Rev. Phyllis H. Wolfram (1921-1985)
Pillar of Fire Church
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Gn 1:1-3)The thing that amazes me every time I read this is that God has light upon the face of the earth on the very first day, and the fountain of light or the holders for the light were not created until the fourth day. The sun and the moon and the stars were not created until the fourth day. So some say, "Well, perhaps God created fire and lightning, and calories and energy, and made it possible to rub two sticks together and have this kind of agency that would bring forth fire at that time.'' Well, I don't know exactly what it was, but I know there was light, for the Bible says so.
Turning to the book of St. John, which we've been studying in one of our seminary classes: he begins almost like the book of Genesis.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Jn 1:1)And, of course, down to the fourteenth verse,
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (Jn 1:14a)So going back to Genesis, it's a thrilling, thrilling thing to realize that the Holy Trinity was there on the days of creation, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit -- the Holy Spirit. And then John, explaining who Jesus was, came. Jesus was God in the flesh. And then John talks about Jesus as the true light.
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (Jn 1:9-10)So He is the true light. We realize in Genesis that to see God's creation and see that it was good, we would need light. We would need to be able to see it. This wonderful light that Jesus is, is the light that lights our hearts, and indeed is the light that shows up the sin that is in the heart.
I'm looking back in the book of St. Luke, the fifteenth chapter. (Lk 15:11-32) Look at this very famous parable of the Lost Son, as it is called in my Bible -- The Prodigal Son. This young man seemed very brazen at first. He went and demanded from his father his portion of goods, and he wanted it right now, didn't want to wait until it was time for him to receive him inheritance. The scripture says he
gathered all together and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. (Lk 15:13b)He didn't realize, perhaps, whom he was offending, that it would hurt his father so much, or that he was doing himself such harm. Then after he spent all, and he had friends around him, the Bible says that a famine came on the Land, and he began to be in want.
He went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. (Lk 15:15-16)Now we often forget this part. We say, "Well, he ate what the swine ate.'' Read the Bible carefully. He really had nothing! And this is what the world has to offer, just nothing when it looks really great to young people and to older people. They can turn their backs on the Lord! and say, ``I want it all now, and I'm going to live it up now! I'm going to have [what they call] a 'good life'. Let's have the good life.'' It's the money, and it's the happy friends, and the happy hour and the whole thing. It turns sour.
This young man had nothing, and he was hungry. When he came to himself, thank the Lord that he did come to himself, he began to remember his father's house. I believe if we can go back in this parable and take a little further lesson from it, that every young person who is brought up in the fear of the Lord, if he goes away and he strays away, there may be one day, if he has been taught right and brought up in the house of the Lord under the heavenly Father, if he goes away, I believe the Holy Spirit can remind him of his father's house, and of the ways of the Lord.
This is why I felt it was so important when I said to somebody today, "Bring the little children to church and Sunday School. Let them come into church and learn that when the church doors are open they should be there. They should be sitting in the pews with everybody else, and listening to the word of God.'' Let the little children learn it's a good thing to come into the house of the Lord, for the Holy Spirit can speak to their hearts, and can appeal to their hearts and lives, and can remind them later.
This man did come to himself. He remembered. He says,
How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father. (Lk 15:17b-18a)Now I was wondering if he would feel like this young lady, ``I am so ashamed,'' when he came back. Let us see what he said,
I will say, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. (Lk 18b-19)I believe he is ashamed. He is not going to go in and say, "Here I am, Father. Everything you have I deserve.'' But he's saying, ``I have sinned before heaven and before thee. I'm not worthy to be called thy son.''
He arose, and he came to his father. (Lk 15:20a)What kind of a heavenly father do we have for the sinner? Did Jesus come to condemn the sinner, and call out to him, "You ought to be ashamed how you've crucified me afresh''? or "you ought to be ashamed of what you've to the cross of Christ''? The scripture says He came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
So the Bible says:
he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. (Lk 15:20)Where was his father? He was watching down the lane for this lost son. There was no kind of reproof at all. He threw his arms around him and he kissed him and he welcomed him. But that isn't enough for the son. He can not forget what a sinner he has been. He says,
`I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.'The ring, I believe, is symbolic of belonging to that family. It probably had the insignia on it, that he could imprint in the wax on a letter. It would have his father's initial on it. He belonged now, and he was home.
The Lord took back, and there was no kind of mention, "You are a sinner. You don't really belong here. And that's right, you go and sleep with the hired help. Ask them if they have some overalls you can put on.'' and all of that. The Lord Jesus loves us, and He's waiting with open arms for the sinner. He paid such a price that He wants us to treat each other and love each other the way He loves us. He's given us the power to do that.
as he journeyed he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined around about him a light from heaven. (Ac 9:3)Where was he going and where had he been? The scripture tells about what a terrible man St. Paul was:
...breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, [he] went unto the high priest and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if found any of them on his way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. (Ac 9:1-2)What kind of a person is this, anyway? By his own testimony, he says he was the worst of sinners. He will tell you that in his writings. Don't compare yourself. He won't allow it.
And as he journeyed, . . . suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven. And he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?' (Ac 9:3-4)Here is the dangerous thing, to go around in any way and say, ``I have a right to do that unkind thing to that person. That person deserves it.'' Or ``I am better than that person so I must do this of that to that person.'' The scripture is full of verses that tell us how we should be treating one another. Well, Saul thought -- these are bad people. They're not pleasing God, and I'll do this horrible thing to them, and that will please God-- never realizing that it was Jesus Christ himself that he was persecuting. The Lord said, "Why do you persecute me?'' And right away,
he said, 'Who art thou, Lord?' And the Lord said, ``I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.' (Ac 9:5a)The sixth verse says,
he trembling and astonished said, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' (Ac 9:6a)Now we excuse St. Paul in a way. I've heard it lots of times because he thought he was doing the Lord's will. And the Lord gave him a great revelation of himself. But I wonder what kind of revelation the Lord will give us if we presume not to walk in the light and not do his will and not treat one another as we should. I've been thinking along these lines, in the book of Hebrews. Thinking about how St. Paul wrote later about Jesus. "He's greater that the prophets! He's greater than the angels. He's greater that anyone who ever lived. He's our high priest, and he's our mediator, and he's our Savior." Then St. Paul says,
Having an high priest over the house of God, such a high priest, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (He 10:21-22)He says if you realize finally what Jesus is and who He is, be sure to get every thing He has for you. Have your heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and your body washed with pure water. This is available to all of us. Then what do we do? St. Paul says,
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for he is faithful that promised. (He 10:23)Have you ever known anyone who doubted all the time? Have you ever prayed with anybody? I have two of three times prayed with somebody whose always doubting. "Yes, Jesus is all that you say He is. He's made all of these promises, but I wonder if He really means it for me.'' St. Paul says we are to hold on to our profession. If you know you're not sinning willfully, hold on to that profession and witness to it, and let others have the benefit. If Satan is giving you a hard time and causing you to doubt, go back to the words of St. Paul, and hold on.
Now let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works. (He 10:24)Consider one another. I believe I'll tell this one little thing. It might help us to make comparisons. In our hearts are we having the right attitude? Somebody told a story about someone who's supposed to be a Christian. They said this person did this thing, and there were witnesses. There were several witnesses at the occasion. I said, "How could this person do that thing? This person is a Christian! I know this person is a Christian. How could this person do that thing?'' So what is the right thing for me to do? Tell my neighbor, of course, and have everybody talking about it. No I went and I inquired, "How did this happen?'' I found out yes, something did happen, and there were those people there. But this person did not mean to do that; it was a mistake. I can't tell you what it was. This person apologized, and said, "I'm sorry. Forgive me. I didn't mean that that way.'' And this was not forgiven. This person is talked about, and continues to be talked about. The word is, "How can that person be a Christian? That person did that thing.'' What came upon me this past week is at the very judgment, that person isn't going to have to take that accusation. Jesus will. And Jesus will say, "When you said that about him, you said it about me.'' (cf Mt 25:45)
If I don't bring another point at this moment let's consider that as we treat our fellow workers in Christ and our neighbor, and those that we associate with. The word of God says that we are to provoke love and good works, and consider one another. Does refusing to accept an apology provoke love? Is it considerate of somebody, to refuse an apology and presume to read a person's heart and soul, and say they didn't mean it anyway, so I won't accept it? I believe on the day of judgment that all like this Jesus will take on Himself. He'll say, "You didn't do that to that person; you did it to me,'' just as He said to St. Paul. "You didn't crucify, you didn't kill those Christians. You did to Me, and I took the hurt.''
St. Paul says, "Let us consider one another.'' He makes no exception here. He doesn't say, "not the ones that aren't as lovable as the others, of course.'' or "Those that make more mistakes, let's not consider them because that will be too hard.'' It's a statement here: "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.''
The next one all of you will enjoy because you're walking in the light, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another,'' -- that means encouraging one another -- ``and so much the more as you see the day approaching.'' (He 10:25)
Again, I believe there are some folks who feel that whether we come together to worship or not is our own business. If we don't feel like it, or we have something else to do, or the aspen aren't going to be nice very much longer and the Lord will be here next Sunday. He'll be here if we come back. It's our own business. Yet I believe when we get to the judgment, He has spoken all through the Bible, Old Testament and New -- here it's saying it in the New Testament -- that we should assemble together. I believe we're going to hear at the judgment, "You did that against me.'' It wasn't that you did not like the particular preacher that time. It wasn't that the weather was too hot, or the weather was too cold, or the mountains were pretty, or the relatives came in, or whatever it is. I believe Jesus will say, "You did that to me. You didn't love me enough to come and worship, and give some time.'' It's here in the scripture.
For if we sin willfully after that we receive the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment. (He 10:26-27a)This is perhaps strong medicine, and yet I believe it's encouraging that the Lord watches, and He cares, and He loves us, and He wants our attention, and He wants our worship.
I'd like to close with one little scripture from Matthew 25. This is talking about Christians. In fact, the word "righteous'' is used here.
Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say onto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Mt 25:37-40)