November 27th 2022: Ian Middlemist

John 12:36-43

“The Lord Jesus Christ is to be trusted.”

            Is Jesus trustworthy? This is my question. Think about situations you come to for the first time. A new job, or a new school, or a new place to live. Are the people you meet for the first time trustworthy? Can you trust these people with your life?

            We live on the edge of eternity. There are now eight billion people on planet earth. All of us live here on this wonderful planet, but we all face death at any moment, and so we live on the edge of eternity. Well, in the gospel of Jesus Christ we find that He is the only one who can take us into eternity with any hope. The Lord Jesus will take you through life here on earth, and He will carry you into eternity, for He is the only one who can do this. He is the only one who is really trustworthy.

            But still some may say: ‘but is Jesus really trustworthy?’ ‘Is He capable of bringing us through to eternity?’ At the time of His first coming when the people met Jesus they did not immediately trust Him. They asked: ‘is Jesus the Messiah?’ ‘Is He trustworthy?’ Of course, their thinking about the expected Messiah was not really correct, but still they asked the question of this man Jesus: ‘is He trustworthy?’ People of today must ask this same question: ‘is the Lord Jesus Christ as He is presented to us in Scripture trustworthy?’ ‘Can I rest my life wholly upon Him and His ways and words?’ If not, then we had better find out. If the Lord Jesus Christ is just an historical figure, even a great one, or if He is merely a myth made up to make people obedient, well we had better be sure. Is Christ Jesus trustworthy and reliable? If not then we of all people are to be pitied:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.  (1Corinthians 15:19).

Well, of course the Lord Jesus Christ can be trusted! For though He was rejected and vilified by men, even to this day, nevertheless the Lord God, the Father, accepted Him and glorified Him. If God both accepted Him, was pleased with Him, and glorified Him, surely then He must be truly trustworthy? What value is man’s estimation of things?

            In this message we shall consider two things which should lead to an acceptance of Christ’s full trustworthiness.

[1] He had done so many signs before them. (John 12:37).

            Despite the fact that the Lord Jesus had done so many indisputable and awesome signs and miracles in front of their very eyes, yet still “they did not believe in Him.” In our text we are given two Old Testament quotations, and the first comes from Isaiah 53:1 whilst the second from Isaiah 6:9,10. Both of these indicate God’s sovereignty and demonstrate that God rules over all. We shall consider the first of these here and the second under my second point in a moment.

            John 12:38 brings in a quote from Isaiah 53;1, where we read of one was “despised and rejected by men,” who was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” and who was “despised” and not esteemed by us. In Isaiah 53:4 we discover that this one was considered to worthy of being struck (“yet we esteemed Him stricken”), and He was “smitten by God and afflicted.” Could such a person be considered as the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah? But the text of Isaiah 53 tells us much more, for it leads us to look for one not only despised and stricken, but one who also “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” who was “wounded for our transgressions,” who was “bruised for our iniquities,” and who “bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:4,5,12). Though many would reject Him as not worth consideration, He is still God’s Servant! Through Him we are made right with the Creator, for He has come to deal with our great problem – sin – and has come to bring complete restoration.

            But why are so many people not turning to Him? Given the awesome nature of His mission, and given the great lengths He went to, to secure salvation, why do so many turn away and reject Him? If He was the one prophesied according to Isaiah 53, then why didn’t many people in New Testament days turn to Him for salvation, and why aren’t people doing so now? Still today so many people do not believe. Has something gone wrong? Is the Lord’s plan not working out? NO! By no means! For the text John quotes from Isaiah 53:1 shows everyone that the Lord knew about man’s rejection of His Servant. This did not surprise the Father. The rejection by man of the Servant of the Lord was not only expected, it was also foretold, and so when it comes to pass as John notes, such is a tremendous sign for us to believe! Look at verse 38 before the quote is given, where we read:

that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke … (John 12:38).

So that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah “might be fulfilled”! The Lord had all things planned down to the very detail of man’s foolish rejection of their Saviour. The rejection of Christ by men was not unexpected and it was most certainly foretold. The great question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘why on earth do men (including us) ever reject this incredible and glorious Servant of the Lord?’ They did reject Him and we have done so too, save for His incredible grace and salvation that brought us in. But why do we? The only answer to this is human pride and foolish rebellion. And so the very unbelief of the people at the time of Jesus was the very proof that Christ Jesus was the one expected, the Servant of the Lord, as prophesied by Isaiah.

            Even though there is such grief and trouble in the world, yet still society at large rejects Christ and people do their best to push Christ out of conscience and thought. Why? Why do they do this? People are very concerned about the future of the world today. We constantly hear about ‘climate change’ and the need to ‘save the planet,’ and yet they utterly reject the Saviour of the world who came not only as a ransom for men, but also as the Creator of the new heavens and earth. Well for believers the answer is that despite the rejection of Christ we readily see all around us, nevertheless God is still in complete control.

            A question that might be asked concerning this prophecy of man’s rejection of Christ and His sovereign rule over all is, ‘Does this make God guilty of making people unbelievers?’ To which question we must answer: ‘NO! By no means!’ For the Lord God has “done so many signs before them” (John 12:37). Consider the great efforts that Christ Himself went to in His ministry. Not only did He do “so many signs before them,” but He taught them in great patience and love. The Lord has not hidden Himself away, for He has given incredible witness to the truth by Creation, in and through His people (the patriarchs, Israel, the Church), by means of providence and in other ways besides. There are a ‘plethora’ of witnesses to God’s truths. And all of these were given unto mankind that he might not suffer eternal damnation in the fires and torments of hell. Our text comes shortly after one of the greatest miracles that Christ carried out – the raising of Lazarus who had been in the grave for four days (John 11). Why did the people not turn and repent on account of this incredible sign? Jesus simply issued a command that Lazarus should “come forth” which must have jolted their minds to consider creation, for Christ merely spoke and what He said was done (John 11:43). But the miracles were not the purpose of His coming. Miracles were designed to point to the fact that the Lord Jesus was the promised Messiah, in whom can be found the Father’s delight. The main point of the raising of Lazarus was to teach that Christ Himself was “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He came primarily to take away sin. Is this not enough to render all who reject Jesus Christ as Saviour guilty? Yes, it most certainly is! The apologists use great arguments to prove the existence of God, but the truth is that there is no reason not to believe, for there were “so many signs” done in full view of the people, all of which signalled that the Messiah had come and they also displayed details concerning Him.

[2] He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. (John 12:40).

            Many (at times it seems like all) reject Jesus. Yet how can we say that God is just if He makes people blind and hardens their hearts in unbelief? Do the words of John 12:40 mean that God is the cause of unbelief? NO! By no means! The second quote is from Isaiah 6:9,10. In this chapter of Isaiah the theme is holiness as we see, for example, the angels cry out in Isaiah 6:3: “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (this theme runs throughout the book as can be shown by the frequent use of the title “the Holy One of Israel”). The prophet Isaiah witnessed the holiness of God, and he was “undone” (Isaiah 6:5) as he recognised his own sinful state. All those who see the glory of God are immediately humbled. We see it here with Isaiah, we can see it also with Ezekiel in the first chapter of his book (Ezekiel 1:28), and we see it also with John the apostle in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:17). Once Isaiah was humbled to see his sin, atonement comes to him almost immediately, and following this we see Isaiah offering himself in service. This is always the case when we look at salvation. A person meets with God, recognises their own sinful state, repents of sin and turns to God for mercy, and then when so delivered, they come to the Lord for service: “here am I! send me,”  (Isaiah 6:8).

            God showers us with forgiveness. He is utterly faithful to His gospel – all who come to Him and all who receive the Lord will be blessed, and incredibly so (Matthew 11:28-30; John 1:12,13). Those so forgiven are those who want then to follow and serve the Lord. Consider the former cricketer turned missionary C. T. Studd who once declared:

If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.

Peter, after he denied the Lord three times, was brought back and was told to feed the Lord’s sheep (John 21:15,16,17).

            Isaiah was sent out by God just as the Lord Jesus was sent by the Father, and both faced this terrible rejection of men. (Jeremiah seemed to experience it in a greater way which is probably why some thought of the Lord as the return of Jeremiah – see Matthew 16:14). Isaiah might have expected people to hear what God had to say, but instead the Lord told him they would not. But Isaiah was still to preach even if the people would not hear, and even if they would not come to hear him.

            There is an interesting tale concerning an American Sunday School Union meeting place out in Midwest America. On one Sunday morning one of the overseers went in the depths of winter to see how this work was progressing. As he approached, he could see smoke rising from the chimney of the place and heard the bell ringing to call the people to attend. Stirred with expectation he arrived at the hall and on entering discovered that there was just one fourteen year old boy there. So the overseer asked the boy, ‘Was that the last bell?’ The boy replied, ‘yes.’ The overseer asked how the work was progressing since this boy was all alone. The boy replied, ‘first rate, until this bad weather came along.’ So the overseer asked: ‘how many came last Sunday?’ The boy replied, ‘just me.’ So he asked again, ‘what about two weeks ago?’ The boy replied again,’ just me.’ But then the boy continued saying, ‘I come and warm the place and ring the bell for who knows whether they will come or not? What happens if I am not here and some come?’

            Isaiah was called to be faithful even though the prospects looked terribly bleak. And as he preached, the people seemed to get harder in heart against the word of God. This we may call a ‘judicial hardening.’ But do not think that God is unjust here. God never stops people from believing. The idea that God prevents people from believing is wicked. Rather we learn from Scripture that God takes no delight nor “pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11), and would that all mankind would come and “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Timothy 2:4). But the simple fact of the situation is that every person is responsible for their own heart and way. The Lord sends His people to preach the word “in and out of season” (2Timothy 4:2). He is gracious and compassionate and long-suffering towards mankind. But people reject the message. How many times does the message come to a people and they reject it? Only the Lord knows the answer to that question (Genesis 6:3; 15:16), but there comes a time when the Lord allows those who reject His word to be confirmed in their rejection (Revelation 22:11). The people were determined to disbelieve Christ. They were stubborn and stiff necked. But there comes a time when the Lord will strive no more and the worst of all judgments falls upon such who act in stubborn pride – the hardening of their heart. We see such happening to Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. How many opportunities did Pharaoh have? But still he hardened his heart and God confirmed him in his settled desires.

What then shall we do?

            Christ Jesus is worthy of our trust. Give Him your whole life. Be captivated by Him. Trust in the finished work of the cross. You will not be disappointed, and you will be saved!

            God calls His servants to faithfulness and so we must continue to witness and preach the word, for today is still the “day of salvation” (2Corinthians 6:2).

            Both Pharaoh and Judas hardened their hearts against the Lord and His gospel. But neither of these prevailed, for God still worked out His purposes to bring about salvation despite their evil intentions. So even if all your neighbours, your friends, and your colleagues refuse to hear and reject your witness, do not fear for you are in good company. Keep witnessing to the truth and keep preaching the word, for God will prevail and all His plans will succeed.

November 20th 202: Alan Davison

Luke 16, focusing on Luke 16:13.

You cannot serve God and Mammon.

            I have been going through a book entitled: “I wish Jesus hadn’t said that!” It discusses many things that are a real challenge in this world and has been most useful as a challenge to the soul. One of the things you can find in that book forms the basis for this message. Our culture is very much opposed to the gospel, and to what the gospel considers to be right. In fact, what the world considers to be right is all wrong when viewed from the perspective of the gospel.

            In the current climate of financial difficulties around the world, the call to serve God rather than Mammon could not be more needed. Our Saviour’s view of finances and money could not be more different to the attitudes we discover in the world. The focus for our thoughts in this message will be Luke 16:13:

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon. (Luke 16:13).

That last phrase, “you cannot serve God and Mammon” is particularly important. In the previous two chapters of Luke’s gospel the focus for thought is how we can come to the Lord Jesus and how He cares for us, and in Luke 16 the question posed is, ‘Will we accept or reject the Lord’s offer of grace? Or will we manipulate it for our own ends?’

            The modern world corrupts the truth. A phrase you might have come across in public use is as follows: “Money is the root of all evil.” But the Scriptures do not say this, that the inanimate object of money is in any way evil. Rather, as Paul declared to Timothy, it is the love of money that is the danger.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Timothy 6:10).

Money might be made good use of, but if our love is for money then all types of evil will be the result. It is the greed of humanity that leads to further sinfulness, not the object itself. Such greediness leads to “many sorrows.” Instead of money being the focus, it ought rather to be considered as a tool.

            John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He gave much of his money to help others particularly in the areas of education, health, and for some church activities. But when asked by a newspaper reporter, “How much money is enough?” he replied, “Just a little more.” This same sentiment is seen among the modern day rich of the world. They may have billions but just a few more is always needed. For such, money can become the controlling aspect of life. And so for many, money is the god of their lives, controlling their thoughts and behaviours.

            What we often find in Scripture is the two contrasts: The Way of God versus The Way of the World. In this case it is God versus Money (or Mammon). Luke 16 has two parables which pivot about the statement we find in verse 13 which pits God against Mammon (the love of money). In the first parable (the unjust steward) we see a challenge for the disciples, whilst in the second parable (the rich man and Lazarus) we see a challenge for the Pharisees. And so, we shall look at this great verse (Luke 16:13) with a view to these two parables, both of which illustrate the point that “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

[1] The godly use of money – the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-12).

            Many commentators find this parable somewhat awkward. Why does Jesus describe an unjust steward in such a way? What could He have intended here? Are the disciples to go around in the same unjust ways? Well clearly not. The Lord Jesus never condones unjust actions. The key to understanding this parable comes in verse 8 where we read:

So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:8).

It was not Jesus who commended the course of action but the master of the steward. But what was going on here? What, in fact, was the unjust steward doing? To begin with we note that the steward was being called to account for his actions prior to the story we hear. He was to give an account of his stewardship for he had dealt unjustly by wasting the master’s goods. What did this unjust steward do? We read that he called the master’s creditors and made them pay less than they owed. To one he reduced the bill by half, to another he knocked twenty percent off. How should we understand this? Was the steward continuing in his unjust ways? If these actions were a continuation of his former unjust ways in wasting the master’s goods, then it is not likely that the master would commend his steward. What we need to understand is that the steward earned his money by taking a commission on the goods his master owned or sold. Different goods earned different commission which explains the differences we see in the text. So, by reducing the bills, what he was doing was removing his commission. The master would still get what he was owed by those in his debt, but the steward would forego his commission.

            But what advantage did the unjust steward gain by losing his commission? Why did he do this? There are two things we can say:

[i] He was NOT defrauding his master in doing this – hence the commendation he earns from the master.

[ii] But he was seeking to endear himself to the master’s debtors and clientele, in the hope of gaining future employment.

It was not simply that he was hoping that the master’s debtors would give him a meal now and then in gratitude. Rather he was establishing his reputation. He was also enhancing his master’s reputation by lowering their debts, on account of waiving his commission. The steward was still unjust – he still had to face the charges – but the master approves of what the unjust steward did. We are enjoined in this to not seek the gathering of money – but to put what money we have to good use.

            In Luke 16:9-12 we are taught to view money as a tool to make use of according to Biblical principles. We ought to put the money we have to proper use for the benefit others. The statement “when you fail,” (Luke 16:9), is a euphemism for death. If we use our money in this right way by making friends by “unrighteous Mammon,” (v9) then everlasting life is our hope and reward. In verse 10 we learn that what we do on earth with the small things shows how we will fare with the bigger things. In verses 11 and 12 we see this theme continued. If we are unfaithful with regard to Mammon, then we cannot expect to be trusted with the true riches. Then in verse 13 we discover that we cannot ever serve Mammon and God. Money must not dominate our thinking. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We need a godly use of money under God’s rule. God must be our only focus and money must always be considered a tool for use as God decides and desires.

[2] The Pharisees’ abuse of money – the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

            But what then is the worldly view of money? The Pharisees were lovers of money (v14). They would have been unimpressed with Jesus’ first parable about the unjust steward. To them it would have been absurd for the steward to waive his earnings in such a way. In fact, we learn that they “derided” Him, by which we understand that they ‘turned their noses up’ at what He was saying. And so now the Lord Jesus switches focus towards the Pharisees and their attitude towards money. Note here that the explanation is given first and then the parable follows on. We ought to recall that the Pharisees were masters of manipulation and seeking out the loopholes. They had what may be termed “the rule of corban” (Mark 7:11). They had decided that all of their money was dedicated to the service of the temple. But, neatly, as they were the leaders of the system, they had charge and command of all the money! And so they could sidestep their obligations to parents by stating that what would have been used to help them was dedicated to God! All the while it was their money they had ring-fenced for their own use. There were some Pharisees who were truthful and faithful, of course, but by-and-large these lovers of money had their possessions and treasures under their own rule.

            In verse 15 we learn that these Pharisees were ones who justified themselves. They interpreted the Law to suit themselves. In verses 16 and 17 we are taught that the Scriptures (the law and the prophets) will not be passed over nor would they pass away. Not one smallest point of the law would fail. Then in verse 18 we get some teaching on divorce. This may seem out of place, but it was one of the key areas where the Pharisees side-stepped the law. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). There were provisions in the law for marital breakup and how this should be handled, but the Pharisees had all sorts of ways of getting rid of their wives for all sorts of petty reasons.

            In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we are given an incredibly stark contrast. The rich man is incredibly rich. The purple may signify royalty. Some suggest that Herod Antipas may have been in view here. This man had the best of the food daily. And then we read of Lazarus. He could not walk and had to be carried to the gate. He aspired to feed on the crumbs that fell from the table of the rich man. Dogs licked the sores he sported. Dogs were considered the filthiest of animals in Israel. His was a pitiful existence in terms of this world. Now up to this point the Pharisees would have lauded and celebrated the rich man. He was successful. For them, they would have considered his possessions and money to be a blessing from God. In contrast the Pharisees would have thought of Lazarus as contemptible and not to be lauded. They held to the principle of retribution. Lazarus must have deserved his low and despicable position. A similar theme comes in John 9.

            And so the Lord Jesus flipped things over and turned everything around. Lazarus is the one who gets taken by angels to heaven. The rich man simply dies, is buried, and ends up in torments. In his torment he shows that he had not changed, for he is still commanding and ordering Lazarus to do various things. The rich man pleads with Abraham saying, “Send Lazarus that he may slip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue” (v24). He carries on in this way in verse 27 where he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers. In this way we see that the rich man is unrepentant.

            In truth there was an immense gulf between where Lazarus was and where the rich man was. Lazarus experienced evil things on earth – we live in a fallen world – but all the while we note that Lazarus was silent. He does not complain and neither does he gloat. Then in great contrast we see the rich man with all his sumptuous riches and foods. He had plenty of opportunity to give Lazarus from his wealth. He could have simply opened his window and tossed out some of his food! But he didn’t!         The rich man simply saw Lazarus as a servant. But Abraham replied to the rich man by saying that his living brothers had Moses – the law and the prophets. This was, of course, the prime source for the Pharisees! God’s word was always available to the rich man, but they chose to do things from their own perspective. The rich man’s brothers were probably just as rich. If they do not hear what Moses was saying, then what else could they hear? Moses brought God’s word. If they do not hear Moses, then they would not listen to one who was raised from the dead. This was shortly to actually happen, of course, for the Lord Jesus would raise three days following His resurrection. Now when this actually occurred, after the resurrection, the elders of the people consulted and gave a large sum of money to the soldiers who were guarding the tomb to say that the disciples had spirited Him away (Matthew 28:11-15). How ironic it is that the Pharisees used their money to suppress the truth.

     In 1956 all USA banknotes were to have “in God we trust” printed on them. There is a certain irony here because this word “Mammon” comes from the same root as the word “Amen.” The root of the word Mammon is that in which we trust. In what should you trust? God or Mammon! Trusting in Mammon is essentially a trust in self. We either trust in God or we trust in self. Will you give yourself to the Lord and use all things in His service? Will you give yourself that He might use you in His service?

Jesus tells us you cannot serve God and mammon. To trust in mammon is really to trust in ourselves: my powers, my abilities, myself. But to trust in God is to lay that before His throne and to say to God, ‘You know best.’ We need to use everything God has given us in His service. It is all from God.

At the end we see that the rich man recognised what was needed because he wanted his brothers to repent, to give up what they were doing wrong. Yet that is something he did not do himself. We have so much, but most importantly, we have the scriptures, the Word of God. They tell us of the risen Saviour who calls us to come to Him and repent. Will we do that? The Christian life should be one of daily repentance. We are not called to give everything up but rather to use what God has given us in His service, rather than simply serving ourselves alone. That is the choice that lies before us. We have money, we have other resources. Will we keep it for ourselves, therefore having worldly abuse of our money, or will we thank God for what He has given us and make Godly use of our money and other resources? May God keep our hearts safe from the lure of mammon, that we may be true servants of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

       

November 13th 2022: John Mann

2 Samuel 8:1-14.

The Victorious King

David given promises.

            Today is Remembrance Sunday so it is natural for us to remember battles, war and so on. We remember those who have given their lives in service for their country. We learn about such things at school, and they are still going on in the world around us today. Ukraine is at war with Russia and there are many other battles all around the globe.

            In 2 Samuel 7 we learn of the covenant that the Lord made with David. God promised David that He would never cease to have a man on the throne, but the greater promise was the coming of the Messiah, the true Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. In that chapter David offered a great prayer of thanksgiving for this promise of the coming Messiah.

            The sure covenant of David is really the covenant of grace. Salvation comes only through grace. This promise given to David is also for us today, for the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, has come and fulfilled all that the Father tasked Him with. No works on our part are required. We can make no payment to be party to this covenant. It is free of charge, for the Lord has done everything necessary to bring salvation to us. The Eternal God of glory sent His Son to become the atoning sacrifice to bring reconciliation and redemption through the door of faith – and remember even faith is a gift!

The promise to David comes true.

            Now David was awestruck when he heard what the Lord planned to do for him, as you can read in 2 Samuel 7. But in 2 Samuel 8 the Lord begins to bring about the confirmation of the promises made to David. As a general principle, always remember that what God says or speaks, He always carries out and does. What God promises is that which He always does. He builds His kingdom irrespective of any threats that may be faced, or equally, irrespective of any lack of faith to be found in His people. David needed to believe the promises of God to him – and he did – but we too must believe the copious promises that the Lord has made.

            So, in 2 Samuel 8 we read of a series of David’s victories. All enemies were defeated and subdued. All opposition was put down. But David does not rest on his laurels. His faith is tested. Now if anyone could say that they needed to stop awhile and put their feet up surely it would be David? Hounded by Saul, and facing much opposition all around, David does not relent but carries on. He continues the fight, striving faithfully, defending the glory of God. And so, he carries on in victory after victory (as we can see in 2 Samuel 8). He sweeps through the surrounding nations and overwhelms the opposing armies. We read that he “subdued” the Philistines, that he “defeated Moab,” and that he “took” spoils of war. David placed “garrisons” in Syria and the Syrians became his “servants.” Throughout our text we read of what David did, but he did not presume on God, and neither did he trust to his own strength, for twice we read these words:

“The Lord preserved David wherever he went.” (2 Samuel 8:6,14).

The Lord God had given David a promise, and the Lord God was going to keep this promise (2 Samuel 7:9). God was with David and would aid him against all his enemies. And so, because of the Lord’s promise to preserve his line so that Messiah would come, victory was assured.

Promises to us.

            Now we too have received countless blessings from the Lord all based upon His precious promises – which cannot fail. These are as sure and certain as the promise given to David. In 2 Peter 1:2-4 we read these incredible words:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2Peter 1:2-4).

We have been promised a part in the divine nature. Look how this all comes about! The Lord God’s own divine power has made it possible, for He has given to us everything needful for “life and godliness.” This knowledge of God comes through the “exceedingly great and precious promises” by which means we can become “partakers of the divine nature.” The apostle Paul declared that:

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Everything we need for life (godliness, partaking of the divine nature, escaping the corruption in the world), has been given to us freely in His promises. If we possess true and real faith in Christ then we possess the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ and we are holy – set apart. We are partakers of the divine nature. Do we realise this? Do we joy in this? The Lord has given us His divine nature – His righteousness – but we still have to endure the things of this world although we are freed from its dire consequences. We must endure tribulation, but all the consequences of sin and death are gone! Our salvation is utterly secure. We are made righteous in Him.

From victory to victory.

            But what about sanctification? There is always the ongoing need for us to be sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). We stand justified by faith, and His righteousness is put to our account, whilst our sin is put to His. But still in this world we must experience the ongoing sanctification of the Holy Spirit. What also about our need to glorify God, to be His ambassadors, and to express the joy, peace, and contentment of our salvation? These too we need to grow in. But the question is: are we driven by these considerations? Do we desire to glorify God, to be His representatives and ambassadors? Are we eager to declare the great goodness and joy of knowing God? Are we victorious in these ways? David went from victory to victory. He defeated the Philistines. Then the Moabites. Then others. How about us? Are we winning the victories that Christ has purchased? Are we being lead as sons of God by the Spirit in the victories Christ has earned? What too about escaping corruption and the lusts of this world? Are we living in the light of the Lord’s great promises? Are we taking hold of the strength the Lord supplies? Are we winning the battles? Not, of course, in our own strength, but in the power and strength that the Spirit gives. Are we striving against sin, overcoming and gaining the victory, which Christ so readily supplies?

            Remember what Christ achieved. Complete and utter victory over Satan, sin, death and the world. These are ours! Paul wrote that:

… in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:37).

The Lord still stands with us. Remember that Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). The apostle John wrote these words:

And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4b,5).

We stand on the word of God. Victory is assured because of what Christ has done and all of that was promised of the Father.

Fight!

            BUT we cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot relax spiritually. Just as David went from one campaign to another we too are in a lifelong fight. Paul spoke of this (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7). Now in an army there are a variety of positions, from generals and captains all the way down to the foot soldiers. The vast majority of the army is made up of these foot soldiers. These are the ones who do the lion’s share of the fighting. We are all foot soldiers in the army of God. Our task is to face the enemy (sin, Satan, the world) and to overcome, to win the day. You may ask: what do I have to offer, what can I do? I am just one foot soldier! Allow me to use an illustration. In the great western films where you see the fights between Cowboys and Indians, the attacking Indians would surround all the Cowboys who would circle the wagons to defend themselves. The women and children would be in the centre but they were not idle. They were the ones who loaded the guns and rifles for the Cowboys to shoot. The weakest among the company were the ones who enabled the strongest to fight the fight. How can we apply this? Well think of the following:

  • Faithful prayers for preachers, Sunday school teachers, evangelists.
  • A word of encouragement to gospel workers or the sick and despairing.
  • A kind deed done to enable relief for those under pressure.
  • A word in season for the battle weary.
  • A timely prayer and encouraging word for a servant who is struggling to make ends meet.

These are like those who load the guns for the ones who fight. Of course, we can apply this whole doctrine to each individual too. We each need prayer, encouragement, help and so on. But never think that you are merely a lone individual who can offer no help! Your prayers for the saints, your words offered in love, your helps done to ease the life of another are all needed.

            We are all in the one army. We are all in the same army. We may serve on different battlefields or in different places, but we all come under the One Commander. Such little acts are not really so little. Consider the following examples given to us by the Lord:

41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. 42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. 43 So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood. (Mark 12:41-44).

Those two mites were all the widow had. She did what she could; she gave all. Or consider this second example:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

By giving a cup of water to one of the Lord’s servants we are giving such to the Lord Himself who identifies with His people. By visiting those who are in darkness, or by entertaining strangers, we are about our Father’s business. Never think that the small things, the simple things done out of love mean little. Through David, God is establishing His kingdom. No power on earth nor beyond the earth can withstand or overcome what the Lord purposes. He will prevail!

A lesson from history.

            In Genesis 17 we read about the Abrahamic covenant. We have mentioned the Davidic covenant recorded in 2 Samuel 7 but what too of the covenant God made with Abraham? Well, the Lord promised Abraham that the land of Canaan would be for his descendants, and in David we see the fulfilment being fully accomplished. All the land, north, east, south and west was to be given to Abraham’s descendants. Spiritually we know too that the Lord promised David the Son who would sit on the throne in eternity, and in the same way the land (His inheritance) is being gathered in. Just as the Lord made good on His promise to Abraham in David’s victories, so too the Lord will make good on His promises in Christ. There will be a great in-gathering of all those for whom Christ has died and not one will be overlooked nor lacking. God’s promises in Christ are unstoppable. We are given the history of Abraham and the fulfilment in David’s day to help us trust the great faithfulness of God who cannot lie.

The gospel train is unstoppable!      

            Do you fear for the future of the fellowship? Are you worried about the smallness of the current church? It is true that some churches are closing and this makes us sad. But God’s church throughout the world is growing. It is like a runaway train! It is gathering passengers as it rides on its upward journey to glory. Sometimes the train stops and the platform is full of passengers waiting to climb aboard, but at other times there are a few passengers on the platform. We can see this in our history. Whilst today the platform may be bare, in former centuries there were large numbers being added to the kingdom. But do remember that such large in-gathering is taking place in other lands in our day. No power on earth and none in heaven can stop this train, and none can prevent the passengers who have been given their tickets from boarding!

            Do we have the confidence that David had in the Lord as he made conquest based on what God had promised him? Do we have such confidence? The Lord has said that He will build His church and the gates of hell will never prevail. Do we believe this? As believers we are on this gospel train and it runs according to the schedule and timetable that God has set. It may be that in our time the stops are few and few board, but who knows what is around the corner? Are we walking in obedience to the Lord? We do not know if there will come a stop sometime in the future (near or far) when we may see many climb aboard the gospel train! But even if we are in the outskirts and byways of the gospel train’s journey, our task is to keep fighting the fight and seeking the lost. The Lord’s gospel train will reach its destination sure enough. The Lord’s train always runs on schedule. There are no delays and no unnecessary stoppages.

Without the shedding of blood …

            Now in the course of David’s victories there was a great deal of blood shed. In many ways the accounts we read of in Scripture are gruesome. Many question these things. They ask: why did God allow and even promote such killings and bloodshed? We need to be careful here. We are not the Potter, we are but clay. God made all people, and so does He not have the right to deal with people as He pleases? Also remember that God is good, and He always does good. Let no man charge God with evil. Those who faced such judgement at the hand of David were not treated in any careless or cavalier way. The Lord strove with the people prior to the flood and gave them ample warning before judgement fell. He waits long until the iniquity of a people has had its full course. We do not know the details (how could we?) but we do know that God is a just Judge and that He is merciful and long suffering. Never let anyone spoil your understanding of the great grace and goodness of God, for He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Remember too that the people of Canaan were extremely wicked and barbaric. The Lord gives more than ample time for repentance. He has spoken openly and publicly from the dawn of time of His grace and mercy. How many times do we read of the Lord asking people to come, to turn, to seek Him for His mercy?

The Son of David leads to victory.

            And so just as David gained victory after victory, the Lord Jesus is leading His people in the same way by the Spirit of God. In 2 Samuel 8 we should note the futility of opposing David, for the Lord had promised him victory in the land. In the same way those who oppose us are acting in futility for the Lord will succeed in all His endeavours. The Lord Jesus is leading from one victory to another. There are many who seek to bring arguments against us and against the gospel. There are many ‘clever’ men who make great arguments – atheism, humanism, hedonism. These trouble many and lead to deception. We have wounded soldiers. There are those who have been caused to stumble. These enemies appear to have the upper hand. When we look at our nation we might consider that our enemies are far superior. BUT the Lord Jesus has won the victory! He has defeated all our enemies. They are on the losing side. Satan still seeks to snare and enslave. He still seeks to deceive and confuse. He is the thief and the murderer. But Satan can only go so far and no further. He is a created being under the sovereign rule of God. He cannot overstep the mark. He is a bound enemy. He may rage and snarl but he can only do what he is permitted. Remember the story of Job.

            The forces of evil, Satan and his hordes, and all those who spurn the grace of God, will be dealt with finally on “That Day.” They will all be thrown into the lake of fire of which we read in the book of Revelation. When that day comes those who have fallen under the sway of Satan will come to full realisation of their end.

To God be the glory!

            Now David never sought victory for his own purposes, or for his own glory. All that he procured in his battles he “dedicated” to the Lord (2 Samuel 8:11). The power behind all David’s victory was from the Lord. The glory was God’s too. Only God alone deserves the glory, the praise, and the honour, for God alone is good – truly good. Who should get the glory, the praise, the honour in our setting and time? Only the Lord!

            Another great victory was made for us at Calvary. An awful lot of blood was shed at Calvary too. The Lord Jesus fought the battle in Gethsemane and on Calvary and He gained the greatest victory bar none. The Lord Jesus took the spoils of His victory but He says that everything He won and took was for us! All that He won and achieved in His death and resurrection He says: ‘I give it to you’! Listen to what Paul wrote in the first letter to the Corinthians:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Corinthians 15:57).

Are we thankful for this incredible victory given to us? David won many victories as the Lord had promised him, BUT the Lord Jesus Christ won the greatest victory ever. He won the victory over all our enemies, sin, Satan, death, and the world. Are we concerned for the future? Are we worried about getting older and none will take up the mantle? Do not lose heart! Do not despair! Appearances deceive. David’s line seemed at times to be very near destruction – on one occasion all the princes were slaughtered save one baby boy (2 Kings 11:1-3) – but the Lord kept His promise sure. It may seem like God’s promises have failed (they haven’t) but always remember that the Lord never fails.

November 6th 2022: Rhodri Brady

Matthew 6:11

            The focus for our thoughts today are those words we find in Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We shall have occasion to look at other parts of Matthew 6, but we shall ask ourselves the question: are we praying for this on a daily basis?

            In Mark Twain’s novel about an adventurer called ‘Huckleberry Finn’ he warns the reader not to see any moral tales or deeper meaning in his work for it is all just an adventure. In other works, (e.g. C. S. Lewis’ Narnia tales), the authors would be rather upset if we did not see the deeper significance of the story that unfolds. Aslan was not just a lion but representative of the Saviour, for example. The Bible must also be understood at different levels. The writer of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, expects us to look deeper into the text to see more than the straight forward words. The words of Matthew 6:11 may seem straight forward enough, a prayer that we may have sufficient food. But what do they really convey? Is the Lord simply expecting us to ask Him for our daily food or is there something deeper?

[1] Is the prayer only about ‘baked dough?

            We are dependent creatures. We rely on physical nourishment amongst other things (air, warmth, water, shelter). When the Son of God came to earth as a man, He took upon Himself full human flesh and dwelt as a true human man. He was tired and weary on occasion, and He needed food and water just as any other man.

            Before He commenced His ministry, the Lord was taken into the desert by the Holy Spirit and was there for forty days without food. We might ask ourselves the question: why did He not eat? Why did He go without food for those forty days? One immediate answer is that there is much more to life than food. After the forty days the Lord was understandably hungry, and the Devil tempted Jesus to make bread out of stones (Matthew 4:3). Now if bread was the most important thing, He would have sought food, but instead the Lord responded to Satan with the words of Scripture as found in Deuteronomy 8:3:

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4).

The word of God is far more important than physical food. But what is meant by the phrase: “Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”? Well, of course, this signifies all the words that God has spoken, and which are written down inspired of the Holy Spirit in our Bible. But then also we learn from John 1:1f that the Lord Jesus is the “Word of God” who has come from eternity and who has made known the Father (John 1:1,14,18). Later in John 6 our Lord taught the disciples that He was “the bread of life” of which all must partake for eternal life (John 6:33,35,48,51). At that time, He pointed out that the manna given in the desert pointed to Him. He is our daily bread!

            We are not, therefore, to think merely of ‘baked dough’ when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but we are to think of our greater need of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Bread of Life.

            In some old ‘arcade games’ many of the characters employed could not continue in their quest within the game unless they had food. Some games displayed messages like: ‘wizard needs food,’ and when things were dire, the message would be ‘wizard needs food badly!’ But do we see such a message or hear such a warning concerning our need for spiritual food i.e., Christ Himself? We do not live by physical food alone, for the very words of God are necessary and essential.

            It is difficult to live in this way – to make our spiritual food the priority. We are all used to having physical food and we naturally defer to this as our most important need, but really our greater need is the spiritual food that Christ supplies. We do need physical food for our bodies but do we need as much as we consume? How does our consumption of the spiritual food compare to our physical intake? The other extreme is to neglect food altogether and this is unwise. But we need to have the attitude displayed in Matthew 6:33:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33).

We ought to be like Job who said:

I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth More than my necessary food. (Job 23:12).

            The Lord Jesus enjoyed food. We see this in His interaction with many peoples as He dined with them. He was once termed a “glutton” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34), although such an accusation was all wrong because Christ was sinless. He never did anything wrong. But such an accusation surely shows that He was one who enjoyed the hospitality of those around Him. And yet physical food was by no means His greatest love! After His meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, whilst the disciples went off to get provisions, we find that when the disciples returned, they urged Him to eat something. However, the Lord replied by saying that He had food about which they were ignorant (John 4:32). When they heard this, the disciples then spoke among themselves asking whether someone else had brought some food to Him (John 4:33). To this the Lord Jesus replied:

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34).

If our Saviour lived off spiritual food can we do any less? Or do we say, ‘Well He was the Son of God so it was alright for Him to have such a priority’? But remember that Christ was fully man. And when He says that we need to live by the words that proceed out of the mouth of God who are we to say otherwise?

            So, the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” is not just talking about ‘baked dough.’ It does include this, of course, but the more important food of the Spirit is the essential need of the heart. John 3:16 sums up our need. We need Christ whom the Father sent. We need to believe in Him if we are to have eternal life.

[2] The prayer is for “daily” bread.

            When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, the Lord provided them with manna which they were to collect. But they were only to collect a day’s supply. They could not gather in more than what was required for a day, for if they did, that which was left for the next day went rotten breeding worms (Exodus 16:16,20). In the same way we need to rest and rely wholly on Jesus every day.

            We should remember that when God created all things, He made us dwell in the time of days (Genesis 1 & 2). We are designed to live day-by-day. At the end of Matthew 6 the Lord tells us not to worry about tomorrow,

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34).

We find this a hard thing to do – to live day-by-day. But we were created for such daily living. We automatically consider the future and how things will work out for us. However, despite our many plans and aspirations, we cannot do anything at all about tomorrow! Of course we need to make plans, but our heart should be one of dependence upon the Lord. James had something to say about our planning for the future,

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” 16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16).

The same is true with regard to sin. We ought not to worry about tomorrow’s struggles. Concentrate on what the Lord brings for us day-by-day. Are you convicted of a particular sin today? Well deal with it today. Seek the Lord’s forgiveness and repentance. Come to Him and receive from Him. Let tomorrow’s issues wait! We are to live our lives daily. In the midst of terrible troubles Jeremiah was inspired to write these words,

22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!” (Lamentations 3:23,24).

How is your morning routine? What do you do first thing when you wake up? Is life so fast that before you exit the bed you are thinking about the day’s activities and plans? Does your routine vary according to how you feel? What we ought to do is to wake up and seek the Lord as a matter of priority. We should wake up every day with the same intent to meet with the Lord. Is the Lord Jesus our first port of call day-by-day? Is the Lord Jesus the one we call upon in each and every trial and situation we face?

[3] How does your soul fare?

            Thinking about this prayer for daily sustenance of the Lord, how do we measure up? Remember that the Lord came from heaven to save souls and He has provided Himself for us that we might live. We need to think through our lives, our pattern of life, to see where our priorities lay.  If we find that we have not prayed this prayer for spiritual food on a daily basis, then we need to change our pattern.

            Adam was given a single command not to eat of one specific tree (Genesis 2:17). This was later expanded to ten specific commands for the nation Israel. Later the Lord Jesus explained that these ten commandments went far deeper than had been realised (Matthew 5-7). Adam failed, Israel failed, and we as sons of Adam fail too. We ought to have loved the Lord wholeheartedly and thence to love all others as ourselves (the great dual summary statement of the law). But the great story of the Bible is that the Lord has come to rescue fallen, needy sinners. He has come to save and to restore us. If we break the Lord’s commandments we will surely die.

After the fall in Genesis 3, the serpent was given no mercy but was simply cursed. Although Adam and Eve suffered curses too, they were also given a promise (Genesis 3:15). Immediately after this, the Lord made tunics out of animal skins for Adam and Eve. To do this He had to sacrifice an animal whose blood was spilled. In this we see the need for sacrifice on account of their sin and rebellion, and a covering for their nakedness. The promise of Genesis 3:15 and the action of the Lord in making clothes for Adam and Eve point directly to the cross, where our Saviour became our sacrifice. Even though our sin leads to death, what Christ has done has brought us life (Romans 6:23)!

            The Lord Jesus Christ sought His Father first, always. Even on the cross He called out to the Father (Luke 23:34,46). But then He also called out “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Despite the fact that He was forsaken of the Father, the Lord still called upon God! How we need to rely fully, and wholeheartedly on the Lord. We need to trust Him, and we need to keep on trusting Him, and then we need to seek His promises. Such promises as:

Lamentations 3:23,24 – the great mercy and faithfulness of God which is new every morning.

Matthew 11:28-30 – the promise of rest for all who come to Christ.

John 3:16 – the promise of eternal life for all who truly believe.

There are many others!

We need to pray daily for the living bread of Christ! After the celebration of the Passover, before the Lord was crucified, He took bread and then broke it before His disciples, saying that they were to take and eat of it, for this was His body broken for them. Whenever we eat anything, we break the food up into pieces. In the same way we must take of Christ who broke Himself up for us. He has made Himself available that we might daily feed on Him. Let us taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8)!

October 30th 2022: Ian Middlemist

Luke 10:25-37. “The Great Samaritan.”

            Being in prison is not pleasant (to say the least)! Imagine you are in a situation where you have done something and have been charged with a crime, but you want to be cleared of these charges.  You need a good lawyer or solicitor to get you off, to present your case in the best possible light. Well, that is what is happening here in this well-known passage most usually referred to as the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan.’

            In Israel the Law was uppermost in their thinking. The Law of God, which makes demands on all mankind, can only be interpreted properly by the Creator, for it is He who has defined it. Many people interpret the Law in their own way, from their own perspective. Some say, “Well I have never murdered anyone, so I have kept the commandment ‘thou shall not kill.” But the Lord points out to us in Matthew 5:22 that anyone who is unjustly angry with another in their heart and refers to them as a “fool” is in danger of judgment and hell fire. The Law applies not simply to the external examples set down but to the very heart of each specific issue. Each command in the ten commandments acts as a heading.

            We have in our text a popular and to some their favourite story. This passage has inspired many to become better people (do-gooders) and may well have been the inspiration for charities like the Red Cross and others. We must be kind not simply to strangers but to those considered to be our enemies. But God’s Law is supposed to challenge us – who we are – it is not there for us to pat ourselves on the back.

[1] How may I inherit eternal life?

            We are introduced to a “certain lawyer” who wanted to ask a testing question of the Lord Jesus (v25). He asks: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the question uppermost in this lawyer’s mind. Is this our question? Do we ask such a question today? I rather think not. We have other ‘more pressing’ questions (we believe). Questions such as: “how shall I pay my bills in this difficult time?” How will I cope with what I face at work? How will I pay for the petrol and heating bills? How will I deal with this illness I face?” Our questions are very much this world centred and earth-based. But this lawyer who has come to Jesus, is concerned with the issue of life and death. What happens after we die? He wants to know how he will fare in the life to come. Eternity awaits! He knows about heaven and hell. Where will I spend eternity? There is, in fact, no greater question to ask. Where will you go when you die? Do you have assurance of a place in heaven? Or do you deserve to be in hell?

            Now the lawyer spoken of here is a different kind of lawyer to the ones we know of in our day. This man was concerned about the Law and how we interact with God. Modern day lawyers are concerned with cases between people (person A vs person B). This lawyer was concerned with the cases between people and God.

            You may be asking this question, “Why cannot it be true that all people will inherit eternal life?” Surely, we might think, it is God’s good nature to welcome everyone? However, there is the great problem that none are good enough to enter heaven. None are as good as God who is the great definer of good, and He will not admit to heaven anyone who is not good. So, the lawyer asks what he might do to gain an entrance.

            Now the lawyer was well aware that the Lord Jesus would direct him to the Law to make a summary statement – the two great commandments. We get a similar incident in Mark 10 where the rich young ruler asks the same basic question (“good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life”? Mark 10:17). In that instance the Lord Jesus pointed the rich young ruler to the second table of the Law. So, the ‘answer’ to the question concerning eternal life was well known – do the Law and you will live (Leviticus 18:5). The lawyer knew the answer to his own question! However, what the lawyer did not know in truth was whether he met the standard of God. What the lawyer wanted was to justify himself. How could he be sure that he was actually keeping the Law? It is likely that in truth the lawyer knew that he did not keep the Law properly. So, his second question gets to the heart of the issue. He wanted to justify himself (v29). He wanted to have an assurance that what he was doing in his attempt to keep the law was sufficient. In many ways this second question (“and who is my neighbour”) is the lawyer’s attempt at getting around the Law, or of side-stepping it somehow by finding a ‘loophole.’ He wanted to know what he could practically do himself in order to be able to enter heaven.

            Now this, we know, is the wrong approach. None can keep the Law (except Christ Jesus) and so none can actually inherit eternal life by their own works. None can justify themselves. To attempt such is actually to be proud and even arrogant. We need the Law – it shows us the character of God and what is good – but we need deliverance, rescue and salvation.

[2] The good Samaritan, (v30-35).

            There are three options here to the situation described in meeting the requirements of God’s Law that people may adopt.

  1. Ignore the lawyer and his question. Don’t even bother to seek justification.
  2. Seek a loophole. Get knowledge of the Law to find a way of appeasement. This is what many ‘religious’ people do. They make an acceptable religion for themselves and stick to it as best they can.
  3. Humble yourself and seek the Lord for the one way possible. There is one way which will be true to the totality of all of the Law and which will bring great joy. Become a servant of the Living God.

The story that the Lord Jesus relates is very true to life. The priest and the Levite both ‘walk on by’ when they come across the poor beaten man. But we must not be too quick to judge these two men here in this story that the Lord tells. Have you ever done this? Have you passed by on the other side? There are many accounts we could speak of in contemporary life of a similar nature. I heard of a young two year old girl who was knocked down by a vehicle and left bleeding and unconscious and it was reliably reported in the media that many people saw her but did nothing. They just walked on by. There are many other similar accounts and maybe you too have walked by when you saw a beggar or someone in need by the road.

            The story is vivid. A Jewish man is on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. In those days the roads were dangerous on account of robbers who would take advantage of people in isolated areas. We have similar places in our world. Places you would not go about into at night or on your own. Now this Jewish man fell among the robbers who took his clothing and harmed him seriously so that our Lord described him as being “half dead” (v30). In this description of the plight of the robbed Jewish man we have a graphic picture of the threefold lost state of all mankind.

  • None one cared for him – those who should have cared all passed by.
  • He was in desperate need of rescue and kindness.
  • He could not save nor even help himself.

[a] The Priest (a ‘man of the cloth’ v31).

            The priest comes by and saw a man who looked and appeared, to all intents and purposes, as dead. Now the Law instructed this man that to go near a dead person was to become defiled (Leviticus 21:1,11). So rather than risk defilement he passes on by. One commentator puts it like this: “the priest transgressed the entire second half of the law to preserve his keeping of the first.” He was in a dilemma. If he touched the man to help him he would become defiled and then not able to do his duties. Because he wanted to keep his duties and perform his rites he walks on by. So he ignored compassion in order to preserve his own dignity.

[b] The Levite (of lesser rank v32).

            Levites were support workers to the priesthood. They performed various practical functions in the temple. The text indicates that he came by and had a closer look (“came and looked”). He also, however, passes on by. It would be too costly for his reputation to do anything for the man who appeared to be dead. Martin Luther King in his efforts to help the black sanitary workers in 1968 said this: “what would happen if we did nothing?” All acts of kindness are costly and will also cause suffering, but what happens if we do nothing?

[c] A certain Samaritan (v33).

            Now the lawyer may then have expected that the next person to come near would have been an Israelite layman. The priest and the Levite have been shown up as no help, but surely an ordinary Israelite man would do something? But no one expected the Lord Jesus to suggest a Samaritan man. The mention of such a person would have aroused deep feelings within the lawyer. The Samaritans were utterly detested. They were considered to be the scum of the earth. It was natural in Israelite company to pray for the destruction of the Samaritans – they were thought that bad.

            Now we are challenged, as this lawyer was, to show kindness to all people for all needs. But we need to go further than simply looking out for all mankind’s needs.

[3] The Great Samaritan (v36,37).

            Imagine if Jesus had told the story the other way around. Consider the scenario if he had a Samaritan man beaten and left for dead and an Israelite came by? No Jew would ever help the Samaritan! It would have been unthinkable. But Jesus is placing this lawyer in the story as-it-were, for the one beaten and left for dead is an Israelite. As we read the account we are meant to put ourselves in the place of the beaten man. The Lord Jesus is speaking to an Israelite lawyer, and the Israelite in the story is the man beaten and left for dead. The Lord effectively says to the lawyer: “wouldn’t you want even a Samaritan to help you in such a desperate condition?” To such a question the lawyer surely would have had only one response? When in such a poor and needy condition, then surely help from anyone is accepted. When you are poor and needy then anyone could be your neighbour.

            In Ephesians 2:5 we are taught that all people by nature are dead in trespasses and sins, and the only hope for us is rescue and deliverance – being made alive. The tragedy is that most people are unaware of their lost and needy condition. They are, as the Israelite man in the story, “half dead” (v30). They walk around and live in an earthly sense but they are spiritually dead – separated from God – and so half dead. All the people we see in the world are ravished by sin and are dying in sin as ‘that day’ approaches when Christ returns. Some take medication to dull the pain of their (unknown) sin. But sin renders a person helpless and legally undeserving of the kindness of God and eternal life.

            BUT One has come – one most unlikely, unexpected – to rescue and to deliver. His name is “Jesus Christ,” who was once called a “Samaritan”:

Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).

Christ Jesus is the Great Samaritan. It was He who entered this world of sin and degradation. Jesus entered this dangerous world precisely to see us, touch us, lift us, to bring us to safety, to clothe us, and for this great help to be a permanent reality for the rest of our lives. This is exactly what the Samaritan man did. But Christ Jesus did it at the cost of His life.

            Don’t try to be a good Samaritan! Instead recognise yourself as the half dead Israelite robbed by sin and in need of rescue. You need to receive the love of Christ as depicted here in this story. You are in dire need! And there is One who has come and not passed on by. He has come to deliver and to give you a permanent place of safety. We cannot see ourselves as the good Samaritan. None are like this by nature except Christ Jesus who was once called a “Samaritan” (John 8:48). Stop justifying yourself! Recognise your state and be rescued by the Great Samaritan. And then follow Him as He continues in His plan of rescuing unworthy people. Have you been rescued by this Great Samaritan – Jesus Christ?

October 23rd 2022: Chris Rees 200th Anniversary Service of the Founding of Penuel

To watch this service please click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/vdK4xgwnePM

Ephesians 4

The 200th Anniversary service of the founding of Penuel, Roch. On occasions like this, it’s a moment when we mark the day – what’s gone before, how far we have come. For life of the church here in Penuel it is 200 years, that only by the grace of God, a miracle of miracles, we thank God for it.

As we go through life ourselves, every one of us has moments that we mark – our ages. If you’re young, you may be looking to eleven years of age and mark when you become eleven. Then you may mark when you become 16, then 18, then 21. Then you try and forget! Then what happens is you’re 40, 50, 60, 65, 70, 80, all markers. On each marker you say you are growing – growing old, growing in maturity. The hope is that the older you get, the more mature you become. Yet, that may not always be the case. But we look to growth. If you were born Welsh, you’re always looking to grow that little bit taller!

In our lives there are those days which we mark, ages which we mature. In Ephesians 4 we can see what God wants for His church and for His people. The educationalist Margaret Fuller once stated that the object of everything in life is to grow. God has made this world, in nature and spiritually, to grow. We talk about growth: economical growth, our children’s growth, the growth of a nation and of community and society.

In one’s Christian life there has to be that desire for growth. Even if you’re the worst possible Christian, in your heart there is that desire to grow more in the knowledge of Him, more in your Christian life, more in the things of God. it’s deep within each one of us. The Lord Jesus Christ came and said, ‘Listen, I will build my church.’ That’s His purpose. Therefore, it will come to maturity. He has given to His church everything that is needed. There are a number of things which will stop us from growing in our Christian life: sins, worldliness, sloth and laziness in our Christian lives, bad teaching which will stunt your growth. We can go down wrong avenues.

There are two things you desperately need for growth in the life of a church. No church can grow without a pastor. Always remember that. We see it here in Ephesians chapter 4. He gives these gifts to His church that His church may grow. Secondly, no Christian can grow without a church. We see that plain as day in Ephesians 4. In our Christian life and development, growth takes place in the context of the church.

There are three things I want to bring to you this morning:

  • The need of growth in our lives as Christians
  • The ingredients for growth that we must have in the life of the church
  • The result for growth which will be evident amongst us as a people at Penuel, Roch.
  1. The need for growth this day.

The Church is blood-bought. You can be saved in Jesus and know the love of God. He gives gifts to the church, “11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the [e]edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13). We need it for this reason That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Ephesians 4:14). We need it, every single one of us. Every one of us needs to grow in our lives. It’s not an optional extra. No matter who we are in our Christian life, we no longer need to be as children, we need to grow.

When you think of 200 years of life of Penuel, there’s a time when we are no longer to be children. We have had much teaching and pastoring which God has done, that we would know what it is to grow. When you become a Christian, you become like little children. Yet, with the children of God, there needs to be that maturity. Why? There are dangers in church itself. As a child we can go from one craze to the next. As a church, so often that’s what we can be like – carried by every wind of doctrine. You have to be careful.

Jesus Christ has given everything to you that you should grow. As a church you can be blown by such winds of doctrine, where you can be blown down this course and that course. Before you know it, you can lose a decade of your life in a wilderness in your Christian experience. False teaching exists, new practices exist. At Narberth we were exposed to them all. One craze was the Jabez Prayer. I don’t want to offend anyone, but always around this time of year, the rapture teaching comes, the end of the world teaching comes. But we see in verse 14 we must be careful, That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Ephesians 4:14).

The apostle Paul has already warned, Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28). There are people who will draw you away and drag you away. They’re cunning. They come with some hair-brained idea. Always note: these people are never normally part of a church. They’ve normally got their own ministries. Always be careful because they will cunningly come and take you away. You need to grow in your Christian lives because you are there for the taking.

  • The ingredients which are needed for growth.

But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15). For growth in your life and church there are two ingredient which are special, which cause growth in the body. The two ingredients have to be mixed in a special way, ”speaking the truth in love.” Truth and love must go together. They must be present. That’s what this place is to be. There is truth that is to be spoken. We’re to know the One who is truth, Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ When you come to this place, there is a voice that we are to hear. There are words we are to listen to, true words. If there’s anything so lovely about the Lord Jesus, it is this – He is the only one who speaks to you without any guile and without any deceit.

When the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world, wisdom came in. He spoke in the most candid, truthful ways. He spoke clearly and simply the truth. He told men and women what they needed to hear. There is truth to be heard – with love. Every one of us needs to repent before God, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Your doctor’s not going to tell you, your teachers won’t tell you, your politicians won’t tell you. You know why? There’s a heaven and a hell! People need to speak the truth to one another. There’s are ways that you’re living and things that you are doing that are wrong. There are only a certain amount of people who can tell you the truth. There are some people who come to me and say things I don’t like to hear. I tell you, there are only two people who can talk to me like that, my mother and my wife! There are those who will tell you those home-truths and it needs to be done.

The tragedy, in the life of the church, is that we have taken out the word of truth, the gospel of truth. The church has no longer become that place where the word is being preached. It has become a melting pot of ideas, marching to the drum beat of the world. I was talking to someone who has gone to another church. I asked them why and they said, ‘It’s because they love me. They give me big hugs when I go in, and I get gluten-free biscuits.’ But you’ll never grow with that.

Neither will a church grow if it doesn’t have love. You can have truth. There are many churches which have it. We have truth every Sunday and we make sure it pure and the right doctrine. We need that. But let me assure you, it has to be truth in love. Of all the failings one has had in the ministry, that failing of love has been great. In the morning before one comes to preach, you ask God, ‘Clothe me with the Spirit of God that grace would be on my lips, that the feet would be shod with the preparation of peace, and a baptism of love will be felt.’

There are many messages I could have given you this day, but the one that comes to mind is that you be built up, not taken down. Built up so that you would grow. It’s easy to take down, but these two ingredients have been given to us and we are to speak it. The problem we have is that we’re not doing these things. The first thing we are not doing is that we are not speaking. You have to speak to one another, and you have to communicate. I’ve been to some churches where I give the Benediction, then they’re all gone. They’re out faster than you could say the Amen! No-one communicates and talks to one another. It’s the mistake we make. You have a gift. God has given you something. You have to communicate. Then, you have to speak truth. We need to be candid. We have to speak truth in love. Love never fails.

  • The result of this will be we grow up into the Head, Christ.

“From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:16). The result is this; the Lord Jesus Christ wants you to grow. But you must realise your growth can never take place on its own, in isolation. That was the challenge of Covid. God’s plan is this; when you come to Jesus Christ your heart is made humbled. You realise that you’re not the all-important and the answer to everything.

When you come to Jesus Christ you receive forgiveness of your sins, and it makes you more forgiving. When you come to Jesus Christ there is a love that is poured into your heart for people, that you never had before. You begin to realise your dependence on others, on his church and on His people. You grow together. The more you know of Jesus Christ, the more you’re being compacted together, “Compacted by that which every joint supplieth,” (Ephesians 4:16a KJV).

If you ever come to a place in your life when you think you are growing in Jesus Christ, but you’re not being compacted together, there’s a mistake in that teaching and the practice which you have, because you’ll find yourself fragmented. If you are growing as a church the result will be, “The whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.”

Growth is impossible without being together as a Church, in Jesus Christ. All life comes from Him. Life flows from Him. You are part of that body. Limb upon limb, bone upon bone, tissue upon tissue, there is life.

The great secret of growth in the Christian life: read your Bible, pray every day, and go to church. It is as simple as that. Use the means of grace. Remember Him. Listen to the Word. Pray together. Carry one another’s burdens. Share with them. Be with one another. Witness for one another. In your life as a Christian, there is not anything else that is going to impact you and shape you to be the person that you are meant to be, and to grow up.

You may think you can grow by reading Christian books. Calvin said whoever thinks that is insane. Those are his words on this portion. There are those who think they are always growing because they are having the best preachers and that the greatest ministry comes to you from the internet. What has made me grow more than anything else in my Christian life is – you, people like you in a place of worship; someone who came alongside me when I first became a Christian, someone who spoke to me and was kind to me, someone who put their arm around me, a church which prayed for me when I was going down, people who came to carry a burden with me, people who shared with me when I had nothing.

In one’s Christian life there has been no substitute for the ordinary, the simple, the everyday Christian that I meet every Sunday. With them and through them God has supplied His grace into one’s life.

“From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:16) Every one of you who is a Christian here today has the most vital part to play in the growth of the kingdom of God and in this place. But it’s got to be joined together. You can’t do it on your own, it’s impossible. You have a part to play. One of the reasons people don’t grow is if you’re not fully part of a fellowship, just hanging on loosely. A fellowship suffers when you’re not there. A church can grow so much faster and stronger when you are found in that place where God is. It’s a challenge to us in the individualism that we find in the society in which we live. But there’s a call that you must realise, of your place.

Secondly, you have a gift which is vital. Other people have gifts in the church which are vital to you. You can’t do without one another.

Thirdly, for growth to happen it needs a thinking change to take place. You don’t think of your growth, but you think of the edification and the building up of others around you. That must be the shift that happens. When a person becomes a Christian, these things take place. He takes away the selfishness. It is not all about one’s own ministry, it’s not all about oneself. We live in strange days. We have ministers and it’s all about their ministry. It’s not about that. The ministry is about other people. It’s not about developing my ministry, my gifts and the freedom I need. Forget all the nonsense. All you have to do is serve one another.

Growth comes when you’re focused on others around you. When this happens, you’re the one who will end up being built up. You’re the one who will also become stronger and more mature in your Christian life.

Every one of us has been hurt by church at some moment and some time in our lives. I have been through one of the most upsetting experiences. I understand. But there’s another side to it – the church has blessed you, has strengthen you, has prayed for you and has supported you. If it wasn’t for the church, I wouldn’t be here this day because they wouldn’t have sent the evangelist to the town and they wouldn’t have come and prayed for me as they did, teach me in God’s way and then correct me. Many corrections were on that road but with it all, I thank God. And I thank God for you! That’s the message – we need to grow.

October 22nd 2022: Chris Rees

200th Anniversary Service of the founding of Penuel Baptist Chapel. Saturday night service.

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/tfl84n4xObU

Colossians 1: 1-20

What a joy it is to be with you, a real privilege. I trust we gather as churches in Pembrokeshire to be with you and thank God for all that He has done, and to trust that the Lord will be with us in a very special way, and to be with each one of us in our fellowships tomorrow (Sunday) as we would meet together. He has been so faithful. It’s a testimony that we are here tonight – 200 years since people first met on 23rd October 1822. That is a testimony of His goodness and faithfulness. We have been blessed with fellowship and we’ve been blessed with coming together on many occasions.

What we have tonight is a reading taken from God’s Word, from Colossians chapter 1. The thoughts I’ve got are this: of a body without a Head. Then tomorrow morning, a member without a body.

When I was asked to preach on the occasion of your 200th anniversary, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to have to say something good about Penuel, Roch.’ I thought very hard, it took a long time (laughter from congregation). Then it came to me – you are good singers in Penuel, Roch (more laughter). Then I thought that over the years we’ve had good fellowship, warm fellowship. We thank God for that. We can thank God for the witness that’s been here all those years. I wondered what else I could say that’s really good. I thought what’s really good about Penuel, Roch is that it’s in the county of Pembrokeshire, and how we need such a gospel witness. We’re thankful for every church which is within Pembrokeshire. But then I began to think about what is really good about the church, the best about the church, is the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ.

For all the influence and for all the witness, for all that this church has meant within this community for over 200 years, the best of all is the Head of the Church. Glorious things are spoken, Zion, city of our God. Glorious things are spoken about God’s Church. As we come today, we want to mark the best of this church here at Penuel. And it is this – the Head of the church.

We are living in strange days. In the church we talk not about the Head, but we talk about the hand. We talk about what we’re doing, what we’ve achieved, what we’ve done. We talk and we advertise in many different ways, of all that we can be and can do for a community.

Magazines have photos of people’s faces, not hands, because the glory of your body is your face. As a church, as a people, we have something to show to this community and tell. It’s not the elbow power, it’s not the works of our hands, but it’s the glorious face of our wonderful Saviour.

If there’s anyone here tonight who has got something they can say, who can pick a fault, point a finger, be disappointed in the life of church, there’s many faults and many failings, I would ask you simply tonight to look to the Head. Look to the Head and I assure you there is no failure or blemish in Him, And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence.” (Colossians 1:18).

I want to speak to you tonight of the importance of the Head. If we lose our head, we lose our glory, “18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” (Colossians 2:18-19).

When Paul writes this letter to Colossae, he knows the problems of people having false teachings and false humility. He starts with this great hymn of praise that begins in verse 15, “15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 1:15) He begins to spell out who He is, Jesus Christ, who walked on this earth. He tells us of his relationship with God – He is the image of the invisible God.

Then he begins to tell us of His relationship to this world, that all things were made through Him and by Him. Then he begins to tell us of His relationship with His Church. If you want to know what Christianity is all about, it’s about Him.

Do you know what used to happen many years ago when we went to little places like this? A preacher would get up into the pulpit and would speak to you and would talk to you about Him. They would explain to you that Jesus Christ, who walked on this earth, is the invisible God. They would preach to you and tell you of the glories of His person, that He is the One who made everything – your life, your body. They would tell you of what He has done, what he has achieved. You find it in verse 14, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” They would preach to you of His perfections and of His glory.

When a person becomes a Christian, isn’t it one of the great truths that begins to sink into your mind, Jesus Christ is God. God who came in the flesh but all God. True God. He is the maker and creator of all things. He is the Head of the body. If you lose your head, you lose your glory. The glory of the Church is the Head of the church.

We are not here to preach what the church can do for you, we’re here to tell you what Christ has already done in our lives and in this place. What you need to know is that everything that Jesus Christ is, His relationship to God, His relationship to this world, is His relationship to the church. The blessings of the church here at Penuel is its Head.

When a church loses it head, it doesn’t just lose its glory. These people were getting lost in their mind and in their thinking, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:8-10) 

When we talk about the headless chicken, some people look at the church and you can get the feeling that it’s like a headless chicken. It’s going this way and that way. It has no idea of where to go and what to do. Why is that? It’s very simple; we’re more concerned with the hands than the Head. We’re marching to the drumbeat of this world. We’re marching on the agendas of the day. We’re marching to the voices all around us. You need to know, He is the invisible God. He is the Head of the Church. That’s the great statement – we know someone who is in that position. His person is glorious. You need to know of Jesus Christ and the position which has been given to Him. He became a servant. He is our prophet, our priest, our King. He also became Head of the Church. He is the One who is going to come and judge the world. He is the boss!

What can happen in the life of any church, any people, is that so often, as we listen to the voices of others and not the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ, mad things take place. We believe, sometimes, that the church is a democracy. Whatever Jesus Christ has said in this book (the Bible), we’re not taking a vote on it! It is not open for discussion. When Jesus says, ‘Go,’ it’s not an option. He is the Head of the Church. We are living in those days, like in Israel, not knowing what direction it is going in. The position of the Head of the Church was not given to the third person of the Trinity, but to the One who laid down His life for you, who bled for you. As much as we need of the leading of the Spirit in our lives, we will never be against the direction of our Lord and of our Saviour.

When you lose your Head, you lose your glory. When you lose your Head, you lose your sense of direction and perspective. We are in days when the foot is telling the Head what to do, where hands are telling the Head what to believe, when sheep are leading shepherds. We have no direction. Our Head is the One who came to this earth, who died, rose, ascended into heaven, appointed on the right hand of the Father, that He would govern His church.

The third thing we learn is that the Head is where our nourishment and life comes from, “And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” (Colossians 2:19).

The Head gives us nourishment and life. If you lose your Head, as a church, you have got no life. You can lose various limbs of your body and live, but you can’t lose your head and live. He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence.” (Colossians 1:18).

All life comes from Jesus Christ, all life flows from Jesus Christ. Everything that Jesus Christ was for creation is also true for His Church, His new creation. This Lord Jesus Christ is the one in whom we live. When that is severed there are dead churches. The Church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive but was dead. How is this? Well, when you are no longer united and growing in the things of Him, where you have taken away, where other things have come in and you are no longer looking to Him, there can only be death.

He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” (Colossians 1:18a). He has always been in the beginning. He is the firstborn from the dead. He is the one who is first. He is the one who has life.

The reason there is a church here in Penuel is because He is the one who has life. There remains a church here because Christ rose from the dead. I’m told one of the great realities of the gospel is the existence of the Church, that there’s a people who worship Him, who know Him, come to Him and praise Him. It is because of the one who died and rose again and lives now. There is power! The power that worked in that grave conquered death.

He is the One who has conquered death. He is the one who made the way through the grave. He is the One who has ascended back to the Father. The everlasting doors were opened up to Him. The Lord Jesus Christ has made a way, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the first fruit. He is not the last born, or the second or third. He is the firstborn, so He is the one who has given life to everyone who comes to believe in Him.

One day, when we die, that is not the end. We will be like Him. This decaying body will be like His glorious body. He is the one who has life, He is resurrection life. He is the One who began that life in you when you first became a Christian. It’s a bad thing if you lose your Head – you lose your glory, you lose any sense of direction, you lose all life.

We see something else here, “that in all things He may have the pre-eminence.” (Colossians 1:18b). It’s very practical. The reason the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who He is, the position He has got, all that He has done in conquering death and taken our sin, is that He is the life of this church in all things.

There are many things in the life of the Church, but He should be the supreme One in everything – in all that we do, in the decisions that we make, the worship that we have, the direction of it all. The One who was despised, forsaken, rejected by men, the crucified Christ, is the One now who has been risen by the Father. He should simply be the first, the circumference of everything, at the centre of it all. That’s the best of Penuel, Roch. That’s what it’s all about.

In your life, Jesus Christ is to have the first place. He should be first in all decisions we make. Jesus Christ has never been second. He never came to be second in anyone’s life. He never came to be third or fourth on anyone’s agenda. When you get up in the morning, who is going to be first, who is going to have the pre-eminence? When you think of all your plans you’ve got, just for tomorrow, who is going to have the pre-eminence?

We live in mad days. When we come to church, we still only think of ourselves. – what things mean for ‘me.’ I understand that. But shouldn’t He be first? The first thought in our worship, the first thought in our praise. In one’s life, always put God first. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

A body without a head has no identity. It is not even a body, it’s a torso. The Head should be the One we are thinking about, the One we are praising, the One that we are looking to for our direction and our leading. In your life, if you don’t know Jesus Christ there is no glory in your life, your head can be hanging in shame. I assure you that my head can hang in shame – but my Head is in heaven! It’s full of glory! And although I may look to myself, I can look to Him. Do you know something else? In your life, if you don’t know Jesus Christ, you are walking this way and that way. You don’t know if you’re coming or going. You have no direction.

This night, if you don’t know Jesus Christ in your life you are spiritually dead in the world. There is only One who has made a way from this dead, decaying, dying world. The firstborn has made it – from the dead, out from the grave, victorious into heaven.

The best thing about this church in Penuel is its Head. The best thing about our churches in Pembrokeshire is we are small, we are weak, we are little, and we haven’t got much. But we have a great Head who is seated on the throne. For Him, may it be all the praise and all the glory. Amen.

October 16th 2022: Gareth Edwards

Revelation 21.

            At a service station on the M5 I recently heard a song being played on the public address system entitled, “Heaven is a place on earth.” It was a pop song about some kind of love relationship. But what do really understand about “heaven”? In this message I want to speak about “heaven on earth.” What we really want to know is that special dwelling place of God. There are three phases of the reality of heaven that believers experience. These are not three separate heavens but three phases of the experience of heaven – the special dwelling place of God.

            First, when a believer is born again. Before we go to heaven, heaven comes to us. The indwelling Spirit of God and the fellowship of Father and Son in the believer’s life is an experience of heaven on earth – the beginning of eternal life (John 17:3).

            Second, when a believer dies, then they go into the presence of the Lord immediately. There is no purgatory or half-way house. We know this, for example, from the promise the Lord Jesus gave to the dying thief: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). So, there is an experience of heaven on being born again and then an experience of heaven on physical death, sometimes referred to as “the intermediate state.”

            Thirdly, after the resurrection and final judgement we have the final phase of experiencing heaven – where God dwells with us eternally. This is found in our text of Revelation 21. The imagery of Revelation is not always easy to understand but we shall not dwell today on the specific details found in Revelation 21. Christians of the first century, perhaps, appreciated these images more readily than we do today. [Note: there is a strong connection to the prophecy of Daniel]. For now, we shall look more generally at the text to consider this final phase of the experience of heaven by believers.

Heaven is our new earth.

            We see in Revelation the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. What does the term “heaven” indicate in Scripture? In some cases, it simply means the air or the sky as in the phrase “the birds of heaven.” In some cases, it refers to the universe or space. In others it means the special dwelling place of God.

            But we need to understand that the ultimate dwelling place of God is not part of creation. The new creation is not the creation of the place where God dwells. Where God is and where He dwells is perfect and glorious eternally. So the new creation which includes a new heaven and a new earth cannot be that eternal place where God dwells. The new heavens and the new earth in Revelation 21 speaks of a new creation of the universe, not the special dwelling place of God which is eternal and pure.

            But, one of the great characteristics of this new creation is that heaven – the special dwelling place of God – will come to earth (new earth). The popular idea is that we ‘go to heaven.’ But here in Revelation 21:2,10 heaven (the special dwelling place of God) comes down to the new earth.  At this the distinction between that special dwelling place of God and the new heavens and earth will cease forever. The two will merge and it is pictured figuratively here in Revelation 21 as the new Jerusalem. The new creation will therefore be heaven on earth which we could describe as:

            a heavenly earth OR an earthly heaven

God is omnipresent. He is present fully everywhere at all times. There is no place where He is not present. God is beyond the confines of space and time. As creatures we are limited by both space and time. We cannot be in two places at one and the same time and we are limited by time. However, the presence of God (whilst always there everywhere) is not universally experienced nor revealed all of the time.

            In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve only experienced God’s presence on occasion.  God was always there – He is omnipresent – but not experienced always. In Genesis 3:8 Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord and sought to hide. They became aware of God at this time and sought to hide from His presence. The Lord was always there even when Adam and Eve were unaware of Him. Or consider Moses who requested to see God and was shielded in the cleft of the rock so that the Lord could pass by and he could see only the hinder or back parts of the Lord (Exodus 33). Or think also of the holy of holies in the temple where God’s presence was experienced by the high priest and by Isaiah (Isaiah 6). But in Revelation 21 the glorious presence of God permeates the new creation so that it is manifest, real, obvious, and tangible all of the time for everyone, always. In Revelation 21:22 we are told that there is no temple in this new creation because the special dwelling of God is manifested everywhere always.

            Here in the new creation is the reality of heaven (the special dwelling place of God) on earth. Heaven (the dwelling place of God) is merged with the new creation of God.

Harmony.

            One blessing of this final phase of the experience of heaven is harmony between heaven and earth or within the new creation. In the Lord’s prayer we pray that God’s will, will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven (the special dwelling place of God) God’s will is always done and done perfectly. The angels and saints in heaven always do what God requests. On earth (this earth) His will is not always done. God permits evil for a time. Sin pervades the days in which we live. BUT in the new heavens and earth God’s will, will always be done perfectly. There will be no natural catastrophes. There will be no environmental troubles. There will be no “nature red in tooth and claw.” Instead, there will be harmony (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:17-25). The lion will lay down with the lamb. There will no longer the groaning of creation. Creation will no more be longing for the release from its bondage brought about by mankind’s sin and the curse (Romans 8:18-22). The new creation will never groan because there will be no more sin. It will be a glorious world in which there is perfect harmony.

The greatest blessing.

            But apart from a world of harmony where sin no longer dwells, the greatest blessing of heaven on earth, of the new heavenly earth, will be the fact that we will live eternally conscious of the glory of God Himself. Every moment (every nanosecond – if such thing exists in the new creation) and every part of our being will be full of the glory of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). We shall experience knowing God fully. We shall have an endless delight so that all our senses will be absorbed with the majesty and glory of God.

            Some people are thrill seekers, (bungee jumpers, sky divers …). But the glory of this heavenly earth – this earthly heaven – will be an endless thrill, joy, and pleasure. It will be an unlimited, unrestricted fellowship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in all His glory.

            Eternal life begins when a believer first repents and trusts in the Lord. We do experience some of these things of heaven now, but they are not unrestricted, nor unhindered. In heaven these delights will be permanent.

            It is not surprising, therefore, that praise is the central feature of the new creation. We will enjoy proclaiming the praises of God. Every word, thought, action, gesture, or deed will bring praise and glory to God. We will be full of satisfaction – although this word is weak – in knowing what it truly is to worship God as He ought to be worshipped and as He deserves.

The new earth.

            Thinking a little further on this new creation there are two features we need to bear in mind. The term “new earth” is a deliberate term that conveys two important ideas.

[1] It will be familiar territory.

            It is “the earth.” The popular view of heaven with harps and clouds leads some to think that they might get bored. Who wants to sit on a cloud playing a harp all day long? But this idea is so far from the truth as to be laughable.  The glories to come can be described as “earth” in order to show that there is a physical life in heaven. Life after the resurrection is a physical existence. It will be a physical world. It will be familiar (to a degree). There will be physical activities that we know something of now.

            It is an earth but it is not ‘this earth’ with its failing and its sin. There will be recognisable ‘nature’ (creation). In Genesis 1:31 the Lord concluded that the world He had made in the beginning was “very good” and so it was before the fall. The new creation is not a renovation of the old. It will be a new creation, but in many respects the Lord will salvage what man has spoiled.

            Perhaps you know the experience of moving house. It can be unsettling and disturbing. Will you fit in? Will you find it to be your home? But there is no need to fear in coming to heaven! First, you will be with your Father, and you will be with your Elder Brother. Your whole family will be there. It will be like coming home. In reaching heaven we will be coming home truly. Hear we have no continuing city. Then second, you will be familiar with these new surroundings. This new creation will be so much better than those things we know here on this earth. We will be enabled to enjoy fully the perfections of the new creation. No one will ever be homesick for this present earth. We ought to be homesick for heaven to come!

            Physical life is precious. In heaven physical life is to be raised to new heights of glory. Psalm 139 speaks of us as being fearfully and wonderfully made, but in heaven this will be far superior. There have been those who deny that physical existence is good. The ascetics of the early Christian church fell into the heresy of gnosticism which held that the physical was detrimental to the spiritual. The body was to be beaten and held down in order to experience the spiritual. But this is a mistake, for God made us with physical bodies that were described as “good” in Genesis 1. Physical death is not good. God made us physical beings (as well as spiritual) so that the physical aspect of existence is good. But death is the separation of the spiritual (soul/spirit) from the physical (body), and this is not good. When a person dies physically the loss is keenly felt. It is unnatural. Death is an enemy, but it is the last enemy and a defeated one (praise God). Life is not cheap, nor is it disposable. Abortion and euthanasia are denials of the preciousness of physical life. In the new creation we will experience a physical life – but a physical life which is to the full. After the resurrection we will have physical bodies.

[2] It will be ‘new’.

            It will be familiar, physical, something we grasp here and now, but it will also be very different too. There are two Greek words translated as “new” in the New Testament:

[i] neos – something new in time.

[ii] kainos – something of better quality. 

The second word is the one we find to describe this new creation. It will be a far better earth than the old one – greatly superior. Not just in respect of the fall but from the original creation. Life will be familiar, but will be so much more superior compared with current existence as to bear no comparison. Paul quotes Isaiah:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1Corinthains 2:9).

We do not yet fully understand how glorious this new earth will be. It will be familiar, but it will be better by far.

            We can see a glimpse of this superiority in the risen body of the Lord Jesus Christ. After His resurrection He was familiar to the disciples. He ate food and could be touched by them. But He could also appear suddenly in a room with closed doors. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20,21).

We have a passport stamped “heaven” and we are citizens of this new creation. We are waiting in eager anticipation for one day the Lord will transform this “lowly body” into one fit for that new creation so that it “may be conformed to His glorious body”! It will be physical, but it will be greater and far superior! Our physical existence in the new heavenly earth or the earthly heaven will be incomparably greater than we have ever known here on this earth. The new superior existence is shown in Revelation 21 by the absence of death, sorrow, sickness, pain … It is qualitatively so superior like nothing seen on earth that it will be literally “out of this world”! The joy, the beauty, the splendour is unimaginable. These bear no comparison to what we know now. It is very difficult to imagine!

            But the thing that makes it so much better and superior is the fact of knowing, loving, and worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ perfectly. The thing that brings greater joy is the knowledge of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), not simply the absence of pain, sorrow, sickness and death (great though these things will be). All that is done and thought will redound to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We will never displease the Lord. How incredible is that!

Something to ponder in closing.

            It is only possible to enjoy all of this new creation because of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done in His death on the cross.

            Do you have a place reserved in heaven? If so, then praise Him! Remember what gaining such a place cost Christ at Calvary. Worship Him. Live for Him.

            Are you unsure of a place in heaven? Are you yet to trust in the Lord? If you have not yet repented of sin and put all your trust in Him, then consider your position. We all, by nature, are sinners, rebels, and deserve the wrath of God. There is nothing we can do to make things right. We deserve to experience God’s wrath in full. Yet Christ has suffered this for all who will turn, repent and trust in Him. Turn to Him while there is still day. There is a place reserved in heaven for the contrite repentant ones who call upon God in truth for rescue and deliverance.

May God grant such an assurance of this new heavenly earth to you. Amen.

October 9th 2022: Owen Jones

Matthew 11:28-30.

The “I wills” of Christ.

            You may well be familiar with the “I am” statements of Christ found in John’s gospel (John 6:35, 41, 48,51; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5). But what about the “I will” statements? The Lord Jesus made many of these two and they form the promises. Some years ago, I was asked to do a book review by FIEC in their magazine on a book about the “I wills” of Scripture.

            Here in our text we have young disciples in the process of coming to know the Lord. Jesus refers to them as “babes” (Matthew 11:25). Contrast this with the surrounding villages where Jesus had performed most of His miracles. The people of these places did not repent and so Jesus rebuked them (Matthew 11:20). We are not to be childish but we must be child-like, (as the disciples were) for then we will heed what the Lord has declared, for the “Father” had not revealed to the “wise and prudent,” but had to His disciples (Matthew 11:25).

            In the course of His ministry the Lord Jesus spoke to people of all ages and from all walks of life. But some do not hear. I remember a time when speaking at Gorseinon when an atheist said, “I’m intelligent enough to be an atheist,” and paid no attention to the message. Pride is a terrible thing. The apostle Paul was equally proud at one time and persecuted the church, but was brought low and converted by the gracious intervention of the Lord. Augustine (bishop of Hippo 396 – 430 AD) made this comment:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

This is the aim of the Lord in offering such an invitation, peace. We shall look at two things from the Lord’s “I will” statement:

[1] What sinners hear before they come to Christ.

[2] What saints become after they come to Christ.

We shall look at the ‘before,’ and the ‘after.’ All sinners come in sin before, and all saints are separated unto God and sanctified after. A sinner comes with one ‘yoke’ of sin and then continues with a different ‘yoke’ given by Christ.


[1] What sinners were before they come to Christ.

“Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NKJV).

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 28:28, NIV).

In verse 28 we find that the invitation of Christ is addressed to two types of people. There are those who “labour” [NKJV] or are “weary” [NIV], and there are those who “are heavy laden” [NKJV] or are “burdened” (NIV]. Both depict sinful states, but both look at sin from different points of view.

[a] Weary  (those who labour).

            Here the picture of those who are tired out and exhausted through what they do. The ordinary Jew who tried to keep the Law was wearied and tired out with the effort of keeping it all. The Pharisees overtaxed the people with exact ordinances. Now Jesus did not abrogate or ignore the Law, but the Pharisees organised it all into 613 precise things a person must keep. The Lord Jesus in pronouncing woes upon these leaders said this:

“For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Matthew 23:4).

These traditions (the additional rules of the Pharisees) were a yoke, and a very heavy one at that. Peter at the council in Jerusalem in arguing against the circumcision lobby made this same point:

“Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).

The laws and traditions of the Pharisees were wearisome and burdensome. They were too much and none could keep up.

            A ‘religious’ life can be wearying. We have many examples in church history. Augustine in the 5th century AD tried to keep the law and to follow the traditions of his days. After wearying himself in trying to keep the rules he sat down in a garden one day and heard a little child saying over and over again, “Take up and read.” Hearing this he eventually went into the house and read in his Bible at random these words:

13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts. (Romans 14:13,14).

At once Augustine saw the light and was released from all his wearying and struggle. He declares:

“I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away,”

We could mention the eighteenth century members of the ‘Holy Club,’ John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, which started in 1729. These men had devised a series of questions by which they interrogated their lives and so were dubbed “Methodists.” These amounted to whether they were praying constantly or meditating frequently and helping the poor and so on. It wasn’t until after their time together at Oxford that these men were truly converted and began to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. They did not renounce the need to be holy but saw the need of true faith before anything else.

            Or what of Martin Luther in reformer of the early sixteenth century? He made monumental efforts to find peace and rest by all sorts of means and works. You should look up the story of his conversion. After years of fruitless effort he came to understand that the “righteousness of God” that Paul wrote of was not something he needed to live up to but was a gift from God. He writes concerning Romans 1:17:

“At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.'” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”

Are you like Paul, Augustine, Luther, and others desperately trying to match some ideal, some standard? Are you trying to justify yourself by your works or your attitude? Are you relying on tradition, the rules of men, or self-effort? Such is really hard labour! The burden will not go away, for it is wearying, exhausting, draining. Trying to earn salvation or peace is hopeless. All of these and many more examples show clearly that such a life is wearying.

[b] Burdened (those who are heavy laden).

            I do not think that this expression is simply the same as the first. We have been considering the weariness of life in trying to find true peace. All our efforts come to nothing. But here we have a different aspect of sin. This is not tautology. Here the idea is of sin in its various expressions. The focus on sensual experience or worldly pursuits without any reference to God. We are all by nature slaves to sin. Sin takes many forms, and we are burdened with these many sins. The person given to some form of addiction is burdened and heavy laden. The person fuelled by greed or lust is burdened and weighed down with their sin. The jealous, proud, and perverted are all constrained by their desires and burdened by the dissatisfaction and the load that they bear.

            In these two senses we see the world of man described. People of all ages and types are weary trying to find peace from this quarter and that, and they are burdened and heavy laden with the weight of the sinful ways.

Come to Him!

            To both types the invitation is offered – come to Christ (Matthew 11:28). I counted more than 39 hymns which begin or have included within them this idea of coming to the Lord Jesus. Joseph Hart (1712-1768) wrote these words:

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready waits to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.

The rest of the hymn speaks of the earnestness of coming to Christ and gives reasons not to delay. Is the offer of Christ real? To come really signifies to believe. By calling people to come, the Lord is saying “believe in Me.” Coming to Christ is trusting in Him and believing in Him wholeheartedly. Have you come to Him? Have you trusted and put all your faith in Him?

I will give you rest!

            What does the Lord mean by this promise? What type of “rest” is meant? It is a rest from all labour and wearying, and it is a rest from carrying the burden of sin. Remember that the Lord Jesus knows everything about us. He knows our weary ways and He knows our burdens – our sins. And yet He still asks you to come and believe!

            Christ Jesus can offer this rest because of what He did at Calvary on the cross. Your work and labour is futile but Christ’s work is finished and complete! Where you have failed both in wearying and being burdened, Christ has triumphed in full measure. Christ came to do everything that sinful fallen man could not do. 

            The burden was rolled away – here is an old chorus we used to sing:

Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away
Every burden on my heart rolled away
Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away
Every burden on my heart rolled away
All my sin had to go, ‘Neath the crimson flow.
Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away
Every burden on my heart rolled away

Are we burdened and weary and still carrying these sins, or are we of those who have been set free? Are you bearing sins and the yoke of weariness? How can you leave this place with the weariness and burdens you are under?

[2] What saints become after they come to Christ.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29).

Coming to Christ does not make us yoke free. We must bear Christ’s yoke. The Lord Jesus takes our burden and sin and gives us His yoke, which is a privilege to bear. We have a responsibility as servants of God. We are not the subjects of some tyrannical despot, of some conqueror who dominates and subdues, but we are subjects of the King who brings joy and fellowship. The image Christ displays is of a double yoke in which two animals are hitched together. He gives us a yoke that we are, by the strength of God, enabled to bear. His yoke is one He provides along with His strength. It is a gracious yoke for it allows us to walk with Him.

            The Lord has done all that is needed in His death and now those who have come are yoked together with Christ. In Matthew 11:29 we are to learn lessons from Christ because He is “gentle and lowly in heart.” Some teachers crush their pupils. Have you had to endure “double maths”? Well, the Lord Jesus is not like that! We are called to obey, to repent, to follow but the Lord enables. It is truly a privilege to bear Christ’s yoke for He teaches with grace and compassion. He imparts a teachable spirit to those who come. Some people “know-it-all” and you cannot ever teach them. They are proud and arrogant, but the Lord teaches in a lowly way so that those who come are taught lowliness too.

            We are to be life-long-learners. We never graduate from the university of the yoke of Christ. Some disparage those who get qualification after qualification. Why don’t they get a job? But the Lord expects us to be students of Him for all time and for eternity. The Lord is asking us to come to His school when He says, “Take My yoke.” Of course, academic qualifications can only lead you so far, but the Lord will qualify you to enter glory (Colossians 1:12). In our education system students do a range of subjects at GCSE, then specialise in two or three at A level, and then specialise even more as the go to university. In the school of God we major in the person and work of Christ – a subject which encompasses everything (Colossians 2:2,3). Is Christ our major subject of study? Learn from Him. Make Him your focus and study. He wants us to know Him that we might declare His praises (1Peter 2:9).

            There are two types of people in the world: givers and takers. Christ is the Greatest Giver will you not take from Him? We will find true rest in this yoke bearing. William Hendriksen translates Matthew 11:28 like this: “Come to Me, I will rest you.” The emphasis is upon the Lord’s great care and compassion in bringing rest. Man can never get this rest by self-effort or ingenuity. It is not something discovered by some man-made system or plan. It is only something disclosed or revealed by the Lord. The Lord, and He alone, can give such rest.

            The Lord has given us the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Creator of life, and He will bring comfort and rest to the weary soul. Elsewhere we read these words of Christ:

28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 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. 30 I and My Father are one. (John 10:28-30).

We cannot be snatched from the hands of Christ and neither from the hands of the Father. We are doubly secure and so find true rest in God.

What burdens do you bear? What wearies you? Have you come to Christ who gives rest, true rest?

October 2nd 2022: Colin Jones

Texts: Habakkuk 1:2-5,12-15; 2:3,4,18-20; 3:17-19.

Brief background.

            Habakkuk is a book which displays something of what we may feel but might be afraid to express. He asks the question we might not wish to ask. Habakkuk was contemporary with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah. Everything in the world of that time was undergoing change. Assyria had been the great super-power during the days of Isaiah and Hezekiah where the Lord wonderfully brought about a great defeat for Assyria at Jerusalem (Isaiah 37). But in 626 BC Nabopolassar, the king of Babylon, rebelled against Assyria’s dominance. In 612 BC Nineveh was destroyed, and by 609 BC Assyria was no more. Thus, Babylon became the super-power of the time. It was this regime which took Judah captive and by 586 BC the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken Jerusalem and the nation was no more (until the exile).

Where is God when trouble abounds?

            The central feature of this book is the question of why things go wrong (from our perspective) and how we should view them correctly. The Scriptures are blunt and openly honest. We do not read sanitized versions of the people that God had dealings with. Abraham was a man of faith and the friend of God, but he treated Sarah, his wife, in a very poor way on two occasions. David was a man after the Lord’s own heart and yet he committed murder and adultery. Jeremiah is open too with the Lord, expressing his concerns about what was happening, and on one occasion he stated that the Lord had “deceived” the people (Jeremiah 4:10). But even though Jeremiah speaks to the Lord in such ways, there was no lightning bolt from the Lord! The former prophet Elijah after the contest at Mount Carmel despaired when he heard of Jezebel’s threats and ran for his life to the wilderness. The Lord made him sleep, then eat, and then sleep again before taking him to Mount Horeb where He spoke not in thunder nor lightning, but in a still small voice (1Kings 19:1-18).

            The Scriptures are an incredible record of how God is patient and caring for His people. God has no need to justify Himself and His actions, for He is good and always does good (Psalm 119:68). But even though He does not need to explain anything, He does explain much to us. Often not in the ways we might expect, but always in the ways which are good for us. God even tells us the end of the story in the book of Revelation.

A look at the texts.

            In Habakkuk 1:2-4 the prophet seems to be saying that they were going through tough and terrible times and the Lord seemed not to be concerned, but rather He appeared to be paralysed. There was “violence” and “iniquity” but the Lord did not seem to want to save nor to hear. There was “strife” and “contention” and the law seemed powerless whilst the wicked continued and the righteous were treated badly. We too have had tough times in recent years with the pandemic and with economic hardship so that some are saying “where is God in all this difficulty?” Some ask why God does not intervene? The Lord had defeated Egypt in rescuing Israel from bondage and He had defeated Assyria during the reign of Hezekiah, so where is He now?

            In Habakkuk 1:5f the Lord answers, but not as expected. He is raising up the Babylonians (Habakkuk 1:6). Assyria were described as the Lord’s “rod” of His wrath (Isaiah 10:5-12) to deal with Israel, but they overstepped the mark so now the Lord was raising up the Babylonians to correct them. Now, it would seem, the Babylonians appear to be worse than the Assyrians (Habakkuk 1:7,8).

            In Habakkuk 1:12,13 the prophet appeals to the character of God. He is eternal and He is pure so why does He allow the wicked to prosper and say nothing when they treat the righteous so badly? We can imagine Habakkuk saying something along these lines: “Israel was more righteous than the Assyrians but they seemed to win out generally, and now the Babylonians have arisen and they are worse than the Assyrians and yet they will win out – how can this be? We might ask similar questions: “Why is Putin still in power?” “Why do the wicked prosper and get richer and good people suffer?”  “Surely the God who is good, holy, and just can see these wicked things happening so why does He not act?”

Babylon – a picture of the world.

            The first mention of an empire comes in Genesis 10 and 11 where we read of Nimrod, the mighty hunter against the Lord, who built Babel the beginning of his kingdom. This rebellion was a direct challenge to the command of the Lord. God wanted mankind to spread out across the globe (Genesis 9:1-7) but Nimrod led a rebellion so that they could make a name for themselves. They built their own way, their own religion, their own systems, and all so that they could glory in themselves. Well God confused their languages so that their project came to an end – although the Lord allowed Nimrod to build further cities.

            We do not read again of Babylon until their resurgence during the time of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39). When Babylon regained power during the ministry of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we find Daniel and his friends in captivity. The first way in which Babylon exerted its pressure upon the people of God came with the food they were eating. This was in order to undermine their trust in God, for He had told them what foods they could and could not eat in the Law. What were the exiles to do? Well in Daniel chapter 1 we find that Daniel refused to compromise on this issue and God gave him favour. Then the stakes were raised, for in Daniel chapter 3 the challenge to the people of God was to compromise in worship. Shadrach. Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden statue the king had made, and so were thrown into the fiery furnace. But wonderfully we discover that there were actually four people to be seen in the flames, and none were burned up even though the fire was fierce and at its top heat. Babylon’s challenge to the people of God began small (concerning food) and then got more serious (whom should we worship). And then in Daniel 6 we find that persecution for Daniel comes in connection with his inner practice of praying. They could not fault Daniel in any way save in connection with His faith. The king’s advisers convince the king to make life impossible for Daniel – you cannot pray to anyone except the king! What would Daniel do? Well he continued his normal practice and for this was thrown to the lions. The angel prevented the lions from harming Daniel, but they were still ravenous for they consumed others thrown into the same pit after Daniel was lifted out. Or we could point to Psalm 137 where the captors ask the captive exiles to sing a song for them. The exiles could not because all their songs were of Jerusalem and this was now gone. Babylon’s final end is pictured in Revelation 14:8 – fallen!

God’s answer.

            What does God say to Habakkuk in reply to his question as to what was going on?

First answer.

            The Lord’s first answer comes in Habakkuk 2:3

“For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

The vision is not for now. Habakkuk must wait. It will all occur just as God has planned. It is “in My time and not your time” says the Lord. How we want an instant answer! But God says “I know what I am doing, and I know when is the right time to act.” All God’s times are right. He sent His Son into the world at the right time. All our times are in His hand.

            In 2Peter 3:8,9 the apostle tells us that with the Lord a day is as a thousand years and He is not slow concerning that which He has promised. All will come about just as He has planned. The Lord has a much broader agenda than Habakkuk (and we) realise. You, Habakkuk, are looking at things from the point of view of Habakkuk. The Lord is looking at things from not just a heavenly perspective but from a whole world view point. There are many more people to consider! There are still people to gather in, and so the Lord continues to uphold the universe allowing the wicked a time because He has people who are yet to be born for whom He has died and will bring to glory.

            God is working in our lives through these difficult times for our good and for our sanctification. What did we learn through the pandemic? Some began to see the vital importance of fellowship because they had missed it so much during the lock-down. The Lord is also sifting through times of trouble and difficulty. Many people did not come back to some churches after the pandemic and some churches closed. There is a separating of the wheat from the chaff going on. How serious are we in following the Lord? We are to heed these words of Paul:

“rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.” (Romans 12:12).

When it seems that the Lord is not delivering then keep trusting and keep believing.

Second answer.

            The second answer comes in Habakkuk 2:4b: “But the just shall live by his faith.” These words have been world-shattering. The reformer Martin Luther sought peace and a right relationship with God through all the means he could see from his Roman Catholic environment, penances, indulgences, pilgrimages and so on. He tried all sorts of works-based means to get himself accepted by God, to try and demonstrate his righteousness before God, but then he came across these words and everything changed. This Scripture, for him, was one of the greatest gifts that God could give. It was this text that released him from all his efforts at gaining salvation.

            The wonderfully unique thing about the gospel is that it is all through grace and not by self-effort nor by works. Every other religion, world view, system of thought or so-called ‘faith’ requires a person to do something by their own effort, or to offer something from their own means. Christ has done everything necessary so that when the Lord was asked by some of His followers: “what shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” the Lord replied by saying: “this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:28,29).

            We must live by faith and not by sight (2Corinthians 5:7). The clamour of man to prove his worth or to demonstrate his value is all a waste of time because of sin. In Habbakuk we hear these words:

“But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Habakkuk 2:20).

There is no argument nor persuasion against the Lord. Mankind must be silent before Him for he can do nothing and offer nothing which will be acceptable to God. One Man alone did all that was necessary and that was Christ Jesus, the Son of God. He gives to us His righteousness and so we are now “just” and we continue in this by faith in Him.

            Now such a view is generally unacceptable to people. When the Lord Jesus pointed out this teaching that we can live only by faith and trust in Him, and that to live we must feed on Him for we can nothing to make ourselves presentable, many of His followers left Him (John 6:66). He then asked His disciples if they too were going to leave, Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68,69).

            This may be a “hard saying” (John 6:60) but it is the best, the only, and the surest way to find peace and true satisfaction. “The just shall live by his faith.”

Third answer.

            The third answer comes in Habakkuk 3:17-20. Habbakuk imagines the worst possible situation that he could think of:

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls.”  (Habakkuk 3:17).

He imagines a situation of abject and complete famine so that everything fails. What then? Well even though the worst possible thing could come about in God’s plan:


“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” (Habakkuk 3:18-20).

He will rejoice in the Lord (cf. Philippians 4:4). Notice how he reminds himself of the character of God for He is the covenant keeping God of all power and strength. Look to what he knows the Lord will do for him too (“he will make …”). Even in the direst and most dark of circumstances Habakkuk has come to know that the Lord God is still on the throne, and He is still for His people. God will not abandon them, and He will never leave them even though He may have to chastise them for their sanctification.

By way of application.

            How should we face adversity (in whatever form it may come)? Trust fully in the Lord. The just (those given righteousness from Christ) live by faith in the Lord Jesus. God is faithful. We can trust in Him. Consider His character and attributes. Moses requested a view to see God (Exodus 33:18), but the Lord said He could not see Him and live, so He placed him in the cleft of the rock and passed by covering Moses with His hand enabling Moses to see His back (Exodus 33:2-22). And then when the Lord passed before Moses He proclaimed:

“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6,7).

This is God. He abounds in mercy and grace. He is patient beyond human imagining. He is good, true, and righteousness, so that no sin will be left that is not dealt with. The Lord promised Noah that He would never again flood the earth and He has kept this promise. But we know in reality that sometimes harsh and difficult times will come. The world as a whole may never be flooded again but what of the floods in various places and at various times? Assyria was bad, Babylon was worse, but God is always good. These difficulties are sent to chastise us as Hebrews 12:7-11 tells us. Let us therefore consider the good and faithful God and seek to learn what it is that God is teaching us through such difficulties.

            In Hebrews 12:2 we are exhorted to look to the Lord Jesus:

“… the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).

We can face the trials and tribulations to come if we:

Nourish ourselves on the Lord and all He has provided us (He will not forsake us).

Nourish ourselves on the future that God has promised us in glory.

We may grow old and get weaker, but the Lord never leaves His people. We may have to suffer but the Lord has gone before us as our Pioneer. Remember that He has prepared a place for us in glory to be with Him forever (John 14:2; 17:24).