brueggemann: Genesis. Atalanta. John Knox Press. 1982. C W Burger: Genesis 18:1-15, in Riglyne vir prediking oor die Genesisverhale. Woord teen die Lig II/3 (CW Burger, BA Müller, DJ Smit – reds). Kaapstad. NG Kerk-Uitgewers, 163-171. Coenie Burger: Storie vir ons tyd. Die hoopvolle verhaal van Abraham en Sara oorvertel vir ’n oorgangstyd. Kaapstad. Lux Verbi. 1994. Derek Kidner. Genesis. Leicester. IVP, 1967. Walter Lüthi. Abraham. Basel. Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag, 1967. G Von Rad: Genesis. London. SCM Press, 1972.

Week 9: People of Hope

Passage: Genesis 18: 1-15

Background

18:1-2: These verses show a few important issues. The place, time and visitors are listed. There are three men, apparently the way God reveals himself to Abraham and Sarah. It is in the middle of the day. According Kidner the narrative emphasise the contrast with to the events that follows (Genesis 19), where everything happens at night. God’s appearance stands in stark contrast with the dark elements of confusion and destruction. The place where God appeared is Mamre, which would later become a well-known sanctuary,

Most scholars deal with the problem that the Lord appeared in the form of three visitors to Abraham and Sarah. Most commentators see it as a natural element. The story alternates between the Lord that appeared and the men making a promise on behalf of God to Abraham. Later (18:13) the Lord is again speaking. Gunkel writes that divine events are always surprising. What is at stake is that God had appeared to them. Lüthi asks: Can it be other than mysterious? A thought that is consistently rejected is that this is a reference to the Trinity – even though the early church read it that way.

18:3-8: The hospitality of Abraham is obviously also the motif in Hebrews 13:2. In my opinion, one should not make too much of this motif. Von Rad and Aalders refer both to the old story that existed in Greek mythology when three gods (Zeus, Poseidon and Hermes) visited the childless Hyrieus in Boeotia. After his hospitable attitude towards the gods, he could make a wish. So the son, Orion, was give to him and his wife. Whether the Greek story influenced this one is not really the point. The point is that Israel confessed that their Lord appeared to them and guaranteed the offspring. A very important difference is that the child is not given based on a wish, but as a promise of free grace.

Brueggemann points out that there is a clear acceleration of events in the story. The slow pace implied by the midday heat, the sudden appearance of the three men and the offer of Abraham that they can stay increased the tempo. It becomes even faster with Abraham’s rush to prepare a meal for the visitors. This is an indication that something extraordinary could happen.

18:9-10: It is not without reason that God visited Abraham and Sarah in this way. The birth of their child is announced. God confirmed his promise that he did not forget his covenant. That it is God who speaks through a visitor is confirmed in the sudden question where Sarah was. That they knew her name is indicative of this (Aalders, Von Rad).

18: 11-12: Abraham and Sarah were already very old. This fact is echoed in Sarah’s laughing about this announcement by the visitors. Her laughter is understandable (von Rad). Obviously it would have been possible earlier, but not now. The narrator’s emphasis is not for nothing. Throughout the patriarchal narratives God’s promises remain His promises and is not built on human possibilities or potential. Infertility is therefore one of the major themes in these narratives. The author hereby emphasized that the promises of God belongs to Him only. What is required of us is to rest in and trust these promises. Abraham and Sarah show the continuing tendency of not really trusting God. In Genesis 12:10-20 Abraham took the law into their own hands by lying about his wife. In Genesis 16 (after God once again promises confirmed in Genesis 15 his promises) Abraham decided again to take law into his own hands, ‘The story is constructed to present the tension between this inscrutable speech of God (that comes as promise) and the resistance and mockery of Abraham and Sarah who doubt the word and cannot believe the promise. Israel stands before God’s word of promise but characteristically finds that word beyond reason and belief. Abraham, and especially Sarah, are not offered here as models of faith but as models of disbelief’ (Brueggemann).

18:13-15: Contrasting the disbelief of Sarah (and Abraham) we find the essential question of faith: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ Von Rad calls it the climax of the narrative. It is an open question and no answer is given – except for Sarah’s lie that she did not laugh. Brueggemann shows that God’s promises did not depend on their faith, ‘The resolve of God to open a future by a new heir does not depend on the readiness of Abraham and Sarah to accept it. God keeps his own counsel and will work his own will. It will happen, if not in a context of ready faith (which is here denied), then in a context of fearful, resistant laughter. The narrative ends. Sarah and Abraham still doubt. But the word has been uttered. Sarah and Abraham and the listening community can never again live pre-promise. All their lives are now impacted by this promissory word which will find its own fulfilment.’

Even their unbelief cannot undo may God’s determination to assemble a people to himself. Even the barren age of two people does not stop God’s plan. The promise of God rests in his faithfulness and is therefore always a gift from God.

An important question that we need to consider is this: Are we perhaps at a point in many religious communities where the possibility of extraordinary things done by the Lord is greeted by a cynical laugh. Walter Lüthi makes a lot of this in his sermon on this passage. He says that we understand examinations. Theoretically we can answer certain questions very well, but the faith examination is much more difficult than any other exam. Very few people pass this test. Yes, we will confess that everything is possible with God, but if it goes in against the limits of our reason, we smile about the ‘absurdities’ of miracle stories with which people bore us. Yes, it’s true that God created the heavens and created the earth, but if we are asked to rely on the God of heaven and earth, we find it somewhat ‘unrealistic.’ We are even wary of any strange story of miracles, because sometimes it is really nonsense and just imagination. The narrative confronting us here is whether we believe in the God of the impossible. As Brueggemann said, ‘We must say it is the fundamental question every human person must answer. And how it is answered determines everything else. If the question of the Lord is answered, ‘Yes, some things are too hard, impossible for God,’ then God is not yet confessed as God. We have not conceded radical freedom to God. We have determined to live in a closed universe where things are stable, reliable, and hopeless.’

I think Brueggemann’s comments on this matter are of great importance when we preach about this passage. According to him, we should make a clear distinction between what is possible and what is promised. Of course, everything is possible, but the question whether anything is too hard for the Lord, should be read within the context of God’s promises to Abraham. God does not give a blank cheque to Abraham and Sarah that they can fill in as they like, ‘The exposition we have urged leaves itself open to misunderstanding, as though faith makes every desirable thing possible. But not everything is promised. What is ‘possible’ is characterized only as everything promised by God. That is, only what corresponds to God’s good purposes is possible. He has promised a future in a new community, but not everything we would seek. To the disciples seeking salvation in Mark 10:27, Jesus gives his uncompromising answer. Poignantly, the issue surfaces for Jesus himself in the scene at Gethsemane. There he, too, seeks and raises the question of Gen. 18:14, praying: Father, all things are possible to thee. Remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt (Mark 14:36). Everything is possible to God – except one thing. The one thing not possible is the removal of the cup. What God will not (cannot?) do is to circumvent the reality of suffering, hurt, the cross. Thus, our text does not permit a casual triumphalism that simply believes everything is possible. Because of the character of God, everything is possible for those who stay through the dark night of barrenness with God. For Abraham and Sarah, there is no simple, painless route to an heir. And when we come to the shattering of Genesis 22, we shall see that the “impossibility of God” freely given is not a painless, tension-free possibility. Thus the strangers departed (Gen. 18:16) with the question still unanswered.’

Of course, God is greater than His promises, but it is always God who gives His promises. His goal with his promises in the patriarchal narratives is clear: a new beginning after the bleak history of Genesis 1-11, namely the promise of an offspring and the promise of a land. This is God’s new beginning.

 

Sermon proposal

  1. Is anything too hard for the LORD? (verse 14). Brueggemann writes, ‘We must say it is the fundamental question every human person must answer. And how it is answered determines everything else.’
  2. It depends, of course, from which side you are looking at this question. If we were Abraham and Sarah at this stage of their life, we would probably answer:  Yes, there are some things too hard for the Lord. The story of Abraham and Sarah emphasises a huge tension between God’s words of promise and Abraham and Sarah’s unbelief.  Abraham and Sarah are not models for our faith, no heroes of faith, but models of unbelief, doubt and hopelessness. When one reads the story of Abraham and Sarah, the pendulum constantly swings between hope and hopelessness, doubt and certainty. On several occasions God’s promises are just not enough for them.  Sometimes they take matters into their own hands and want to protect their own interests.
  • In Gen 12:10-20 Abraham lies about his wife to the king of Egypt.
  • In Gen 15:1-3 it is clear that Abraham does not belief the promises of God anymore.
  • In Gen 16 (just after God reassured him of his promises) Abraham and Sarah take matters into their own hands.  Years have past since God’s promises about a land and a child. Nothing happened.
  • In Gen 17:17 Abraham laughs as well because a son is a human impossibility.
  • At this stage of life, God’s promises make no sense anymore.

No wonder that Sarah also laughs now.  They are the perfect examples of people who have reached “rock bottom” with God. Abraham and Sarah became used to their infertility, used to the idea that they have no future, used to the idea that an offspring is impossible.  Hopelessness became a normal state of mind. Gerhard von Rad says:  That Sarah laughed, is completely understandable.  Earlier it would have been possible to have a child, but now… (verse 11).

  1.  One of the biggest disasters of the pilgrimage of faith is when one becomes content with the hopelessness of life. Augustine said that hopelessness is the hell.  It is when we accept that everything is just the way it is, that there are no possibilities for change, no need to hope anymore.  It is when we do not have a daring spirit anymore, no goals and purpose, no hope that circumstances will improve, when we have no dreams left.  CS Lewis wrote that the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. The story of Abraham en Sarah has reached this point.
  2. It is very normal to reach these points in our lives of faith. Calvin said that someone who has never feared has never believed. Where the fire of faith burns, there is also the smoke of doubt.  Our faith is like a balloon that is blown by the wind amongst thorn bushes.  As long as it does not touch the thorn, it is fine.  When it touches the hard times, it bursts. It is easy to believe when things go well.  It is quite another situation when the going gets touch.  It is difficult to believe when life has turned its back to you, when human help has failed, when our thoughts have come to a dead end. We may sing in the church, ‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way… O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come …sufficient is thine arm alone …’,  but to sing the same words is difficult when the going gets tough. It is quite easy to say the Creed, ‘I believe in God the father, Almighty!  I believe in eternal life!’  Sometimes we are even triumphant when we do it, but when we go outside in the thorn bushes of reality, things are different.  It is then when we easily smile about the promises of God.’ One of the darkest moments in my ministry was when someone told me that I would be half as joyful about the ‘truths’ of faith when I have lost my son and wife in an accident like he did. Walter Lüthi said that we all have to write examinations.  We know the theory well.  The examinations, tests of faith are much more difficult.  Not many people pass it.  Yes, we confess that everything is possible for God, but when the borders of our rationality must be moved, when it does not comply with our rational understanding of what is possible or impossible, we start to smile about the absurdities of the miracles with which people sometimes bore us.  Yes, it is true that God created heaven and earth, but to completely rely on this God, is taking it a bit too far.

Abraham and Sara are people who, like us, find it difficult to wait upon God’s time.  Our impatience with God sometime reaches a point where we say: promises, promises, and promises … that’s all there is. Is something to hard for the Lord?  Yes, sometime we feel this way.

  1. But you can also look at this question from another angle. In Greek mythology we read about three gods (Zeus, Poseidon and Hermes) who visited the childless Hyrieus in Boeotia.  After his hospitable behaviour towards them, the gods gave him a wish.  So he and his wife received their so, Orion from the Gods.  This story and the other narratives of the Patriarchs make one thing very clear:  We cannot deserve anything from God through our faith and hospitality.  Our faith will not make God do the impossible.  Even the lack of faith and infertility will also not prevent God from making his promises a reality:  God’s promises are HIS promises. This God does not make his promises dependent on the power of our faith or trust…  When we have reached the end of the road, lost our hope, God surprises us with the reassurance that he will make his promises true.

Of course everything is possible for God, but he does ask us to believe it.  Brueggemann writes, ‘The exposition we have urged leaves itself open to misunderstanding, as though faith makes every desirable thing possible. But not everything is promised. What is ‘possible’ is characterized only as everything promised by God. That is, only what corresponds to God’s good purposes is possible. He has promised a future in a new community, but not everything we would seek. Poignantly, the issue surfaces for Jesus himself in the scene at Gethsemane. There he, too, seeks and raises the question of Gen. 18:14, praying: Father, all things are possible to thee… Remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt (Mark 14:36). Everything is possible to God – except one thing. The one thing not possible is the removal of the cup. What God will not (cannot?) do is to circumvent the reality of suffering, hurt, the cross. Thus, our text does not permit a casual triumphalism that simply believes everything is possible.’

Is something to hard for the Lord means, first of all: do you think that my promises can come true, even if the reality in which you find yourself, may say the opposite?  The narrative emphasises:  Because God is God, everything is possible for those who remain with God in the dark nights of hopelessness.  God made his promises and will not break it.

What is more unrealistic than God who became a human being: it is going in against all human arguments and rationality. God made the impossible possible, by making us, who has gone astray, his children.  (The narrative of the rich young man illustrates it Matt 16:16-30).  God made the impossible possible, by conquering death!

Century after century, year after year, Christians fall into the pit of hopelessness and despair.  When cancer, droughts and depression hit us, when crops fail, God’s promises does not make sense. When we then hear that God will make his promises true, that he will save us in the midst of our troubles and promises to be with us, we smile behind our hand.

Neil Verwey of Japan told the following story.  One of the most popular items that bring luck in Japan, is a doll without legs and arms – the Darumah doll.  One of the characteristics of the doll is its form. When it is bumped over, it comes up straight again, because there is a piece of lead at the bottom.  It does not matter how it falls, it comes up straight again.  It is an example for Japanese people of how your conduct should be when something bad happens to you.  We have to get up again.

What keeps us upright is not lead or something in ourselves, but the promises of God.

  1. Die story of Abraham and Sara is open …Is anything to hard for the Lord?  This story is a fundamental narrative for Christian life.  Our life of faith sometimes falls into the boring grooves of human possibilities or impossibilities. Religion that always acts within the boundaries of rationality is a decomposed religion (Don Affleck). Walter Brueggemann writes, ‘We must say it is the fundamental question every human person must answer. And how it is answered determines everything else. If the question of the Lord is answered, ‘Yes, some things are too hard, impossible for God,’ then God is not yet confessed as God. We have not conceded radical freedom to God. We have determined to live in a closed universe where things are stable, reliable, and hopeless.’

Abraham and Sara accepted that there everything has reached a point of no return, that God’s promises are futile. Their ‘comfort zones’ of hopelessness are shaken by the visitors.  That is why Sarah laughs … just like Abraham … and us. This narrative challenges us to trust God’s promises. It challenges us to start the journey with the uncomfortable promises of God. Brueggemann writes, ‘At the end of the story, the visitors leave …. But the question remains unanswered. It remains an open question…’

Some Sources

G Ch Aalders: Genesis Vol II. Michigan. Zondervan, 1981. Walter Brueggemann: Genesis. Atalanta. John Knox Press. 1982. C W Burger: Genesis 18:1-15, in Riglyne vir prediking oor die Genesisverhale. Woord teen die Lig II/3 (CW Burger, BA Müller, DJ Smit – reds). Kaapstad. NG Kerk-Uitgewers, 163-171. Coenie Burger: Storie vir ons tyd. Die hoopvolle verhaal van Abraham en Sara oorvertel vir ’n oorgangstyd. Kaapstad. Lux Verbi. 1994. Derek Kidner. Genesis. Leicester. IVP, 1967. Walter Lüthi. Abraham. Basel. Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag, 1967. G Von Rad: Genesis. London. SCM Press, 1972.

Tema 1: Gebou op die Waarheid

Skriflesing: 1 Joh 1:1-2:2

Agtergrond

Die brief van Johannes is een van die beste samevattings van die verdediging van die evangelie van Jesus Christus te midde van ‘n gemeenskap wat sy mensheid ontken het. Daar was duidelik groot probleme onder die gelowiges oor die persoon van Jesus Christus. Dit het veral oor sy menswees gegaan. Uiteraard bevat die brief ook pragtige etiese aspekte, byvoorbeeld die liefde wat gelowiges onder mekaar behoort te hê.

Dit is egter interessant dat liefde en geloof deurgaans aan mekaar gekoppel word. Hierdie geloof is in die Seun van God. Kyk byvoorbeeld na 1 Joh 5:2-5: ‘Hiéraan weet ons dat ons die kinders van God liefhet: wanneer ons God liefhet en sy gebooie onderhou. Die liefde vir God bestaan dan daarin dat ons sy gebooie gehoorsaam. Sy gebooie is ook nie moeilik om te gehoorsaam nie, want enigeen wat ‘n kind van God is, kan die sondige wêreld oorwin. En die oorwinning wat ons oor die wêreld behaal het, is deur ons geloof. Wie anders is dit wat die wêreld oorwin as hy wat glo dat Jesus die Seun van God is?’ Dit is ’n herhaling van die gedagte wat in 1 Joh 3:23 uitgespreek word: ‘En dít is sy gebod: Ons moet in sy Seun, Jesus Christus, glo en ons moet mekaar liefhê ooreenkomstig die gebod wat Hy ons gegee het.’

Jan Durand skryf dat 1 Johannes oor ‘n hele reeks onderwerpe handel, soos die betekenis van die inkarnasie van Jesus Christus, die gemeenskap met God, die sonde en versoening, broederlike liefde en haat, kinders van God, die wederkoms, die liefde van God, geloof en liefde as ‘n reaksie van die mens op God se liefde en oorwinning oor die wêreld, om net ‘n paar te noem. Daar is ‘n baie sterk klem op die identiteit van die lesers: hulle is kinders van God. Hulle identiteit word dikwels teruggevoer word na sy oorsprong, naamlik dat hulle seker is dat hulle die ewige lewe het op die grond van die inkarnasie van die Seun van God (1 Joh 5:6-13).

Gemeenskap met God is slegs moontlik deur Jesus Christus. Hierdie gedeelte is die inleiding tot die brief. 1: 1-2:2 is oor die fondament van die gemeenskap. Wat is hierdie fondament? Jesus Christus, die ewige Seun van God! Sonder Hom is daar geen gemeenskap met God, geen vergifnis, geen herstel van gemeenskap moontlik nie. Hy is die basis, die grondslag vir die gemeenskap van gelowiges.

Johannes het saam met Jesus geloop. Hy het gehoor wat Jesus gesê het. Hy het aan Hom geraak. In hierdie verse maak hy dit egter duidelik dat hierdie Jesus geen gewone mens was nie. Hy is die ‘Woord van die lewe.’ Hy het van ewigheid af bestaan. Hou in gedagte dat die vroeë kerk ’n stryd beleef het oor die godheid en mensheid van Christus. Een groep het sy godheid ten koste van sy mensheid beklemtoon. ’n Ander groep het sy mensheid ten koste van sy godheid beklemtoon. Johannes hou aan albei vas. Die ewige Seun van God was ’n mens.

Vir ’n uitstekende bespreking van die verse in hierdie perikoop kan die preekstudie van Chris de Wet geraadpleeg word. Sien die argief van leesrooster tekste op communitas se webblad: communitas.co.za

Preek

  1. Die ou liedjie van ‘Humpty Dumpty’ wat op ‘n muur sit en geval het, is baie bekend onder kinders. Die perde van die koning en al die mense van die koning kon hom nie help nie! Hy was dom. Mure is nie gemaak vir ronde eiers nie. Hy het geval. Alles was verby. Sy lewe was aan skerwe.

Humpty Dumpty beskryf ons lewe sonder Christus. Dit beskryf die gemeenskap met God sonder Christus. Ons is dwaas, gebroke en nie in staat om die stukke op te tel nie. Alle die perde van die koning en al die mense van die koning, al ons pogings, ons harde werk, al die hulp van mense, geen spesiale verhouding met ‘n vriend of ‘n minnaar, geen godsdienstige oefening of liefdadigheidswerk kan ons lewens herstel nie.
2. Johannes verkondig ‘n ongelooflike boodskap. Dit is ons enigste hoop. Hy sê dat hy ons van Jesus wil vertel.

  • 1: 1: Van die begin af was Hy daar. Ons het Hom self gehoor; ons het Hom met ons eie oë gesien; ja, ons het Hom gesien en met ons hande aan Hom geraak.

Johannes sê: ek het persoonlike ervaring van Hom.

  • 1: 2: Die Lewe het gekom; ons het Hom gesien en is getuie daarvan, en ons verkondig aan julle die Ewige Lewe wat by die Vader was en aan ons geopenbaar is.

Johannes sê: Ek vertel jou van Jesus, ‘sodat julle aan ons gemeenskap deel kan hê. En die gemeenskap waaraan ons deel het, is dié met die Vader en met sy Seun, Jesus Christus’ (1:3). Jy sal ‘n intieme verhouding met die Vader en Jesus Christus hê as jy hierdie boodskap hoor en glo. Dit is die doel van die boodskap wat ek bring: ware gemeenskap met God deur Jesus.

  1. Hoekom vertel ek jou oor Jesus? Wanneer jou lewe aan skerwe lê, wanneer jou verhouding met God verbreek is en nie is wat dit moet wees nie, wanneer jy verlang na gemeenskap met God en die leegheid, die gat in jou hart ervaar, maak hy dit reg:
  • 1:7: ‘Die bloed van Jesus, sy Seun, (reinig) ons van elke sonde.’

Die bloed van Christus verwys na Christus wat gesterf as ‘n offer vir die sonde wat ons sonde verwyder. Sonde verbreek gemeenskap met God. Die bloed, die dood, en die offer van Christus herstel die gebroke verhouding.

  • 2: 2: Christus, die regverdige is ‘n versoening vir ons sondes: ‘Hy is die versoening vir ons sondes; en nie net vir óns sondes nie, maar ook vir dié van die hele wêreld.’
  • 4:10: ‘Werklike liefde is dít: nie die liefde wat ons vir God het nie, maar die liefde wat Hy aan ons bewys het deur sy Seun te stuur as versoening vir ons sondes.’
    Die offer wat versoening bring verwys na ‘n aksie wat vrede tussen vyande sou bring – die herstel van gemeenskap.
  • 1:9: ‘Hy is getrou en regverdig, Hy vergewe ons ons sondes en reinig ons van alle ongeregtigheid.’
  • 2:1: Dit skrywe ek aan julle, my liewe kinders, dat julle nie moet sondig nie. En as een van ons sondig – ons het Jesus Christus, die regverdige, as ons voorspraak by die Vader.

Jesus Christus is die regverdige – ‘n Voorspraak by die Vader
God het nie die doodstraf vir ons sondes nie voltrek nie. Christus staan voor God namens ons met sy geregtigheid.

Johannes sê: Ek vertel julle van Jesus, want hy het die gemeenskap met God herstel. Ware gemeenskap met God en egte herstel van gemeenskap met God kom slegs deur sy offer.

’n Verhaal word vertel van die figuur uit die Middeleeue, Uilspieël (Till Eulenspiegel). Hiervolgens het hy ’n aaklige lewe gelei. Hy het sy vrou en kinders verwaarloos en op die ou end verlaat. By hom het hy altyd ’n boek gehad. Op die voorblad het daar gestaan: My lewe. In die boek is al sy vreeslike dade met ink opgeskryf. Hy het die boek oral met hom saamgedra omdat hy bang was dat iemand dit in die hande sou kry en van sy lewe sou lees. Op ’n dag het hy oor ’n hangbrug gestap en sy balans verloor. In die proses het die boek in die rivier geval. Al kon Hy nie swem nie, het hy in die rivier gespring om die boek terug te kry. As dit nie vir ’n boot was wat hom gered het nie, het hy sekerlik verdrink. Nadat hy gered is, was sy eerste woorde: Waar is my boek? Die mense wat hom gered het, het sy boek aan hom terug gegee. Toe hy die boek oopmaak, het die water al die ink van die bladsye afgewas. Op die buiteblad van die boek het steeds gestaan: My lewe. Binne-in die boek was daar egter geen woord meer oor sy vreeslike lewe nie.

God se vergifnis werk ook so. As Hy vergewe, wis Hy ons verlede uit. Natuurlik sal ons nog soms van die gevolge van ons sonde met ons saamdra, maar dit beteken nie dat God ons straf of ons sonde teen ons hou nie.

  1. Hoe ontvang ons hierdie genesende krag in ons lewens? Johannes maak dit baie duidelik:
  • 1: 9 As ons ons sondes bely – Hy is getrou en regverdig, Hy vergewe ons ons sondes en reinig ons van alle ongeregtigheid.

God die regverdige vergewe die ongeregtigheid. Dit is die rede waarom God vergewe – Hy is getrou en regverdig – Hy is die God van die verbond (Deut 32). Ons het ’n nuwe begin saam met God. Johannes erken dat ek en jy ‘n ruimte, ‘n nuwe begin, ‘n skoon begin nodig het. Hierdie skoon begin is deur Jesus Christus. Ons het gemeenskap met die Vader en die Seun omdat ons gewas is deur die bloed van Christus en beklee is met die geregtigheid van Christus.

Dit is die basis van alle gemeenskap in die kerk van Jesus Christus – om gewas te wees deur die bloed van Jesus Christus! Dit is om in die lig wandel! Ons word nie meer aan ons sonde geken nie. Ons weet dat Christus daarvoor betaal het. Daarom bely ons dit voor God!

  1. Dit bring ons by die kern van die boodskap wat Johannes met ons deel. Laat my kernboodskap verduidelik: Johannes skryf aan ‘n gemeente wat ‘n skeuring ervaar. In 2:19 skryf hy oor hierdie mense: ‘Hulle het wel uit ons geledere voortgekom, maar niemand van hulle was ooit werklik een van ons nie, want as hulle werklik van ons was, sou hulle by ons gebly het.’ Hy noem hulle antichriste in 2:18 en beskryf dit duidelik in 2:22,23: ‘Wie is die leuenaar anders as hy wat nie wil erken dat Jesus werklik die Christus is nie? Hý is die antichris, hy wat nie die Vader en die Seun wil erken nie. Wie nie die Seun erken nie, verwerp ook die Vader; wie die Seun erken, erken ook die Vader.’

Later in sy brief waarsku hy teen dieselfde mense: ‘Geliefdes, moenie enigeen glo wat sê dat hy die Gees van God het nie, want daar is nou reeds baie vals profete in die wêreld, maar ondersoek elkeen, ondersoek of sy gees van God afkomstig is. Hiéraan ken julle die Gees van God: elkeen wat bely dat Jesus werklik die Christus is wat mens geword het, het die Gees wat van God afkomstig is. En elkeen wat dit nie van Jesus bely nie, het nie die Gees wat van God afkomstig is nie. Hy het die gees van die antichris, die gees van wie julle gehoor het dat hy kom en wat nou reeds in die wêreld is’ (4:1-3).

Hierdie mense het aan die gemeenskap van gelowiges behoort, maar slegs in naam. Hulle was op die boeke, maar nie in die geloof nie. Slegs hulle wat dit in die geloof aanvaar is deel van hierdie gemeenskap. In baie opsigte is die Christelike geloofsgemeenskap eksklusief. Niemand anders as hulle wat Jesus Christus as Verlosser ken en aanvaar het is deel van die gemeenskap nie. Uiteraard wil ons hê dat almal dit moet aanvaar. Die realiteit is dat almal dit nie aanvaar nie. Ons maak nie kompromieë nie. Jesus is die rede hoekom ons deel van God se gemeenskap is.

Hier is die hart van die saak: die simptoom van hierdie fundamentele dwaling is die onwilligheid om te erken dat ons sondaars is en die offer van Christus nodig het. Die kern van die saak is dat ware gemeenskap met God deur Jesus Christus hand aan hand gaan met die erkenning dat ons sondaars is.

Johannes verwys hierna dit in die gedeelte wat ons het vandag gelees het en gebruik harde woorde om dit te veroordeel.

  • 1:8,10: ‘As ons beweer dat ons nie sonde het nie, bedrieg ons onsself en is die waarheid nie in ons nie. As ons beweer dat ons nie gesondig het nie, maak ons Hom tot leuenaar en is sy woord nie in ons nie. As ons beweer dat ons nie sonde het nie, bedrieg ons onsself en die waarheid is nie in ons nie.

Ons is leuenaars en bedrieërs. Daar is geen waarheid in ons nie. Daar is en was nog steeds mense wat glo dat hulle sonde nie so erg is dat dit die gemeenskap met God verbreek het nie. Dit is ‘n leuen en self-misleiding. Dit is egter nog veel erger as dit. Ons sê dat God lieg. Die Waarheid (Jesus) is nie in ons nie!

Dit is wat die duisternis beteken. Dit is die blindheid van die mense wat nie gemeenskap met Christus het nie: ‘As ons beweer dat ons aan Hom deel het, en ons lewe in die duisternis, lieg ons en handel ons nie volgens die waarheid nie’ (1:6).
6. Die hartseerste ding is dat baie mense beweer dat hulle gemeenskap met God het, maar dit moeilik vind om Jesus as Here en Verlosser te aanvaar. Mense aanbid Sondag na Sondag, maar sluit Christus uit. Ten diepste sluit hulle hulleself af van die waarheid en die gemeenskap van gelowiges. Johannes sê dat dit onmoontlik is. Gemeenskap met God kom net deur Jesus Christus, deur sy offer wat versoening gebring het. Gemeenskap met God is slegs moontlik omdat sy bloed ons van alle ongeregtigheid gereinig het. Gemeenskap met God is slegs moontlik omdat die regverdige advokaat ons saak verdedig. Daar is geen Christus-lose gemeenskap met God moontlik nie.

Hoeveel keer in jou lewe het jy hierdie boodskap van die totale vergifnis gehoor en die geleentheid gehad om jou sonde te bely en jou verlede agter jou te laat? Hoeveel geleenthede het jy gehad om te aanvaar dat God die stukke van jou lewe kan optel en jou lewe werklik herstel? Dan gaan die oomblik verby en jy sê vir jouself: ‘Ek moet net volhou. Ek moet net hierdie fout wat ek gemaak het regmaak.’ Ek is jammer dat ek gedoen het wat ek gedoen het, maar daar is geen bekering nie, geen omdraai na God nie, geen gebrokenheid voor Hom nie.

Hier staan die waarheid weer voor jou. Jy wys dit weer van die hand omdat jy nie die soort mens is wat kan erken dat jy ’n nuwe lewe nodig het nie. Jy hou van Jesus, want Hy is ’n goeie onderwyser van morele waardes en etiese gedrag, maar nie as Verlosser nie. Hierdie konstante klem op sonde en Jesus is ‘n belediging vir ons menslike potensiaal of die goedheid van die menslike natuur. Ek wil nie van sonde hoor nie, want dis demoraliserend. Hierdie prysgawe van jouself aan Jesus is te veel gevra. Dit beteken om beheer te verloor en daarvoor sien ek nie kans nie. Eintlik sê ons: Ons is te goed vir God se manier van dinge doen. Ons is goeie mense en ons het nie al hierdie sogenaamde evangeliese en Jesus dinge nodig nie.

Hoe hartseer! Jou lewe lê aan skerwe, want jy het geen gemeenskap met God nie. Jy moet op jou eie regkom. Jy plaas jouself buite die waarheid. Jy het geen Verlosser nie, niemand wat jou kan genees nie. Jy moet self regkom met jou gebroke lewe. God se Woord noem jou ‘n leuenaar en bedrieër!

  1. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ het op die muur gesit en ’n lelike val beleef. Al die perde en ruiters van die koning kon nie help nie. God het ons Humpty Dumpty lewens deur sy genade herstel. Ons leef nou in die lig. Elke keer wanneer die duisternis van sonde oor ons kom, word ons geroep om dit te bely. God is lig en kan ​​die duisternis nie aanvaar nie. Ons maak daarom staat op Christus se offer. Dit is die enigste manier om die gemeenskap met God te herstel. Dis ook al wat ons aan mekaar bind.

Of verkies jy om in die duisternis, gebroke en stukkend te bly? Kies jy vir Humpty Dumpty lewe? Keith Miller het geskryf: ‘Vir jare het ek probeer om my lewe sonder belydenis skoon te maak. Ek was soos ‘n man wat sy huis probeer ontsmet, maar het ‘n kelder vol dooie honde gehad. Dinge het op die oppervlak skoon gelyk, dit het nooit heeltemal reg geruik nie. Belydenis is goed vir die siel, want dit maak die deure vir vergifnis oop.’

Deur belydenis word die vensters van ons siel oopgemaak vir God se vergifnis. Daardeur ontvang ons die waarheid! So word ons ook aan mekaar verbind. Dit is die basis van ons gemeenskap met mekaar.

Background

The letter of John is one of the best summaries of the defence of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a society that denied his humanity. There were clearly big problems among the faithful about the person of Jesus Christ. It was mainly about his humanity. Of course the letter also contains beautiful ethical aspects, such as the love that believers should have among themselves.

It is interesting that love and faith are always linked. This faith is in the Son of God. Look at 1 John 5:2-5, ‘This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.’ This is a repetition of the idea expressed in 1 John 3:23, ‘And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.’

Jan Durand writes that 1 John deals with a whole range of topics, such as the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, communion with God, sin and reconciliation, brotherly love and hatred, being children of God, the Second Coming, the love of God, faith and love as a response of humans to God’s love and victory over the world, to name just a few. It is impossible to summarise all the topics under one main theme. Yet, one could say that there is a very strong emphasis on the identity of the readers: they are children of God. Their identity is often traced back to its origin, namely that they are sure that they have eternal life (cf.. 5:13) on the basis of the incarnation of the Son of God.

Fellowship with God is only possible through Jesus Christ. This passage is the introduction to the letter. 1:1-2:2 is about the foundation of the fellowship. What is this foundation? Jesus Christ, te eternal Son of God! Without Him there is no fellowship with God, no forgiveness, no restoration of fellowship. He is the basis, the foundation for the fellowship of believers.

John walked with Jesus. He heard what Jesus said. He touched Him. In these verses he makes it clear that this Jesus is no ordinary human being. He is the ‘Word of life.’ He existed from eternity.

Keep in mind that the early church struggled with the deity and humanity of Christ. One group stressed his divinity at the expense of his humanity. A different group emphasized his humanity at the expense of his divinity. John emphasises both. The eternal Son of God became an ordinary human being like us.

Sermon

Reading: 1 John 1:1-2:2

  1. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses, And all the king’s men, Couldn’t put Humpty together again! He was foolish. Walls are not made for eggs. He fell. It was over.

Humpty Dumpty describes our lives without Christ – Foolish, broken and unable to pick up the pieces. All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men, all our efforts, our hard work, all the help from people, no special relationship with a friend or a lover, no religious exercise or charity work could put our lives together again.

  1. John steps in here with an incredible message. This is our only hope. I want to tell you about Jesus, says John.
  • 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. John says, ‘I have personal experience.’
  • 1:2: He was with the Father and has appeared to us. John says, ‘This Jesus was eternal and came to live here amongst us. I am telling you about this Jesus ‘so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’ You will have an intimate relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ if you hear and believe this message. This is the purpose of the message that I bring: true fellowship with God through Jesus.
  1. Why am I telling you about Jesus?

When your life is in pieces, when your relationship with God is broken and not what it should be, when you long for fellowship with God and feel the emptiness, the hole in your heart, he makes it right.

  • 1:9: God forgives us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. How? 1:7: the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
  • 2:2: Christ, the righteous one is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
  • The blood of Christ refers to Christ who died as a sacrifice for sin to remove our sin. Sin breaks fellowship with God. The blood, the death, the sacrifice of Christ heals this broken relationship. He is the righteous one! The Atoning sacrifice refers to an action that would bring peace between enemies – restoring fellowship: 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
  • 2:1: Jesus Christ is the righteous one – an advocate with the Father: God gave us the death penalty for our sins, but Christ stands before God on our behalf with His righteousness . John says, ‘I am telling you about Jesus because he restores fellowship with God – true fellowship and restored fellowship comes through His sacrifice.’

Till Owlyglass (Till Eulenspiegel) was an imaginary figure from the Middle ages. According to this he led a horrible life. He neglected his wife and children and eventually left them. With him he always had a book. On the cover of the book was the title of the book: ‘My life.’ In this book, all his terrible deeds were written in ink. He took the book everywhere with him because he was afraid that someone would get hold of it and would read the story of his life.

Then one day he walked across a suspension bridge and lost his balance. In the process, he fell into the water and with him his book. Although he could not swim, he tried to retrieve the book. If not for a boat around he would have drowned. After he was rescued, his first words were, ‘Where is my book? The people who rescued him, gave him back his book. When he opened the book, the water washed the ink from the pages. On the cover of the book one could still see the words, ‘My life.’ Inside the book however, there was no word about his terrible life.

God’s forgiveness works like this. If He forgives, He wipes out our past. Of course we will sometimes bear some of the consequences of our sins, but that does not mean that God punishes us. He does not consider our sins anymore when he thinks about us.

  1. How do we receive this healing, God’s healing power in our lives?

John sys, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1:9). God the righteous one, forgives the unrighteousness. This is the reason why God forgives – he is faithful and just. He is the God of the covenant (Deut 32).           John recognises that you and I need a space, new beginnings, a clean slate. This is to have fellowship with the Father and the Son – to be washed by the blood of Christ and to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. This is the basis of all fellowship in the church of Jesus Christ – washed by the blood of Jesus Christ! This is to walk in the light – knowing our sin, knowing that Christ paid for it, confessing it before God

  1. This brings us to the core of the message that John shares with us. Let me explain this core message: John writes to a congregation that experienced a split, ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us’ (2:19). He calls them antichrists in 2:18 and describes them clearly, ‘Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father (2:22,23). Further on he writes, ‘Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world’ (4:1-3).

It seems that these people belonged to the community of believers, but only in name. They were on the books, but not in faith. Here is the heart of the matter: the symptom of this fundamental heresy is the reluctance to admit that we are sinners and need Christ. The heart of the matter is: true fellowship with God through Jesus Christ goes hand in hand with admitting that we are sinners and need Christ.

John refers to it in the passage we have read today and uses harsh words to condemn it.

  • 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. He says ‘You are a liar and deceiver. There is no truth in you.’ There were and still are people who believe(d) that nothing they did really broke the fellowship with God. This is a lie and self-deception. It is even much worst than that:
  • 1:10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. John says that they truly believed that they are fine and that nothing sinful could be found in them. But by doing it, there were saying that God is a liar. When he says, ‘His word is not in us’ he actually says that Jesus does not live in you, because he is the Word of life (1:1)

This is what darkness means. This is the blindness of those who do not have fellowship with Christ, ‘If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.’ (1:6). The saddest thing is that many people claim to have fellowship with God, but find it hard to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. John says that this is impossible. Fellowship with God comes only through Jesus Christ, the atoning sacrifice. Fellowship with God is only possible because His blood purified us from all unrighteousness. Fellowship with God is only possible because the righteous advocate defends our case. There is no Christ-less fellowship with God.

How many times in your life have you heard this message of total forgiveness and had the opportunity to come clean with your past, to allow God to pick up the pieces of your life and put your life together again. Then the moment passed and you said to yourself, ‘I just need to keep on going. I just need to get over this mistake I made. I regret that I have done what I have done,’ but there is no repentance, no turning to God, no brokenness before Him. And again, you have turned down the invitation to come and be healed, because you are not that kind of person who would admit that you need a new life, the word of life. You want Jesus to be a good teacher of moral values and ethical behaviour, but not as Saviour. This constant emphasis on sin and Jesus as an insult to their human potential or the goodness of human nature. We don’t want to hear about sin, because it is demoralising.

If we do not surrender ourselves to Christ, it is because we think we can manage on our own. We become to good for God’s way. We are good people and we don’t need all this so-called evangelical Jesus stuff.

How sad! Your life is in pieces because you have no fellowship with God, you have placed yourself outside the truth, you have no Saviour, no one that can heal you. You have to cope with your broken life on your own. God’s word calls you a liar and deceiver.

  1. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses, And all the king’s men, Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

Our Humpty Dumpty lives have been put together by God’s grace through Jesus and Him only. We now live in the light. Every time the darkness of sin comes over us, we are called to confess it. God is light and he cannot stand the darkness – we need to rely on Christ’s sacrifice. This is the only way the fellowship with God is restored

Or do you prefer to remain in darkness, to remain broken and choose for a life in pieces? Keith Miller wrote, “For years I tried to clean up my life without confession. I was like a man who kept fumigating his house but had a basement full of dead dogs. Things somehow looked clean – but they never smelled quite right. Confession is good for the soul because it opens the doors of forgiveness.”

Through confession we open the windows of our souls to God’s forgiveness. In this way we receive the truth! This is how we are also joined together. This is the basis of our fellowship with one another.

Tema 2: Ons is een liggaam

Skriflesing:

Ef 2:11-22

Agtergrond

Binne die breër konteks van die brief is Ef 2:11-22 deel van die eerste gedeelte van die brief wat ons as die ‘teologiese’ gedeelte kan beskryf. Dit sit die evangelie uiteen en fokus op die werk van God in Christus en deur die Heilige Gees. In Ef 1:3-14 het Paulus oor die genadige uitverkiesing van God se mense gepraat. Hierdie uitverkiesing is in Christus. Deur geloof in Hom, die Uitverkorene van God, deel ons in God se genade. Dis deur die evangelie wat ons deel van die volk van God geword het. Nadat hy dan vir die gemeente bid, benadruk hy in Ef 2:1-10 dat ons redding geheel en al genade is. Genade en uitverkiesing is byna sinonieme. Die twee begrippe wat God se onvoorwaardelike en wonderlike liefde beskryf. Nou benadruk hy in 2:11-22 dat die genade oor baie meer gaan as persoonlike redding. Ons is deel van ’n nuwe volk, ’n nuwe mensheid – die kerk. Dis die gevolg van die reddingswerk van Christus.

Ek kan my goed indink dat hierdie verse rillings deur die ruggrate van baie Jode sou laat gaan het. Immers, Paulus het nou al verklaar dat Jesus die wet van Moses opgehef het en dat Jode en nie-Jode een nuwe mensheid is. Nou gaan hy verder en sê dat hulle saam tot ’n heilige tempel van die Here verrys!

Vir die Jode was die wet en die tempel seker van die heiligste dinge wat daar was. Paulus sê egter dat die kerk die vervulling is van die boodskap van die profete and apostels. En die apostels kyk maar net terug op die boodskap van die profete en sê dat die profete vervul is.

Die sentrum van die kerk is die hoeksteen wat dit het. ’n Hoeksteen is nie vir ons so belangrik soos in die dae van Paulus nie. Vir ons bevat dit slegs inligting van die datum waarop die gebou in gebruik geneem is. In Paulus se tyd was dit die steen waarom die hele gebou opgerig is. Wat die kerk kerk maak, is dat dit nie sonder die werk wat Jesus Christus gedoen het, kan bestaan nie. Hiervan het die profete lankal gepraat en hiervan getuig die apostels. Die getuienis van die apostels en profete vorm die fondament van die kerk, want dit vertel van Christus (20). Vir Paulus berus die kerk dus op die waarheid van God woord en beloftes.

So is dit vandag ook in die kerk. Wat die kerk kerk maak is die verbondenheid aan God se Woord wat in Christus in totale vervulling gegaan het. Sonder Christus is daar nie ’n kerk nie. Daarom moet die kerk altyd die uniekheid van die werk van Christus verkondig.

Paulus gebruik baie begrippe in hierdie gedeelte om ons nuwe status te beskryf. Bywoners en vreemdelinge was mense sonder politieke en sosiale regte. In die kerk is daar nie sulke mense nie. Daar is almal opgeneem in ’n gemeenskap waar ons gelykwaardig met mekaar is. Ons word medeburgers en lede van God se huisgesin genoem (2:19). Die rede daarvoor is eenvoudig. God het ons deel daarvan gemaak deur die dood van sy Seun. Hy praat van die kerk as ’n gebou, ’n tempel, ’n geestelike huis waarin God woon (2:20-22).   Hier is nie van meervoude sprake nie. Die kerk is mense wat bymekaar hoort.

Dit is in hierdie ‘gebou’ van God, binne die gemeenskap van die gelowiges, saam met die ander gesinslede van die Here, waar God steeds besig is met die bouwerk aan sy kerk. Helder en duidelik sê Paulus dat ons in hierdie gebou saam met ander gelowiges opgebou word as ’n klomp mense waar dit duidelik sal wees dat God onder ons woon (2:22).

Gelowiges het mekaar nodig. Ons is nog onder konstruksie. God is nie klaar met ons nie.

Preekvoorstel: Ef 2:11-22

  1. Hoekom het Jesus gesterf? Wat moes daardeur bereik word? Waarskynlik sal meeste mense nie baie probleme met hierdie vraag hê nie. Hy het gesterf vir ons sonde, om ons te red, om ons sonde te versoen, om ons te verlos, ensovoorts. Ons sou selfs die woorde van Ef 2:4 kon aanhaal: ‘Uit genade is julle gered…’

Paulus sou in die lig van die Skrifgedeelte antwoord: Halfpad reg, maar nie heeltemal nie! Hoewel Jesus ons uit die dood gered het, is dit vir Paulus duidelik dat Hy verder as dit gegaan het met sy dood. Hy het ook gesterf sodat mense wat ver van mekaar geleef het, met mekaar versoen kan word. Dit klink amper soos ’n koor oor en oor in hierdie gedeelte dat Jesus sy liggaam en bloed gegee, dat Hy aan die kruis gesterf het (2:14-16). Iets meer as die verlossing van sonde het egter gebeur.

Wat het gebeur? Ons het nader gekom deur die bloed van Christus (​2:13), is bevry van ons sonde sodat ons … Luister mooi:

  • Hy wat dié twee, Jode en nie-Jode, een gemaak het. Deur sy liggaam te gee, het Hy die vyandskap afgebreek wat vroeër soos ‘n muur skeiding gemaak het. Die wet van Moses met al sy gebooie en bepalings het Hy opgehef, en deur vrede te maak, het Hy in Homself dié twee, Jode en nie-Jode, tot een nuwe mensheid verenig. Deur sy dood aan die kruis het Hy ‘n einde gemaak aan die vyandskap en dié twee met God versoen en tot een liggaam verenig (2:14-16).
  • Julle is ‘n gebou wat opgerig is op die fondament van die apostels en die profete, ‘n gebou waarvan Christus Jesus self die hoeksteen is. In Hom sluit die hele gebou saam en verrys dit tot ‘n heilige tempel vir die Here, in wie julle ook saam opgebou word as ‘n geestelike huis waarin God woon (2:20-22).

Eenheid. Dis die gevolg van die werk van God deur Jesus Christus. Die skeiding wat daar tussen Jood en nie-Jood in Paulus se tyd bestaan het, was geweldig. Ons lees daarvan in Handelinge en weet dat dit vir die Jode baie moeilik was om te aanvaar dat mense sommer nou deel van God se volk geword het. Paulus sê dat Jesus Christus die bepalings van die wet wat heidene slegs deur middel van besnydenis deel van die volk kon maak, opgehef het. Christus se dood was genoeg. Hulle politieke verskille, taalverskille, sosiale en agtergrondsverskille kon nie meer maak dat hulle as twee afsonderlike groepe mense gesien kan word nie.

Nee, Jesus se dood het mense ook saamgesnoer. Dis geen humanistiese gelykheid nie, maar ’n gelykwaardigheid voor God op grond van die liggaam en bloed van Jesus Christus. Gelowiges moet besef dat hierdie eenheid die dood van die Seun van God gekos het. Waar ons hierdie eenheid najaag, eer ons die dood van Christus.

  1. Wat is die basiese waardes van hierdie eenheid?
  2. a) Ons eenheid is in Christus alleen

Die enigste vereiste om ’n lidmaat van die kerk te wees is geloof in Jesus Christus. Nie die kleur van ons vel, ons taal, ons denominasie of ons kultuur is fundamentele elemente daarvoor nie. In Christus is God besig om in ‘n geestelike huis te bou waarin God woon (2:22). Hy gebruik sy Woord en Gees om dit te doen.

  • Julle is ‘n gebou wat opgerig is op die fondament van die apostels en die profete, ‘n gebou waarvan Christus Jesus self die hoeksteen is. In Hom sluit die hele gebou saam en verrys dit tot ‘n heilige tempel vir die Here, in wie julle ook saam opgebou word as ‘n geestelike huis waarin God woon (2:20-22).

Christus, die sentrum van die boodskap van die profete en die apostels, is die hoeksteen van die nuwe gebou, die nuwe tempel, hierdie nuwe woonplek van God op aarde, die kerk! Neem Christus weg, neem die boodskap van die profete en die apostels weg en die kerk sal disintegreer. Hans Küng geskryf, ‘Sonder Christus sou daar geen evangelie, geen Bybel, geen kerk wees nie.’ Hoekom is ons een? Omdat ons ons eenheid in Hom vind, nie omdat ons van mekaar hou of dieselfde is of lyk nie.

  1. b) Dis vrede ten spyte van verskille

Die profeet Jesaja droom oor iets baie spesiaals in Jesaja 11:6-9:

  • Wolwe en skape sal dan saam bly, luiperds sal tussen bokkies lê, kalwers, leeus en voerbeeste sal bymekaar wees en klein seuntjies sal vir almal sorg. Koeie en bere sal saam wei, hulle kleintjies sal bymekaar lê, leeus sal gras eet soos beeste. Babatjies sal by die gate van adders speel, klein kindertjies sal hulle hande uitsteek na giftige slange. Op my heilige berg sal niemand kwaad aanrig of iets verniel nie, want die aarde sal so vol wees van die kennis van die Here soos die see vol water is.

Hulle is steeds anders, maar die natuurlike neiging om te verslind en dood te maak het verander.. Markus Barth (1915-1994) skryf in The Broken Wall [1959], “Wanneer geen spanning gekonfronteer en oorwin word nie, omdat die binnekringe of buitestaanders van ’n sekere klas of groep met gelukkig is om met mekaar saam te kom, dan ontbreek die een iets nuuts, vrede, en die een nuwe mens wat deur Christus geskep is; dan is daar geen geloof nie en word geen kerk, geen Christus gevind of bely nie. Want as een kenmerk aan ‘Christelik’ gegee kan word volgens Ef. 2, dan beteken dit versoen en versoening, triomf oor mure en die verwydering van die puin, solidariteit met die ‘vyand’ en nie die bevordering van ons eie gemoedsrus nie, maar ‘ons vrede’.

Vrede is meer as die einde van die oorlog. Vrede is die aanknoop van nuwe verhoudings. Luister na Paulus:

  • Christus is ons vrede, Hy wat dié twee, Jode en nie-Jode, een gemaak het. Deur sy liggaam te gee, het Hy die vyandskap afgebreek wat vroeër soos ‘n muur skeiding gemaak het. Die wet van Moses met al sy gebooie en bepalings het Hy opgehef, en deur vrede te maak, het Hy in Homself dié twee, Jode en nie-Jode, tot een nuwe mensheid verenig. Deur sy dood aan die kruis het Hy ‘n einde gemaak aan die vyandskap en dié twee met God versoen en tot een liggaam verenig. Toe Hy gekom het, het Hy die goeie boodskap van vrede gebring: vrede vir julle wat ver van God was, vrede ook vir dié wat naby was.

Dit is duidelik dat daar botsende groepe was. Die mense wat reeds God se mense was, die Jode, en die mense wat nie God se mense was nie, die Grieke. Nou hoor hulle hierdie boodskap: Daar is vrede tussen ons!

Martin Luther het die volgende storie vertel. ’n Jakkals het vir die haan wat in die boom sit vertel dat die diere saamgekom het en ’n vredesooreenkoms onderteken het. Baie interessant, het die haan gesê. Ek het dit nog nie gehoor nie. Ek sal in die boom bly. Dit het sy lewe gered!

Die kerk is anders, want ons het gehoor die boodskap van God se vrede en versoening gehoor. Die kerk is ‘n teken van God se vrederyk in hierdie wêreld. Baie mense en kerke bly afsydig, koud, vol vrees en haat, in hul eie bome … omdat hulle nie die boodskap van vrede gehoor het nie. Daardeur misken ons die dood, liggaam en bloed van Christus! C. O. Buchanan het gesê: ‘Om die (plaaslike) kerk te verdeel … is om te getuig van ’n verdeelde Christus, of om mindere meesters as Christus na te volg.’

In die wêreld kan ons haat, skeiding, jaloesie en vyandigheid verag, maar in die kerk MOET daar vrede wees. Paulus sê dit weer in Ef 4:3-6: ‘Lê julle daarop toe om die eenheid wat die Gees tussen julle gesmee het, te handhaaf deur in vrede met mekaar te lewe. Daar is net één liggaam en net één Gees, soos daar net één hoop is waartoe God julle geroep het. Daar is net één Here, één geloof, één doop, één God en Vader van almal: Hy wat oor almal is, deur almal werk en in almal woon.’

  1. c) Dit volg dus dat die kerk ’n inklusiewe gemeenskap is

Die hoogtepunt van hierdie eenheid in Christus vind ons in 2:18: ‘Deur Hom het ons almal, Jode en nie-Jode, deur die een Gees vrye toegang tot die Vader.’ Bloed is dikker as water, sê ons graag. Familielede staan bymekaar. Al is hulle hoe verdeeld oor ander sake, sal jy in die meeste gevalle sien hoe hulle mekaar beskerm. Ons sien egter ook hoe die bloed wat in ons are vloei bring dikwels verwydering in geloofsgemeenskappe bring.   Ons assosieer graag met mense wat dieselfde agtergrond, klas of stand en taal het. Die pogings wat daar vir baie jare in baie kerke bestaan om bymekaar uit te kom, stuit meer as een maal op ons verknogtheid aan ons eie.

Natuurlik het Paulus en die vroeë kerk ook hierdie krisisse beleef. Veral Jode wou nie afsien van hulle gebruik nie en liefde vir die tempel en die wet van Moses nie. Nou sê Paulus aan die gemeentes in Asië dat ons mense was mense wat geen hoop gehad het nie (2:12). Ons het nie in God se beloftes gedeel nie. Ons was sonder God. Maar deur sy groot genade het Hy ons deur die bloed en liggaam van Jesus ’n nuwe mensheid gemaak (2:14-16). Skielik maak ons afkoms nie meer saak nie. Wie is ons nou: ‘Julle is dus nie meer ver van God af nie, nie bywoners nie, maar medeburgers van die gelowiges en lede van die huisgesin van God.’ Vreemdelinge en bywoners, mense sonder politieke en sosiale regte, is nou die huisgesin van die Here. Ons het een Vader (2:18). As dit waar is dat ons een Vader aanbid, het elke vorm van eksklusiwiteit tot ’n einde gekom.

As mense met dieselfde pa niks met mekaar te doen wil hê nie, is die huisgesin siek. So is dit ook met die kerk. Ons is een liggaam en een huisgesin. Daarom pas dit by ons om gemeenskap met mekaar te soek. Daarom hoort ons in die kerk en by die aksies van die kerk. Daarom behoort ons voor te loop as kerkeenheid gesoek word, want ons is bloedfamilie en wil hê dat ’n siek huisgesin gesond moet word.

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) het hierdie pragtige gebed oor die kerk geskryf, ‘O God, maak die deur van hierdie huis wyd genoeg vir almal wat ’n behoefte aan menslike liefde en kameraadskap het; smal genoeg om alle afguns, trots en selfsug uit te sluit. Maak sy drumpel sag genoeg dat dit geen struikelblok vir kinders of afgedwaalde voete sal wees nie, maar rof en sterk genoeg om die versoeker se krag te weerstaan. O God, maak die deur van hierdie huis die poort na U ewige koninkryk.’

Daar is ‘n Russiese verhaal oor drie diere wat ’n wa na ’n spesifieke plek moes trek. Hulle het daarin nie geslaag nie, want die een was ’n kreef – hy beweeg agteruit. Die ander een was ‘n vis. Hy duik in die water. Die laaste dier was ’n swaan. Sy wou vlieg! Die wa het op een plak gebly, want elkeen van hierdie diere wou in ‘n ander rigting gaan.

Terwyl ons aanhou konsentreer op ons natuurlike identiteite, ons gemoedsrus, wat gemaklik vir ons is … sal die wa van die koninkryk van God nie vorentoe beweeg nie. Wanneer ons ons eenheid, ons gedeelde waardes verstaan, dat Christus die hoeksteen van die kerk is, die vrede wat Christus gebring het, sal die gebed van Jesus waar word: ‘Ek bid egter nie net vir hulle nie, maar ook vir dié wat deur hulle woorde tot geloof in My sal kom. Ek bid dat hulle almal een mag wees, net soos U, Vader, in My is en Ek in U, dat hulle ook in Ons mag wees, sodat die wêreld kan glo dat U My gestuur het. Die heerlikheid wat U My gegee het, het Ek ook aan hulle gegee, sodat hulle een kan wees net soos Ons een is: Ek in hulle en U in My, sodat hulle volkome een kan wees, sodat die wêreld kan weet dat U My gestuur het en hulle liefhet net soos U My liefhet’ (Joh 17: 20-23).

Theme 2: We are one body

Reading: Eph 2:11-22

Background

Within the broader context of the letter Eph 2:11-22 is part of the first part of the letter that we cab describe as the ‘theological’ section. This parts sets out the gospel and focus on the work of God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul talked about the gracious election of God’s people. This election is in Christ. Through faith in Him, the chosen One of God, we share in God’s grace. It is the through gospel that we have become part of the people of God. After he then prays for the church, he emphasises in Ephesians 2:1-10 that salvation is entirely of grace. Grace and predestination are almost synonymous. The two concepts describe God’s unconditional and beautiful love. Now he emphasises in 2:11-22 that grace entails much more than personal salvation. We are part of a new nation, a new humanity – the church. It is the result of the saving work of Christ.

I can well imagine that these words in Eph 2:11-22 caused shivers through the spines of many Jews. In fact, Paul already declared that Jesus abolished the law of Moses and that the Jews and non-Jews now form a new humanity. Now he goes on to say that they grow together into a holy temple of the Lord!

For the Jews, the law and the temple were probably the most sacred things that they could think of. Paul says that the church is the fulfillment of the message of the prophets and apostles. The apostles just look back to the message of the prophets, saying that the prophecy was fulfilled.

The center of the church is the cornerstone it has. A cornerstone does not have much use for us. For us, it contains only information about the date the building was put into use. In Paul’s day it was central. The whole building hinged on it. What makes the church church is that it cannot exist without the work of Jesus Christ. The prophets and apostels testify to it. The testimony of the apostles and prophets form the foundation of the church, because it speaks of Christ (20). For Paul the church is based upon the truth of God’s word and promises.

And so it is today in the church. What makes the church church is the commitment to God’s Word that was totally fulfilled in Christ. Without Christ there is not a church. Therefore, the church must always proclaim the uniqueness of the work of Christ.

Paul uses many concepts in this section to describe our new status. Strangers and sojourners were people without political and social rights. In the church, there are no such people. There are all included in a community marked by equality. We are citizens and members called of God’s family (2:19). The reason is simple. God did it through the death of his Son. He speaks of the church as a building, a temple, a spiritual house in which God dwells (2:20-22). This is not in the plural. We are not different houses and temples. The church is people who belong together.

It is in this ‘house’ of God, within the community of believers, along with other family members of the Lord, that God is busy building his church. Paul says clearly that we are being built together with other believers where it will be clear that God dwells among us (2:22).

Believers need one another. We are still under construction. God is not finished with us.

Sermon outline

1. ​ Why did Christ die? Most of us will not have a hard time answering this question. He died for our salvation, our sin, to reconcile us with God. We would quote 2:4, ‘It is by grace you have been saved.’

However, Paul would probably have answered that this is just half of the answer. Something else happened. Constantly we hear the words, ‘through the blood of Christ’, ‘in his flesh’, ‘through the cross’ (2:13,15,16).

What else happened? We were brought near (​2:13), he has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (2:14), He created in himself one new humanity (making peace) (2:15). What happened through his blood, in his flesh, through the cross? He continues,

  • 2:21,22: We are ONE BUILDING, joined together and it rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
  • It is clear, God created ONE NEW humanity: the church of Jesus Christ!

The price paid to make us one church was the body and blood, the death of Jesus Christ! Christ died to reconcile people with each other …

​ Why did Christ die? To make us one body! ​Indeed, Eph 4: 4,5 is correct, ‘There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’

  1. What are the basic values of this unity?

a)​         Unity is based on Christ alone

The only requirement to be a member of a church, is faith Jesus Christ, not the colour of our skin, our denomination, our culture … God is building a church all the time. He is using his word and Spirit to do it:

  • 2:20: God is continuing to build his church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone

Christ, the centre of the message of the prophets and the apostles, is the cornerstone of this new building, this new temple, this new dwelling place of God on earth, the church! Take Christ away, take the message of the prophets and the apostles away, and the church will disintegrate. Hans Küng wrote, ‘Without Christ there would be no gospel, no Bible, no church. Why are we one? Because we find our unity in Him, not because we like one another or are similar.

b)​         There is peace in spite of differences

The prophet Isaiah dreams about something very special in Isaiah 11:6-8: ‘The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, – between traditional enemies there will be peace.’ They are still different, but the natural inclination to devour and kill has changed. Markus Barth (1915-1994) wrote in The Broken Wall [1959], ‘When no tensions are confronted and overcome, because insiders or outsiders of a certain class or group meet happily among themselves, then the one new thing, peace, and the one new man created by Christ, are missing; then no faith, no church, no Christ, is found or confessed. For if the attribute ‘Christian’ can be given sense from Eph. 2, then it means reconciled and reconciling, triumphant over walls and removing the debris, showing solidarity with the ‘enemy’ and promoting not one’s own peace of mind but ‘our peace’.

Peace is more than the end of war. Peace is the forming of new relationships. Listen to Paul:

  • 2:14: For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility
  • 2:15: His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,
  • 2:17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near

Clearly, there were conflicting groups. The people who were already God’s people, the Jews, and those who were not God’s people, the Greeks. Now they hear one message: There is peace between us!

Martin Luther told the following story. A jackal told the rooster, who was sitting in the tree, that all the animals came together and signed a peace agreement. Very interesting, the rooster said. I have not heard about it. I will remain up in the tree … it saved his life!

The church is different, because we heard the message of God’s peace and reconciliation. The church is a sign of God’s reign of peace in this world. Many people and churches remain aloof, cold and full of fear and hatred, up in their own trees … because they have not heard the message of peace, thereby denying the death, body and blood of Christ! C. O. Buchanan said, ‘To divide the (local) church is… to witness to a divided Christ, or to a discipleship to lesser masters than Christ.’

In the world we can expect hatred, separation, jealousy, and hostility, but in the church there should be PEACE. Therefore we should make every effort, Paul said, to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

c)​         It follows that the church is an inclusive community

The climax of this unity through Christ we find in 2:18, ‘For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ We became one family, because through Christ we have only one Father. How strange that people of one family, one household, with one father, exclude each other from the household of God! We exclude each other in many ways: confessionally, personally, on the grounds of race, social class, political affiliation, etc. But who are we? ‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household’ (2:19). Foreigners were the people without social rights and aliens were the people without political rights. They are now fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. If it is true that we are worshiping one Father, all exclusivity came to an end.

​To remind us of the inclusive character of the gospel, Paul reminds his readers who they were in 2:11-13: Remember that you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.’

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) wrote this beautiful prayer, ‘O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut Out all envy, pride and strife. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power. God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom.’

There is a Russian tale about three animals that had to pull a farm cart to a specific place. They did not succeed, because the one was a crayfish – moving backwards. The other one was a fish, diving down into the water. The last animal was a swan. He wanted to fly! The cart remained at one place, because every one of these animals wanted to go in a different direction. While we keep on concentrating on our natural identities, our peace of mind, what is comfortable for us … the farm cart of the kingdom of God will not move forward. When we understand our unity, our shared values, that Christ is the cornerstone of the church and the peace that Christ brought, the prayer of Jesus will become true: ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me’ (John 17:20-23).

Tema 3: Ons is diensknegte

Agtergrond

Filippi is in ongeveer 360vC deur Philip II van Macedon (vader van Alexander die Grote) gebou en was geleë in ’n vrugbare area met baie fonteine en goud, ongeveer 12 kilometer van die see af. As deel van die Romeinse ryk het dit later op die hoofroete tussen Rome en die Ooste gelê. Hierdie gemeente was die eerste kerk wat skynbaar uit nie-Joodse lede bestaan het. Die name wat Paulus in die brief gebruik is almal Romeins-Hellenisties. Die eerste bekeerling was Lidia, ’n welgestelde vrou, in wie se huis die Christene bymekaar gekom het (Hand 16:14-15). In die tronk het God ’n wonderwerk laat plaasvind en die bewaarder en sy hele gesin het tot geloof gekom (16:19-24). Ander name wat genoem word, is Epafroditos (2:25), Euodia en Sintige, Klemens (4:2,3).   Dit dui op ’n gemengde gemeenskap wat hoofsaaklik uit nie-Joodse gelowiges bestaan het. Só lyk dié kerk: dit is nie ’n eenderse gemeenskap nie, maar ’n gemeenskap van gewone mense met verskillende agtergronde.

Die Christuslied (2:6-11) is een van die bekendste gedeeltes in hierdie brief. Dit vorm deel van die sogenaamde vermanende gedeelte van die brief (1:27-2:18) en vertoon in gedagtegang noue ooreenkomste met die verhaal van Jesus se voetwassing (Joh 13). Dit is waarskynlik een van die oudste liedere wat ons uit die vroeë Christendom ken. Volgens een lesing is die hele lied volgens die vernedering – verhoging motief gerangskik. Die woorde God, slaaf, Here, is ook sleutelbegrippe in die lied wat benadruk dat Jesus die een is in wie God se werking in vier fases ’n werklikheid geword het: sy voortydelike bestaan (6), sy menswording (7), sy vernedering en dood (8) en sy triomferende verhoging (9 11).

Twee lyne van interpretasie kan gevolg word. Enersyds kan gekonsentreer word op die reddende krag van Jesus Christus se menswording en verhoging. Andersyds die etiese implikasies wat hierdie lied vir die lewe van die kerk het benadruk word. Die twee benaderings sluit mekaar nie noodwendig uit nie. Dit is ook belangrik om albei te handhaaf, aangesien die geskiedenis van interpretasie deur die Christelike geloofsgemeenskap ook aan albei ewe veel waarde geheg het. Hoewel dit deel van die vermanende gedeelte van die brief is en Christus beslis as voorbeeld voorgehou word, gaan die funksie daarvan binne die geheel van die brief ook bo die blote beskrywing van ’n voorbeeld wat nagevolg moet word, uit.

Wanneer ons hierdie twee lyne van interpretasie probeer vashou, kan ons die volgende aksente in die lied identifiseer.

  • Jesus is die Heer

Die Christuslied moet op ’n eerste vlak gelees word vir wat dit is, naamlik ’n lied! Daarom sou ons kon sê dat dit ’n beskrywing is van die persoonlike belewenis wat die vroeë kerk van haar Heer gehad het. Hy is die een wat van ewigheid af daar was, maar na ons as mense gekom het. Sy wese bestaan nie in vashou aan Homself en eie voorregte nie. Sy lewe bestaan in prysgawe ter wille van die mens.

Maar tegelyk is Hy die Heer oor die magte! Daar bestaan min twyfel dat die lied ook teen die agtergrond van Jes 45:21-23 gelees moet word nie (sien ook 45:24-25 se verband met in Fil 3:9). God se koningskap oor al die nasies word in Jesaja benadruk. Paulus sê nou dat Jesus die Heer van Israel is voor wie die nasies se knieë sal buig. Nie net die nasies nie, maar alles van in die hemel, op die aarde en onder die aarde is sal buig! Jesus van Nasaret is die Heer oor alle magte.

Ons kan nie ontken nie dat hierdie lied óók die funksie in die vroeë kerk gehad het dat die gemeente haar moes verwonder oor hierdie eenmalige wonderdaad van God in Christus. Dit is ’n onherhaalbare daad. Dit gee aan gelowiges ’n nuwe visie op die lewe en bring hulle oor vanaf ’n ou soort lewe in die dood na ’n lewe met ’n visie op die heerskappy van Jesus Christus. Dit laat ons uit genade deel in sy lewe en sterwe. Ons gee juis alle pogings en kwaliteite prys omdat ons die geregtigheid deur die geloof ontvang het (3:7-10).

Daarom word die optrede van die gemeenskap teenoor mekaar wel gemotiveer deur Christus, maar nie net deur ’n blote navolging van sy voorbeeld nie. Dit word gemotiveer omdat Hy die Heer is! Die gemeente volg inderdaad sy voorbeeld, maar dit is omdat Hy die Heer is voor wie hulle ook buig.

  • Buig voor Hom en mekaar

Natuurlik is dit onmoontlik vir Christene om die werk van Christus te herhaal. Geen Christen kan ooit plaasvervangend vir die mensdom sterf nie. Geen Christen het die hemelse woonplek verruil vir ’n aardse een nie. Christus het deur sy dood aan die kruis ’n universele daad gedoen. Uiteindelik sal die hele mensdom die knieë voor Hom buig (2:9-11). Geen Christen kan hierdie posisie van Christus nadoen nie. Dit is nie die taak van Christene om verheerlik te word nie. Die tweede deel van die lied maak dit dus onmoontlik dat Christene Jesus presies moet navolg soos dit in die lied beskrywe word.

Maar dit beteken nie dat Paulus hierdie lied nie aanwend om Christus as voorbeeld voor te hou wat hulle moet probeer navolg nie. Christene, wat deur die werk van God aan Hom behoort, het ’n ander styl van optrede wat geskoei is op die voorbeeld wat Christus.

Die oproep dat hulle lewe in ooreenstemming met die evangelie moet wees (1:27) en dat hulle nie selfsugtig moet wees nie, maar ander se belange hoër as hulle eie moet ag (2:3,4), word geïllustreer deur na die voorbeeld van Jesus te verwys. In Hom sien ons hoe ons moet lewe. Hy is die volmaakte voorbeeld.   Ons moet daarom afsien van onsself en ons eie belange omdat ons die gesindheid van Christus navolg (2:5).

Daar is beslis ondertone van verdeeldheid in die gemeente. Die gemeente moet alles sonder kla of teëpraat doen (2:14). Euodia en Sintige word vermaan om eensgesind te wees (4:2). Paulus se blydskap sal volkome wees as hulle in eensgesindheid met mekaar lewe (2:2). Paulus speel doelbewus met die woord “gesindheid” (2:2,5; 3:15; 4:2). Die oproep tot eensgesindheid (4:2) roep onmiddellik die woord “gesindheid” van 2:5 op, naamlik dat Christus se optrede en voorbeeld die motiverende beginsel vir eenheid behoort te wees. Anders gestel: die Christuslied is die grondslag vir ’n nuwe gesindheid teenoor mekaar.

Calvyn het opgemerk dat onderlinge eenheid die hoofaanduiding is dat kerk gesond is. As teenpool kan ons sê: Onderlinge verdeeldheid is die sekerste teken van ’n siek kerk. Inderdaad, die kerk van die Here is een waar Christus die Heer is!

Dat elke knie sal buig en elke tong sal erken dat Jesus Christus die Heer is, het dus besliste implikasies vir die gemeente. Omdat Christus die Heer homself weggegee het vir mense, gee die kerk haarself prys ter wille van die evangelie. Ook hulle knieë buig voor hierdie Heer. Iemand het gesê dat ons almal voor Christus gelyk met die grond is en daarom sommer ook gelyk aan mekaar! Wie voor Christus buig, buig ook voor mekaar. So is dit ook in Joh 13. Jesus was die dissipels se voete. Die kerk word geroep om dieselfde te doen.

Preekvoorstel: Fil 2:1-11

  1. Dit was 1986. Dit was baie kort na my ordening as predikant in ’n plattelandse dorpie in die Noord-Kaap, sowat 800 km van die plek waar ek grootgeword het. Dit was ’n droë en stowwerige dorp, ver weg van my geliefde Tafelberg en die Atlantiese en Indiese Oseane waar ek grootgeword het. Ek het die pragtige omgewing van my studentedorp Stellenbosch met sy berge en wingerde gemis. Ek het deur die studeerkamervenster gekyk en gevra: wat doen ek hier? Hoe lank sal ek moet hier bly?

Ek was besig met die voorbereiding van ’n reeks van tien preke tussen Hemelvaart en Pinkster. Die gedeelte wat voor oopgelê het was Fil 2. Terwyl ek dit gelees het, kon ek voel dat die Gees van God met my gepraat het oor een van die grootste probleme in my lewe op daardie stadium.

  • Ek het hierdie gekerm in my hart gehad oor waar ek nou beland het – weg van my pragtige omgewing – maar hier lees ek van Christus: Hy wat in die gestalte van God was, het sy bestaan op Godgelyke wyse nie beskou as iets waaraan Hy Hom moes vasklem nie (2:6)
  • Ek was ’n predikant in die gemeente, maar hier lees ek van Christus: maar Hy het Homself verneder deur die gestalte van ‘n slaaf aan te neem en aan mense gelyk te word (2:7).
  • Ek was huiwerig om te wees waar ek was, terwyl ek lees: En toe Hy as mens verskyn het, het Hy Homself verder verneder. Hy was gehoorsaam tot in die dood, ja, die dood aan die kruis (2:7,8).

Ek het skaam geword en belydenis van my sonde gedoen, want alles het oor my gegaan – my gemak, my vreugde, my eie lewe. Ek moes daardie dag ontdek dat dit nooit weer oor myself sal gaan nie!

  1. Dit is wat Paulus ons in hierdie lied leer. Dit gaan nie oor ons nie. Dit gaan oor Christus. Paulus ontdek dit in sy eie lewe. Hy moes dit alles opoffer. Hy het ’n wonderlike geestelike CV gehad.
  • Fil 3:4-8: Tog sou ek ook op uiterlike dinge kon vertrou. As iemand meen dat hy op uiterlike dinge kan vertrou, ek nog meer: ek is op die agste dag besny, van geboorte ‘n Israeliet, uit die stam Benjamin, ‘n egte Hebreër, in wetsopvatting was ek ‘n Fariseër, in my ywer ‘n vervolger van die kerk, in onderhouding van die wet van Moses om vryspraak te kry, onberispelik. Maar wat eers vir my ‘n bate was, beskou ek nou as waardeloos ter wille van Christus, ja, nog meer: ek beskou alles as waardeloos, want om Christus Jesus, my Here, te ken, oortref alles in waarde. Ter wille van Hom het ek alles prysgegee en beskou ek dit as verwerplik sodat ek Christus as enigste bate kan verkry.
  1. W. Tozer skryf: ‘Ons moet iets doen oor die kruis. Ons kan net een van twee dinge doen: daarvan wegvlug of daarop sterf.’ Paulus kies om daarop te sterf.

Paulus skryf in Fil 3:10,11: Al wat ek wens, is om Christus te ken, die krag van sy opstanding te ondervind en deel te hê aan sy lyding deur aan Hom gelyk te word in sy dood, in die verwagting dat ek self deel sal hê aan die opstanding uit die dood.

Om met Christus verenig te wees is om saam met Hom gekruisig te word en saam met Hom op te staan. Dit is ‘n konstante stryd – dit gaan nie oor ons nie, maar Christus! Hy sê dit in soveel woorde: Ek sê nie dat ek dit alles al het of die doel al bereik het nie, maar ek span my in om dit alles myne te maak omdat Christus Jesus my reeds Syne gemaak het. Broers, ek verbeel my nie dat ek dit alles al het nie. Maar een ding doen ek: ek maak my los van wat agter is en strek my uit na wat voor is. Ek span my in om by die wenstreep te kom, sodat ek die hemelse prys kan behaal waartoe God my geroep het in Christus Jesus.

  1. Wat gebeur wanneer dit oor Christus in ons lewens gaan? (Fil 3:12-14)

Die eerste vers van hierdie benadruk reeds iets hiervan: Aangesien julle die troos in Christus ondervind het, die aansporing deur die liefde, die gemeenskap deur die Gees, die innige meegevoel en meelewing (2:1). As jy deur God die Vader se liefde en meegevoel aangemoedig is, getroos is deur jou vereniging met die Seun en gemeenskap met die Heilige Gees het, verander jou in gesteldheid. As jy dus saam met Hom sterf, saam met Hom opstaan omdat hy die genade van Vader, Seun en Heilige Gees ontvang het, word Christus se gesindheid joune: ‘Dieselfde gesindheid moet in julle wees wat daar ook in Christus Jesus’ (2:5). Dan kyk ons na alles en almal deur sy gesindheid.

Fil 2:6-11 is waarskynlik een van die vroegste liedere oor Christus in die vroeë kerk. Dit praat oor die ewige God wat in Jesus gekom het en Homself verneder het. In gehoorsaamheid sterf Hy aan ’n kruis. Henri Nouwen skryf dat Jesus die afwaartse pad gekies het. Hy doen dit nie net een keer nie, maar keer op keer. Op elke kritieke oomblik kies Hy doelbewus hierdie pad – met die sondaars, prostitute, die ‘down-and-outs’ van die samelewing.

God verhef Hom en gee Hom die naam bo alle name. Hoekom? Die lied lui: ‘sodat in die Naam van Jesus elkeen wat in die hemel en op die aarde en onder die aarde is, die knie sou buig, en elke tong sou erken: “Jesus Christus is Here!” tot eer van God die Vader’ (2:10,11).

Dit wil voorkom asof die ingesteldheid van Christus wat ons vertoon God se visie van die uiteindelike doel van sy dood en lyding deel. Christus het gesterf en is opgewek sodat almal kan sê: Hy is die Here! Dit is die uiteindelike doel: almal oral moet Hom aanbid as Here! Dit is nooit oor ons. Dit gaan oor Hom! Ons leef nie om onthou te word of om ’n nalatenskap te hê nie. Ons leef sodat God verheerlik sal word wanneer mense sê: Jesus Christus is die Here!

Ons sing hierdie lied saam met die kerk deur die eeue heen: Jesus is Here!

Hy is Heer, Hy is Heer. Hy’s oorwinnaar oor die dood en Hy is Heer. Elke knie sal buig, elke mens erken,                      Hy, Jesus, is die Heer. Hy regeer, Hy regeer van die regterhand van God, want Hy is Heer. Elke knie sal buig, elke mens erken Hy, Jesus, is die Heer!

  1. Wat is die gevolge van die omhelsing, die aanvaarding, om hierdie Christus te ken?
  2. a) Wanneer ons het die gesindheid van Christus het, word ons mense met die regte gesindheid

As ons ’n gemeenskaplike visie wil hê, iets wat ons sal dryf in die toekoms, iets wat werklik ’n verskil in die wêreld waarin ons leef sal maak, moet ons iets in gemeen hê wat ons saambind. Paulus sê dat ons verlossing deur Vader Seun en Heilige Gees, die nuwe werklikheid in ons lewe ons saambind:

  • Aangesien julle die troos in Christus ondervind het, die aansporing deur die liefde, die gemeenskap deur die Gees, die innige meegevoel en meelewing, maak dan nou my blydskap volkome deur eensgesind te wees: een in liefde, een van hart, een in strewe (2:1,2).

Dit is die natuurlike vrug daarvan om met Christus verenig te wees en om in gemeenskap met die Gees te lewe. Ons eie drome, ambisies, hoop en vrese moet aan Hom oorgegee het. As die gesindheid van Christus ons gedagtes vul, klop ons harte dieselfde, het ons dieselfde dinge lief, is ons in ons gees, in ons gedagtes aan mekaar verbind, want vir ons gaan alles oor Christus. Calvyn skryf dat eenheid die belangrikste aanduiding is dat die kerk is gesond is.

As ons in eenheid leef is dit ’n teken dat ons deur God gered is:

  • 1:27,28: Hoofsaak is dat julle lewenswandel in ooreenstemming met die evangelie van Christus moet wees. As ek dan kom, sal ek self sien, of as ek nie kan kom nie, sal ek deur berigte hoor dat julle in volkome eensgesindheid standvastig saamstry vir die geloof in die evangelie en julle in geen opsig deur die teenstanders laat afskrik nie. Dit is vir hulle ‘n teken van húlle ondergang en van júlle redding, en dit kom van God.

As ons in eenheid leef is ons kragtige getuies.

  • 2:14-16: Doen alles sonder kla of teëpraat. Sorg dat julle bo alle verdenking staan en opreg bly, onberispelike kinders van God te midde van ontaarde en korrupte mense. Tree onder hulle op as ligdraers in die wêreld deur die woord van die lewe uit te dra. Dan sal ek op die dag van Christus se koms rede hê om trots te wees, omdat dit sal blyk dat ek my nie verniet ingespan het nie en nie verniet geswoeg het nie.

Ja, ons moet in die wêreld opgelet word om die regte redes!

  1. Wanneer ons die gesindheid van Christus het, ons offer onsself op, gee ons onsself prys.

Hoor weer wat Paulus sê: ‘maak dan nou my blydskap volkome deur eensgesind te wees: een in liefde, een van hart, een in strewe’ (2:2). Dit kos selfopoffering. As jy deur God die Vader, Seun en Heilige Gees aangeraak is, word jou innerlike emosies, jou hart verander (2:1). Dit maak jou vol deernis. Die persoon wat deur die Vader, Seun en Heilige Gees gered word, word ’n nuwe mens met ’n nuwe hart en ’n nuwe sensitiwiteit, skryf iemand. Paulus sê: ‘Moet niks uit selfsug of eersug doen nie, maar in nederigheid moet die een die ander hoër ag as homself. Julle moenie net elkeen aan sy eie belange dink nie, maar ook aan dié van ander (2:3,4). Ons ingesteldheid word deur Christus se lewe, lyding, dood en opstanding bepaal.

  1. Toe ek in 1986 in my studeerkamer gesit het en gekla het omdat dit ver van die huis af was en nie so mooi soos die Kaap was nie, moes ek die les leer dat my lewe nie aan myself behoort nie. Dit gaan nie oor my nie. Wat ek nodig het is die gesindheid van Christus, want ek is met Christus verenig! Ek het gou vergeet wat Prof Willie Jonker die dag met ons legitimasie gepreek het: ‘Christus is die Heer in wie se diens julle staan’ (Kol 3:24). Hy het sy preek afgesluit met die woorde van C T Studd: ‘Only one life, it will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.’

Dink aan die veranderinge wat sal plaasvind in ons huise, huwelike, saketransaksies, politiek en kerke as dit nie meer oor ons nie, maar oor Christus gaan. Ons sal ophou om eie koninkryke te bou. Ons sal leer om te gee in plaas van te ontvang. Ons sal vra: broer, suster, hoe kan ek jou dien?

Andrew Murray skryf op ’n plek dat daar ’n ooreenkoms is tussen toestand van die kerk en toestand van die wêreld. As die kerk gekenmerk word deur selfsug, eersug, verdeeldheid – soos dit dikwels die geval is – moet ons nie die vinger na die slegte wêreld wys nie. Ons moet tot bekering kom.

Theme 3: We are servants!

Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

Background

Philippi was found in about 360vC by Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great). It is located in a fertile area with many fountains and some gold, about 12 kilometers from the sea. As part of the Roman Empire it was on the main route between Rome and the East. This church was the first church that apparently consisted of non-Jewish members. The names used by Paul in the letter are all Roman-Hellenistic. The first convert was Lydia, a wealthy woman, in whose house Christians came together (Acts 16:14-15). In prison, a miracle took place and the jailer and his family came to faith (16:19-24). Other names mentioned are Epaphroditus (2:25), Euodia and Syntyche and Clement (4:2,3). This suggests a mixed community that consisted mainly of non-Jewish believers. The church is not a community of similar people, but a community of ordinary people from different backgrounds.

The Christ Hymn (2:6-11) is one of the most famous passages in this letter. It is in the admonishing part of the letter (1:27-2:18) and closely resembles the story of Jesus’ foot-washing (John 13). This is probably one of the oldest songs we know from early Christianity. Some scholars arrange the whole song according to a humiliation-exaltation motive. The words ‘God’, ‘servant’, ‘Lord’, are key concepts. The song emphasizes that Jesus is the one in whom God’s action in four phases has become a reality: his pre-existence (6), his incarnation (7), his humiliation and death (8) and his triumphant exaltation (9-11).

Two lines of interpretation can be followed. On the one hand we can concentrate on the saving power of Jesus Christ’s incarnation and exaltation. However, there are also ethical implications that this song highlights for the life of the church. The two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is important to maintain both, as the history of interpretation in the Christian faith community did. Both were valued equally. Although it forms part of the admonition in the letter and Christ should definitely be taken as an example, the rest of the letter makes it clear that He is much more than a mere example to be followed.

If we hold on to these two lines of interpretation, we can identify the following aspects in the song.

  • Christ is Lord

The hymns should be read at a first level for what it is, namely a song! One could argue that this is a description of the personal experience that the early church had of her Lord. He is the one that has existed from eternity, but came to us as human beings. He did not remain in heaven with its privileges. His life consisted in giving it up for the sake of human.

At the same time he is the Lord over all powers! There is little doubt that the song should not be read in the context of Isaiah 45:21-23 (see also 45:24-25’s relationship with Phil 3:9). God’s sovereignty over all the nations is emphasised in Isaiah. Paul now says that Jesus is the one who will be acknowledged by all. Not only the nations, but everything in heaven, on earth and under the earth shall bow before Him! Jesus of Nazareth is the Lord over all powers.

We cannot deny that this song had the function in the early church that the congregation should stand in awe about this one-time miracle of God in Christ. This is an unrepeatable event. It gives believers a new vision of life and brings them over from an old type of life in death to a life with a vision of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace we are allowed to share in his life and death. We give up all efforts and qualities because we have received the righteousness by faith (3:7-10).

Therefore, the actions of the community towards each other are motivated by Christ, but not by a mere imitation of his example. They are motivated, because He is the Lord! The congregation will indeed follow his example, but it is because he is the Lord before whom they bow.

  • Worship Him and serve one another

Of course it is impossible for Christians to repeat the work of Christ. No Christian can ever die as substitute for humankind. No Christian exchanged a heavenly place for an earthly one. Christ’s death on the cross was a universal act. Eventually all mankind will bow the knee before him (2:9-11). No Christian can imitate this position of Christ. It is not the task of Christians to be glorified. The second part of the song makes it impossible for Christians to follow Jesus exactly as it is written in the hymn.

However, it does not mean that the hymn is not applied to present Christ as an example that they should try to follow. Christians, who belong to Him by the work of God, has a different style of action, based on the example of Christ.

The call that they should be living according to the Gospel (1:27), and that they should not be selfish, but put the interests of others above their own (2: 3,4), is illustrated by the example of referring Jesus. In him we see how we should live. He is the perfect example. We must therefore give up ourselves and our own interests because we follow Christ (2:5).

There are definitely undertones of division in the church. The church must do everything without complaining or arguing (2:14). Euodia and Syntyche are admonished to be of one mind (4: 2). Paul’s joy will be complete when they live in unity and harmony with each other (2: 2). Paul deliberately plays with the word ‘attitude’ (2: 2,5; 3:15; 4:2). The call to unity (4: 2) immediately calls the word ‘attitude’ of 2:5 to mind, namely that Christ’s actions and example should be the motivating principle for unity. In other words, the Christ hymn is the basis for a new attitude towards each other.

That every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord therefore has definite implications for the church. Because Christ the Lord gave away himself for our sake, the church sacrifices herself for the sake of the gospel. We bow before the Lord. Whoever bows before Christ, bows and serves his of her fellow Christian – just as it is in John 13. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. The church is called to do the same.

Guidelines for a sermon

  1. It was 1986 and I was just installed as minister in a rural town about 800 km from the place where I grew up. It was a dry and dusty town, far away from my beloved Table Mountain and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans where I grew up. I missed the beautiful surroundings of my student town of Stellenbosch with its mountains and vineyards. I asked myself: what am I doing here? How long will I have to stay here? I was preparing a series of ten sermons which I had to preach between Ascension and Pentecost. The passage opened before me was Phil 2 and as I read it, I could sense that the Spirit of God was speaking to me about one of the biggest issues in my life at that stage.
  • I was moaning in my heart about leaving my beautiful surroundings while I was reading 2:6,7, ‘Christ, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing. Christ left heaven to be with us.
  • I was a minister in a congregation while I read in 2:7, ‘He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.
  • I was reluctant to be where I was, while I read 2:8, ‘And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!’

I was brought to shame and confessed my sin, because it was all about me. I had to discover that day that it will never be about me! This is what Paul is saying to us today. It is never about us and what is the best for us.

  1. What is it about? It is about Christ. Paul discovered it in his own life. He had to sacrifice all of it. He had a wonderful spiritual CV:
  • Phil 2:4-8: Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.
  1. W. Tozer said, ‘’We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only we can do – flee it or die upon it (From The Root of the Righteous). Paul chooses the latter,
  • 3:10,11: I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

To be united with Christ is to be crucified with Him and to be raised with Him. It is a constant struggle – it is not about us, but Christ!

  • 3:12-14: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
  1. What happens when it is about Christ in our lives?The first verse of this chapter helps us to understand this question.
  • 2:1: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit …

If you have been comforted by God the Father, encouraged by being united with the Son and shared in the Holy Spirit, you have to embrace the mind-set of Christ: ‘Have the same mind-set as Christ Jesus’ (2:5). We all look at everything through the mind-set, attitude of Christ. It determines everything.

2:6-11 is probably one of the earliest hymns about Christ in the early church. It speaks about the eternal God who came in Jesus and made himself nothing and became a slave. As a human being he humbled Himself in obedience to die on a cross. Henri Nouwen writes, ‘It is quite obvious that Jesus chose the descending way. He chose it not once but over and over again. At each critical moment he deliberately sought the way downwards.’ He chose it with the sinners, prostitutes, the down and outs of society.

God exalted Him and gave Him a name above all names. Why?

  • 2:10,11: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It seems as if we have the mind-set of Christ, we share God’s vision of the ultimate purpose of his death and suffering. Eventually Christ died and rose again so that ALL should say: He is Lord! This is the ultimate purpose: everybody everywhere should worship Him as Lord!

It is never about us. It is about Him! We do not live to be remembered, or to have a legacy. We live so that God would be glorified when Jesus Christ is honoured as Lord. We sing this song with the church over the centuries: Jesus is Lord!

  1. What are the results of embracing, knowing this Christ?
  2. a) When we have the mind of Christ, we become people with the right attitude

We want to share a common vision, something that will drive us into the future, something that will really make a difference in the world in which we live. We believe that there is something common that binds us together.

  • 2:1: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind

We have to understand that there is the new reality that God worked in us. The natural fruit of being united with Christ and being in fellowship with the Spirit, is that our own dreams, ambitions, hopes and fears should be surrendered to Him. If the mind of Christ fills our minds, our hearts beat the same, we love the same, we connect in our spirit, our thoughts are the same – it is all about Christ. Calvin wrote that unity is the main indication that the church is healthy.

If we live in unity it is a sign that we are saved by God:

  • 1:27-28: Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you … I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them … that you will be saved—and that by God.

If we live in unity, we are powerful witnesses:

  • 2:14-16: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

You need to be noticed in the world for the right reasons!

  1. b) When we have the mind of Christ, we sacrifice ourselves

Let us listen again to the words of Paul, ‘Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion’ … then be one! (2:1,2). To be one is to give up own positions. If God the Father has touched you, son and Holy Spirit, your inner emotions change, your heart changes and it makes you compassionate. This is just how it is! Someone writes that a person saved by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is made into a new creature with a new heart and new sensitivities. This is what Paul says, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others’ (2:3,4).

Our mind-set is determined by Christ’s life, suffering, death and resurrection.

  1. When I sat in my study in 1986 and complained in my heart about being far away from home and not being in the beautiful Cape Town area anymore, I realised that day that God said one thing to me: It is not about you. What you need is the mind of Christ, because you have been united with Christ! I forgot so what I had heard just a few months earlier when Prof Willie Jonker preached at our licencing as ministers, “It is the Lord Christ you are serving’ (Col 3:24). He quoted the words of CT Studd at the end of his sermon, ‘Only one life, it will soon be past. Only what’s doen for Christ will last.’

Think about the changes that will take place in our homes, marriages, business transactions, politics and churches if we do not build our own kingdoms, when we give instead of receive, when we ask: brother, sister how can I serve you, when we do not stand on our rights, but love others above ourselves, because only what is done for Christ will last, ‘Then all our little sets will be broken and be blended them into one varied and splendid whole’ (Charles H. Brent, from: With God in the World).

Andrew Murray writes somewhere that there is the condition of the world and the condition of the church are related. If the church is characterized by selfish ambition and vain conceit, division and hard hearts when it comes to reconciliation, we should not point fingers at the bad world. We should repent.

Week 4

1 Kor 12:1-13:1

Agtergrond

1 Kor 12-14 vorm ’n eenheid. Dit word ingelui met die woorde: ‘Wat die gawes van die Gees betref, broers, wil ek hê dat julle ingelig moet wees.’ Paulus probeer in hierdie hoofstukke ’n antwoord op een van die probleme in die gemeente gee. Dit is een van verskeie probleme waarop hy sy antwoord gee.

Vraag 1:   Oor die huwelik (7:1-40)

Vraag 2:   Wat van vleis uit afgodstempels? (8:1-10:22)

Vraag 3:   Waar pas die vrou in die kerk in? (11:1-16)

Vraag 4:   Oor die wanorde by die Nagmaal (11:17-34)

Vraag 5:   Wat van die gawes van die Gees (12:1-14:40)

Vraag 6:   Die opstanding van die liggaam (15:1-58)

Vraag 7:   Bydraes vir armes (16:1-4)

Uit 1 Kor 12-14 word dit duidelik dat die gawes van die Gees problematies geword het. Sommige lesers het arrogant geword oor hulle gawes en dit as die belangrikstes beskou. Ander het minderwaardig oor hulle gawes gevoel en het dit nie beoefen nie. Tussen hierdie twee uiterstes probeer Paulus met behulp van die liggaamsbeeld duidelik maak dat die gemeente ’n onverbreekbare eenheid is. Die gawes dien hierdie eenheid. Wanneer ons oor die gawes van die Gees praat, is dit altyd daarom binne die konteks van eenheid. Ons verloor fokus wanneer ons oor die gawes op sigself praat. Die konteks is altyd die een liggaam van Christus en hoe die liggaam gedien kan word.

Preekvoorstel

1. Ons glo aan EEN KERK. Dis wat die Apostoliese Geloofsbelydenis sê. Dit is ’n kerk wat haar eenheid in die getuienis van die apostels en profete vind (Ef 2:19,20). Dit is die boodskap van die Bybel. Jesus bid vir eenheid van sy mense: dit is ons getuieniskrag in die wêreld (Joh 17:20-23). Dit sal mense laat glo dat Jesus ’n verskil maak. Daarvoor het Jesus gesterf (Joh 11:52; Ef 2:11-22). Al die mekaar tekste in die Nuwe Testament is gerig op eenheid: bely teenoor mekaar, verdra mekaar, wees lief vir mekaar, vergewe mekaar, dien mekaar. Die Gees is ’n Gees van eenheid. Paulus praat van die Gees-telike eenheid tussen ons (Ef 4:3). Paulus se blydskap is volkome waar die Gees gemeenskap een van liefde, hart en strewe is (Fil 2:1,2). 1 Kor 12:13 maak dit ook baie duidelik: ‘Omdat ons almal een liggaam geword het, is ons almal met die een Gees gedoop, of ons nou Jood of Griek is, slaaf of vry. Ons is almal van die een Gees deurdrenk.’ Wanneer Paulus in Gal 5:22 oor die vrug van die Gees praat, sien ons dat elke element van die liefde gemeenskap tussen mense skep, in teenstelling met die praktyke van die sondige natuur. Hierdie praktyke verskeur mense, breek verhoudinge, maar die die vrug van die Gees bring ‘n liefdesgemeenskap tot stand. Wie dus onder die heerskappy van die Gees kom, is deel van die een kerk en soek gemeenskap met ander op. Daarom maak ons die Gees hartseer wanneer ons mekaar kwaad aandoen. Immers ons is as sy eiendom beseël (Ef 4:30,31).

2. Hoe behoort die eenheid van die kerk te lyk?

a) Dit is ’n eenheid wat menslike voorkeure te bowe gaan

Daar is ’n liberale neiging om van die kerk ’n kliek vir eendersdenkendes te maak (Daniel Louw). In die wêreld soek soort soort, met dieselfde oortuigings, kultuur, taal, politiek. Paulus sê: ‘Omdat ons almal een liggaam geword het, is ons almal met die een Gees gedoop, of ons nou Jood of Griek is, slaaf of vry’ (1 Kor 12:13). Die Gees bevry ons van ons selfgerigte lewe waarin ons belange eerste kom. Sosiale verskille mag nie verdeeldheid bring nie (slaaf of vry) (12:13). Daar is eenheid ten spyte van afkoms (Jood en Griek). Karl Barth skryf dat die kerk die enigste instelling is wat uit die herskepping voortkom. Oepke Noordmans is reg: Kerk is te vroeg vir die hemel en te laat vir die aarde. Dit is dieselfde gedagtes wat ons in Kol 3:11 en Gal 3:27 aantref. Die eenheid van die kerk gaan bo politieke, sosiale, klasse of rasse- of kultuurverskille uit!

b) Die gawes wat ons ontvang het, waarborg ons eenheid

Dis baie ironies dat die Christene in Korinte verdeeld wat as gevolg van die gawes wat hulle van die Gees ontvang het. Daarom gebruik Paulus die beeld van ’n liggaam. ’n Liggaam se lede kan nie selfstandig funksioneer nie. Dis deel van ’n groter eenheid. Die oomblik wanneer ons dit uit die oog verloor, word ons liggaam gebreklik en kan die liggaam nie meer behoorlik funksioneer nie. Dan verbreek dit die liggaam se eenheid. Dit gebeur op twee maniere:

  • Wanneer ek my gawes verabsoluteer

Paulus skryf in 12:21: ‘Die oog kan nie vir die hand sê: “Ek het jou nie nodig nie.” Die kop kan weer nie vir die voete sê: “Ek het julle nie nodig nie.” Ons hoor soms die sinnelose uitspraak onder Christene: ‘Ek het ander nie nodig nie – ek kom reg op my eie, my gawe is belangriker as ander s’n. Ons kan regkom sonder daardie ouens se gawes – dit beteken in elk geval niks. Ek het nog nooit gehoor dat enigiemand dit prettig vind as sy been of arm geamputeer word nie. Inteendeel, ons sal alles probeer doen om nie ons arm of been te verloor nie. Tog amputeer ons sonder so maklik iemand in die geloofsgemeenskap. Ons het hom of haar nie nodig nie.

  • Wanneer ek my gawes minag en afmaak as niks

Paulus skryf in 12:15,16: ‘As die voet sou sê: “Omdat ek nie ‘n hand is nie, is ek nie deel van die liggaam nie,” hou hy om dié rede tog nie op om deel van die liggaam te wees nie. En as die oor sou sê: “Omdat ek nie ‘n oog is nie, is ek nie deel van die liggaam nie,” hou hy om dié rede eweneens nie op om deel van die liggaam te wees nie.’ Soms hoor ons die sinnelose opmerking onder sommige Christene: ‘Ek beteken eintlik niks nie – ander beteken baie meer as ek. Wat sal ek nou vir die gemeente kan beteken? Daarom doen ek liewer niks. Laat hulle wat goeie gawes het die werk doen. Hulle is die leiers!’ Nee, ons verskeidenheid dien hier juis eenheid, want die liggaamsdele het nie dieselfde funksie nie. Bram van de Beek skryf dat eendersheid die doodsteek van die kerk is, want dan het ons mekaar nie meer nodig nie. Dan is diens nie meer nodig nie.

c) Dit is ‘n eenheid van liefde waarin mekaar se belange hoog geag word

In 12:26 lees ons: ‘As een lid ly, ly al die lede saam; en as een lid geëer word, is al die lede saam bly.’ Dis tog duidelik. As jou toon seer is, kry jy seer, nie ’n deeltjie van jou nie. As jou tand pyn, is jy ongesteld. So is dit in die liggaam van Christus waar ons mekaar met ons gawes dien. Omdat ons een liggaam is, kan ons dit nie hanteer as een van ons nie gelukkig is nie. Die ander kant van die munt is dat die hele liggaam daaronder ly as een van die lede nie reg funksioneer nie. Dit plaas ’n verantwoordelikheid op ons om ons gawes aktief te beoefen. Immers, as alles in die liggaam reg werk, is die hele liggaam gesond! Dit iets om oor bly te wees. Daarom neem die gemeente op besondere manier verantwoordelikheid vir die swakkes in die kerk, vir die dwalendes, armes, weduwees, en wese, vir die minderbevoorregtes. Longontsteking gaan verder as die longe en die hart. Die liggaam word daardeur aangetas.

3. Is dit soos die eenheid lyk in ons kerke lyk? Bram van de Beek skryf: ‘Die kerk van vandag vertoon ’n groot verskil met die Bybel. In plaas van ‘n verlange na die toekoms, tref ons voortdurend ‘n gekibbel oor die dinge van die dag aan. In plaas van eenheid, sien ons verdeeldheid. In plaas van nuwe verhoudinge, sien ons gebroke verhoudinge. Dit is onnodig om die verdeeldheid van die kerk, die egoïsme van Christene, die liefdeloosheid van die gemeente breedvoerig aan te toon. Jy kan jou die verskriklikste ding voorstel … dit word in die kerk aangetref. Oor wat mense mekaar aangedoen het, kan jy boeke vol skryf. Dit wêreld se boeke sou dit nie kon bevat nie.

4. Hoe sal daar eenheid kom? Ons sal die heerskappy van Gees van Christus opnuut moet aanvaar. In 12:13 lees ons dat ons met die een Gees gedoop, van die een Gees deurdrenk is. Die doop en deurdrenk in in hierdie vers sinonieme wat eenmalige, passiewe gebeurtenisse in die verlede aandui (sien Grieks). Immers, die kerk is mense wat deel in die gebeure van Pinksterdag (Joel 2:28 en Jes 32:15). Omdat ons aan die kerk van Jesus Christus behoort, deel ons ook in die geskiedenis van Pinksterdag. Dis ’n nuwe tyd van ’n nuwe verbond. God is ons God en ons is sy mense. Nog meer, die kerk staan onder die heerskappy van die Gees van Christus. Hy is die Hoof! Soos met die doop in Mat 28:19 bedoel word dat die mens onder God se heerskappy geplaas word, is die kerk, elke lid daarvan onder die heerskappy van die Gees. Dis duidelik uit die konteks. Deur die Heilige Gees sê elke lid van die liggaam: Jesus Christus is Heer (1 Kor 12:3). Ons is onder nuwe bestuur. Die Heilige Gees bring ons onder die heerskappy van Christus! Dit beteken dat ons moet afsien van eie heerskappy.

Daar is ’n pragtige verhaal van die aap en die padda wat mekaar gedurig in die bos raakgeloop het. Toe nooi die padda die aap vir ete. Toe die aap opdaag, sien die padda dat die aap se hande swart is. Hy sê toe vir die aap dat hy beslis nie saam met hom gaan eet terwyl sy hande so lyk nie. Hy moes dit in die dam gaan was. Die aap doen dit toe, maar sy hande bly swart. Niks kom toe van die ete nie. Die aap nooi toe die padda om by hom te kom eet. Toe die padda daar aankom, ontdek hy tot sy ontsteltenis dat die tafel bo op ’n tak gedek is. Die aap help toe die padda om op te klim en op die tak te sit. Die padda sit toe bibberend en bewend op die tak. Die aap merk toe op dat hy nie saam met die padda kan eet as hy nie regop sit nie. Van die ete kom daar toe ook niks nie.

Ons wil gemeenskap met mekaar beoefen, maar op ons voorwaardes. Elkeen wat onder die heerskappy van Christus staan aanvaar mekaar met of sonder die gawes wat ons by mekaar ontdek of nie ontdek nie. Daar is geen voorwaardes nie. Ons dien mekaar nie met ons gawes as die ander een inpas by ons verwagtinge nie. Ons dien mekaar onvoorwaardelik.

Dis hoekom Paulus elke gawe in 1 Kor 12 in ’n groter konteks plaas, naamlik die liefde (1 Kor 13). Wat ons gawes sinvol maak, is die liefde. Sonder die liefde is gawes net ekstra bagasie en verdeel dit mense.

Franciscus van Assisi se gebed is ’n pragtige beskrywing van hierdie liefdesgesindheid: ‘Here, maak my ‘n instrument van u vrede; Waar daar haat is, laat ek liefde betoon; Waar daar twyfel is, laat ek geloof bring; Waar daar wanhoop is, hoop; Waar daar duisternis is, laat ek lig bring; Waar daar hartseer is, vreugde. O Goddelike Meester, gee my die genade dat ek nie so graag soek om vertroos te word nie as om te vertroos, om verstaan te word as om te verstaan nie, om liefde te ontvang as om te gee. Want dit is wanneer ons gee dat ons ontvang, wanneer ons vergewe dat ons vergewe word, wanneer ons sterf dat ons tot die ewige lewe gebore word.

1 Corinthians 12:1-13:1

Background

1 Corinthians 12-14 is a unit. It is introduced with the words, ‘Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.’ Paul responded in these chapters to one of the problems in the congregation. It is one of several problems that he addressed.

Question 1: On marriage (7:1-40)

Question 2: What about meat from pagan temples? (8:1-10: 22)

Question 3: What is the role of women in the church? (11:1-16)

Question 4: About disorder at the Lord’s table (11:17-34)

Question 5: What about the gifts of the Spirit? (12:1-14:40)

Question 6: The resurrection of the body (15:1-58)

Question 7: Contributions to the poor (16:1-4)

From 1 Corinthians 12-14 it becomes clear that the gifts of the Spirit became problematic. Some readers have become arrogant about their gifts and considered it the most important gifts. Others felt inferior about their gifts and did not use it. Between these two extremes Paul used the body image makes to emphasise that the church is one body. The gifts serve this unity. When we talk about the gifts of the Spirit, we should always do it within the context of unity. We lose focus when we talk about the gifts in isolation. The context is always the one body of Christ, and how the body can be served.

Sermon proposal

1. We believe in one church. This is what the Apostles’ Creed says. This is a church that finds its unity in the testimony of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2: 19,20). This is the message of the Bible. Jesus prays for unity of its people. It is the witnessing power of the church in the world (John 17:20-23). This will make people believe that Jesus made a difference. This is what Jesus died for (John 11:52; Eph 2:11-22).

All the passages speaking about what we should do to ‘one another’ in the New Testament are aimed at unity – to confess our sins to each other, to be patient with one another, to love one another, to forgive one another, to serve one another, etc.

The Spirit is a Spirit of unity. Paul speaks of the Spirit-ual unity between us (Ephesians 4:3). Paul’s joy will be complete if we are being ‘like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind’ (Phil 2:1,2). 1 Corinthians 12:13 makes it very clear, ‘For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’ When Paul speaks in Galatians 5:22 about the fruit of the Spirit, we see that every aspect of love creates unity between people, as opposed to the practices of the flesh. These practices divide people and destroy relationships, but the fruit of the Spirit is a community of love. Whoever comes under the rule of the Spirit is part of the church and seeks fellowship with others. Therefore, we grieve the Spirit when we hurt each other. After all, we have been sealed by the Spirit (Eph 4:30,31).

2. What should the unity of the church look like?

a) This is a unity that surpasses human preferences

There is a liberal tendency to make the church a clique for like-minded people (Daniel Louw). In the world, likeness and similarity attract. People with the same beliefs, culture, language and politics group together. Paul said, ‘For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink’ (1 Cor 12:13). The Spirit frees us from our self-centred life where our interests come first. Social differences may not be divisive (slave or free) (12:13). There is unity in spite of descent (Jew and Greek). Karl Barth wrote that the church is the only institution projected on the earth from heaven. Oepke Noordmans was right: the church is too early for heaven and too late for the earth. These are the same ideas that we find in Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:27. The unity of the church goes beyond political, social, class, racial or cultural differences

b) The gifts we received guarantee our unity

It is very ironic that the Christians in Corinth were divided, because of the gifts they received from the Spirit. Therefore, Paul used the image of a body. A part of the body cannot function independently. It is part of a bigger unit. The moment we lose sight of this fact, our body becomes crippled and cannot function properly anymore. Then the body’s unity is broken. This happens in two ways:

  • When I think that my gifts are more important than the gifts of others

Paul says in 12:21, ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ We sometimes hear these senseless remarks among Christians, ‘I do not need another person. I will survive on my own. My gift is more important than others. We can manage without those people’s gifts – it means nothing anyway.’ I’ve never heard anyone being happy about the fact that an arm or leg is going to be amputated. On the contrary, we will try to do everything not to lose our arm or leg. Yet, we amputate people so easily in the community of faith. We do not need him or her.

  • When I disrespect and dismiss my own gifts as unimportant

Paul wrote in 12:15,16, ‘Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.’ Again, sometimes we hear the senseless comments among some Christians, ‘I have nothing to offer. Others have much more to offer than I do. What can I really do for the church? I prefer to do nothing. Let those with good gifts do the job. They are the leaders!’ No, our diversity serves the unity, for the body parts do not have the same function. Bram van de Beek writes that similarity kills the church, because then we do not need each other anymore. Then service no is longer needed

c) It is a unity of love in which each other’s interests are considered higher than my own

In 12:26 we read, ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it’

It is very clear. If your toe is hurt, you are hurt, not a part of you. If you have toothache you feel sick. So it is in the body of Christ. We serve each other with our gifts. Because we are one body, we cannot handle it if one of us is not happy. The other side of the coin is that the whole body suffers because one of the members is not functioning properly. This places a responsibility on us to actively pursue our gifts. Indeed, if the whole body functions properly, the whole body is healthy! It should be something to rejoice about. Therefore the congregation takes responsibility in a special way for the weak in the church, for the sinner, the poor, widows and orphans, for the underprivileged. Pneumonia goes beyond the lungs and the heart. The body is affected.

3. Is this the kind of unity we see in congregations? Bram van de Beek writes that the church of today differs significantly from the Biblical ideal. Instead of a longing for the future, we find constant squabbles about the things of the day. Instead of unity, we see discord. Instead of new relationships, we see broken relationships. It is not necessary to prove the division of the church, the selfishness of Christians, the lovelessness of the congregation. It is there. You can imagine the most terrible thing … it can be found in the church. About what people do to each other, you can write volumes. This world’s books could not contain it.

4. When will we serve each other with our gifts in complete unity? When we accept the rule of the Spirit of Christ. In 12:13 we read that we baptized by one Spirit and drank of the one Spirit. Baptism and to drink are synonyms. It refers to once-off passive events in the past (see Greek). Indeed, the church is taking part in the events of Pentecost (Joel 2:28 and Isaiah 32:15). Because we belong to the church of Jesus Christ, we share in the history of Pentecost. It is a new era of a new covenant. God is our God and we are His people.

Moreover, the church is under the dominion of the Spirit of Christ. He is the head! As with baptism in Matthew 28:19 the person is placed under God’s rule, the church, each member thereof, is placed under the rule of the Spirit. It is clear from the context. Through the Holy Spirit, each member of the body says that Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Cor 12:3). We are under new management. The Holy Spirit brings us under the dominion of Christ! This means that we must give up their own rule.

There is a beautiful story of the monkey and the frog that constantly met each other in the forest. The frog invited the monkey for dinner. When the monkey arrived, the frog saw that the monkey’s hands were black. He said to the monkey that he certainly could not go eat with him while his hands were black. He should go to the pond and wash it. The monkey did it, but his hands remained black. Nothing came of the meal.

The monkey then invited the frog to eat with him. When the frog arrived, he discovered to his dismay that the table was prepared on a branch high up in the tree. The monkey helped when the frog to climb up and sit on the branch. The frog sat shivering and trembling on the branch. The monkey then remarked that he was not able to eat with the frog unless he sat straight up. The frog realised that the meal would not take place.

We want fellowship with one another on our terms. We are different. We have different gifts. Whoever accepted the reign of Christ also accepts the other with or without the gifts the other person has. There are no conditions. We serve each other with our gifts even if the other person does not fit our expectations. We serve each other unconditionally.

That is why Paul puts each gift in 1 Corinthians 12 in a wider context, namely love (1 Corinthians 13). Our gifts only mean something, serves a purpose, if there is love. Without love these things are just extra baggage and divide people.

Francis of Assisi’s prayer is a good description of this love attitude, ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me show love; Where there is doubt, let me bring faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, let me bring light; Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant me the grace that I do not like to seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to give. For it is when we give we receive when we forgive we are forgiven when we die we are born to eternal life.

Week 5: Ons bedien mekaar met liefde

Skriflesing: 1 Kor 13; Joh 13:34,35; 1 Joh 4:7-13 and 19-21

Tema: Liefde? Watter liefde?

  1. Een van die kursusse wat ek tydens my akademiese loopbaan aan die Universiteit gedoseer het, was Sosiale Etiek. Een van die dokumente wat die studente moes bestudeer was die Declaration of the Religions for a Global Ethic. Daarin lees ons, ‘Religions … can effect a change in the inner orientation, the whole mentality, the ‘hearts’ of people and move them to a ‘conversion’ from a false path to a new orientation for life.’ Die dokument aanvaar dat godsdienste en etiese tradisies dikwels ’n basis vir wat goed en sleg is verskaf wat radikaal van mekaar verskil. Tog moet hierdie verskille in motivering ons nie daarvan weerhou om openlik te verkondig wat ons nou in gemeen het nie. Hulle identifiseer vier antieke riglyne vir menslike gedrag wat in die meeste godsdienste gevind word.
  • Jy mag nie moord pleeg nie = respek vir die lewe
  • Jy mag nie steel nie = wees eerlik
  • Jy mag nie lieg nie = praat die waarheid
  • Jy mag nie onsedelik lewe nie = respekteer mekaar en wees lief vir mekaar.

Hierdie dinge is net die uitwerking van iets dieper, naamlik die sogenaamde ‘Goue reël’ wat in baie godsdienste en etiese tradisies vir duisende jare gehandhaaf word. Hierdie ‘Goue Reël’ is: Wat jy aan jouself gedoen wil hê, doen so aan ander!

  1. Dit is waar. In Judaïsme hoor ons: “Wat haatlik is vir jou, moenie dit aan jou medemens doen nie. Dit is die hele wet. Die res is kommentaar (Talmud Sabbat 3 id). In die Christendom hoor ons Jesus se woorde: ‘Alles wat julle wil hê dat die mense aan julle moet doen, moet julle ook aan hulle doen. Dit is tog waarop dit neerkom in die wet en die profete’ (Matt 7:12). In Islam word gesê: ‘Niemand van julle is ’n gelowige voordat hy vir sy broer begeer wat hy ook vir homself begeer nie.’ In Hindoeïsme hoor ons: ‘Dit is die opsomming van wat ons verskuldig is: moenie aan enigiemand iets doen wat pyn sal veroorsaak as dit aan jou gedoen sou word nie’ (Mahabharata 5: 1517). Die Boeddhiste sê: ‘Moenie ander seermaak op ’n manier wat jy as seerkry sou beleef nie’ (Udana-Varga 05:18). Confucianisme glo dat daar een reël is wat ’n mens dwarsdeur jou lewe behoort te volg. Dit die stelreël van goedhartigheid: Moenie aan ander doen wat jy nie aan jouself gedoen wil hê nie. (Analects 15:23). Taoïsme is dit eens: ‘Beskou jou naaste se gewin as jou gewin en die verlies van jou naaste as jou eie verlies’ (Tai Shane Kan Ying P’ien).

Alle godsdienste stem hieroor saam: Ons moet ander liefhê en goed doen aan ons medemens. Alle mense sing oor liefde: liefde, liebe, lobov, amour … Die Beatles sing: ‘All you need is love, All you need is love…’

3. Beteken dit dat alle godsdienste dieselfde betekenis daaraan heg wanneer hulle sê dat ons mekaar moet liefhê? Nee, daar is iets unieks aan die Christendom. Wat is dit?

a) Christelike liefde is die gevolg van ’n nuwe geboorte deur God se Gees

Johannes skryf: ‘Geliefdes, ons moet mekaar liefhê, want liefde kom van God, en elkeen wat liefhet, is ‘n kind van God en ken God. Wie nie liefhet nie, het geen kennis van God nie, want God is liefde. (1 Joh 4: 7,8).

Paulus stem saam in 1 Kor 13: die ware kenmerk van ’n Christen is liefde. Die woorde van Paulus is deel van 1 Kor 12-14 wat oor die gawes van die Gees handel. Nadat Paulus ’n lys van al die geestelike gawes in Kor 12 gemaak het, sê hy: ‘Nou wys ek julle wat nog die allerbeste is: Al praat ek die tale van mense en engele, maar ek het geen liefde nie…’ Liefde is die allerbeste! Hy maak ’n lys van die gawes in 13:1-3 en maak dit duidelik: die gawes van kennis, profesie en wonderwerke is niks sonder liefde nie. Selfopoffering kan ander beïndruk, maar sonder liefde beteken dit niks nie. Liefde is die duidelikste bewys dat ek ‘n Christen is. Dit is ’n spesiale soort liefde! Liefde is nie net die vrug van die Gees nie (Gal 5:22), maar ook die gawe van die Gees aan alle Christene.

Elders sê Paulus dat God sy liefde in ons harte uitgestort het deur die Heilige Gees wat God aan ons geskenk het (Rom 5: 5). Liefde is bonatuurlik! Ons het lief omdat God ons eerste liefgehad het. Ons het lief omdat God ons deur sy Gees verander het. Hy het sy Gees in ons uitgestort.

b) Christelike liefde is die gevolg van die navolging van Christus as Heer!

Die ware krag van die getuienis van Christene is die liefde. Johannes skryf: ‘As julle mekaar liefhet, sal almal weet dat julle dissipels van My is’ (Joh 13:35). Tog is dit nie dieselfde as ‘Doen aan ander wat jy wil hê dat hulle aan jou moet doen’ nie.

Die filosoof Aristoteles het gesê dat niemand liefgehê kan word as hy dit nie waardig is of tensy daar iets in hom is wat ons motiveer om hom lief te hê nie. Ek kan iemand dus net liefhê as ons iets in die ander sien of ontdek, as hy of sy iets bied op grond waarvan ek hom of haar kan liefhê.

Hier is die kontras met Christelike liefde so duidelik: Christelike liefde gaan veel dieper. Jesus sê: Ek gee julle ‘n nuwe gebod: julle moet mekaar liefhê. Soos Ek julle liefhet, moet julle mekaar ook liefhê’ (13:35). Die motiverende faktor is nie om aan ander goed te doen nie, maar omdat Christus ons liefgehad het. So lief het God die wêreld – die wêreld in weerstand teen hom, die wêreld wat Jesus Christus verwerp en gekruisig het. Toe Jesus sy dissipels se voete gewas het was Petrus en Judas ook daar. Dit is die mense wat hom verraai en verloën het. Sy liefde is veel meer as ’n voorbeeld. Dit was selfopoffering.

Billy Graham het gesê dat God sy liefde aan die kruis bewys het. Toe Christus aan die kruis gespyker is, gebloei en gesterf het, was dit God wat vir die wêreld gesê het, ‘Ek het jou lief.’

Johannes bevestig dit: ‘Hiérin is God se liefde vir ons geopenbaar: sy enigste Seun het Hy na die wêreld toe gestuur sodat ons deur Hom die lewe kan hê. Werklike liefde is dít: nie die liefde wat ons vir God het nie, maar die liefde wat Hy aan ons bewys het deur sy Seun te stuur as versoening vir ons sondes (1 Joh 4:9,10)

Geen ander godsdiens leer dat God ‘n mens geword en vir sondaars gesterf het net omdat hy ons liefhet nie. Dit is liefde ten spyte van – liefde wat alles gee.

  • Wanneer Hy aan die kruis bid: ‘Vader vergewe hulle want hulle weet nie wat hulle doen nie, bid Hy vir sy vyande.’ Geen wonder dat Jesus ons kon oproep om ons vyande lief te hê en om te bid vir hulle wat ons vervolg nie. Dit is die pad van die kruis.
  • Wanneer Jesus vir die misdadiger langs Hom sê: ‘Vandag sal jy saam met my in die paradys wees’, gee Hy hoop aan die mees hopelose persoon. Dit word ook die taak van die kerk die navolgers van Jesus. Dit is die pad van die kruis.
  • Toe Jesus uitroep: ‘My God, my God, waarom het U my verlaat?”, identifiseer Hy met ons diepste pyn sodat ons nooit deur God verlaat sal word nie. Die kerk word geroep om by hulle te staan wat voel dat hulle alleen en sonder God is. Dit is die pad van die kruis.
  • Wanneer Jesus vir Johannes en sy ma sê: ‘Daar jou seun’, ‘Daar is jou moeder’ word sy kruis die bron van ’n nuwe gemeenskap van liefde. Dit is die pad van die kruis.
  • Wanneer Jesus sê: ‘Ek is dors’ en ‘Dit is volbring’, het Hy die grootste dors na God se wil met ’n daad van selfopoffering vir ons vervul. So word dit ons doel in die lewe om net sy wil te doen. Dit is die pad van die kruis.
  • Wanneer Jesus sy lewe aan God oorgee, bewys Hy dat Hy alles tot stand gebring het, absoluut alles wat nodig was om ons na God te bring. Dit spoor ons aan om met algehele oorgawe aan God te lewe. Dit is die pad van die kruis.

Nou sê Jesus: ‘Julle noem My julle Leermeester en Here, en julle is reg, want Ek is dit. As Ek, wat julle Here en julle Leermeester is, dan julle voete gewas het, behoort julle ook mekaar se voete te was. Ek het vir julle ‘n voorbeeld gestel, en soos Ek vir julle gedoen het, moet julle ook doen’ (Joh 13:13-15). Dit is die pad van die kruis.

Paulus sê in 1 Kor 12 dat die Gees ons leer om te sê: Jesus is Here (12: 3). Dit is die sleutel tot hierdie liefde – om die heerskappy van Christus te aanvaar, om Jesus te volg! Dit is niks anders as die weg van die kruis nie – om te deel in Jesus se lyding..

  1. Wat beteken dit in die praktyk? Dietrich Bonhoeffer skryf uit ‘n Nazi tronk tydens die Tweede Wêreldoorlog: ‘Die persoon wat liefhet omdat Hy deur God se waarheid vrygemaak is, is die mees revolusionêre mens op aarde.’

Hoekom? Sonde, het Luther gesê: is incurvatis in se (om ingebuig te wees op jouself). Ons natuur, skryf is deur die korrupsie van die eerste sonde so diep ingebuig op homself … dat dit versuim om te besef dat dit so verkeerd handel, ingebuig is en alle dinge passievol najaag, selfs vir God, vir eie gewin.

Die Christelike liefde is die teenoorgestelde – om weg gebuig te wees van onsself. Dit vereis kruisiging van onsself! Dit is selfverloëning! Christelike liefde is soos ‘n kers – dit brand deurdat dit self verteer word (Versteeg). Vinet het gesê: ‘Om lief te hê is om die altaar te bestyg’. Dit is om ons eie kruis te bestyg.

Die Engelse sê dat daar blykbaar drie ringe by die huwelik betrokke is, naamlik: engagement ring, wedding ring en suffering. Dit is waar: die liefde is konkrete dade van diens en selfverloëning. 1 Kor 13 sê dit beteken om onsself op te offer.

Wanneer ander hulle humeur verloor, is liefde geduldig.

Wanneer ander onbeskof is, is die liefde vriendelik.

Wanneer ander jaloers is, is liefde nie afgunstig nie.

Wanneer ander trots is, spog die liefde nie.

Wanneer ander selfgesentreerd is, is die liefde nie eiesinnig nie.

Wanneer ander kwaad word, is liefde nie liggeraak nie.

Wanneer ander telling hou van wat ons gedoen het, hou liefde nie boek van die kwaad nie.

AA van Ruler skryf dat liefde nie gelukkig is wanneer dinge verkeerd is nie. Deur liefde kan ons die duidelike onderskeid tussen goed en kwaad sien. Daarom is ons nie bly oor die onreg nie. Dit behoort ’n geweldige impak op gemeentes te hê. Liefde verdra nie verkeerde gedrag nie. Ons innige wens is dat die bose sal wyk en dat die goeie sal seëvier.

Walter Wink skryf: ‘Dit kan nie te veel beklemtoon word nie: liefde vir die vyande het, vir ons tyd, die lakmoestoets van outentieke Christelike geloof geword.’ Dan sal die wêreld weet dat julle my dissipels is (Johannes 13: 34,35)

  1. ‘Doen aan ander wat jy wil hê hulle aan jou moet doen’ sal nie werk nie! In 1 Kor 13 sê Paulus dat drie dinge oorbly: geloof, hoop en liefde. Laat ek ’n bekende beeld gebruik om te verduidelik:

Geloof is die wortel. Geloof verlos die liefde van selfliefde, omdat ons deur die geloof aan God verbind is. Dit gaan nie oor onsself nie. Die bron van liefde is geloof.

Hoop is die stam. Hoop verlos ons liefde van ’n ongesonde fokus op gister, die verlede, die foute, en open ons oë vir God se toekoms. Hoop is slegs eg wanneer dit ‘n beter toekoms deur liefde skep.

Liefde is die blom. Dit is die bewys dat ons aan God verbind is, oop is vir God, oop vir die Heilige Gees deur geloof en hoop.

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13; John 13:34,35; 1 John 4:7-13 and 19-21

Theme: Love? Which love?

  1. One of the courses I taught during my academic career at University was Social ethics. One of the documents that the students had to study was the Declaration of the Religions for a Global Ethic. It stated, ‘Religions … can effect a change in the inner orientation, the whole mentality, the “hearts” of people and move them to a “conversion” from a false path to a new orientation for life.’ The document accepts that ‘religions and ethical traditions often offer very different bases for what is good and what is evil, however, they should not hinder us from proclaiming publicly those things which we already hold in common now…’ They identify four ancient guidelines for human behaviour which are found in most of the religions of this world:
  • You shall not kill = have respect for life
  • You shall not steal = deal honestly
  • You shall not lie = speak the truth
  • You shall not commit sexual immorality = respect and love one another.

These things are just the working out of something deeper, namely the ‘Golden rule’ – which is found and has been maintained in many religions and ethical traditions for thousands of years. This ‘Golden Rule’ is: What you wish done to yourself, do to others!

  1. This is true. In Judaism we hear: ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowmen. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary (Talmud Shabbat 3 id)’. In Christianity: ‘Do for others what you want them to do for you; this is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 7:12). In Islam it is said, ‘No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.’ In Hinduism we hear, ‘This is the sum of duty: do nothing to others which would cause you pain if done to you’ (Mahabharata 5:1517). The Buddhists say, ‘Don’t hurt others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful’ (Udana-Varga 5:18). Confucianism holds’ ‘Is there one maxim which ought to be acted upon throughout one’s life? Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not to others what you would not have them do to you’ (Analects 15:23). Taoism agrees, ‘Regard your neighbour’s gain as your gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss’ (Tai Shane Kan Ying P’ien)

All religions agree about this! We need love, kindness. Let’s face it: All people sing about love: liefde, liebe, lobov, amour… The Beatles sing, ‘All you need is love, all you need is love …’

3. Does it mean that all religions mean the same when they say that we should love one another? No, there is something unique about Christianity. What is is?

a) Christian love is the result of a new birth by God’s Spirit

John writes, Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7,8).

Paul agrees in 1 Cor 13: the true mark of a Christian is love. The words of Paul are part of 1 Cor 12-14 – about the gifts of the Spirit. After Paul he made a list of all the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12, he says: And now I will show you the most excellent way. It is love! This is a special kind of love! Love is not only the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), but also the gift of the Spirit. Speaking in tongues is a noise without love. The gifts of knowledge, prophecy and miracles are nothing without love. Self-sacrifice can impress others, but without love, it means nothing. Love is the clearest way of expressing that I am a Christian.

Elsewhere Pauls says, ‘God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us’ (Rom 5:5). Love is supernatural! We love, because He loved us first. We love, because God changed us by His Spirit. He poured out his Spirit in us.

b) Christian love is the result of following Christ as Lord!

The real power of the witness of Christians is love. John writes, ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:35).

Yet, this is not the same as ‘do unto others as you would like them to do to you.’ The philosopher Aristotle said that no one can be loved if he is not worthy of love, or unless there is something in him that inspires love. I can only love others if I saw or discovered something in the other, and the other has something to offer for me.

Here the contrast with Christian love is so clear: Christian love goes much deeper. Jesus says: As I have loved you, you should also love one another (13:35). The motivating factor is not doing good to others, but as Christ loved us.

God so loved the world – the world in resistance to Him, the world that crucified Jesus Christ, the world that rejected Him.

When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, Peter and Judas were also there. These are the people that denied and betrayed Him. This is much more than an example. It was self-sacrifice.

Billy Graham said that God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’

John affirms it, ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:10)

No other religion teaches that God became a human being and died for sinners, just because he loves us

This is love in spite of … love giving it all …

When He prayed on the cross, “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing”, He prayed for his enemies. No wonder that Jesus could call upon us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

When Jesus said to the criminal next to him “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.” he gave hope to the most hopeless person. This is the task of the church.

When Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” he associated with our deepest pain so that we will never be separated from God.

When Jesus said to John and his mother, ‘He is your son’, ‘She is your mother’, His cross became the source of a new community of love

When Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’ and ‘It is finished’ it was his greatest thirst to fulfil God’s will in an act of sacrifice for us.

When Jesus gave his life over to God, he accomplished absolutely everything that was necessary on our behalf to bring us to God

Now John says, ‘You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’ (John 13:13,14).

Paul says in 1 Cor 12 that the Spirit teaches us to say: Jesus is Lord (12:3). This is the key to this Love – to accept the Lordship of Christ, to follow Jesus! It is nothing but the way of the cross – to share in Jesus’ suffering.

  1. What does in mean in practice? Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes from a Nazi prison during the Second World War, ‘The person who loves because he has been set free by God’s truth, is the most revolutionary person on earth.’

Why? Sin, Luther said, is incurvatis in se (curved in on oneself), ‘Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself … fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.’ Christian love requires crucifixion of ourselves! It is self-denial! Christian love is like a candle – burning by consuming itself! (Versteeg). Vinet said, ‘To love is to go up the altar.’ It is to go to our own cross.

Apparently there are three rings involved in marriage: Engagement ring, wedding ring, suffering. It is true: love is concrete acts of service and self-denial. 1 Cor 13 says it means going up the altar, consuming ourselves for others. When others lose their temper, love is patient. When others are rude, love is kind. When others are jealous, love does not envy. When others are proud, love does not boast. When others are self-centred, love is not self-seeking. When others are getting angry, love is not easily angered. When others keep score of what we have done to them, love keeps no record of wrongs. AA van Ruler writes that love is not happy when things are wrong. Love enables us to see the clear distinction between good and evil. Therefore we do not rejoice in evil. It has a tremendous impact on congregations. Love does not tolerate anything that is wrong. Our deepest wish is that evil will depart and that good shall prevail.

Walter Wink writes, ‘It cannot be stressed too much: love of the enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith.’ Then the world will know that you are my disciples (John 13:34,35)

  1. ‘Do unto others as you want them to do to you’ will not work! In 1 Cor 13 Paul says that three things remain: faith hope and love. Let me use a familiar image to explain: Faith is the root. Faith saves love from self-love, because through faith we are plugged in to God. Our source of love is faith. Hope is the stem. Hope saves our love from focussing on yesterday, the past, the mistakes, and opens our eyes to God’s future. Hope is only genuine when it creates a better future by love. Love is the flower. It is the proof that we have been connected to God, are open to God, open to His Spirit through faith and hope.

Week 6: Esegiël 34:11-16, 20-24

Agtergrond

Esegiël 34 bestaan uit twee dele. Dit beskryf die goeie en slegte herders en die toestand van die mense onder die goeie en slegte sorg van hierdie herders (Zimmerli). Die eerste gedeelte (34:1-16) handel oor die slegte herders. Die Here sal oor hulle oordeel en self verantwoordelikheid vir sy verwonde volk neem. Die tweede deel (34:17-31) handel oor die skerp teenstelling tussen die goeie en slegte skape en dan oor die Messiaanse tyd wanneer die Messiaanse prins sal regeer en toestande sal heers wat aan die paradys herinner (Wevers).

Nadat die slegte herders in die eerste verse van Esegiël 34 aangespreek is, is 34:11-15 die positiewe teenstelling na die oordeeluitspraak van 34:10. Dit is uiteraard ’n belofte van redding. Hier is nie meer sprake van ’n menslike herder nie. Slegs dit wat die Here gaan doen, word nou beskryf. Die Here sal self die rol as herder oorneem en die volk op hierdie manier van die bose herders red. Zimmerli verwys na die twee begrippe ‘soek’ en ‘omsien’ wat die tipiese werk van ’n herder was. Die ‘omsien’ behels veel meer as blote oppervlakkige sorg. Dit kan ‘ondersoek’ beteken (bv. wanneer ’n siekte ondersoek word, of wanneer bepaal word of ’n offer voldoende is). In die Damaskus dokumente word die ‘ondersoeker’ of ‘omsiener’ se taak omvattend beskryf: ‘Ek sal medelye met hulle hê soos ’n pa van kinders en sal hulle in hulle wanhopige toestand dra soos ’n herder sy kudde dra. Ek sal die bande wat hulle bind losmaak sodat daar nie meer enige onderdrukte of gebroke mens onder hulle sal wees nie’ (Zimmerli). In die ideale koninkryk is geen menslike herder nodig nie (Wevers). Hy sal ’n einde maak aan die onregverdige heerskappy.

Ballingskap het die volk verstrooi. Die donker oordeel van die val van Jerusalem was nog vars in hulle geheue. Die goeie herder sal omsien na die wat weens die dag van die Here verstrooi is. Dis duidelik dat die profeet ’n nuwe Eksodus, ’n nuwe gemeenskap en ’n nuwe intog in die land verwag (Zimmerli).   Met die nuwe intog sal daar rus en vrede kom.

In 34:16 word die werk van die goeie herder beskryf en is presies die teenoorgestelde van die werk van die slegte herders in vers 4. Die een wat op die dag van die Here geoordeel het, neem nou die rol van ’n barmhartige herder in. Dit gaan hier oor die wat ‘weggeraak’ en ‘weggedwaal’ het, die wat ‘seergekry’ het en die ‘swakkes’. Die herder sal omgee vir die gebrokenes en verlorenes. Die swak mense is spesiaal vir hierdie herder. Die kenmerk van hierdie omgee is dat daar ‘geregtigheid’ sal wees – tipies van ’n koninklike herder.

In 34:20-22 is ’n aankondiging van oordeel tussen skaap en skaap. Dieselfde beeld word in Matt 25:31-46 oorgeneem. Dit gaan oor meer as die leiers. Dit is duidelik dat hierdie gemeenskap, wat op solidariteit met mekaar gebou is, ook aan liefdelose gedrag skuldig was. Dit gaan waarskynlik oor die oordeel tussen die vet onderdrukker en arm onderdrukte. Die beeld wat hierdie gebruik word is ’n duidelike aanduiding van klasseverskille wat tot diskriminasie gelei het. Dis duidelik dat hierdie onderdrukking selfs gedurende ballingskap voortgeduur het. Die slegte herders was die oorsaak van vernietiging, uitbuiting en verwydering (34:1-10). Die redding is ’n belangrike konsep in hierdie gedeelte. Die redding hierdie verwys na die skep van lewensruimte vir hulle wat swak, siek en eenkant toe gestoot is.

Volgens 34:23-24 sal daar ’n nuwe heerser of ‘prins’ wees. Die menslike herders was boos, maar daar sal ’n regverdige menslike herder wees. Die een wat namens die Here sal optree sal uit Dawid linie wees.

Die Dawid dinastie was van die begin af ’n wesenlike deel van Israel se hoop op redding, is altyd met redding verbind en deur messiaanse elemente gekenmerk. Die Here self sal die Herder wees, beliggaam in ’n menslike koning. Deur hierdie mens sal die Here self hulle God wees. Daar sal net een herder vir die kudde wees, en dit is die Here deur middel van ’n menslike instrument. Daar sal ook nie meer as een koninkryk wees nie. Die herstel van God se volk sal ten diepste ’n herstel van die verbondsverhouding wees. Dit sal nie weer op uitbuiting en oorheersing uitloop nie, want die nuwe heerser sa ‘my dienaar’ wees. Die goddelike seën sal deur middel van die dienaar Dawid aan die volk gegee word. Die Here het dit self aangekondig, sê Esegiël. Dit is dus ’n duidelike aanduiding van God se wil.

Die koning in hierdie gedeelte is egter van ’n besondere aard. Hy is anders as despotiese, manipulerende konings. Hy het die gestalte van ’n kneg. Uiteraard roep Esegiël 34 duidelik die gedagte van Christus as Goeie Herder op, maar ook as kneg wat tot die dood toe getrou aan God se roeping was (Fil. 2:5-11). Tog moet ons nie in die versoeking val om onmiddellik na enige Nuwe Testamentiese teks te spring en dan eintlik daaroor te preek nie. Ons moet reg laat geskied aan die teks van Esegiël 34. Die prediker in ’n Christelike geloofsgemeenskap kan uiteraard nie anders as om op ’n baie natuurlike manier van die goeie herder koning in Esegiël na die herder koning, Jesus te beweeg nie. Uiteraard beskryf Esegiël 34 die bediening van die nuwe herder, die Here self, in die konteks van die lyding van Israel in ballingskap. Tog ‘praat’ Jesus en Esegiël 34 met mekaar. Wat Miller oor die Psalms skryf, is ewe waar oor Esegiël en Jesus: ‘What happens, therefore, as we read the Psalms with the New Testament is that they interact with one another, they talk to one another. The Psalms draw us to Jesus, make us think of him; they gain their specificity, their reality for us, their concreteness, in the revelation of Jesus. But it is the case, also, that that interaction works the other way, and our thinking and interpretation of our preaching about Jesus of Nazareth needs to be conversation with the Psalms. For the Psalms provide some of the fundamental content for what the reality of Jesus is as salvation, light, hope, deliverance, and shepherd.’ Ons beeld van Christus as Herderkoning word verdiep deur die beskrywing van die goeie herder van Esegiël 34. Die beeld van die herder in Esegiël 34 vind egter toespitsing in Christus, die goeie herder – die een wat die ware verteenwoordiger van die koninkryk van God op aarde was.

Daar is heelwat materiaal beskikbaar oor die Here as Herder. Kommentare kan hieroor geraadpleeg word (sien Jes 44:28; Jer 3:15; 23:1; 25:34; Sag 11:17, ens). Dit is egter duidelik die Nuwe Testament heelwat beelde uit die Ou Testament oorneem (sien Ef 4:11; Hand 20:28; Joh 10, Joh 21:15-17; 1 Pet 5:2-4). Esegiël 34 het heelwat van hierdie beelde geïnspireer. Matt 25 neem ook die beeld van die skeiding tussen skape en bokke oor. Daar is dus ’n ryke wisselwerking tussen Ou en Nuwe Testament met betrekking tot die herderbeeld.

Die eerste verse van Esegiël 34 maak duidelik dat die Here se ‘endeavour to build up a people of God has broken down through human failure’ (Eichrodt). Die leiers is die skuldiges en staan onder die oordeel van God. Hierdie gedagte word ook in Esegiël 33 aangetref. Leiers het ’n groot verantwoordelikheid om nie hulle mag en posisie te misbruik nie, maar ook nie om hulle taak te vermy nie. Thomas Oden skryf: ‘The leader whose mission and task is to care for others … must not be a slave to one’s own unexamined passions. Otherwise the souls entrusted to one’s care may be subject to manipulation by the supposed carer, whose passions are projected on to the relationship.’ Mense wat in die leierskap van gemeentes dien, is dikwels hieraan skuldig.

In hulle boek, Leading the congregation, verwys Shawchuck en Heuser na ’n ondersoek wat in Amerika gedoen is oor verwagtinge wat mense van geestelike leiers het. Bo aan die lys is persoonlike integriteit. Die eerste elf verwagtinge is onlosmaaklik aan hierdie kernwaarde van integriteit verbonde. Hulle wys daarop dat lidmate inderdaad verwag dat leraars behoorlik moet preek, iemand moet wees wat pastoraal omsien na mense en as geestelike gids vir mense moet optree. Dit gaan egter nie oor hierdie “skills” nie. In al hierdie dinge gaan dit oor die vraag of jy die persoon kan vertrou. Jy kan ’n baie goeie pastorale ingesteldheid hê, maar sonder integriteit sal niemand jou vertrou nie. Jy kan oor baie goeie kwaliteite vir die prediking beskik, maar sonder integriteit sal mense moeilik na jou luister.

Volgens Hebreërs het die God wat vrede gee, ‘ons Here Jesus wat deur die bloed van die ewige verbond die groot Herder van sy kudde is, uit die dood teruggebring.’ Die Hebreërskrywer bid dat hierdie God ons sal ‘toerus met alles wat goed is, sodat julle sy wil kan doen. Mag Hy deur Jesus Christus in ons tot stand bring wat vir Hom aanneemlik is.’ (Heb 13:20,21). God self bring tot stand wat menslik onmoontlik is. Petrus sê dat ons soos skape rondgedwaal het, ‘maar nou het julle teruggekom na julle Herder en die Bewaker van julle lewe.’ (1 Pet 2:25). Dit is duidelik dat die Herderbeeld ook in die Nuwe Testament ten nouste met herstel vrede, en nuwe lewe verbonde is. Die herstel in ’n verhouding met God beteken om as verteenwoordigers God herstel te word (Gen 1:26-28). Esegiël maak dit baie duidelik dat mense op die gebied van medemenslike verhoudings gefaal het. Nie net die leiers nie, maar ook die geloofsgemeenskap onder mekaar het pyn veroorsaak.

Deur die krag van die Gees van God is die Here se plan om alles nuut te maak, onomkeerbaar. Menslike mislukking staan nie in die pad van God se visie vir sy mense nie. In hierdie opsig is die koms van Jesus as die ware Herder koning die kulminasie van God se droom van herstel. Eichrodt skryf: ‘The great shepherd discourse in John 10 undoubtedly regards him as the fulfiller of this prophecy, and invests him with the office Ezekiel sees being assumed and exercised by God. One can see Yahweh at work in this servant, and thus be assured of his effectual and saving nearness among his people. So the whole of the stress is laid on the way in which the other-worldly God actually approaches his own, in his real presence. This God expresses his humanity, his will to have the most intimate personal fellowship with his people, by the very fact that he exercises his own office of shepherding through his servant.’

God se mense, die navolgers van die Goeie Herder, voer hierdie bediening verder. Net soos in Genesis 1:26-28 het die beeld van God, die wil van God, soos die Here God dit aan die begin wou hê, in Jesus gestalte gekry. Dit sal egter ook in sy kerk deur die krag van sy Gees gestalte kry.

Preekvoorstel

  1. Ons lees in Matt 9 dat Jesus mense innig jammer gekry het. Hoekom? ‘Want hulle was moeg en hulpeloos soos skape wat nie ‘n wagter het nie.’ (9:36). Hulle was uitgelewer soos skape sonder ’n herder wat omgee. Dis min of meer wat in die hart van God in Esegiël 34 aangaan. Hierdie skape van sy volk is swak/siek, maar het geen dokter nie. Hulle het seergekry, maar het niemand wat hulle kan versorg nie. Hulle het afgedwaal, maar niemand het hulle terug gebring nie. Hulle het weggeraak, maar niemand het hulle gesoek nie (34:4).

Daar is baie sulke mense. Karl Barth verwys na hulle as die ‘naamlose mense.’ Hulle is anoniem. Dis die mense wat nommers geword het. En niemand gee om dat dit gebeur het nie. Dis die mense in wie niemand belangstel nie. Dis die mense wat verdwyn onder die mag van oorheersers. Dis die mens soos Lasarus by die deur van die ryk man se huis. Dis die tollenaar op wie die godsdienstige mense neersien. Dis die VIGS-mens wat deur almal vermy word omdat hy ‘die siekte’ het. Dis die man wat moed verloor het omdat hy voel dat die kerk se deure nie meer vir hom oop is nie. Dis die mens wat uiters ongelukkig is, omdat hulle eensaam geword het. Dis die persoon wat koers verloor het op die lewenspad en dink dat geluk in besittings, posisies, titels en voorspoed gevind word. Dis die ou mens in die tehuis vir senior burgers wat niemand het wat hom/haar besoek nie. Dis die man of vrou in die tronk wat deur sy familie en die kerkmense verag word. Dis die mens wat probeer om die brokstukke van sy lewe op te tel, maar konstant hoor dat hy of sy nie goed genoeg is nie.

  1. Hoekom is mense verlore, seer, siek, swak en ver weg? Esegiël maak geen geheim van die skuldiges nie. Dis die leiers se skuld – die slegte, bose herders. Dis die mense wat moes omgee vir die skape. Of, om Jesus se woorde aan Petrus te gebruik, mense wat nie die skape opgepas en die lammers laat wei het nie (Joh. 21:15 ev.). Leierskap wat moes dien, het leierskap geword wat heers. In die preek kan na die eerste paar verse van Esegiël 34 verwys word.

Die donkerste prentjie is egter dat dit nie net by die leiers gebly het nie. Daar was ook ’n tweede groep mense wat nie meer omgegee het nie. Selfs na die donker dag van God se oordeel, toe Jerusalem geval het (34:11), het die gewone mense in die volk mekaar begin seermaak. Die wat geld en mag gehad het, het net vir hulleself omgegee. Hulle het hulleself in die middelpunt van alles geplaas. Die gewondes en swakkes het nog seerder onder hulle medemense gekry.

Mag maak mense korrup. Absolute mag maak mense absoluut korrup. In ons diepste wese wil ons heers, nie dien nie. Uiteraard ly mense onder onmenslike politieke leiers, onder ’n dominerende departementshoof, of despotiese besturende direkteur. Mense ly egter ook onder godsdienstige leiers. Die pyn wat mense egter in die kerk opdoen, is geweldig. Die magsmisbruik deur leraars en ouderlinge laat mense wegraak en wegloop en veroorsaak wonde wat moeilik genees. Die probleem lê ook op ’n ander vlak. Die teenoorgestelde van liefde is nie haat nie, maar apatie. Die apatie van godsdienstige leiers, ouderlinge, diakens, leraars, Christene oor die algemeen, om om te gee vir hulle wat verlore geraak het, hulle te soek wat weggeraak het, hulle te vertroos wat siek en verwond is, plaas ons in die kategorie van slegte en bose herders.   In Esegiël 33:1-9 word leiers ook met iemand in ’n wagtoring vergelyk wat mense moet waarsku wanneer die vyand aankom. Ons bely dikwels ons sonde van woorde en dade en voeg by ‘en van versuim’, maar is nie te ernstig daaroor nie. Waarna Esegiël 34 verwys, is nie net aktiewe sonde nie, maar ook die passiewe sonde van versuim.

En voordat ons te maklik vingers wys, mag ons dalk vra hoe dit met ons ander herder posisies gaan: ouers vir kinders, onderwysers vir leerders, politici vir burgers, navorsers en wetenskaplikes vir mense, dokters vir pasiënte, nyweraars vir die skepping. Ons is almal herders. Wat doen ons? Stoot ons mekaar met ons elmboë weg van die geleenthede, omdat dit net oor onsself gaan? Wat sal die Opperherder se oordeel oor ons wees? Wanneer ons hierin faal, is die gevolge duidelik: Gewonde, verlore, siek en swak mense (34:4).

  1. Mense staan dikwels in God se pad. Mense vernietig en verstrooi. Dis die geskiedenis van die mensdom. God kan dit nie vat nie. Hy gryp in. Hy sien raak wanneer ’n gemeenskap uitmekaar val omdat leiers en vriende, naastes en kerkmense, ouers en vriende mekaar kwaad aandoen. Dis wat Esegiël aankondig. Genoeg van die gemors! Genoeg pyn! Ek sal oordeel oor hulle wat dit aan ander doen, maar meer nog: Ek sal self ’n Herder word. Vers 16 staan in direkte teenstelling met vers 4. God begin weer. Daar waar menslike herders ons verwond het, sê hierdie herder dat hy wonde sal verbind. Daar waar die menslike herders nie omgegee het dat mense hulle eie pad loop nie, gaan hierdie herder die mense wat weggeraak het soek en terugbring. Waar eensames, siekes en swakkes deur menslike herders in die steek gelaat is, sal Hy omgee. Hulle wat in die donker van hulle omstandighede (34:12) wil ingee onder die las, sal gedra word.   Die Here se belofte in 34:11-16 praat van ’n algehele verandering van mense se omstandighede. Soos Hy die volk destyds uit die ellende van Egipte gered het, sal Hy nou weer doen. Soos Hy hulle versorg het en in die land van rus gebring het, sal Hy weer doen. Hulle sal weer ontdek dat Hy hulle God is en dat hulle sy mense is.

Die Here gaan egter verder. Hy sal dit deur iemand doen. Dit sal sy ‘prins’, ‘leier’ wees, sy ‘dienaar’. Hierdie keer sal die mishandeling vervang word deur geregtigheid, want die een wat namens die God van Israel sal heers, sal in absolute getrouheid en diens aan Hom regeer. Die redding wat Hy sal bring, sal weer aan mense lewensruimte gee. Hulle sal weer kan asemhaal.

  1. Die hoop van Israel vind sy volmaakte vervulling Christus, die Herder-Koning. Hy wat die volmaakte wese van God vir ons kom wys, wys aan ons die hart van God as barmhartige, dienaar-leier. Hy is die ewebeeld van die wese van die barmhartige God. Soos sy Vader, sien Hy die nood van sy mense raak. Hy kry hulle innig jammer. Met geregtigheid gee Hy om vir die mense op die rante van die samelewing. Hy soek hulle wat weggeraak het. Jesus sê self dat hy gekom het om te soek en te red wat verlore is (Luk 19:10). Soos ’n vrou ’n verlore sent soek en ’n herder een uit nege-en-neëntig skape soek, soos ’n pa wat wag op ’n terugkerende kind, so is hierdie Herder-Koning. Jesus sê self dat hy vir die verlore skape van Israel gekom het (Matt 15:24). Die goeie Herder gee lewe in oorvloed aan al die gewonde mense van ons samelewing (Joh 10). Inderdaad, Hy het gekom om te soek en te red wat verlore is!
  2. Ons kan getuig dat ons deur die Here gesoek en gevind is. As gewonde mense wat deur hierdie Heer genees word, wat deur Hom ’n nuwe toekoms ontvang – die lewe in oorvloed beleef wat die goeie Herder belowe (Joh 10) – word ons mense van sy geregtigheid. Immers, ons word elke dag deur die Gees van die lewende Herder na die beeld van ons Skepper gevorm (Kol 3:10,11). Daarom skep ons lewensruimte vir hulle wat versmoor word deur ongeregtigheid. As leiers in die kerk pas ons die kudde van God wat aan ons toevertrou is, goed op. Ons hou toesig oor hulle, ‘nie uit dwang nie, maar gewillig soos God dit verwag; nie om eie gewin nie, maar uit toegewydheid; ook nie deur baas te speel oor dié wat God aan julle sorg toevertrou het nie, maar deur ’n voorbeeld vir die kudde te wees. En dan, wanneer die Opperherder kom, sal julle die heerlikheid as onverganklike kroon ontvang’ (1 Pet 5:1-4). Wanneer die Opperherder dan oor die verdeling tussen skape en bokke doen, sal die gewonde genesers, ons, as mense van geregtigheid gereken word. Immers, ons is deur die Vader geseën van alle ewigheid af, en daarom is ons mense van geregtigheid wat aan die geringstes God se barmhartigheid getoon het (Matt 25:31-46). As bevryde mense het ons die gevangenes besoek. As mense wat versorg is, het ons die honger en dors mense versorg. As mense wat klere het, het ons klere aan hulle gegee wat niks het nie. As mense wat dakke oor ons kop het, het ons omgegee vir die daklose mense.   As mense wat deur God gesoek en gevind is, het ons na die verlore skape gaan soek (Matt 18). So laat ons die Heer se skape wei. So pas ons sy lammers op. So wys ons dat Christus die Herder-Koning is.

Week 6: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Background
Ezekiel 34 consists of two parts. It describes the good and bad shepherds and the condition of the people under the good and bad care of the shepherds (Zimmerli). The first section (34: 1-16) deals with the bad shepherds. The Lord will bring judgement upon them and take responsibility for his wounded people. The second part (34:17-31) deals with the stark contrast between the good and bad sheep and the Messianic era when the Messianic prince will rule and conditions reminiscent of paradise will prevail.
After the bad shepherds were addressed in the first verses of Ezekiel 34, 34:11-15 provide a positive contrast to the judgment verdict of 34:10. This is obviously a promise of salvation. There is no more talk of a human shepherd. What the Lord will do is now described. The Lord will take over the role as shepherd and save the people form the evil shepherds. He will put an end to the unjust rule.
Exile scattered the people. The fall of Jerusalem was still fresh in their memory. The good shepherd will take care of those who were scattered because of the Day of the Lord. The Prophet expects a new Exodus, a new community and a new entry into the land. This will bring peace.

Ezek 34:16 describes the work of the Good Shepherd and is exactly the opposite of the work of the bad shepherds in verse 4. The one who judged on the day of the Lord will take on the role of a compassionate shepherd. He will care for those who have wandered off, those who are hurt and weak, the broken and the lost. The poor people are special to this shepherd. The feature of this care is that there will be justice – typical of a royal shepherd.

Ezek 34:20-22 is an announcement of judgment between sheep and sheep. The same image is taken over in Matthew 25:31-46. It is about more than the leaders. It is clear that this community was also guilty of unloving behaviour. There will be a judgement between the wealthy oppressor and oppressed poor. This is a clear indication of existing class differences that have led to discrimination. It is clear that this oppression even continued during captivity. The bad shepherds were the cause of destruction and exploitation (34:1-10).

According to 34: 23-24, there will be a new ruler or prince. The human shepherds were evil, but there will be a righteous human shepherd. The David dynasty was an integral part of Israel’s hope of redemption from the beginning. It was always associated with salvation and characterized by messianic elements. The Lord himself will be the shepherd, embodied in a human king. By this one the Lord will be their God. There will also be one kingdom. The restoration of God’s people will be first and foremost a restoration of the covenant relationship.

The king in this section is of a special nature. He is different from despotic, manipulative kings. He has the form of a servant. Of course Ezekiel 34 calls Christ as the Good Shepherd as a servant who was faithful until death to mind (Phil 2:5-11). However, we should not fall into the temptation to jump instantly to any New Testament text and then actually preaching about it. We must do justice to the text of Ezekiel 34. Yet, in a Christian faith community it is very natural to look at the good shepherd king in Ezekiel and see Jesus. Of course, Ezekiel 34 describes the new shepherd, the Lord himself, in the context of the suffering of Israel in exile. Still Ezekiel 34 and Jesus ‘talk’ to each other. What Miller wrote about the Psalms is equally true of Ezekiel and Jesus: ‘What happens, therefore, as we read the Psalms with the New Testament is that they interact with one another, they talk to one another. The Psalms draw us to Jesus, make us think of him; they gain their specificity, their reality for us, their concreteness, in the revelation of Jesus. But it is the case, also, that that interaction works the other way, and our thinking and interpretation of our preaching about Jesus of Nazareth needs to be conversation with the Psalms. For the Psalms provide some of the fundamental content for what the reality of Jesus is as salvation, light, hope, deliverance, and shepherd.’

Our image of Christ as Shepherd King deepens the description of the Good Shepherd of Ezekiel 34. The image of the shepherd in Ezekiel 34, however, turns our hearts to Christ, the good shepherd – the one true representative of the kingdom of God on earth.

There are many resources available on the Lord as Shepherd. Commentaries can be consulted (see Isa 44:28; Jer 3:15; 23: 1; 25:34; Zech 11:17, etc.). It is clear that the New Testament uses many images from the Old Testament (see Eph 4:11; Acts 20:28; John 10, John 21: 15-17; 1 Peter 5:2-4). Ezekiel 34 inspired many of these images. Matthew 25 also takes over the notion of the separation between sheep and goats. There is a rich interaction between the Old and New Testament regarding the shepherd image.
The leaders are the perpetrators and are under the judgment of God. This idea is also found in Ezekiel 33. Leaders have a great responsibility not to abuse their power and position, but also not to avoid their task. Thomas Oden writes, ‘The leader whose mission and task is to care for others … must not be a slave to one’s own unexamined passions. Otherwise the souls entrusted to one’s care may be subject to manipulation by the supposed carer, whose passions are projected on to the relationship.’ People who serve in the leadership of churches are often guilty of this.

In their book, Leading the congregation, Shawchuck and Heuser refer to research done in America on expectations that people have of religious leaders. Top of the list is personal integrity. The first eleven expectations are inseparable from this core value of integrity. They point out that members expect pastors to preach properly, should care for people and act as spiritual guides. Yet, without integrity it is useless.

According to Hebrews the God of peace brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus. He is that great Shepherd of the sheep. The author prays that this God will equip us with everything that is good so that we may do his will (Heb 13:20,21). God brings about what is humanly impossible. Peter says that we were like sheep that have wandered off, but have now returned to the ‘Shepherd and Overseer of your souls’ (1 Peter 2:25). It is clear that the Shepherd image in the New Testament is closely related with restoring peace and new life. The restoration of a relationship with God means to be restored as representatives of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Ezekiel makes it very clear that people have failed in the field of human relations. Not only the leaders, but also the community of faith caused pain among themselves.
By the power of the Spirit of God, God’s plan to make all things new is irreversible. Human failure does not stand in the way of God’s vision for his people. In this regard, the coming of Jesus as the true Shepherd King is the culmination of God’s dream of restoration. Eichrodt writes, ‘‘The great shepherd discourse in John 10 undoubtedly regards him as the fulfiller of this prophecy, and invests him with the office Ezekiel sees being assumed and exercised by God. One can see Yahweh at work in this servant, and thus be assured of his effectual and saving nearness among his people. So the whole of the stress is laid on the way in which the other-worldly God actually approaches his own, in his real presence. This God expresses his humanity, his will to have the most intimate personal fellowship with his people, by the very fact that he exercises his own office of shepherding through his servant.’

God’s people, the followers of the Good Shepherd, continue this operation. Just as in Genesis 1:26-28, the image of God, the will of God as the Lord God wanted it from the beginning, is embodied in Jesus. It will also take shape in his church through the power of his Spirit.
Sermon outline

  1. We read in Matthew 9 that Jesus had compassion. Why? ‘… because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (9:36). It is more or less what is happening in the heart of God in Ezekiel 34. This flock of his people were weak/sick, but with no doctor. They were hurt, but no one took care of them. They wandered, but no one brought them back. They were lost, but no one searched for them (34:4).
    There are many such people. Karl Barth referred to them as the ‘nameless’ people. They are anonymous. It is the people who have become numbers. Nobody cares that it happened. Nobody is interested in them. They disappeared under the power of rulers. They are like Lazarus at the door of the rich man’s house. They are like the tax collector on whom the religious people looked down. It is the person with AIDS, who is shunned by all because of his or her disease. It is the person who despairs because he/she feels that the church’s doors are no longer open to him/her. This is the extremely unhappy person, because he/she is lonely. He/she has lost direction and thinks that happiness is found in possessions, positions, titles and prosperity. It is the old man in the home for senior citizens with no one visiting him. It is the man or woman in jail who is despised by his/her family and the church people. This person tries to pick up the pieces of his/her life, but constantly hears that he or she is not good enough.
  2. Why are people lost, hurt, sick and poor? Why have they wandered off? Ezekiel made no secret of the perpetrators. It was the leaders – the bad, evil shepherds. It is the people who should care for the sheep. Or, to use the words of Jesus to Peter, who had to look after the sheep and lambs? (John 21:15 ff.). Leadership that should have served became leadership that controlled and abused. In the sermon the first few verses of Ezekiel 34 can illustrate it.

The worste is that it was not only the leaders that caused it. There was also a second group of people who no longer cared. Even after the dark day of God’s judgment, when Jerusalem fell (34:11), the ordinary people in the nation started to hurt each other. Those who had money and power cared for themselves only. They placed themselves in the centre of everything. The wounded and weak were hurt even more by their fellow human beings.

Power makes people corrupt. Absolute power makes people absolutely corrupt. In our heart of hearts we want to rule. Yes, people suffer under inhumane political leaders, under a dominant head of department or despotic managing director. People, however, also suffer under religious leaders. The number of people suffering in the church is too many to mention. The abuse of power by ministers and elders caused wounds that heal slowly, if ever.

The problem also lies on a different level. The opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. The apathy of religious leaders, elders, deacons, pastors, Christians in general, should be in the category of bad and evil shepherds. Do we care for those who are lost, search for those who are lost, comfort those who are sick and injured? In Ezekiel 33:1-9 we are compared with someone in a tower that must warn when the enemy is around. We often confess our sin of words and deeds, adding ‘and of neglect’, but are we really serious about it? What Ezekiel 34 refers to is not only active sin, but also the passive sin of neglect.
And before we point fingers, we might ask how it relates to our shepherding in other contexts: parents and children, teachers and students, politicians and citizens, researchers and scientists, doctors and patients, industrialists and creation. We are all shepherds. What do we do? Do we push people away with our elbows from opportunities because it is only about ourselves? What will be the chief shepherd’s judgment over us? If we fail here, the consequences are clear: wounded, lost, sick and poor people (34: 4).
3. People often stand in God’s way. People destroy and scatter. It is the history of humankind. God cannot take it. He intervenes. He notices when a society is falling apart because of leaders and friends, neighbours and church members, parents and friends causing each other harm. Ezekiel announces: enough of this mess! Enough pain! I will judge those who do it to others, but – even more – I will be the shepherd of the hurting people. Verse 16 is in direct contrast to verse 4. God gives a new beginning. Where human shepherds wound us, this shepherd will bind up our wounds. Where human shepherds did not care that people go their own way, this shepherd will search for the lost and bring them home. If human shepherds leave the lonely, the sick and weak in the lurch, he attends to them. He cares for those who give in under the pressure of their circumstances (34:12). The Lord’s promise in 34:11-16 refers to a complete change of circumstances. As he saved from the misery of Egypt, he will do it again. As he cared for them and brought them into the land of rest, he will do again. They will rediscover that he is their God and that they are his people.

He will do it by someone. This will be his ‘Prince’, his servant. This time abuse will be replaced by justice by the one who will rule on behalf of the God of Israel. He will rule with Him in absolute faithfulness and service. The salvation he will bring will return living space to his people. They will be able to breathe again.

  1. The hope of Israel finds its perfect fulfilment Christ, the Shepherd-King. He is the perfect representation of God. He shows us the heart of God as compassionate, servant-leader. He is the image of the nature of the merciful God. Like his father, he sees the need of His people. He shows them compassion. He gives justice to the people on the margins of society. He seeks those who are lost. Jesus himself says that he came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). This Shepherd-King is like a woman searching for a lost coin and a shepherd leaving ninety-nine to look for one sheep, like a father waiting on the return of a son. Jesus himself says that he came to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24). The good shepherd gives life in abundance to all the wounded people of our society (John 10). Indeed, he came to seek and to save that which was lost!
  2. We can witness to the fact that we were sought and found by the Lord. As wounded people who are being healed by the Lord, who received a new future through him and experience the abundant life promised by the Good Shepherd (John 10), we are people of his righteousness. After all, we are renewed daily by the Spirit of the living Shepherd according to the image of our Creator (Col 3:10-11). Therefore we create living space for those who are suffocated by injustice. As leaders in the church we tend to the flock of God which is entrusted to us. We work amongst them ‘not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away’ (1 Peter 5: 1-4). When the chief Shepherd divides sheep and goats, the wounded healers will be regarded as people of justice. After all, the Father from all eternity blesses us and that is why we are people of justice who tended to the least by God’s mercy (Matthew 25:31-46). We visited the prisoners. We cared for the hungry and thirsty people. We gave clothes to those who have nothing. We cared for the homeless people. We went looking for the lost sheep (Matthew 18). This is how we show that Christ is the Shepherd-King.

Week 7 – Medelye

Skriflesing: Matteus 11:2-11

Agtergrond

11:2,3 Ons weet uit Matt 4:12 dat Johannes gevange geneem is. Gundry plaas Johannes se lyding in die tronk binne die breër konteks van Matteus 10. Daar benadruk Jesus dat sy volgelinge ter wille van hom voor goewerneurs en konings gebring sal word. Net soos die dissipels van Jesus vervolg sal word, word Johannes vervolg. In die tronk hoor hy duidelik berigte oor Jesus se bediening wat nie oortuigend genoeg is om hom te laat glo dat Jesus werklik die een is wat sou kom nie. Matteus gebruik Jesus se “titel” hier. Johannes het gehoor wat Christus (Messias) gedoen het. Die berigte van die dade van Jesus was Johannes bron van inligting.

’n Mens wonder onwillekeurig hoekom Johannes in twyfel verkeer. Was hy nie die een wat Jesus gedoop het nie? Het hy nie by Jesus se doop die stem gehoor en die duif sien neerdaal nie? Nielsen spreek hierdie vrae aan deur te verwys na die profesie in Jes 61. Jesus sou bevryding vir hulle wat in die tronk is bring. Dit gebeur egter nie in Johannes se geval nie. Die spanning tussen verwagting en werklikheid bring twyfel. Dis duidelik dat Jesus nie noodwendig die ekonomiese, sosiale en politieke dimensies van die bevryding wat hulle van die Messias verwag het, gebring het nie. Waetjen skryf: ‘John anticipated his successor to be the great separator and assumed that his mission consisted essentially in exercising judgement.’ Johannes het duidelik verwag dat Jesus die regter van die laaste dae sal wees wat die goddeloses sou uitroei (3:11,12).

11:4-6 “Hoor” en “sien” is belangrike konsepte in hierdie konteks. Johannes het nie gesien wat Jesus doen nie. Hy het net daarvan gehoor (Patte). Dit veroorsaak ’n spanning in Johannes. As hy sy verkondiging kon hoor, sê Patte, sou sy dade ook sin gemaak het. Patte maak ’n saak uit dat die woorde en dade van Jesus die sleutel tot die egte verstaan van Jesus is. Slegs die kombinasie van hierdie twee aspekte van Jesus se bediening verdryf twyfel. Die een kan nie sonder die ander nie.

Jesus se antwoord op Johannes se vraag is ’n kombinasie van verwysings na die Messiaanse era in die Ou Testament (Sien Jes 61:1; 26:19; 29:18, 35:5,6).   Jesus benadruk dat sy woorde en dade die vervulling is. Dit sluit dinge wat ons hoor (die evangelie aan armes) en sien (wonders) in. Die reiniging van melaatses word egter nie in hierdie gedeeltes aangetref nie. Matteus 5-7 en 8,9 is beskrywings van hierdie kort samevatting van Jesus se woorde (wat hulle hoor) en dade (wat hulle sien). Jesus herinner Johannes dat hy die vervulling van hierdie profetiese woorde is. Die koninkryk van God, die eindtyd wat deur die profete voorspel is, het in Hom ’n werklikheid geword (Nielsen, Schweizer). Jesus benadruk dat hulle moet gaan vertel wat hulle gesien het. Dit is die basis van geloof. Niks meer nie. Ja, ter wille van Hom sal daar sekerlik skeiding kom (Matt 10), maar dit is nie die primêre doel van sy bediening nie.

Dis duidelik dat Matteus Johannes se situasie gebruik om sy lesers op te roep tot egte dissipelskap. Immers, die lesers van Matteus was in ’n geweldige moeilike situasie. ’n Breuk met die Jodedom het begin plaasvind. Gesinne is heel waarskynlik daardeur beïnvloed. Familieverbande is verbreek. Die versoeking was beslis groot om dalk nou jou rug op Jesus te draai. Daarom antwoord Jesus: ‘gelukkig is elkeen wat nie aan My begin twyfel nie.’ Die verwerping van Jesus sal die volgende paar hoofstukke begin oorheers (Senior). Dis moeilik om te bepaal waaraan mense nie aanstoot moet neem (of twyfel) nie (Gundry). Gaan dit oor Jesus se onwilligheid om aan die populêre messiaanse verwagtinge te voldoen? Gaan dit oor sy dood wat sal kom? Gaan dit oor sy vereenselwiging met die uitgeworpenes en gemarginaliseerdes? Miskien kan ons dit die beste verstaan deur te verwys na Jesus se woorde en dade. Sy totale bediening is ook ’n beskrywing van sy persoon en werk. Patte benadruk egter dat die lesers hier voor ’n geweldige keuse gestel word. Die Jesus wat deur Matteus geskilder word is dalk geheel en al anders as die een wat ons verwag.

11:7-9 Daar is vrae en antwoorde in hierdie verse. Dit is baie insiggewend. Dis amper soos trappe van vergelyking. Was Johannes ’n riet wat heen en weer gewaai word? Die riete het in die rivieroewers van die Jordaan gegroei. Dit dui op broosheid (Gundry). Johannes mag dalk op die oomblik so lyk. Het Johannes deftige klere gedra? Beslis nie. Hy was nie soos iemand in ’n koninklike hof nie. Miskien is die bedoeling om ’n kontras tussen Johannes se kleredrag en die sagte klere van Herodes Antipas en Herodias te beskryf. Hulle sagte klere was simbolies van korrupsie (Senior). Wat was die rede hoekom mense dan uitgegaan het om hom te sien? Waarna het hulle gaan kyk? Die antwoord is seker. Johannes was ’n profeet! Hulle het baie meer ontdek as wat die blote oog kon sien. Nielsen benadruk dat Jesus die hoorders wil laat verstaan dat ’n mens verder moet kyk as wat die oog sien. Hulle het iemand ontdek wat die weg vir die Messias voorberei het (Gundry). Die herhaaldelike gebruik van die woord “sien” of “kyk” in hierdie verse benadruk dit. Heel waarskynlik is dit ook ’n verwysing na Jesus se eie bediening. Miskien het die berigte wat Johannes gehoor het dalk ook sy visie verduister. Mens moet na meer kyk as wat die oog kan sien. Schweizer is van mening dat Jesus ’n baie belangriker vraag stel as wat ons aanvanklik wil erken: ‘Just what does this pilgrim­age to the Baptist mean—this wave of religion sweeping over Israel? Jesus is saying that when the people went out they must have known that they were not running after a weather vane or follower of fashion, that they would not find the fulfillment of their dreams but rather the difficult path taken by the Baptist and by Jesus himself: in other words, not the theology of grandeur but the theology of the cross.’

11:10,11 Ja, Johannes was een van die grootste op aarde. Hy was die een wat die pad vir die Messias voorberei het. Na menslike oordeel is hy geweldig groot en belangrik. In die koninkryk van die Here, egter, is hy egter die geringste. Hierdie uitdrukking in vers 11 is problematies, maar moet binne ’n breër konteks verstaan word (Waetjen). Johannes staan met die een voet in die nuwe bedeling wat in Jesus begin. Met die ander voet staan hy in die ou bedeling. Hy is die laaste profeet in die Ou Testamentiese geskiedenis. Dit plaas hom in die tyd van die wet en die profete. Hy is die grootste in die Ou Testament. Tog is hy deel van die voorbereiding van God se koninkryk in Jesus Christus. Daarom is selfs die geringste in die koninkryk van God groter as hy (Senior).

Enkele ander opmerkings

  1. Die konteks van die volk van die Here het sekerlik ingespeel op die wyse waarop hulle die Messias se koms verwag het. Hulle woon in hulle eie land, maar word oorheers deur Romeinse magte. Die “bevrydingsteologie” van Jesus se dag word geïllustreer deur Barabbas en in ’n mindere mate deur Judas Iskariot. Uiteindelik word dit ook duidelik dat Jesus van Nasaret nie inpas by die verwagtinge van die meerderheid nie. Selfs Johannes en die ander dissipels het verwag dat Hy meer sou wees as ’n blote prediker en een wat wonders doen. Selfs na Jesus se opstanding verwag die dissipels dat die tyd aangebreek het om die koninkryk van Israel te herstel (Hand 1:8). Johannes se vraag is dus ’n baie aktuele vraag in Jesus se tyd. Dit is egter ook ’n aktuele vraag vandag. Ons skep ons eie beelde van Jesus. Ons is teleurgesteld as hy nie by ons opvattings inpas nie. Ten diepste is die Jesus van Matteus ’n aanstoot vir baie, omdat Hy nie die magtige en triomfalistiese Jesus is nie, maar die een wat die kruisweg loop.
  2. Die twyfel van Johannes speel uiteraard ’n belangrike rol in hierdie gedeelte. Die twyfel van Johannes het nie oor die belofte van die Skrif gegaan nie (Schlatter). Johannes se omstandighede laat hom egter vra of Jesus slegs deel van die plan is en dalk nie die volle plan van God nie. Die koninklike mag van Jesus bly onopsigtelik in baie opsigte. Hy oordeel nie, maar bring medelye aan die uitgestote mense en hulle wat op die rante van die samelewing beland het. Johannes, sê Schlatter, het nie sy rug op Jesus gedraai nie, maar wonder onwillekeurig in die tronk hoekom Jesus se bediening so anders is. As Jesus die Verborgene bly sal Hy tog nie sy koninklike sending tot uitvoering kan bring nie. Sy mag is die gesag om die gebrokenes van die samelewing reg te help, op te help en bly te maak. Die wisselwerking tussen Johannes se vraag en Jesus se antwoord is ’n dinamiese element in ons hedendaagse diskussie. Is U die een? Kyk na Jesus se woorde en dade. Moet ons iemand anders verwag? Salig is hulle wat nie twyfel of aanstoot neem nie, maar meer sien as wat die oog kan sien.

Daar is dus niks geheimsinnig aan Johannes se ongeduld en twyfel nie. Almal het begin om te wonder oor Jesus se klaarblyklike onaktiwiteit – die hele Israel, die broers van Jesus, sy moeder, sy dissipels en Johannes. Omdat Johannes in die gevangenis was, was sy vraag uiters dringend. Hy het nie geweet of hy môre nog sal lewe nie. Dis hoekom hy ’n dringende antwoord wou hê.

  1. Combrink wys op die duidelike samehang tussen redevoerende en verhalende gedeeltes in die evangelie. Die bediening van Jesus vertoon ’n spesifieke “program”. Matteus 4:23 en 9:35 som dit in byna presies dieselfde woorde op: “Jesus het al die dorpe en klein plekkies besoek. Hy het die mense in hulle sinagoges geleer, die evangelie van die koninkryk verkondig en elke soort siekte en kwaal gesond gemaak” (9:35). Jesus se bediening het uit verkondiging en wonderdade en dade van ontferming bestaan. Matteus 5-7 bevat woorde van Jesus. Matteus 8-9 beskryf sy dade. Matteus 10 roep die dissipels deur middel van Jesus se uitsendingsrede op om in hierdie bediening van Jesus te deel. In Matteus 11-12 word ’n hele klompie wonders aangetref. Hierdie patroon waarin redevoering en verhaal amper doelbewus afgewissel word, word dwarsdeur die evangelie aangetref. Die verhalende gedeelte word afgewissel met vyf groot redevoerings van Jesus (Matt 5-7, 10, 13, 18 en 24-25).

Aan die begin van hierdie blok in die Matteus evangelie (Matt 11) word Jesus se bediening weer opgesom. Johannes, die boodskapper wat Jesus se pad voorberei, die een wat groter is as enigiemand voor hom, is tog vol twyfel en kleiner as die geringstes! In antwoord op sy vraag of Jesus werklik die een is wat sou kom, antwoord Jesus in byna presies dieselfde woorde as Matt 4:23 en 9:35: “Gaan vertel vir Johannes wat julle hoor en sien: Blindes sien, lammes loop, melaatses word gereinig, dowes hoor, dooies word opgewek, en aan armes word die evangelie verkondig.” (11:4,5).

Preekvoorstel

  1. Die tyd is ryp. Wat beteken dit? Dit beteken gewoon dat dinge nou moet gebeur. Na ’n lang gewag moet dinge nou tot ’n punt kom. Resultate! Dis min of meer hoe Johannes en die mense van sy tyd gevoel het. Johannes en sy mense was moeg. Die dekades, eeue van swaarkry onder oorheersers moes hulle geloof tot die uiterste toe beproef het. Hulle konteks van swaarkry en hulle hoop op God se ingryping het sekerlik ’n invloed gehad op die wyse waarop hulle hulle “bybel” gelees het. Hulle het ’n magtige bevryder nodig gehad. Johannes was die voorbereider. Iets groots sou kom. Hy sou nie werd wees om sy skoenveters vas te maak nie. God se reddende krag sal groter wees as enigiets in die verlede.

Sy boodskap was sonder enige onduidelikheid. Die tyd van God se oordeel het aangebreek. In die preek kan verwys word na Johannes se prediking in Matt 3. Die byl lê teen die wortel. Die koring sal van die kaf geskei word. Hy preek bekering in die lig van God se komende oordeel. As deel van hierdie oordeel, verwag Johannes een wat groter as hy sal wees.

Nou is Johannes se persoonlike omstandighede selfs slegter. Sy kritiek teen die leiers van die dag se lewenstyl en sy oproep tot bekering laat hom in die tronk van vreemde heersers beland.

Matteus berig dat Johannes van die “werke” van Jesus gehoor het en toe onrustig geword het. Sy stryd moes geweldig wees. Frederick Buechner (Peculiar Treasures) beskryf dit uitvoerig: “Johannes het streng geregtigheid gepreek en het God as ’n staal-oog dorsmasjien van graan beskryf. Jesus preek vergewende liefde en beskryf God as die gasheer by ’n wonderlike partytjie of ’n vader wat dit nie oor sy hart kan kry om sy kinders uit te smyt nie – selfs al spoeg hulle Hom in die gesig. Johannes sê dat mense hulle lewe in orde moet kry voordat dit te laat was. Jesus sê dit God is wat ons lewens red. Selfs as jy jou hele bankrekening op drank en seks soos die verlore seun uitmors, is dit nog nie te laat. Terwyl Johannes saam met die kerkmense sprinkane en wilde heuning in die woestyn geëet het, eet Jesus, so het Johannes gevoel, in Jerusalem saam met so ’n klomp mense wat as die ergste skuim van die samelewing beskryf kon word.” Dis daarom nie verrassend dat Johannes ernstig vra of Jesus werklik die een is wat sou kom nie. Jesus, as jy die een is wat sou kom, doen iets. As jy nie die een is wat sou kom nie, sê so, sodat ons kan hoop op iemand anders wat ons sou bevry.

George Lobien vertel dat hy na ’n skool reünie toe gegaan het. Dit was 30 jaar na matriek en hy het aan sy vrou een spesifieke klasmaat beskryf. Die ou is kort en het rooi hare, en is ietwat maer. Sy persoonlikheid kom in ’n mate met sy fisiese voorkoms ooreen. Toe hy by die reünie aankom, het iemand hom aan dieselfde persoon voorgestel. Hy kon sy oë nie glo nie. Hy was in een opsig nog dieselfde persoon. Hy was kort. Andersins was hy so breed soos sy lengte. Hy was geheel en al bles. Sy klasmaat het nie meer gelyk soos hy hom leer ken het nie. Dis min of meer wat Johannes nou ervaar. Sy verwagtinge het skynbaar op niks uitgeloop nie.

  1. Ons omstandighede bring soms sekere verwagtinge na vore. Ons lees die Bybel en interpreteer dit in die lig van ons omstandighede en die manier waarop ons gemeenskap daarna kyk. Die verskriklike spanning tussen verwagting en werklikheid is iets wat ons almal verstaan. Ons oneindige gekoop en verkoop laat die skerp lig om die gebrek aan brood in die wêreld val. Die geld in gebalde hande staan in skerp kontras met oop hande wat hoop op ’n bietjie rys of pap. Wat ’n spanning tussen werklikheid en verwagting! Uit die geskiedenis is dit duidelik dat die kerk en individue verskillende verwagtinge van Jesus gehad het wat grootliks deur hulle werklikheid bepaal is. Jesus het die groot bevryder in politieke onderdrukking geword. Hy sou die onderdrukker oordeel. In die ou bedeling van rasseskeiding was Jesus vir sommige mense hoogstens die een wat in die “siele” van mense belang gestel het. Ons het nie baie omgegee vir hulle fisiese en sosiale omstandighede nie.

In ’n aangrypende DVD oor Joodse Holocaust oorlewendes, vertel een van die Joodse oorlewendes, Rose Price, dat die Nazi-soldate hulle byna elke dag geslaan het. Hulle het dan gesê: “Jesus het gesê ons moet julle slaan.” Hulle het voortdurend gehoor hoeveel Jesus hulle haat. Sy het Jesus gehaat. Hy was die moordenaar. Dit was haar werklikheid. As Jood het sy nie net vir Jesus gehaat nie. Sy kon nie aanvaar dat daar enige God is wat so ’n verskriklike lyding kon toelaat nie. Dis die menslike dilemma – verwagting en werklikheid pas nie altyd op mekaar nie. Martin Luther King (Jnr) staan in die Naam van Christus op vir die mense wat onderdruk word en word vermoor. ’n Egte volgeling van Jesus Christus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sit in die tronk onder die Nazi’s en word uiteindelik vermoor. Waar is Jesus? Waar is die dade, die verlossing wat Jesus bring? Waar is die goeie nuus en die troos vir hulle wat hulle lewe aan Hom wy en steeds hulle lewe verloor?

  1. Wat antwoord Jesus? Gelukkig, geseënd is hulle wat nie aan my aanstoot neem nie, wat nie aan my twyfel nie. Hierdie uitspraak van Jesus het nie die bedoeling om Johannes te veroordeel nie. Jesus vee nie sy vraag van die tafel af nie. Dit spreek die diepste vraag van elke mens aan – elkeen wat sukkel met die geweldige spanning tussen die verwagting en werklikheid. Sy antwoord is tweeledig:

– Jesus se doel is om die regte perspektief by Johannes, sy volgelinge en sy hoorders te kweek. In die preek kan verwys word na die stryd wat binne die Joodse gemeenskap begin ontstaan het na Jesus se dood en opstanding. Die gevaar was lewensgroot dat mense hulle rug op Jesus weens hierdie druk kon draai. Moenie aan Jesus twyfel of aanstoot neem nie, want in Hom is alles vervul. Jesus sê dat die mense aan Johannes moet gaan vertel wat hulle hoor en sien. Jesus is die vervulling van die beloftes van die profete – die profete wat Johannes goed geken het. In die preek kan verwys word na die Ou Testamentiese profesie oor die Messiaanse tyd (Jes 61:1; 26:19; 29:18, 35:5,6).

– Ons moet leer om agter die dinge God se werklikheid raak te sien. Hy kom nie die koring van die kaf skei nie, maar word die dokter van gebrokenes. Die koninkryk van God is nie iets wat jy moet die blote oog kan sien nie. Dis nie altyd duidelik nie. Dit word met oog van die hart gesien. Immers, kyk na Johannes. Wat het mense na hom toe getrek? Sy voorkoms en lewenstyl? Nee. Tog het almal geweet dat hy ’n profeet was. Wat trek mense na Jesus? Sy indrukwekkendheid? Nee. Johannes moet leer dat God se koninkryk in ander gestaltes as ons verwagting kom. Hy kom in nederigheid en diens. Wanneer ons ontdek dat Jesus se werk bevryding op ’n geheel en al ander vlak bring, sien ons met ons hart. Hy is daar om die diepste nood van elke mens aan te spreek en bevryding te bring. Hy het die strukture van boosheid in elke opsig kom aanspreek. Hy het die koninkryk kom vestig te midde van die werklikheid van lyding, swaarkry, gevangenisskap, armoede en pyn. Jesus verkondig nie die finale oordeel van God nie – iets wat Johannes verwag het. Dit nie oor oordeel nie, nie oor mag nie, nie oor oorwinning oor vyande nie, maar oor medelye en liefde vir hulle wat uitgestoot word na die rante van die samelewing, oor goeie nuus vir hulle wat nie gewoond is aan goeie nuus nie. Hy word ’n vriend van sondaars en verworpenes, tollenaars en melaatses. Geloof is om op God te hoop, selfs al gaan dit teen al jou verwagtinge in.

  1. Watter troos bring dit?

– Johannes moet weet dat sy bediening nie sonder betekenis is nie. Hy was inderdaad ’n profeet van die nuwe tyd wat sal aanbreek. Sy bediening staan in die teken van die kruisweg – van lyding en swaarkry ter wille van Christus. In Johannes se lewe sien ons egte navolging – tot die dood toe.

– Die tyd is ryp. Maar dis ryp vir iets veel groter as wat ons dink. Ons verwag dat alles onmiddellik deur Jesus reggestel sal word. Die siekes moet gesond word en die onderdrukking, armoede en pyn moet end kry. Dit gebeur altyd nie, maar sy oorwinning is ’n feit. As Christene leef ons met ’n groter verwagting. Daar sal geen pyn en swaarkry wees wanneer Jesus terugkom nie. Ons hoop sal oorgaan in sien. Jesus se bediening kondig hierdie sekerheid aan. Sy bediening is die begin van die einde. Dit is die eerste bloeisels van die somer van God. Sy koms bring nie noodwendig die finale bevryding verlossing vir elke mens nie, maar die gesag van God oor die dinge wat ons wêreld en lewe moeilik maak, die bose en bose strukture, is gevestig. Sy koms is ’n teken dat die uitkoms nie onseker is nie.

Intussen is die geloofsuitdaging groot: gelukkig is hulle wat nie aanstoot neem aan Jesus nie, maar Hom volg. Johannes se bediening was een van die kruis – geen rykdom of hovaardigheid nie – net diens aan die Messias. Jesus se bediening het op die kruis uitgeloop. Sal sy volgelinge met Hom identifiseer of neem ons aanstoot, twyfel ons aan Hom?

Terug na die DVD van een van die Joodse oorlewendes, Rose Price. Sy het oorleef en na die oorlog het sy getrou en kinders is gebore. Een dag het haar dogter uit die skool by die huis aankom en gesê dat sy in Jesus Christus glo. Hy is die Joodse Messias! Sy het haar dogter uit die huis gesit. Toe word haar man ’n Christen. Hy wou nie meer saam met haar na die sinagoge gaan nie – selfs al het hulle die beste sitplekke gehad. Dit was moeilik vir Rose. Sy kon nie eens in haar eie God glo na alles wat gebeur het nie. Wat nog van Jesus! Op ’n dag het sy na die kelder van haar huis gegaan en begin om die Bybel te lees. Sy wou hierdie “moordenaar Jesus” vind. Vir vyf dae het sy die Bybel gelees. Daar ontdek sy in die Skrif ’n ander Jesus as wat sy verwag het. So het sy ontdek dat Jesus nie die moordenaar is nie. Hy het nie haar familie doodgemaak nie. Hy is die een wat vir haar gesterf het. Hy het haar lief. Sy het die God van Israel in Jesus Christus ontmoet. Sy het ontdek dat Jesus die Lam van God is wat haar sonde weggeneem het.

Uiteindelik is die vraag: Wat het verander sedert Christus se koms? Het ons verander? Hierdie verhaal roep ons om met die regte Jesus te vereenselwig. Die regte Jesus is die een wat die kruisweg volg. Sy dissipels volg Hom na in nederige onopsigtelike kruistogte. Die vraag is: Het jy die wêreld deur die koms van Jesus verander? Hoekom? Jacques Ellul noem Christene mense van die eschaton (die laaste dinge). Ons kyk na die wêreld vanuit die perspektief van wat gaan gebeur. Al lê dit in die toekoms, is dit steeds ’n baie groter werklikheid as die werklikheid wat ons elke dag rondom ons sien. Ons bestaan as Christene is om hierdie werklikheid te demonstreer – deur betrokke te wees by siekes, soos Jesus; deur die goeie nuus vir aan hopeloses te bring, soos Jesus; deur pyn en hartseer te verlig, soos Jesus. Eenvoudig, maar nie goedkoop nie!

Geselekteerde literatuur

Combrink HJB et al, 1980: Handleiding by die Nuwe Testament IV: Die Sinoptiese evangelies en Handelinge: Inleiding en Teologie. Pretoria: NG Kerk Boekhandel. Gundry, Robert H, 1982. Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Kingsbury JD, 1986. Matthew. Philadelphia. Fortress Press. Nielsen, J.T. 1974. Het evangelie naar Matheus, De prediking van het Nieuwe. Testament,Nijkerk. Patte D, 1987. The Gospel According to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew’s Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Schweizer, Eduard, 1975. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press. Schlatter, A 1969 Das Evangelium nach Matthäus. Calwer Verlag Stuttgart. Senior, Donald. The Gospel of Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997. Sim David C, 1998. The gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism. The history and social setting of the Matthean Community. Edinburgh. T&T Clark. Waetjen, H C, 1976. The Origin and Destiny of Humanness, a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Crystal Press.

Week 7: Compassion

Reading: Matthew 11:2-11

Background

11:2,3 We know from Matthew 4:12 that John was arrested. Gundry puts John’s suffering in prison within the broader context of Matthew 10. Jesus emphasized that his followers shall be brought before governors and kings because of him. Like the disciples of Jesus will be persecuted, John is persecuted. In prison he heard messages about Jesus’ ministry that are not convincing enough to make him believe that Jesus was really the one who would come. The reports of the work of Jesus were John source of information.

One wonders why John doubts. He baptised Jesus. Did he not hear the voice at Jesus’ baptism and did he not see the descending dove? Nielsen addresses these questions by referring to the prophecy in Isaiah 61. Jesus would deliver those who are put in prison. However, not in John’s case. The tension between expectation and reality brings doubt. We know that Jesus did not necessarily bring the economic, social and political dimensions of liberation as they expected Messiah to bring. Waetjen writes, ‘John anticipated his successor to be the great separator and assumed that his mission consisted essentially in exercising judgement.’ John clearly expects that Jesus would be the judge of the last days and will destroy the wicked (3:11,12).

11: 4-6 “Hear” and “see” are important concepts in this context. John had not seen what Jesus did. He just heard (Patte). This creates a tension in John. If he could hear his preaching, said Patte, his actions would have made sense. Patte makes a case that the words and deeds of Jesus are the keys to the true understanding of Jesus. Only the combination of these two aspects of Jesus’ ministry dispels doubts. One cannot be without the other.

Jesus’ answer to John’s question is a combination of references to the Messianic era in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 61:1; 26:19; 29:18; 35:5,6). Jesus stressed that his words and actions fulfil these prophecies. This includes things we hear (news to the poor) and see (wonders). However, the cleansing of the lepers is not found in these sections. Matthew 5-7 and 8-9 are descriptions of this brief summary of Jesus’ words (what they hear) and actions (what they see). The kingdom of God, the end times predicted by the prophets, has become a reality in him (Nielsen, Schweizer). Jesus emphasized that they should talk about what they saw. This is the basis of faith. Nothing more. Yes, because of him there will be division (Matt 10), but it is not the primary purpose of his ministry.

It is clear that Matthew used John’s situation to call his readers to true discipleship. Indeed, readers of Matthew were in a tremendous difficult situation. A break with Judaism began to take place. Families were probably influenced by it. Family ties were broken. The temptation was certainly greater than ever to turn your back on Jesus. Therefore Jesus answered, ‘Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’ The rejection of Jesus will begin to dominate the next few chapters (Senior). Is it about Jesus’ unwillingness to comply with the popular messianic expectations? Is it about his death that would come? Is it about his identification with the outcasts and the marginalized? Perhaps we can best understand it by referring to Jesus’ words and deeds. His entire ministry is also a description of his person and work. Patte emphasized that the readers here are faced with a massive choice. The Jesus who is portrayed by Matthew may have been entirely different from the one they expected.

11:7-9 There are questions and answers in these verses. It is very informative. It’s almost like degrees of comparison. Was John a reed swayed by the wind? The reeds grew in the river of Jordan. This suggests fragility (Gundry). John might look like that at the moment. Did John wear fancy clothes? Definitely not. He was not like someone in a royal court. Perhaps the intention is to describe a contrast between John’s clothing and beautiful clothes of Herod Antipas and Herodias. Their clothes were symbolic of corruption (Senior). What was the reason why people then went out to see him? What did they look at? The answer is probably that John was a prophet! They discovered more than they could see with the naked eye. Nielsen emphasized that Jesus would have wanted the audience to look beyond what meets the eye. They found someone who paved the way for the Messiah (Gundry). The repeated use of the word ‘see’ or ‘look’ in these verses emphasizes it. Most likely, it is also a reference to Jesus’ own ministry. Perhaps the reports John heard may have obscured his vision. One must look at more than what meets the eye. Schweizer believe that Jesus was posing a very important question, ‘‘Just what does this pilgrimage to the Baptist mean—this wave of religion sweeping over Israel? Jesus is saying that when the people went out they must have known that they were not running after a weather vane or follower of fashion, that they would not find the fulfilment of their dreams but rather the difficult path taken by the Baptist and by Jesus himself: in other words, not the theology of grandeur but the theology of the cross.’

11:10,11 Yes, John was one of the most important people on earth. He was the one who prepared the way for the Messiah. According to human judgment is he great and important. In the kingdom of God, however, he is however the least. This phrase in verse 11 is problematic, but must be understood in a broader context (Waetjen). John stood with one foot in the new dispensation which began in Jesus. With the other foot he stood in the old dispensation. He is the last prophet in the Old Testament history. That puts him in line with the law and the prophets. He is the greatest in the Old Testament. But he was part of the preparation of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is (Senior).

Some other remarks

  1. The context of the people of God has certainly been playing a role in the way they expected the Messiah’s coming. They lived in their own country, but were dominated by Roman forces. The ‘liberation theology’ of Jesus’ day is illustrated by Barabbas and to a lesser extent by Judas Iscariot. Finally it is also clear that Jesus of Nazareth did not fit in with the expectations of the majority. Even John and the other disciples had expected that he would be more than a mere preacher and a miracle worker. Even after Jesus’ resurrection the disciples expected that the time has come to restore the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:8). John’s question is a very typical question in Jesus’ time. However, it is also an important question today. We create our own images of Jesus. We are disappointed if he does not fit in with our ideas. In essence, the Jesus of Matthew is offensive to many, because he was not that great and triumphal Jesus, but the one that went to the cross.
  2. The doubt of John has played an important role in this area. The doubt of John was not about the promise of Scripture (Schlatter). However, John’s circumstances led him to ask whether Jesus was only part of the plan – perhaps not the whole plan of God. The kingdom of Jesus remains inconspicuous in many ways. He judges, but brings compassion to the marginalised people of society. John says Schlatter, has not turned his back on Jesus, but wondered in jail why Jesus’ ministry is so different. Are you the one? Look at Jesus’ words and deeds. Should we expect someone else? Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me, but see more than meets the eye.

There is nothing mysterious to John’s impatience and doubt. Everyone started to wonder about Jesus’ apparent inactivity – all Israel, the brothers of Jesus, his mother, his disciples and John. Because John was in prison, his question was an extremely urgent question. He did not know whether he would live until the next day. That’s why he wanted an urgent response.

  1. Combrink shows the clear connection between narrative passages in the Gospel. The ministry of Jesus displayed a specific ‘programme’. Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 summarises it, ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness’ (9:35). Jesus’ ministry consisted of preaching, miracles and acts of compassion. Matthew 5-7 contains words of Jesus. Matthew 8-9 describes his actions. Matthew 10 calls the disciples to go out and to share in the ministry of Jesus. In Matthew 11-12we find a whole bunch of miracles again. This pattern in which discourse and acts are interspersed almost deliberately, found is found throughout the gospel. The narrative contains five major speeches of Jesus (Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18 and 24-25).

At the beginning of this block in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 11), Jesus’ ministry is summarized again. John, the messenger who prepared Jesus’ path – one that is greater than anyone before him – is still doubtful and less than the least! In answer to his question of whether Jesus was really the one who would come, Jesus answered in almost exactly the same words as Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, ‘‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’ (11: 4,5).

Sermon proposal

  1. The time is ripe. What does it mean? It simply means that things must happen now. After a long wait things should now come to a point. Results! It is more or less how John felt. John and his people were tired. The decades, centuries of hardship they had, tested their faith. Their context of suffering and hope in God’s intervention certainly had an influence on the way they read their “bible”. They needed a great liberator. John was the preparer. Something huge will happen. He would not be worthy to tie his shoelaces. God’s saving power will be greater than anything in the past.

His message was without ambiguity. The time of God’s judgment has come. The sermon can refer to John’s preaching in Matthew 3. The axe is laid to the root. The wheat will be separated from the chaff. He preaches repentance in light of God’s coming judgment. As part of this judgment, John expected someone greater than himself.

Now John’s personal situation is ven worse. His criticism against the leaders of the day’s lifestyle and his call to repentance landed him a jail sentence.

Matthew reported that John heard about the ‘works’ of Jesus and then became restless. Frederick Buechner (Peculiar Treasures) describes it in detail. John preached strict justice and described God as a steel-eyed Thresher of grain. Jesus preached love and forgiveness and describes God as the host of a wonderful party or a father who cannot get it over his heart to throw out his children – even if they spit him in the face. John says that people should get their life in order before it was too late. Jesus says it is God who saves our lives. Even if your entire wealth was spent on alcohol and sex like the prodigal son, it is not too late. While John could be described as someone eating locusts and wild honey in the wilderness, Jesus is eating with so many people of the worst reputation. It is therefore not surprising that John seriously ask whether Jesus was really the one who would come. Jesus, if you are the one who is to come, do something! If you are not the one who was to come, say so, so we can hope for someone else who could deliver us.

  1. Circumstances sometimes bring certain expectations to the fore. We read the Bible and interpret it in the light of our circumstances and society. The terrible tension between expectation and reality is something we all understand. Our consumer culture and endless buying and selling highlights the lack of food in the world. The money in clenched fists is in sharp contrast with open hands hoping for a little rice or porridge. What a tension between reality and expectation! From history it is clear that the church and individuals had different expectations of Jesus – largely determined by their reality. Jesus has become the great liberator from political oppression. He became the judge the oppressor. In the old days of racial segregation Jesus was only interested in the souls of people. He did care for their physical and social conditions.

In a poignant video about the Jewish Holocaust survivors, one of the Jewish survivors, Rose Price, says that the Nazi soldiers hit them almost every day. They sais that Jesus told them to do it. They have constantly heard how Jesus hates them. She hated Jesus. He was the killer. It was her reality. As a Jew, she not only hated Jesus. She could not accept that there is any God who could allow such a terrible suffering. This is the human dilemma – expectation and reality do not always correlate. Martin Luther King (Jr.) spoke out in the name of Christ against those who oppressed and was killed. A true follower of Jesus Christ, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was put in prison under the Nazis and eventually killed. Where is Jesus? Where are the deeds, the salvation that Jesus brings? Where is the good news and comfort for those who devote their lives to him and yet still lose their lives?

  1. What is Jesus’ answer? Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me. These words of Jesus have no intention to condemn John. Jesus did not wipe his question off the table. It addresses the most profound question of every person – every one who is struggling with the tremendous tension between expectation and reality. His answer is twofold:

– Jesus’ goal is to cultivate the right perspective for John, his followers and his listeners. In the sermon may be referred to the battle that started to arise within the Jewish community after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The danger was huge that could people turn their backs on Jesus, because of this pressure. Don’t doubt Jesus, because in him all things are fulfilled. Jesus said that the people should go and tell John what they hear and see. Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises of the prophets – the prophets that John knew well. In the sermon may be referred to the Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah (Isa 61:1; 26:19; 29:18; 35: 5,6).

– We must learn to see God’s reality. He does not separate the wheat from the chaff, but is the doctor for the broken. The kingdom of God is not something you see with the naked eye. It is not always clear. This is seen with the eye of the heart. After all, look at John. What was it that drew people to him? His appearance and lifestyle? No. Yet everyone knew that he was a prophet. What draws people to Jesus? His brilliance? No. John must learn that God’s kingdom comes in other shapes than we expect. He came in humility and service. When we discover that Jesus’ work brings liberation on a totally different level, we see with our hearts. He is going to address the deepest need of every human being and bring proper liberation. He came to address the structures of evil in every way. He came to establish the kingdom of God in the reality of suffering, imprisonment, poverty and pain. Jesus did not proclaim the final judgment of God – something that John expected. It is not about judgment, not about power, not about victory over enemies, but about compassion and love for those who have been pushed out to the edges of society, good news for those who are not accustomed to good news. He is a friend of sinners and outcasts, tax collectors and lepers. Faith is to hope in God, even if it goes in against to all your expectations.

  1. What comfort does it bring?

– John should know that his ministry was not without significance. He was indeed a prophet of the new time to come. His ministry was performed in the shadow of the cross – of suffering and hardship for the sake of Christ. In John’s life we ​​see genuine imitation of Christ – even unto death.

– The time is ripe, but it is ripe for something much bigger than we think. We expect that Jesus will immediately correct everything. The sick should be healed and the oppression, poverty and pain must stop. It does not always happen, but his victory is a fact. As Christians, we live with a greater expectation. There will be no pain and suffering when Jesus returns. Our faith will be replaced by seeing. Jesus’ ministry is the beginning of the end. These are the first blossoms of the summer of God. His arrival does not bring the final liberation of salvation for every person, but the authority of God over things that make our world and life difficult, evil and evil structures, is established. His arrival is a sign that the outcome is certain.

Meanwhile, the big challenged of faith is not not ‘stumble on account of me’ but to follow him. John’s ministry was one of the cross – not wealth or pride – only service to the Messiah. Jesus’ ministry culminated in the cross. Will his followers identify with him or will we take offense or doubt him?

Back to the DVD of the Jewish survivor, Rose Price. She survived and after the war she married had children. One day her daughter arrived from school and said that she believes in Jesus Christ. He is the Jewish Messiah! She chased her daughter out of the house. Then her husband became a Christian. He did not go with her to the synagogue anymore – even though they had the best seats. It was hard for Rose.

She could not even believe in her own God after everything that happened – even less in Jesus! Then one day she went to the basement of her home and began to read the Bible. She wanted to find the killer Jesus. For five days she read the Bible. There she discovered in Scripture a different Jesus than she had expected. And she discovered that Jesus was not the killer. He did not kill her family. He is the one who died for her. He loves her. She met the God of Israel in Jesus Christ. She discovered that Jesus is the Lamb of God who took away her sins.

Ultimately, this is the question: What has changed since Christ’s coming? Have we changed? This story calls us to identify with the real Jesus. The real Jesus is the one who went to the cross. His disciples follow him in humble unobtrusive ‘crusades’. The question is: Has our world changed with the coming of Jesus? Why? Jacques Ellul called Christians people of the eschaton (the last things). We look at the world from the perspective of what is going to happen. Yes, it lies in the future, but it is still a lot more real than the reality we see around us every day. Our existence as Christians is to demonstrate this fact – by being involved with the sick as Jesus; by bringing the good news to hopelose people as Jesus; to relieve pain and sadness, like Jesus. It is simple, but not cheap!

Literature

Combrink HJB et al, 1980: Handleiding by die Nuwe Testament IV: Die Sinoptiese evangelies en Handelinge: Inleiding en Teologie. Pretoria: NG Kerk Boekhandel. Gundry, Robert H, 1982. Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Kingsbury JD, 1986. Matthew. Philadelphia. Fortress Press. Nielsen, J.T. 1974. Het evangelie naar Matheus, De prediking van het Nieuwe. Testament,Nijkerk. Patte D, 1987. The Gospel According to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew’s Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Schweizer, Eduard, 1975. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press. Schlatter, A 1969 Das Evangelium nach Matthäus. Calwer Verlag Stuttgart. Senior, Donald. The Gospel of Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997. Sim David C, 1998. The gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism. The history and social setting of the Matthean Community. Edinburgh. T&T Clark. Waetjen, H C, 1976. The Origin and Destiny of Humanness, a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Crystal Press.

Week 8: Gebed

Teks: Gen 18:16-33

Agtergrond

Volgens Brueggemann vorm die teks deel van die groter geheel wat 18:16-19:38 strek. Die hart van die groter gedeelte vind ons in die storie van Sodom en Gomorra (19:1-29). Brueggemann merk op dat die mans of besoekers in hierdie gedeelte nou ’n ander funksie het as toe hulle by Abraham en Sara besoek afgelê het. Tóé moes hulle ’n belofte aankondig. Nóú moet hulle die einde aankondig.

Die teksgedeelte word soms as ’n voortsetting van die voorafgaande gedeelte gesien en soms as ’n inleiding tot wat in Sodom en Gomorra sou plaasvind. Brueggemann waarsku egter tereg dat ons die hele gedeelte met groot versigtigheid moet lees: ‘It easily lends itself to conclusions which are wooden, mechanical, and concrete-operational about the reality of God. Unless interpreted carefully, this passage will be taken as support for mistaken theological notions that are uncritical and destructive. The most obvious dangers of perverse interpretation relate to (a) the stylized and stereotyped description of judgment and destruction (19:24-28); (b) the appeal to numbers in 18:26-32 which will too easily reduce God’s righteous purposes to arithmetical calculation; and the offense of Sodom which in popular usage and perhaps in 19:5 is homosexuality. If these three factors – stylized judgment, numerical calculation, and a simplistic moralizing on homosexuality – are brought together according to popular understandings, the text will yield a teaching remote from the gospel.’

18:16-19: Die verbondenheid van God aan sy beloftes kom hier baie sterk na vore. Ten spyte van die twyfel van Abraham en sy vrou oor die aankondiging van die baba wat gebore sou word, bly God steeds getrou. Hy herinner Homself aan die beloftes wat Hy reeds in Gen 12:1-3 aan Abraham gemaak het. Hoe sal Hy sy ‘voorneme’ om Sodom te vernietig van die draer van sy beloftes weerhou? God vergeet dus nooit sy beloftes nie.

Maar die seën aan Abraham het ook die imperatief van optrede wat “goed en reg” is ingesluit. Hierdie woorde word in die profetiese literatuur gebruik as ’n samevatting van hulle boodskap (Am 5:7,24; Jer 33:15). Om die gebruik van hierdie verse as problematies te sien, is nie korrek nie. Brueggemann sê: ‘The righteousness and justice of Abraham are not simply moral obedience. They are also a passion for the well-being of the very ones who have violated God.’ Die feit dat die Here Abraham ‘ken’ (Hebreeus: yada – NAV vertaal met ‘kies’), behoort Abraham in beweging te bring om getrou te wees aan sy roeping as geseënde deur wie die seën ook na ander sal vloei.

18:20-22: Hierdie verse is uiters belangrik vir die verstaan van die res van ons skrifgedeelte. Die wonder van God se genade kom baie sterk na vore. Anders as die heersende opvatting van sonde-straf, word die straffende God hier deur Abraham onder ‘kruisverhoor’ geneem. ’n Ou tekswysiging word in die NAV (teenoor die 1933 vertaling) uitgeskakel. Vir die Masorete was dit onaanvaarbaar dat God voor Abraham kon staan en daarom het hulle die teks gewysig om te lees dat Abraham voor God gestaan het (22). In die NAV word gesê dat ‘die Here het by Abraham bly staan’ het. Hierdie vertaling laat reg geskied aan wat daar werklik staan en open wonderlike teologiese perspektiewe. Dis asof die Here Abraham uitnooi om met hom in gesprek te gaan oor die sonde van Sodom en Gomorra.

Die geroep van Sodom en Gomorra (wat die sonde ookal was), was groot, maar op ’n baie menslike manier word beskryf dat God ‘self’ wil kom kyk of dit waar is. God se oordeel is nooit finaal nie. Hy wil nie onregverdig wees nie. Dis asof die Here aan Abraham die opening gee om met Hom in gesprek te tree.

18:23-32: Abraham gryp die kans aan om met die Here te gesels. Die res van die hoofstuk word gewy aan die ‘nuwe’ manier waarop ’n mens oor God mag dink. Die eenvoudige moralistiese godsdiens van goeie dade-beloning en sonde-straf, word hier deurbreek: ‘It is as though Abraham is Yahweh’s theological teacher and raises a question that is quite new for him. The question concerns Yahweh’s willingness to set aside the closed system and approach the world in another way. Abraham is the bearer of a new theological possibility….In these questions, Abraham urges God that he should act like God and not like a childish, score-keeping litigant … If God should act in such a calculating way, he diminishes and jeopardizes his own holiness’ (Brueggemann).

Abraham se eie ervaring as gelowige het waarskynlik ook hier ingespeel. Daarom is kommentatore reg as hulle sê dat hier van groei in sy lewe sprake is. Teenoor sy lafhartige eie pogings in Gen 12 en 16, sien ons hier iemand wat só deur God se teenwoordigheid oorweldig word, dat Hy bereid is om sy roeping ernstig te neem en vir die stad in nood in te tree. As twyfelaars het Abraham en Sara telkens ontdek dat God nie sy woord en beloftes aan hulle terugtrek nie. Ook al lag hulle oor God se beloftes, gaan Hy aan met sy plan. Ook al is Abraham erg bewus van sy eie gebrokenheid (18:27), het iets reeds by hom deurgebreek: God is die getroue God. Daarom sal dit ook nou vreemd wees as die Here ‘onregverdig’ optree.

Die korporatiewe denke van die Ou Testament, waardeur ’n hele groep mense deur die ongehoorsaamheid van een of twee in ellende gestort word (sien die gebeure by Ai en Jerigo toe Akan bangoed gesteel het – Josua 7:22-25), word deur Abraham omgekeer. Sou dit nie moontlik wees dat die geregtigheid van ’n paar die ongeregtigheid van vele kan oorskadu nie? En God gee hom gelyk. Dit sou wel kon.

Of Abraham by twintig of tien regverdiges op sou hou, sou geen verskil aan die dialoog gemaak het nie. Nie die getal nie, maar die saak waarom dit gaan, is belangrik om te snap (Brueggemann). Die Regter word die gespreksgenoot: ‘God is now more attentive to and more moved by those who obey than those who do not. Such an argument questions every caricature of God as the score-keeper and guardian of morality who is ready to pounce and judge and punish. No, God is more ready to celebrate, acknowledge, and credit for all the right-relatedness of a few’ (Brueggemann). Tereg sê Burger dat die strakke lyne wat moontlik oor God kan bestaan, deur die skrywer deurbreek word. Die Here se openlike ‘gesprek’ met Abraham oor hierdie saak is baie goeie aanduiding daarvan. Ook deur die aanduiding dat die Here self wil gaan kyk of die geroep van Sodom en Gomorra regtig so erg is, ‘wil die outeur ons laat inkyk nie alleen in God se absolute billikheid nie, maar ook in sy openheid en ruimheid van Persoon…Uit die geheel van die perikoop is dit duidelik dat God se besluit oor Sodom en Gomorra nie finaal, onberoulik, onomkeerbaar was nie’

Die voorbidding van Abraham moet binne die konteks van God se trou verstaan word. Jagersma sê wel, soos baie ander kommentatore en preke, dat een van die belangrikste aspekte van die Skrifgedeelte in Abraham se bereidheid om voorbidding te doen, geleë is: ‘Waar dit op aankom is die teenwoordigheid van ’n gemeenskap van mense waarin die geregtigheid van die Heer sigbaar word. Die gemeenskap is daar aanwesig en inderdaad ook sigbaar waar mense saam bewus is van hulle dienende taak in die wêreld rondom hulle. Waar dit alles gesien en gedoen word, is ook die egte gemeente van Christus sigbaar in die wêreld.’ Hierdie en ander opmerkings moet egter ook gesien word in die lig van God se toegeneentheid tot die wêreld in sy nood. Dis asof die Here ‘self’ wil sien hoe gebroke die wêreld is. Daarom kom Hy ook uiteindelik self hierheen in die gestalte van Jesus. God word mens. Hy vergewis Hom van die nood van die wêreld – eerstehands! As enigste regverdige sterf Hy vir die goddelose wêreld. God kan nie in die kassie van ‘so is Hy’ gedruk word nie. Op God kan jy nie jou hand lê nie. Sy trou laat Hom ‘vreemde’ dinge doen. Omdat Hy oop is vir oortuiging, kan ons met Hom praat en onderhandel. Hy staan by ons wanneer die nood in die wêreld onafwendbaar lyk en daag ons uit om ons roeping op te neem om daarvoor te bid. Wanneer die onvrugbaarheid van Abraham en Sara skynbaar die laaste sê het, kondig God aan dat die nuwe begin aan Hom alleen behoort. Wanneer die verwoesting van die wêreld onafwendbaar lyk, is dit God se trou wat Hom daartoe lei om toe te gee dat Hy bereid is om straf te herroep. Hy doen dit op grond van die gehoorsaamheid van die enigste gehoorsame, Jesus Christus – nie op grond van ons voorbidding nie.

Preekvoorstel

  1. Jare gelede het een van die studenteleraars op Stellenbosch hierdie gedeelte, Abraham se voorbidding vir Sodom en Gomorra, op ’n biddag vir studente gelees. Nadat hy dit gelees het, het hy dit baie duidelik gestel dat die verband tussen Sodom en Gomorra en studente hoogstens toevallig is. Net so kan dit vandag bietjie ongemaklik voel om op ’n Sondag, waarop ons nadink oor voorbidding in die geloofsgemeenskap, die verhaal van Sodom en Gomorra te lees.

Hoekom voel ’n mens ongemaklik? Dis asof ’n mens onmiddellik iets wil optel van die gedagte dat voorbidding, nood en sonde iets met mekaar te doen het. Dit het. Dit hang net af hoe jy die verband sien.

  • Jy kan byvoorbeeld dink dat dit die arm mense se eie skuld is dat hulle swaarkry. In 1997 het een vyfde van die wêreld se bevolking in die hoë inkomstegroep 86% van die wêreld se produkte vervaardig. Slegs een persent daarvan is deur die onderste vyfde van die wêreldbevolking vervaardig. Gemeet aan lewenstandaarde, was die verhouding tussen die rykste en armste lande van die wêreldbevolking in 1820 drie tot een. In 1913 was dit elf tot een. Teen 1973 het dit gestyg tot 72 teen een. Die gaping word al groter. Van die 61 groot oorloë van die afgelope dekade was slegs drie nie burgeroorloë nie. In ’n artikel in die Business Day van 15 Julie 1999 word na al hierdie sake verwys en word dit helder en duidelik gesê: Die VN lei daaruit af dat die “problem of failing countries is not that they are small and weak, but that they are disfunctional.” Jy kan dalk sê: sien jy. Dis wat ek bedoel. Hulle wil nie beter lewe nie. Hulle gebruik nie hulle geleenthede nie. Hulle mors dalk hulle geld op verkeerde goed. Leiers koop vliegtuie in plaas daarvan om skole te bou. Leiers maak oorlog in ander lande, terwyl daar werkloosheid in die land is. Hulle “sonde” is dat hulle nie goeie rentmeesters is nie.
  • Jy kan natuurlik die nood in Suider-Afrika ook toeskryf aan ’n vorige politieke bedeling wat mense wonderlike voorregte ontneem het en op die rant van die arbeidsmag en ekonomiese vooruitgang geskuif het. Mense kon nie goeie skole bywoon nie en kon nie in sekere woongebiede woon nie. Oud-President Thabo Mbeki het ons daaraan herinner dat apartheid armoede veroorsaak het en dat dit in direkte verband gebring kan word met die probleem van VIGS. Die sonde van apartheid het mense in die nood gedompel.
  • Jy kan verder sê: Sien jy waar eindig onsedelikheid? God straf dit. Miskien sal hulle wat seksueel onsedelik lewe begin luister noudat meer as vier miljoen mense in Suid-Afrika MIV-positief is. Miskien sal die meer as 6000 begrafnisse wat per dag in Afrika plaasvind as gevolg van Vigs mense laat besef dat God die sonde van seksuele losbandigheid nie duld nie. Miskien sal die ‘sondaars’ begin luister noudat klimaatsveranderinge regtig ’n verskil aan ons oeste maak en weerpatrone regtig verander. As ons wêreld deur die ekologiese skade wat mense aanrig uiteindelik tot niet gaan, sal dit te laat wees. Ja, die homoseksuele, egbrekers, vigslyers, diewe, moordenaars en ander “sondaars” moet verstaan dat God ’n verterende vuur is. Boontjie kry sy loontjie! Dis reg so! Kyk maar wat met Sodom gebeur het het. Die gemors waarin ons ons dikwels bevind, kan aan niks anders as die sonde van die mens toegeskryf word nie.
  1. Elke argument wat genoem word het seker iets van die waarheid beet. Is dit egter hoe ons die verhaal van Sodom en Gomorra moet lees? Gaan dit in hierdie verhaal in die eerste plek oor die verterende straf van God oor mense wat in sy oë straf verdien? Gaan dit daaroor dat Sodom en Gomorra hulself in die gemors gedompel het en daarom maar die pak moet vat daarvoor? Kan ons uit die verhaal aflei dat ons nou maar een maal gefaal het om mense op die regte pad te hou en daarom ook maar moet aanvaar dat God se oordeel onafwendbaar is?

Nee. Die verhaal verras ons met ’n ander perspektief. Hierdie perspektief het alles met die nood in die wêreld te doen. Ons kan selfs sê dat dit alles te doen het met die verband tussen die nood van die wêreld en ons sonde.

  1. Wat is hierdie perspektief? In die 1983-vertaling van die Bybel lees ons in vers 22: … maar die Here het by Abraham bly staan. Die ou vaders kon dit nie so aanvaar nie en het die Hebreeuse teks verander sodat dit kon lees: Abraham het voor die Here gestaan. Eintlik staan daar: En die Here het voor Abraham gestaan. Ons nuwe vertaling het dit beter vertaal deur te sê dat die Here daar by Abraham bly staan het.

Daar staan die Here by Abraham. Hoekom? Die Here het alreeds besluit om deur Abraham vir Hom ’n volk bymekaar te maak. Die Here sê in 18:19: Ek het Hom gekies dat hy sy kinders en nageslag kan beveel om op my pad te bly deur te doen wat goed en reg is, sodat Ek vir Abraham kan doen wat ek beloof het. Juis daarom kan die Here nie teenoor Abraham stilbly wat hy met Sodom en Gomorra gaan doen nie (17). En, Abraham, die klomp is niks anders nie as gruwelike sondaars. Abraham, ek wil gaan kyk of dit regtig waar is (21). En dit is. Nou staan ek hier by jou.

  1. Wat gebeur hier? Iemand skryf dat ons hier met een van die intiemste oomblikke tussen God en ’n mens te doen het.   Die verhaal van Abraham en God … van God voor Abraham laat ons sien dat God anders is as wat ons dink. Hy is toeganklik, oop. Ons dink dat God ewige en onveranderlike besluite neem waaraan ons niks kan doen nie. Hier word ons strakke denke oor God egter deurbreek, want die Regter word die gespreksgenoot. Die Here staan by Abraham om te hoor wat hy oor die nood van Sodom en Gommorra te sê het. Die Nederlandse teoloog, Jagersma het dit pragtig gestel: ‘Die Here staan hier dan ook in die houding van die regter voor Abraham. ’n Houding wat as’t ware die stilswyende uitnodiging aan Abraham inhou om dit nou uit te spreek. Immers, die wêreld waarin hy nou leef – Sodom en omgewing – word nou deur totale ondergang en vernietiging bedreig en die geroepene – die geroepe gemeente – kan en mag nie stilswyend en sonder om iets te doen toekyk nie. En dit is die Heer self wat op hierdie manier en met hierdie houding Abraham uitdaag om vir hierdie bedreigde wêreld op te kom.’ Dis asof God vir ’n oomblik by Abraham stilstaan in die hoop of hy dan niks te sê het oor die geweldige vernietiging wat op Sodom wag nie.

Jy sien, God is nie die tellinghouer wat ons van Hom wil maak nie. Hy is nie so onverbiddellik soos ons nie. Hy werk nie met ons skema van boontjie-kry-sy-loontjie nie. Hy kan nie maar net aanvaar dat ek en jy die nood van die wêreld sommer aan die sonde toeskryf en die wêreld daarom ook afskryf nie. Hy bly staan by ons, kyk saam met ons na die nood en wag sodat ons iets daaroor kan sê.

  1. En Abraham het iets te sê. Hy tree in vir die mense van Sodom en Gomorra. Sy gedagte is nie dat net die regverdiges gespaar sal word nie. Sy versoek is dat die stad gespaar sal word! Ses maal voldoen die Here aan die versoek van Abraham dat die stad gespaar kan word deur ’n getal regverdiges (23-32). Hoewel God die regter is, kan Abraham dit nie met sy ervaring van God se genade rym dat mense sommer net uitgewis word weens hulle sonde nie. Dis nie die genadige God wat hy deur al sy dae van vertwyfeling en eiesinnigheid leer ken het nie. In die vorige hoofstukke sien ons hoe Abraham en Sara ook maar nie te ernstig was oor die Here se beloftes nie. Jare en jare het sedert die beloftes van ’n land en ’n nageslag verloop en niks is nog bewaarheid nie. In Gen 15:1-3 is dit reeds duidelik dat Abraham moed verloor het. In Gen 17:17 lag Abraham ook vir die belofte van ’n nageslag omdat hy die punt bereik het waar hy dit menslik onmoontlik gevind het. Hier in Gen 18 lag Sara oor dieselfde storie. En elke keer het die Here aangehou om die pad met hulle te stap. Dáárom pleit Abraham by God vir die wêreld in sy nood.
  2. Hoekom is móés Abraham intree vir die mense in nood? Omdat God se geroepene is. Hy deel in God se beloftes. Jy sien, as God jou geseën het deur jou toekoms met sy woord te waarborg, as God jou die heerlike vooruitsig gee dat jou toekoms veilig is, is die gevaar lewensgroot om jouself terug te trek in die gemak van jou eie seëninge. Dit sou Abraham kon doen. Abraham sou kon saamsing in die koor van veroordeling oor Sodom en Gomorra. Maar roeping en seën beteken dat jy in diens van God en ander gestel word. Ons ontvang nie God se seën sodat ons onsself daarin kan verlustig nie. Ons word nie gekies sodat ons die liefde van die Here vir onsself kan hou nie. Nee, Abraham moes deur alles wat met hom gebeur het meer en meer ontdek dat hy net ’n kanaal is waardeur die Here se seën na ander moet vloei. Nêrens in die Bybel sal ons lees van mense wat deur God geroep en gekies is sonder ’n taak nie. Wanneer die kerk haar roeping as draer van God se liefde en geregtigheid in die wêreld ernstig neem, kan ons nie anders as om in diens van die nood van ander gaan staan nie.

Die pragtige verhaal word vertel van Jörn, die voorbidder. Hy was baie arm en deur swaksiendheid gekortwiek om goeie werk te kry om in sy lewensonderhoud te voorsien. Tog gaan dit heel goed met hom. Mede-Christene het gesorg dat hy nie armlastig was nie. Hy beleef baie beproewinge en swaarkry. Tog was hy die geestelike raadsman van die gemeente. Mense het uit die hele gemeenskap vir raad en hulp na hom gekom. Al kon hy dikwels nie help nie, het baie mense deur die warme hart van liefde sy huis met ‘n lied in die hart verlaat. In later jare was hy baie arm. Twee bejaarde christene wat hom opgepas het, vertel dat hulle hom baie nagte, wanneer hy nie kon slaap nie, vir al die mense in die gemeente by die naam hoor bid het. In teenstelling met ons, wat vra dat die Here alle mense moet seën (omdat ons haastig is), het Jörn elkeen by die naam genoem – asof hy in gedagte van huis tot huis gaan. Toe het hy te sterwe gekom: Niemand het hom sien sterf nie. Sy begrafnis was die grootste ooit in die dorp. Hy het geen familielede gehad nie, maar almal het gekom en was hartseer. Jörn was nooit in staat om op plekke te wees waar hy groot sigbare dinge vir die Here kon doen nie. Maar hy kon bid. En uit sy gebede het ‘n geestelike krag gestraal wat die wêreld waarin hy geleef het, aangespreek het.

  1. Die nood van Sodom en Gomorra roep ons op om na te dink oor ons reaksie op die nood in die wêreld. Meer nog, dit laat ons nadink oor Gód.

*          Wie is God? Telkens wys God aan ons hoe sy hart lyk wanneer mense gestraf moet word. Hierdie gedagte word in die Ou Testament en later in die Nuwe Testament ook aangetref. Die geregtigheid van God eis dat daar teen die sonde opgetree moet word, maar deur die trou van God word die gedagte van korporatiewe skuld telkens op die agtergrond verdryf. Wanneer God met pyn in sy hart sit oor die verskriklike goddeloosheid in die wêreld en besluit om dut te vernietig, sien ons dat Hy steeds vir Noag spaar (Gen 6). Wanneer die volk teen God oortree, herinner Moses God aan sy verbond met Abraham en ‘versag’ God se toorn (Eks 32,33). Wanneer die volk kla omdat hulle in Ballingskap is weens die sonde van hulle voorvaders (Eseg 18), bevestig die profeet dat die skuld van ouers nie teen kinders gehou sal word nie. Wanneer God se toorn teen die volk sonder twyfel gaan ontvlam, bedwing God Homself omdat Hy nie soos mense wil wees nie (Hos 11:8,9). Sy liefde brand sterker as sy toorn. In Jes 53 lees ons dat die kneg van die Here die straf van die volk plaasvervangend gedra het.

Ons nood, Sodom en Gomorra se nood, het nie aan God verbygegaan nie. As Christene weet ons immers van ’n tyd toe die Here ‘self’ kom kyk het hoe die gebroke wêreld lyk. In die gestalte van Jesus kom deel Hy in die nood van die wêreld. Die Lam van God dra die sonde van die hele wêreld weg (Joh 1:29). En Paulus bely helder en duidelik: ‘Deur die oortreding van die een mens het die dood begin heerskappy voer deur hierdie een mens, maar deur die Een, Jesus Christus, is veel meer bereik: dié wat die oorvloed van genade en die vryspraak as gawe ontvang het, sal lewe en heerskappy voer. Soos een oortreding gelei het tot veroordeling vir alle mense, so het een daad van gehoorsaamheid dus ook gelei tot vryspraak en lewe vir almal. Soos baie deur die ongehoorsaamheid van een mens sondaars geword het, so ook sal baie deur die gehoorsaamheid van die een Mens vrygespreek word’ (Rom 5:17-19).

Op God kan jy nie jou hand lê nie. Sy trou laat Hom ‘vreemde’ dinge doen. Telkens wanneer ons dink dat dit klaarpraat met mense is, is God bereid om nie soos mense te oordeel nie, maar op grond van sy onvoorwaardelike liefde vry te spreek. Nou word ons almal geseëndes. Selfs die sonde van Sodom en Gomorra word daardeur versoen. Hy ruil plekke met Sodom en Gomorra, met die weerloses van die wêreld, met die sondaars en tollenaars, met die Vigslyers en stukkende skepping, met die armes en siekes.

*       Maar die nood van Sodom en Gomorra laat ons ook krities wees oor ons eie verhouding met ’n wêreld in nood. Die vraag is nie hoe die nood daar gekom het of die wie se skuld dit is nie. Die vraag is nie of God straf of nie. Omdat Hy oop is vir oortuiging, kan ons met Hom praat en onderhandel. Jy sien, God wíl Hom laat oortuig om nie die wêreld te vernietig nie. God wag as’t ware op sy kerk om vir die wêreld in te tree. Hy staan by ons wanneer die nood in die wêreld onafwendbaar lyk en daag ons uit om ons roeping op te neem om daarvoor te bid. Daarom mag ons bid vir die nood van die wêreld, móét ons bid vir die herstel van God se gebroke wêreld. Die woorde van Luther in sy tafelgesprekke is aangrypend: ‘Soos ’n skoenmaker skoene maak en ’n kleremaker klere, so moet ’n Christen bid. Dit is sy werk. Die gebed hou die wêreld in stand. Sonder die gebed sou die wêreld heel anders daaruit sien. Ons hoef nie bang te wees om ons tot hom te rig nie, want Hy verhoor ons gebed om Christus se ontwil. Dit weet ek uit eie ervaring, want my gebede word altyd verhoor en ek kry soms meer as wat ek gevra het – al laat God my soms ’n tyd lank wag…

Die verhaal van Sodom en Gomorra raak daarom ’n ander verband tussen die nood van die wêreld en ons sonde aan. Dit raak die sonde van harteloosheid, apatie, traak-my-nie–agtigheid aan. En die sielkundige, Rollo May, was reg toe hy gesê het: Die teenoorgestelde van liefde is nie haat nie. Dit is apatie. Die diepste vorm van haat is wanneer die nood van die wêreld ’n mens nie meer raak nie. Die diepste vorm van haat is wanneer jy die nood van die wêreld sien, daaroor praat en jou hande in die lug gooi en dit opgee vir ’n slegte saak. Dis dan wanneer die kerk nie eens meer die nodigheid sien om te bid vir die armoede en straatkinders, die ekologiese krisis en lydende skepping nie, die Vigsepidemie en sy miljoene weeskinders en stukkende gesinne nie. Dis in elk geval te laat, sê ons.   Dit is die verband tussen nood en sonde! ’n Kerk wat ophou intree vir die wêreld. Laat ons eerlik wees. Miskien is die wêreld in die gemors wat hy is, miskien is die nood in die wêreld so groot omdat die kerk nie meer omgee vir die wêreld nie. En die toppunt van traak-my-nie-agtigheid is wanneer die kerk nie meer vir die nood van die wêreld intree by God nie.

Maar gebed kan ook ’n ontvlugtingsmaneuver wees wanneer ons ’n verkeerde siening van gebed het. Gebed kan iets wees waarmee ons ons juis onttrek aan die nood van die wêreld. Ons laat alles maar aan God oor. Miskien sal Hy iets doen, want dis veiliger vir ons om nie betrokke te raak nie. Ons gebedsgerigtheid kan ongesond word wanneer ons so hemels dink dat ons nie meer by die aarde uitkom nie. Met die herlewing van 1860 was daar op die plaas Aan den Doorns naby Worcester mense so onder die indruk van hulle geestelike heil gekom het, dat hulle vir 3 maande alles op die plaas gestaak het om eers die saligheid van hulle siele te soek. In ’n bevestigingsformulier vir diakens uit die vorige eeu staan daar ook: Julle armes, volg Christus om die spyse van die siel en nie om brood nie!

Die volgende verhaal illustreer hierdie houding van die kerk:

‘It was a cold winter’s day that Sunday.  The parking lot to the church was filling up quickly.  I noticed, as I got out of my car, that fellow church members were whispering among themselves as they walked to the Church.   As I got closer, I saw a man leaned up against the wall outside the church. He was almost laying down as if he was asleep.  He had on a long trench coat that was almost in shreds and a hat topped his head pulled down so you could not see his face. He wore shoes that looked 30 years old and too small for his feet. They had holes all over them and his toes stuck out. I assumed this man was homeless and asleep. So I walked on by through the doors of the church.  During the few minutes we stood around fellowshipping, someone brought up the subject of the man laying outside.  People snickered and gossiped but no one bothered to ask him to come in, including me. A few moments later church began. We all waited for the preacher to take his place and to give the Word.

Then the door opened. In came the homeless man walking down the aisle with his head down. People gasped and whispered and made faces. He made his way down the aisle and up onto the pulpit.  He took off his hat and coat. My heart sank. There stood our preacher. He was the homeless man. No one said a word. The preacher took his bible and laid it on the stand and began, “Folks, I don’t think I have to tell you what I am preaching about today.” Then he started singing the words to this song, “If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody that he’s traveling wrong, then my living shall not be in vain.”

Nee, ons kan nie bid vir die nood van die wêreld sonder om iets daaraan te gaan doen nie. My gebed maak my deel van die oplossings. Deur gebed sê ek: Here, hier is ek! Gebruik my! Volten skryf: Ons kan nie om skuldvergifnis vra as ons las het van ‘n honger mag nie. Net so help dit nie dat ons aan iemand ‘n Bybel of traktaatjie gee as sy honger is nie. Dit help nie om met iemand ‘n geestelike gesprek te voer as hy nie klere en skoene en geborgenheid en erkenning kry nie. Dit is onsinnig om iemand op te roep tot skuldbelydenis terwyl sy dors is en sonder blyplek is. Wanneer ons bid vir die nood van die wêreld beywer ons ons vir kos, klere, skoene, geborgenheid, vrede, liefde, erkenning, suiwer lug en water, gesondheid en tevredenheid, arbeid en lewensvervulling vir alle mense.

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer het gesê: Voor God is daar geen lewe wat die lewe nie werd is nie. Vir God is die lewe self immers van groot waarde. Wanneer die onvrugbaarheid van Abraham en Sara skynbaar die laaste sê het, kondig God aan dat die nuwe begin aan Hom alleen behoort. Wanneer die verwoesting van die wêreld onafwendbaar lyk, is dit God se trou wat Hom daartoe lei om toe te gee dat Hy bereid is om straf te herroep. Hy doen dit op grond van die gehoorsaamheid van die enigste gehoorsame, Jesus Christus – nie op grond van ons voorbidding nie. Laat ons dan vol vertroue intree vir die wêreld se nood. Ons kan nie maar toesien hoe alles tot niet gaan en ons hande in onskuld was nie. Ons kan iets doen.

Ek het eenmaal ’n video oor wêreldsending gesien waarin die man deur die aardbol platgeval word. Die opdrag om na al die nasies te gaan, was vir hom te oorweldigend. En dan ontdek die man iets. Hy kan net sy deel doen. Dit kan gebeur dat die nood van die wêreld jou so kan oorweldig dat jy voel dat jou bydrae so klein is, dat jy liewer niks doen nie. Maar ons kan wel ’n verskil maak aan die nood rondom ons. Ons kan daarvoor bid en deel word van die oplossings rondom ons.

Bronne

G Ch Aalders: Genesis Vol II. Michigan. Zondervan, 1981. Walter Brueggemann: Genesis. Atalanta. John Knox Press. 1982. C W Burger: Genesis 18:16-33, in Riglyne vir prediking oor die Genesisverhale. Woord teen die Lig II/3 (CW Burger, BA Müller, DJ Smit – reds). Kaapstad. NG Kerk-Uitgewers, 172-82. Coenie Burger: Storie vir ons tyd. Die hoopvolle verhaal van Abraham en Sara oorvertel vir ’n oorgangstyd. Kaapstad. Lux Verbi. 1994. H Jagersma: Abraham. Kampen. JH Kok, 1977. Derek Kidner. Genesis. Leicester. IVP, 1967. Walter Lüthi. Abraham. Basel. Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag, 1967. G Von Rad: Genesis. London. SCM Press, 1972.

Week 8: Prayer

Passage: Genesis 18: 16-33

Background

According to Brueggemann the passage is part of the bigger section, 18:16-19:38. The heart of the whole passage is found in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (19:1-29). Brueggemann notes that the men or visitors in this area now have a different function than when they visited Abraham and Sarah. Then they had to announce a promise. Now they must announce the end.

The passage is sometimes seen as a continuation of the previous part and sometimes as an introduction to what would happen with Sodom and Gomorrah. Brueggemann however warns that we should read the section with great caution, ‘It easily lends itself to conclusions which are wooden, mechanical, and concrete-operational about the reality of God. Unless interpreted carefully, this passage will be taken as support for mistaken theological notions that are uncritical and destructive. The most obvious dangers of perverse interpretation relate to (a) the stylized and stereotyped description of judgment and destruction (19:24-28); (b) the appeal to numbers in 18:26-32 which will too easily reduce God’s righteous purposes to arithmetical calculation; and the offense of Sodom which in popular usage and perhaps in 19:5 is homosexuality. If these three factors – stylized judgment, numerical calculation, and a simplistic moralizing on homosexuality – are brought together according to popular understandings, the text will yield a teaching remote from the gospel.’

18:16-19: The commitment of God to his promises is strong. Despite the doubts of Abraham and his wife about the announcement of the baby to be born, God remains faithful. He reminds Abraham about the promises he has made in Genesis 12:1-3. How shall his withhold his ‘intention’ to destroy Sodom from the bearer of his promises? God never forgets his promises.

But the blessing of Abraham also included the imperative of ‘right and just’ conduct. These words are used in the prophetic literature as a summary of their message (Am 5:7,24; Jeremiah 33:15). Brueggemann says, ‘The righteousness and justice of Abraham are not simply moral obedience. They are also a passion for the well-being of the very ones who have violated God.’ The fact that God knows Abraham should move Abraham to be faithful to his calling as a blessed one through whom blessings will flow to others.

18:20-22: These verses are extremely important for the understanding the rest of our passage. The wonder of God’s grace is clear in these verses. Unlike the prevailing notion that sin is punished, Abraham cross-examines the God who has the right to punish us. An old text amendment eliminates the meaning. For the Masoretes it was unacceptable that God could stand before Abraham. They changed the text to read that Abraham stood before God (22). It is as if God invites Abraham to talk to him about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah (whatever their sins were) was great. Yet, God is described in a very human way. He himself would come and see if this is true. God’s judgment is never final. He does not want to be unfair. It was as if the Lord gave Abraham an opening to engage with him.

18:23-32: Abraham took the chance to talk with the Lord. The rest of the chapter is devoted to the ‘new’ way we should think about God. The simple moralistic scheme of doing good-reward and sin-punishment is broken, ‘It is as though Abraham is Yahweh’s theological teacher and raises a question that is quite new for him. The question concerns Yahweh’s willingness to set aside the closed system and approach the world in another way. Abraham is the bearer of a new theological possibility….In these questions, Abraham urges God that he should act like God and not like a childish, score-keeping litigant … If God should act in such a calculating way, he diminishes and jeopardizes his own holiness’ (Brueggemann).

Abraham’s own experience as a believer probably played a role here. Some commentators are right when they say that some growth took place in his life. Contrary to his own cowardly efforts in Genesis 12 and 16, we see someone here that are so overwhelmed by God’s presence that he is willing to take his mission seriously and to act on behalf of the city in need. As habitual sceptics Abraham and Sarah always found that God did not withdraw his word and promises. Even if they laughed about God’s promises, he went on with his plan. Even though Abraham was very aware of his own brokenness (18:27), something already changed in him, namely his realisation that God is faithful. Therefore it will now be surprising if the Lord acted unfairly.

The corporate thinking of the Old Testament, by which an entire group of people experience misery because of the disobedience of one or two (see the events at Ai and Jericho with Achan – Joshua 7:22-25), is reversed here. Would it be possible that the righteousness of a few could cover the unrighteousness of of many? God said yes.

Not the number, but the principle is important to understand (Brueggemann). The Judge can be approached and takes part in the dialogue, ‘God is now more attentive to and more moved by those who obey than those who do not. Such an argument questions every caricature of God as the scorekeeper and guardian of morality who is ready to pounce and judge and punish. No, God is more ready to celebrate, acknowledge, and credit for all the right-relatedness of a few’ (Brueggemann). The Lord’s public ‘conversation’ with Abraham on this matter is very clear indication that we should think differently about God (Burger). Also, by indicating that the Lord wants to see for himself if the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is really as bad, the author wants us to see not only God’s absolute fairness, but also His openness and generosity. From the passage it is clear that God’s decision on Sodom and Gomorrah was not ‘final, irrevocable and irreversible’, remarks Burger.

The intercession of Abraham should be understood within the context of God’s faithfulness. Jagersma says, like many other commentators and sermons, that one of the most important aspects of the passage is the willingness to intercede. What it comes down to, Jagersma says, is the presence of a community of people in which the righteousness of the Lord is visible. The community is present and indeed visible where people are aware of their serving role in the world around them. Where this is seen and done, the true church of Christ is visible in the world. God’s affection for the needy world is clear. It was as if the Lord himself wants to see how broken the world is. He does this by virtue of the obedience of the only obedient one, Jesus Christ.

Sermon proposal

  1. Years ago, one of the student ministers in Stellenbosch read this passage about Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah on a day of prayer for students. After he read it, he made it very clear that the relationship between Sodom and Gomorrah and students is merely coincidental. Similarly, today we may feel a little uncomfortable to read this passage on a Sunday when we think about prayer for one another in the faith community.

Why does one feel uncomfortable? It is as if one immediately wants to pick up on the idea that prayer, need and sin have something to do with each other. It has. It all depends on how you see the connection.

  • For example, one might think that it is people’s own fault that they are suffering. In 1997, a fifth of the world’s population in the high-income group produced 86% of the world’s products. Only one percent was produced by the bottom fifth of the world population. Judging by living standards, the ratio between the richest and poorest countries of the world population in 1820 was three to one. In 1913 it was eleven to one. By 1973 it has risen to 72 to one. The gap is growing. In an article in Business Day on 15 July 1999, it is clearly said that the UN recognizes that the ‘problem of failing countries is not that they are small and weak, but that they are dysfunctional.’ You might say, ‘I told you! This is what I mean. They do not want to have a better life. They do not use their opportunities. They are wasting their money on the wrong things. Leaders buy aircrafts instead of building schools. Leaders make war in other countries, while unemployment in the country is surging.’ Their ‘sin’ is that they are not good stewards.
  • One can of course also ascribe the need in Southern Africa to a previous political dispensation that deprived people of wonderful privileges and subsequently pushed them to the edge of the labour force and has prevented economic progress. People could not attend good schools and could not live in certain neighbourhoods. Former President Thabo Mbeki reminded us that apartheid caused poverty and that it can is related to the problem of AIDS. The sin of apartheid plunged people into distress.
  • One can also say: Do you see the results of immorality? God punishes it. Maybe those who live sexually immoral lives should realise now that about four million people in South Africa are HIV-positive, that God is punishing this lifestyle. Perhaps the more than 6,000 funerals taking place in Africa per day due to AIDS should make us realize that God does not tolerate the sin of sexual immorality. Perhaps the ‘sinners’ should start listening now that climate change really makes a difference to our crops and weather patterns. If the ecological damage people cause will cause us to lose our world, it will be too late. Yes, homosexuals, adulterers, Aids, thieves, murderers, and other ‘sinners’ must understand that God is a consuming fire. You get what you deserve! It is right! Just look at what happened to Sodom. The mess we often find ourselves in can be attributed to nothing but than the sin of human beings.
  1. Each argument probably has some part of truth in it. Yet, is this how we should read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Is this story in the first place about the burning wrath of God on people who deserve punishment? Is it that Sodom and Gomorrah have plunged themselves into the mess and should bear the consequences? Can we infer from the story that people left the straight and the narrow and that we simply have to accept that God’s judgment is inevitable?

No. The story surprises us with a different perspective. This perspective has to do with the need in the world. We can even say that everything has to do with the relationship between the needs of the world and sin.

  1. What is this perspective? In 18:22 we read, ‘but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.’ In earlier versions of the Hebrew texts it is the other way around: ‘The Lord remained standing before Abraham.’ The Masoretes could not accept this and changed the Hebrew text so that it would read: Abraham stood before the Lord.

Why does the Lord stand before Abraham? The Lord has already decided to raise a nation through Abraham. The Lord says in 18:18,19, ‘Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.’ This is why God could not be silent about what he was going to do with Sodom and Gomorrah (17). Abraham, these people are nothing but terrible sinners. Abraham, I want to see if it really is true (21). It is. Now I stand here with you.

  1. What is happening here? Someone wrote that we are dealing with one of the most intimate moments between God and a man. The story of Abraham and God … God and Abraham shows us that God is different from what we think. He is accessible, open. We believe that God does not take eternal and immutable decisions that we cannot challenge. Here our rigorous thinking about God is challenged. The Lord stands with Abraham to hear what he has to say about the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Dutch theologian Jagersma says that the Lord stands here as judge before Abraham. His attitude implies an invitation to Abraham to speak up. Indeed, the world in which he now lives – Sodom and environment – is threatened by total ruin and destruction and the called one – the church – cannot and must not silently watch on and do nothing. And the Lord himself challenges Abraham in this way and with this attitude to stand up for this endangered world. It is as if God look at Abraham for a moment in hope if he has nothing to say about the great destruction that awaits Sodom.

You see, God is not keeping score. He is not as relentless as we are. He cannot just be like us who simply ascribe the problems in the world to sin and therefore give the world up as a lost case. He is standing with us to see if we are going to say something about it.

  1. Abraham has something to say. He stood up for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. His does not want only the righteous to be spared. He requested that the city should be spared! Six times Lord concedes to his requests that the city should be spared by a number of righteous people (23-32). Although God is the judge Abraham’s experience of God’s grace is different. He does not judge us according to what we deserve. This is how he experienced God in all his days of despair and stubbornness.
  2. Why should Abraham intercede for the people in need? Because He is God’s called one. He shared in God’s promises. You see, when God has blessed you by guaranteeing your future with his word, when God gives you the glorious prospect that your future is secure, the risk is there to withdraw yourself into the comfort of your own blessings. Abraham could sing along in the chorus of condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. But calling and blessing means that you are put in the service of God and others. We are chosen so that the love of God can be shared. No, Abraham had to discover more and more in his life that he is a channel through which God’s blessings must flow to others. Nowhere in the Bible we read of people who are called by God and chosen without a task to perform. When the Church takes seriously her vocation as bearer of God’s love and justice in the world, we cannot but serve the needs of others.

The beautiful story is told about Jörn, the intercessor. He was very poor and because of poor vision he was handicapped. He could not find a good job to provide for himself. Yet, he had everything he needed. Fellow Christians helped him. He experienced many trials and tribulations. Yet he was the spiritual adviser of the town. People came for advice and assistance to him from the whole community. Though he often could not help, many people left his home with a song in their heart because of the warm heart of love he had. In later years he was very poor. Two elderly Christians who looked after him said that they could not sleep many nights and them heard him praying for all the people in the town. Unlike us, who ask God to bless all humankind, Jörn mentioned each person by name – as if he was going from home to home in his mind. When he died, his funeral was the largest ever in the town. He had no family, but everyone came and grieved about this loss. Jörn was never able to be in places where he did visible things for the Lord, but he could pray. His prayer radiated a spiritual power that addressed the world in which he lived.

  1. The need of Sodom and Gomorrah calls us to reflect on our response to the need in the world. Moreover, it makes us think about God.

Who is God? Every time when people should be punished God is showing us his heart. This idea is in the Old and New Testament. The justice of God demands that action must be taken against sin, but driven by the faithfulness of God, the idea of ​​corporate sin is often driven into the background. When God had pain in his heart because of the terrible wickedness in the world and decided to destroy it, we see that he saved Noah (Genesis 6). When the people rebelled against God, Moses reminds God of his covenant with Abraham and it eased the wrath of God (Ex 32,33). When people complained because they are in exile because of the sins of their forefathers (Ezekiel 18), the prophet confirmed that the sin of parents would not be held against children. God restrained Himself because He did not want to be like men (Hosea 11:8,9). His love burns stronger than his anger. In Isaiah 53 we read that the servant of the Lord would bear the punishment of the people as substitute.

Sodom and Gomorrah’s need is not leaving God cold. As Christians we know of a time when God himself came down to what is the broken world. In the person of Jesus he came to share in the suffering of the world. The Lamb of God bears the sins of the whole world (John 1:29). Paul says, ‘For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’ (Rom 5: 17-19).

Even the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah are reconciled. He exchanged places with Sodom and Gomorrah, with the vulnerable of the world, with the sinners and tax collectors, with AIDS sufferers and the broken creation, with the poor and the sick.

But the plight of Sodom and Gomorrah also confronts us to be critical of our own relationship with a world in need. The question is not why there is need and how it came about, or whose fault it is. The question is not whether God is punishing or not. Because He is open to persuasion, we can talk with him and negotiate. You see, God wants to be convinced not to destroy the world. God is waiting on his church to act on behalf of the world. He stands before us when the need in the world seems inevitable and challenges us to take up our call and to pray for them. We have to pray for the restoration of God’s broken world. The words of Luther in his Table Talks are poignant, ‘Like a shoemaker is making shoes and a tailor clothes, so a Christian should pray. It is his job. Prayer keeps the world alive. Without prayer the world would be very different. We need not be afraid to address Him, because he hears our prayer for Christ’s sake. I know this from experience, because my prayers are always heard and sometimes I get more than I asked – though God sometimes makes me wait for a long time.’

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah therefore shows a different relationship between the needs of the world and our sins. It addresses the sin of heartlessness and apathy. Rollo May remarked that the opposite of love is not hate. It is apathy. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah highlights our sin of heartlessness and apathy, the sin of not caring for the world. The deepest form of hate is when the sin and need of this world do not touch my heart anymore. It is when we know the needs and do nothing about it. It is when we give up on the world, because we believe that it is a lost case. Maybe the world is in the state it is, because we do not care for the world. When we do not intercede for the world, hate reaches its climax.

But prayer can also be a way of escaping from the world when we have a wrong perception of prayer. With the revival of 1860 there were people on the farm to be Doorns near Worcester that were so taken up by their spiritual salvation that they stopped working on the farm for 3 months to first seek the salvation of their souls. Prayer is action, not passivity. The following story illustrates this attitude of the church:

‘It was a cold winter’s day that Sunday. The parking lot to the church was filling up quickly. I noticed, as I got out of my car, that fellow church members were whispering among themselves as they walked to the Church.   As I got closer, I saw a man leaned up against the wall outside the church. He was almost lying down as if he was asleep. He had on a long trench coat that was almost in shreds and a hat topped his head pulled down so you could not see his face. He wore shoes that looked 30 years old and too small for his feet. They had holes all over them and his toes stuck out. I assumed this man was homeless and asleep. So I walked on by through the doors of the church. During the few minutes we stood around fellowshipping, someone brought up the subject of the man laying outside. People snickered and gossiped but no one bothered to ask him to come in, including me. A few moments later church began. We all waited for the preacher to take his place and to give the Word.

Then the door opened. In came the homeless man walking down the aisle with his head down. People gasped and whispered and made faces. He made his way down the aisle and up onto the pulpit. He took off his hat and coat. My heart sank. There stood our preacher. He was the homeless man. No one said a word. The preacher took his bible and laid it on the stand and began, “Folks, I don’t think I have to tell you what I am preaching about today.” Then he started singing the words to this song, ‘If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody that he’s traveling wrong, then my living shall not be in vain.’’

No, we cannot pray for the needs of the world, but do nothing about it. My prayer makes me part of the solutions. Through prayer I say, Lord, here I am! Use me! Someone writes that someone cannot ask for forgiveness while he/she is hungry. Likewise it does not help that we give someone a Bible or tract while he is hungry. It does not help to have a spiritual conversation if we do not give someone clothes and shoes and security and recognition. It is absurd to call someone to confession when he or she is thirsty and homeless. When we pray for the needs of the world we promote programmes that give food, clothing, safety, peace, love, recognition, clean air and water, health and satisfaction, labour and fulfilment for all people.

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that for God there is no life that life is not worth it. For God is life itself is very valuable. When the infertility of Abraham and Sarah apparently has the last word, God announces a new beginning coming from him alone. When the destruction of the world seems inevitable, it is God’s faithfulness that led him to his willingness to revoke his punishment. He does this by virtue of the obedience of the only obedient one, Jesus Christ. Let us therefore intercede for the world’s needs. We cannot let it go on and wash our hands like Pilate. We can do something.

I once saw a video about world missions. The assignment to go to all nations was too overwhelming for him. And then the man discovers something. He can only do his bit. It may happen that the needs of the world can make you feel helpless and that your contribution is so small that it makes no difference. That is not right. We can make a difference to the needs around us. We can pray for the world and become part of the solutions around us.

Some sources

G Ch Aalders: Genesis Vol II. Michigan. Zondervan, 1981. Walter Brueggemann: Genesis. Atalanta. John Knox Press. 1982. C W Burger: Genesis 18:16-33, in Riglyne vir prediking oor die Genesisverhale. Woord teen die Lig II/3 (CW Burger, BA Müller, DJ Smit – reds). Kaapstad. NG Kerk-Uitgewers, 172-82. Coenie Burger: Storie vir ons tyd. Die hoopvolle verhaal van Abraham en Sara oorvertel vir ’n oorgangstyd. Kaapstad. Lux Verbi. 1994. H Jagersma: Abraham. Kampen. JH Kok, 1977. Derek Kidner. Genesis. Leicester. IVP, 1967. Walter Lüthi. Abraham. Basel. Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag, 1967. G Von Rad: Genesis. London. SCM Press, 1972.

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