May 12th 2022: Chris Rees

To watch this service click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/fnQl2eSxmCo

“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” Hebrews 11:4

I wonder if you’ve ever met someone who just can’t stop speaking? Maybe there have been a number of preachers, over the years, who have come into the pulpit and I know what you’re thinking, ‘Please come to an end! It’s time to wind up, it’s time to finish.’ Some people just don’t know when to stop. I will take you this morning, to one who wasn’t a preacher, who was a Christian and not even death could stop him speaking. Even as we’ve come here today, he has something to say to us.

In our lives, the one thing we soon realise is our life will soon be gone. Our memories will be gone even faster. Some of us can be forgotten even in life. We will certainly be forgotten in death. But what we have here in Hebrews 11 verse 4, is a man who, even when he was dead, the memory of him and what he has taught is for us, even this day.By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4)

 What we have here is something that perhaps we need to learn – a great lesson:
 
1 – How Abel worshipped God – that is what he still speaks and teaches us this day. He teaches us what we need to know this day.

2 – We are accepted with God and how to be accepted with God.

3 – You can have a life that can be lived which can actually, in some sense, be remembered. What we do by faith is utterly and vitally important.

What happens here in Hebrews is very simple. The letter is written to those who would become Christians. They were Jewish Christians who had learnt about the Lord Jesus. They must have come to a point where they believed that He was the Son of God. We know from the letter they have almost certainly believed and trusted in Him in that moment for their sins to be forgiven.

We know from Hebrews chapter 10, as the writer tells us, that now is a new and living way by which we can come to God –through the veil of His body which was broken on that tree. These people who believed in the Messiah came to know Jesus Christ, believed in a new way of worship – by that blood which was once shed. Remember what Jesus said? ‘I will destroy the temple. In three days, I will build it again.’ They came to know that, and as they came to know that their worship had changed.

But they were beginning to go back to their old worship: the ritual, the religion, the temple, the sacrifice, the priesthood. Now, you know what people say – it doesn’t really matter how we worship – a big thing this day. Well, I have news for you – you can either do it right or you can do it wrong. That’s what you’ve got in this verse. There are those of you this day who will say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter because we all worship the same God. In this lesson, first of all, you find it in verse 4, it’s simply this: that “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice.”

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is the great chapter of the Bible that concerns faith and the need of it. There are 39 examples given, of not great men or of great acts, but of what people did in their life by faith. There’s a verse, you know it off by heart, and there’s never a sermon I preach without quoting it!

“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)

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47)

Faith is utterly vital for your Christian life. Abel had it. Cain did not. There’s not much we know about them. We know that Cain was the elder brother and Abel the younger. What happened on this occasion it that they went to worship. I believe that they went to the same place of worship. Can you imagine that? Two people coming to the same place to worship God, two people coming to worship the same God. Yet, one gets it right and the other gets it wrong.

What happens simply is this; Cain offers his first fruits of the ground. I must admit, at one time I felt sorry for Cain. What else was he supposed to bring? He was a tiller of the ground. That was is job. Abel was a keeper of sheep. Perhaps you think that Abel was in a better position than Cain. But listen very carefully. It is not the offering that makes the worshipper accepted, but the worshipper which makes the offering accepted. Here, the difference between them is this – by faith Abel offered his gift.

In the world in which we live, people think they can worship God as they can, in whatever way they can. Yet, I want to show you from Cain’s life that what he did was not adequate because it was lacking this vital ingredient. Faith. People have said, ‘Well, if I was born in the Middle East, I would be a Muslim. It’s only because now I am living in this country that I am now a Christian.’ You can worship God in this world in many different religions, as many people do. But it’s not going to help you one bit, even if you worship God in a Christian country, and you come knowing the good news of the gospel, knowing the good news, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). People have come being brought up in a place of worship, they’ve heard the gospel, they’ve sung the hymns. Yet unless you do it by faith, you won’t be accepted.

Abel comes in his worship by bringing the first fruit of the first offering of his flock. He was coming in a trusting, obedient way. In Genesis 3, on the day that Adam and Eve fell, God came to them and ministered to them in the garden. God made coverings for them of skins for tunics. At that moment, death enters into the world. A sacrifice had taken place. So it was, when Abel came bringing a lamb from his flock, he did it in the realisation, in the greater need that he had, in the belief, in trusting.

It’s like in the New Testament when the Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Two men went up to pray. One was a Pharisee who says to God, ‘I thank you that I’m not like other men, I’m not like this man here.’ The other man, a Publican, simply won’t raise his head, and said, ‘Lord, have mercy upon me.’ You see, when Abel was coming with his sacrifice, he came with a heart of trusting and believing. It is the lamb, which from the very beginning, was to point to the sacrifice to come, knowing atonement had to be made, mercy from God. That’s what Abel did.

There are two mistakes people make in how they come to worship. Firstly, they make the mistake of Cain – giving his work to God, worshipping God as Creator, but not as Redeemer. It is all about the things of this earth and creation – the sun and the sea and all the rest of it. Very good. We have to do that. But the reality is, it’s a mistake to think that you could offer to God anything that could be pleasing to Him – your works, your charity, your goodness, your religion, your ritual, offering yourself as if that’s acceptable. A big mistake. You’re trusting in yourself and what you have done.

There is another mistake that people make – there will be those who have known the gospel, actually sung hymns about the cross and about the Lamb of God, spent their life singing about ‘the old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.’

Then you ask them are they going to heaven, and they don’t know, they hope so. You ask, ‘What’s that about? They take the things of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and some today in various places of worship will be doing a ritual. They have not come to worship trusting and believing that at one time, in one place, at Calvary, that there was a Lamb that was slain so that sins could be forgiven.

To have faith is how you worship. Jesus said, ‘You come to me, you come to My Father.’ What you do this morning has great significance and how you do it. What you do, do it in His Name. You’ve offered prayers in Jesus’ name. They’re not great prayers, they’re not good prayers, but you’ve bowed your head and in Jesus’ name you believe that He’s heard you. You’ve confessed your sins before the Lord Jesus Christ, believing that he can forgive you. You’ve opened God’s Word, you’ve heard it, you’ve listened to it. What you’ve done, you’ve done simply by faith. That’s powerful.

What Abel did, even though he’s dead, still speaks. Because he’s shown us this day that there is a way by which you can come and worship God. There’s a right way and a wrong way to worship. You’ve got to have faith. You’ve got to have faith in that blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Then there is something else which we have to learn: “Through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.” (Hebrews 11:4b) That’s the second great lesson. If you want to know what the Bible is all about, and you want to know the message that God has for you, it couldn’t be clearer or plainer. This book is telling you the wonderful news about someone like you and me, who is wrong before God but can be right before God. Aren’t you happy that you didn’t have to look very far in God’s word to find it? You’ve only come to the fourth chapter and it’s as clear as crystal on the page. It starts here. What Abel does is the theme which is throughout Scripture itself – how human beings are made right with God. By faith, Abel offered a sacrifice of one of his lambs from the flock. He does it in such a way, as one version puts it, ‘he received approval.’ He obtained witness that he was righteous. That is the great theme of the book.

When you read Romans chapter 1 it says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17) In this great message is the news that you and me really need. God had actually given witness to this. What Abel did, God gave him witness. People have said, ‘What is that witness?’ What happened when Abel gave his offering and Cain gave his offering? There’s a tradition that says that when Abel did it that fire came from heaven. We don’t know. We do know of two occasions when fire came down from heaven (when Elijah was on the mountain, and in the temple with Solomon).

But I will tell you this – there is a witness, there really is. Turn to Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”  There is a God who gives witness. You can be right with God. You need to believe God’s Word. God has given witness: by law, by the prophets. It tells us in Isaiah 53.

It’s the teaching of the book. Abel’s offering testifies to that – how one is approved and accepted by God. He was no longer in the bad books with God.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) You could be in this place, where everyone is friendly here at Penuel; you have a cup of tea after and a sandwich, but the reality is maybe you’re not one of them, you feel different, on the outside. You don’t feel accepted. One of the reasons is simply this; it’s not that these people here don’t accept you. It is because you’re not accepted by God. The reason is very simple. You’re lacking a vital ingredient, where, by faith you know that your sins are forgiven. This is utterly vital for one’s life.

Cain was not accepted. In Genesis, Cain was first. Abel was second. Here, in Hebrews chapter 11, verse 4, Abel is first and Cain is second. Cain’s offering was not accepted. God did not respect Cain and his offering. If you don’t know what it is to be right with God, and accepted by God, then listen very carefully because there is a Cain in everyone of us.

You’ve got to come to a place where you accept God’s, ‘No’ on your life. That what you’ve brought, what you’ve done, what you’ve achieved, what you are – there’s a negative to it. Real trouble. Such is our human nature in that everything changes. Have you ever noticed when things begin to change around in your life? Now Abel is first and Cain is not. All that took place – the hatred, the killing – why did that happen? It’s simply because one was accepted, and one was not.

If you don’t accept God’s ‘No’ in your life, there’s big trouble. That is the world we live in, a world of division. If you’re not accepted, that puts a whole load of emotion in your life, that somehow things are not right. In our relationships at work, someone gets a promotion and all of a sudden, they are first. At that particular moment, you’re threatened. You don’t feel as adequate as you once were. You haven’t got an assurance. Instead of seeing them as a friend, you seem them as a threat. You can see it any farm around here. You’ve got one farmer here, next door there is a farmer with a bigger combine harvester, bigger fields. Next thing, he’s not just your neighbour, he’s a threat. Have you ever met someone in life who’s not assured about their position? It’s hard work, isn’t it. They’re not firmly convinced that they’re loved in a family, and they’re not loved at home, they’re not appreciated in their work and their work is not acknowledged. You know what happens! All the undercurrents which take place, all the uncertainties which happen, the troubles and arguments.

There is nothing better than being accepted by God. When you’re accepted by Him, whatever else is taking place is of no significance to you. But beware! Sin lies at the door. What sin was that? An offering. Sin desires to rule over you. Although he is dead, Abel still speaks. It was a great gift that was given to him. He obtained it. He didn’t do it, he just received it as he came asking for the mercy, as he came with a sacrifice for his sins.

Thirdly, there’s something else. It’s very encouraging. “God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4c). So, Abel is still speaking today. And what he’s speaking to us this day is something I find encouraging – because there’s not anything more depressing than realising that your life will soon be forgotten and you’ll be forgotten in a moment. Don’t think for a second whatever you’ve lived for will carry on. Don’t believe any will you’ve written will be followed. All your desired and plans, that moment is gone. It’s depressing. In ten, twenty years, no-one will be thinking about you and me. But this man, even though he’s dead, he still speaks. People ask, ‘How come?’ Well, firstly, his name is written in God’s book and because it’s in God’s book, from the dawn of creation till now, we are hearing of what Abel did. What he did by believing in God is still being spoken about and we’re learning from it.

 Someone else has said it’s because ‘your brother’s blood cries from the ground.’ (Revelation 6). But could it not also be this – because of faith there is something that has taken place that lasts longer than any life which is lived without faith?

It’s really interesting to hear someone speak about someone who has passed away who is a believer. They didn’t just go to church, they didn’t just say their prayers, they were believers! You’ll be surprised of grandparents and great grandparents – there’ll be something recorded of where they went and what they did. It may be very small, but it is remembered.

You have a 200th anniversary. 200 years ago, there were those who came to this spot, and they believed that there was a way to worship God -only one way – by coming and praying, living their lives before Jesus. And you know something? They built this place. And for 200 years there’s people in this community who haven’t got a clue about various things, but they say, ‘There’s a place of worship there.’ There were people who believed God. Their testimony still speaks. Even when you see churches which are closed and derelict in our nation, you can’t help but think of that time when people who worshipped God in Spirit and in truth.

I can see on that wall the giving for the preaching of God’s word. Amazing, isn’t it? People’s names are still there. You can read them. One has given £5. And it says they gave £5 for the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. What they did then still speaks this morning, 8th May 2022, in this place of the same truth.

I want to encourage you. There’s something that you desperately need to do by faith. Let’s worship God. It was Luther who said, ‘When Abel was alive, he couldn’t teach one person how to worship God by faith. But since he’s dead, he’s been teaching the whole world.’

May 1st 2022: Norman Gilbert

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/8rpcdjCusVg

Philippians 4: 1-13: Being Content

We live in an age which promotes discontent; adverts show we shouldn’t be content with what we’ve got, we should want more. Scripture commands us to be content, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). Often, the more we have, the more we want. The media shows us what it’s like to be in a war situation. We look at the tragedy of people’s lives in the Ukraine. You would think we would be thankful for what we have got.

The apostle Paul established a church in Philippi. A cross-section of people were converted – the Philippian jailor, the lady who was possessed. But there was also Lydia, a lady of means. She had a business and a property which was big enough to house a church to get thing going in the area.

Now, Paul is writing this epistle back to the church. He knows the majority are poor; they are less able to give than others but give more than most. He doesn’t give the impression he is sucking up to them and needs support. He thanks for sending Epaphroditus to help and support practically. He has learnt and he wants them to learn to be content. He doesn’t want them to be envious. Envy is discontent with what we have in our own situation. We are bombarded to become envious. We should be those that realise we have the most important thing in life – newness of life in Christ Jesus.

Despite them being very supportive, Paul wants the Philippians to be very careful to be content with what God has done for them. If anyone is in a situation that isn’t conducive to contentment it is Paul. He is in prison. Most of the time he is chained to a guard. Paul sees this situation as an opportunity to witness to that man. He sees the situations that God has put him in as opportunities to witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. The situation in Ukraine has touched our hearts. Here is a real need. The people in Philippi gave to Paul, providing for him. He is thankful for this. But he wants them to understand that whatever his situation, he is content.

In verse 9, Paul speaks of the need of following his example, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

In verse 10, Paul is not writing for more gifts. He is stressing that in his situation, as bad as it sounds, he is content. Paul had to learn the lesson of being content. It is easy to be content when everything is rosy in the garden. We learn when the hardships come. Paul has learnt to be content, that he has enough. In our materialistic, Western society it is important to learn this lesson of contentment.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

At times we may feel weak, but the apostle says when we feel weak, we cast ourselves upon the grace of God. It is then we actually feel stronger. The circumstances in Paul’s life, which were not conducive to contentment, actually were the means of strengthening him in his faith. They were teaching him that God is supreme and sovereign and Lord of our life. Paul has known what it is to go through hardships, and he’s learnt to be content. This is about true faith that works out in action.

Paul gets though difficulties in life because he has peace from God, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7). God is in control of all things.

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6). In our situation, if we believe in the sovereignty of God, why should we be anxious? He works out all things in this world for the good of His people. The more we learn of the sovereignty of God, the more we should be content.

We have people who have tremendous knowledge of scriptures. We have got everything at our fingertips. Yet people can react to situations in a confused way, in a panic. Paul believed he had God to order and provide for all his needs. It’s not easy to trust God when everything is going wrong. People in Ukraine have found their homes suddenly gone. Careers gone. All they have is a suitcase. How would we react if this happened to us? As Christians, what God has blessed us with, we can bless others with. If we have the means, it is more blessed to give than to receive. The Church at Philippi was not wealthy, but they supported the apostle Paul in the best way they could. They were seeking to bless by giving, thanking God for all that He had done. Jesus says it is not impossible, but it is hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven. It is hard because there is so much that draws us away from God.

Sometimes, God puts us through difficult times to teach us to be content, to show us that our joy, our contentment and fulfilment is not governed by circumstances. Our circumstances do not govern how we feel.

True contentment is found in Jesus Christ. We are surrounded by pain and loss, but our contentment is to be found in Christ alone. Paul says circumstances no longer contribute to his contentment. He has come to faith, he has had difficulties, I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:12).

Some of us, perhaps more than others, have know a difficult upbringing. But God has a purpose. Some may have had a good upbringing in life but may have a hard time now. But if we know Jesus Christ, it doesn’t matter if it’s hard times or easier times. If we know Jesus Christ, we can know peace in our hearts. He has come to remove hostilities. God sent His Son to take the punishment I deserve. We are adopted into the family of God, taken from a dire situation, and brought into the family of God.

By God’s grace, He changes people’s lives. We are justified by faith alone. We are legally put right, the debt is paid. We have broken God’s law, we deserve judgement, yet the price has been paid through Jesus Christ. By faith in Him we are justified and accepted. Once sin has been removed, we believe He rules our lives, therefore, we are content with our lot. We are able to submit to His will. Christians are to rest in Him, whether we are wealthy or not. We learn to rest in the providences of God. Believe God provides.

Normally, God works through normal people in normal situations. God in heaven oversees everything, even in the war in Ukraine. Internationally, He has control. Yet, He has control of the minute details in our lives too. (Story of Ruth – everything was in God’s control). “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11). Paul was content and satisfied with a little food, a little clothing and somewhere to sleep. Paul was a man who was confident God would supply all his needs. Be thankful for what God has given us. We find Christians complaining ‘We haven’t got what we want.’ Yet, we have what we need. Paul believed there was a purpose for hard times. Paul was close to death, in poverty, yet all the time he was happy. He believed that there was a purpose behind his affliction. If God was sending hard times, there was a purpose.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). Paul is telling us God gives us the strength to cope where we are, in every situation we find ourselves in. God won’t call you to do what you can do on your own. He calls us to do what we cannot do without His aid.

The Christian joy of contentment is independent to happenings of life. Contentment is learnt in the school of God’s providences. Whatever is happening in your life, in my life, we are where we are by God’s appointment. We are given the abilities to cope with what God has given us to go through.

“It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plans with regard to myself, well assured as I am, that the place where the Saviour sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for me.” Robert Murry McCheyne

The Bible teaches us to be content with what we have, where we are. God puts people across our path to develop us and to cause us to rest on Him.

Pray to God to help us to be content in all things, that we learn that our content is based on what Christ has done for us. Christ has died for us and adopted us into His family. By faith in Him, by confessing our sins, by turning away from that way of life, as we seek and follow Him, that brings contentment in life.

April 24th 2022: Jonny Raine

To watch this service, please click on the link to our YouTube channel:
https://youtu.be/4WqM-uSaju0

Acts 14:1-20

The harder the job, the bigger the power that is needed to accomplish it. We have no power to sort ourselves out, we need a great power from outside. Humanity needs the supernatural power that comes from outside ourselves, from a powerful God.

Why is the gospel the power of God? Because our salvation is absolutely impossible for us. It is impossible for us to put ourselves right with the God who made us and own this universe.

It is important for us to do what is right in our lives and to make amends for wrongdoing. As human beings, we need the infinite power of God to step in. The conflict in the Ukraine – how on earth can anyone sort out that mess? We can’t sort our problems out on our own. We need the infinite power of God to fix us. In Jesus coming into the world, He took it upon Himself all that we deserve. All the wrongdoings that we have committed, He took upon Himself, the hell that humanity ought to pay for. He took that upon Himself for all of us who will believe in Him. That’s the kind of power that is required to fix humanity. Not only that, but as we are remembering last Sunday, the infinite power that raised Jesus from the dead, that’s the kind of power that kick starts the Christian life. If you believe that Jesus died and rose again, that he did so, so that you can be made new in Him, then that’s the power that will begin to work in you. The power that will give you life, the power that will give you a new relationship with God, so you can call Him Father. If you want that power, accept that Jesus died for you so that you could be forgiven and that He can give you a new life.

Once we have come to experience that power in His love, the Christian should be so overwhelmed by what they’ve experienced in the power of God through Jesus making them new, that they want to tell everyone. We all have different ways to share the gospel. We can look at people in the bible like Paul and Barnabas and we can think, ‘Well, I’m not like that.’ It’s probably a good thing. God has made us all different. We are all going to have different ways that we’re able to share the gospel with other people, ways of sharing this good news of God’s power that saves people.

Many of us don’t have the gifting to stand up in from of hundreds and thousands, like Pauls and Barnabas did, to travel round from city to city, to undertake great risks, to live off almost nothing, except handouts whenever they could get them, trying to make ends meet in whatever way they could. But every true Christian will, in their own way, try and share the good news of Jesus with as many people as they can, and doing that by God’s power. That is what we are going to be exploring today as we look particularly at verse 8 onwards, as Paul and Barnabas venture on.

Paul and Barnabas are now in Lystra. It is their fist journey of travelling around and sharing the gospel. Whilst they are there, they are obviously talking about Jesus, in a public square. A man is sat there, someone who has never been able to walk in his life. He is listening to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:8). Paul must have been given insight by the Holy Spirit into the man’s spiritual condition. He has faith that is beginning to work in him. He has faith to be healed. So, Paul tells the man to stand up and walk. And he does. He is instantly healed. The man jumped up with vigour.

To what extent does God heal today? There is a spectrum of opinion. God’s power should be shown by His people. God can, and does, heal people today. Certainly, if the Holy Spirit prompts us to see someone who needs healing, we should respond to that. However, it is not something that happens all too frequently. But that doesn’t mean we don’t show God’s power in other ways. We all ought to be showing God’s power in other ways.

Isn’t God’s power shown in someone who has a chronic condition but doesn’t get bitter and grumpy about it but oozes grace, even as they have to endure the condition they live with for the rest of their lives? Isn’t that God’s power that enables a person to be like that?

We see God’s power at work when someone first becomes a Christian, no matter what their background. This is evident when someone comes from a rough background, perhaps someone from a background of addiction and abuse, yet they are enabled to leave that behind as they come to Christ. Isn’t that the power of God?

God’s power is shown through a couple who have been married for forty years and have remained faithful to each other, enduring the various ups and downs of married life, sharing God’s love with one another.

God’s power is shown in a teenager who resists the various temptations of peer pressure that are on offer – peer pressure to do this and to do that in the way that the world does. God’s power is shown in the integrity of the employee who doesn’t give in to the temptation to fiddle the taxes or to do this and that wrong, perhaps as even their boss is encouraging them to do. Instead, they act with integrity throughout their employment.

In all of these, and in so many other ways, God’s power is shown through the Christian. It is not just through the miraculous that God’s power is shown. It is shown every day in our lives in very simple and ordinary ways as we live for Him.

Some of these ways that we show God’s power are going to be seen by the world around us. Miracles provoke amazement in people. This might be rare. But when we live by God’s power it will be seen by the world. When they know that we are Christians, operating out of God’s power, it will be seen by the world. At the very least, surely that will provoke curiosity. It may even cause them to ask you, ‘What’s different about the way you live? What is it that drives you?’ That may then lead on to further conversations about the gospel, as it does here with Paul and Barnabas.

As we move on, what we see is that we need to explain God’s power. It’s not just about showing God’s power, we need to use words and explain God’s power.

(Story of Guy Gomer – mistaken identity). Paul and Barnabas get mistaken for Greek gods. It’s understandable. The people have just witnessed this great miracle – a guy that they know who has never been able to walk is suddenly able to walk by Paul just speaking to very quickly to him. They’ve witnessed this incredible display of power. What’s more, there is a local legend, which comes from a nearby city, which was visited by two gods, but the people didn’t recognise the gods, they didn’t honour them and so they endured their wrath. So, the people of Lystra, having this story in the back of their minds, thinking that Paul and Barnabas are perhaps these two gods, go all out to pay homage to these two supposed gods. They think of them as Zeus and Hermes. The temple for Zeus is just outside the city of Lystra. They call for the priests to come in. They bring garlands, and oxen to offer sacrifices

In that chaos, Paul and Barnabas jump in and tear their clothes, a sign of sorrow and anguish. Then, they speak a mini sermon, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (Acts 14:15).

Paul and Barnabas are very quick to explain why they are there – to share the good news. They are speaking to a non-Jewish audience, so they start with the basic concept of God – God has made everything. The one true, living God has made everything and to worship anything else is useless, missing out on worshipping the one true, living God.

Idol worship is still here, although our idols are much more subtle. Human beings are made to worship. If we’re not worshipping the one, true God, we will worship other things: money, children, job, success, hobbies, lifestyles. These are not wrong but it’s when we begin to treat these things as the greatest things in our lives that they become an idol. When we look at it that way, then idol worship is just as prevalent here, in Pembrokeshire, as it was 2,000 years ago in Lystra. People today need to be alerted to the fact that we are worshipping useless things. If we are not worshipping the true living God, then our worship is useless. If they are all we hope for and value, they are idols. God ought to be our true source of hope.

People’s lives are busy and there is no room for God. If we realise we are putting our value on useless things, then we push them out of first place and we make room for God. Very often this needs to be the first point we bring people; we might explain it in different ways, we might be so direct and abrupt with them, but it is something we need to explain to them.

The second point of the mini sermon is in verse 16, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. God has been patient with people. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. He deals with us lovingly and cares for us. He patiently waits for people to come to Him.

The third point is that God has shown Himself through being loving with people, “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17). He gives rain, allows crops to grow, provides food for His people. We may have heard of Zeus, the god of thunder and the sky. He was also the god who gave rain. Paul is saying it is not Zeus who gives rain but God. Hermes was the god who delivered messages from the gods to human beings. But Paul and Barnabas say it is not Hermes who brings God’s message, God gives you His message Himself through the way that He provides for the world.

God is the one true, supreme God. He alone should be worshipped. To worship anything else is useless. He is patient and loving, waiting for people to come to Him. He reveals Himself through the way He loves and cares for the world and provides for human beings. He has immense power to care for this world.

As Paul says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20). No-one can say they never had a chance to know the one true God. He has shown Himself through the world that He has made. He has shown Himself through the way He provides food on this planet for us to enjoy. As Christians, if we try and connect with people and share the good news of Jesus, this may be our starting point. There is a God who is worthy of worship and He loves us. He has shown Himself in the world He has made.

Thirdly, we need to persist by God’s power. It’s not just about showing God’s power in our lives and explaining God’s power in our words, it’s about keeping on going by God’s power.

At the end of this story, people stir things up – Jews from other towns, who turn the crowd against Paul and Barnabas, “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” (Acts 14:19).

The Christians, presumably, are praying for them. Paul gets up and goes back to the city where they have just tried to kill him, But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.” (Acts 14:20). He stops for a day then goes back to Derbe. It would have been so easy for Paul to give up. He gave them the gospel then goes back into the city. He goes on by God’s power. God is empowering him with the task he is to do.

We are unlikely to face that kind of opposition, but we will face opposition, people giving us the cold shoulder. It is hard to keep going sometimes. It is hard sharing the gospel with people who have rejected it. Even when it is tough, by God’s empowering, we can keep going. The good news is, there was a church formed in Lystra. When we’re reading it now, it doesn’t look like there would be a church. It looks like they left and no-one was saved. But actually, there were people who became Christians. There are return visits to Lystra where there is a church, where there are people who have come to follow Jesus. And gather together as a church. Maybe that day after Paul got stoned and went back into the city, some people became Christians? Maybe just one or two believers who then shared the gospel with others? One way or another, God worked to bring people to know Himself. By His power, as He worked through what Paul and Barnabas had done, people became Christians.

May God help us. May God give us His power to enable us to show His power at work in our lives, as we simply live the Christian life. May God, by His power, help us to explain what He’s done in our lives, to explain the good news that there is a God who is worthy of worship, who has shown us His love and kindness through providing for us. May we keep on going, even when it’s hard, when we rely on His power, may be digging deep to the power that is available to us by the Holy Spirit who lives in every believer. May He empower us to do His work and to keep on going, even through tough times.

April 17th 2022: Dave Norbury

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/92mzjg7xi_w

“And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
(Luke 24:38).

Our faith is rooted in history. Jesus really did die and really did rise again from the dead. This is a most amazing truth that can thrill our hearts. When some of the disciples were told that Jesus had risen from the dead, they didn’t believe it. They had doubts. They knew Jesus, ate with Him, saw miracles, even saw Lazarus raised from the dead. They saw His compassion. Witnesses had told them all that had happened. Now, having heard, they see the Lord Jesus Christ in their presence, face to face. But some doubted. Is that you? Sometimes, we don’t face the issues of doubt. All of us have had doubts at times. For example, when facing tough times we doubt whether God is in this. When we face illness we can ask why, and doubt God’s presence. We can doubt whether Jesus is really with us. Doubts can sometimes point to past failures and cause us to question whether God had really forgiven us.

The disciples see Jesus risen from the dead. The greatest day in history! Yet they doubted. It is wonderful to know God understands our doubts.

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6). Doubt is not being settled or confident. They are significant. James himself refers to himself as being double-minded. 

Doubts can mess around with your heart as well. Jesus says, “Truly,  I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” (Mark 11:23). Where do you doubt? In your heart. It is not just a head thing. Doubts can mess up your head, doubts can mess up your heart, and God understands.

Jesus says here in Luke 24, ‘Why do doubts arise in your heart?’ The word for doubt used there is not the same in the Greek language as it is being used in other references we have had. The doubts that Jesus refers to there are arguments and disputes. So doubting isn’t just with your head or your heart, but it is disputing – ‘Is this really true? We know He’s dead, now He’s alive. This can’t be true?’

Another example is found in Matthew 14:31. Peter is seeking to walk on water. The waves are up and down and he can’t see Jesus and he doubted. Wonderfully, Jesus rescued him. If you have doubts, they are not terminal. Not only does the Lord Jesus understand your doubts, He is also gentle with those who have doubts.

Remember the story of the desperate father whose son had been ill since being a child? He brings is son to the disciples and they couldn’t heal him. Then Jesus meets with the desperate father and the son. The father says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out[d] and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24). This father wasn’t unbelieving, he was doubting. The father wasn’t unbelieving because Jesus heals his son.

Thomas is known as ‘Thomas the Doubter.’ This is unfair. Really, he should be called ‘Thomas the Honest.’ At least he is admitting his problem. Jesus allows Thomas to see His wounds. He gives the evidence he needs. Thomas says these amazing words, ‘My Lord, my God.’ The Lord Jesus deals gently with those who doubt.

John the Baptist, when in prison, hears about the Lord Jesus and everything He is doing. John knew Jesus, he knew him face to face. He had baptised him. So, here is a person who had all the evidence. In theory you would say to yourself, ‘Well, surely he would never doubt.’ Listen to what happens, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:2-6) John is facing a huge gale. Jesus does not berate or judge him. He quotes scripture and deals gently with him.

On this wonderful Easter morning we too can have doubts. Whatr do we do? Be honest and tell Him our doubts and our fears. We need to lsilten to Him. God wants you to be sure, not to doubt in any ways. So, when you go to scripture, there is no doubt.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). He doesn’t want you to have the slightest doubts.

God abundantly pardon, so there is nothing between heaven and ourselves,

“Let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
Isaiah 55:7

Jesus wants you to be sure and says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5).

You need to read the Bible for yourselves. I encourage you to read the Bible, to listen to God. He wants to help you gently with every doubt you might have. He also wants us to remember how good God has been to us (Psalm 103). It may be helpful to keep a journal, to keep a record of God’s goodness and answered prayers.

Listen, read and remember, then look to the wonderful things He has done. He gave us His precious Son, who walked this Earth. He spoke like no-one else spoke. His wisdom, His purity, His total integrity was hammered by religious leaders. He spoke with the down-trodden, the rejects of society. He lived without any of our failures, without any of our selfishness – no nasty comments, no unforgiveness – simply kindness and love to the poor, needy, forgotten and down-trodden. He lived the perfect life. Then, He lived and died the perfect death. He rose from the dead, as we are celebrating today. He shows us His wonderful, wonderful love, He tells us; you can read it and listen to Him.

Be confident He can help us. Whatever doubts you have, He is always there, risen from the dead, alive today. Martin Luther, the great reformer, had a prayer for anyone who has doubts,
“Dear Lord,  
Although I am sure of my position, I am unable to sustain it without thee. Help me or I am lost.”

Jesus Christ is risen. He is alive! We can thank Him. We can worship Him. We can know Him helping and dealing with our doubts. We need to take those doubts to God and ask Him to help us to deal with them – and He will because He is alive, He is risen from the dead. He loves you with an everlasting love. He calls you to Himself, to trust Him, to lean upon Him, to know His forgiveness.

April 10th 2022: Gareth Edwards

 “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

Have you ever been astonished by someone? May be a remarkable person you have met that, at first, you didn’t recognise their talent, then you see their talent and are amazed. Throughout the New Testament, Christians bewildered and challenged those around them. Unfortunately, today Christians are easily ignored. We do not incite anything, perhaps other than apathy. What is the difference between then and now? What was it that made the New Testament Christians so distinctive that people sat up and noticed them?

The Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, observed Peter and John and arrested them after they healed a lame man. Peter takes the opportunity to preach that Jesus is the Saviour, the Messiah, and it is in His name that the man has been healed. The Sanhedrin marvel and are amazed. Peter and John were a great surprise to them. Why?

First of all, for their courage. In the face of being cross-examined by those who had crucified their Master, these two men steadfastly witnessed for Jesus. There is not the slightest sign of Peter backing down. They couldn’t be intimidated or diverted in their testimony for Jesus, even in the face of possible persecution, even in the face of potential death. What amazed the Sanhedrin was Peter and John’s total dedication for the cause of Christ. Jesus had warned of this (Matthew 10:13-36). They are not afraid. Jesus has prepared them for what they now face (John 16:2-4). They have seen the boldness and courage of their Lord as He was persecuted and now it is their turn. Although the Sanhedrin did not like it, they were impressed by Peter and John’s bold courage.

We need to be forever faithful if we are to have an impact in our day, as Peter and John and the other disciples had in their day. They turned the world upside down. The Church in our day is weak. It seeks to accommodate the world around it and not confront the evils of our age. But we are called to stand up and stand out against all that opposes the gospel. We may not be liked for what we say, but there is more likely to be respect if we are uncompromisable in our faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. People must know what we stand for and what we stand against. To stand for the Saviour and truth can be a costly exercise. We can be fearful. We need to ask the Lord for courage and boldness to stand for Christ and not to compromise the gospel message; Jesus Christ died upon the cross of Calvary that sinners might be forgiven.

Peter and John were uneducated, untrained men. The Sanhedrin were surprised at their courage because these were not trained, just simple men from Galilee. They could argue their cause. Peter’s sermon persuaded many to believe in Jesus as their Saviour. The Sanhedrin were amazed at the ability of these uneducated men to present their cause.  

People were also surprised at Jesus’ preaching and mighty works (Mark 6:2). The Lord had told His disciples they should not worry when called to speak the gospel (Matthew 10:19-20). They would have the Holy Spirit and the example of Jesus to follow. Consequently, these fishermen were able to confound the Sanhedrin. This is great encouragement. If God could use Peter and John, He can use me and you. We don’t have to be educated for us to turn the world upside down. The Lord, buy the enabling of the Holy Spirit, can use our qualifications or lack of them. Just trust in Him, follow the Saviour. We don’t have to do a course, have a theological degree, or be trained on other ways, we just have to be His followers.

Too often we rely on celebrity Christians to speak at evangelistic missions because we think someone of that nature is bound to make more of an impression. We thank God for them, but God more often than not, does not choose rich and famous. He chooses you and me. It is the one who is being spoken of, not the one who is speaking, who must be at the centre of the matter. We don’t need experts to defend the gospel. The Lord uses ordinary people with ordinary lives to accomplish His work. (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

God does use people of standing, but not many. But He uses you and me. The way that churches often think their influence will be better is if their ministers have higher degrees. But that doesn’t impress people. What counts is a man’s spiritual stature. Doctorates are good but not the important thing. The important thing is what the Sanhedrin recognised – they recognised that Peter and John had been with Jesus. Jesus’ influence was on them. Jesus had given His disciples a wonderful example to follow and assured them of the presence of the Holy Spirit. As a consequence, Peter and John give a striking resemblance to Jesus in the way they speak and act. Now, after His ascension, they remained in fellowship with Him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The power and presence of Jesus was visible in the lives of these two men. This tells us that the cutting edge of our Christian witness is unbelievers experiencing who we are as followers of Jesus. We are Christ-like in all we do. If we are to have an impact, people need to recognise we have been with Jesus. We need to be more Christ-like. When people see Christ in us, influencing all that we are and in all that we do, then they sit up and take notice. Christ-likeness comes by experiencing faithful fellowship with Him in the Word and in prayer. The Holy Spirit brings us into a deeper fellowship with the Lord. We become more and more like the Lord in character. We become more effective in His service in sharing the gospel. Spurgeon said, “There is a something in the very tone of the man who has been with Jesus which has more power to touch the heart than the most perfect oratory.” Jesus rubbing off onto people.

What did Peter and John have that so amazed the Sanhedrin? The boldness and courage of a Christ-like character. What do we need as Christians today, for people around us for their good and Christ’s glory? The same boldness and courage. So, let’s seek the fellowship of the Lord, and ask by the Holy Spirit’s enabling, to become more like Him, so people know we have been with Jesus.

April 3rd 2022: John Scanlon

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel:    https://youtu.be/7mRnvNumJD4

Luke 19:1-10

I’ve never been to Jericho, but it must have been an interesting city. It is mentioned quite a lot in scripture: in Joshua 6 we read of the walls of Jericho falling down, of David saying, “Wait at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return.” (2 Samuel 10:5), in the New Testament Parable of the Good Samaritan. We cannot say how many times the Lord Jesus went to Jericho. We know this was His last visit to Jericho. The people might have listened more if they knew it was His last visit. We are very much in the same position. Opportunities pass us by. We do not know our day of visitation.

Here is the Lord Jesus walking into the city of Jericho. He has been hailed with a peal of praise as He has just healed Bartimaeus, whose sight was restored by the grace of God. As He entered the city the place was full of people full of anticipation at the great day of Pentecost, all hoping to glance a glimpse of the man who had healed Bartimaeus.

We are all familiar with the story of Zacchaeus. Luke has faithfully recorded highlights of what was being carried out, for there was so much going on. As John tells us And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20: 30-31).

Luke tells us of a blind man who cried out for mercy and Jesus restored his sight. This is itself a great miracle. If Jesus had any intention of entering Jericho unannounced, this man and his gratitude had changed all that. As Jesus now enters Jericho, he would touch only one man – a tax collector. So, the crowd gather. Then someone comes along who wanted to see what was taking place. He sticks out from the crowd. He tries to push though to find a place but nobody gives way to him. This man is Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus. We all know him. All that we know is recorded in these ten verses. He is a tax collector. He is a Hebrew. His name, Zacchaeus, means pure. Maybe, when his parents gave him this name, they hoped he would grow up pure. But he was crooked, the biggest rogue in the city! He had made loads of money and was chief among the tax collectors.

We all want to have more, but there is no satisfaction in this. Zacchaeus didn’t just want to be first, he was first. He was wealthy. Many people want to be rich, but it can be very lonely at the top. Zacchaeus had power, he had influence, he had wealth. It reminds us of one of the churches in Revelation. The word of God goes on to say in spite of all he had, Zacchaeus wanted more, He wanted to see Jesus.

Zacchaeus was arrogant, but underneath all that veneer there was a heart that sought reality. He was a soul needing to be redeemed. He couldn’t remain happy. He realised late that the true things of life are not material. Perhaps, he thought he would find a new life if he found Jesus.

But Zacchaeus had two problems: he was too small, and the crowd was too big. He couldn’t see Jesus. He was a little man in a big crowd. He couldn’t see over the crowd, he couldn’t see through the crowd, so he couldn’t see Jesus. I have heard of unbelievers who have been given a Bible and upon reading it ask, ‘Why does this book tell us different stories to what people preach?’ In other words, people don’t practice what they preach. Their own lives do not reflect the love of Jesus as much as they should.

How many Zacchaeus’ are out there and want to see Jesus, but can’t see because we get in the way? We are told to walk in the light, but not in someone else’s light, casting a shadow, when they themselves are looking for Jesus.

Zacchaeus must have been made of stern stuff. If there wasn’t a way through or a way over, then there’s a way round. He couldn’t see Jesus, so he ran further and found a sycamore tree. He waited for Jesus to come. When Jesus came, He looked up and saw him. That wasn’t part of Zacchaeus’ plan. It wasn’t what he was hoping for. We need to be careful when we are looking for God, for before you know it, He finds you. You can find yourself alone with God.

In no time at all, Jesus looks up and sees him. It is as if the whole of Jericho was waiting to see what Jesus, the son of a carpenter, the Son of God, would say to the biggest rogue in the city. Everybody was waiting. You could almost hear what they were thinking, ‘Go on Jesus, let him have it! Tell him what a terrible man he is. Condemn him for his wickedness and greed.’ What kind of people were these inhabitants of Jericho? They had just heard of a blind man being healed. They stood waiting, expecting to see more. They were anticipating entertainment. What they were about to witness was a miracle – a man who had been obsessed by world wealth about to be transformed. The love of money would be replaced by the love of Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not confront Zacchaeus. He lets him off the hook and simply says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5b). What about sin? What about repentance? What about conviction? What about restitution? There is no mention. Jesus calls him by name and invites Himself to dinner. There is a chief sinner in Jericho who needs to be saved. Jesus did not come to condemn. He seeks him in love and a miracle takes place. We need more of the Spirit of God. When Jesus preached the gospel, He administered grace to the hearer and He moves in the love of God. Most times, when Jesus went fishing, He came home with a catch.

The crowd called Zacchaeus a sinner. We are all sinners. If were are not lost, we will never be found. Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (Luke 19:8). I shouldn’t think he would have had much of his wealth left after that.

Salvation is more than an external transaction. When people are truly saved they are a new creation, new creature in Christ Jesus. They have a new set of values. Their priorities change. Their very reason for living changes. Zacchaeus revealed by his testimony that a transformation had taken place. He began with an act of benevolence in giving half his goods to the poor. Then he showed his willingness to make restitution to those he had wronged. He has learnt that to have your sins forgiven is more valuable than gold. Zacchaeus found forgiveness of sins. A free gift. There is a price to be paid for it; it is Jesus doing the paying. The Lord said, “Today salvation has come to this house, becausehe also isa son of Abraham;for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10).

For as much as Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham, this wasn’t what the crowd had told him. They called him was a sinner. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. We are told that it was Zacchaeus doing the seeking, who sought Jesus. But we know it is God who is seeking the lost. The Son of God has come. He seeks diligently and when He finds, He saves. Who did He come to save? The word of God tells us He came to save the lost. There is something final about the word ‘lost.’ There is hope for the sinner, for Jesus has come to seek and to save. It doesn’t matter how lost a person is, or how immoral or deceitful he might be, because God in Christ, has come to seek the lost and to save them. That has got to be good news!

March 28th 2022: Ian Middlemist

To watch a recording of this service, please click on the link to our YouTube channel:
https://youtu.be/JQ40_JxEoWA

John 18:1-11

Jesus is in control. God is sovereign over everything that happens. He is not responsible for our evil. People are responsible for their sins, and they will face the judgements of God if they do not repent. At the same time, their evil deeds do not frustrate God’s plans. As the Early Church prayed in Acts 4:27-28, For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” 

God predestined the death of Jesus, but those who did it were also responsible for their terrible sin. We will not understand in our lifetime why God allows our sufferings. We know He will work all things together for good because He is sovereign, and He does love us. God’s sovereignty over this tragedy of the cross of Jesus is throughout John’s account of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The sovereignty of God is pre-eminent in John’s consciousness as he omits Jesus’ agonising prayer at Gethsemane. But John includes Jesus’ resolve to obey the Father’s will when He rebukes Peter (John 18:11). John also omits Jesus’ betrayal kiss. But he includes something other gospel writers omit; when the armed group came to Jesus, Jesus took the initiative in greeting His persecutors (v4). He was in control. Only John tells us when Jesus answers them, they all drew back and fell to the ground. The power and authority of Jesus! The overall impression that John brings to this narrative was that Jesus was in complete control of the arrest, the trial and His own crucifixion. Jesus was calmly in complete control in events leading up to His death. He was not a tragic victim, but rather the Good Shepherd who willingly laid down His life for His sheep.

We are going to see a number of characters.

Firstly, we see the self-condemnation of the opponents. Sometimes, when we look on the evil of the world you may wonder where is God in all of this? Here, in verse 3, you have the Jewish leaders, who should have welcomed their Messiah. Secondly, you have the betrayer under the influence of Satan himself, and the Roman military in all its might, representing the world-dominating Roman Empire. All are aligned against Jesus. All the evil powers of the darkness of this world coming against the humble, innocent, pure Messiah. From outward appearances they seem to triumph. But from God’s perspective, it is absolutely laughable to thwart God’s plans (Psalm 2).

Firstly, under this heading of opponents, are the religious authorities. They are filled with pride that demonstrates the sovereignty of Jesus in this account. During His three-year ministry the Pharisees and Scribes were Jesus’ main opponents. They knew the Old Testament, they heard Jesus’ teaching, they saw Jesus’ miracles. Of all people, they should have been worshipping Jesus and seen that He uniquely fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. But they not only rejected Him but stirred people against Him. They created a crowd to instigate an arrest, even to the point where they desired His cruel death.

Why? Jesus threatens their comfortable grip on power, they made a nice profit selling animals for sacrifices, they loved high places of honour (Matthew 23). All of that would be gone if their religiosity proved false. Also, Jesus confronted their root problem – their pride of their religious practices. They were fastidious about their cleanliness, keeping ceremoniously clean. They also thought their racial identity and practices secured a place in heaven. But Jesus showed them God looks at the heart. He is not interested in outward religious performances. God always looks at the heart. Religiosity – trusting in religion rather than trusting in Jesus, is always built on a system of work. It never deals the death-blow to pride. It is always trying to build up pride. They over-estimate their own goodness – their good works will out-weigh their shortcomings. But the Bible declares, “There is none righteous, no not one.” The second error of the Scribes and Pharisees and today’s religious is that they underestimate the absolute holiness of God.

Secondly, we see Judas, who is harbouring sin. This is the final appearance of Judas in John’s gospel. John describes Judas as privileged. He was numbered among the twelve disciples of Jesus (verse 2). A beautiful picture is painted of a special meeting place which the disciples, including Judas and Jesus, would often meet. What a privilege to have sat in the garden and listened to Him. Judas had seen and been a part of so much. He saw miracles, Lazarus raised from the dead. Here, in the garden, he saw that sudden flash of glory that threw them to the ground, including probably him. He has changed allegiance. He professed to know Christ but his deeds denied that he did.

Secondly, he is a thief! (John 12). He often pilfered money meant for the whole group. He kept much for himself. That greed led him to betray the Lord Jesus for 30 measly pieces of silver, which were utterly useless to him after he got them.

Thirdly, he stands with the opponents (verse 5), the enemies of Jesus, not with the elven others, his friends. They were at risk of arrest now. They were at risk of being killed because they were standing with Jesus. Whose side would you be on this that circumstance? Where would you stand?

Judas is now at greatest risk. He is at greatest risk of his soul. To stand with the world is to put your own soul at risk, to stand under the judgement of God. To stand with Jesus against the world is to face eternal security. It is so easy to fake being a Christian. When Jesus told His disciples at the Last Sipper that one of them would betray them, they didn’t have a clue who it was.

Thirdly, under the opponents who are at risk of judgement, is the Roman authorities, the Roman cohort who had joined the Jewish temple police. They all fall backwards, don’t they! When Jesus answered, ‘I am He,’ at that moment they all fall, like a mighty earthquake. They just cannot stand. Hundreds of fully-armed soldiers, strong men, fall flat kin the presence of the unarmed, humbled man, Jesus.

Jesus could have destroyed them all in that moment, taken their breath away. But He doesn’t. It is a reminder He is not just Jesus the Nazarene, He is God. It also reminds us His purpose is to save. How many times has God struck us down, only for us to stand up and just carry on? These three groups we have seen, just condemn themselves.

Secondly, another way the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrates His control over all that is happening here is the disciples who remain under Jesus’ care. Wonderful care. Back in John 17:12 Jesus says He has guarded them. Although preservation in 21:9 refers to keeping them from arrest, it also refers to keeping them spiritually.

Peter impetuously draws his sword and wildly swings it and chops Malachus’ ear off. Why is Malchus’ name mentioned? John is quite specific in naming the servant’s name as Malchus. I think it’s an indication that everyone knew this name. Malachus was on the Roman side? Peter, whilst he goes for Malchus’ head, would have split this guy’s head in two if Malchus hadn’t ducked.

Peter was a loyal and committed enough to try to defend Jesus. Hopeless odds. There was a Tsunami in front of him. His action stems from a mis-understanding for God’s purpose for Jesus going to the cross. Peter is trying to stop Jesus going to the cross, but he was wrong. Jesus has repeatedly told the disciples of His impending death. The Lord’s intervention to let the disciples go, shows Jesus keeps all of those of whom the Father has given Him (John 6). He intervenes for us. Jesus bore the penalty of our sin on our behalf. Having saved us, He keeps us. Despite our foolishness, our doubts, our lack of understanding, He so evidently has a strong grip on us. Even when we fail, His promise still holds. “I give them eternal life and they will never perish and np-one will be a le to snatch them from my hand.”

We have seen:
firstly, the rebels who oppose Jesus do not thwart His Lordship;
secondly, the disciples who fail Him are still under His protective care. Jesus is in control.

Thirdly, Jesus’ suffering achieves salvation for us, which shows us Jesus is in control. In the Garden, the first Adam succumbed to the tempters there. Here, in another garden, the second Adam triumphed over Satan’s desires and actions. Satan is now influencing and possessing Judas. On the surface, it looks as if Jesus is defeated but it is Satan who is being crushed. Jesus was being obedient to the divine plan (John 3:16).

Even though Jesus could have escaped, He deliberately went to the place where Judas and approximately 600 soldiers would find Him. Jesus was in complete control. ‘I am’ is a declaration of His divinity. Jesus is Lord God. He rebukes Peter for his attempted rescue because Jesus was resolved to drink the cup which the Father had given Him. Nothing took Him by surprise. He was in total control.

The cup (verse 11) was the cup of the Father’s wrath of His righteous anger against all ungodliness. It is the cup of wrath for our sins. The cup of wrath spoken of in Psalm 75:8. Because God is just and holy, the penalty for all sin must be paid for. It must be paid for either by us or by the God-appointed substitute. Because Jesus drank this cup for us, we don’t have to drink that cup of the wrath of God. Rather, we can drink another cup – the cup of His salvation spoken of in Psalm 116:30. The cup of love, the cup of atonement.

While Christ’s suffering was unique, an atoning sacrifice, we can learn about our suffering. Our suffering is only a cup, not an ocean. It is momentary. It is given by the Father who does us no wrong. Just as Jesus was in control, even around the events surrounding His own death, so he is Lord over every difficult circumstance that you may face. Even though you, like His disciples, love Him, we fail Him often, grievously. He still keeps us, and He is still protecting us. After our failures He restores us and uses us.

Inspite of rebels who oppose Him and disciples who fail Him, Jesus is still Lord over every situation, including His own death. He is Lord over the situation of our lives, so at all times we can really lout our trust in Him.

March 20th 2022: Gwydion Emlyn

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel:  https://youtu.be/ydeCb0hjLnw

Luke 21: 5-38

Jesus has made it to Jerusalem after a fruitful three-year ministry. He’s gone there to be handed over to the Gentiles and to be crucified. He’s in the temple. He’s preaching there day by day. The Pharisees are trying to catch Him out, the Sadducees are trying to catch Him out about the resurrection. Nobody can do it; He is cleverer. Why? Because He is God. He is asking them questions, catching them out. They are looking for an opportunity to kill Him, then He says these wonderful truths found in Luke 21 and He prophesises a number of things.

We live in uncertain times. I’m not sure that at any point in the history of the world, since the Fall, anyone couldn’t say they were uncertain times. We have always lived in uncertain times. Nothing is certain, nothing is secure, unless God allows it to be. We are living in uncertain times, but we’ve always been living in uncertain times.

We are, hopefully, coming out of two years of Covid. Putin has lost his mind. He has invaded Ukraine. The threat of that war may well extend beyond those nations. People are panic buying, filling cars with petrol and diesel, taking their jerry cans to the store. Do you remember the panic buying of toilet rolls! There is fear that Russian might use chemical bombs, nuclear bombs and all the rest of the bombs. Is World War Three about to happen? The news causes panic and fear. Some Christians are afraid and fearful. Some are terrified about what might take place. Other Christians are saying that the world is coming to an end, that these are signs of the end times. Our text this morning is very applicable for us today. It always has been, but especially today, with all these weird things that are going on in the world.

We can draw three things out of this text:

  1. Expect persecution and suffering, but fear not.
  2. In light of suffering and persecution we are the bear witness and spread the gospel.
  3. Be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ.

We should expect persecution and suffering, but fear not, And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:5-7).

There are a number of times throughout the gospels when Jesus speaks of the temple being destroyed and three days later it will be rebuilt. When He does that, the temple is a metaphor of Jesus Himself, as the temple was God’s presence on Earth. Jesus fulfils the function of the temple, that His body will be destroyed and three days later be built up at the Resurrection. In this instance, that is not what is going on. What is happening here is that Jesus is prophesying the literal destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which happened in 70 AD., when the Romans ransacked the temple and all of Jerusalem.

If you were to go to Jerusalem today, where the temple is you will see ruins, pieces of stone. There is a famous wall, a destroyed wall of the temple, which is called the wailing wall. It’s a very sad place to go because what you see is Jews writing prayers on pieces of paper and putting them into the wall. They are awaiting a Messiah to come back. They think that this is the closest that they can get to God; this is where God should dwell on Earth. They’ve missed the boat! It’s Jesus! We come to God through Jesus, not the temple. Not even this building. You are the church. This building is a place to gather.

The importance of this prophecy is that for the world to know that God no longer dwells on Earth, in the temple. But rather, having come to the world in Jesus Christ, and through sending the Holy Spirit, God now dwells in our hearts, in the hearts of believers. Effectively, He dwells in the church, in the gathered people, not the stones.

 When Jesus spoke this the people were terrified. They asked when this would happen. Jesus, instead of calming them, brings more fear, And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:8-11).

When someone comes to you with a worry, you try to calm them. But Jesus here was the opposite. He says there will be wars. Nations will rise against nations. There will be pestilences, mass diseases – Covid! Kingdom will rise against kingdom. Earthquakes. These are things that we see. The Tsunami. These are things that we see, these are the things that we have always seen. Because we live in a fallen and sinful world, we should not be surprised. Jesus is effectively saying, ‘Things go wrong, both naturally (earthquakes, famines, pestilences) and purposefully.

More than that, Jesus goes further. We think, ‘Give it a rest!’ But no, He goes further:

12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers[c] and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:12-19).

This section was specifically targeted towards the Early church. It was tied in with the destruction of Jerusalem. The Church began after Jerusalem. Verses 12 and 15, for example, are especially true for the likes of Stephen – who was stoned to death, Peter – who was constantly put in front of the Counsel, the same thing for Paul and the apostles, John and the others. However, even though it was specifically for them, and we know it was specifically for them because Jesus’ advice is, ‘Don’t meditate beforehand about what you will say.’ Our advice today is that we should do that, we should read the scriptures and gain an understanding as to how we would answer questions that people will throw at us when we are persecuted. But this was a time when they didn’t have the New Testament. So, Jesus is effectively saying, ‘Don’t freak out. I will give you the words to say when this comes upon you.’ So, even though it is specifically directed at the Early Church, it is still also true of the Church today.

Paul tells Timothy, everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12). If you want to live a Godly life, and if you do live a Godly life, you will be persecuted. This is because of what Jesus says in verse 17, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.

Suffering is a call for us and others to turn from treasuring anything in this world above Christ. Entering in to suffering puts things into perspective for us. If we suffer well, we demonstrate the gospel to the world. More than that, we demonstrate to God that we are willing servants. So, don’t be surprised, brothers and sisters in Christ, when nations go to war. Are you surprised that Russia has invaded Ukraine? Don’t be. Are you surprised when natural disasters occur? Don’t be. Are you surprised that Covid came? Don’t be.

Here’s what Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” (Luke 21:9). But why, Jesus? How do I not fear when these things happen? I could die! My family could suffer. Well, the main reason can be found in verses 16-19, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:12-19).

Is this confusing you as much as it did me? How can Jesus say, on one hand, ‘You will die. You’ll be delivered up even by those who are supposed to love you. Some of you will be put to death,’ then say, ‘But not a hair of your head will perish.’ What is He talking about? Well, when He says, ‘Not a hair on your head will perish,’ it is a spiritual metaphor. The point He is making is that even if we are to die here on Earth, we shall live abundantly in the next. Not a hair of you head will perish. When, at last, you come to cast your accounts, you shall find you have lost nothing. And your enemies shall find that they have gained nothing. When all is said and done, if you are in Christ, if you die, you have lost nothing, not a hair on your head shall perish. The believer has what the unbeliever does not – life in abundance in Christ.

More than that, we will only suffer what the Lord allows us to suffer. So, the war in Ukraine can only happen if God allows it to happen. Russia is not in control of this war. God is in control. It is not to say that God is pleased with Russia, that’s not it at all. But He’s allowed it to happen. He has allowed this evil to take place. The plans of terrorists and hostile nations don’t succeed apart from our gracious God. Why He allows it is a question many struggle with. King David faced the threat of war on a daily basis. He was constantly facing the threat of war. When you read the psalms you see his pain, you feel his pain. Have you ever prayed the psalms back to God? It forces you to feel what David felt. He often questioned where the Lord was at these times. However, what he learnt was that God allowed his trials and tribulations in order to shape him into God’s willingness. The result of David’s constant suffering was worship and praise. So, we learn to expect persecution and suffering, but to fear not. Whatever may come upon us, we are safe in our Saviour.

Secondly, in the face of persecution and suffering, not only are we not to do something, meaning not to fear – we are to do something – to bear witness and spread the gospel. Not being fearful is a negative; God is telling us ‘Don’t fear.’ But this is a positive. It is telling us what to do – to spread the gospel, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness. (Luke 21:13). We have so many opportunities to bear witness.

Whenever the Church has been persecuted in history, it has resulted in growth. The Church thrives when she is persecuted. The Church began with twelve men. Eleven of them were killed. 2,000 years later, more people claim to be Christian than any other group of people in the world. How genuine that is, is of debate. But whenever persecution has happened, the Church has thrived.

The Church shines brighter when the world gets darker. This should cause us to think how we should pray for persecuted Christians in other nations. In my own church, when we pray for the church in Ukraine, we don’t actually pray for them to be delivered from persecution (not that we want it to happen). What we pray is, ‘Father, as a church in Ukraine is being persecuted and is facing this war, make them shine all the brighter in the face of it.’ We don’t ask for removal, we ask them to shine brighter, to witness and to spread the gospel there. Should we ask God to remove persecution, or should we ask God to use the Church when she is persecuted? The best way to pray for the Church is not to ask for removal of hardship but to ask God to cause the church to bear witness in the midst of hardship.

When everything around us gets darker, the Church shines brighter. This is what Jesus predicts, “20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-24).

Jesus is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans, and that God’s people will flee, but in doing so, the gospel will spread. He uses destruction in a positive sense. This is extremely negative; there will be hardship and it will continue, He says, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. In other words, the gospel must go to the Gentiles, extend to the nations. This meant that the hardships will continue until God has finished what He wants to do in the world, among the Gentiles, until all is fulfilled, when God’s work is done among us, when Jesus will return.

When foolish Christians like to predict the end of times, the first thing to say is, “Stop it! You don’t have a clue when the end of the world will take place because you are not God.” Jesus says, And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” (Luke 21:9). On other words, these things are signs of the last days, but the last day will not come at once.

The Bible teaches us that we are in the last days and that we have been for the past 2,000 years. John tells us, “Children, it is the last hour (1 John 2:18a). If that were literal, it would have lasted an hour. It is not the last hour literally, it is metaphorically speaking, a figure of speech.

Jesus continues, “and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.“ (1 John 2:18b). Antichrists have been, antichrists are here and antichrists will come.

Paul says, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2 Timothy 3:1). He then writes to the church in Thessalonica,“ For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)

If Jesus comes like a thief in the night, He will come unannounced. If you have ever been robbed, the thief didn’t phone you in the morning to let you know what time they would be coming round to rob you. They come unannounced. Jesus will come unannounced. Anyone who predicts will be wrong. You can’t predict when a thief will come, you can’t predict when Jesus will return.

The author of the Hebrews identifies the time of his writing as the last days. He says, But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:2)

Paul, likewise, identifies that Jesus’ ministry was in the last days, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you,” (1 Peter 1:20)

So, for those Christians who like to predict, stop pointing to the war and to Covid and to say that this is a sign of the beast, this is the last days,But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9).

So, instead of being concerned about the last days, about when Jesus going to come, this war, Covid, all these things happening, Jesus tells us to be concerned about bearing witness to Christ in the midst of it all. The best way to do this is to be prepared.

Jesus talks about the time when He will return to the world. He says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). Let me tell you that now – your redemption is drawing near, whether it’s your death or Christ’s return. That is a wonderful thing.

To illustrate this Jesus has a parable, 29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:29-33).

Remember, what is near to God is not near to us, we do not know. The point is, be prepared now. Don’t let the phrase, “When you see these things take place you know that the Kingdom of God is near,” confuse you because they have been taking place for 2,000 years. The point He makes is that you will not know the time of the Son’s return, so be prepared today, tomorrow, every day.

The question is, ‘How do we prepare ourselves?’ By watching ourselves, 34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36).

Don’t be concerned about the cares of this life. In other words, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. When it says, ‘Stay awake at all times,’ it doesn’t mean you need to go to the GP and ask for caffeine tablets. Again, it’s not literal, it’s a figure of speech. Be spiritually awake and prepared, alert at all times, to escape all things, to be counted righteous before God in Christ, so that we might be delivered from persecution when Jesus returns. In other words, don’t be like the people who were listening to Jesus here because these very people who were in the temple, in just a few days from here, would abandon Him. They would see persecution coming upon Jesus and they would run because they would not want it for themselves.

37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.” (Luke 21:37-38). They were fascinated by His teaching. Fascinated. But when it came to it, when He was persecuted, they ran. Don’t be fascinated by Jesus, commit to Jesus. Let that fascination become love, commitment and salvation.

What are you like? Are you a Christian? If you are, who do you say Jesus is? What is your answer to these troubles in the world?

If you’re not a Christian, where do you go when trouble arrives? Who do you trust in? Are you fearful? Do you trust in the law or something else?

We already know that Jesus reigns over all things in heaven and on Earth, but the real question is, ‘Does He reign in your heart?’ You see, the thing to be most fearful of is not wars, persecution or diseases. What we have to fear most of the wrath of God. That is far more terrifying than any war, any bomb, any threat of violence. The wrath of God is eternal. Fear Him. But allow that fear to be converted to joy, the kind of fear that draws you to Him, not cause you to run away from Him.

As much as you should fear the wrath of God, because that is the thing that we should fear above anything else, He poured it onto His Son. Is there anything better in the world? That’s the best news. He is to be feared above anything else, but at the same time He isn’t – because Jesus paid the price. So, does Jesus reign in your heart?

March 13th 2022: Paul Daniel

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/X9d2b0EO1wI

Acts 26: How Christians ought to respond when asked about their faith

What are we here for? Penuel Chapel has been around for 200 years. Here in Acts chapter 26, as Luke writes his account and the explosion of the gospel, he writes different accounts of how people speak about Jesus. Paul, in presenting the gospel 2,000 years ago, is no different to presenting the gospel today. We are called today to present the gospel, to tell people. As we look at Acts chapter 26 we see Paul behaves very godly in the way he speaks.

Godly evangelism is patient. Are you a patient person? We live in this culture of everything being fast-paced. We order something today, it arrives tomorrow. Paul had been in prison for two years for preaching the gospel. Felix didn’t know what to do with him, so he left him in prison. Here, two years later, in chapter 26, we have an account of what Paul said when he was given the opportunity to speak to King Agrippa, “So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defence,” (Acts 26:1).

King Agrippa, a Jew has been called because Felix didn’t know what to do with Paul. When Paul is given the opportunity to speak he says, “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defence today against all the accusations of the Jews,” (Acts 26:2).

How would you feel if you had been put in prison for two years for something you hadn’t done, and when you are finally given an opportunity to speak and give a defence for yourself, what would you do? What does Paul do? He starts talking about the gospel. He tells King Agrippa he wants him to listen to him really patiently, that he is fortunate he can present his defence to him. Pauls asks King Agrippa to listen to him patiently. The fruit of the Spirit is patience. God Himself is patient. The New Testament reminds us that God is patient, and with the Lord, “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8). So, this is two days ago. When the first church started, that’s two hours ago!

Paul is patient. He’s been in prison for two years. How patient was God with us? Think of the many times you’ve heard the gospel, of the many times you would come to chapel, to youth club or the times a friend would come and talk to you. How patient is God with us. As Christians, we are to be renewed in the image of God, to reach people with the good news of Jesus. Here Paul takes the opportunity to say to King Agrippa what Jesus had done for him. King Agrippa was a Jew so Paul talks to him in a way he would understand. King Agrippa knows the history. What kind of nation do we live in now? Penuel is celebrating its 200th anniversary year. What kind of nation was Penuel 200 years ago? Nations change. We might have to approach people in a completely different to even 30 years ago, therefore we need to be even more patient.

What does Paul want? His freedom or King Agrippa’s freedom? Even though Agrippa is religious, he needs the forgiveness of sins. Even when Festus says, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind,” (Acts 26:24b), Paul politely responds saying, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” (Acts 26:5). You see the work of God and the Holy Spirit in Paul’s life. He is patient and understands.

Be ready to go, to be on standby all the time, wherever God has placed you. Be ready to give a reason for the hope we have. As we come week in, week out, being shaped by the Holy Spirit, in the image of our Creator, we are called to be patient, to be gentle, to know what to say in different circumstances. So, when you have an opportunity to speak about your faith, be on standby, be ready to be godly, ready with a reason for the hope we have. My friends, as we come week in and week out, we learn more about God’s Word. We’ve been shaped by the Spirit, we’ve been shaped by God’s Word. We’re being remade in the image of our Creator to be more like Him. Be patient. Be gentle. Know what to say in different circumstances, so that when you’re getting your haircut and you’re having a conversation which may become deep and meaningful, you’re ready and you’re alert. When someone pops round for a cup of coffee, and they are worried about something, they want to talk to you because they trust you because you know you’re going to listen because you’re alert. They know you want an opportunity to speak into their lives and say something of what it means to not be anxious and put your trust in Jesus.

I wonder what Paul was doing for the two years whilst he waited in prison? Godly evangelism is patient.

Godly evangelism is God’s message to all of us. Paul starts telling Agrippa about his conversion on the road to Damascus, when he was ready to persecute Christians, he meets God. This is his story. Godly evangelism starts with us. God came to Paul. God came to save him. Paul was elite, but even he needed to meet Jesus. He followed the law to the letter, but even he needed Jesus. Paul himself was a sinner who needed saving, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Acts 26:9).

Saul was convinced, obsessed as a Pharisee, that he was right and everyone else was wrong. He realised he himself was opposing God. Sometimes, we can give off the wrong impression of what it is to be a Christian. We can sometimes forget what we are living for and saved from. It is God’s message to all of us. As Saul meets Jesus He says, “But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:16-18).

God’s message is for all of us. Jesus Christ says, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 26:14b). Christ says He wants Paul to take the good news of the gospel to the ends of the Earth. He says, ‘I am going to send you so you can go and share this message so that blind eyes can be opened, so people can receive forgiveness of sins. So, Paul was there to tell them God’s message. This was Jesus’ message. This was Paul being an ambassador. This was Paul taking the only message he could have.

There is no other variation, no other gospel under which men and women, boys and girls can be saved. There is no other name under heaven in which there is salvation, “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.” (Acts 26:26). This is transparent. Jesus Christ was put on a cross. It was witnessed. Jesus Christ died. It was witnessed. He really did die. They really did put His body in a tomb. And many saw the risen Jesus – the same Jesus with holes in His hands and feet, His scars. This is truth, an historical account. Paul says to King Agrippa, ‘You can see for yourself.’

Isn’t it wonderful that here, in the year 2022, we are able to pray for people and want to do Godly evangelism? We can invite people to examine the message for themselves. 2,000 years ago, there was no printing press. We have Bibles, the gospel, literature, tracts, all forms of opportunities. There is the internet: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TicTok. There are different opportunities, different means that God has given the Church so that His message can go to the ends of the Earth, not in a corner.

Paul is communicating God’s message that He wants to go out. In Acts 17:1 the Bereans were pouring over Scripture. We need to be more like the Bereans; they were asking questions, looking intently into scripture. We need to be like the Bereans. We need to show that there is absolute trustworthiness in this gospel message, by making sure it is God’s message, not ours. Look at the small details. Go back to basics. When we package the gospel message we can distort it, give a distorted view. We need to be careful that what we present is Jesus Christ and Christ crucified. When we present Him to the world so they can turn from darkness to light, you can never be disappointed with that. For all of us, all of us, have fallen short. All of us have sinned. Godly evangelism is patient. Godly evangelism is for everyone.

Godly evangelism persuades people to follow Jesus. Paul here is trying to persuade King Agrippa, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 26:26-28).

Anyone can come to church. Anyone can wear the right clothes. Anyone can say the right things. This is not just information; it is the gospel that transforms. We commit to following Jesus and being obedient and, just like Paul, we want people not just to come to church but to follow Jesus. Imagine you package up the gospel message and the impression that someone gets is that being a Christian, being in heaven is about one really long church service. It isn’t though, is it! It’s about being with God, it’s about being with Jesus.

Paul is trying to persuade Agrippa. When King Agrippa says, ‘If you think you’re going to persuade me in such a short time,’ Paul responds, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:9). Paul says, ‘However long it takes, that you would be persuaded by God to follow Him.’

If you’re not somebody who is a Christian, I can’t convert you. I can give you all this information and I can say that God wants you to follow Him, but I can’t do it. You need God to persuade you. The Bible says if you seek God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, you’ll find Him. He will not turn you away.

For those of you who have got friends or family who are still in the dark, still outside the Kingdom, He wants you to try and persuade them. He wants to work in you and through you. When it is a struggle, you need to pray for them – short or long.

You may say, ‘I’d love to reach people with the gospel. I’d love to be patient. I’d love to share the message of the gospel as God intended. I’d love to persuade people, but I haven’t got any friends. Well, we need to get some friends, to be more friendly.

We could say, ‘Well, I’m not as patient as I’d like to be and sometimes, I can be sharp with my words, and it comes out all wrong. The Bible says we have to be careful about our tongue and pray for self-control.

You may say, ‘I know I should share the gospel but I actually I’m cold in my faith. When I come to church, and I come to weekly meetings I don’t feel that close to the Lord. Pray that God would make our calling and election sure and that we would grow to love him more.

Some of us will say, ‘I’d love to share the gospel but I’m just too busy. Remind yourself that God says, ‘Don’t store for yourself treasure on earth where moth and rust are going to destroy.’ (Matthew 19:21a). Store for yourselves treasure in heaven.

Some might say,’ I struggle to share the gospel because I’ve lost my confidence, you need to remember that Jesus Christ died for you, and He died for us whilst you were still a sinner.

Some will say, ‘Sometimes I feel as if I’m looking around at my friends and the world and I’m convince that actually they’ve got greater problems, that they need friends, or food, or money.’ Praying for common grace is really important, that our friends do have everything they need. We need to pray for common grace that they would be looked after, that they would have shelter, clothes and help. We need to pray for common grace.

But common grace and saving grace are two different things. My friends, we must try and persuade people to follow Jesus. God has promised an eternity for those who follow Him and those for those who don’t. Paul had met with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He was convinced he needed to be patient with people and to take every opportunity as he ought.

When God says in His Word, one day He will make everything new, God’s people will live with Him and be with Him forever. He calls us now, as Christians, to go into all the world. You don’t have to go far, go into Roch. God calls people to be patient with them and to share God’s message with them, to try and persuade them. Keep praying, whether it’s short or long, that they would come and put their trust and faith in Jesus. Pray that, as verse 18 says, that they would come and find a place amongst those who are sanctified. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your neighbour, your work colleague, your granddaughter, your grandson, your children, parents, might come and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Despite whatever may happen to them in this life, that they had a place set apart for them and God will make everything new.

March 6th 2022: Norman Rees

Matthew 16: 13-17

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16: 13-17)

Jesus had just performed a mighty miracle, the feeding of 4,000. Then, confronted later on, in chapter 22, He asks the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” (Matthew 22:14).

But here, in this portion of Scripture, the question, “But who do you say that I am?” is addressed to the disciples, to believers. If asked this question yourself, you would probably give the same answer as Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He is! We know these answers. He is the anointed one. Right back in Genesis chapter 3 He is spoken of.

So, Peter here gives the right answer. Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” We too can give the right answer. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one. Paul, writing later to the church in Corinth says, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:3). This, says Jesus, has been revealed by God the Father.

Later on, Jesus said “to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day,” (Matthew 16:21). Peter, who had just made this confession of who Jesus was, says, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:21b). Peter doesn’t want Jesus to do this, He wants Him to stay with him. Jesus responds, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23).

Peter, when Jesus asks this question of who He is, needs to have self-examination. You and I do too. We too can give the right answers, but we can still do things that don’t add up to having Christ as our Saviour. We need self-examination. What is the first thing that fills our mind when we get up? What is the last thing we do at night when we snuggle under the duvet? Do we thank God for the blessings we have received? So many won’t snuggle under a duvet because they have no bed. Do we take things for granted?

Jesus says to us today, ‘What do you think of Christ? He has saved you. Are you glad? Yes! But there’s so much more! You may know all the doctrines, but what do you think of Christ? We can be so pre-occupied we can push Christ aside. Things can creep in upon us and we almost forget we are living in the sight of God. If we are taken up with things but push Christ aside, Jesus says to you and me, ‘What do you think of me?’

We use our minds to think about mundane things but use your minds to think about Jesus. Do I walk with Him? Do I talk with Him? He is our guide, our strength in temptation. He supplies all our needs. If you are like me, you often send cards and emails with this quote, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19). Our God is conscious of all our needs. He says, ‘Don’t neglect me.’ Paul says to Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12). Think about Christ. A Spurgeon says, “Think of His wounds.”

Christ lived a perfect life yet He was whipped and persecuted. He had no rest as He carried the cross to Calvary. They laid Him down upon it, yet He said not a word (Psalm 22). He died and suffered and bled for me. How often do think of that? It is good to meditate in what God has done.

When tragedies, trials and tribulations come, you can forget God. Do things to the glory of God. Don’t let your life take over from the Lord Himself. Eternity waits. After death is judgement – heaven or hell. Everyone of those lashes, the three hours of darkness, He bore it all and then triumphed. “It is finished!” Faith alone in Christ is all that gets us to heaven. The older I get, I get one day nearer to home. Look what is waiting for us – glory.

To unbelievers, we have to ask the same question, “What do you think of Christ?” Maybe you’ve never thought of these things – who He is, why He came, why was He born in a cattle shed? He came to live a perfect life. He died because we failed to live that perfect life. We are all sinners. Jesus died for you and me. Some believers think very much; they are very clever. But they may never think of Christ. They may say ‘I think Jesus is a good man.’ But here is one who stands head and shoulders above all. He is the One who can say, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9).

When we come to believe in Jesus our thoughts change. Everything is different. Jesus calls it being born again – a new start, a new life.

Unbelievers can care for family and friends, but they think horizontally. They don’t think of God. They don’t think of the life ahead. Our God knows us. Science has done wonderful things but one day, we will search where life came from. Science does not have the answer to life. God is the answer. Christ is the answer.

We read in Acts 16:17 highly intelligent men listened to Paul. He started to preach the gospel. Some thought he was mad and laughed at the thought of the Resurrection. Paul tells them who they should worship – the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe in Christ. Give your lives to Him. Some mocked. Paul preached the gospel and left. Some believed. It has that effect.

“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:11

He promises! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Don’t put it off. Young people, in the Word of God, we are told, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them,” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). When you die, if you don’t believe you will face Him as judge. Face Him now as a Saviour.