Ash Wednesday, Righteousness and Peace

2nd March 2022

Psalm 85, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

What does it mean that “righteousness and peace kiss each other” in Psalm 85:10?

When Psalm 85:10 states that “righteousness and peace kiss each other,” the psalmist is personifying two of God’s attributes and how they work together.

Psalm 85 was written by the sons of Korah (great leaders in choral and orchestral music in the tabernacle during King David’s time) and recalls God’s restoration of Israel.

Verses 1–3 demonstrate how God had restored Israel in the past and turned away His wrath.  Remembering God’s mercy in restoring Israel, the psalmist petitions the Lord to restore them yet again (Psalm 85:4).

Knowing of God’s mercy and unfailing love, the psalmist rhetorically asks if the Lord will remain angry forever (Psalm 85: 5–7).

Based on God’s faithful salvation, the psalmist is confident that He will not continue in His wrath.  God promises “peace to his people, his faithful servants,” but urges them to stay away from folly, for the Lord will save those who fear Him (Psalm 85: 8–9).

Fear of God may refer to fear itself, but more often it refers to a sense of awe, and submission to His supernatural divine deity.  This is what it means here.  Fearing God is good because it saves us from caving into our own sinful nature. That’s why hearing someone is God-fearing should actually make us trust that person more.  If they fear God, they are more likely to keep their word and treat others with kindness.

In fact, Romans 3, a classic chapter on sin, says that our chief sin is that we “have no fear of God at all” (Romans 3:18).  So how does fear of God, who is perfect love, take away fear?

The theologian, William D. Eisenhower puts it this way in his article ‘Fearing God” in Christianity Today:

Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary.  When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal ….

That got me thinking…. What happens if I use the word Russia in this paragraph….

Unfortunately, many of us presume that Russia is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than Russia …. When we assume that Russia is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, Russia’s threats are temporary.  When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to Russia’s equal ….

William D. Eisenhower goes on to say…

As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me.  He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free.  He casts me down, only to lift me up again.  He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.

And, of course, the ultimate example of fear and perfect love working together is Jesus Christ.  He warned us at every turn to fear God, not humanity, not Putin, and He confirmed this in everything about His life and death.  He spoke lovingly but frankly to all and didn’t mince words when people needed to face their sin and repent.  But He also demonstrated love beyond human understanding when He lived out His words, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

With love like that, what is left to fear but God?

So back to the Psalm, in verse 10 the psalmist turns to personification:

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10).  Other translations say that righteousness and peace “will embrace” (GNT) or “will unite” (CEV).

The idea is that the Lord’s attributes of righteousness and peace would harmonise to provide comfort to Israel.  The attributes of righteousness and peace are also linked in Isaiah 32:17:

“The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.”

A kiss was a common form of greeting in ancient times, and still is in many cultures.  The word picture painted in Psalm 85:10 is one of two friends greeting each other as if they had been separated for a long time.  Righteousness and peace have been estranged, but now they are friends again.

As long as Israel remained in a sinful, unrepentant state the righteousness of God was opposed to peace on earth, but now they are united the result is joy, a friendly embrace, and delightful harmony.

The personification in Psalm 85 is continued in verse 11:

“Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”

Here we see that faithfulness is described as springing up “from the earth,” and righteousness as looking down “from heaven.”  The mention of heaven and earth suggests that more is being unified than just the attributes of God.  Heaven and earth are uniting, resulting in peace and blessing for God’s people.

I think that this description is a foreshadow of the angels’ song in Luke 2:14:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Using the imagery of a harvest, the psalmist is then assured that God will answer Israel’s prayer for restoration:

“The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.

Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps” (Psalm 85:12–13).

Despite the wrongdoing done by the nation, God would extend grace to the Israelites.  Despite the wrong-doing of Russia invading Ukraine, God will extend His grace to the Russians.  He cannot do anything else! 

So this Psalm teaches an amazing truth: God’s grace is greater than our sin, in fact greater than any sin.  Through His righteousness, peace, faithfulness, and love coming together God would bring peace to Israel once again.

But note, righteousness comes before peace and from my study of Scripture wherever righteousness and peace are mentioned together righteousness always comes first.  So if we want peace in our life, and in God’s world, we need to be living in righteousness with God, where righteousness is acting in accord with God’s perfect divine and moral law.  When we do this, we experience freedom from guilt and sin.

The last thing I wish to say is this:  The ultimate fulfilment of love and faithfulness “meeting together” and of righteousness and peace “kissing” is found in Jesus Christ’s work to reconcile the world to God.  Spinning the Ukraine situation on its head God could be giving us all, during this season of Lent, an opportunity through Jesus to experience a fresh peace with God and forgiveness of sins (Romans 5:1).  You see God never wastes an opportunity for us to come closer to Him. 

Today God wants us to know in a new and deeper way that because of His love and mercy, we can have eternal life through His death and resurrection (Romans 10:9–11).  Just as God didn’t deal with Israel as they deserved in the Old Testament, so He has offered us His unmerited grace in spite of what we’ve done.

In Jesus, we are declared righteous, not because of who we are or what we’ve done, but because of who He is (Ephesians 2:8–9).  The “kiss” of righteousness and peace brings us peace with God.  Because of this we need not live in fear of what is going on at present, as worrying as it appears. 

You see as Christians we should know that due to our identity in Christ, based on the truth that we are beloved friends and children of our heavenly Father, we should be certain of our ultimate destination, heaven. 

In closing I would like to share this picture with you, from one of our parishioners last week.

Jesus is the Door

One day, in a quiet place, I was considering this teaching from John 10:7-10, 7Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  8All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’

As I was quietly considering possibilities of other ways and the consequences of being a “thief and a robber” a clear picture came into my mind: I was in my house, this represented the world, standing at the bottom of a staircase that led up into heaven, the next world; Jesus dressed in white was standing halfway down with arms outstretched towards me welcoming me up. I felt safe and knew He was the Way …

Come, all of you who are weary of what is going on around us in the world, look up, see Jesus is standing in front of you with arms outstretched, welcoming you into His glorious presence.

Footnote Of all the psalms in the Bible, eleven are attributed to the sons of Korah.  These beautiful psalms express a spirit of great gratitude and humility to an awesome, mighty God.  They express a longing for God and deep devotion.  These poetic songs include Psalms 42, 44—49, 84—85, and 87—88.  Psalm 42:1 contains the beautiful line, “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”  Psalm 84:1 states, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O God.”  Psalm 46:1–3 conveys the powerful message, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

A Commitment to Righteousness

From 3rd Sunday in Advent 12th December 2021

Charles Swindoll, an American evangelist and pastor tells this story: The wife of a policeman had a special gift she wanted to get for her husband.  She had a fear that it might be too expensive, but nothing was too good for her husband.  She loved him with all of her heart and wanted this to be special.

She found exactly what she wanted, but it was too expensive for her to buy outright.  She talked with the salesman and told him that her husband was a police officer.  After a bit they negotiated a payment deal that she could afford.  She gave him the first payment and he suggested that the store wrap it up and she could take it home. She was elated! She was so excited that she got her husband to open it that night, way before Christmas!  When he opened it, he was thrilled at her thoughtfulness and covered her with hugs and kisses.

A few days later her husband was working the night shift when he received a call on his police radio.  There was a robbery in progress at a local shop.  Rushing to the scene he arrived just as the suspect was speeding off.  He followed in hot pursuit, but suddenly the suspect stopped on the side of the road.  Seated behind the wheel the robber didn’t move.  The policeman cautiously approached the car.  Suddenly without any warning the driver’s door it flew open and the driver took out a hand gun and from about 3 feet fired at the policeman.

At seven o’clock the following morning, his wife, answered the door after a knock. A policeman stood in front of her and shared that during a robbery her husband had been shot.  Calmly the officer explained that her husband was badly bruised, but alive.

The wife was so happy that her Christmas present was given early.  If she had waited to December 25th her husband would have been dead.  Christmas had come early that year because the policeman had with him the gift of life his wife could not wait to give: his brand-new bulletproof vest.

Swindoll commented, “And that’s why Christ came, to give us a vest of righteousness, to pay the price with his blood, that He might protect us with the shield that sin could never penetrate.”

Charles Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998, pp. 496-497).

Jesus taught that every believer is to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  A righteous person isn’t someone who is perfect, because except from Jesus no one can be perfect this side of heaven.  No, a righteous person is someone who is in right standing with God, they are aligned to Him through His Son.  So, righteousness transforms someone into right living for God through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Repentance is a part of righteousness (Luke 3:8)

And Repentance is a part of righteousness.  The people of John’s day were in need of what he was preaching… repentance and right-living, or in other words living righteously.  Their need for God was obvious and the prophet was there to point them to the remedy.

John’s message didn’t die when he did.  His message is just as important today.  Our world is still in need of turning from sin and receiving God’s gift of salvation.  The answer to the question; why do horrible things go on in in the world? is Jesus!  If everyone turned to him and lived righteously, i.e. turned from their sin, then the problems and difficulties we experience will go.

John’s message was that Jesus was coming to cancel their spiritual debts and remove their sin.  This was going to be done by all sin being placed on Jesus, and whoever accepts Christ into their life will never have sin held against them.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ died for us and paid the cost for our salvation.

At Christmas we rejoice in the fact that the Messiah, Jesus, entered this world to pay the price for our sin.  The shadow of the cross always lies across the crib scene.

Conviction: A part of righteousness (Luke 3:10)

But there is more.  As the message John preached penetrated the hearts and minds of his listeners, conviction began to seep into their very soul and spirit as the light of righteousness began to dawn on them.

This conviction comes from the Holy Spirit.  It is part of His “job description.”  It produces within us a sense of guilt and condemnation of sin.  As the Holy Spirit convicts, our role is to act upon it and allow God to change sinful actions and attitudes to thoughts and acts of righteousness.

I believe that God convicts individuals of their sins to change their lives, and still God offers more… I also believe that God convicts Christians to be more compassionate, more honest, to be peace makers, justice seekers, integrity lovers, to be morally upright, and so, so much more.

When was the last time you felt God convict you? How did you respond?

Responding: a part of righteousness (Luke 3:15-18)

Listening to John’s message and feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit — the people had a choice. They could either walk away and do nothing about it or, they could respond and act on the message.  Many in the crowd left, but many responded to his call for change.

Acting on faith in Jesus is required before salvation becomes reality and change is initiated into our lifestyle.

Responding includes reconciliation.  Humanity has been alienated from God because of sin, and Jesus provides the remedy, which He does by removing the enmity that stands between God and humanity.  Paul wrote to the Colossian church:

“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22, see also Romans 5:10).

Responding includes obedience.  The bottom line for all believers is that obedience to Jesus’ teaching and God’s commands is never an option.  We are to hear what the Word says and respond according to it.

Responding includes worship. From New Testament times to today, Christians state, “Jesus is Lord.”  Because He is Lord, and sovereign, He is to be worshipped (Luke 4:4-8).  As it was for the early church our focus must be on Jesus.

Jesus is to be the leader of the church.  As members of His church our actions are under the direct order of the Lord’s leadership: we are to fulfil His directives to be compassionate, caring, socially concerned.  But most of all we are to be spiritually oriented to lead people to a saving relationship.

So as God’s people, justified by God’s grace we have been given all we need to live in and under the righteousness of Christ.  This is only achieved through faith in Jesus.  The other world religions base justification on human effort.  Is it any wonder that we worship and praise the living God?

As we continue our journey through Advent may we allow our righteous standing before God to be transformed into righteous living for God through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Living Thoughts

Read Luke 3:7-18.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand, consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  • Repentance: a part of righteousness, see Luke 3:8.

What do we need to produce in order for repentance to be seen by others?

  • Conviction: A part of righteousness, see Luke 3:10. 

When was the last time you felt God convict you?

How did you respond?

  • Responding: a part of righteousness, see Luke 3:15-18.

Whom do the “wheat” and the “chaff” represent?

How has the good news of Jesus brought righteousness to you?

Prayer Response

Oh Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit, enable me to live a holy and righteous life so I represent your Son Jesus Christ here on earth in a way that brings glory to your name.

Help me to walk with you in holiness and righteousness so that I will fulfil my destiny and the purpose of my existence.

Lord of righteousness, in this world that is full of violence, selfishness, murder and other evil deeds, teach me the path of holiness, and engrave me to live like Christ in words, thoughts and deeds.

Lord, teach me your word and make it easy to apply it to my life so that I will see goodness all the days of my life.

Lord, give me the spirit of humility so that I will be able to walk with you in holiness.

Lord, engrace me to keep your commandments and take iniquity far away from me, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Remembrance Sunday

Today on Remembrance Sunday we pause to honour the memory of the countless millions who have lost their lives in times of war, and to pray for peace on earth.  The twentieth century was the bloodiest century in all of human history.  In the Second World War, which came as a bloody sequel to the First, over fifty million people lost their lives, and more than half of them were civilians – men, women, and children who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sadly, too often people have gone to war in the name of religion.  The church did it during the Crusades, which were themselves a response to the violence of the Muslim invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries.  People went in the name of Jesus in the Spanish conquests of Central and South America, and in the great Catholic and Protestant wars of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and more recently in Northern Ireland.  And we know that killing in the name of God hasn’t stopped in the twenty-first century.

Our Old Testament reading (Micah 4:1-5) became a very important passage to the early Christians; in the early Church this was one of the passages that new converts were encouraged to memorise, because it gives such a clear vision of God’s ultimate purposes for His creation.

In this passage, Micah, through a vision, teaches us that the time will come when the nations of the world will acknowledge that the one true God is real, and because He is real they will make a decision to come to Him and learn from Him.  The ‘mountain of the Lord’s Temple’ in v1 is the mountain where the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the place where God was worshipped, the place where the priests taught the people from the law of the Lord.

Encouraging people to acknowledge that there is one true God was a revolutionary thought in Micah’s time.  People were used to the idea of every nation having their own god or gods; those gods would go with them in battle and give them victory over their enemies.  This idea is still alive in the twenty-first century; we still like to think of God being on our side, of God having some special place in His heart for our nation or race.

This passage teaches that the time will come when God’s word goes out from Jerusalem and the whole world listens to it.  The early Christians saw themselves as being part of the fulfilment of this prophecy as they went into Asia Minor, Greece and on into Italy and France and all around the known world of the day.  The message they took was that there is one Creator God who wants us to worship Him and not idols, and that this God cares about how we live and has given us commandments to guide our daily life, not just rituals to guide our worship.  This would have sounded very strange.  They added to this message the good news that Jesus also announced – that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that the King himself has come among us and has lived and died and risen again to set us free.  One day, Micah says, everyone will endeavour to live by God’s commandments.  And what will be the result of this?  God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness, swords will be beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, and people will turn their back on war, (v.4).

In other words, when God’s kingdom comes in all its fullness everyone will live together in peace.  This is the opposite of having stubborn and self-centred attitudes, an approach that says, “This is the way I want it and this is the way it’s going to be, come hell or high water!”  That’s what causes disagreements between nations to end up in conflict and bloodshed.

But the day will come, Micah says, when instead of everyone being determined to get what they want, everyone will instead be determined to listen to what God wants.  Living like this would usher in safety and security.  After the weapons are converted to farm implements and the schools of war are closed, ‘they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid’ (v.4).

This is what the kingdom of God will look like: a world in which each person and each nation truly and sincerely seeks the Lord and commits themselves to learning His ways; a world in which people and nations submit their disagreements to God’s guidance and abide by His ruling; a world in which weapons are converted into farm implements and no one studies war anymore; a world in which everyone is safe and secure and no one makes them afraid.

Micah acknowledges that this will not be easy.  He acknowledges that not everyone will choose to follow this way, yet still he challenges people to follow it anyway – not because God always promises that it will work in the short term, but because it’s God’s way, and God’s way is always right.  Jesus makes the same challenge to us today as Christians. In a world which continues to hate and kill, and divide the world into friend and enemy, He calls us to take the risk of looking at the enemy and calling them our friend.

On this Remembrance Sunday, let us pray that the world will heed that call – but let’s be determined to heed it ourselves first, whether others do or not.

As Micah says, may we live out this truth that; “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever’.

In the name of the Lord our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.

Living thoughts

Read again Micah 4:1-5.  What is it saying to you about God’s vision of peace?  Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others. 

Digging into God’s Word

  1. What does Remembrance Sunday mean for you?
  2. What does it mean to walk in God’s paths (Micah 4:2)?
  3. Through Christ’s death on the cross, we can have peace with God.  Why is this so important? (Look at Colossians 1:19-22)

Digging deeper into God’s Word

  1. Jesus breaks down the barriers that exist between ourselves and God.  He also breaks the barriers that separate people from one another.  At the heart of breaking down barriers, is forgiveness.  Why do you think many people find forgiveness so difficult?  How do we begin to forgive someone who has wronged us?  Is there anyone you need to forgive, or seek forgiveness from?
  2. In Hebrews we read ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.’ (Hebrews 12:14).  What does living in peace with everyone look like in reality, and what does it mean to be holy?

Prayer Response

Father, keep me from being distracted by busyness, the cares of this world, and a heart of unbelief. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Help me to “keep in step” with the Spirit as I keep watch.  Father give me a longing for the return of Christ and keep my eyes focused on the prize that is set before me.

“A COMMON mistake today is to regard peace as the chief characteristic of Christianity, but it should be noted how the primacy of righteousness over peace is maintained throughout Scripture.

“The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17).

“Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace” (II Timothy 2:22).

“The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

We must live righteously; for that very reason we may not be able to live peaceably with all men. And in these days, when so many are working for peace and stability, it is well to recall the words in Isaiah 32:17:

“The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever.”

It is always wise to do what is right, rather than what is merely expedient.

The Christian attitude must be “Righteousness at any cost,” not “Peace at any price,” for the best way to preserve peace is to be strong in righteousness.”

From “A very present help” by Lt. Gen. Sir William Dobbie

How good are you at listening?

Sunday 11th October 2020

Isaiah 25:1-9

Matthew 22:1-14

What are some of the differences between listening to the radio and watching TV?  Radio involves one of our senses whist TV involves two.  Tuning in to the radio often requires careful listening, whilst watching TV can be done carelessly; you’re not really listening to the words, just looking at the images.

Throughout Scripture God is calling us to listen to Him.  We are to pay attention and listen carefully.  How many times did you hear your parents or teachers say something along those lines?  How good were you at listening?  Did you answer the right question, complete the task correctly according to the directions given to you?  Or did you do what you thought you were asked to do, but because you weren’t listening properly you missed the mark?

Does this sound familiar?

The Bible shows us how important it is to listen to God.  As God’s Children the Israelites quickly forgot what God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt.  They failed to listen and spent 40 years walking round in a big circle.  That meant that most of those who remembered escaping Egypt had died before they could get into the promised land.  They had seen it, but they didn’t get there.

Listening is so important.  Without listening we can end up not getting all that God wants us to have. Perhaps you see this in your life.

As God’s people we are not just to inwardly receive the Word but are to outwardly live it before those we share our lives with.  When we do this we will show God’s wisdom and be considered wise and understanding (Deut. 4:6).   You see God is, and always has been deeply interested in the witness of His people by giving the Word to the world.  As Christ’s Church we have a vital mission and if we lose enthusiasm to communicate the news of Jesus, we soon start turning our energy in on ourself – with disastrous effects.  Perhaps you can see where this has already happened.

Context of the wedding banquet parable (Matthew 22:1-14)

So what does this parable say about listening to God?  This parable, the Wedding Feast, is the third that Jesus spoke to the religious and political leaders during His final week in Jerusalem.  The first was the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32) where Jesus describes the chief priests and religious leaders like two sons, and connects them to the son who appears to obey but does not.  The second was the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) where Jesus shows the religious leaders that He is well aware of their plot to take ownership of His kingdom and to kill Him.  In the final parable, that of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus again shows these men how they are wickedly rejecting the kindness and graciousness of God who has invited them to the wedding feast of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This parable looks at how etiquette and bad manners can escalate into violence.  The wedding party began as convention dictates.  A first invitation (a sort of “Save the date!”, which has become popular again) is followed by the summons carried by the host’s servants when the banquet is ready. This is when things start to fall apart.

First, the invited guests simply refuse to come, and when the second call comes, they treat the invitation as a joke and go about their business.  Did you notice that it is not because the invited guests could not come to the wedding feast, but that they would not come (see Luke13:34)?  Everyone had an excuse.  How tragic, and how indicative of human nature, to be offered the blessings of God and to refuse them because of the draw of mundane things.

More than bad manners are at stake, for some invitees even assault and kill the servants.  In his anger the king  then escalates the confrontation by sending in his troops to destroy both the perpetrators and their city. Apparently, the king has judged their bad behaviour to be the opening salvo of a rebellion that must be quelled.

Nevertheless, the party is ready, and the king is determined that it will go ahead, and so the servants are sent out again, this time to the very limits of the territory, (That is what v9 means). They are to bring in everyone, “good and bad” (v 10), so that the hall will be filled.  When the King plans a party, the party will go on!

We need to listen carefully to God’s Word.  How well have you responded to God’s invitation to enter His Kingdom?

You see, just as the king provided wedding garments for his guests, God provides salvation for humanity.  Our wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ, and unless we have it, we will miss the wedding feast.  Righteousness is found by believing the Word, and the Word is only found in and through the cross of Christ.  The cross is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) and involves us recognising our sin, confessing it and walking away from it with the help of Christ’s power dwelling in us.  We simply can’t do it on our own!

Those who try to do it on their own, who try to get in without going through the cross, will be thrown out into the darkness.  This darkness is existence without the love, grace, mercy and compassion of God.  This is why Christ concludes the parable with the sad fact that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” In other words, many people hear the call of God, but only a few heed it.

The self-righteous Pharisees who heard this parable did not miss Jesus’ point. In the very next verse, “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matthew 22:15).

I see this Parable of the Wedding Feast as a warning to us.  Are we listening to God’s Word?  God’s provision of salvation is only found from listening to and then obeying the Word, not on our own good works or religious service.

We are always to keep listening to what God is saying to us.  The Word is God’s brilliant gift to us.  It stops us from insulting Him and thus destroying ourselves.  The enemy, the devil, is great at attacking our faith.  Having a lukewarm faith is not healthy.  Often when we feel lukewarm it is because of our small attention to God’s liberating Word and too much attention to non-liberating things.

The Word is full of wonderful incentives to return to God wholeheartedly.  Know, believe and live in the knowledge

  • that God “will not abandon or destroy you” (Deut. 4:31),
  • that “beside Him there is no other God”, (Deut. 4:35),
  • that it is His desire to save all people (1 Tim2:3-4, 2 Pet 3:9)

In Jesus we have a safe place to run to, for in Him, the Word, we find pardon and peace.  The heart of God is for all people to be safe.

When the writer of Hebrews calls us to “hear [the Lord’s] voice” (4:7), he also calls us to “approach God’s throne” where our High Priest Jesus Christ has perfect sympathy because He is unhardened by sin and has an endless supply of perfect mercy and grace. Trust what Jesus, the Word, says as you listen to Him.

Time to think

First read Isaiah 25:1-9 and Matthew 22:1-14

Perhaps with pen/paper or journal write down your thoughts as you consider the following questions….

  1. Listening is so important.  Without listening we can end up not getting all that God has told us, or shown us He wants us to have.  Where do you see that in your life?
  2. How well have you responded to God’s invitation to enter His Kingdom?
  3. What warnings does this parable show us?
  4. What impact does being lukewarm for Jesus have on our faith?
  5. Referring to the text above what are we to live in the knowledge of?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. Can you think of occasions when your failure to listen to God’s word for you led to unwelcomed problems in your life?
  2. The Word is God’s brilliant gift to us.  Ask God to show you where the sin in your life is causing the brilliance of this gift to be tarnished?  Confess this and receive God’s forgiveness.  Then rebuke the enemy’s schemes to dull the brilliance of God’s Word in your life.  Finally declare that you will fill your life with the Word.

Trust what Jesus, the Word, says as you listen to Him.

Prayer Response

  • Give some time as you start your prayer to noticing the immense hospitality of this king. ‘Invite everyone you find to the wedding!’ he says. That is God’s attitude to everyone on earth, and to you. Be grateful for this.
  • What of the man without a wedding robe? This part of the story is to highlight that we need to fill our lives with loving action. It is not a preview of eternal punishment, because God loves everyone even when they don’t reciprocate.
  • God, you are always looking out for us and inviting us to fill the place that is set precisely for us. Let me pray and work for the good of others so that there may be no gaps at your wedding banquet, and that I too may be there.

First look at yourself before you judge others.

Sunday 27th September 2020

I was reading Psalm 36 earlier in the week and as I read it I thought about people that this Psalm could apply to, as well as the organisations that are forcing their false ideologies on to us all in the name of freedom! 

But then something happened…. God spoke to me clearly…. Before I can apply this to others I first have to look at myself.  God also gently reminded me of Jesus’ teaching on judging others (Matthew 7:1-5). I need to take the plank out of my own eye before looking “at the speck of sawdust in my brother’s eye”

The OT prophet Jeremiah made this observation:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).

As I prayed about Psalm 36 I sensed that God is calling us to use this Psalm to look at ourselves. So let’s spend a few minutes doing just that, because this Psalm is not just addressing unbelievers. 

The opening section of Psalm 36 helps us to understand the universal condition of sin with a blunt description of the wickedness that resides in the hearts of all peoples. 

The Bible teaches us that left to ourselves, we would gravitate away from the Lord and toward an arrogant and destructive sense of ambivalence toward spiritual truth, which leads to self-deceit, evil and, ultimately, the wilful rejection of all that is good (Psalm 36:1–4).

We all have a bad part. Saint Paul called this bad part “the old man” in us, and it makes the Christian life difficult for us. (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:15; 4:22-24; and Colossians 3:9-11) There’s a song by the Christian singer-song writer Amy Grant called Shadows.  It’s about how there are two of us, one does the right thing the other does wrong so we have to keep a watch on our shadows.

This illustrates how we all live in a tension, because just as God can speak into our heart His words of goodness, hope and love, so the enemy, the devil, can speak into our heart the opposite.  Remember how Satan attacked Adam and Eve?  He spoke into their heart and convinced them that God would not be angry with them if they acted in disobedience to His command not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  When we allow the enemy to speak into our hearts we are in great danger of losing any sense that terror of the Lord will come upon us because of our evil deeds.  That’s what happened to Adam and Eve, they lost any sense of the terror of the Lord coming upon them.  That’s what wickedness does, we lose any sense of anticipation that God’s judgement will come upon us because we allow our own voice to delude and flatter us.

When we allow the enemy space to speak into our heart, our words reflect our old flawed character, we thus show wickedness and deceit and we cease to be wise.

But our hope is this: the way of wisdom is constantly encouraged throughout Scripture. So by knowing Scripture we can be shaped by the story of God, the story of His great rescue plan.  We can be shaped by His ways, His character, and His mind. Therefore, wisdom comes from being transformed by the presence of God, through His Son Jesus Christ, and then living life in all of its complexity.

This Psalm, therefore, clearly teaches that sin deceives, and confuses our minds to the extent that we speak in a way that flatters ourselves beyond reality and makes us believe that we will never be caught. So when you read this Psalm do you hear echoes of our own words and thoughts, and hardness of heart?

But God is Good as we read in v5-9.

The Psalmist tells us to look at our world. We can see clouds in the sky. We can see mountains and seas. God has put these there to help us remember what He is like. When we see the sky, we must remember His kind love. When we see the clouds in the sky we must remember His truth. So the clouds and the sky tells us that God will do what He promised. In other words, God will always be faithful.

When we see a mountain we must remember that God is good. But He is more than good, He is righteous because He can only do what is right, never what is wrong. And when we look at the sea we must remember the justice of God because in the end what is right and fair will happen, not what is wrong and not fair.

The New Testament teaches us that the way of righteousness is to take the Father at His word and believe that His Son is the only way of salvation. As we trust this promise of God as revealed through His Son Jesus Christ, we become righteous and are welcomed into God’s covenant of righteousness.

So when the Bible refers to the righteousness of God, it’s not saying that God is morally good. That has to be taken for granted, because He’s the standard of all goodness and morality. Rather, the righteousness of God refers to His faithfulness in keeping His word.

I love the second part of verse 9: “In your light we will see light”.

You see, Jesus is the Light of the World, so in God’s light, His Son, we see what is right and just in His world.  Then we are able to live lives of love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.  Without God’s light we will live lives described in v1-4.

That’s why the Psalmist prayed that God would give His kind love and goodness to the people that know Him, as well as to help us remember how to see God in the world around us.  God is a God of protection; we do find refuge in the shadow of His wing.  Remember how God protected His people in the wilderness with the pillar of cloud and fire.  The Psalmist also prayed that bad people would not stop God doing this, protecting His people (v10-12). 

We too must pray as the Psalmist prayed – that sinful humanity will not stop God working in His world.  We are to see “the evildoers lie fallen, thrown down, not able to rise “. As we offer such prayers we are to know that God will decide when this will happen.

The good news is this: it’s as if the Psalmist can see God’s triumph over our enemies.  Because of events 2000 years ago God has started to answer this prayer: Jesus, who is the very image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15), definitively answered the psalmist’s request on behalf of all people by giving His life as a “ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28) to save us from our sins so that all who confess their sins and believe “might live through Him” (1 John 4:9) and receive His gift of eternal life, (John 4:14). 

Praise be to the Lord’s name as we experience in greater depths the glorious power of His loyal priceless covenant of love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice, knowing in our “knower” that we find a holy and supernatural refuge in and over our lives.

Digging into God’s Word
  1. When you read Psalm 36 do you hear echoes of our own words and thoughts, and hardness of heart? How does that make you feel?
  2. Psalm 36 describes a way that evil takes a grip on people. Can you give examples of this from your experience?
  3. What does this Psalm teach you about the person of God?
  4. Do you see Jesus within this Psalm? Where?
  5. How are the wicked described in this psalm?
  6. What happens to the wicked according to this psalm?
Digging Deeper into God’s Word
  1. What are the two contrasts laid out in the psalm? As you hear the contrast between the wicked and the righteous, where do you stand?
  2. How are we confronted by wickedness in the 21st century?
  3. How are the godly described in verses 7 to 9?
  4. Which of the many pictures of God in this Psalm are the most important to you? Can you explain any reasons why this is so?