Life, Death, Heaven, Hell (1)

Life, a gift from God


Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 139:1-24
  • Matthew 25:14-30


Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Today is the first in four sermons, a series under the heading Life, Death, Heaven, Hell.  We can, of course, not cover everything about these major topics in the Bible, but my intention is to focus on where we come from, why we are here, when and how does it all end, and what awaits after this life.  Rather trying to exhaust the topics, we will take a flight through the Scriptures to see how it is that we ended up on earth, what difference it makes knowing it, how to prepare for the end, and then know what lies behind our days on earth.

Studying Psalm 139 we get away with one overwhelming theme:  God knows us.  He knows our plans, our thoughts, our ways.  He is before us and behind us.  He guides our earthly path from the beginning to the last.  We cannot escape Him, because He created the world we live in:  the heavens are not too high from Him and the depths of hell are not hidden from Him.  No darkness can separate us from Him, because darkness is as light to God. This is good for the child of God:  He is with us, his hand guides us and hold us fast.

But why is all of this true?  The answer is simple – He made us.  Fearfully and wonderfully.  David confesses something in this Psalm that overwhelms us:  God was not only there when He made Adam and Eve, forming them out of dust for his glory, but He is still at work at the formation of every human being in the womb of the mother.  “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13).  Every bone, every ligament, muscle, nerve, sinew and blood vessel is the creation of the Creator God.

The Psalmist then declares that every day on earth is a gift from God.  He will not give one day without purpose, and will not add another day which was not planned from all eternity.

All of this led David then to worship God and praise Him for greatness and majesty.  But it also led him to see himself in the light of this wonderful God who made him and desires a relationship with him:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24, NIV)

Living in relationship with the One who made you, direct your ways and gives you each day to live to his glory, calls for sanctification.

Created by God

If we go back to the beginning of the Bible, to Genesis 1, we understand that spontaneous creation is not possible.  Another name for this is of course evolution.  Nowhere in the Scripture is there any hint that man evolved out of some lower kind of life into what we now might see as the final development.  What is clear from the Scriptures is that God indeed made all creatures according to its kind over the span of just a few days – and all He made was good.  But as the crown of it all, God made man.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26, NIV)

David in Psalm 8 declares:

what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour. (Psalm 8:4–5, NIV)

Yes, man is created in the image of God, in the likeness of God,  crowned with glory and honour – just a little lower than angels.  Man is not the result of millions of years of development out of slime; rather he is the result of a direct act of creation of God.  Into his nostrils God breathed the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) so that he became a living being.  The wild animals and other creatures did not get this breath of life as man got; this distinguishes man and animal from one another.  Although man had the right over animals and could kill them for sacrifices, as Abel did (Genesis 4:4), killing an animal did not demand a life; but for taking the life of a fellow human being, God demanded that the murder’s life be taken.  God said in Genesis 9:6

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind. (Genesis 9:6, NIV)

That’s the reason:  mans is made in the image of God; killing a human being is to despise the work of God, robbing a human being of the highest gift he received from God, and an attempt to disrupt God’s plans and purposes for his creation.  It is barbaric to murder, not barbaric to punish murder  in the light of Gods’ Word.

Blessed by God

The Bible says that God, after creating our first parents Adam and Eve, He blessed them.  The act of blessing was peculiar to Adam and Eve – it is not said about the rest of creation.  After the Flood, for Noah and his family to repopulate the earth under God He gave them his blessing too.  This blessing is God’s way to assure mankind the He is with them, that He established a relationship with them in the form of a covenant, in which He gives them his word that they did not need to do what He intended for them to do on their own.  Therefore David can sing:

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:5, NIV)

This is also the meaning of the blessing God gave to Abraham:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2–3, NIV)

It is always God who goes ahead, God who prepares the way, He would curse those ho curse.  He builds a wall around those whom He blesses.

That was his intention from the beginning – it was only mankind, in Adam and Eve, who turn away fro this blessing and brought upon themselves the very curses of those who are not blessed by God.

Under-creator under God

When God created the heavens and the earth, He made everything wonderfully.  We are still trying to work out how God made what He made.  Everyday is a discovery and revelation of God’s works.  We will probably never get to understand everything, or know everything God made.

He made everything for a main purpose:  for his glory.  He was not compelled to create, but He wanted to.  He delighted in creating.  By creating the universe He did not add to his glory or majesty, because He is not dependent of praise and glory from what He created.  But one thing is sure:  He is God; the universe belongs to Him.  So when He created things, He did it so that what He created would not obstruct his eternal plan for his creation.  When He created man, it was not his intention for man to become independent, or for man to seek his own plan, glory and purpose.

Adam and Eve Psalm 8 learned this lesson:  when they stepped outside the plan and command of God, what He gave to them to a blessing to them became the very curse for them.

Now that we know this, we need to understand that God created man for a special purpose.  What is it?  Let’s put it this way.  When God created, He called into existence which had not been there before.  God created everything, but not everything was complete.  I know it might sound dangerous to say this, but it is true.  God made it possible for man to discover things which were not known then:  yes, He made electricity, but it too mankind a long time to work out that it exists and how to harness the power of it.

God created man, but he did not create all human beings when He created them.  In this sense, then,  Adam and Eve became under-creators under God.  God put them in charge of his creation to develop it, to cultivate it, yes, to increase in number, to multiply.  God made Adam and Eve fruitful to increase; He gave them the skill to control the birds of the air and the animals of the land and the sea.  Adam catalogued the animals (that’s it the verse means when it says Adam named them – Genesis 3:19-20).  He understood something of how the kinds of animals looked, but the development of different species and sub-species was something for the future.  Breeding and cross-breeding was still to be explored.  But nowhere is it stated that Adam’s could become a purpose for Adam.  Whatever he did, and whatever we do, still stands under the principle of being under-creators under God:  we are merely here to cultivate and develop what God made for Himself in the first instance.  What we have, what we control, what we own is not for ourselves, it if for Him to whom it belongs.

Pro-creators under God

For this reason we must see the relationship between husband and wife as something holy.  There is sanctity in marriage, because it is an institution made holy be God for the purpose of multiplying the human race – something God could have done if He wanted to, but he chose to include man in the process.

In his holiness, righteousness and perfect design, God ordained living creatures to multiply and bring forth offspring to fill the earth (Genesis1:22, 28).  He therefore created mankind and animals as male and female (Genesis 1:27)

God’s command to multiply and fill the earth came before the rebellion and fall of man.  Man’s fall was not the result of sex, but the result of his rebellion against God’s explicit command.

What amazes me is that God, in some sense, made man to be “under creator”;  Adam also had sons “in his likeness” (Genesis 5:3).  We understand from the Bible that the act of sex is therefore not exclusively and primarily for man’s enjoyment; it was God’s design to continue his creation of the human race on earth.

When the Bible refers to sexual immorality (and this phrase occurs a lot of times in the Bible!) it describes sex, but practiced not for the purpose for which God ordained it.  He designed it to be enjoyed within the confines of God ordained marriage between a man and a woman. It is only when we do not keep this in mind, that some want to redefine marriage, or see sex as something we may practice at will, with whom we will.  But decisions like these, as any other way we may try to make our sins look like good choices, always bear fruit – bad fruit ultimately.

Just imagine, God includes us in the creation of human beings, the crown of his creation.  What is born out of the union between husband and wife has the breath of God in it!

Just imagine then that our world shouts it out in rebellion against the Creator that it would use the ultimate tool given to us for his glory, for its own pleasure and will, trampling on marriage as something which has no purpose anymore, sleeping with as many bed-partners as they like, destroying by abortion the fruit of their lust and licentiousness in rebellion to its Maker, and still expect God to maintain his care over his creation.  Look to what happened in the time of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah. Are we any better?

Gifts under God

What distinguishes man from animal is also his ability to do more than just breathe.  Man received from his Maker gifts.  In Genesis four we discover how God gifted people:  some were gifted working with livestock – they were nomads; others got the gifts to make and play musical instruments – like Jubal (Genesis 4:21).  Then there were the miners and metal workers of the time: Tubal-Cain.  Their record in the Bible is there for us to see what happens if people employ God-given talents, not for his glory, but for their own glory.

Let’s be clear, we received talents to glorify God, and when we use it for his glory, it enriches our lives.  When the sculptor glorifies God by what he forms, many others sees it and is edified by it.  When the poet writes about the greatness of God, it invokes something greater in the heart of the reader.  When the composer discover the greatness of God in the structure of music, what he composes becomes bigger than him and survives time – and it becomes a blessing to those who listen and sings his music.  Never, ever, can anyone use his or her gifts to focus on the self or to boost his own image – that is idolatry.  We are mere stewards of our talents, our gifts, our time.

Accountability before God

Matthew 25:14-30:  God has the right to demand responsibility over what is essentially “his property” entrusted to us as stewards. He indeed does harvest where He has not sown and gathers where He has not scattered the seed.  That He left in our hands to do with the talents He gave us.  We are “under-creators” under Him.  What belongs to Him has indeed all the potential to grow into something to his glory.  Not using it for his glory and returning it to Him to whom it belongs, is an insult to his face.  If we just lived for ourselves, using what we received from Him, we are indeed like the man who brought back only what he received.  For that He was condemned.  What he had was taken from him.  He was not faithful; he could not be given a share in his Master’s happiness.

Christ, our righteousness

We stand condemned before God – yet, Christ is our righteousness.  He made good what we have wasted before God.  More of this in the rest of the series.

Next week

Man’s rebellion


Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on 1 June 2014

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