Come and join in the celebrations at our services, Saturday 5th – Sunday 6th August 2017.
Come and join in the celebrations at our services, Saturday 5th – Sunday 6th August 2017.
1 Thessalonians 1: 9-10
1 Thessalonians is generally considered to be one of the first epistles written by Paul. Thessalonica was an important port city, strategically places by the Aegean Sea, therefore a very good trade route. Paul recognised this made the city a very good place to spread the gospel. In Acts 17: 1-9 we read that initially Paul’s message was well received but after three weeks this changed. The frustrations of the people were taken out on Jason, one of the first converts. In the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians Paul continued to think of the Thessalonians with thanks. Their reputation needed no defending. ‘For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.’ (1 Thessalonians 1: 8). The Thessalonians had made good progress in the faith.
What can we learn from the Thessalonians?
First, they turned to God from idols, ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9). This is a picture of repentance.
Secondly, the turned away from idols. This tells us they were likely to have been Gentiles. In Greek culture, the twelve main gods were set in gorges in Mount Olympus. Each of the gods would have had a temple. People would have looked to Mount Olympus and would have been reminded of these gods. But the Thessalonians ‘turned away’ from their idols. Every family would have had their own personal idol, something that had been important to them in their past, but now they had turned away from these.
In our society today there are many idols, such as love of money. The Thessalonians had not only turned away from their idols but they had turned to God. They replaced idol worship with worship of the one true God. They had a purpose in their lives. We too need to have a purpose in our lives, a focus for our existence. Following true conversion the Thessalonians acted differently. They found real life comes from the God of the Bible.
The Thessalonians served a living, true God. Slavery was common practice of the day. However, this was not slavery as we think of today. In Greek culture, slaves were cared for by their owners. The slaves did the menial tasks but there was a reciprocal relationship. At the end of their period of service a slave could opt to remain in their master’s service. Whole-hearted service was to serve a master who was so good the slave would want to remain with him. We are in service to a Master who really cares. Ownership came at a great price – Christ’s death for us as He set aside His glory. God’s justice had to be met. Once we are His we are always His. We can never pay back the price. ‘And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.’ (John 10: 28-29).
There are two descriptions of God: ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9). The people serve a living God. This is in contrast to the inanimate idols. We have a relationship with God which deepens over time. Scripture tells us Jesus is the only way we can obtain access to God. We can come to God in different ways; some have a sudden experience, like Paul on the road to Damascus, others have a gradual awareness, like Timothy. We each have an individual relationship with God.
God is also described as ‘true.’ The idols were false gods. Our God is eager to help. It is a liberating experience.
‘Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!’ (Psalm 47:1) The Psalmist is being taunted and slandered by his enemies but his plea comes in verse 3: ‘Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your tabernacle.’ By appealing to God’s truth, the Psalmist is vindicated. No matter what accusations Satan throws at us, Jesus Christ’s blood vindicates us.
The Thessalonians had a desire to serve God. There’s an internal change. They waited. Doesn’t that grate on our human nature? They waited – not sitting idly around, but waiting expectantly for the return of Jesus Christ. ‘For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). The term ‘wait’ comes from the Greek ‘perusia,’ awaiting a royal visit. There is great debate about what form the second coming will take. There are even suggestions what some American airlines will not allow two Christian pilots to fly together in case the rapture occurs. Whatever one believes, what is clear is that Christ will return and Christians should eagerly await His return, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).
The second coming also brings with it judgement. We will be judged by what we have done in Jesus’ service (Matthew 25:21). No-one knows when Jesus will return, ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.’ (Mark 13: 32). We need to live our lives as if Christ would come today, always looking to do God’s Will in our lives, which Wayne Grudem refers to as ‘responsible egesis.’
We know there is a day coming when Jesus will return. Accept the Lord Jesus as your Saviour. ‘Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.’ (Luke 21:28). The Thessalonians were going about the Lord’s business as if He would return at any moment. We should be living as if Jesus is on the point of returning now.
The Thessalonians turned from idols to God, they repented of their sins and looked to the living God. They sought to serve God whole-heartedly. Critically, they lived their lives in the knowledge that Jesus will return again. On that day Christians will be protected from God’s wrath. We need to know Jesus will most certainly return again. Let us all echo the closing prayer of Revelation, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).
Luke 7:36-50 A Sinful Woman Forgiven
Why did the Pharisee ask Jesus to eat with him?
Normally, there is always a good reason to invite someone to dinner or others to invite us. But here, there seems no reason why Simon, the Pharisee, should invite Jesus, ‘One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.’ (Luke 7:36). This was not like the occasion when Jesus was invited by Mary and Martha to their home, where Jesus was welcomed. It was not like the occasion when Jesus invited himself to Zaccheus’ home and was warmly welcomed by Zaccheus. In Simon’s home there was no welcome. Jesus says, ‘I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oi, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.’ (Luke 7:44-46). Jesus received none of the customary greetings of the day. So why did Simon ask Jesus to come to his house? Because he was one of those who wanted to discredit Jesus, to prove that Jesus was not a prophet, not the Son of God. Therefore he did not give the normal hospitality to Jesus.
Simon was quick to judge the woman and Jesus. There are many like Simon today; when we meet them they want to discredit Jesus. We even have an example in the apostle Paul, who persecuted Christians until he met with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). People want to resist Jesus, to resist the grace of God. Many have come to a meeting to cause havoc but have been struck by the word and come to Jesus. None are too far from the Kingdom of God – Christ’s message is for all, that all might receive Him gladly.
Why did she come to Simon’s house? She wanted to show her love and devotion to the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus had obviously changed her life. She was no longer a practising sinner as she had been before. Jesus changed that when He came into her life. Has He has changed our lives? Do we have the same love as she had? Have we come today in that same manner, wanting to express our love?
Simon was not a seeker, like Mary, Martha and Zaccheus. Why did Jesus go into his home when His time on earth was short? He would have known all about Simon, ‘Now when the Pharisee who had invited him say this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”’ (Luke 7:39). Jesus answered him. He knew what Simon was thinking as well as his guests. So why did Jesus come? It was for a very important reason – to teach an important truth. He distinguishes a contrast between Simon and the woman.
Jesus has a parable, a very simple parable: a creditor had two debtors. One owned a lot, one very little. Both couldn’t pay. The creditor freely forgave both. Then Jesus asked a question of His own – which debtor would love the creditor the most? There is any easy answer, but Simon struggled, saying, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ (Luke 7: 43). We see, as Simon answers, ‘I suppose,’ that he didn’t want to give an answer. Jesus tells him that he has judged rightly (before he had wrongly judges the woman). Then Jesus turns to the woman and says to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.’ (Luke 7:44-46). He wanted Simon to focus on the woman. He directed his attention to her. The important truth was, ‘Her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ (Luke 7:47). The reason Jesus came to that house was to declare to Simon and us, the more we recognise our sin, the more we realise we are indebted to our God, the more we love Him. The more we see why Jesus went to the cross and bore our sins, the more we will love Him.
If we could go back in time, why would we want to go there? ‘And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”’ (Luke 7:48). Those who sat at the table asked, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ Do you and I need to do something amazing to have our sins forgiven? The Lord Jesus gives us the answer, ‘And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ (Luke 7:50). We won’t be saved by our good works or our family connections, but by faith. Salvation is by faith. How do we come by faith? By the word of God. Turn from sin, express your thanks to God. Jesus told the woman, ‘Go in peace.’
No matter how many times we hear the gospel message, we need to be reminded of the truth, that by faith we are saved. When we leave this world and face death, we know we have been saved by faith if we have repented. Faith saved the woman, she can now go in peace. Might we have the peace of God as we know the Lord Jesus.
What has been done?
What is expected?
What has been done?
What has God done to render no excuses from man? ‘For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.’ (Romans 1:19). Some people are glad to hide at the back of a room because of their shyness, others are glad to be conspicuous and wear their heart on their sleeve. God has been pleased to allow Himself to be known to all. He has revealed Himself to mankind and through creation. He is a powerful God. He knows how much men and women need Him. He reveals Himself through creation. We all experience this. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.’ (Psalm 19:1).
This is enough for men, women and children to know Him. When you think about your relationship with unbelieving friends, you have a connection with them, you have all seen creation. The external testimony of creation. God has given man a conscience in which he can understand creation. Children play on beaches, holding the sand in their hands – creation is in their hands. It’s for all. We are His creatures, we must worship Him. Some refuse to act on this knowledge, they do not want to turn to God, they hate Him.
What is expected of us, having been given this knowledge?
God has given creation, knowledge and conscience. We are all under the same judgement. We see the big sin, ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.’ (Romans 1:18). Ungodliness is a religious sin. Unrighteousness is a moral sin. The two go hand in hand. Some may have more of one than the other; some attempt to live good lives but with no repentance to God. Others claim to worship God but live immoral lives. Unrighteousness and godliness is seen in one thing – suppressing the truth. ‘Suppress’ means to put in detention, to lock up. Whilst men and women force the truth of Jesus into the subconscious, all awhile it is there. People push it aside. No-one can destroy what God has done. We need to allow the truth of God to dominate – sing to God new songs of worship. Repent of sins, acknowledge the truth. There is not enough knowledge in creation to save. We need the Holy Spirit, it is God’s work alone. As He comes to us we can repent of our sins.
When we become a Christian all our excuses are nothing but an embarrassment. It’s an embarrassing thing to see someone pleading their innocence when everyone knows they’re guilty. Our desire is everyone comes to humble repentance. There are no excuses we can bring on that last day. The gospel begins with the wrath of God but ends with the mercy of God. You cannot have a gospel without the wrath. Many people are not interested in the gospel, they don’t realise the wrath of God. ‘Wrath’ has to do with a passion. God isn’t simply annoyed with sin, it’s a personal matter. God is passionate in His wrath, it means something to Him. He is passionately filled with holy indignation.
The wrath of God is a fearful thing. A judge sums up a case, sometimes using very emotive language in response to evil. It’s a pointed anger against sin. Everyone is condemned – but there is wonderful news! Jesus Christ was sent to die for us, He gave His life for us. How can we begin to thank God, to thank Jesus, when we have so not deserved His love? Praise Him!
This text directs us to the place where it all began, ‘He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.’ (Genesis 28:12). Jacob, the heal-catching surplanter, was encouraged by his mother Rebekah to go to Harran (Syria), several hundred miles away from where he lived. Esau intended to kill him. Rebekah wanted Jacob to marry a non-Canaanite woman. So ‘Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran.’ (Genesis 28:10). As the sunset, he laid down to sleep.
Jacob, the man who God changed. The Old Testament gospel. This was a life changing night. It was no dream but a drama. A dramatic change.
Jacob rests his head under the stars. What kind of night will it be? Here are 5 steps to this ladder and the unforgettable night:
Jacob was on the run, tired and lonely. He was probably missing the comforts of home. What kind of night did he have? He had a dream. Look how it’s described: ‘He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.’ (Genesis 28:12). Before the days of God’s written word, God often showed Himself in dreams (Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph). These were revelatory dreams. Look who was in the dream, ‘There above it stood the LORD.’(Genesis 28:13). God was offering to Jacob the pre-incarnate Jesus at the top of the stairs. This is corroborated by Jesus in John’s Gospel, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:51). Jesus bridges the gap between earth and heaven. This is a theophany, a sighting of Christ.
What did he hear? ‘There above it stood the LORD and He said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised.”’ (Genesis 28:13-15). He heard Jesus speaking to him. This is the covenant blessing given and received. Jacob’s ultimate offspring was the one speaking to him on that ladder. Will you take that first step on the ladder? Jesus is the only way. The cross of Calvary lets Jesus take you to glory. He is the only way to God, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6).
What type of night did Jacob have? It was the place where God met him. God gave Jacob access to Him and heaven itself. It’s life changing. It was the place of holy ground. ‘He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ (Genesis 28:17). God was revealing Jesus to Jacob. ‘Awesome’ means reverential fear. A life-changing spiritual experience is truly awesome. We find God in strange places. Bethel was about 12 miles from Jerusalem. Luz was a wicked place. In verse 18 Jacob set the stone he had used as a pillow and ‘set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.’ In verse 19 we read Jacob ‘called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.’ God planted a church in the middle of Luz. God plants churches where they are needed. We are in the world, but not of it. God deals with perishing sinners. Spiritual death, as a result of the Fall, is like a sleep, but meeting Jesus is waking up. (Mark 5:39).
‘When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”’ (Genesis 28:16). What were the things he was unaware of? The presence of God in that place. When we go home we may be asked, “Who was in church this morning?” We list people’s names, but do we mention God? In the gospels Jesus Christ is seen as the Word. For 33 years His own knew Him not. At Calvary, ‘Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”’ (Luke 23.34). We also have been in God’s presence and been unaware of it. When you come to Penuel there are friendly faces, good singing, but are you aware of God in here, or just aware of a man preaching? We can be unaware of where we really are. This is the gate of heaven. When you hear the gospel preached, you are being shown the gate of heaven, the way to peace and glory itself. ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ (Genesis 28:17). In this verse we see the awareness, the entrance and the elevation. Jesus declares, ‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.’ (John 10:9). Jesus is both the entrance and the elevation. Jesus is the gate for the sinner. Are you aware you are sitting in front of the gate this morning? Put your foot on the first step of the ladder to glory.
Jacob had a dream. Dreams can be nightmares. How can we explain Jacob was afraid? It was dark. We can often be afraid of the dark. Jacob, from childhood, would have shared his bed with his brother. But it wasn’t the dark that caused this fear in the heart of this man. In the gospel we see 12 grown men in a boat, some seasoned fishermen, terrified. They thought they saw a ghost (Matthew 14:26). They were more afraid of Jesus than the buffeting waves. Coming into the presence of Jesus, initially, can be fearful. ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ (Hebrews 10:31). When you are confronted by God, Jesus comes to you as your Saviour, not your judge. He loved you enough to die for you on Calvary. When we come to Christ there may be an initial fear to commit our life to Him. Are you afraid to accept the truth?
‘He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.’ (Genesis 28:12). From that night on Jacob came alive to God. He made a vow. There was a miraculous change. Jacob believed the promises of God. God promises land, growth, security and much more. The gospel is full of promises, given by a God who cannot lie. Jacob changed, he came alive. The pearl of all promises, ‘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.’ (John 3:16). He gives us an invitation, ‘Come unto me.’
Jacob need not run away any longer. We need to run to Jesus. ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.’ (John 10:27). Do you have that security? Will you believe His promises? ‘Then Jacob made a vow saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear, so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God.”’ (Genesis 28:20-21).
Is this Lord your God or are you looking to other gods? Will you accept Jesus as Jacob did, committing your life to Jesus? This is regeneration – being born again, treading the first rung on the ladder. ‘Whoever has the Son has life: whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ (1 John 5:12). Do you have life this morning? Have you been sleeping this morning? Wake up! A life change has apprehensions but now, do you have the life of God in your soul?
Once again it was a delight last Sunday to welcome senior citizens to a wonderful afternoon tea as part of our partnership with Contact the Elderly UK. The food was sumptuous, the fellowship was rewarding for all.