On Sunday 03 July 2022, Apostle Bradley Bourne conducted the central AVT divine service at Retreat East congregation. The divine service was conducted in English and interpreted in South African Sign Language (SASL) at the altar by Beryl Botha.
The Apostle was accompanied by Shepherd Deon Louw, a music ensemble and the NACTV crew. This divine service was made available on NACTV, Cape Town TV on DSTV channel 263. For members who were unable to watch the divine service, please find a detailed summary of the sermon:
Opening Hymn: I know of a city (EH: 287)
Bible word: ‘In that day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in. You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”’ (Isaiah 26:1-3)
My dear brothers and sisters, today is a feast of love, a special day of fellowship which the Lord will allow us to enjoy. And we are so thankful that with occasions such as this morning, the divine service for the departed, it is a day of great joy. It’s a day where we realize how wide the mercy of the Lord is, how much He loves mankind. That it doesn't matter if we find ourselves in the beyond or amongst us here as the living. Access into the church of Christ has not been limited or prohibited. And that access into the church of Christ is through the sacraments which Jesus has placed there for us, Holy Baptism, Holy Sealing and Holy Communion. And that we are to follow Him faithfully. The choir sings this morning, not the half have I been told. Absolutely. I spent a few moments in the vestry this morning, trying to explain because I myself don't understand all the dimensions the Lord sees when He looks at us as human beings. We only know just a little bit. But it's enough for us this morning just to appreciate without understanding all the detail how much He loves mankind. Everything is in place to enable this love that He has for us. It's not just to say the Lord loves us. He loves us and has put everything in place, whether we are here or whether we are in the beyond. Everything is in place to have access to His help, to His love, to His grace. So, it's a day of love, and when we think about those in the beyond, how they left this world and the different circumstances they may have found themselves in when they lived on this world. Maybe they never had access to what they now may have access to, God's love and salvation. Maybe that was a result of where they were born in the world. Maybe it was a result of their family tree. Maybe it was a result of the situation, the conditions they found themselves in, their ideologies, and what they believed. They didn't know about what we know about. But the Lord doesn’t stop there. The Lord doesn't say to them, I'm sorry, I can't help you. Jesus died for everybody. And when I prepared the word, I thought about so much of what was written in Acts 10:34 when Peter said this very wide statement, showing us how much the Lord loves us. In Acts 10:34 it says, ‘Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.”’ Nobody is bad enough. Nobody's good enough. We all come to God. He loves us all. He has no partiality. He doesn't love somebody more than the other one. It's just the same. And it's just so much.
I've read unto you a word this morning where the Lord will show us that in whatever condition they left this world, His love is greater than that condition. He is able to change even what they experienced on this earth so that they too can get to know Him. That they too can have fellowship with Him in such moments, just like we do. Therefore, His love is greater than their previous limitations. It reminds me of the Samaritan woman at the well. She didn't know about Jesus. Jesus took great time to explain that to her. And her reaction to the villagers was come and see. Come and experience what I've experienced. I didn't know that. I know you don't know that too. Come and experience it. This morning, I read a Bible word to you which is a bit long and will require some explanation. It's a song that the prophet Isaiah was singing to the people what you see. And it says here, “We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation…” Okay, this is a word we don't often come across. ‘Bulwarks’ is a defensive wall. God will, in this strong city, the walls around the city, if you can picture that to be salvation, salvation is equal to the walls that surround the city. And He will open the gates of the city so that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in: the city of salvation. And in the city, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because He trusts in You.” Isn't that just a beautiful picture of the service for the departed?
What is the city that the Lord wants us to understand? The city is an image of the church of Christ. All the believers of Christ, all those who follow Christ, they abide in the city. It's a spiritual place where God comes into the city to offer mankind salvation, to offer mankind what He wants to give mankind – redemption. To offer mankind the opportunity to save them. To forgive them. To experience His mercy and love. That's when He comes and interacts with this city. And it is a spiritual place, and it is surrounded by the walls of salvation. And when we talk about the city, we must understand who's inside the city. The inhabitants inside the city are those who are baptized with water. They are followers of Christ. They believe in Jesus Christ, and they follow Him. And access into the city that the Lord speaks about is through two vehicles, the sacraments and their faith. And there already, the inhabitants of the city have displayed that characteristic. They have been baptized with water. That's one sacrament that allows them access into the city. They are followers of Jesus Christ and that shows us they have faith. Sacraments and faith.
There are also some other people in the city, a special group. This other people in the city have been baptized with water and the Spirit. They also form part of the city. They also follow Christ. And this is a special group. And this group is preparing them for the return of Christ. To have access to the eternal fellowship with Jesus Christ in the new heavenly Jerusalem. We need to understand that there is something happening in the city, because today it says here open the gates. There is a celebration happening. The dead, those who do not know Jesus Christ, the gates are being opened for them this morning so that they can have access to the sacraments. There will be those who are dead that will be baptized with water this morning and received into the church of Christ. There are those who already have been baptized and are moving into the city and will receive the Holy Spirit this morning to be given the opportunity to be caught up when Jesus comes to fetch us. Again, access into the city is through sacraments. Some will receive Holy Baptism. Some will make the commitment to Christ: I want to follow You, I want to renounce evil, I want to serve You, I want to serve my neighbour, I believe in Your Son Jesus Christ and His Church. I want to follow Him. Sacraments and faith: some will experience that this morning. Others will receive the Holy Spirit. And you know, this special group that will receive the Holy Spirit this morning, they are not special by their own doing. The Lord has called them. And they are not special because the Lord has excluded others. One must understand the election is a process. The Lord didn't choose them and not others. The Lord is busy choosing all the time. It's not at the exclusion of others. This group that will receive the Holy Spirit this morning, they are no better. They look just like you and me. But they will receive the Holy Spirit this morning and they will form part of the city. Open the gates so that these servers, these followers, these souls will receive the sacrament.
Who is allowed access into the city beyond what we have just heard? Those who are righteous. Those who do the will of the Father. Those who want to please Him. And those who follow Jesus Christ. So, we have a picture of what the city is. We have a picture of the inhabitants of the existing city. We have a picture of what's happening. There's a celebration. We have a picture of who's coming into the city and why they are coming in. When those who are baptized, that's one of the requirements to belong to the church of Christ, when they enter and understand that they need to be baptized, they will not only enter there, but they will also live in the city. That's very important. The city has no day visitors. They will enter into the city and will live there. And then there are those who will receive the Holy Spirit. Why will there be others who will receive the Holy Spirit? There are those who have understood Jesus’ statement that He made, unless you are born of water and the Holy Spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who have the Holy Spirit have the beautiful opportunity to enter the kingdom of heaven. They prepare themselves intensely for the return of Jesus Christ. And to do that, those who desire after the Holy Spirit, they desire to be led by the Apostles of Christ. Jesus gave the Apostles the great commission to proclaim the gospel, and to proclaim the message of the cross, and to explain to His people exactly how He wants us to understand it. So, there's a lot of activity in the city this morning. And there must be a lot of joy as a response that we have when we look, and we marvel just the half as the choir sang. Knowing just a little bit, how much rejoicing does that bring? How does it make us feel? God also loves them. He didn't forget about them. He doesn't see any difference between them and us. Jesus Christ died for all. God has no partiality.
And then, we praise God for granting salvation also to the dead. We praise Him and we are thankful that the election process hasn't stopped. It continues. He is busy all the time with the work of salvation. With election. He is busy all the time. We don't want to behave like perhaps the labourers in the vineyard. That's a story Jesus taught where some started to work a little earlier. Some only came later in the afternoon. And some came towards the end of day. But the master gave them all the same rewards. Those who worked longer complained because they were in the sun longer and they worked for many more hours than those that only came in on the eleventh hour. They were not happy about that. We don't want to behave like that. When we see the new inhabitants that come in to join the city, we don't want to have a superiority complex. We don't want to say but this city is not for them. We are here so long. We are so faithful for so many years. Look at them now. No, we don't want to do that. We want to be humble and rejoice with them, for them.
We also don't want to behave like the Prodigal Son’s brother. Do you remember that story? The Prodigal Son came home, and the father met him. And the father was so happy that he had come back. He had spent all the money that he had received. There was just nothing left anymore. And he decided to come home. And he was feeling so bad about what he did. And then the father arranged a feast for him. And then the brother of this son was on his way home and asked the servants what's happening there? What is the music and what celebration is happening in the city? What's going on there. And the servant said you must be happy; your brother is back. And it's quite significant what the father said because he told his father, you create such a celebration for him. I was here all the time. You did nothing special for me. And the father said, but I was here for you every day. And here it says, and it's quite significant the words that the father said because the brother started to disconnect himself from his brother. He said to the father, your son that is back. Not my brother. And then the father had to pull him back. The father had to say your brother is back. In fact, he used very special words. It was right, and I say special in the context of the divine service. When the dead will receive sacraments. The dead will form part of the city. The dead will form part of this image of the church of Christ. What did the father say? “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother…” Not the one you just allocated and disconnected to me. And let us not forget, those who are dead in Christ are also our brothers and sisters. Jesus loves them the same. That is our neighbour. What does it say? “…your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” When they come into the city, they are now alive in Christ, your brother that was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found. That is just so great. So, the Lord has welcomed them into the church of Christ. Our reaction is one of joy and one of thankfulness. We don't want to act like the Prodigal Son’s brother. We don't want to act like the workers in the vineyard that started early in the day. We are so happy for them. We are so happy that the Lord has allowed this. Many will come. Many will come to know for the first time that their sins can be forgiven. They didn’t know that. Many will come to understand why their sins can be forgiven. The beautiful Son of God that was behind that divine transaction. I gave My life for you. It can be forgiven. Please believe it. I've paid for your sins. I've done so because I want to be near you to show you how much I love you.
There's also an aspect here which our Chief Apostle wants to point out which says, we are safe in the strong city. Remember, at the beginning of the divine service, the walls of the city or salvation. We are safe in the strong city. God Himself dwells there and comes to visit human beings to tell us about salvation there. Those who have died in Christ, and who have followed Christ and remain faithful, even as we speak, they have peace. They have security in the city. But we who are alive also form part of the city. We are being attacked all the time by adversary. And we need to prove ourselves and beat sin, because while we are alive, we have this mission of overcoming sin. So, we get attacked. And our Chief Apostle points us to a beautiful story which I would ask you to please read in Second Kings chapter 18 Second Kings 19 about the King Hezekiah who also had these attacks on the city of Jerusalem that he was guarding. The Assyrians were after the King Hezekiah and his people. But they could not come in. But the Syrians did not give up. They were relentless. God didn't allow them to come in. It says here the prophet Isaiah who prayed at the request of King Hezekiah, can you please pray to the Lord that that they don’t come into the city. And what did Isaiah prophesy? He said God says the following: “He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor build a siege mound against it. For I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.” Now there is something beautiful there also. David is in the lineage of Jesus Christ. The Lord will protect it and He will personally be involved. And do you know what happened in the end? The Syrians tried to attack, and the Lord destroyed the army. The Lord Himself defended the city. That's what's going to happen to us. We must remain in the city, the place where God comes to meet us, to come to speak to us, to tell us how much He loves us whether we are living or whether we have died. We will remain faithful to Him. He is the Master. He is the Saviour. He is the One that shows us this morning how much He loves us. Amen.
Thoughts from Apostle Bradley Bourne