It’s all about the Messiah

A Christmas message, based on Luke 2:1-20

I read an old legend about a Christmas party that satan and his pack of demons were having in hell.  As the demonic guests were departing, one laughed and grinned and sarcastically said to Satan, “Merry Christmas your majesty!”  At that, Satan replied with a growl, “Yes, keep it merry. If they ever get serious about it, we’ll all be in trouble.”

The focus of Christmas is Jesus, the Messiah and we need to be serious about it.  It is the coming of God in the form of a person.  It is the intervention of God’s presence among humanity.  What we celebrate at Christmas is all part of God’s rescue plan for His created world.

But what a time for God to come to earth in the form of His Son Jesus.  There was great tension between Israel and its overlord, Rome, who ruled harshly by imposed their military might.  Many Israelites refused to toe the Roman line.  There was sedition and plots whispered throughout the land.  Revolution seemed to be close at hand!  It was into this apocalyptic environment that Jesus came into the world… the son of David born in the ancient, holy, royal city of Bethlehem.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, (Luke 2:1-7)

Sadly, too many people don’t know the true meaning of Christmas; they don’t know the events of the season.  Today we’ve just heard them through the readings we listened to, and the carols we’ve sung.

Luke told us that Joseph and Mary went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea to the sleepy village of Bethlehem because Joseph’s heritage was from there.  The Old Testament prophet Micah wrote 700 years before the birth of Jesus that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-2).  The meaning of Bethlehem is “house of bread.”  What an appropriate place for Jesus to be born.  Later in His life He said of himself, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35a) and continued in that verse to say to people, “Whoever goes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35b).

The gospel writer sketched in another character in his story…the innkeeper.  This businessman has been painted as a villain by most of us.  Probably, with a full inn he was just hassled and busy!  He had no idea who he was refusing a room to at that moment.  Tell me, what paying customer would he kick out?  Wouldn’t you be upset if he tried to take your room?  He did the best that he could with the situation at hand.  He was being expedient like most of us today.  So don’t be too hard on him.  It’s too easy at this time of year to get so busy that we lose sight of what Christmas is all about.  We fail to make room for Jesus.  Like the innkeeper, we are not villains; we’re just preoccupied and harried.

Joseph and Mary took the stable offered by the innkeeper.  It was there that Mary gave birth to her son Jesus, the Messiah.  Messiah means “anointed one” who one day would spread the knowledge of the true God to the very ends of the world.  So this baby Jesus who would grow into manhood and become God’s Messiah for the world.  Today He is still our Messiah who came directly from heaven for our salvation!

So, Christmas is about the Incarnation of God (Luke 2:8-14)

Entering the scene were shepherds and angels… humans and celestial beings from the realm of glory.  Going about their nightly duties, these shepherds of the temple flocks encountered a sobering and life-changing event.  As they were watching over the sheep, no doubt sleepily — suddenly an angel stood by them, and the glory of God — that radiating, brilliant splendour or majesty of God, dazzled them.

Their unexpected guest told them not to fear for he had wonderful, glorious news for them.  He was there on God’s behalf to tell them a secret.  But the secret would soon be out for all the world to hear!  He was there to tell them about the Saviour…. the one who would take away their sins… help them in their most desperate moments… who would save them from eternal hell… that Saviour was being born that very night!  He was the divine Saviour the very incarnation of God himself.

We Christians firmly believe that the eternal second person of the triune Godhead joined himself with a complete human nature and was born as Jesus, the God-man.  The apostle John wrote,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us!” (John 1:14).

Jesus, The Messiah, our Saviour has thrown himself from the heights of heaven so all have an opportunity to hear the heavenly music that the shepherds heard on the hillside two thousand years ago.

Because of this, Christmas is about sharing the story of God (Luke 2:15-20)

The shepherds journeyed to find the baby, which they did. The Bible says that after they had seen the child, they spread the word concerning what had been told them…and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. They were truly the first evangelists of the gospel of Jesus!

That is our job once we have encountered this Jesus… Incarnate God… Saviour.  We are to share with others the good news that we are loved by God.  He has given his Son to us for our salvation!

Yes, they went back to the fields, back to being shepherds, back to the routine of life, but I’m sure that their lives were changed; they had a whole new perspective.  This is to be true of us.  Each year as we celebrate the joyous services, the festive parties, all of the excitement and thrill of the season, what have they done to change our lives?  What difference will this Christmas mean when we go back to the lives we lead in our jobs, homes, families and daily lives?  If we believe the message of the angels, we must go back to the ordinary with a new focus… a better focus… a spiritual focus on Jesus!

Do you know Jesus?  The more people who turn to Jesus, the bigger the trouble satan will be in and we will experience less woes in the world!

Is Jesus your Christ, your Lord, your Saviour?  He wants to be.  That is the reason He came into this world, and that is the reason you’re here, to know Jesus personally for yourself!

Amen


A Commitment to Hope

From 2nd Sunday in Advent, 5th December 2021

The story is told of young boy in a church Christmas nativity play who had one line to remember.  His role was that of the Angel of the Lord and his one line consisted of: “Behold, I bring you good tidings.” He wasn’t clear about the word “tidings” so he asked his mother what it meant. She defined it as “news.”

Sunday morning came, the play was going smoothly and all was well.  He was sent on to the stage as the Angel of the Lord announcing to the shepherds about God’s message.  When he got on stage and looked out at the crowd he froze!  Stage fright overcame him and his brain went to mush.  He couldn’t remember the line for anything.  Then all of a sudden his mum’s definition flashed back and he blurted out to the shepherds, “Hey! Boys, have I got news for you!”

John, the cousin of Jesus, is the man God had chosen to be the instrument that would lay the foundation for the ministry of Jesus.  God called John to preach and his message sounded like the prophets of Old Testament times.  John preached that the people had to repent of their sins and change their lifestyle from complacency and carnality to hope and holiness in the God of Israel.  He was laying the foundation for the one who would come after him who could actually forgive their sins and bring purity to their lives.

Making preparation for hope (Luke 3:4a).

The preparation that John made was an announcement of good news! The one that the people of Israel had long been waiting for was in their very presence.  The long awaited Messiah stirred among them.

The message of hope is that “all people will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:6).  John’s message comes approximately 30 years after the shepherds on the hillsides around Nazareth heard basically the same message.  The angel said, “…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour.” (Luke 2:10-11a). What does a Saviour do for his people?  He saves them from their predicament.

John’s role at that Advent season was about preparation.  His message to us today is the same.  We need to prepare our hearts, soul and spirit, as well as our homes for the Christ who has come to save us.  This is a celebration of the birth of the Saviour.  He is saying to us, “Get ready.”  Make preparation for the night we celebrate the entrance of the Saviour into the world.  Think, pray, meditate, and put your actions where your heart is now! God has sent the Saviour to change your world.  We are making preparation for the hope of salvation that comes through Christ.  Someone once wrote that John’s bold and brazen call for repentance is not something we can do on our own — no matter what we do or say, or how much we try we fall short to produce our own salvation.  As many good deeds as we do, we still cannot succeed.

The hope of salvation is the work that God has provided in the way we humans are to be delivered from our sinful condition, by the sacrificial death of His Son Jesus on the cross and the authorisation through the resurrection.  Death on the cross would only be a martyr’s death if it were not for the power of the resurrection.  Jesus’ entrance into the world marks the beginning of our rescue…our salvation deliverance.  John is preparing the way for our grasp of that glorious truth.

Making Preparation for the good news (Luke 3:4b)

The world has trouble with the good news scenario because it started with a baby in a humble setting.  The Jewish people wanted a warrior king who would emancipate them from foreign rule and bring back the Davidic dynasty of power and authority.

The Good News is the incarnation of Jesus combining God and humanity as one.  That is difficult for us to wrap our minds and hearts around, but as a matter of fact and faith it is true.  The incarnation is the living embodiment of the invisible God seen through the human Jesus.  He is the Messiah and is the very expression of God come to earth to bring God’s love, salvation, and hope to a world lost in its own sinful ways.  The Good News is God is more than capable of identifying with us.

In Jesus, God has come to identify with our pain, hurts, struggles and failures.  He knows the joys of life as well as the temptations.  In the Bethlehem stable He came, not just looking like one of us, but truly as one of us.  He has come to be our Saviour and will leave no one out who will accept Him into their lives.

Making preparation for salvation (Luke 3:6)

Luke quoted the prophet Isaiah to remind us that everyone will see the salvation of God.  Who is the salvation of God? Jesus is His name!

His salvation is more than an intellectual pursuit; it is also a spiritual endeavour. Christians are on a spiritual quest when they follow God on His journey of salvation.  This journey is to last a lifetime.  For some this journey is many years, for others it may only be minutes.  Regardless of how long our journey of salvation is, with God all are welcomed equally; all are loved equally.

God’s salvation of an individual’s soul is of utmost importance to Him.  C.S. Lewis wrote that this individual soul is “…more important than the production of all the epics and tragedies in the world.”  This vital importance is summed up in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The reason for the season? God gave us all His Son. His salvation lights up my world.  His light dispels the sin of legalism, the insatiable vices of morality, hatred, racism, injustice, and the fear of satan, evil and hell!  No longer do you and I have to live in darkness. Every person in the world can come to Jesus for He is the shining light for all of us.

John the Baptist looked forward to the dawn of life.  The cry from John and the cry from heaven on that Christmas night was “Behold the SON!” and the son of righteousness has come.  Salvation has come to all who will receive Him.

Amen

Living thoughts

Read Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 3:1-6.  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

  1. Who is Jesus?
  2. Why did Jesus come?
  3. And what does Jesus demand of me?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is unseen is eternal” 2 Cor 4:18

What difference can this passage possibly make in our lives in the 21st century as we go out into the routine of a new morning?  Does it really need to make any difference?

Prayer Response

Father, I have decided to walk and live by faith.  I’ve made my choice.  By faith I believe Your Word.  I am living in two realms at the same time.  I am on the earth, and I am seated at Your right hand, in heaven, with Christ Jesus, at the same time!  Through me the two realms converge on a daily basis.  Like Jesus did when He was on the earth, I bring heaven down!  Your Kingdom has come.  Your will shall be done.  It’s going to happen on earth as it is in heaven, and it’s going to happen through me!  I enter this day determined to make Kingdom impact in every meeting, conversation and activity I engage in today, because my life brings heaven and earth together!  I am an agent of supernatural change!  I declare this by faith.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

An outline of the Gospel worth sharing; part 2

What interrogation can make you do…

Mobile phones!  It appears we can’t live without them.  Recently my phone was upgraded.  For me it was a really stressful time; how will I get all the stuff from my old phone on to the new one?

Thankfully all I needed to do was to download an app and put the two phones close together and as if by magic the data were transferred.  Phew, that wasn’t as hard as I thought!

About a week later I wanted to do some online banking.  So, armed with my mobile phone to generate a “one time pass code” I logged on to my account on the computer only to find that I couldn’t get the app on my phone to generate the OTPC.  After several failed attempts my account was frozen!  By this time my stress levels were through the roof.  Good job I wasn’t measuring my blood pressure.

The bank’s website said I needed to register my new phone and by clicking here I could sort this out.  Well…. it wasn’t quite as straight forward as all that.  Stress rising further, I took what I hoped would be an easier route, I rang the help line.  After hanging on for 10 -15 minutes and having gone through several options, entering bank details, security details, telephone pin number, I was losing the will to live, but eventually I got through to a human being only to be asked a whole load of security questions again…

  1. Where were you born?
  2. What was your mother’s maiden name?
  3. Where did you first go to school?
  4. What is your date of birth?
  5. What is your post code?

I tried not to panic –

  1. was I born at home or in hospital?
  2. Have I got my mother’s maiden name right?
  3. Now, where was my first school?
  4. When was I born?
  5. What is my postcode?

There’s always a pause after you’ve answered. What if I’ve failed to answer correctly – will my bank account be frozen forever?  Worst still will there be a knock on the door in the early hours.  In my anxiety I felt as if I was being interrogated.

Yet, that is what is happening to Peter and John in our reading from Acts – not trying to gain access to their bank account – but being interrogated.  Here they are hauled before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Acts 4:5-6).  And this really is an interrogation!

The Sanhedrin was made up of seventy-one elders, including Annas, Caiaphas, his son-in-law, John and Alexander, who we do not know, but all were undoubtedly powerful men.  Being hauled before such a group could easily have intimidated ex-fishermen like Peter and John.

The interrogation started with a question about the healing of the crippled man, since it could not be denied that this healing had taken place as he was there with them (Acts 4:10).  It had taken place because the disciples were compelled to witness for Jesus as He had commanded them to do during His resurrection appearances and before He ascended into heaven, (Luke 24:46-48 & Matthew 28:16-20).  But still the leaders sought to know by what power or in what name this had been done (Acts 4:7).

In Acts chapter 3, which we had last week, Peter was speaking to an interested audience outside the temple (3:12), about this healing, but now he faces a hostile and contemptuous court. 

He clearly needs God’s help to declare the gospel confidently to this group; hence the mention of him being filled by the Holy Spirit, given to all followers of Jesus by the grace of God (4:8a).

So, this passage reminds us that there is one baptism of the Spirit, and this is at conversion (1 Cor. 12:13), but there must be many fillings of the Spirit if the believer is to be an effective witness for Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:18ff).

And Peter addresses them with appropriate respect as rulers and elders of the people (4:8b).  He restates the reason why they are on trial, emphasising that what had been done was an act of kindness (v9).  The miracle had not been done to attract attention, but since they wanted to know in whose name it has been done, both they and all the people of Israel should know that it had been done in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (4:9-10).  Saying that something was done in someone’s name implies that it was done by His power.

The truth is this: Jesus has given us His power and authority to use to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.  And Jesus spent a lot of time teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, they were only living out what they had been taught to do!

It is this power and authority that helps us to resist every temptation of Satan.  Without it we would succumb to his ways and not fulfil God’s ways.  Scripture clearly tells us that Jesus came in power and authority to completely destroy Satan and his works.  Likewise, Satan was determined to destroy Jesus, yet Jesus took everything that Satan threw at Him – all his schemes, sin-filled temptations and evil power – withstanding them in perfect righteousness.

Jesus has passed this on to all who put their faith in Him as their Lord and Saviour.  But we need to use it, for we too can be set free from Satan’s power and dominion and to live in God’s power and authority.  This is a truth that we find in Acts 4 today.  This is why Peter is able to assert boldly the healing power of Jesus, whom the leaders had crucified and whom God had raised from the dead (4:10).  So Peter’s response to the interrogation is to proclaim the truth before the authorities because he is full of the Holy Spirit.

Peter then proclaims a second truth.  Not only does Jesus bring healing; He is also the only source of salvation.  Peter describes Jesus as the stone rejected by builders that has become the capstone (4:11).  In the ancient world, the capstone, or cornerstone, was the stone that held an entire building together.  So Peter is asserting through this interrogation that Jesus has become the stone upon which the new community of faith is built (see also 1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4-5).

However, the primary task of the rulers and elders was to build the community, but how could they?  They had rejected the stone and chosen a murderer in His place (Acts 3:13).  For them, the cornerstone had become a ‘stone of stumbling’ and a ‘rock of offence’ (Isa 8:14; 28:16; Rom 9:33).  And if the cornerstone is not given its rightful place, it becomes a stone of judgement. 

Peter makes this point strongly (Acts 4:12), when he says that there is no other name under heaven given by which we must be saved (see also Acts 10:43).  The use of the word “must” by Peter clearly tells us that Jesus is the appointed way of salvation. 

So the second truth of the interrogation is that there is no other way for salvation! Sadly, many people react negatively to the fact that there is no other name than that of Jesus to call on for salvation.  Yet this is not something the church decided; it is the specific teaching of Jesus himself; Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).

If God designated Jesus to be the Saviour of the world, no-one else can be His equal.  Christians are to be open minded on many issues, but not on how we are saved from sin.  The truth is this; no other religious teacher could die for our sins; no other religious teacher came to earth as God’s only Son; no other religious teacher rose from the dead.

In order for me to reset my online account I needed to focus on and proclaim the truth of the security questions! As Christians our focus should always be on Jesus, whom God offered as the one true way to have an eternal relationship with Him. There is simply no other name or way!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! 

He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the sermon and the two passages from Scripture: Acts 4:1-12 & John 10:11-18, and let them speak to you afresh in light of remaining steadfast to the Gospel.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Please consider these questions in light of this week’s sermon:

1. What was the main issue that upset the Sadducees in Peter and John’s preaching? (Acts 4:1-4)

2. What did the Sadducees believe?  See Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Matthew 22:23

3. Why is a belief in the death and resurrection of Christ so vital to our faith?

4. Is there salvation by any other way? (Acts 4:12)

5. Why did the rulers find it hard to suppress the Apostles message?  (Acts 4:13-16, 19-22)

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.  As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Help us every day to come with anticipation into your presence.  As we take this step we ask you to roll away the stone from the tombs of our hearts, O God that we may share in the fullness of the resurrection life that your Son Jesus offers to all who put their faith and trust in Him and who call on Him as their Lord and Saviour.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! 

He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!


Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 7

The Already/Not Yet of the Kingdom

What a moment for the people of Jerusalem!  What a statement from Jesus!

This “very large crowd” who greeted Jesus so enthusiastically as He rode in on the back of a young donkey had a very definite idea about why He had come to Jerusalem in the way He did.  It was obvious to them – here was their political saviour, a warrior King.  They were excited; at last they had someone who might lead a revolution against the Romans.

But it wasn’t to be.  Perhaps some in the crowd realised this because Jesus came riding on a donkey – a symbol of peace.  Also by going straight to the temple to confront the corruption of prayer, rather than to the Roman fortress to confront the unwanted rulers, Jesus showed that He wasn’t going to be their political leader and warrior king.

The Kingdom Jesus ushers in is not the same as the way the world understands the word “Kingdom”.  His kingdom is one of peace and reconciliation, one where there is no worry and total unity.  But some things had to happen before this could come about, namely His death on a cross.

Now over the last few weeks I have often spoken about extending God’s Kingdom here through the ministry of fund-raising and our vision and mission.  The moment someone makes a commitment to Christ they become part of this Kingdom.  So what is this Kingdom, and how should Christians live while on earth?  Part of the answer is that we have to learn how to live in this world and in the heavenly Kingdom at the same time.  We’re living in an “already but not yet” moment!

The truth is this: Christ has defeated Satan—He’s reigning at the right hand of God currently – yet there remains work to be done before that reign is fully realised.  Enemies still exist – chiefly, death. Of course, this isn’t the first time God’s people have been in such a situation. In 1 Chron. 10: 13-14, we see that the kingdom of the first Shepherd-King, David, was inaugurated without being fully consummated.

His predecessor, Saul, was struck down by the Lord and the kingdom was “turned over” to David.  Yet, while this main foe was defeated, and David was soon to be anointed King (11:3), it wasn’t until sometime later (chapter 18) that all his enemies were completely conquered, and his kingdom fully realised.  So how did Israel live in the already/not yet of David’s kingdom during the time their land was claimed by two competing authorities – David’s and Saul’s?

As they lived this “already, not yet” existence, so do we.  Every square inch of the universe, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan. In riding into Jerusalem on a donkey Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil.  Eternal life, the Kingdom of God for all, was brought into the world two thousand years ago!  Yet, we’re still waiting for that salvation to be fully realised.  As believers we can know and live a full spiritual life now, but we will also still taste physical death, but one day that won’t be.  Our salvation will be total – spiritual and physical.  All things will be made new.  On that day, when the Kingdom is fully realised, Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.

To use Jesus’ parable (Matthew 13:33 & Luke 13:20-21), we’re still waiting for the yeast of the Kingdom to make its way fully through the dough of the world.  But make its way it will, and indeed, is.  This is the already/not yet tension believers must learn to live in.  Salvation is here, salvation is coming.  So Christ’s reign has been inaugurated, but it is not consummated.

This is the position God’s people found themselves in when David is anointed King, because Saul’s reign is still in effect.  Yet it appears that in responding to the Holy Spirit many people came and pledged their support to David.  So to live faithfully in this present age, we need the Holy Spirit. (1 Chron. 12:18ff).  Knowledge is important, indeed vital, for we cannot witness without it, but to be effective witnesses we need the power and the anointing of the Spirit.  Otherwise we won’t be able to discern between that which is of the world and that which is of God’s age to come.

Secondly, the people lived in unity.  In the battles that led to David’s triumph, those who were working toward that end lived in harmony:

All these were fighting men who volunteered to serve in the ranks. They came to Hebron fully determined to make David king over all Israel. All the rest of the Israelites were also of one mind to make David king. (1 Chron. 12:38).

Now, I’m sure there were still differences of opinion within the ranks as to strategy etc., but the point is obvious: they all wanted the same thing, to see the reign of the anointed one of God fully realised.  God’s people today are called to no less a mission, and therefore should have no less a unity.  This is the already/not yet position believers find themselves in today – Christ’s kingdom is here, but still coming.

Indeed, the surest sign that we have the Spirit is that we’re living in unity.  We are a people of Pentecost: we have the spiritual language of understanding.  However, sadly Christians are marked more by in-fighting than by evangelising the nations.  This tells us how much we’ve taken our eyes off of the main objective: to have Christ’s reign recognised by every tongue, nation, and tribe through gospel-proclamation and acts of mercy.

It appears also that the people of David’s day lived unworried and with understanding.  They lived unworried because “there were, plentiful supplies of flour, fig cakes, raisin cakes, wine, oil, oxen and sheep, for there was joy in Israel” (1 Chronicles 12:39-40).

In a sense, the people’s joy is odd.  There are still battles to be fought, still enemies who schemed and plotted.  Yet, their hope was in the chosen ruler whom God supplied.  Why would they be worried by the straggling defenders of a collapsing dynasty?

As Christians we are in the same position – we too are fighting from a position of victory, of abundance.  The battle is won: the enemy’s head has been crushed under the bruised foot the Messiah!  We should never let the current upheavals and uncertainty of the world lead us to forget that the One who raised Jesus from the dead is with us, fighting our battles, winning our victories.  Christians, like Israel of old, should be known as a people of great joy, even during trying times.

Finally, they lived with understanding.  Though God was the One who finally brought about David’s total reign, Israel nevertheless played a part in God’s kingdom-project.  The sons of Issachar are a perfect example of this.  They were known as “men…, who understood the times” (12:32).  Their discernment is being commended, for it is really important to understand the times in which we live, and to understand what those times require.

In a day in which information moves at the speed of light, trust in our political institutions is at an all-time low, and the family is disintegrating before our very eyes, the church is desperately in need of more “sons of Issachar”, people who can interpret our culture, as well as interpreting Scripture, so we can better understand the dangers and opportunities of our times.

One greater than David has come: He came riding on a donkey to shouts of acclamation.  He conquered His enemies and all things have been placed in subjection to Him.  While the principalities and powers of the old order hold on by their fingernails, we as Christians can live confidently in God’s Kingdom because it is both present and future, here and coming, already and not yet.  The Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia!

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: 1 Chronicles 10:1-6, 13-14, and Mark 11:1-11, and let them speak to you afresh in light of God’s Kingdom.  As God speaks to you, why not write in your journal what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider these questions based on this week’s sermon:

  1. How have you experienced God’s Kingdom in your daily life?  Over the last few weeks has your understanding of God’s Kingdom changed?
  2. Can you think of times when you have experienced God’s Kingdom as “already but not yet”?  How did that make you feel?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.

St. Ignatius Loyola

The Cross of Christ

Psalm 22 and 23

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

The order of the Psalms is not random.  They have been carefully arranged, and with all texts we are more familiar with certain parts than with others.  In general, I would say that we’re far more familiar with Psalm 23, but to get the most out of this Psalm we must go through the suffering of Psalm 22 first.  By doing this we then get to the peace and rest of Psalm 23.  But Psalm 22 is not about our suffering, it’s about Jesus’ suffering.  It opens with the cry of Jesus on the cross “My God my God why have you forsaken me?  He may even have recited the entire Psalm for it ends with His last words “it is finished” (John 19:30),for when you look at the full Hebrew text for the last verse of this Psalm, the words “He has done it” could just as accurately be translated “It is finished”! (See the Amplified Version of the Bible).

I see this Psalm as holy ground, and we can only look on in awe for this Psalm outlines in great detail what crucifixion was really like for Jesus.  In fact, there is no other passage in the Bible, including the Gospels, which outline in such detail what Jesus experienced as Psalm 22 does.  Jesus’ suffering on the cross was more than just physical pain.  He experienced the fullness of the wrath and total abandonment of God.  This relational trauma, physical pain and spiritual torment is beyond our imagination and experience.  No wonder He hoped to avoid it, (Matthew 26:38-39).  Yet Jesus managed to endure all this for the “joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2)Because He endured the cross there is light at the end of this tunnel, for this Psalm also speaks of the dawning of a new day and, what the result will be for believers, Israel, and the ends of the earth.

Martin Luther said about this Psalm, “God forsaken by God – who can understand it?”. Why is He forsaken, alone, His communion with His Father totally interrupted?  Well, because God is of such purity that He cannot look on evil.  God sees the sin that His Son takes and He, God, has to turn away.  And what sin does He see?  Our sin!  We rightly deserve the consequences of sin and even though, as I have said before, our suffering is often not the direct consequences of our sin, nonetheless the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

But there is also amazing balm here for the suffering and fearful, for “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  This “gift of God” is because Jesus stood in our place, was rejected and abandoned by all, (Psalm 22:6-8 &12-18)including His Father.  This action of Jesus Christ teaches all who have accepted who He is that we, His family, have a way out of suffering.  We shall look at Psalm 23 in a minute to see this, but looking at Psalm 22 we see that Jesus, still in his utter abandonment, says twice “My God”.  And the name of God He invokes here is sometimes translated “Mighty God”.  So even in His suffering, even when God appears humanly to be as far away as possible, He is still God and He is still mighty to save.  Jesus asks questions of God in His suffering and so can we.  Often we do not know why something terrible is happening, but God wants us to know this truth of the Christian faith: Jesus was abandoned by God so that we will never be abandoned by God!  The cross towers over us casting a mighty light on our way, for the cross throws no shadow, it can only radiate the pure light of the pure goodness, mercy and love of God.

Where are we going on our journey here on earth?  As we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) we are going home.  Now let’s look at Psalm 23 which is best accessed through Psalm 22.  This is the entry to our safety in the cross. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”. Our life here on earth oftentimes seems to be a dry desert in which we wander, but the Lord has gone ahead to make a home for us (John 14:1-4)and what a place that will be!  The Anglican martyr John Bradford who was burnt at the stake under Queen Mary is reportedly to have said to the trembling young man being burned with him “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!”

We are on our way to something mind-blowingly “merry” and good.  En-route there is comfort.  A verse in the Bible that has been of great help to me when I feel in trouble is this: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.  Many years ago when I was ill and very low with post virial fatigue, that verse repeatedly impressed itself on my mind like a burning light in the dark valley, and it still does today, as it has done for countless other people for hundreds of years.

Each of us must walk through that valley and it is a valley of shadow.  It is dark and I know that.  There is evil prowling about (1 Peter 5:8).  But for there to be a shadow, there must be a light beyond.  That light is streaming from the face of Christ.  It leads us on and He, the Good Shepherd, is not just ahead holding the door open nor behind on the cross having suffered in our place.  No, most amazingly He is with us right now, walking with us, talking with us, and He has, if you like, two divine “sheepdogs” with him, one called mercy/love and one called goodness.  Evil has to slink away.  So this little party, a sufferer, (that’s you & me), a Saviour and two ministering angels struggle on to glory.

Note finally that v6 of Psalm 23 says “all the days of my life”. This refers to the evil days and the good days, the days of suffering and the days of joy. God in his goodness supplies everything we need in suffering, and his mercy/love on the cross means that we don’t get what we deserve – eternal suffering and separation from God.  Amazingly rather we daily receive a free gift – the presence of the Lord God Almighty through His goodness, mercy and love all the way home.

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 23rd August 2020

Seeds, soil and fruit

Seeds, soil and fruit

Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

The parable of the sower
( Luke 8:4-15 )

4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.’
When he said this, he called out, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘“though seeing, they may not see;    though hearing, they may not understand.” [a]

11 ‘This is the meaning of the parable: the seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Footnote: [a] Luke 8:10 Isaiah 6:9

Jesus Christ was the master teacher.  He had the unique ability to take scenes from everyday life and use them to teach profound spiritual truths.  The four soil types in this parable give us a glimpse of how the human heart works and why people respond to the Gospel as they do.  Can you identify with one of the soils?  One of these soils paints a perfect picture of your heart.

The first soil is the Hard Soil:  This refers to the narrow footpaths that ran beside and through the fields.  When the seed fell on the footpath, it could not penetrate the soil, so it remained there in the open, only to be eaten by the birds.

Jesus said that this speaks of the person who hears the Gospel, but who doesn’t “understand it”, they cannot make the connection between the claims of the Gospel and their own life.  Maybe they are steeped in sin and refuse to believe.  Maybe they are calloused and cold toward the things of God and refuse to hear.  Maybe they are just indifferent.  Maybe after years of hardening their hearts against the call of the Gospel they simply cannot hear His call.

When this happens, the devil will send his minions to snatch away the Gospel seed by diverting the mind and helping the person become even more hardened against God.  This person is not prepared to let God’s grace work in their heart, for without God’s grace it is extremely hard to lead them to salvation.  Remember God only hardened Pharaoh’s heart after he (Pharaoh) had hardened his own heart first.

The second soil is the Stony Soil: Limestone outcrops covered only by a thin layer of topsoil are everywhere in Palestine.  The seed cast there will germinate and quickly spring up into a promising plant, but, because there is no depth of soil, as soon as the sun beats down on the tender plant, it withers and dies without producing any fruit.

This soil reminds us of the heart that makes an emotional response to the presentation of the Gospel.  Their profession is a shallow one, so when Christianity doesn’t turn out like they thought it would, they quickly fade away and disappear.  They cannot live up to the radical claims of Christ and the cross

Matt. 16:24. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Thirdly, The Thorny Soil: In this soil there are also living roots and seeds of thorns and weeds.  As they grow together the thorns and weeds choke out the tender plant, resulting in them withering and dying without producing any fruit at all.

This is a picture of a heart that tries to have the benefit of the Gospel while still clinging to the thorns of sin.  Either the seed of God’s word must have the ground or sin must have the ground, it cannot be both!  Jesus said it was the cares of the world and the quest for earthly riches that spelled disaster for this kind of soil.  Such a person begins well, but soon fades away, having their confession of Christ choked out by sin and the world.

Finally, the Good Soil: This soil had been ploughed and tilled and it was ready to receive the seed when it came.  It can grow to full maturity, producing fruit that brings honour and grain to the farmer.

This a picture of the heart ready to receive the Word of God, for it has been tilled and prepared by the grace of God, thus the seed germinates, grows up and bears fruit to the glory of God.

At the end of the day the difference between these soils was fruit.  On the hard soil, the seed did not penetrate, but it disappeared, being removed by the birds. In the other two, the seed disappeared within the ground resulting in a plant, but only the good soil brought forth the fruit of the harvest.

This parable can be understood from the point of view of how unbelievers receive the Word of God, which is the seed of life.  How well has the Gospel message found a lodging place within your heart and life, because we can also apply this parable to all believers.  Are you bearing fruit to the glory of God as you should?

John 15:1-11 teaches that if we are saved, our duty is to abide in Jesus and He will produce His fruit in our lives, as it pleases Him.

Yet, we still need to be careful, for even though we are saved we can allow ourselves to develop the wrong kind of heart.  We can become hard-hearted toward the things of God, toward His House and toward His Word.  When this happens, we will find ourselves fruitless and defeated as a believer.

Or, we can grow shallow in our commitment to the Lord and His work, this too can hinder our fruit production.  Or, we might allow our lives to become filled with the wrong kinds of things, thorns of sin and worldliness that will hinder us and keep us from being fruitful for the glory of the Lord.

What kind of soil is your heart made of?  Is it the kind that seeks moment by moment the plumb line truth of God? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of soil is my heart?
  • Have I become hardened to the things of God?
  • Am I shallow in my commitment to Him and His work?
  • Am I constantly distracted, burdened and defeated by sin and the cares of the world?
  • Am I bearing the kind of fruit I should be bearing?

All this has a direct impact on how good we are at sharing the gospel, how good we are at not only using the gifts that God has given us, but also how good we are at developing the Gifts we have been given. 

All this then has an impact on our desire to fulfil the ministries God has planned for us. As our Heavenly Father he, and only through His grace, strengthens us to do all such good works as He has prepared for us to walk in.  (BCP Prayer of Thanksgiving).

You alone know where you stand with the Lord Jesus Christ on this. Be honest with yourself and with Him and ask Him to show you need to do now.  If you need Him in salvation, in repentance, in rededication, in anything, Jesus is there for you.  Go to Him and receive the Seed of Life.  He is calling you right now!

From Sunday 10th February 2019