June 6th 2021: Johnny Raine

Revelation 4

“How dare you!” says another student teenager from Sweden to the most powerful leaders around. She carries on, “People are suffering, people are dying, systems and entire eco systems are collapsing. We are in the beginnings of a mass extinction.” What about the group known as Extinction Rebellion, who are actually having a protest this week at the G7 summit? Their website says this, “We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on earth is in crisis. Scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown and are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.” Now, I don’t want to minimise the importance of looking after the environment, caring for animals, keeping the oceans clean and reducing our emissions across the world. All that is important, all of that is vital and is part of God’s first great mission for us in Genesis chapter one, the very first chapter of the Bible. But what are we to make of this kind of talk that we’re in a crisis, that the whole world is in a crisis, that we’re on the brink of a collapse?

If you were to operate with the mindset of this world, that this is all there is, then we probably have a reason to be very concerned, perhaps even hysterical. But the Christian worldview should take a different view to this. In fact, the biblical mindset should actually heighten our concern for environmental issues, but it should do so with less of a hysterical attitude, less panic and less fear. This is not just about environmental issues, this is about many other things as well; we think of nuclear weapons and the potential for global war, we can think about the way there is such tension in the world that we live in, so much polarised opinions about what is right and what is wrong. We can even think, as we’re all too aware, and seeing your masked faces today, about the Pandemic. Should we be hysterical, should we be concerned that we’re on the brink of collapse because of Covid 19? Well, we’ve got Revelation 4 to help us here.

For the churches of the 1st century, as this was written to them, were facing all kinds of issues themselves. But when you look at chapters two and three, for example, there are all kinds of issues in these seven historical churches: there was a church that needed to recover its primary love, a church that needed to cling on in light of the suffering that was about to come their way, there was a church that needed to watch out they didn’t compromise with the world, a church that needed to bring back some spiritual life because they were all but dead. There’s one that needs strength in their weaknesses because there were some of their community that were trying to get rid of them. There’s a church that needed to stop being so self-sufficient in their wealth.

There are churches facing all of these kinds of issues today around the world but also here in the UK. We might think that if there are churches facing all these issues today, churches that are compromised, churches that are as good as dead, churches that are faithful under great suffering and persecution, is there a hope for the future? Can we adapt the words Extinction Rebellion and say this about the church, ‘We are facing an unprecedented global ecclesiastical emergency, the church on earth is in crisis.’ Theologians and missiologists agree that we have entered a period of abrupt ecclesiastical breakdown, or we are in the midst of a mass extinction as Christians of our own making. So, our planet in crisis, our health system is in crisis, the church is in crisis. Shall we ramp up the fear? At the risk of giving the game away far too early, the answer is ‘No.’ But why is that?  Well, you’d have to read the whole of the book of Revelation to find that out, because that’s what the rest of the book is essentially about. But for this chapter today, what we need is a vision of the sovereign Lord, the God who is in control of everything.

You are probably familiar with the book of Acts which tells the story of how churches spread across the world in the 1st century up until the 60s. In many ways, Revelation is a retelling of the history of the Church, of the church in the 1st century, but from a very different angle.

We are given a heavenly perspective of what is going on. We see that clearly in the first verse here. John sees this door in heaven and he’s invited to go into heaven and see what is going on, what is going on behind the scenes and what will take place. He is in the spirit (in verse two) and he enters into this continuing vision that actually began in chapter one of Revelation. He goes right into the most sacred part of heaven, the very throne room of God. The immediate focus as he gets into the throne room of God is, of course, on God Himself. He is the one who is sat on the throne, He is the one who sits in the position of sovereign rule over all things. Imagine if you were in John’s shoes – you went into the throne room of heaven. Perhaps one of the first questions you might ask is, ‘What does God look like?’

Whatever image of God is presented in the Bible, we are never shown a direct image of God. We don’t see Him directly. We are given indirect allusions to His appearance. That’s because the core truth of who God is, is that we cannot look at Him and live. He, in His Holiness and brilliance, is so awesome that if we saw a direct image of God, or even if we conceived of a direct image of God, we would melt before Him because we are mortal, fallible creatures.

One vision of God that this chapter particularly refers to and draws on, is the material from Ezekiel. It is one of those books that we perhaps struggle with and perhaps don’t spend too much time reading. But it’s a wonderful book. In Ezekiel chapter one Ezekiel is given a clear vision of who God is. It’s just an amazing image. So, Revelation here particularly draws on Ezekiel chapter one.

Ezekiel sees the throne of God and as Ezekiel spends time describing what is going on, he describes what goes on around the throne of God rather than describing the One who sits on the throne. Ezekiel says, “Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (Ezekiel 1:25-27).  

He’s describing what goes on around the throne rather than One who is on the throne. So back in Revelation chapter 4 verse three you have John saying that God’s appearance is like all of these precious gems. His appearance is something like Jasper, a ruby which has very bright, luminous colours as it reflects and refracts light and spreads and shines it out.  Surrounding Him was the full spectrum of colour, so that the whole rainbow is encircling the throne. Also referred to in Revelation chapter 1, there’s a rainbow there as well, but somehow this rainbow looks like a shining emerald, just part of the contrasts that go on in Revelation, things that can’t quite square up in in our understanding.

So, where it is the fieriness of Ezekiel, with a bright glowing metal that looks like there is fire there, or whether it is John seeing these beautiful gems that are there before him, shimmering and sparkling, the point is that the any image of God is just far too overwhelming, and brilliant and bright, awe-invoking. But that’s all we are given because we can’t see God Himself. Using the brightest, most colourful, most wonderful things that we’ve got in this world of gems and fire, that is all we can muster up to describe God. Actually Ezekiel, at the end of chapter one, says, This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”

John is not seeing the Lord, he is not even seeing His glory, he is not even seeing the likeness of His glory. He is seeing the appearance of the likeness of His glory – that’s four times removed from a direct image of God. So even these visions of God in the Bible, even this vision of God in Revelation chapter one, there is barely a hint of the wonderful appearance of God Himself.

So then John, having given us a hint of the appearance of God, then moves on to describe who else is in the throne room of God. So, he begins in verse four with these 24 thrones, along with these 24 thrones are 24 elders, every one dressed in white, gold crowns on their heads. Wonderful imagery. White clothing, as we may know, is the picture of God’s people in purity. Crowns represent the victory of having kept faithful to God throughout their lives, having reached the end of the goal of their faith.

I think these 24 beings, these heavenly elders, represent the fullness of the church, both before and after Jesus. Before Jesus came, we had 12 tribes of Israel. In Jesus’s time and beyond we have 12 apostles who are the foundation of the church. Simple maths, 12 and 12 is 24. It’s something that crops up throughout the whole Book of Revelation. So, you’ve got these representatives of the whole of the church, both before and after Jesus. They are then representing us before God in the throne room of God, which is wonderful.

But then the drama ramps up from here. From the throne comes these flashes of lightning. There are rumbles or possibly shouts and then you’ve got these peals of thunder. I’m sure you all remember when we’ve had a dark, stormy night and been woken up by a thunderstorm. Perhaps you’ve seen either flashes of lightning or heard the distant rumble of thunder? It can be fearful. These thunderstorms in heaven, around the throne room of God, are there to invoke a sense of awe within us.

Then, because this throne room is the temple, it needs a few temple artefacts. In fact, Hebrews tells us that the earthly temple in the Old Testament was actually modelled on the heavenly temple. So here we have some of the objects that were in the Old Testament temple of God. We’ve got the lampstand, which is the next thing to capture John’s attention, the sevenfold lampstand. And that is, as we are told, to represent the 7 spirits of God (by the way, that’s not to say there are seven Holy Spirits of God. The number seven is simply used that to show completeness and perfectness of the Holy Spirit). Then you have this sea of glass that was like crystal.

But then there’s one last thing that captures John’s attention – and they are very weird. You’ve got these four living creatures who were introduced to us at the end of verse six. We are first told that they are around the throne of God. They have eyes all over them, even under their wings, which is pretty strange to think about. It just means they see everything, I think. They have six wings. The first creature is like a lion, the second one is like an ox, the next one has a face like a man and the fourth is like a flying eagle. Those four creatures are the four pinnacles of their territory: the lion is the king of beasts, the ox is the strongest of all of the domesticated animals, the human is the ruler of all the creatures and the eagle is the king of the sky.

The number four is used to talk about geographic completeness: north, south, east and west. We have four creatures covering the entirety of the earth. So I think these four living creatures represent all of the creatures from all across the world, from all different animal kinds, including the human beings and pets.

 As we allude back to Ezekiel, these living creatures are mentioned in Ezekiel chapter 1 – four of them again, except they are slightly different. It tells us in Ezekiel chapter 1 that that all of these creatures have four faces,Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body.” (Ezekiel 1: 10-11)

So, they are a little bit different in Ezekiel, but nevertheless it’s the same kind of creature representing all creatures before God’s throne. It’s just overwhelming, isn’t it? To think about these creatures with their faces, with their wings, their eyes all over them.

Now so far everything seen is pretty much in static. It’s as if you put on the film in Revelation but you’ve put it in pause and all you see is this static image with the exception, perhaps, of the lightning that needs to move, doesn’t it. Everything else hasn’t needed to be in motion yet. So, it’s come on in pause and we’ve yet to press play. But because it’s being paused we’ve been able to glance at every detail that is on the screen. So, we’ve been given a hint of the One who’s at the centre of it all. The Sovereign Lord rules from His throne in His brilliance and in His splendour. In accord with His brilliance we have glimpsed all of the brilliance going on around Him: the temple, the 24 elders on the throne that represent the entirety of church, the four living creatures that represent all creative beings. So we had a glimpse of it all. But what are we to make all this so far?

I think one thing is for us to recognise that God is so unapproachable, He’s so incomprehensible, He is so unseeable. We could never grasp the entirety of God. He is far beyond our reach – and that’s not least because of our limited brain. We don’t have the capacity to fully grasp Him because of the limitedness of our brain but also the limitlessness of God because He is beyond limit, so it is impossible for us to grasp it. But it’s also because His brilliance emanates from His holiness; His brilliant shines out of His Holiness. When we compare ourselves to him in His Holiness, we are nothing. We see our imperfectness, we see our sinfulness, we see all of our flaws before this holy and perfect God. It’s because of that that we can’t fully grasp God. For us, trying to approach God and trying to understand Him in our sinfulness is a bit like a refuse worker or someone who collects the rubbish coming straight from work and trying to get into a fancy, Michelin star restaurant, dressed in their work clothes and not had a shower. They will be refused entry. It’s like us trying to grasp God in our simpleness and His holiness.

If we tried to grasp God in our simpleness, if we tried to enter His presence as flawed as we are, then we would simply melt before Him. He is so perfect, especially compared to us. On one hand God is far beyond our grasp and yet He is also not completely unknowable. John, in his vision, doesn’t have nothing of God, he’s able to grasp something of Him. That’s because he’s been invited up. He has seen something and so we too should be able to recognise how privileged we are to know something about God.

The Bible tells us that everyone knows something about God just by looking at the world around us. What a good thing that is for God to give us this world, to look at it and see He is powerful, He’s made everything, He is eternal and stands above the creation. Jesus had invited John to see something of who God is. He has shown us who the Father is. When we look to Jesus we are privileged to see something of who God is. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Well, to finish up our time in chapter 4, as we’ve seen everything in pause so far, we need to press play. At the end of verse eight we are told what these living creatures say. It’s put in several Bibles as a quoted section, formatted slightly differently so it stands out. They say “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!”

They don’t just say it once, they don’t just sing that at the top of their voices once and think ‘We’ve done with that now, we’ve said it don’t need to say it again.’ No, they never stop saying it. In fact, day and night they say it over and over again. It’s not just them saying something here; whenever they say, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!” it is almost like a starting pistol for the 24 elders, who then respond by doing something and saying something.

So whenever they hear that phrase, they then respond by bowing down before God, they take off their crowns and put them in front of God, and they say (which is seen in verse 11 and is also formatted differently), “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

But no sooner had the 24 elders finished saying that, finished bowing down, then saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” then the four-legged creatures will say their bit again, and as soon as they finish saying “… by your will they existed and were created,” then you’ve got for living creatures, who once again say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!” 

What happens when they say that? Well, that triggers the 24 elders again to bow down before God, cast their crowns before Him and say, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” And so it goes on – back to the living creatures, back to the elders, in this constant cycle of praise as they recognise who God is.

But when we look at those things they tell us a few things about God that are important for us to hang onto. It tells us He’s absolutely holy – that’s why they say it three times, to really emphasise that He’s absolutely holy, that He’s the Lord God Almighty, that He’s eternal, that He is worthy of praise, that He deserves recognition and esteem and authority. Everything that is and everything that continues to exist is by His will. He’s made everything in the first place, and He keeps everything going. Therefore, He is worthy of worship.

So, from all this, we see that God deserves our perpetual worship. He deserves all of the perpetual worship that ever there could be. He deserves that worship to go on forever and ever. He deserves one choir to declare His unique being, only for another choir to declare His sovereign worth. He deserves it! He deserves our worship.

 Do you ever find it repetitive coming to church every week? You come week after week. We do the same thing week in, week out – a slightly different hymn, slightly different reading, a different preacher this week to last week. We’re doing the same thing over and over again. Do we ever find it repetitive? Maybe we do, but that’s because of our sinful nature, that’s because of our flaws.

But God he deserves our praise. Perhaps you find it hard coming in these in these times we’re  living in, with these restrictions? You hate wearing masks? I hate wearing masks, I hate that we can’t sing, that we’re not supposed to talk to each other too long at the end of service. These are frustrating times. Perhaps it makes our repeated worship, week in week out, even harder to do. But God is worthy of it. He deserves our worship and He deserves it to be done over and over and over again. And after all, if God is, as we have said, beyond our full grasp, then we will never be able to declare the fullness of who He is. We will never be able to tell Him fully how amazing He is.

Coming week by week and telling Him something a little bit different each week, something a little bit more of God’s glorious splendour each week, will build up into this big picture of who God is and how He deserves our worship. We need to remember that every time we gather in worship, when we spend time throughout the week, morning, evening, reading your Bible and praying, that God is worthy of our repeated worship everyday of our lives. And when we do that, when we read the Bible on our own and pray, when we gather each Sunday and worship, we’re joining in the perpetual worship of heaven. As the temple of God is meeting, even right now, we’re joining in their worship. Our worship started at 10:30 a.m. this morning but we joined in what was already going on in heaven. Revelation 4 is always going on in heaven. We are simply joining in this morning. He deserves our worship. He deserves us to join Him and declare His work.

So, as we began, is the world going to end? Are we on the edge of collapse? Are we in danger of mass extinction? Is the natural order about to cease to exist? Are humans going to be wiped out by Coronavirus? Well, we need not be fearful. Everything that exists is by God’s control, by His sovereign hand. It will not cease to exist except for Him allowing it to stop. It is by God’s will that anything exists, and it is by His will that we, as humans, and every other creature on this Earth, continues to have their being. It is by His will. We see He is the sovereign Lord who is on the throne of heaven, who is in control of all things, who holds all things His hands. He is unapproachable yet He has revealed Himself to us and He is worthy of all of our worship.

May 23rd 2021: Gareth Edwards

Esther chapter one

The first chapter of Esther is so relevant to our situation today. Hebrew Ahasuerus.  His Hebrew Persian title is Xerxes. For the purpose of this sermon he will be referred to as Xerxes.

This scripture is so relevant to our situation today. Esther is one of two books in the Old Testament that actually never mentions God. The other is the Song of Songs. But it would be wrong to think that this book of Esther is just a book of history. The fact that God’s name is not mentioned is deliberate because the message of the book of Esther is this: behind the scenes of life lies the unseen God whose hand controls the movement of individuals and empires. God is not directly mentioned. Why? Because the message is although God is not acknowledged and is unnamed, He’s clearly there. His will is sovereign, and His will and sovereign purpose is being worked out.

Here we are in an age of pandemic. How many people have thought about God? People believe He’s a God who is not relevant; our trust is in science, in SAGE, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. The government says we’re following the science, it doesn’t say we’re following God. We live in an age when the church of Christ is struggling in some lands. Perhaps, even as Christians, we are tempted to say, ‘Where is the God of the revivals of Welsh history? Where is the God of times past of salvation of large numbers of people? Perhaps, as individuals, there may be circumstances in our lives when we ask ‘Where are you God, have you abandoned me? I see no evidence of your presence.’ The message of the book of Esther is that God is at work, constantly accomplishing His will and purpose. He’s at work in and through the pandemic, He’s at work in and through the church and He’s at work in and through the life of His people.

The opening two chapters introduce us to the main characters. In chapter two we see Esther, her cousin Mordecai and the ‘baddie’ in the story, Haman. Esther is going to placed on the throne alongside King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) to be the instrument by which God saves His people, the Jews, from annihilation, and therefore assures that the line of the Messiah continues and Jesus is born to be Saviour of the world.

But before chapter two we have a look at chapter one, where the other main character is introduced to us, King Xerxes. Xerxes the First, son of Darius the First, who ruled over the Persian Empire from 486 – 485 B.C. He is presented to us in this chapter as the master of all of the civilised world, as his kingdom stretches from India in the East to modern day Ethiopia in the West, a kingdom that was organised into 127 provinces. He is now in the third year of his reign.

From history, we know that he has just successfully put down a rebellion in Egypt and is now turning his attention to Greece. His ambition is to conquer and subjugate the Greek world. He gathers together his commanders and all of the chief of officials of the various provinces to come to his palace in Susa, the capital, to plan the attack on Greece. The Persians believed in mixing business and pleasure and so the occasion of the planning of the campaign is elongated by many feasts. After about six months the preparations have been made, a plan has been drawn up and so the time is being drawn to a close by a great feast. Herodotus, a Greek historian of the period, says that Xerxes was going to raise the largest naval and land force the world had ever seen, numbering 2.6 million men. A huge, huge military operation. Having planned it all out, there was now this great climatic feast.

It was held in the opulent luxury of Xerxes’ palace, which was tastefully decorated for the occasion. It was a fitting backdrop to this display of his royal liberality. Xerxes provides abundantly for his guests, no expense spared. He is magnanimous; there are people from different cultures, different backgrounds with different attitudes. Protocol would be that if the king drinks everyone else drinks. But Xerxes is not going to force people to drink, he allows them to follow their own customs. Here he is, this great king, commanding a vast army, ruling over the greatest empire, fabulously wealthy, but he’s not going to force people to follow what he does.

The man sits upon the throne with total dominion over many nations, with absolute authority. But we know from history all of this went to his head. One of his royal palaces had this inscription written on its foundation stone, “I am Xerxes, the great King, the only King. The King of all countries that speaks all kinds of languages. The king of this big and far-reaching earth.’ But what Xerxes failed to see is that there is a greater King. There is a greater King who dictates the course of Xerxes’ life and the course of his empire. The great, unseen, almighty God who, for His own purposes, raises up Xerxes. The rulers and leaders of the nations feel themselves important. They have their trappings and power and authority. But it is God who appoints governments of all descriptions (Romans 13:1-2). We are to give due regard to those whom God appoints. But we must also expect them to realise that they are answerable to God. They will have to stand one day before their Creator and give an account of themselves, as all men will.

As we look at this man Xerxes I am reminded of another King who has all power and authority, the one before whom every knee must ultimately bow, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Xerxes felt he was the ultimate power. But ultimate authority is given by God to only one, His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He always uses His power for the good of His people. Xerxes could be generous to a point but King Jesus, who has the wealth of all creation, His generosity is boundless. He pours out grace upon grace upon those He loves.

Here is a king who provides a regular banquet, a great and glorious feast. No banquet on earth is like it. Xerxes threw a great banquet, but nothing compares to the great banquet our King regularly provides for us – the Lord’s Supper. Here we feast upon Him. It’s a love feast for pardoned sinners, whatever their status in human society. The bread and the wine are the symbols of His broken body and His outpoured blood, all for the sake of our salvation. This banquet is the foretaste of the great eternal, never-ending banquet in glory to come.

King Jesus eclipses Xerxes. What a blessing it is to be Jesus’s subjects. Nothing compares. We see Xerxes as a powerful king but then we see Xerxes sees as a drunken king, as frail as all men. On the last day of this feast we find him in high spirits from wine. It impairs his judgement. He commands Queen Vashti to appear before him and his men. He wants them to be impressed by her beauty, he wants them to acknowledge that he is the one with the most beautiful wife in the world. He wants his officials to admire her regal beauty.

But such a request was degrading for Vashti. It was an affront. Vashti was also giving a great feast for women because that was the norm. The women and the men did not mix on these occasions. It was regarded as being wrong for women, particularly women of importance, to be involved in these male-only booze-ups. So, when Vashti is commanded to come, she refuses. She is not going to be belittled in this way. She is not going to be subjected to this demeaning behaviour. Whether she was wise to refuse is a matter for debate, but it is wrong that she was commanded.  Here is, perhaps, one of the most telling examples in scripture of drinking to excess. It is said that Joseph Stalin seldom drank himself, but always plied his visitors liberally with alcohol! He knew that when they were drunk they would let slip secrets.

All men are sinful and subject to the same temptations, therefore, all are equally under God’s judgement. All are equally in need of salvation through Jesus Christ, the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown There is no greater place of equality than before the law of God and the cross of Christ. We are living in an age that speaks of inclusivity and equality. Well, there is inclusivity, there is equality. Not found in the ways the people of our day think, but found before the law of God. We are all included. Everyone. On exactly the same basis, exactly the same level – as sinners. There is no-one righteous, no, not one. That is equality before the Lord of God, for all are condemned. There is wonderful inclusivity in the Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what gender, social class or race we are, no one is more saved than anyone else, no one has a greater place in the Kingdom of God than anybody else. Here is true inclusivity. That’s the true meaning of conversion.

The Bible, and the New Testament especially, warns of the dangers of alcohol (Ephesians 5:18). We must never put ourselves in a position where something or someone else has control over us, where we succumb to another influence. We are to be Jesus’ alone.

Finally, we see a furious King. Vashti’s refusal sends Xerxes into a rage. He’s no longer proud of his Queen’s beauty, instead he’s irate. He calls together his seven closest advisors, men who aren’t concerned to see justice done. They think if Vashti gets away with it, what about their wives?  And so they counsel that Vashti be disposed and Xerxes finds another queen. This Xerxes readily does.

Interestingly, at the start of chapter 2, Xerxes begins to regret this, but at this point he’s going to teach her a lesson. He doesn’t acknowledge his own guilt. He would have been better apologising. He sees Vashti’s refusal as an affront, but of course this lays the groundwork for Esther to become queen – Esther the Jewess, the one who at the telling moment is going to announce to Xerxes that it her people that Haman wants to destroy, that she is a Jewess. In that moment God is going to use Esther to overturn Haman’s plan and ensure the safety of the Jews, and therefore of the line of the Messiah, that the Saviour of the world might be born. That doesn’t mean that what Xerxes did was all right. But God worked though Xerxes’ bad temper and drunkenness. God is at work God bringing about the circumstances whereby Esther will be placed in that most significant position.

We’re all like Xerxes; we find it easier to be angry with someone else than acknowledge our own sinful faults. So, we asked that the Lord gives us grace to see our faults first. How thankful we are that our King will never lose His temper, despite our disobedience. He deals patiently with us.

We may deserve to lose our salvation, but we never will because God is faithful. Our king has given us a counsellor who always advises us – the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). He will never flatterer us but will always tell us what we need to know – the truth that sets us free. In Xerxes we see an all-powerful king who seccumbs to drink and a furious rage. But it is God who is at work. God, through all of this, will ensure the great King will come, King Jesus, the one whose rule is righteous and true, the one who rules for the good of His people. His love always ensures they are safe in eternal salvation. He loves them and guides them by the Holy Spirit and ensures they will always be co-heirs in the Kingdom. What a joy to be subjects of King Jesus. What a comfort to know God has ordained all things. May God be praised!

May 16th 2021: Jeremy Bailey

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53 is a portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, written by Isaiah 700 years before the very first Good Friday. In Acts we read of an African official who had been in Jerusalem and was on his way home in his chariot back to Africa. He was reading out loud this chapter. The Holy Spirit had already put it into the mind and heart of Philip, the evangelist, to run down to the dessert road in Gaza. We have heard a lot about Gaza this past week, sadly none of it good. However, this was a wonderful occasion. Philip arrived next to that chariot as the Ethiopian official was reading these words from Isaiah. He asked the question, ‘Who is he speaking about, himself or someone else?’ Philip was invited up into the chariot and started with that chapter to tell him the good news of Jesus. We know that this chapter is all about the Lord Jesus. In fact, we can start anywhere in this chapter, any verse, and we will see Jesus there.

We need the Holy Spirit’s help to be able to see Jesus. There are some people who read the whole Bible and don’t see Jesus anywhere. But there are others who read any part of the word of God and they see Jesus there. This chapter, perhaps above all other chapters in the Old Testament, speaks to us of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, the thing that will do us the most good is to fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus.

In every verse in this chapter, we see the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. We see His physical suffering here. He was a man of sorrows. He was pierced (verse 5) with a crown of thorns, we remember the spear that pierced His side after He had died. He was crushed and bruised. We think of Him being beaten with rods, bruised by the weight of the cross that He was made to carry. We see the physical sufferings, but we know from our own experiences, that physical sufferings are not the only type of suffering that we endure in this world. There’s also injustice. We see here the suffering of injustice (verse 7). He was oppressed and afflicted. There was this pressure upon Him even though He deserved none of it (verse 8). He was arrested, led like a lamb to the slaughter.

We see not only injustice but the agonies of rejection. He was rejected from the very beginning of his life, even as a very young child, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2). It was spiritually dry ground when Jesus came into the world. There had been 400 years when no word had been heard from God at all. The last word of the Old Testament was 400 years prior to the birth of the Lord Jesus. There was very little to see what God was doing. Then, in that dry land a root appeared.

When Jesus was born, He did not have physical attractiveness that we should desire Him. He wasn’t a physically handsome man. He was despised and rejected by His family and by others when He began His ministry. On that first Good Friday He was left all alone, they all fled. The rejection was complete by those who should have loved Him. He was despised and rejected. On the cross people hurled insults. The people really despised Him. When we read all of that we ask, ‘Why did the Lord Jesus have to suffer so much? Why did a loving God, His Father, allow this His only Son to go through that? The answer is, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days, (Isaiah 53:10).

Jesus suffered so much because the Father decided He should. It was the will of the Father that it should happen. The Father caused Him to suffer. We need light and understanding from heaven to understand this.

The suffering of the Lord Jesus was the will of God. In some of the earlier versions of the Bible, the NKJV and the KJV, we read, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10). What a thing to say! Surely the Father won’t be pleased to see His Son suffer? Yet, the same word is used in Isaiah 42:21, “The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” The Lord was pleased the word of God was going out. It is the same word. So, it pleased the Father. How could it please the Father to see His Son suffer? The Father caused Him to suffer. The cross was a deadly wound inflicted on Christ. What Father would be pleased to see His only son crushed?

Throughout His life on Earth the Father constantly assured His Son He loved Him. We hear His voice at Jesus’ Baptism This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17). Then again, when Jesus ascended, we hear the same thing, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5). Yes, the Father loved the Son deeply. There was never a time when the Father did not love the Son.

So how could a loving Father do this? Notice, it doesn’t say Father’ here, it says ‘Lord, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief,” (Isaiah 53:10). It reminds us we have a triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Way before the world was ever created, there was this counsel between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. They determined how sinful, fallen human beings, as they knew they would be, would be saved. The Father would send the Son into the world to be the Saviour of the world. The Son would willingly come, the Son would willingly give His life for the sins of the world. The Holy Spirit would come and make that work of the cross real in people’s hearts. The Son was in agreement, and the Father delighted to send His Son. It was the will of the Son as well. It was the will of the Holy Spirit. It pleased them.

We read the remarkable words of the Lord Jesus in John 10:17, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” The Father deeply loves the Son because He is willing to lay down His life. It was the will of the Lord to crush Him. Not because He had some awful delight in inflicting pain upon His Son but because this was part of the great purpose of God and the only way you and I could ever be saved from our sin and forgiven. If there was another way, do you think the Father would have allowed it? This is the whole point of Gethsemane isn’t it? When Jesus said, ‘If it is possible, let this cup pass by.’ In other words, ‘If there is another way, then let’s find that way.’ Do you think that a loving father would have done that if there had been another way? But the fact is that the Father loved the world of sinners lost and ruined by the Fall. And so, Jesus was made a guilt offering.

In the Old Testament there was a guilt offering – a bull, ram or sheep – and hands would be laid symbolically on the head of that animal to transfer the sins onto that animal, transferring the guilt of our sins onto that animal. The animal was then taken and killed and sacrificed to God on the alter. The animal died in the place of the sinner.

And that’s the meaning of verse 6, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

Human life and animal life are so different. The Jewish people would have known that really, there was no way that the animal could take away their sins. How wonderful Isaiah was given this vision. Here was the Lamb that could take away the sins of the world. Only a sinless person could take away the sins of the world. There was no other way. The Father was doing this, the Son was willingly going to the cross because this was the way that your sins and my sins can be borne away.

If left undealt with, your sins and my sins would carry us down to an eternal hell and we will be punished forever – and justly so. The Father knew that that would be the consequence if the Son did not go the to the cross. And that is why it delighted the Father to see His Son bearing the sins of others so that they wouldn’t enter that eternal hell but that they would be welcomed into an eternal heaven. Only this one sacrifice for sin would prove the Lord to be just and the one who could justify sinners like us. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in.

How can a sinner like me, with all my deceitfulness and rebellion in my heart, go into the presence of the holy, pure God? How can I stand before a just God when I have broken His laws? You cannot provide a ransom for your own sins. Your guilt must be taken by someone else, or you will have to bear it yourself. No act that you could ever perform in your life can ever take away the guilt that you have.

Only the pure Son of God Himself could bear your sin and mine. That is why it was the Lord’s will to crush Him. That is why the Father put Him to grief. There was no other way. A loving Father loved His Son so much that He said, ‘Son, you are willing to go there for the sake of these sinners, millions of them, throughout the world and throughout the whole history of the world. If you are prepared to go and give your life and bear all this sufferings for their sins, and take their guilt, then it will delight Me to see you do it.’

All the fruits of salvation came to us through the suffering of Jesus. Some deaths are fruitful in a measure. It always breaks my heart to see families who have lost someone in tragic circumstances, like when a child dies. Families want to make that life significant in some way, they want to make sure it wasn’t in vain. Parents want to remember them and may set up a charity or research in order that some good might come out of the tragedy. There are occasions when there is fruit from tragedy (example of Annie, the life-saving dummy. Because of her death so many have been saved.)

Yet, there is so much more here, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10). There would be children from Jesus, spiritual children, from the whole of the world, the whole of history – children born again because the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Death could not hold the Lord Jesus. When He had provided satisfaction for sin, He lives forever. The will of the Lord will prosper in His hands. Salvation would be gained.

You and I can never achieve our salvation, but God the Father provided a way. The challenge to you and me today is, ‘Are you resting in Christ and His sufferings or are you resting in something else?’ Come to Christ and rest only in Him. Rest in Christ alone. That is the will of God. It was the Lord’s will to crush Him.

The second great challenge is ‘Do we want to see the Church prosper in our days?’ Of course we do. Yet the temptation is to try all sorts of gimmicks. The preaching of the death and suffering of the Jesus is the only way the church will prosper. Only the preaching of the crucified and risen Lord will ensure fruit. All of us want to see more fruit. None of us are happy with the size of our churches, none of us are happy that we see few conversions. Cling to the cross. Preach Christ alone for salvation. Rest in Him alone.

Through His death and resurrection, the will of God will prosper. Rejoice in Him because He has done it all. What is there for us to do? Simply repent and believe and put our trust only in a crucified Saviour. And one day, this risen, ascended Jesus will come again in glory. And if we are still here on Earth we will see Him. Even those who pierced Him will see Him. If we have already gone to glory, we shall be enjoying His presence forever more because He bore our sins on the cross of Calvary.

May 9th 2021: Alan Davison

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-14

This is one coherent paragraph. However, verse 13 is often mis-quoted and used in isolation. It needs to be understood in its right context. This epistle is very much a letter of joy. The Church in Philippi was established by Paul himself. Paul knows them very well. The Philippians are seeking to do things in truth and correct spirit. Why would Paul therefore need to encourage this if they were committed to gospel work? Paul is also thanking them for sending him a gift but also saying his need wasn’t so great he couldn’t cope.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Paul says, ‘all things,’ not everything. To say someone can do anything is to say this is unlimited, there is nothing I can’t do. This is to ignore the gifting of God. What did Paul really mean by ‘all things?’ This is the final sentence of a paragraph, a summary. So, Paul has already told us about these things, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (verse 12). Paul uses a pictorial way of saying this is all of life’s experience. Do we approach our lives in the right way?

In Romans 12:1 Paul writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” The word ‘service’ can also be rendered as worship. The ESV Bible reads, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Every aspect of our life is of interest to God.

“Through Christ who strengthens me.” Do we still consider the things of Christ when we face a crisis? Do we take it to the Lord in prayer? The world’s alternative is, ‘I can do all things myself because I don’t need anyone else.’ A key point of being a Christian is, ‘I am weak, I need Christ.’

Jesus says, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5). The whole point of being a Christian is to bear fruit. A vine branch only produces fruit if it is attached to the vine itself. The vine dresser is God. We need to keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to be focused on Christ and remember what is really important in our lives. Don’t strive after what the world says is important.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). This is a key point, made not only by Matthew, but also Mark and Luke, who make the point even more strongly. Everything comes down to our relationship with Christ – what we do through Him. He uses us to accomplish His purposes.

“Who strengthens me.” God strengthens us. The Christian’s life is a battle. Satan will attack wherever he can. But God knows everything and provides us with everything we need. He supplies our every need. Sometimes life can seem as if we are wading through treacle, gritting our teeth, waiting for the fun ahead. When Paul says, I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13), he is not speaking about some sudden empowerment. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul warns Timothy of the days of seeking worldly gain. The temptations of the world will rob us of contentment. Contentment is really to be found in trusting God. As we trust in God it should inform and calm our minds. Contentment does not come overnight. Paul tells us in verse 11 he had to learn to be contented, Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

In verse 12 we are being shown something that was secret, I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Paul makes it clear that contentment requires effort.

We have been called by God to live lives that are holy. We are also to be ready to give a defence for the hope that is within us. Christian contentment is remembering God is with us in all things and in all times.

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:10-14

April 11th 2021: John Scanlon

Exodus 12:1-20

It’s amazing how God has watched over us during this Pandemic. We are here now because of the God who is faithful to His promises.

A friend of mine, who’s been a preacher of the gospel since the age of sixteen, until the age of 96 before he died last year, once said to me, “In the pulpit your text can come from any part of Scripture because God speaks to us through all of it. But you must end at the Cross because this is the essential message of the gospel.” This is what I’ve always tried to do. But my thoughts throughout this lockdown is what I’ve missed more than anything is Communion, the Lord’s Table. Thankfully, we’ve recently been able to take it up again, keeping high standards of hygiene. It’s an essential part of our worship and is a follow-on from something much older, as if focusing from the shadow to the substance, or as I would rather call it, the reality. I think that the nearest equivalent in the Jewish faith was the Feast of the Passover, the coming together of the Jewish people to remember what God had done. We need to understand the shadow to grasp the substance, or the reality.

Back in Genesis 4 we hear of sheep and sin for the first time. As we all know, Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain was a tiller of the ground. When it came to a time of sacrifice Abel brought a lamb of God and Cain brought the produce that he had lifted from the ground. Abel’s offering was accepted but Cain’s offering was not. Cain wasn’t pleased about this and God said to him, ‘Why has your face fallen? Don’t you realise that when you come before God with a sacrifice it will be accepted, but if it is not then sin is at the door?’ Cain discovered that day that God is not interested in any sacrifice unless it comes from the heart.

Then we come to another entry of the lamb in Genesis 22:2 when we read about the lamb and the love of God. We read of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son. In verse 7 young Isaac began to look around him for the lamb that would be sacrificed. Abraham told him God would provide a lamb for the burnt offering. The answer Abraham gave his son could be read in a different way; I believe he said that ‘My son, God will give Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.’ Later in that chapter, when Isaac was laid on the wood and Abraham’s hand was raised to strike, you can wonder how a man of such a great age as Abraham could bind his son, who by then would have been a strong teenager. It could only be because of the love and obedience he had to his father. Even this reminds us of the way Jesus spoke of His impending death on the cross and His willingness to submit to the Father’s will.

But then God said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” It seems strange to read this when Isaac was not his only son, he was his second son. But then Isaac was the son of promise, and the other was the son of the flesh. Isaac’s wiliness to be sacrificed leads us so easily go in our minds to John 3:16, and how God gave His only Son. We can read from this that God is providing a lamb for Himself. The only sacrifice that would be acceptable for atonement for our sin would not come from us but from God Himself. He would not allow Abraham to sacrifice the son he loved. In His own great love for His people, He was willing to give His only begotten Son on Calvary. This was the action of a loving, compassionate God reaching out to a dying world and extending the only hope of redemption.

Some of you may have heard this story before. I joined the army in 1949 and after about nine months I found myself in Manobier Castle, a dismal, desolate place. I settled down. Later I met the local newsagent’s daughter. In those days the things of God, salvation and any form of Christianity had no interest for me. I wasn’t a believer. I knew that if I wanted to be part of that family, I had to help with the Sunday newspaper delivery. It was quite a big job; I traipsed around the married quarters, the villages of Manobier, Lydstep, Jameston and St. Florence. Quite a big area. Having been born in the centre of a town and never been to the countryside I saw things that seemed strange to me.

One thing that stayed in my memory, a tradition I had never encountered before. One of my deliveries was to a Mrs. John. I was always met at the door by her young son, who was about seven or eight years old. He couldn’t wait for his comic! After about a year I remember an incident that has stayed with me ever since. One Sunday I knocked on the door and the boy answered. I saw a little lamb inside the home. To my mind a lamb belonged in the field with the sheep, not in a kitchen getting under everyone’s feet. I learnt that sometimes an ewe will die in lambing or might reject the lamb. The farmer would try to place it with another ewe but if that failed it would be reared by the farmer’s wife or any other woman who volunteered. So, this particular lamb was in the care of Mrs. John. I became accustomed every Sunday to seeing this lamb running around the house as a pet. I saw him grow in vigour in the family’s tender care. The children loved it and played with it. It seemed to become one of the family.

Then, one day, I called and the lamb was missing. I asked where it was. I was told, “It’s in the freezer.” Just like that! I was shocked. A pet one day and food for the table the next. That day I learnt of the harshness of country life. Time went on. Eventually we got married and later I left the army. My wife died in 1982. Things went downhill for a while, until one day I responded to an invitation to visit a chapel. It wasn’t long before God spoke to me in His Word as I read it. I had my own Bible and I read it. From the beginning, page one.

As I began reading the book of Exodus I saw how the children of Israel were being guests of the Egyptians for four hundred years after a period of famine, and how they were slaves. Moses had pleaded for their release and Pharoah’s refusal had led God to visit upon the Egyptians some terrible plagues. The hardness of the heart of pharaoh didn’t have the desired effect. So, we come to the final plague which was the death of the first born of man and animals throughout Egypt. To ensure the survival of the children of Israel, God gave a commandment to Moses that each household was to take a lamb of the flock. Now this lamb was to be perfect. They would take it into their houses and care for it. You can imagine this lamb being part of the family, playing with the children, being fed by hand. It would look upon the people as being its own family. After four days it was slaughtered as this was the commandment. The blood was to be placed on the door posts (Exodus 12:6-7).

My mind went back immediately to that house forty four years before; a picture began to form in my mind which wouldn’t reach completion until a few years more. The blood of that little lamb put on the lintel and doorposts of the houses would save the lives of God’s people but strike the Egyptians (Exodus 12:12-13). This was the beginning of the Jewish Feast of the Passover, which has been celebrated ever since. We remember a time when the children of Israel were sheltered from the wrath of God by the blood of the lamb. Ever since, as Jewish families meet around the table for the Passover meal, the father will tell his children of the time when God allowed the children of Israel to live because He had shown to them the blood of the lamb.

Now the people were released from bondage and after forty years in the wilderness they were able to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land – the land promised to Abraham by God, so many years before. The place of the crossing was significant because many years later something else important happened at that same spot. A great event took place. A man had drawn a large crowd of people as he was baptising men and women in the river. This man was known by many as the last of the Old Testament prophets. People argue about this but to my mind the Old Testament prophets were the ones who prophesied the coming of the Messiah and this man was the last one to do it. He was spoken of as John the Baptist although I’ve learnt since then that he wasn’t really a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Presbyterian. He was a Jew.

The crowds lined the banks of the river and he called on all to repent of their sins and be baptised. There were many people waiting their turn to go into the water. There were many who were just spectators. Some were observing to report back to the Pharisees what they had seen. But John didn’t see that; he looked beyond and saw one man coming through the crowds toward him, just an ordinary man (Isaiah 53). But John knew who He was, he couldn’t help knowing. God had spoken to him and had told him who it was. He revealed it to him. This has happened many times in the work of God.

Matthew 16:13 tells us of a time when Jesus asked His followers who men thought He was. After various answers He then asks them who did they think He was. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16: 16). In the following verse Jesus tells Peter he has been blessed because God has revealed this to him. It can only be through speaking to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that things like this can be revealed to us by God. This is how John the Baptist knew who was coming towards him through the water. But how did John greet this man? He could have hailed Him as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Word of God. But no, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.”

Now the people who heard this would have been shocked because to the Jewish people the Lamb of God would be the Passover Lamb revealed to us in the books of Moses. They would not understand that the Messiah had come to take the sins of mankind upon Himself and suffer and die an atonement. Everything in the temple concerning the Day of Atonement concerned the sins of Israel, of the Jewish people. This man, walking into the water, would later give His life in order to atone for the sins of all of us (John 3:16). His shed blood would save people from all walks of life, for their sins, and shelter them from the wrath of a righteous God. When God seeks out sinners and sees the blood, He passes over us. We can see from this that the Lamb spoken of, the Lamb of God, is the same Passover Lamb, the innocent Lamb that was slain to cover our sins – the Lamb who died that we might live. From this we are told that any person who truly repents, no matter what race or religion, if he is covered by the blood of the Lamb of God, if the blood is on the doorposts of his heart, God will pass over him on the Day of Judgement.

It’s amazing when we look back and see what God says in Exodus 12:13, that this promise applies to us, not just to the Jewish people. Jesus is our Passover Lamb and the blood God speaks of is the precious blood of the Lamb of God shed on Calvary. The Lamb was slain but if we have saving faith in Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb will be in our houses every day, in our hearts. The Passover Lamb will be with us in every way possible – on our lips. Just as when a Jewish family sits around the table for the Passover meal, in the same way we meet around the table, the Lord’s Table. It is also a remembrance of the goodness of God in giving us His only begotten Son as our Passover Lamb, as we are reminded as the pastor reads the word of 1 Corinthians 11:25. One day we hope all these Pandemic restrictions are over and we can again glorify God as we come together in personal song, meeting again around the Lord’s Table.

March 15th 2020: Tom Baker

Tom Baker - March 2020-Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
    and passing over transgression
    for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
    because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
    he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
    into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
    and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
    from the days of old.

Micah 7:18-20

Micah is not a well-known book. Micah is not a well-known man. Unlike most people in the Old Testament, we are not told his family name, who his father was. He was a nobody, not from an impressive family. We are told he came from Moresheth, about 22 mile from Jerusalem. Isaiah was in the city of Jerusalem at this time. Moresheth was a small, forgotten place in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere. But Micah is not concerned with knowing who Micah is. His theme is us knowing who God is. Is this your testimony? You are not concerned with people knowing who you are but about who God is? Or are you obsessed with yourself – either being terribly arrogant or terribly despairing – thinking too much or too little of yourself? Do you know the freedom of turning away from yourself and turning to God?

Micah’s name means ‘Who is like the Lord?’ Micah starts and finishes his book with this. His name follows him and tells him who he is. Micah here is determined to preach to us God in all His glory. Who is like Him? He is speaking particularly of what he sees; God’s people have sinned in a number of ways. There is rampant idolatry, turning to lesser gods than their own. There is a particular issue with the corruption of the leaders of the nation. To make it worse, they sin in that they offer sacrifices to God without any humble repentance, just going through rituals. But Micah has also seen the greatness of God revealed in great judgement against His people. God, as He administers that judgement, feels a deep compassion. It grieves Him to see that. We see a great one who will take chaos and sin and put it all right, someone who will be a great ruler, righteous and holy. We see the great deliverer and salvation that He will provide.

Today, we still live in a messy world with messy lives, but He is still a great God and still great salvation is available in Him today. Micah saw Him and he was amazed. Are we? God is greatly to be praised. He is greatly to be feared. Some may not like this, but there is nothing more fearful than the love of God. God is to be feared because He is a God of love; you can stand on the rocks on the cliff face  at St. Davids and be fearful, yet still in awe of lies before you. God is great. We fear the sheer size of Him. There is nothing at all in existence that is greater than the love of God. When we first see the love of God our reaction is ‘Wow!’ Micah sees the great God says, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.” (Micah 7:18).

He is a God who is infinite in every way: in His holiness, knowledge and power. He always has been a great God and always will be. Every great thing you have ever seen, He made it. Everything belongs to Him. He is greater than all of it put together.

Perhaps the most distinctive, amazing thing about God is He is a God of mercy, showing love to His people.

Let us explore:

  1. The mercy of God
  2. The faithfulness of God.

 

  1. The mercy of God. God sees us and our sin and still He loves us. Micah saw God’s people and their offences against God. We have offended God in many ways. Micah highlights our iniquity (our twistedness), our transgressions (our lawbreaking, doing what we known we should not do) and our sin (falling short). Because we are a sinful people, even the best we offer falls short. When see our offence, we see all this together.

Like those of Micah’s day we have turned away from God. Our great offence against God is simply we fail to acknowledge God and give Him the honour He deserves. We happily receive the things from His hand but wish He would clear off. We have failed to acknowledge God for how great He is. We attempt to solve our problems ourselves. We think more of ourselves than we ought to, thinking we do not need Him. God should be angry with us. We get angry with people who have offended us, God is angry with His people who have turned from Him. We are those people. All have sinned and are under His judgement. Micah is all the more amazed when he sees God is a God of mercy. He pardons them and removes all their guilt. It’s amazing!

Micah picks out two lovely images of how God deals with our sin, “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea,” (Micah 7:19). He treads our sin underfoot and casts it into the depths of the sea. As Jesus hung on the cross, He took all our sin. God crushed our sin. Christ was cut off and died so we wouldn’t. He took it on Himself. God stamped out all my sin. He casts our sin into the depths of the sea, He takes it all and throws it into the deepest part of the sea – all of them, so they can’t come back. All sin, even the ones you are most ashamed of and the ones you can’t even remember, are cast away, never to return.

Are you still carrying your sin or has it been laid on Jesus Christ? Do you still carry a sense of guilt and try and make it up to God? Take it all to Him. And if you’ve done that, leave it there. Christ has dealt with it. Don’t feel you need to tidy up your life first. Come to Jesus Christ in all your need, see the great mercy that He displays – most strikingly at Calvary. The first thing He says on the cross is, “Father, forgive them,” (Luke 23:34). See the mercy of God. Lay hold of the grace of God, know His love for Jesus’ sake.

  1. The faithfulness of God. Great is His faithfulness. Not only does He see His people in sin and shows them love anyway, but He stands by them anyway. He is firmly committed to them and will be with them forever. We see two things:
    (i) the temporary anger of God and
    (ii) the permanent smile and favour of God.
  • The temporary anger of God is a just anger. He is angry with sinners. Some will reject Him forever. Yet that anger can be turned away; Christ has turned it away from all those who belong to Him. He bore it. I deserved it but Christ turned it to Himself.
  • Those who trust in Jesus Christ never have to face the anger of God. Instead, the Christian knows the permanent smile and favour of God. Why? He is a God who delights in steadfast love. What makes God happy? To show eternal steadfast love to sinners. It is mind-blowing! It is Life changing! God loves you because He enjoys it. He has bound Himself to you – not because He has too, but because He wants to.

How do you imagine God looks at you – smiling or frowning? If you are in the Lord Jesus Christ you can know the smile of God, unchanging, forever. God shows that same favour towards His Son. He always has and always will. He is proud of Him. When He sees His Son it just makes Him smile. If you are in the Lord Jesus Christ that is the same for you. He is faithful.

Why does God stick with you? Because you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. How much faithfulness will He show? Even when Christ was dead and buried, He brings His Son up from the dead. There is nothing now that could take Him from us. We can never lose His favour if we belong to Jesus Christ, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6). He started loving you, He is not going to stop!

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?” (Micah 7:18-20). Then Micah ends. There is no response, just resounding silence . . . because there is no-one like Him in all the earth. What a Saviour He is. There is no-one like Jesus!

 

Coronavirus Update

PenuelCovid19

In line with government guidelines, all services and meetings at Penuel are cancelled for the moment. This decision is not done lightly as we love to gather together and encourage one another.

We do this in order to protect those who are vulnerable and limit the spread of Covid-19. The latest government guidelines ask that people (including religious groups) do not hold non-essential gatherings as much as possible, regardless of how big they may be.

This includes our Thursday Bible Study & Prayer meetings, Friday Children’s Club, Saturday Guardians of Ancora Club and both Sunday services.

As a church we really do wish to support each other and our community as best we can. If you would like to chat, a prayer or any practical help, we would be very happy to do so – please send us a message either through our website or soical media.

We do not have the facilities to live stream our services, However, the EMW has created a daily devotional which you can sign up to here: www.emw.org.uk/daily

We will put a few link to church’s who are holding online services on our facebook page at the weekend.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 4:11

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March 8th 2020: Owen Jones

Owen Jones - March 2020“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:14-17

We reach the heart of the Epistle of Romans in chapter 1, in verses 14-17. All we see here is worked out; the Lord Jesus made statements concerning coming Himself in John’s gospel, the ‘I am’ statements, His claim to deity.

When we come to the Lord Jesus Christ we see He claims to be none other than God Himself. And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:14).

We are going to look at 3 ‘I ams’ of Paul:

I am bound (verse 14)
I am so eager (verse 15)
I am not ashamed (verse 16)

I am bound:Paul is under obligation. He saw his Greek culture and philosophies. He was bound to bring the gospel to them, to tell them. He has something more to give to them then they have now. He owes it to them because God has saved him, justified him by grace. In light of this vast blessing he owes it to the Greeks and barbarians to tell them. There is a sense in which we are bound to tell others. Do we feel under any obligation as Christians to tell others, to share your testimony? Let’s be like Paul. An obligation has been laid upon us by God.

I am eager: Paul is saying there is a readiness – go anywhere, do anything. There was a yearning, a burden for Paul. He was ready but God prevented him going at that time. Paul prepared to preach the gospel to people in Rome. We see that the people he wanted to go to were God’s people in Rome (Romans 1:7). Paul wanted to go to the difficult areas.  There is no greater privilege than telling the Lord’s people, in encouraging them. Paul was eager to come to them. Christians need to be preached to evangelically; we are not past the delight to be preached to.

I am not ashamed: This is  the very heart of being, it is based in the gospel. Paul is immeasurably and unspeakably proud of the gospel. There is an ironical statement here, a litotes (an ironic understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary). The gospel is the only news that can bring the hopeless any hope at all. We see the power of God, dunamis. We get the English words dynamic and dynamite from this word. Dynamite has a dual role; it has a destructive power and a constructive power, to knock down and to build up. What needs to be destroyed in the lives of men? Every barrier raised against the gospel in your heart. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can do that, there is no other philosophy. Then, when everything is being blown down, something begins to grow. The foundation that is laid – the gospel. The Word of God, the gospel, is the power of salvation to whoever believes.

Paul saw the gospel for everyone who believes, wherever you come from, whatever age. This gospel alone will bring you to God. As for our works, achievements, trying to work for salvation, God says ‘You’re bankrupt!’ Look to Him. When Christ died upon the cross He died for the unjust. He is our righteousness. Trust Him and He will clothe you with His righteousness. Where do you stand? Do you stand in righteousness before God right now? It is a righteousness from first to last. My righteousness is God made. It is from heaven. Nothing you and I can do can make us righteousness. “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2) Be unspeakably proud of this gospel, bring it to men!

March 1st 2020: Gaius Douglas

Gaius-March19The Steps of a Surrendered Life

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.”

Psalm 37:23

The steps of a man are established of the lord. Seven steps are identified in studying the scriptures of the surrendered life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our thoughts are often on ourselves. We are saved by His grace yet so often we go from ourselves to compare to the Lord Jesus Christ, but we should go to the Lord Jesus Christ and see how we measure up to Him.

We see Christ, a surrendered life to the glory of His Father, always living, always abiding in the presence of His Father, God. When we are studying the Word of God, Augustine said, The Old (Testament) is in the New (Testament) revealed.” If the Bible is the only book you ever read, this is all you need to know because the Spirit of God is your teacher. You will know everything you need to know about God. How often Jesus quoted from the Old Testament.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way.” (Psalm 37:23). Who is the man? It is not the unbeliever, it is the believer in Christ, the person who is being established in God. The world hates the believer in Christ. The world has to come to Christ. The Bible says, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world,” (John 17:14).

In everything you do, if you know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, you know God is the one who is in control, directing your ways, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps,” (Proverbs 16:9). So often we plan this and that. Afterwards we add the strap line, ‘God willing.’ Shouldn’t we have gone to God first? God allows it. There is a well-known quote, Man proposes but it is God who disposes.‘ God opens the door, but many blessing we ignore because we turn away from His path. We say no and shut the door on God. He is gracious and opens it again, but again we say no. When He opens the door are you willing to walk through it?

We are who we are because of who Jesus is. He is our example, He is the one who has gone before us, who made those first steps. Now He says, ‘Are you going to follow me?’ This man is the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father sent the Son, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world,” (1 John 4:14). He was the one God used to establish His way. He delighted in His Father’s words and His Father’s ways.

“Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, Rejoicing in His inhabited world, And my delight was with the sons of men (Proverbs 8:30-31).” Who is this man? It speaks of the man Christ Jesus, who delighted in His Father’s thoughts and actions. He was daily His delight. He rejoiced in everything the Father did and said, in every aspect. His delight is you and me, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). The Father loves us, gives us the richness of His blessings. Whatever the Father asks Him to do He will do it (Psalm 16). Who enjoys being in the presence of God? None other than the Lord Jesus Christ. There is enjoyment, excitement. The steps of the Lord Jesus Christ followed, He sought His delight in His Father.

He is the one who spoke the world into being, He came from the Father and is one with the Father, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (John 1:1). He dwells in the bosom of the Father. Where do you dwell? Where are you living? It’s a challenge to our heart. Where we are dwelling depends on what comes out of our mouth. Our words and actions show where we are dwelling. He was dwelling in the bosom of His Father. He lived in Nazareth, played games and enjoyed life. He associated with you and me so we can’t say ‘You don’t know what it’s like on earth’ because He came! Aged twelve, He was found in a synagogue – a child teaching and debating, doing His Father’s business, dwelling in the bosom of His Father. If the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, found it necessary to dwell in the bosom of His Father, what about you and me?

Does it mean no-one else can live this life because it is too high? Surely He allows us to slip here and there? The Lord Jesus Christ never slipped, He never allowed any latitude, “Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.  And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (John 8:28-29). If the Lord Jesus Christ is my Saviour, my Lord, then surely He is able to bring me into the ways of Himself, “Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day,“ (Psalm 25:4-5). Without Him we can do nothing; we can’t walk one step which is pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Can we live this life?  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” (John 1:14). The Word became flesh. He identified with people. He wanted to save, to show them how to please His Father. He wants us to be able to call him, ‘My Father.’

So I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8). He came, became man, became like you and me  – apart from sin. He walked in this world and says, ‘You can do it because I did it.’

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13). God says you can do it! You can walk this life because of Jesus Christ. We can look at our failings, our weaknesses, yet ‘I can do all things through Christ. “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:3).

We can be strengthened by Him. We are learners at His feet. Jesus called Matthew, saying ”Follow Me.” Matthew got up and followed Jesus, “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him,” (Matthew 9:9). We don’t read anything about Matthew’s responsibilities, his family. He got up and followed Jesus. The fishermen left their nets and followed. Peter was married, loved his mother-in-law. He had responsibilities but he left and followed Jesus. James and John were with their father Zebedee but they left all and followed. Jesus says to you, to each of us, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” (Matthew 4:19). He is not just saying, ‘Do your very best.’ He has saved you for His glory, His honour, His blessings. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3). After Jesus met the woman at the well she preached immediately. She was so full of energy!

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord,” (Psalm 37:23). The Lord Jesus Christ identified with us in coming into this world. He established steps. How can we follow? Remember where He went and how He went. As we come around the Lord’s Table, remember He came down from glory, went lower down to death. In becoming a Christian He is asking us to death. We have to die; there is death to things of the past in exchange for life in Christ. He was baptised into death. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God,” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

We are now washed, sanctified. Christ’s death on Calvary’s Cross has washed and clothed us, made us righteous, a son of God. We are sanctified, set apart, for His glory, honour and praise because Christ has done it. You have been justified. God has declared it so. We are no longer condemned. You are one in Christ. You have everything necessary to follow Him. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It happens at re-birth, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,” (Ephesians 2:1).

Jesus wants you to join Him, share in His glory, all the things the Father has given Him.

February 16th 2020: Thomas Kitchen

Thomas Kitchen - Feb 2020Luke 24:13-35

This is a great way to start a story – two people walking on a long road to home. It is a blank canvas, anything can happen. The two people are sad, distressed, confused; something terrible has happened and they are wondering how to cope and move on. Then another man enters the scene. This is what really drives the story along. But it is not just a story. It is from the Bible, the words of God on a page, 100% true. Everything is built around verse 26, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” The story is hinged around this one sentence.

We know from the start it is Jesus who joins them – the risen Jesus who has conquered death. The two people don’t know. Look at our hope as Christians, if you’re trusting in Christ today.

The two people are Cleopas and another, who is unnamed. It could be his wife or a friend. They are walking to the village of Emmaus, a little, unknown village. Still, even today, we are not sure where it is. Why is it mentioned at all? To give a real historical location – it is a real place with real people. Secondly, it is such a small, irrelevant place and this shows Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance is real. If you were trying to make up a story about Jesus risen from the dead, you’d want to do it in a place people knew to give more credibility. But no, because it is true, it actually occurred in a small, obscure village.

The two disciples were talking intensely. They were distraught, unable to process what had happened. How will Jesus’ death affect them? And someone joins them, but they do not know who it is. “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:16). They were kept from knowing who it is Jesus. This is because Jesus needed to teach them important truths about Himself before they knew who He was. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was dead. We can be disappointed with life and cry out to God, ‘Where are you? Help me make sense of all this!’ To help you know Christ more intently we face trials. We can be spiritually blinded so Christ can be known to us in a more glorious way. Part of the drama of the story is when will the two disciples discover the mystery man is their Saviour?

Jesus asks, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.” (Luke 24:17). This man had obviously overheard the two talking about Jesus yet still asks what and who they are talking about. They stood still, shocked He did not know what had happened. “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Luke 24:19-24).

At first glance their response seems focused; they give a true picture of who Jesus is – a good prophet who did good things, who might have done good things if He had stuck around. ‘Redeemed’ here is linked to a political leader, a victorious ruler on the earth. But that is not why Jesus came. They missed the real ‘why’ of Jesus’ coming. They are clearly very passionate about Jesus but also disappointed. The Messiah had failed in their expectations. They do love Jesus but they don’t understand what is going on. Their hopes have been quashed. Their hopes were in the wrong thing. They lapped up all of Jesus’ teaching but now He had died they have tried to transfer their hope to something else but they couldn’t. They realised Jesus was the answer, but Jesus was dead.

Jesus replies to them with a rebuke, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Jesus is disappointed in their understanding. He is saying, ‘You think I’ve come to save you from Rome, but I’ve come to save you from sin.’

Knowing His followers don’t understand why He came, Jesus guides them through the Old Testament. He starts with Moses and the prophets – the entirety of the whole Old Testament – making it clear why He had to die and where His death was prophesied in Scripture. He rips the curtain away to show the full reality of the Messiah coming back to life. Jesus’ main concern is to unpack His suffering, death and resurrection. Without His suffering and dying, Jesus couldn’t come back to life. If He hadn’t conquered death, sin would not have been conquered. Jesus died and powerfully came back to life again to show authority over Satan and sin, so we can trust in Him and crucify and bury our sin (1 Corinthians 15). He lives, He rules and reigns! He rules above all and every other king. Jesus teaches these two disciples the Old Testament in a New Testament era.

Like these two people on the road didn’t understand, we have masses of people who don’t understand. In Christ’s strength we now do what Christ did – open the scriptures and explain who Christ is – a Saviour to be worshipped and who will save them. Jesus begins to open their eyes that had been spiritually closed. We can know everything Jesus did; some people know the Bible far better than Christians, but they don’t know the Lord who walked the Emmaus road. Knowledge is important, to understand the gospel we have to understand it to affect us – but it must go to our hearts.

Ultimately, it is God who works in us. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, who moves. The Holy Spirit is the comforter – the person of God working in you right now, helping you understand the things in this passage. The Holy Spirit shows us our sin, the wrong things we do each and every day. He is the one convicting you, telling you, you cannot stand before God where you are. As an unbeliever, you are spiritually dead. You need the Spirit to open scripture for you, to show the Cross and what Jesus did for you.

For Christians, believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are also walking the road to Emmaus. We doubt. It is easy to trust our Saviour when the sun is shining, but when storms arise you can feel lost. You can lose sight of Him, get angry with Him, wonder why He is doing what He is doing. If so, walk the Emmaus road and ask Him to open up the scriptures to you. Read Jesus’ words in scripture and hear Jesus’ voice. Pray and your relationship with Him will deepen. He has promised to be with us always. We don’t always believe that; we can sometimes think if we can’t feel His presence He is not there. But we need to trust, no matter how hard it is. He is there.

Remember those two people, nobody’s, one we literally don’t know who they were. Jesus first appeared to shepherds. He stoops and humbles Himself to know us. The one who died for us isn’t going to forget us. That is why He died for us – to know Him and love Him more and more. He is a victorious Saviour. He is our hope. We trust in a living, breathing, holy Saviour who has conquered sin and death. He will sustain us. I still sin but Christ deals with it every day. We gather here because we worship a living God. If you’re trusting in Him He is living in you, shaping you to be more like Him. It is not deserved but given to us because God loves us.

The two disciples saw Him in His glorious state at the dinner table. Do you want your eyes opened in a new way? Go home, pray, open you Bible. Trust Him. Trust He is alive and reigning in heaven. Amen.