1st December 2019: Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards - Dec 2091-2The final one of the Ten Commandments can be found in Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” To a large extent our society today is built on covetousness. We are encouraged in this sin, it is an economic necessity. Our whole lives are increasingly defined not by who we are or what we do but by what we consume. We desire cars, holidays … our days are filled with the never-ending pursuit of more and more, therefore we are constantly breaking this Commandment. This is a very subtle sin, nevertheless, a very dangerous one. It often lies behind many other sins (1 Timothy 6:10). The action of adultery, murdering and stealing break the commandments, but all these begin when we break the 10th Commandment (James 1:14-15). It begins with a desire. It conceives sin. Sin brings death.

What is the sin of coveting? To covet is to strongly desire or delight in something. It is not necessarily a bad thing; a husband and wife should have a strong delight and desire in one another. However, the problem is we do not have the right to enjoy that which belongs to others. Covetousness is the big sister of the twins envy and jealousy. We are often determined in every way to match other people’s lifestyles. This is a destruction for the human heart (Proverbs 14:30, James 4:1-2). Jealousy clings to what we own with a grasping, selfish spirit. Howard Hughes, who died leaving a 2.3 billion estate, was a prisoner of his own fear of losing his own wealth.

Coveting holds firmly to what it has and will not open its hand to give (Psalm 62:10). The classic example in scripture of covetousness is found in 1 Kings 21 in the account of Ahab coveting Naboth’s vineyard. Ahab starts with making a fair offer for the vineyard and is not trying to rip off Naboth. But Naboth has a sense of this is a portion of God’s inheritance, part of his family’s identity. So Ahab sulks and won’t eat. Jezebel, his wife, says, ‘Aren’t you the king? I’ll get it for you.’ And Naboth is murdered. Such blatant wrong doing.

But we covet too. We go into debt to buy things we can’t afford. People covet when they play the national lottery, wanting to get money for what they have not worked. People covet when we spend our time, money and energy on acquiring more possessions and neglect to share with those in need.

Our nation has fallen far short of God’s standards. Advertising fills us with an insatiable appetite for more. The national lottery provides instant riches, yet robs those often least able to afford it. The message is clear – get what you can, however you can. Then we complain (James 3:16) and there is rising crime. We all, myself included, seccumb to the temptation and join in with the covetousness nature of our society. We may object to fat cats but very few of us would turn those salaries down if they were offered to us. We all have a covetousness spirit. And so we stand once again condemned before the Lord.

The problem with covetousness is it destroys contentment (Ecclesiastes 5:10-11). Our contentment is disturbed as our appetite for more of the world increases. We are guilty of being ungrateful to God, thinking that which He has provided for us is insufficient. Instead of thanking God for all we have, we complain we don’t have more – even though we have so much. God has blessed us so much. We have no contentment. There is a second sin, that of pride. We think we deserve more. The very first sin was based on pride. Satan insinuates God has forbidden Eve to eat of the fruit, stopping her being as all-knowing as God is. In Eve’s heart she thinks she deserves to be equal in knowledge with God. When we are envious, we think ‘Why should he have more than me?’ When jealousy grasps, we are saying we deserve it, we have worked hard for it. This is totally unfounded. The truth is, you and I deserve nothing but the wrath of God (I Corinthians 4:6-7). Is it true that because we have a bigger house, a bigger car that we are better than anyone else? We have not earned but received from God’s goodness. When we are not grateful for what God has provided we are guilty of the same sin as Eve. We are coveting. We accuse God of not giving us our just rewards we feel we deserve. What an arrogance! All sin leads to hell but none propels us faster than that of covetousness.

In the New Testament we are told a hallmark of a Christian is contentment. It is the hallmark of Christian maturity (Philippians 4:11, Hebrews 13:5). We are to be content. Covetousness is seen as a force that can shipwreck a Christian’s life (1 Timothy 6:6-10). It is also a sign that a person was not saved in the first place. The Parable of the Sower illustrates this; the seed that falls among thorns portrays an outward expression of faith which doesn’t have a true knowledge of salvation. There is something radically wrong when a believer thinks he deserves better.

The right sort of coveting. The word covet can be used in a positive way. The best way to avoid the wrong kind is to fix your mind on the right kind – coveting Christ, God’s Word and the life to come.

Coveting Christ. In the Song of Solomon we read of a girl who describes her beloved as one who is altogether lovely. She has an overwhelming desire for him. It is a picture of how we should covet the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the source of lasting contentment. The real desire that brings contentment is to desire Christ. It doesn’t matter then what else we have or don’t have. He is worth more than the whole world (Philippians 4:8). Have a heart full of desire to know Christ. Make Him the fairest of ten thousand to your soul. Dwell with Him. Think upon Him. Delight your soul in Him. Stir the depth of love in your heart for Him. He will satisfy your soul.

Covet the Word of God. Because you love the Lord Jesus Christ you desire to find Him, to see Him, to fellowship with Him in His Word, the Bible (Psalm 19:10). William Tyndale was publically executed in 1536. Why? Because he translated the Bible into English. He wanted the plough boy to read of Christ. The world desires to fill our mind with covetousness thoughts. The Bible fills our minds with praise to our lips and praise to our soul.

Covet the life to come. Set your desires on the lasting blessings of the world to come (Matthew 6:19-21). The attractions of this world are empty baubles compared to Christ and the riches of glory to come. Let us not covet material things of this world and war against spiritual well-being. Let’s covet Christ, His death on the cross which secured life for us.

November 24th 2019: James Sibley

James Sibley 4 -Nov 2019Philippians 2:1-11

As we think about Christmas, what is the central characteristic trait you associate with Christmas? Is it generosity? Central to Christmas is humility. If you went and searched the word ‘humility’ on a computer, one of the first things you would find is a quote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” This is attributed to CS Lewis, however, it is not! The quote doesn’t quite get it right. Romans 12 tells us not to think too highly of ourselves, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” (Romans 12:3).

This morning, as we explore Philippians 2:1-11, we are going to start at the end and work our way backwards.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11).

Most commentators seem to agree these verses are some form of first century hymn which praise God and Jesus for what they have done. Paul is painting it as the ultimate picture of humility. These words are really beautiful, powerful and moving. True humility is something truly beautiful but rare. Think of the godliest person you know. Their humility is something that possibly stood out. Some people can be funny, intelligent and sporty – they seem to have everything. We are drawn to such people. Humility is not something we see often; sports celebrities when being interviewed rarely thank those who have helped them along the way. Politicians, more than any, are supposed to represent the people, yet are often referred to as being self-serving.

We see true humility in Philippians chapter 2 – probably where we would least expect it. God, who is worshipped by angels from eternity, is surely the last person you would expect to put people first. In Psalm 113 we see that God is to be praised,

“Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord,

    praise the name of the Lord!
Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore!
 From the rising of the sun to its setting,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised!
The Lord is high above all nations,
    and his glory above the heavens!
 Who is like the Lord our God,
    who is seated on high,
who looks far down
    on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
    making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

We see this God of all the nations lifting the needy out of the ash heaps. The God of all glory sees and reaches down. Jesus does exactly the same. Though He is God, He emptied Himself to be born a servant. The divine Son of God humbled Himself! He took on flesh, set aside His power and glory – although He this still belonged to Him.

“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail, the incarnate Deity,
Pleased, as man, with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!”.
(Hark the Herald)

He did not relinquish His divine attributes but added humanity. Imagine there is a king ruling over a vast empire. Imagine, one day this king decides he will clean the toilets in the palace. He gets down on his knees. The king is still the king, but he is not using his powers but using his servitude.

Jesus became the suffering servant (Isaiah 53). The divine Son of God entered our messy world and experienced our pain. He mourned, He suffered,

“He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
 I will follow my Immanuel.”
 (‘Immanuel’, Stuart Townend).

Jesus, being a man and walking among us and ultimately dying in our place – Christ’s humilitation.

The 1689 Westminster Confessions states, “He was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.” (The Baptist Confession of faith, 1689, 8:4).

But why? Why did He have to be humiliated? Why did He become a servant? He had eternal love, majesty and glory. He did not need anything! So why?

(i) It was the only way sinners like us could be saved. Only one could stand in our place. From the moment we entered this world we are sinners. God became man in Christ to save us.

(ii) It was out of obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:8).

(iii) It was out of love both for His Father and His people – those ones He set His love on in eternity past.

(iv) To bring glory to His Father and Himself, as He saves sinners, defeats sin and kills death. Jesus is the divine Son of God, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives in love from eternity past.

Jesus is undoing what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, as they grasped to be like God. His obedience was His exaltation (Philippians 2:9-11). One day every knee will bow before Jesus. Are you bowing the knee, standing before Him in faith or in judgement? One day He will return. He offers new life and a new future – being loved by God and by Him.

Why does Paul quote this hymn? He is trying to encourage humility, sharing Christ’s example. Paul has joy, gratitude and affection for the church in Philippi but he sees persecution, false teaching and disunity. He is worried that disunity will weaken them under persecution. Paul realises humility is the key to unity. Humility puts others first.

How does Paul show them this unity is achieved?
We are to look to Christ’s example. When we want to know how to do something we may often watch a Youtube video and follow the instructions. Paul urges us to follow Christ’s example, to follow in Christ’s footsteps. But there’s a problem for us; we can’t just copy Christ’s example. We need to be made alive before we follow His example. We are all dead in sin, proud by nature, putting ourselves first. Humility is really hard; our sinful hearts are always prideful. Humility does not come naturally to us.

Kane West says he is a born-again Christian, yet a few years back he claimed to be God. If he is truly saved then we will see a radical change in his heart. It doesn’t just come through following Christ’s example but also what Jesus does in us. Paul says to us in verses 1-2 it comes from being in Christ, participating in His Spirit, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

This humility, love and affection comes only as Jesus saves and gives us a new heart and a new life. We have to get to a place where only Jesus can take us. We go where Jesus has gone as we are united to Him in faith. Through Christ’s humility and His exaltation, He fulfils the law. He gives us a new heart which has His law written on it. We are united to Him by His Spirit. He starts to sanctify us.

There is a bit of a dichotomy. Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul tells us to work out our salvation, to work as hard as we can to follow Christ’s example. But he is quick to say Christ works in us. We are to humble ourselves, to put others first.

For us, we are called to follow in Christ’s example, to put others first in humility. Following Christ is following the path to self-sacrifice but also the path to glory. The secret to true humility is to look in faith to Christ and His humiliation and exaltation, and to live by faith in Christ and His exaltation and humiliation.

November 11th 2019: Thomas Kitchen

Thomas Kitchen 1-Nov 2019Matthew 26: 57-68, 27: 27-31

The philosopher Plato once asked what would happen if an absolutely perfect man would be born and lived in an imperfect world. He also had an answer to his question; our just man will be “thrown in prison, scoured and racked, has his eyes burned out and is finally impaled, presumably on a spear,” (Book II, Plato’s Rebublic). Plato wasn’t a Christian but he realised what a perfect man might encounter. 400 years after Plato was born, this perfect man would be born – Jesus Christ. Plato knew a perfect, holy person would not be welcome amongst us, he would be tortured and brutally killed.

We seem to be mesmerised by court cases. 100, 000,000 people watched the OJ Simson trial. We are obsessed with verdicts and sentences, yet the greatest trial of all time is barely given a murmur amongst people today. Why don’t we consider this trial today, non-Christians and Christians? Matthew 26 is a well-read passage but is over-looked in the build-up to the Crucifixion. Yet it is of immense significance.

The trial of Jesus was an illegal trial. According to Jewish law, the trial should not have taken place at night, which it did. Jesus was not given a formal charge. The high priest was not supposed to intervene. There was no defence or attorney. But there is one point Jewish leaders wanted to adhere to – witnesses to speak out against Jesus. The religious leaders were so desperate to have people to testify against Jesus they panicked. They tried their best to find who they could, as quickly as possible. The problem was the trial took place in the middle of the night. Eventually two witnesses were found (Matthew 26:60-61). As far as the judges and priests were concerned, the witnesses were good enough. Both witnesses said Jesus claimed He could destroy and rebuild the temple in three days, “But they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” (Matthew 26:60-61).

Jesus’ phrase, ‘in three days,’ was used on a few occasion. The priests knew Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. In Jewish tradition someone’s soul left the body three days after they died. So Jesus was saying that He would rise again after three day, stating that He had power over death. The high priest saw this as blasphemy.

We are looking ultimately at different ways in which Jesus Christ stood in place of sinners.

  1. Jesus was silent for us. This is an incredible sentence. Why is Jesus staying silent at such a crucial time? (And again in Matthew 27:13-14). What does it accomplish?
  • To fulfil scripture (Isaiah 53:7). He fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy. He is the true Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
  • If someone is guilty and has no defence, what can they say? Nothing. They have to be silent. The Jewish leaders were expecting Jesus to retaliate. There was no other one able to pay the price of sin. If Jesus had argued for His right, what good would it have done?
  • Most astonishingly, Jesus was silent for us. He lived the life we were supposed to live – a sinless life. He stood in our place because we haven’t lived that perfect life. Jesus had to die for us, for every bad thing we’ve ever said and done. He stood in our place for sins we’ve committed. Jesus stood silent for us because He took our sin upon himself. He is not guilty in Himself but He is made guilty for our sins. A man who is deserving of death cannot speak for Himself. He died our death. How astounding!
  1. Jesus was sentenced for us. The priests and judges seemed to have Jesus backed into a corner. If they took Jesus’ statement literally, that He was to tear down the temple, or if they took it as He would rise after three days and do this, they thought they had Him in a corner.

    Mark tells us after finding witnesses, in the end their testimonies were not consistent with each other (Mark 14:58-59). They were thrown out of court because they were no good. The high priest must have been frustrated. He had to find another way. The high priest uses a clever statement, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Matthew 26:63). Jesus had to answer this question and replies, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64). This is all the high priest needed to hear to get Jesus formally charged under Jewish law. He perceived Jesus was falsely claiming to be the Messiah. This was going to get Jesus killed. Have you ever told a lie? We are lairs. We have stolen. We have looked in lust. All this deserves death. But Jesus stands in our place and takes it Himself.

Death is just more than closing our eyes on this earth. Sin causes separation between us and God. If we are not trusting in God we die physically and spiritually, experiencing God’s anger and just punishment. It is what Jesus experienced on the cross. Jesus and God were together from eternity, always equal. Then tearing separation happened. It was nothing of what Jesus did but all we have done. He takes the punishment. Sin crucified Jesus. Sin tortured Jesus. JC Ryle writes, “We drink the same cup that was drunk by our beloved Lord. But there is one great difference: at the worst, we only drink a few bitter drops; He drank the cup to the very dregs.”

If you trust in Christ, you will never have to endure separation from God. He loves you with an infinite and everlasting love.

  1. Jesus suffered for us. This brings all the points together for us – being silent and suffering for us is suffering for us. They spat on His face, beat Him with fists, told Him to prophesise who had hit Him. It is horrible for anyone, but to my Saviour it was abhorrent, despicable and repulsive. And it was for me and for you and for all who will believe.

The gospel of Mark says Jesus was blindfolded for this part. They slapped and spit on this man. Little did they know He was their Creator, Lord of heaven and Earth. He was pierced for our transgressions. We are healed but He was scourged. He was whipped. Horrendous! Severe! Every sin we have ever committed was whipped into His back. Millions blaspheme His name saying, ‘Jesus,’ ‘Christ’ in the middle of a conversation. Here He is bearing every one of our sins. Our sin tears His body apart. The torture was so bad Jesus seemed hardly human (Isaiah 52). It was terrifying. So great was His bearing of humanity’s sin, so we could wear a robe of righteousness. Every whip mark, every drop of blood, every grimace and cry was for your sin and mine. He stood in our place.

This shouldn’t just cause you to shrug your shoulders. All your fallen-ness and shame should cause you to weep. You need to repent. You must repent or you will be certainly lost in Hell.

 Jesus’ trial is over. Jesus is coming back. Although He was sentenced to death He rose and He must be worshipped and glorified. When He comes again a new trial will begin. Your trial! Jesus will return as a Saviour and Lord – but only for some of us. For those who do not care that he died, He will be a righteous judge. Like He was silent, those who have rejected Him will be silent, standing in their own place, having nothing to say because of their sin and guilt. Now, there is no better time to repent. Jesus may return before we finish this sermon. What do you think of Jesus now? Is He fantastic news?

Jesus welcomes you. He stood in the place of sinners for a reason. What is your verdict of Jesus?  Are you going to sentence Him to death in the sense that you ignore Him? Or is your verdict He is the Saviour of the world, if you if you trust and believe?

Spurgeon said, “My entire theology can be condensed into four words: ‘Jesus died for me.’” Is that your theology? Can you say, “Jesus died for me?”

November 3rd 2019: Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards-Nov 2019The commandment most frequently broken is the 9th. This commandment states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour,” (Exodus 20:16). The reason why it is the most deliberately ignored commandment is this word translates as ‘false testimony,’ not just committing perjury. It is a word that means speaking anything useless, worthless and unfounded. It is speech full of innuendo, slander, gossip and lies.

The way we use our limited vocabulary to constantly break this commandment is an affront to God, and is a cause of much devastation in the world. A few words can destroy a relationship, a job, a reputation. James 3 warns of this destruction, of the destruction the tongue can do. It is a small part of the body but it makes great boasts. The 9th commandment deals with the great many sins of the tongue.

Whilst we’ve been accustomed to lies playing a great part in our lives – politicians, advertising, tradesmen who say they will be with you at 8 a.m. the next morning but don’t turn up, the truth is it is not just other people who lie, it is me and you. We are all educated in the art of lying. A central part of our fallen nature is to lie as we follow the example of Satan (John 8:44). We may say ‘honesty is the best policy’ but we don’t live by that. There is a story that George Washington, as a young boy, on receiving an axe used it liberally. One day he took the hatchet to a beloved tree. It was so badly damaged that it could only die. Washington’s father asked who had done it. George replied, ‘Father, I cannot lie, it was me.’ The father embraced him and said his honesty made up for his action. This story about honesty, however, is not at all honest. It is a lie! It never happened.

We are all aware of what it means to lie, but we often justify its significance claiming it is necessary, only a white lie or we are only being economical with the truth. We can become so accustomed to lying we no longer recognise when we are doing it. We use lies to cover up embarrassment. However may justify it, a lie remains a lie. The uncomfortable truth is by nature and practice we are all liars – some more accomplished than others. What is more, we can become so used to telling lies we no longer realise when we are doing it. We convince ourselves we are justified.

The remedy to lying is to have a conscience that is welded to the truth. We must be godly, like God, whose word is truth (Titus 1:2). We are to be like Him. The only way we can be like God is to be united by Christ in faith. We need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, shaped by the teachings of God’s word so we can become godly. We will never be perfect until that day we are called home to glory. We can never be perfect in this world. We are to pray for the enabling of the Holy Spirit as we commit ourselves to truthfulness in all our ways.

Slander and gossip. We all recognise slander as wrong yet we’ve all done it at some time or another. The Bible forbids it (James 4:11). The Bible also forbids gossip on the same basis. Slander and gossip are both relatives. They are often found together. Gossip is never totally true. There is often a grain of truth, but it’s always wrapped in layers of half-truths. Gossiping is lying, worthless, unfounded, idle speech that is destructive. The book of Proverbs has quite a few references to gossiping and its effect (Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 26:20).

The best way to stop a quarrel is very easy. Stop speaking. It’s as easy as that. It is a grievous sin to slander and blacken another’s character through gossip. It is amongst the most dangerous and damaging of human activities. In engaging in it we break the 9th commandment. It is particularly sad that among Christians so much gossip is found. We have so much to speak of together – of God and His grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. How much more should we fill our conversations with glorious, heavenly thoughts rather than gossip? If we must speak of others, do so as little as possible and be totally sure we are speaking the truth. We must never speculate or give way to innuendo. Instead, we must give way to truth (Zechariah 8:16).

Scripture is always concerned that there be two or three witnesses to any accusation (Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, 1 Timothy 5:19). A good rule is if you haven’t spoken to the person concerned, don’t speak about it to anyone else.

Flattery and favouritism. One way to ensure lies are perpetuated is to show favouritism (Exodus 23:3). We are not to be people who show favouritism. There is a type of lie people wouldn’t recognise as so – the silent lie, the keeping quiet because you don’t want to upset a friend, not saying something in relation to someone you know who can promote your own cause (Leviticus 5:1). Equally, we are to avoid flattery – so we might gain an advantage (Psalm 12). It is a very subtle lie when we excuse some and condemn others for doing the very same thing, or highly praise some and not others. This is bearing false witness. We are to remind ourselves that all are created by God in His image and all are to be treated equally. Even if someone is our enemy we are to love them (Romans 12:17). The remedy for flattery and favouritism is respect and fairness for all. This is especially true in our church life. There have been many a minister who has made the grave mistake by showing favouritism to some in the congregation. It leads to division in the congregation. Whilst it is true for preachers, it is also true for everyone in a congregation. It is the responsibility of all Christians to avoid even giving the impression of favouritism.

Religious lies. This, perhaps, is particularly offensive to God. The third commandment warns of this. How evil it is to anyone to prophesy falsely in God’s name, not only to lie before God but to lie in God’s name. That is why in the Old Testament the penalty for this was death (Zechariah 13:3). There are many today who practice false prophesy, saying ‘In the name of the Lord …’ saying do what they suggest because it is the Lord’s will. It is not the will of the Lord at all. I doubt such people are conscious of the evil they are doing. Some manipulate people, knowing full well it is not the Lord who has spoken at all. That is a terrible, terrible thing. They are lying in the Lord’s name.

When we are sharing what the Lord has done, good things, perhaps we embellish it to make it better. It is not a good thing. The most dangerous day of the week for religious lies is Sunday (Acts 5:3). On Sundays we are tempted to pretend I have a piety and spiritual life I do not possess. Singing hymns of praise, singing wonderful experiences of Bible truths is wrong if we don’t mean it at all. Perhaps the biggest lie of all is when we abuse the name of God. We must always remember God sees everything and knows everything. We cannot deceive Him so why should we be so foolish to do so?

The remedy: Stand in awe of God, be slow to speak, ready to hear Him speak and quick to obey.

Forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross. Our Saviour died on that cross as a direct consequence of lies (Mark 14:56, Luke 23:2). The lies which sent Jesus to the cross are my lies and my breaking of the 9th commandment. He loved me so He willingly bore the punishment for my lying mouth and heart, that I might be forgiven of all these sins. The God of all truth desires to save me from my sin and sent His beloved Son to die that I should be truly forgiven. Praise be to the Lord. What a Saviour! “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6).

October 27th 2019: Chris Benbow

chris benbow Oct19Have you ever wondered, ‘God, what are doing?’ We all live our lives and sometimes things go spectacularly wrong. We wonder why everything is a mess. Where is God then? We ask, ‘God, what are you doing?’ We see on the news wall to wall coverage of news which confuses us. Brexit. What is going on! Perhaps, it’s another situation in the Middle East. We may look at Syria and exclaim, ‘Where is God in that?’ Maybe it is not so much an international situation but a personal one. We have all experienced crunch points. We have all been through them, are going through them or will go through them. So often we wonder, ‘What are you doing God? Why is this happening?’ If you’ve ever wondered this question, you’re not the first to wonder that.

Let me re-introduce you to a man named Habakkuk. He was a minor prophet. The book of Habakkuk is only three chapters long. May be our spiritual pride boasts how quick we can find Habakkuk. He is a ‘minor’ prophet because of the length of the book, not the prophet himself. The book is equally rich in teaching.

Who is the man, Habakkuk? He was an Israelite, a prophet. Habakkuk was living in Israel in the waning years of the Syrian empire. The Assyrians were a nasty bunch.  The Israelite nation is ruined by Assyrian oppression. Good news is mocked, evil is celebrated. Habakkuk is saying, ‘God, what are you doing?’

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?”
Habakkuk 1:2

Habakkuk has been calling on God but nothing is happening. The good guys are losing and the bad guys are winning. If sin bothers you, it bothers the Lord a whole lot more. Habakkuk stands in ruins, seeing his leaders take bribes, seeing destruction around him. The law is paralysed. He wants justice. He asks what the Lord will do. The Lord Almighty answers, saying, ‘You don’t even know the half of it! There are plans in motion you have no idea about,

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told.”
Habakkuk 1:5

Habakkuk thought things were bad but God says, ‘Just wait till the Chaldeans come!’

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
    their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Habakkuk 1:6-7

You can almost see Habakkuk thinking, ‘I wish I hadn’t asked now!’ In the ancient world the king was the most powerful person, yet these strong, reckless Chaldeans laughed at kings (Habakkuk 1:10). That’s not the answer Habakkuk wanted to his prayers – more evil, pagan conquerors. How can a good God send a bad thing? Hurting can be unpleasant but for a greater good. The Israelite corruption caused a lot of pain. The scalpel was the Chaldeans. Habakkuk doesn’t like what he is hearing.

We read of Habakkuk’s second appeal to God (verses 12-13). Habakkuk’s argument is why punish a less wicked nation, Israel, with a worse kind, the Chaldeans? Why is mankind left to his own wickedness? The Chaldeans prided is their strength. Habakkuk wants to know how long the judgement will last for. He finishes his appeal by awaiting God’s reply. He goes to the watch tower (Habakkuk 2:1). His argument is this: why punish the evil of Israel with a greater evil, the Chaldeans? The Lord answers. “The righteous shall live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4). We don’t know what God is always doing but we trust God. God sees everything perfectly and we cannot understand that picture from the bit we have.

The Lord continues by proclaiming a judgement – five woes. That’s a lot of trouble! The Lord is in His holy temple. Israel has sinned. God had judged this by using the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans have sinned. God will judge them too. Israel will answer to God for its sin, the Chaldeans will answer to God for their sin too. We all stand before God to give an account.

How does Habakkuk respond? He reveres the Lord. He pours out his praise, his adoration for who God is (Habakkuk 3:2-6). Isn’t our God a great God! Habakkuk’s problems haven’t gone away. He still has questions but he’s beginning to realise a little more about who God is. He finishes his book by saying, ‘God, I don’t know what you’re doing but I know you are good, righteous and holy.’ (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Ultimately, everyone will give an account. We know, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). We know, “The righteous shall live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4).

October 20th 2019: Gaius Douglas

Gaius-March19‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.’
(1 John 3:1-3)

Moses was so blessed to be in the presence of God and God was pleased to bless him and the people of God. Do we ask God to show us His glory? Do we feel bold enough to pray to God and ask Him to show us His glory? Those saints who have died in Christ are in the presence of the Lord. We have the privilege of being able to see the Lord face to face – one day it will be a reality. How blessed! The Lord says, ‘Because I live, you will live also’ (John 14:19).

‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!’ (1 John 3:1). We see something remarkable, wonderful. John is focusing upon God’s love, it is all about the love of God. “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.” (Stuart Townend).

The four gospel writers bring us characteristics of Jesus Christ. Matthew speaks of the King, Judaism and Christianity. Mark speaks of the Servant King. Luke speaks of the manhood of Christ. John is totally different to the other gospel writers. He is the one who leaned upon His bosom, listening to His word. John speaks of the son-ship of God. The gospel of John records a wonderful verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). John saw something of God’s wonderful love and wants to share it,  His immeasurable, divine love, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” (1 John 3:1).  

John says, ‘Behold,’ – take notice, consider. “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently;
He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high,” Isaiah 52:13. In Isaiah 40-45 we see a similar word, ‘Look.’ He wants our attention to be drawn to the man, Christ Jesus. What manner of love? Divine love. It comes from God alone, God is love, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love,” (1 John 4:8). That’s the essence of Him. We have been loved with that great and wonderful love. God the Father has this great love for His children that we should become the sons of God. We have been brought into the family of God. We are more royal than royalty. We have been made children of God. God actions then take us, we have been adopted into the family. We have been brought into this relationship out of love. It is a divine love. Relish it! Enjoy it! It means we can come into His presence anytime.

We are accepted in the Beloved. There is no comparison (Isaiah 40). His love is matchless. It can’t be compared to anything we know. For each of us who has been loved with that great love, we know it. Regardless of where we are, we know we are loved and no-one can take it away.

His love is boundless. There are no barriers, nor boarders. He is infinite. His love is infinite. His love is so great, so vast. “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God, “(Psalm 90:2). His love has no beginning or ending. “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you,” (Jeremiah 31:3). His love draws us. 1 Corinthians 13:13 tells me this, faith and hope will cease, but love will abide forever. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

His love is a transforming love. If we know the Lord Jesus Christ we have been transformed. Every day we are being transformed by His loveliness, His beauty, His glory. He brings us into the wonder of His graces (Ephesians 2). What we were before, love has transformed us. By nature we are dead in trespasses and sin. We were haters of God. But now we have been saved by grace, by His precious blood, we are being made more like Him. There is a lovely picture of this in John 3, in Nicodemus, who came in the night to talk to Jesus. John 19 speaks of two disciples, two secret disciples: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. They hid their Christianity in Christ, yet He loved them. They came out and asked for Christ’s body. They were no longer in hiding. The love of God is so overwhelming it just transformed them. This is only shown by John.

God’s love is an unquenchable love, “Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it, (Song of Solomon 8:7). Regardless of what we go through, the love of God is more powerful. Scripture tells me love is stronger than death, it overpowers death (Song of Solomon 8). The more we drink of it, the more we want. God’s Word will satisfy us.  Take this unquenchable love from the one who has designated glory to us. I have a reserved place in heaven. Have you? Satan will never be able to take away the love of God. And he tries.

God’s love is a conquering love. He is victorious. He bore our sins on Calvary’s tree, made them His own. O praise the Lord for His wonderful love, in bearing our sin. He was taken to a tomb, where the wonderful words of the angel were heard, “He is not here; for He is risen,” (Matthew 28:6). “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) – that’s love! Nothing can touch us. That’s the power of love.

It is a forever love. For ever and ever and ever. Do not be afraid of it. I am not earth-bound. I do not belong here. He has promised He will take us to be with Himself. So often we try to put roots so firmly in this world. Go to the place where there is love, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you,” (John 14:2). Love will never end. It is inexhaustible, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

October 17th 2019 – Harvest: Alan Davison

Alan Davison-Harvest Oct 19Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

Harvest is a time of year that means less to us as a society now than it used to. The easy access to food through supermarkets has removed us from the link with farmers. During the time the Bible was written most people depended heavily on farming. Jesus, in His ministry, used many illustrations that came from farming. There are 60 instances of the word ‘harvest’ listed in one concordance. Around half the references are concentrated in the gospels and spoken by the lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Bible speaks of harvest in four main ways; it can be:

  1. A physical harvest
  2. A moral harvest
  3. A spiritual harvest
  4. A final harvest

 

  1. God, as our Creator, knows what we need. Because of His love for us God blesses us with what we need to eat. Mark 4:26-29. We are to labour too. There are things the farmer needs to do – sow, wait and harvest. There are things also out of his control – the seeds growing, weather etc. The labour of men gathers the provision of God. The Bible is clear everything we do comes out of everything God provides.
  2. The Moral Harvest (Hosea 8:7)

Israel once again turned its back against God. The people abandoned the faith it once held. Psalm 73. People in positions of authority have gained illegally at others expense. Frustratingly, while evil may succeed here on earth, there will be a reckoning after death. Our actions will have consequences. We will be called to account before God’s judgement throne, then we will have a moral harvest.

  1. A Spiritual Harvest.

Jesus feeds spiritually. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:34-35). We want to follow our Lord’s command, yet we’re doing so in a culture that has largely rejected God. There is pressure not to evangelise.

  1. A Final Harvest

The Parable of the Tares and Weeds. Jesus tells this parable because He wants to make it clear to people that there will be a harvest at the end of time. The age He refers to is now. It will be the death of all we know now, but also a renewal, new heavens and a new earth. Hebrews 2:14-15. As human beings we should fear death unless we come to Jesus. The author Terry Pratchett was an atheist and advocate of euthanasia. He died in 2015. In 2007 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He includes death as a major character in his writing, portrayed as a rather serious character, the grim reaper. He was quite naïve. Coupled with death he has a portrayal of the afterlife, where everyone goes to the same place, a place of nothingless, where all go, regardless of beliefs. It is a place where there will be no moral harvest. Pratchett was knighted, therefore he needed a family motto. It was ‘Don’t fear the reaper.’ It shows us what the atheist hopes for – nothing. Yet he benefitted from all God provided. He tried to avoid the moral harvest and rejected the spiritual harvest.

Jesus makes it clear there is a final harvest coming. It is vitally important to be a child of God. In this parable the field is the world. What are the implications for the entire world? Jesus sows seeds of righteousness – those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The devil comes along and sows tares – a weed called darnel. Darnel produces a poisonous fruit. If you eat enough darnel it will be fatal. As it grows it looks just like wheat until the fruit comes. At that point it becomes distinguishable. While a weed, darnel needs to be cultivated alongside crops for it to grow.

Matthew 5:45. God sustains His creation so that even those who don’t believe, continue to live. There are those in our world today who mock God. Jesus continues the parable with telling us the angels (reapers) are to gather the crop. This is Jesus’ focus. At the end of time there will be a separation – only into two groups: one group, children of the wicked one, the other, children of God. The group you are separated to depends solely on your view of Christ. Too many people are convinced there is a third group – agnostics. Look again at scripture. There are only two groups. If you are not God’s, by default you are Satan’s. The children of the wicked one will be cast into fire, into hell. It is Satan who owns them (verse 39-41). They practice lawlessness. This simply means that they rebel against God and His Word. They choose to go their own way, or so they think. Our culture tells us of heaven but not hell. Jesus often spoke of hell, in fact He spoke more of hell than heaven. He tells us there will be a wailing in hell – suffering, and gnashing of teeth – eternal regret. If you have accepted Christ, you are one of the children of God – to be chosen by God, nurtured, kept, and protected by Him. You are adopted into His family, thus having a share in God’s inheritance. You are called righteous. On that final day we will be God’s harvest at the end of the age. Will you be gathered into God’s eternal barn?

October 13th 2019: Darrin Gilchrist

Darrin Gilchrist-Oct 19 -dThe parable of the Sower – Looking at saving faith.

Often the emphasis of this parable is put on the wrong place. It is not really the parable of the sower but the parable of the soils. We will be looking at the only kind of faith that leads to salvation. Therefore, there is a kind of faith that doesn’t lead to salvation. The end of Matthew chapter 12 and into the beginning of Matthew chapter 13 gives us the background to this parable. Until this point, Christ has been preaching the Kingdom of God is here. He has been preaching about the good news that God has determined to put right the damage sin has caused. As a man, Christ is walking around seeing destruction all around Him. Sin and selfishness has destroyed us. We can’t hide it. It’s ever before us. Christ came into the world and said His Father had sent Him to restore us. How is this restoration to happen? Christ says the way He will do this is to make a new creation. The old creation is destroyed by sin, God will regenerate a new humanity. Through God working salvation and redemption in our lives, one day this world will be folded up and a new heaven and earth will be.

How proud we are by nature. We are glad to see young people in our church but young people are not our hope. If there is genuine restoring in our land of the gospel, we will not be able to say man has done this, only God. The ways God will do this is to redeem us. Matthew, as a writer, does something interesting. The Kingdom Christ has been going around telling people about, He brings to bear. Matthew records a series of miracles, for example the blind man being healed. The man became blind because sin is in this world. Christ has been going around teaching about the power of this kingdom. Christ demonstrates this power in healing, He brings power to bear upon their lives. This power can do far more than physical healing, it can heal the soul. Christ, by entering into this living experience, restores what sin has done. Christ has a series of calls He makes to different people. He brings the power of the Kingdom to bear on people’s lives. He calls them to follow Him. In the midst of doing this, some entrusted their lives to follow Him but others rejected Him and others remained neutral. The question arises, if you saw the things He did, why isn’t the entire world following Him? Christ has to explain to His followers why there are different responses.

‘That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea’ (Matthew 13:1). This begs the question, ‘What day was that?’ Why does Matthew record that day? It’s because of what he records in Matthew 12:46, ‘While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Here Jesus was in a house speaking to people. Even those closest to Him were obstacles to what He wanted to do. Jesus says all who follow Him are His closest kin. That same day He went out of the house. He will not be stopped from doing what He wants to do, even obstacles from His closest family. He went out and sat by the sea, then speaks this parable. He is teaching His disciples and followers why different responses are happening. He is preparing them for different responses they will have when He returns to heaven. Just like their Master, they will have different experiences and need to be prepared.

The Parable of the Soils is a very simple parable. Jesus compares different people and their different responses to the proclamation of the gospel, to different types of soil. All of mankind falls under one of these categories.

  • The rock hard soil.“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them” (Matthew 13:3-4). The path is rock hard, people have walked on it and it is compacted. The birds devour the seeds. This is explained in verse 19, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.”
  • The second soil is shallow soil. The seeds sprang up but because there was no depth to the soil, they had no roots and withered away. “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.”
  • There is a thorn-infested soil, “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” (Matthew 13:6-7).
  • Finally, there is good soil, “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:8).

75% of people who hear the message are not very promising, 25% are. This is what we’re taught to expect. There’s no room for despair. There’s nothing glamorous about us, we represent such a small part of the population. Yet we’re used by God! We’re insignificant but we are to do significant work. All glory to God. There is good soil which produces grain.

We see the kind of faith that leads to salvation. Do we have the kind of faith that leads to salvation? There is a great picture of this in John’s gospel, chapter 2. John says many heard what Jesus said and believed but there is a kind of faith that is not saving. They were interested in what they could get out of Jesus. Have you come to Him?

What is the kind of faith that saves?

  • It is faith that receives the word of God, it takes it in, it is receptive to God’s voice, not just His word. The voice is the power of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word. Saving faith does not allow the enemy to come to carry it away. There will be a carefulness in how you treat the Word, a desire for the Word and practical application. So much Christianity today allows things just to remain on the surface. Saving faith takes what God says seriously. God is serious, serious joyfulness. Are we receptive to God’s Word, no matter what it says to us? What about when the Word of God comes to you and it goes against the grain? Will you disregard it, and so your faith remains on the surface only? Sarah laughed when she was told she would have a baby beyond child-bearing age. Yet God brought life out of the death of a dead womb. He did the same with Elizabeth. Saving faith receives the Word of God.

  • Saving faith endures. Other seeds fell on rocky ground and didn’t have roots. Unlike the seeds that landed on the hard path, this seed lands on soft soil but it is shallow. Are you a shallow Christian – very promising at first but when heat is applied you are unable to stand the heat? Saving faith is rooted, it endures, it keeps on going. The heart that is able to be penetrated by its seed so it grows. When God’s Word comes it alters everything. There is a constant awareness that what God says is the only thing that matters. It can withstand the heat. Plenty of Christians who respond immediately to the gospel are thrown into the baptismal pool without looking to see if roots have been laid down, or if it is just shallow soil. Saving faith proves itself in time.
  • Saving faith is unobstructed. That is not to say we don’t have challenges. The soil of verse 7 has obstacles and no-one takes time to get rid of them. Are there other things in our life that clutter us? Saving faith isn’t overcrowded by things of this world. Is Jesus the number one, the only one, in an undivided heart? Saving faith is pure. Christ governs and dictates everything in your life. You need pure soil if you’re to have growth. You need to make the soil receptive. You need to plough. Jeremiah is commanded to put the plough to the soil. There needs to be a work that happens if the soil is to be receptive. It’s the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance. Is Christ your delight or do other things crowd Him out?
  • Saving faith is fruitful (verse 8). It multiplies. There is a fruitfulness. Saving faith will produce saving benefits for others. Saving faith is alive, it’s active, it brings about other graces. When is the last time anyone has been affected by your witness to Christ? Saving faith is to be fruitful no matter how great or small that fruit is to be. Saving faith doesn’t mind if it produces even the smallest fruit. Saving faith is alive and has an impact. It’s fruitful. Do we have a fruitful faith?

September 22nd 2019: Mike Viccary

mike viccary - sept 19bZechariah 1:1-6 A word on Repentance

Zechariah was a close contemporary of Haggai. Verse 1 tells us whom the Lord used to convey this vital message, “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo.” If you glance back at Haggai you will find that he prophesies in the second year of Darius as well. The important dates in Haggai are as follows:

day month year What happened
1 6 2 The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (1:1)
24 6 2 The people began work on the house of the Lord (1:14b,15)
21 7 2 The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:1)
24 9 2 The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:10)
The foundation of the temple was laid (2:18)
The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:20)

 

Zechariah receives his word from the Lord in the 8th month of the 2nd year of Darius, so somewhere between Haggai 2:9 and Haggai 2:10 in about 520 BC. At this point the work is on-going but not yet finished. It will be helpful to review the history from the time of destruction of Jerusalem to the completion of the temple by the exiles on their return.

  • Jerusalem destroyed and captives taken to Babylon in 586 BC.
  • Exiles return in 536 BC.
  • Work begins in the second year 535 BC (Ezra 3:8, Ezra 4:24, Ezra 5:1-2).
  • Haggai and Zechariah receive words from the Lord in the 2nd year of Darius or 520 BC.
  • The temple is finished in the 6th year of Darius or 516 BC exactly 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Israelites (Ezra 6:14-15).

Thus Zechariah is co-prophet alongside Haggai encouraging the work of rebuilding the temple. However, whilst Haggai seems to be encouraging the external work and the rebuilding programme, Zechariah’s prophetic word is aimed at the hearts or an inner work. That is not to say that Haggai was not concerned with heart work, but that his words were encouragements to build and work in the world as applications. Whereas Zechariahs’ focus was on the inner life as can be seen by the style of the prophecy with its visions and pictures and its burdens and oracles – Haggai is much more plain speaking and practical.

Our text acts as the introduction of the book and we shall draw four main themes as follows:

  • The Lord of hosts is a God of wrath.
  • True life is a life of repentance.
  • Pay attention to your history!
  • The power of the Lord’s word OR the faithfulness of the Lord.
  • The Lord of hosts is a God of wrath:
    “The Lord has been very angry with your fathers (Zechariah 1:2). Imagine the situation Zechariah witnessed and saw. The temple was in the process of being built but was nowhere near as majestic as the former one that was destroyed. All around in the city and surroundings were the evidence of the destruction wrought by Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (see commentary of H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Zechariah, p.22).

Now verse 2 literally rendered is as follows: Angry was the Lord towards your fathers, with anger. The word ‘angry’ comes before and after, like bookends that surround the people – hence the emphatic ‘very angry’ in the NKJV. How is it that God can be angry? Isn’t He above this? We need to be careful that we do not transfer human views of anger to God – He is not capricious / vindictive / doesn’t lose control (see summary of God’s wrath by John Stott, ‘The Cross of Christ’).

Why was God angry with the fathers? The answer comes in verse 4, ‘Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord.’ They would not listen to the Lord. Jeremiah (and other prophets) give us precise details of how this worked out but essentially this is the reason for God’s anger.

Is such a response fair? Well, we need to remember who God is and who we are! Here in our text are three explanations for God’s anger:

  • He is ‘Lord’ (YHWH). He is the self-existent One – the I AM. We are the created ones, dependent, reliant and not self-existent.
  • He is ‘Lord of hosts.’ This title is found 46 times in Zechariah. It occurs mostly in Jeremiah (71) and Isaiah (53) but these are much longer books. It also occurs 24 times in Malachi. The essential meaning is that God is Commander-in-Chief over all armies! All answer to Him! We are brought to consider the Lord’s sovereign power over all His works of creation. As Commander-in-Chief He has the power to execute His plan perfectly without any opposition. Whilst He allows opponents to do their worst, they do not realise that they are doing what God requires because He always makes good come from evil. Think of Exodus and Pharaoh! Think of Christ on the cross – taken by wicked men but fore-ordained of the Father.
  • He brings / offers the word of the Lord. This points us to two things – first the revelation pf God which is 100% true, and second the Lord Jesus Christ, who is ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ (John 14:6). Now God’s word, the word of the Lord, will never fail. In fact, in our text we are told it will ‘overtake the fathers and prophets.’ Thus, from these three basic ideas, we note that God is: true, right, perfect, pure and holy. Thus, to not listen to God is tantamount to supreme folly. God is:
  • Affronted that we do not listen to what is true, right, perfect, pure and holy.
  • Horrified that we opt for sin, error, evil and all that which is other than what God would bring and suggest.

Would not a parent express the same indignation at a toddler who says, ‘No’ when asked to eat up their food and instead sprays it around the room onto carpets, walls and all over themselves and you? Would not a father be angry when his teenage son defies the best advice and goes off to binge, indulging in drink, drugs and loose living, only to end u on the run or in hospital? The Lord is very angry when people do not listen to Him.

Of course, God has other attributes. God is:

The God of love (2 Corinthians 13:11)
The God of glory (Acts 7:2)
The God of patience (Romans 15:5)
The God of hope (Romans 15:13)
The God of peace (Romans 15:13, 16:20)
The God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3)
The God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10)

The Lord is also is described as the God who is:

true (John 3:33)
faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9)
holy (1 Corinthians 3:17)
a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29)
light (1 John 1:5)
love (1 John 4:8, 16)

None of these attributes are contrary or contradict the fact that God is a God of wrath. Consider these scriptures: John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6, Romans 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:9. Ezra puts it like this, “The hand of God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him, (Ezra 8:22b). The holy and pure God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) and He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He will consume utterly anything which is tainted with evil, sin or error. Think of it like this: if you had painted a perfect picture or baked a beautiful cake and decorated it, or if you had built a superb garden, what would you do or feel if someone wanted to scratch your picture, poison your cake, or overthrow your garden? We are God’s workmanship. We have ruined it, His picture, His garden! Sin, iniquity, error, transgression do this. They spoil and maim, they ruin and break up. Would that be acceptable to you? Or would you not be angry?

  • True life is a life of repentance.
    ‘Therefore say to them, ‘Thus declares the Lordof hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts’ (Zechariah 1:3).
    There are two key thoughts in verse 3 and they are quite clearly stated. The first is the command for the people to return to the Lord, and then there is the consequence, outcome or fruit – the Lord will return to the people. Before we go any further we must pause and declare the great grace and mercy of God here. The fathers (and all mankind, including us) do not listen to God. We are under His wrath. But He does not pour this out immediately! Isn’t that remarkable? Think of the countless warnings God gave to the people in Israel and Judah. Or think of the warnings the Lord gave to Pharaoh. Or what about the people in Noah’s day. The Lord gave ample warning that He would one day come and bring judgement for wickedness and sin. There have been many temporal judgements on the world or on nations, or even on individuals, and these act as warnings to us. One day there will be a final reckoning! We stand at that point in history where we can look back and see that God has poured out His wrath on the sinless substitute, Christ Jesus, at Calvary, and such propitiation (the diverting of wrath from us to another) is available.

 

The word rendered as ‘return’ in verse 3 means to ‘turnabout’ and signifies repentance – a change of mind and direction. You were walking in one way with one aim and purpose, but then you about face and walk in the opposite direction with a diametrically opposed way of thinking. Now verse 3 may appear to be somewhat of a surprise!

 

The Lord of hosts is calling the people who returned from Babylon to return to Him i.e. to repent. Now you may be thinking: wouldn’t those who came back from Babylon in 536 BC have been ones who wanted to see the Lord vindicated and glorified? Would not these be the zealous ones who sought the Lord rather than those who were left behind and settled in Babylon? Are not these the ransomed of the Lord who returned to Jerusalem with singing as prophesied by Isaiah? (Isaiah 53:10, 51:11). Perhaps. But we err greatly if we think that repentance is a one-off affair at the start of our walk with God. There are two things we need to bear in mind here:

First, our natural tendency / inclination is to drift from God. We can see this in a number of ways:
(a) think of the many exhortations to wake up, rouse yourself, stir up your gift and so on. If we did not drift away there would be no need for these calls.
(b)  think of the many calls to ‘keep.’ For example:

  • Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3)
  • Keep yourself pure )(1 Timothy 5:22)
  • Keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27)
  • Keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21)
  • Keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 1:21)

(c) consider the scripture in Hebrews 2:1-3a.

(d) consider the sad and sorry fact that we continue to sin (even though we do not want to as believers). Read Paul’s testimony in Romans 7:18-25.

(e) Finally, hear the words of the apostle John in 1 John 1:8-10).

We sin, we struggle / wrestle with the flesh, we forget, we drift and we are assailed by Satan and the world. Such a state of affairs means that we should often repent. We need to draw near to God, come back to Him, forsake our sin, do everything we can to remember what God has done, fight the devil and the world, realign ourselves in accordance with God and His ways. We need to repent!

But there is another aspect to repentance which I fear is sorely missing today. It ought to be at the forefront of our evangelism. Second: repentance is the flip0of-faith. If faith is the ‘heads’ on a coin, repentance is the ‘tails.’ We are perhaps guilty of over-emphasising faith – trust in God. If we look at the message that Christ declared at the start of His ministry, we find that the emphasis is rather on repentance, (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32).

Repentance focuses our thought on turning around from our current course. We are going astray, walking down the wrong path, and not following the path of righteousness. Wherever repentance and faith are found together in Scripture, in all cases, repentance comes first: (Matthew 21:32, Mark 1:14b-15, Acts 19:4, Acts 20:21, Hebrews 6:1). We need to stop, re-consider, think again, and change our course of action – and that is where faith comes in. Asking a person to put trust in God whilst they are walking in the wrong way, that is, away from God – is not likely to succeed. We need to call people to turn around before they can place trust in God!

When we see God in all His holiness and purity and it causes us to tremble and quake, and we think, ‘What am I doing? I must be mad to pursue this sinful way!’ Then we think again and turn our lives from the old ways we have been pursuing – this is repentance towards God (in His holiness) and from dead works (our old sinful way). But then we also see Christ, and especially Him on the cross bearing our sin. When we see Him dying and rising we love Him and run to Him for help and salvation – this is faith in Jesus Christ.

(b) The Lord returns! Verse 3 is quite clear on the process. When a person responds to the command of the Lord to return, He will return to them. We get a clear picture of this if we look at the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11f). I’m sure you remember the story. The younger of the two sons wanted to have the inheritance from his father before the father died. He took it and went and spent it all on loose living. Ending up in a pigsty, eating the pigs’ food. But we then read that ‘he came to himself’ (Luke 15:17), that he decided to go back to his father saying that he had ‘sinned against heaven and before’ his father (Luke 15:18) and that he humbled himself, requesting to become ‘one of your hired servants’ (Luke 15:19). So the younger son arose and set off to return to his father, but then we read: ‘but when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20). Isn’t that wonderful?

The same basic truth / ideas is expressed more clearly by James, ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’ (James 4:8). Such a statement is easy to repeat and grasp, especially with the story of the prodigal son we have just considered. However, it is important to give the statement its true context. James begins by pointing out that wars and fights come because of selfish lusts and desires and because we have a worldly and fleshly inclination but the Holy Spirit years within us jealousy. He then states that God is with the humble and lowly giving grace but He resists the proud – which thought seems to be an allusion to several OT and NT Scriptures (Job 22:29, Psalm 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, Matthew 23:12, 1 Peter 5:5). Following this we read a series of 7 exhortations of which the third is the one we noted. These exhortations start with the word ‘therefore.’

Therefore:
(1) submit to God
(2) Resist the devil and he will flee from you
(3) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
(4) Cleanse your hands, you sinners and
(5) purify your hearts, you double-minded.
(6) Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
(7) Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:7-10).

It is clear from what James says that the essence of these imperatives is the nature of repentance. We need to humble ourselves by stopping our independent autonomous lifestyle, put on our armour of faith against the devil and avail ourselves of the cleansing power of the Cross and Christ. Now all that we have said is a part of our daily lives. Life is one of repentance from sin, error, evil and faith towards God and Christ.

  1. Pay attention to your history!

Zechariah 4-6. A view or reading of church history is often played down or ignored in many circles. Sometimes for very dubious reasons. But we ought to be students of church history  is clear when you look at the length of time it took the Lord to reveal Scripture to us. Also we consider testimony to be an important tool or witness to faith – and church history is just that – testimonies of believers through the ages. Now these verses help us to understand how to read church history. We can consider the following lessons:

  • Beware of your traditions.
  • The reluctance to repent (or the need to always reform)
  • Do not trust to mere men – trust in the word (the problem of personalities)

 

  • Beware of your traditions. In verse 4 we hear an exhortation: “Do not be like your fathers.” It is natural to follow in the footsteps of fathers (and mothers). How often do you hear someone say, ‘He sounds just like his father!’ As Christians we are equally prone to follow in the footsteps of our forebears – our fathers in the faith. You may think this is a good thing but that is not necessarily the case Do you wonder why I say this? Have I gone mad? NO! Let me explain what I mean. We have fathers in the faith – believers who have gone before us and have walked the walk of faith before we came on the scene. Where can we see their walk of faith we ought to glory and rejoice and we ought to seek to emulate them. But where we see their faults and failings we ought to avoid these like the plague. But what do we do? Well in practice we simply continue the traditions that have been handed down. We are lazy and do not think deeply. In a lot of cases these traditions are time-bound and do not necessarily pass well from one age to the next. The fact is that God has no grandchildren and each generation must seek to follow the Lord afresh. That does not mean we ignore or belittle those who have gone before us – NO! But we live in this age and we must endeavour to follow Christ in this age. The truths and principles of Scripture NEVER CHANGE. But the application does change.

 

  • The reluctance to repent (or need to always reform). Their fathers had the same privileges and advantages as the people in Zechariah’s day. They had the prophets who brought God’s word through preaching, and therefore they could hear what God had to say. They heard the call to repent from the Lord through the prophets (verse 4). But they did not act on this, they did not combine it with faith. They did not listen intelligently and they did not prick up their ears and do what was needed. I think the main problem is that we naturally assume that we are like trains which can only go forwards or backwards. Once we have ‘repented’ we think that all the work is done with. Instead we ought to realise that we are like a house that has fallen into great disrepair and need much renovation. When we are converted it is like being translated from one kingdom to another (Colossians 1:13). When we are born again it is like being a new creature with a new vision (John 3). But nobody goes from sinner to 100% fit for heaven overnight. There is a long proves of sanctification and we are all WOPs – works in progress. This means that for a long time we have to have our flooring replaced – our ground and foundation. We have to change our minds and allow the Lord to choose the pattern and structure for the floors of our lives. When that is done perhaps there is some time to allow it to settle but then the walls need repairing and repainting so that when people come to visit there is something good to see instead of cracks and mould, or peeling paint. Thus we need to always be ready to reform.

We need often to repent. Think on these verses: Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 4:16, Ephesians 4:20-24. Our minds, our inwards man needs to be renewed on a daily basis. Their fathers refused to do this! The Pharisees of Jesus’ day refused to reform and repent. Hebrews 4 is a warning about those who wandered in the wilderness and refused to obey God when it came time to enter the Promised Land. Are we the same when we hold onto outmoded forms and rituals? I think the great problem can be summed up like this: it is one of comfortableness and a settled nature. (See Zephaniah 1:12). The prophet Jeremiah spoke in a similar way concerning Moab (Jeremiah 48:11). Have we become too comfortable, predictable and unaware of God’s will and ways? (See what the Lord looks for in Isaiah 66:2, Isaiah 57:15, Philippians 2:5-8). Now the nation as a whole, and the kings and nobles in particular, did not repent even though Jeremiah made repeated calls from the Lord for them to do so. Nevertheless there were some who did. I am thinking of the likes of Daniel and others who were taken into captivity. Thus our text points to these as ones who turned back to follow the Lord (Zechariah 1:6). It may be worth looking at Daniel’s prayer in your own time – see Daniel 9:1f. In concluding this part – have a view of church history to see how people repented and reformed.

  1. The power of the Lord’s word or the faithfulness of the Lord. (Zechariah 1:5-6). The wrath of God leads us to repentance which is simply demonstrated throughout church history. Now we consider what does not alter. In verse 6 we have a contrasting word ‘yet.’ So in stark contrast to the fathers and the prophets we have God’s word. All men die. Even the good ones like prophets (Job 14:1-2, James 1:11). IN stark contrast the word of God lasts forever (Isaiah 40:6-8). IN our test it is put differently (see verse 5). It is sad to reflect that those who have gone before are truly gone. Some may think that they can ‘live on’ in their work, achievement, their monuments and so on. But these do no disguise the fact that they are in fact no longer here with us. We ought to realise that we are not all that.

But there is something which does last! The words and statutes of the Lord. Notice how this is put. First they are God’s, that is, they belong to God. They are ‘My words and My statutes.’ We must be very careful to recognise the origin of these words here. How sad it is that many simply consider these as the words of mere men scrambling around trying to make sense of things. What does God have to say? Read Isaiah 66:2. Do we tremble at God’s word? Really? Now this means we ought to be careful to look into the words of Scripture carefully.

Second, they are words and statues command by the commissioned. In other words, these words and statutes are not to be played around with or altered or held in contempt. No! They must be faithfully passed on. They must be held as dearly and as precious as the One who brought them into being. The prophets are given the title ‘My servants.’ A servant does not initiate things or produce a message from himself! No! He takes what he has been given and passes it on faithfully. But the prophets died. Just as the father did. So …

Third. They are the words and statutes that overtook the fathers and the prophets. God’s word is much more than simply long-lasting. It is eternal (Psalm 119:89). Such a though is obvious when you think about it. The eternal God can only utter words which are eternal. What God says is true and always will be. God never needs to qualify, adjust, correct, amend or alter anything He says at all. He has no plan B.

Contrast this with man’s words and statutes. How often do we have to alter or change our words and statutes? Think of the re-structuring of institutions such as education. One year a set of ‘words’ and ‘rules’ prevails as the guide for teaching and the next a new set is rolled out. Or think of government. One government lays its plans for legislation and the next repels and alters those laws in conformity with a new way of thinking! God’s words when once spoken, and God’s statutes when once written down, last for eternity. They are reliable, trustworthy and faithful. This last point is worth dwelling on.

Fourth. The words and statutes of God are immutable – they will never change. Here we are brought face-to-face with the faithfulness of God. We tend to think of faithfulness as something that is always positive. When we say someone is reliable, or trustworthy, what we mean is that they are on our side, they agree with our way of thinking. But true faithfulness is that quality or remaining true to your word. This means that when the Lord warns us of the consequences of wrong actions we can be absolutely sure that these will result. (See Deuteronomy 28. especially verses 33, 36 and 37).

Final Thoughts:

  • God, the Lord of hosts, the Almighty, Holy One of Israel is angry – very angry – about sin, rebellion and evil

 

  • Repentance is a first course of action for all. Repentance and faith, coming back to the Lord daily, frequently (Matthew 11:28).

 

  • The history of the true church is one of reform – repentance, turning back to the Lord. Revival.

 

  • God’s word will outlast all of us! Ours is a passing moment in history. But God’s word will continue forever.

 

  • Will we continually come back to the Lord and His word?

 

September 29th 2019: John Funnell

John Funnell-sept19Luke 19:1-10

Winter is coming. Christmas is near. Some people love Christmas. We all know the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I haven’t read the book, but have seen the film. To me, Ebenezer Scrooge is Michael Caine! He was a wealthy, yet tight-fisted man. He treated Bob Cratchit and his family very badly. Through various ghostly and spiritual influences, Scrooge miraculously turns into a wonderful philanthropist. Everyone is happy. It’s a classic tale.

Many people see this story as quite similar to the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus turns a wealthy tax collector into a nice, generous person who gives half of what he earns to the poor. However, such a simplistic interpretation doesn’t do it justice. It limits us to read it as part of the crowd, who see Zacchaeus as a known sinner (verse 7). Once Jesus gets involved he becomes a generous Christian.

Viewing this story from the perspective of the crowd is limiting. Step back from the crowd and stop being simply a spectator. What truly matters is the viewpoint of Jesus, looking at this through Jesus’ eyes.

Jesus ignores the crowd. They swarm around Him yet He goes straight for the man in the tree. Why Zacchaeus? Dr. Luke provides us with many clues why. The crowds ‘pressed onto Jesus’. Why? Because they had heard God in flesh was there. To them, Jesus was an A-Lister celebrity. Zacchaeus was one of the people who wanted to see Jesus. Yet he had a problem; he was too short and couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd. His view is blocked. The detail of him being short didn’t need to be added. There must be a reason Dr. Luke added it to the narrative.

The Greek word for ‘short’ is interesting. It is not just used to describe height but also age. In John 19 we read of the blind man who was healed by Jesus. The Pharisees were not happy. His parents were called into court to be quizzed. Yet his parents say he is of age and can answer for himself. The same Greek word for age is used as to describe short. We see this again in Hebrews 11:11 when Sarah is described as beyond child-bearing age. It’s the same Greek word again. Dr. Luke adds the adjective ‘short’ because Zacchaeus was short but also because the word describes his status, especially in a society where age and status matter in a community. Dr. Luke added it not just to explain why he couldn’t see, but also to show Zacchaeus has a lowly status in his community. Zacchaeus’ ultimate problem was not his height but his family and friends had flocked to see Jesus and had left him behind. That’s the tragedy that sits behind the narrative. Zacchaeus was left behind by his community, abandoned by friends and family. He had no status. He was lost. Zacchaeus was all alone and without a loving community to guide him. Perhaps this is why he went down the wrong path and became a tax collector to Rome?

He climbed a fig tree – a symbol of prosperity. Fig leaves are a symbol of covering sin. Zacchaeus is trying to rise above. Jesus finds him in his sin, lonely, hiding up a fig tree. ‘And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”’ (Luke 19:5). Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus by name. He calls him down and reconciles him with his community. Jesus makes a public statement that he is a son of Abraham. He tells the crowd he is one of them. Zacchaeus is restored. Hallelujah!

‘And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”’ (Luke 19:9).

 Jesus can come into the life of any person who has been outcast and left out by his community. He can bring them back into his community. This is a story about Christ, come into the world, coming to seek the lost. Hallelujah! “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

As Jesus was walking down the street He didn’t see what the crowd saw, He saw a broken man, trying to lift himself above his community, yet hiding. So Jesus came and He personally called him by name. And what did He do? He loved him. For the first time in a long time Zacchaeus knew he was loved. We see repentance. He gave half of his possessions to the poor. Zacchaeus gave freely and joyfully because He knew the overwhelming and overflowing love of Christ. Friends, the good news, the best news, is that Jesus’ love can do the same for us today.

If you have times when you feel low, exhausted, ashamed, overwhelmed, convicted by the weight of your sin, please know that Jesus is here for you. He will never ignore you for the crowd. He will call you by name. He’ll say, ‘My dear brother, my dear sister, ‘I love you.’ The creator of all time, space and matter says, ‘I love you.’ He says, ‘Come down from the tree of tiredness and shame, come down to your community, your church. I don’t care about your past, what anyone else thinks of you, I just want you. All that shame I buried at the cross.’

The call today to Christians and both non-Christians alike is ‘will you come down from your hiding place and take Jesus home with you, just like Zacchaeus? Will you let Jesus transform your life with His love? Today, salvation has come to the home. Will you take it?