Sunday 22nd January 2023: Ian Jones

2 Kings 4:8-37

The faith of a Shunammite noble woman.

            What struck me on reading our passage, and what grabbed my attention as I was studying it, was the woman’s twice repeated reply: “it is well,” which was given when she was asked if there was anything wrong, when it was clear that things were not well at all (verses 23 and 26). We are like this often in church, aren’t we? When someone asks, ‘How are things?’ we often reply with ‘they’re fine’ or ‘it is well,’ even though we have problems and difficulties like anyone else. Perhaps we are embarrassed to say what our troubles are as others seem to be getting on fine, or maybe we do not want to tell people because they may not understand.

            But why did this woman say twice “it is well” when things were so desperate? Was she in shock perhaps? Her son had suddenly died on her lap. Maybe she was confused and did not know what to say to people? The grieving process can throw up a range of unusual responses. Well, I do not think that any of these types of arguments fit the events at all. She was not in shock and neither was she confused. She did not hide things because she was afraid people would not understand or may judge her. No! She appears to show no emotion in the events described her after her son had died. She simply took her son and laid him on the bed where Elisha stayed, and then made request of her husband to send a young man and one of the donkeys so that she could go quickly to Elisha and then return (verse 22). There was only one thing on her mind. She had to get to Elisha, the “man of God.” After her husband presses her further as to the need for such a journey, she responds by saying “it is well,” (verse 23), and then proceeds to go with speed. She tells the servant to “drive,” “go forward,” and not to “slacken the pace” unless she said otherwise (verse 24). She is clearly a strong-minded woman with some determination, for she had one thing on her mind, to get to the “man of God,” and she was not going to be distracted or deviated by any means. Somehow, she knew that all would indeed be well when she arrived and met with the “man of God.”

            I wonder, can we too say “it is well” when a crisis occurs? Can we sing the hymn:

[1] When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.

[2] Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. Refrain

[3] My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! Refrain

[4] O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend;
even so, it is well with my soul. Refrain *

Do we become emotional and out of control in a crisis? Or are we like this woman and can say, “It is well?”

            On approaching Mount Carmel where Elisha was to be found, the prophet sent his servant Gehazi to enquire if all was well, to which the woman replies with the same words she uttered to her husband “it is well” (verses 25 to 27). But when she arrived at where Elisha was, she immediately “caught him by the feet,” an action which Gehazi tried to stop but Elisha allows. The “man of God” knew that there was deep distress in the woman’s soul and that the matter had been hidden from him (verse 27). What we have here pictured for us is a woman who sought out God, for the “man of God” was the mediator here. It is at this point that she pours out her heart. We know little of this woman’s background or what tragedies she may have experienced, but in this event we find her going directly to the “man of God” and pouring out all her deep concerns. What is going on here? What is the Lord saying to us? Well in answer to these questions, what we see is this woman’s faith.

            In the darkest and most distressing of circumstances, this woman’s faith shines out. We ought to paint the picture of the times. Israel, the northern kingdom, had been pushed further toward idolatry by their first king Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had installed idols at Dan in the north and at Bethel in the south. Elijah, Elisha’s predecessor, had won a stirring victory on mount Carmel against the numerous prophets of Baal installed by Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel (1Kings 18:20f). You may recall that Elijah became rather downcast after this event thinking he was the only one who truly followed the Lord (1Kings 19:14). But the Lord pointed out that He had reserved seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1Kings 19:18). It would seem that this Shunammite woman was probably one of those seven thousand. Now we too live in desperate days. The darkness seems to be getting darker. Not only is God’s Word not revered and honoured today amongst the populace, but it is slighted and treated with utter contempt by those who ought to know better, by those claiming authority in the state or national church and in other denominations too. At such a time we need to express our faith in the same way that this woman did.

            Recall that at the very start of the passage, amidst gross idolatry all around as we have noted, that this Shunammite woman gave hospitality to the “man of God.” She was a highly respected woman for the text calls her a “notable woman” (verse 8). But we find that she did not simply give hospitality to Elisha for “she persuaded him to eat some food” (verse 8). Elisha happened to come to Shunem, but this notable Shunammite saw him and seems to have sought him out to bless him with a meal. Are we keen to bless those who are ministering the Word of God in our day? Do we offer such directed and pointed hospitality? We all have differing gifts. But what this notable Shunammite woman does is simply to attend to Elisha’s needs. We can all do this in a variety of ways according to the gifts and talents God has given us. Are we open to bless in whatever way the Lord leads us?

            At first the Shunammite woman simply persuaded Elisha to take food with them (verse 8). This soon became a habit so that when he returned it became natural for him to “turn in there to eat some food” (verse 8). After some time, presumably through conversation over meals, the woman comes to know this prophet Elisha as “a holy man of God,” and she uses this title to refer to him rather than his name Elisha (see 2Kings 4:9,16,21,22,25,27). The name Elisha only occurs in the narrative at 2Kings 4:8,17,32. Presumably in their conversations the woman comes to understand the things of God amidst a dark and idolatrous nation. And so she seeks to make these occurrences more suitable. Rather than just provide food, she asks her husband if they cannot provide a room with the essentials for him such as, a bed, a table, a chair, and a lampstand (2Kings 4:10). In this simple act it serves to show that God was at work in her life. She wanted to bless Elisha, the “man of God,” but she did not worship him! The description of the provision of a room is quite telling. It was not ostentatious and over the top. It was simple and comfortable with all that was needed. She was not trying to exalt herself in the eyes of Elisha. She was not flattering him. She was not seeking glory by giving so much that Elisha might feel awkward. If she had gone over the top and given luxurious provisions for Elisha that would be like the overly showy cathedrals and great churches, or the super-apostles and evangelists with their showy cars and so on. No! She simply wanted to encourage this “man of God.” There was no need to go over the top. She provided a place for him to stay, to sleep, to study, and to pray whenever he was nearby. She wanted to bless this man in his ministry. Presumably the meals and conversations would continue too.

            Now when we give to the Lord’s work we should be blessed from the ministry, and so Elisha then asks the woman what he could do for her (verses 11 to 13). Again, in her response we see the woman’s faith. She is content. She does not want anything at all. Elisha had suggested some possibilities. He could intercede or mediate for her in regard to dealings with the king or the commander of the army (verse 13). But she simply responds by saying “I dwell among my own people.” It would appear that she was part of a community that cared for one another. We are not told any detail, but the implication is that she wants for nothing, for all was provided and she was content. We might imagine some people making requests of Elisha at this point. But the Shunammite woman was content. Now in the course of time Gehazi finds out that she was childless with an old husband (verse 14)! We are reminded here of other barren women such as Sarah and Hannah. The way the text reads in verse 14 gives us the impression that she was sad about this lack. It was the desire of all Hebrew married women to provide a son to continue the tribal line and maybe even to be included in that line through whom the Messiah would come. And so Elisha calls her and prophesies that in one year’s time she would be able to “embrace a son” (verse 16). Her response seems to indicate that she had already had some sorrow in life, for she imagined the worst and could not face this not coming true. Nevertheless the prophecy was sure and so she had her son “when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her” (verse 17). Thus the Shunammite who responded in such a hesitant or even negative way had to learn that when God said He would do something (for Elisha did not speak from himself but as a “man of God”) then He would most certainly do it.

            The child was born and then grew, but all of a sudden a day came where tragedy takes place (verse 18 and 19). They were wholly unaware of this, of course. There was no gradual preparation of what was to occur. This incident reminds us that we are in a cursed world where disease and disaster are natural occurrences – all on account of curse due to mankind’s sin. After suffering some severe head pains whilst in the field with his father, the boy was taken to his mother where at noon he died as he lay on her lap (verses 19 and 20). Tragedy strikes when we least expect it. They were in the field at harvest time, for there were “reapers” there (verse 18). This was a time of great joy when the harvest was gathered in. But tragedy strikes! When all was seemingly going well, the boy falls ill and dies within hours. But we must always remember that all of this, both the harvest and the boy’s sudden death, were in the hands of the Lord.

Why did the Shunammite not tell her husband as the boy died? Why did she go with haste and immediately to the “man of God” shunning all distractions? The only satisfactory answer is that she wanted to be with God. Elisha had frequented their house and she had come to know of him as “a holy man of God.” He was God’s representative. And she was desperate to get to God. It was, after all, God who gave her this child (Elisha did not suggest this off his own mind for he was acting as God’s man). God knew her pain and suffering and so she must by all means get close to God and so seeking out Elisha, the “holy man of God” was all she could do. Was it not he who had prophesied about her son in the first place? However good and God-honouring her husband may have been (we know little of him) he could not do anything for her in this tragic situation. Only God could do something and so she makes haste to get to Elisha. Why go elsewhere?

Could she not have come to God alone in the house in the quietness of her own home? Well, what we are presented with here is Elisha as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the New Testament we see many bring their sick relatives to Him for healing and other miracles. This is a similar situation. Perhaps she could have cried out to God in the solitude of her home, but going to Elisha shows to us the essential need of coming to Christ. We are dependent. And we are dependent upon Christ. This Shunammite woman had nowhere else to turn. Her husband or the other men in her community and even her own people could do nothing. Her son was dead. What could mortal man do? But Elisha was the one who said she would have a son – this “holy man of God” who spoke from God – so it was essential that she make haste to see him now.

Elisha is given here as the type of Christ. His life foreshadows that of Christ’s, and his ministry showed what we might expect of the true Messiah (although Elisha operated in much smaller measure). Where does our faith lead us? Only to God and only through Christ. All else is false and vanity. And so, it was needful for this woman to run to Elisha, the “man of God.” Now when the woman meets with Elisha, the prophet first sends Gehazi back to the house with his staff which he was to lay on the child (verse 29). Gehazi was to make haste and not deviate or get distracted on the journey. But the Shunammite woman is not going to leave Elisha. She says: “as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you” (verse 30). She is clinging to the “man of God” (Elisha).


            Consider the amazing story of the raising of Lazarus as recorded in John 11. Mary and Martha, who were sisters to Lazarus, thought that if Jesus had been there before he died then He could have saved their brother. But Jesus purposely delayed his coming in order to show them that He was indeed “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).  Both Mary and Martha had to learn that God could not only give life, but He could also give back life or restore it. Does this not thrill us? God can bring life again to us! Are we clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Shunammite clung to Elisha? Servants may be able to lead us to Christ but none can restore life save Christ!

            Now Gehazi set off in haste and did what was asked of him by the prophet, but the child did not come back (verse 31). Meanwhile the prophet and the woman by this time were also on their way, and as they travel Gehazi returned with the news that the child had still not arisen. Eventually Elisha goes to the child in that upper room and he does something that some suggest is a form of resuscitation or perhaps some form of medical procedure. He goes into the room, shuts the door behind him and the first thing he does is to pray to the Lord (verse 33). Following this he lay on the child putting his mouth to the boy’s mouth, his eyes to the boy’s eyes, and his hands to the boy’s

hands (verse 34). Such actions are said by some to be some form of medical procedure or resuscitation, but this is not what was happening at all. Remember that the boy died about noon and then the woman had to arrange to go to Elisha and then they had to return to the house. At least several hours would have passed by this time so what occurs here is not simple medical procedures. We are pointedly told that the child was in fact “lying dead on his bed” (verse 32). As Elisha stretched himself upon the boy, the boy “became warm” (verse 34). After this Elisha walked around in the house and then repeated his act of stretching out on the child at which point the boy sneezed seven times and then opened his eyes (verse 35). At this Elisha calls Gehazi to call for the woman and tells her to take up her son (verse 36). The Shunammite came in to the room and fell at Elisha’s feet bowing to the ground before picking up her son and leaving (verse 37).


            So what was Elisha doing by stretching himself out on the child and putting mouth, eye and hand to those of the boy’s? Well, it seems that in such an act there is an identification of Elisha with the boy. It would also seem as though the prophet is pictorially (that is, in typical fashion) showing us the imputation of life. By laying on the boy in mirror image, such an act points us to Christ’s substitution and identifying with us. He took upon Himself all our sins and died for them in our place. He did what we could not do. In rising from the dead He gave us new life. Thus in a representative way, Elisha demonstrates something of what Christ did for us at Calvary. Why the mouth, the eye, and the hand, and not any other parts? Well (perhaps) these three parts indicate significant aspects of life. The eye is what sees and beholds, the mouth speaks and declares what is in the heart, and the hand does and engages in activities. By such the Lord wants us to see that just as Elisha identified fully with the dead boy and typically imparted his life to the boy, so Christ took upon Himself our sin and rebellion and gave us His life instead! What a glorious Saviour we have!

* This hymn was written by Horatio G. Spafford, a Chicago lawyer who knew the evangelists Moody, Sankey and Bliss. In 1873 Spafford’s wife and four daughters were advised by their doctor to take a holiday in Europe to improve Mrs Spafford’s health. Mr. Spafford was delayed, but his wife and daughters set sail on the S.S. Ville du Havre in November, 1873. On November 22nd an English vessel (the Lochearn) collided with it, and the S.S. Ville du Havre sank in minutes. Sadly all four daughters were lost but Mrs Spafford was rescued. On December 1st when the survivors were landed at Cardiff, Mrs. Spafford sent the message, “saved alone.” Horatio G. Spafford wrote the words of this hymn as the ship taking him to meet his wife neared the spot of the tragedy.

January 15th 2023: Philip Meiring

To watch a recording of this service, please click on the link to our YouTube channel:
https://youtu.be/zpIfv7SeP3U

Luke 2:41-51: The Boy Jesus

“Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49

This is such a profound, prophetic answer precipitated by such a common incident of life. We have all heard those highly emotional words of Mary from our own mother’s, haven’t we? “Philip, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (Luke 2:48).  Remember the embarrassment of the scene? Your mother’s red eyes, your friends looking on and your dad shuffling uncomfortably in the background.

But this was different. It wasn’t a thoughtless adventure on Jesus’ part. He had been left behind! Have you done that too? Left a child behind? I have. That’s mega-embarrassing!

Notice the pivotal word here, “father”. “Your father and I…” My Father’s house”. This answer is most profound. It is not a statement to counter embarrassment or guilt, rather it is an emotional declaration from the heart of the boy Jesus, saying out loud what he had already come to realise within his own consciousness. Jesus knew he was indeed, “The Son of the most High.” God was directly his “Father” and he was captivated.

The questions found in verses 49-50 would have been unfeeling and impertinent questions had not there been plenty of clues as to the probable whereabouts of their son. Having returned to Jerusalem, they spent near on a whole day looking in the wrong places. Had they not noticed his intense delight at the Feast of the Passover celebrations and the spectacle and worship of the Temple?  Everything about their son was uniquely of God, His birth, His names, His conversation and especially His behaviour day on day – otherworldly holy – you might say.

You see the Temple was that one special place of God dwelling with His people. It was there that God’s people could through sacrifice and worship come especially close to their God. To the people it proclaimed, “God with us – Immanuel.” However, God was certainly not restricted to His Temple since He is the God of heaven and earth, but it was His appointed place and designed to meet His requirements.

If one of Jesus’ school mates in Nazareth had asked Mary where Jesus was, she would probably have often answered, “He’s up the workshop with His dad …spends most of His time up there!” You see over the 7 days of Passover, the Temple for Jesus had become a home from home. It is clear that Jesus’ parents were struggling with His identity. He’s just like other boys but yet He’s so different. You can see that in v50 and v51, they couldn’t get the pieces of the jig-saw together. Astonishing things were happening but they still “did not understand”. However, in v 51 you can see that Mary is keeping the pieces safe in her heart. She was treasuring up the words of God.

Providentially, it was important that Mary and Joseph did not have the full picture at this stage. Just think how it might have impacted upon their family life. The realisation would have been overwhelming and Jesus might have had a less than a normal upbringing.

Do you find you have a lot of questions? Well, take heart. Great theological minds have struggled with passages like this one down through the centuries. This story is a powerful example of the two particular incarnation truths expressed in Hebrews and Philippians:

  1. He was “Made like his brothers in every way”    Hebrews 2:17
  2. “Taking the very nature of a servant.” Philippians  2:7

 “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.” (Luke 2:52) Jesus, the eternal Son of the most High, in His voluntary state of humiliation had to grow and develop. We can only tip-toe with great care to the edge of this incredible mystery. The self-existent One chose to have a childhood. We can truly say, our Saviour is indeed one of us. We see him as baby, toddler and adolescent! And this is not the superman Jesus of the apocryphal writings either, doing meaningless stunts e.g. making clay pigeons that fly away.

What are we to make of this amazing Jesus? The data of Scripture clearly shows that He did not have a dual personality. He was one and the same person as He was before time began. He had two natures, the one from eternity and the one which He took on at the incarnation. He was fully God and fully Man at one and the same time. Augustine said “He became what he was not, but did not cease to be what he was.”

How could he become like us then? Again, the data of Scripture would lead us to the conclusion that “He places in abeyance for a time and by Covenant agreement, his right to draw on the resources of his own Godhead” but instead “he drew all his strength from God through the Spirit.” He had “the Spirit without limit”. Dr Hugh Martin [1822-1885]

An example of this is here in the passage at v46.  This is mystery of all mysteries.  Mary and Joseph find him at an open university session held on the Temple terrace. What was Jesus doing? He wasn’t teaching (although His insightful answers would have been “amazing” to hear and were “astonishing” to His parents), He was listening to the Word of his Father (the Law and the Prophets) expounded and confirming His growing understanding with questions and answers. Because he was the Son of the Most High and knew the Holy Spirit intimately, His conclusions were spiritually astonishing.

As impossible as it might seem, Jesus’ earthly spiritual pilgrimage was mediated by the Holy Spirit similar to how it is with us. Jesus had to assimilate Scripture and pray like us but without sin to hinder and a perfect Father-Son relationship to sustain.

  • “Taking the very nature of a servant.”                 

In one sense we have already touched upon this but look at that verse v51 and take it in conjunction with v 52. “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” Why is this statement here? Did it mean that from now on Jesus was going to be good? Does it imply that until the Feast Jesus’ behaviour had been a bit up and down?

Not at all. He had declared openly to his parents His true identity. The feelings developing over time in His heart had been irrepressible. He was the Son of the Most High, directly and not by adoption. He could have stood immediately upon His status and ordered everyone in His sight to prompt obedience.

This statement is astounding. It is our Saviour “Taking the very nature of a servant” expressed at this time in His being an adolescent boy, under Law, honouring His mother and father. Down to Nazareth is literally down. From Jerusalem at 2,500 feet to Nazareth at 680 feet below sea level! Jesus was on the downward path of His humbling and fulfilling that crucial role of servant. The road was to lead into obscurity for 18 years. Most likely He became head of the family looking after His siblings and putting bread on the table from His carpentry trade. How He must have longed to be on the road teaching folk about the way of salvation. But whilst it seemed wasted time, it wasn’t. Every bit was necessary for our salvation. What a truly wonderful Saviour we have. Truly indescribable! 

This morning, we have two fathers if we are believers. Our biological earthly father and our Heavenly Father who has adopted us. And what is true of Jesus should become true for us.

  1. Is the Father’s business your business? Is it the main driver in your life to be in fellowship with God about those things that please him?
  2. In your servanthood as a believer, no step down should be too low. How low have you gone for Christ?
  3. Is your holiness gaining “favour with God and men”? Is your holiness attractive?
  4. Do you realise? He knows just how you feel.  He’s been there before!

Have you got two Father’s? And I am not talking about a biological father and a step-dad? You need to be adopted by the one in Heaven. It can happen immediately the moment you repent of your rebel ways and trust in His Son who took your penalty at the cross 2000 years ago. You won’t have to wait for adoption papers or trial visits etc. The cost was entirely borne by Jesus himself. The Fatherhood of God is a free gift that he offers you right now.

January 8th 2023: John Funnell

To watch the morning service, please click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/QcBDGAezUBE

Text reading: Psalm 51

Text focus: Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

            The topic for today’s messages is “forgiveness.” This morning we shall look at the first part of Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts …” and this afternoon the second part, “… as we forgive our debtors”.

“And forgive us our debts …”

            The context of this statement is the model prayer the Lord gave to His disciples. In many ways this verse is the fulcrum or pivot of the whole. The root of all of humanity’s problems and difficulties is the need for forgiveness. But forgiveness from what? The Greek word translated as “debts” is a legal term meaning “to what is justly owed.” In Luke 11:4 where the model prayer is given again the word used there is “sins” (“and forgive us our sins”). This word is rightly translated in Luke as “sins” as it means “departing from doing what is right.”

            Now we have in the model prayer a daily request for forgiveness. Why? Why request this daily? Why is sin seen as a debt to the Creator of all things?

            The answer to these questions is that it is God the Creator who gave us life. Here are just a selection of Scriptures which affirm God’s right to ownership of our lives:

The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4).

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.  (Psalm 139:13).

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10).

God gave us our life. So, every breath we take, every step we make, is all because of God who made us. We owe Him everything. Without Him we have no life.

            Pause a moment. Take a deep breath in and then out. God gave that breath to you – all our breaths are God-given.

            Now God gave us life so that we might delight in Him and glorify Him. But instead, we waste life doing what we want rather than what God (who is utterly good) desires. This departure from what God desires from us is called “sin” and this sin creates a debt. We use our breaths (given of God) for self to do as we please, whereas God actually gave us these breaths to glorify Him.

            I wonder if you have ever borrowed money or maybe you have lent money to someone? What happens if the debt owed cannot be paid? If such occurs, then various things result. There is estrangement. The debtor avoids the lender because they cannot pay. When the lender comes around for the money to be repaid the debtor hides or doesn’t answer the door. There is also the terrible feeling of guilt. The debtor is always in debt to the one who lent the money, and this imbalance doesn’t go away. The debtor feels guilt at not being able to repay the debt owed. Debt also causes shame. A person in debt is considered to be of lower value generally in society. The wealthy are situated in the top ranks whilst those in debt are considered of lower value. Finally, debt causes anxiety. It is something that always hangs over the person. They are never free from the problem, and it leads to worry about how they can continue on and get clear of the debt. Estrangement, guilt, shame, and anxiety are some of the fruits of being in debt when you cannot repay what is owed. Debt is a terrible thing for relationships. If you owe a friend money you cannot repay you will likely feel these effects in your relationship to that friend. Debt causes fear, loneliness, separation, guilt, shame and so on.

            But the same is true with regard to God. However, in the case of God, the problems and breakdown is that much greater, for God is prefect and true. We are not in debt to God concerning money or Mammon, but in respect to life. The life we have is given of God for a purpose – a good purpose. We have taken that life and squandered it on baseless, worthless things. As we do so we run up more and more debts in connection with the Lord.

 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23).

Breaking terms with God is breaking terms with the life-giver. This leads to death and ultimately to eternal damnation. God is a God of order and justice, and this problem of our debt is a legal one. We are legally bound and are now owing God what is justly owed. All who sin are breaking the law and become lawless (1 John 3:4). All sin is lawlessness. The use of legal language in the model prayer is given because sin is utterly serious. It is not a matter which can easily be discarded. When we break the law, just reparation and repayment must be made.        

            Sin, our ongoing sin, is the cause of our debt, our increasing debt, to God the life-giver. We cannot give back the life He has given because we do not have the ability to create life. Life can only come from God, the source of life. When He gives life it is a very precious thing and to waste it in sin and all that opposes God is a serious matter. What will happen now? We have squandered life given of God and we cannot ever repay this debt incurred because we do not have the ability to create the life we have wasted. Sin creates: loneliness, guilt, shame, estrangement.

            Now notice also that this is very personal. It is “our” sin. It is “my” sin. It is not just sin in general, but the wasted life moments I have squandered. Now God is just and wholly so. The debt we have built up creates a terrifying situation for us. The Lord God who gave us life holds us totally accountable for this debt that we have incurred personally. All of us are in this predicament. Each of us has wasted the life-breaths we have been given for folly and rebellion, and now the Lord looks on and asks: what have you done with the life and the life-breaths I gave you? Now many will reply at this point: is not the Lord gracious and merciful? Will He not simply let these things go and make no mention of it all? Well, we must understand that God is just and holy. The reason He takes our sin so seriously is because He takes us (His created image-bearers) seriously. Dr. Paul Blackham put it like this:

“He does not hold us to account because He is a tyrant. He holds us to account because He loves us.”

Here is the good news. God values us so highly. He values us so much that He is jealous when we turn from Him and commit sin. Imagine a good father with his children. When they disobey and cause mayhem the father does not stop loving them but disciplines them and brings them to see the error of their ruinous ways. God values us so highly and He will not let us go. He is so serious about us and about our debt that we have incurred that He will do anything necessary to redeem us. He is so serious about dealing with our debt and our due, and so serious about getting us back on track, that He gave us His only begotten Son.

            If you doubt that God is serious about you and your debts He replies: “I am Jesus-serious!” He says unequivocally: “I sent My Son, My Precious Only-Begotten Son for you!” He came into that which He had made (in the incarnation). He became history to pay off all the debt you owed. Your sin was so expensive – seriously, astronomically expensive – that it cost the Son of God His life. Christ fulfilled our potential for He was perfect and sinless. And on the cross He died the just death that we deserved. On Calvary all sin was paid in full.

            If we now have faith in Him and trust Him truly then we are moved from the red to the black! He has done everything legally required to clear all of the debts. There is no limit to what God will do to free you from guilt, isolation, anxiety, fear and estrangement that such debts caused. God the Father loves you, but He hates the sin. He loved you so much that He sent His Only Son to pay the debt you owed by dying in your place, and He lived a perfect life which you ought to have given in return for the life-breath He gave you.

            Why did He do this? It is so you no longer have to hide from God and you don’t have to avoid Him anymore. You do not need to worry about how to make amends. You do not need to be ashamed, nor to feel guilty at all anymore. All that the Saviour did in His life and in His death met the requirements each of us should have given to God our Creator. If you truly trust in Him, you have been washed clean, and the slate of debts has been scrubbed and wiped clean. There is no need to be anxious, nor fearful anymore, for all sins have been dealt with in Christ. And so, we can readily come to Christ for all has been forgiven. Not simply swept away under a carpet, but dealt with fully and legally. There is now no debt left for it has all been paid in full.

            The word “forgive” in Matthew 6:12 is from a Greek word which can also mean “to let go,” “to be released,” or “to be sent away.” It has the idea of freedom and it can also mean “to cover.”

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36).

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1).

And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. (1John 3:5).

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1Peter 4:8).

having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14).

The Lord has covered, He has washed, He has sent away our sin and released us from it so we can live in free fellowship with Him. Christ paid for it all!

            The Lord wants you to believe the truth that all sin has been wiped out, annulled, dealt with, paid for, and removed, and He wants you to trust this daily. Remember that He asks us to pray this prayer daily. Not simply because we sin every day, but He asks us to pray this daily so that we do not forget that our sins are utterly forgiven. We can thence rest in blessed, loving, full, communion with Him who has freely forgiven us all our sins.

            We can only pray this prayer because of what Christ has done in His life and on Calvary in His death. As a result of Christ’s work we have full and free forgiveness. Now forgiveness comes to us only by us truly knowing Christ. Do we know Him? It is not enough to just believe intellectually – the devil does that, but it does him no good. Do you know Him? Are you in right relationship with Him so that you know that your sins are all dealt with completely?

“… as we forgive our debtors.”

            Sin causes damage to relationships, but God has forgiven us freely. In Matthew 18:21-35 we read the parable of the unforgiving servant. Peter asks the Lord: how often should we forgive someone a debt? Up to seven times? The Lord replies by increasing what Peter thought was a perfect number (7) and multiplies it to 70 x 7, which effectively indicates an infinite number – the complete (7) completion (7) multiplied by all-encompassing (10). Now if we truly recognised the scale of forgiveness by God for our own sins, we must conclude that we have no right to bear a grudge against others. If God has forgiven me all of this, how can I not forgive others when they sleight me or sin against me? In the parable, the amount of debts for each one are meant to show us the incredibly large debt owed to God, compared to the much smaller debts we incur one to another. We might say that the unforgiving servant was forgiven a debt of £1000,000, whilst the debt he was owed was just £10. How we need to recognise the incredible and awesome release of debts we have been given of God! And how insignificant are the debts we are owed one to another. One person likened the difference between the debt we owed God and the debts we owed one another to the height of the cathedral roof in comparison to the minor undulations of the floor surface. The vast distance between the ground and the roof in a cathedral speaks of the immense debt we owe to God, whilst the little bumps and indentations in the floor are the depth or height of the debts we owe one to another.

            Now it is essential we recognise our complete forgiveness in Christ for all sin we have committed, past, present and future. We are now utterly secure with God. We have peace with Him. And so, because God has forgiven us so much, we ought also to forgive one another. If we cannot forgive others, then it is doubtful that we appreciate that we have been forgiven by the Lord. Now in Matthew 6:14 we learn that the forgiven one is a forgiving person. The same is true with regard to mercy. The one who has received mercy is himself merciful. The model prayer of Matthew 6 is a beautifully crafted prayer, but there is a significant amount of space given in this to the topic of forgiveness.

            Stephen, the first martyr, prayed for his murderers as they stoned him, asking for their forgiveness. Now forgiveness is not something we understand as something we earn. Because we are forgiven, we can therefore freely forgive others. If we do not freely forgive others, then there is an issue concerning our salvation. Psalm 137:9 might be considered a very unusual text to turn to. It does not appear to be a very Christian sentiment. However, it is important to note that the Psalmist is not taking such an action himself and he is not telling anyone else to do it either. What he is doing is speaking honestly. He knows that the Lord will bring about justice, and when justice is done it will be good. We have clear commands in the New Testament about forgiving one another.

12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  (Colossians 3:12,13).

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32).

Let us bask in the forgiveness of God in Christ and let us freely forgive one another!

January 1st 2023: John Scanlon

2 kings 5:1-19

This was a great event in the life of Elisha, which is described in detail. The amount of detail shows that God wants us to pay particular attention.  “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4). Presumably, the intention of the Holy Spirit for us is to give particular attention to reading this passage of scripture. It tells us of how Naaman was healed from leprosy.

The man who was the subject of this miracle was commander-in-chief of the Syrian army, the commander of an army of a very powerful nation. Very often Middle Eastern kings were afraid of their generals because of the position of power they were in. But this is not how it was with Naaman; he was esteemed by his master. Their relationship was good. The writer tells us this man was honourable. But he was also a leper. He was a man of considerable success. By him, God had won great victories for Syria.

“Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honourable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valour, but a leper.” (2 Kings 5:1-2).

This is interesting. This man was a pagan, an idolater. He was wicked and self-centered. But all victories were given by God because God rules this world. He makes use of the wicked as well as the righteous. Naaman was a mighty man of valour. He was a very imposing man. He was brave, daring, fearless – yet he was a leper. He was becoming a pitiful, repulsive object.

Whenever we come across the word ‘leper’ we come across ‘Selah.’ We should stop and pause, consider what we are reading. Leprosy is chosen in God’s word as a symbol and representation of sin. Of all the diseases mentioned in the Old Testament, it was only with leprosy there had to be a ritual of a special cleansing. The leper was thrust out of the congregation of God’s people and had to stay outside the camp until he was healed. It was lonely the leper that, when he was clean, he needed to be certified by the priest that healing had taken place.

Three whole chapters of Leviticus are devoted to leprosy. Like many diseases, it can start as an insignificant event. Many forms of leprosy are inherited. Sin is also inherited. Leprosy begins in a person and has no pain; you can have it for months before it becomes obvious.

It is only in the later stages it becomes obvious what it is and it becomes contagious. Some leprosy spreads rapidly, even affecting the bones. Leprosy is a living death, and in all cases, it leads to banishment. It affects every part of the person. Like sin, it spreads rapidly and banishes someone from God. It is the curing of such a leper we come to today, and we also learn something of the cleansing of sin.

The contributor to the miracle.

Naaman was quite unable to cure himself of this burden. There was no cure for this wasting disease, but God’s providence is already at work. One day, as head of the army, Naaman would have travelled into Israel. A little girl was snatched from her parents – all in the providence of God. Look at the contrast between Naaman and the little girl. Naaman was a Gentile, she was Jewish. Naaman was a great man, second only to the king. The little girl was a maid in his household. We don’t even know her name. After this passage, she is not mentioned again. Naaman was a commander, the girl was the lowest of all the slaves of the nation. Naaman was a leper. She knows the cure.

God has a reason for every earth-shattering event. We don’t see it at the time. We may see it sometime later. This little girl wasn’t resentful of her treatment. There was no bitterness in her heart. She shows concern for her master. She made the most of her opportunities. She speaks of how leprosy could be healed. God is in charge and decreed the leper would be cured. The maid’s words were received and acted on. God works in the hearer.

Mistaken views about a miracle that is to come to pass.

When it comes to the Word of God, people think they know better. Naaman is now mis-directed and sent to the wrong place – the King of Israel, “Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” (2 Kings 5:5). People are troubled by their sins and go to the wrong place. When Naaman went off to his cure, he took with him immense riches, an enormous sum of money, “So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing.” (2 Kings 5:5b). He thought he could contribute to his own healing. He took more wealth than a whole community would need.

The King of Israel’s response to the letter was poor; he didn’t give it to God. He didn’t even remember there was a prophet in Israel. That little servant knew better than the King.  Elisha sends a message to the King. He gives clear instructions what needs to be done.

Naaman goes to the prophet, with all his might, “Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house.” (2 Kings 5:9). It is an impressive sight, but he is still a leper. Verse 10 shows what is required for this miracle to take place, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” (2 Kings 5:10b). Naaman felt he was a great man who deserved special treatment. But he needed cleansing in the same way as everyone. There is only one door. Elisha didn’t even come to the door. He didn’t need to see the man’s self-importance. As far as Elisha is concerned, there’s just a leper, not a commander. He would do nothing to show deference to this man’s rank.

The Word of God is to show he is nothing in the eyes of God but a sinner. There is no help until he recognises it. Naaman needs to come down from his high horse and plunge himself where God’s spokesman tells him to plunge. He has nothing to pay, nothing to contribute. All he needs to do is obey and trust in the power of God.  No man can give the pardon we cry out for. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanses us from all sin.

The prophet treated this man as if he were a nobody. If men, like the commander of the army of Syria, get treated as nobodies, they get cross. Naaman did! His pride was wounded, so he turned away angrily. He had just been told to humble himself. Whenever we tell that to unsaved people and point out that there is nothing they can do for themselves, we get the answer we hear from Naaman, “Behold, I thought.” That was his problem. Every sinner has his own idea of how he should be cleansed. This man, in his arrogance, thought he knew better. Naaman wanted things done on his own terms. He was concerned for his own honour. Humbling himself was not part of his plan.

Naaman had received what no king had been able to give him – full directions in how to be cleansed. But he had his own ideas for healing. No-one could touch him until a priest declared him clean. He needed to know the power of healing comes from God, not man.

Naaman thought of the rivers of his homeland. Eventually, Naaman tries what the prophet says and went into the River Jordan in obedience. Six times he dipped himself in the river and nothing happened. But on the seventh time there is a public testimony that God’s word is true. His body was cured, “So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.“ (2 Kings 5:14). Now Naaman seeks Elisha out and calls himself Elisha’s servant. He is transformed.

When we read this story, we see our own experience. The only way to be healed is to come to God in humble obedience, in humble repentance, and be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. To be cleansed from our spiritual leprosy we need to humble ourselves. The only way is God’s way. Let us walk in that way.

Christmas Day 2022: Ian Middlemist

To watch this service, please click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/MBDZy7yEptM

Christmas can be a little like hide and seek for many people around us. Where can I find the real Jesus? It seems very different for some people. For some, we wish it would be a lot easier. The search for the real Jesus can seem like a game of hide and seek.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been hiding things in secret places. In the game of hide and seek someone hides and someone seeks. Seeking the real Jesus – who is the one hiding in your mind and who is the one seeking? Is Jesus hiding or is it you hiding? The light was coming into the world. Jesus is the light, so He isn’t hiding. We, therefore, are the ones who are hiding.

  1. Revealing the light.

 “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9). The true light. ‘True’ here means genuine. Our pursuit this Christmas time is for the real Jesus, not the Nativity shown in school plays. John’s point is Jesus is the true light, the ultimate disclosure of God to man. The true light is revealed to every man who comes into the world. Coming into the world is repeatedly said about Jesus.

The following verses talk about Jesus being in the world. He comes into the world and enlightens every man. The light is shining for everyone. “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). This includes the right of conscience, of right and wrong. The Quakers say it’s the inner light God gives to everyone. We need to connect with that inner light and gain purpose. Some say the light is only for those who are born again. But verse 9 refers to the exposure the light brings when it shines on something. It’s not inner light, but the revelation of light that came into the world through the incarnation. It shines on every man, but it divides human nature. Those who hate the light flee. But some receive the light and respond and welcome the light.

In John’s gospel, the revelation of Christ is the revelation of light that shines on all and causes a distinction. The witness that comes through the light, Jesus, demands a response. It exposes sin. Some react angrily, others love the light, knowing it’s for healing.

  • Rejecting the Light.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11).

A sad sign of Christmas, of the things occurring around us, is rejecting Jesus. The tragedy of sin and terrible wickedness in human hearts. Sin is completely irrational. How irrational it is for people to reject the light of the gospel. Jesus paid the price for sin and offered the gift of light. Some love their sin so much they would rather face eternal judgement rather than receive the light to become God’s child, to receive the blessings, the riches of His goodness.

The world is a key concept for John; he uses it 78 times, mostly in reference to the evil system that is under Satan. It’s hostile both to Jesus and His followers. Verses 3 and 10 – Jesus made the world and yet the world didn’t know Him. When human beings do not recognise the Creator – as a nation we are seeking to remove the name of Jesus Christ from all consciousness. People are replacing Jesus’ name to make it a swear word. The world did not know Him. Knowing Jesus is central. Peter says, in chapter 6, “We have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 1:69). But in chapter 8 Jesus says to the hostile Jews, “But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.” (John 8:55).

Why didn’t the world know its Saviour? Because it is spiritually blind and loves its own darkness. People have no desire to know Jesus in a personal way. John says, He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11). He came to His own kingdom and Hs own people didn’t receive him. They should have recognised Jesus as the prophesied one in their beloved scriptures. But He wasn’t the kind of messiah they wanted. They were hoping for a political messiah, to deliver them from Rome’s power. They didn’t want a Saviour to save them from sin. They rejected the light. This gift, at first sight, maybe doesn’t look like much, but it’s far better than anything you could have expected or imagines.

There are two applications:

  1. Make sure we are not rejecting the true light. He is seeking. The light is shining.
  2. Don’t be surprised when people don’t respond positively to the witness of Christ. People love darkness.
  • Receiving the Light.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13).

To receive light is the opposite to not knowing Him and rejecting Him. To receive light means to welcome Him. His name refers to all Jesus is in His person. It refers to all He did. By dying on the cross Jesus shed HIs blood as a substitute for my sin. You rely totally on what Jesus did for you on the cross. Your only hope is not in yourself but in Him and His works.

Receiving Christ means to rely on Him totally for the payment for sin. He gave us the authority to become children of God. Those who believe become children of God. Therefore, all people are not God’s children by natural birth. We cannot assume we have the right to be called children of God. We need spiritual birth, See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1).

What a wonderful privilege is ours today. Because He came, we can be called children of God. Children of God – not natural birth. This birth comes through the supernatural work of God through regeneration. All glory must be given to God.

Our responsibility today is to believe the light has shone, to believe in Christ today for salvation. Have you believed? We can’t take credit. All the glory goes to Him, for all that He has done. The Light has shone. Jesus Himself shines as the true light. The baby born in Bethlehem is the revelation for all time. It’s time to respond.  Will you ignore Him as you set out your own agenda? If you remain indifferent, you are someone who has been found but wants to remain hidden. Will you receive him by believing His name, so you become a child born of God?

December 18th 2022: Gaius Douglas

To watch this service, please click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/n0stMwafNwQ

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.”

Isaiah 55:6

Some say that this is no Christmas verse, but I tell you, every verse of the Bible is a Christmas verse. The true message of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We celebrate God’s gift to the world, God’s gift to you and me. We can never truly celebrate His birth unless we know Him as our Saviour and our Lord. He is the most wonderful gift.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). God sent His most wonderful gift, the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour? Are you rejoicing in Him? If so, you have something so precious, so holy! He is precious to me. This gift is so precious, more precious than any earthly gift because it is eternal.

Some people say Christians need to lighten up, to lay off and let them celebrate with family and friends, especially as we are experiencing hard times – the cost of living, heating. Tesco says they’re the joy of Christmas! Others say, ‘You Christians say God has given us freedom of choice, so we can choose whether we celebrate Jesus or not! Some say, ‘If God’s gift is available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, we have 361 days to consider – leave us alone for the 4 days we celebrate Christmas. People haven’t got 361 days. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Today may be your last day on earth. Do you know Christ as your Saviour? What is important is knowing Him, receiving Him as your Saviour and Lord.

Christmas is all about love, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17). Are you saved this morning? He came to seek and save those who are lost.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. (1 John 4:14). ‘Of the world!’ Believe that and receive it. Every man, every woman, every boy and every girl are accountable to God this morning. God left the heavens, His eternal throne, and came down into this world. He became man, He became sin for us, and He went to Calvary’s cross and there He died. He humbled Himself. He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. God now has exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every other name. At the name of Jesus, one day, every knee will bow.

Today is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the important day, not tomorrow. Today is the day you can receive the preciousness of the gift and receive Christ as your Saviour and Lord. Those of us who truly believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is our Saviour, love Christmas. I love Christmas! I look forward to it. It’s a time of giving and remembering God’s precious gift. It is the greatest gift you’re able to receive. When we’re giving gifts to each other, we are sharing of God’s bounty, remembering the greatest gift God has given us. ‘All good gifts around us’ He has given. The gift of God is God’s gift to us; He loves us and wants us to enjoy the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

We also have the gift of life. We are all breathing. That’s God’s good gift to you and me. You’re alive this morning. Are you thankful and appreciative? He has given you breath so you can sing His praises, so you can rejoice in Him and share His gladness with others. How ungrateful we are that we don’t always give Him thanks for it. How ungrateful we will be, even on Christmas Day – God willing, if our lives are spared – we have all these wonderful things around us, and we are not willing to give Him thanks for them.

He has invited mankind to, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6). He will not always be there. God has appointed a time for each of us to receive Him as Saviour and Lord. He is coming again. There will come a time when it is too late. He calls, He pleads, He encourages us. He shares His gift with us. We celebrate Christmas after Christmas after Christmas – and we still say no to Him. We are still rejecting Him.

“Because I have called and you refused,
I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,
25 Because you disdained all my counsel,
And would have none of my rebuke,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity
.”
 (Proverbs 1:24-26a)

Christmas is a happy time but also a serious time. God is reminding us of the preciousness of His gift. He is asking you to seek Him, but if you refuse Him, The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). My dear friends, there are two sides to the story: God has given us a gift, the Lord Jesus Christ, but if you refuse this gift, you have chosen death, you have rejected His Son. “The wages of sin is death.” We were born in sin, heading for a lost eternity. God came into this world through the person of His Son. He has shared His love with us. By rejecting Him He says, the same God who came to save is the same God who will judge. He will cast those who refuse Him into the lake of fire.

He has invited us. He wants us to come to Him. This Christmas, He wants you to appreciate His kindness, His truth, His love. But if your refuse Him, He will reject you. He knows everything you are experiencing in your life. As a man He lived in Nazareth. He had a family, went to a wedding, ate with Publicans and sinners, healed people, was homeless, rejected – even by his brothers. So don’t say He doesn’t know what we’re going through.

He loves us with such an everlasting love. God sent Him as our Saviour. You can enjoy the Christ of Christmas only if the Christ of Christmas is in your heart. You can enjoy Christmas! Many people don’t enjoy the Christ of Christmas. There is an opportunity this Christmas. God wants you to enjoy it, to enjoy His Son.

You can have a Christ-centred Christmas or a self-centred Christmas. Which will it be? One of the sad things is, for many people, this is their last Christmas. But if you know Christ as your Saviour you have an eternity to live with Him. You will be with Christ, which is far better. You can either receive Him this Christmas or reject Him. “The wages of sin is death.” Being separated from God. When He conquered sin, hell and death, we read that the Lord Jesus Christ say, ‘Because I live, you will also live forever.’ My dear friends, I’m rejoicing in the fact that I will never die. If you know Christ as your Saviour, you can rejoice. It is Christmas every day of my life because He is the Christ in Christmas. He is the Christ of Christmas. Regardless of what people may say, without Christ there is no Christmas. May God bless you.

December 11th 2022: Dan King

Isaiah 6: 1-8

There are many, many people who would consider themselves a good man or women – they help their neighbours, give to charity, pay taxes, obey speed limits etc. Some say others are great people. Then we have really extraordinary people. Isaiah is one of those. If you haven’t read Isaiah, do. It’s a great book, the ‘gospel’ of the Old Testament. It’s a stunning book to read.

Here we have Isaiah’s commission from God. At this point, Isaiah was chief priest, the best of the best. Even for the lowest entry order, you’d have to be able to recite the Torah perfectly. You’d have to recite its entirety to make entry level grade. Isaiah is a godly man who dedicated his life to scripture, to helping folks get closer to God. He then sees God. Isaiah, as chief priest, lives through four kings. The first one is Uzziah. It was a time of great turmoil. We are living through a time of turmoil, with many leaders. It was a bit different when a king died back then. Less media coverage! There would always be that huge uncertainty – what’s going to happen next?

Isaiah sees God. It’s beautiful, In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1). One of my favourite Christian stories is of the angels and the shepherds (Luke 2). Back then, working class folk would have been shepherds – those happy to do hard work, out in the cold. These rugged, predominantly males, come face to face with an angel of the Lord. They were terrified!

Here, on a similar level, we have the seraphim. Seraphim translates as ‘burning ones.’ Not only do these beings have 6 wings, they are also permanently on fire. Isaiah saw multiple beings above his head, burning. You’d be pretty terrified. They are holy, powerful creatures. Although they have 6 wings, they fly with only 2, the other 4 do different things: 2 cover their feet. In the Old Testament, feet are often seen as dirty, as unclean. So, 2 wings spread across feet because even the tiniest blemish would have been truly horrendous for these beings. 2 wings cover their faces. These are holy, powerful beings, yet they can’t dare look at God.

The seraphim call to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3b). There are no adjectives in Hebrew. If you wanted to describe someone, you would say it twice. For example, if I wanted to describe my wife as very pretty, I’d call her ‘pretty, pretty.’ If I was to say it is very cold outside, I would say, ‘It’s cold, cold.’

If you described something 3 times it would be perfect, the absolute. Holy, holy, holy is a perfect holiness. Wow! Perfect holiness. This is how they describe our Lord. Isaiah can’t even describe it. He says, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1b). So powerful! So holy is God that all Isaiah can describe is the tail-end of His coat, which filled the temple.

Isaiah, himself, is a great, extraordinary man, is faced with this picture. He turns around and says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

‘Woe is me, for I am ruined.’ We have the holiness of God. We have Isaiah, probably the best humanity has to offer. Isaiah knows he has sinned and is living in a nation of unclean lips. Do we still take God as perfectly holy? Isaiah very bluntly acknowledges his sin and the sin of his people. We are a nation of unclean lips. We are people of unclean lips. You have the holiness of God, sovereign of all, then burning ones who dare not look at His face, then we have the sin of man and the holiness of God. Isaiah admits his sin. I wouldn’t be surprised if Isaiah is on his knees, head buried in the ground.

It doesn’t end there. One of the seraphim grabs a pair of tongs and goes to the altar. Pretty special! He takes a burning coal and flies down to Isaiah. A terrifying prospect. He gently touches Isaiah’s lips, his guilt is taken away, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7). Wow! Isaiah is as close to being saved as is possible in the Old Testament. He is selected and chosen by God, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8).

If you read through the rest of the book of Isaiah, you will see that Isaiah’s life isn’t easy. He goes up against three kings who are worse than Uzziah. He sees the entirety of the nation absolutely crumble. He never loses faith! He never stops seeing the blessings that God has given him. Maybe you came here this morning having problems – with your job, heating your home? Isaiah was looking after a kingdom that was sinful and struggling. He never lost sight of how beautiful and holy God is. The vision he had carried him through, always seeing the beauty of God.

We have something even better than that. With the seraphim who goes over to the altar, we can see the altar where Christ died. The cross is the altar. This is an excellent metaphor. Through the cross comes the life, the beauty of Christ. God came, lived for thirty three years and died in one of the most brutal ways known to mankind. He didn’t do it to prove He’s a great person. No, He did it for you and me, because He loves us – a people of unclean lips. He loves you.

Ephesians 1 describes it as grace being lavished upon you. As we approach Christmas, we know that with any gift, you can’t earn it. A gift is given by someone who loves us, who cares for us. In the same way, you can’t go and get eternal life. The holiness of God turns round and says, ‘I love you.’ Psalm 37 talks of how His face shines upon us when we’re together. Stunning! He does it all because He loves you so, for no other reason than He loves you so.

You may be worrying about how you’re going to put food on the table. But in 50 years time, you’re not going to remember that. In a 100 years time you certainly won’t remember that. What about 500 years time? Where will you be? Where will you be in a 1,000 years time? In 10, 000 years? 

My faith is in the Lord Jesus. For many of you as well. What a joyous occasion that will be. Brothers and sisters, if you don’t know, you are loved beyond measure, you are wanted by the Holy of Holies so much so, that He died for you. Not only did He go through death, He went through death to create new life. Amen!

December 4th 2022: James Hughes

Jonah 1

            Have you ever been given a job you didn’t want to do? Or are you in a job you hate and would rather do something else? I recently changed career and am working towards becoming a teacher myself, so I know what changing jobs is like. But what if God gave you a job to do that you did not want to do? That is the situation here in Jonah. He was given a job he did not want to do. He had been given assignments that he was happy with in former times, but this task was one he simply could not bring himself to do.

            Now in our passage today I want to start by giving you an overview of the book, describing the main characters in the book, then I want to draw out three ideas from Jonah 1. After this we shall consider what the passage has to say about Christ, and we shall end with three points of application.

Overview of book

The main characters of the book are:

  • The big fish. Sometimes referred to as a whale in many books (especially children’s books) but most probably some very large fish we do not know much about. Although this is sometimes put as the main character, we read very little about him!
  • Jonah. He is known as the son of Amittai and he is referred to in 2 Kings 14:25 where we learn that he prophesied about the expansion of Israel. He was from Gath Hepher which was located in Zebulun. We learn from the book of Jonah that he was essentially a nationalist. He was more than happy to focus on Israel but not at all on other nations (except to preach against them).
  • Sailors. We know very little about these men except that as a group sailors they were very brave and (most probably) very experienced and knowledgeable concerning the sea and sea faring. They seem to have been a mixture of people for they were exhorted to call upon their own gods. Hence, they were all pagans but probably from different parts of the Mediterranean region.
  • Ninevites. Nineveh was a major city of Assyria, the super-power of that time. They were a particularly cruel people. They would probably not feature in the series of children’s books that go under the title: “Horrible Histories,” because of their violent cruelty. Their form of execution was particularly barbaric and they practised a variety of tortures.
  • God. God is the central character of the book.

Timeline.

            The events of Jonah occurred some 800 years before Christ’s first advent. The Assyrian empire was at its height in power, but Nineveh would be destroyed about 150 years after these events by the Babylonians and other confederates. All of this was prophesied in the book of Nahum.

The book.

            Jonah is very different in style to other prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on. The form of writing is narrative and appears similar to the period when Elijah and Elisha prophesied. These were known as the ‘former prophets’ and Jonah seems to fit in with this type of writing. 

            Jonah was sent to the Gentile nation of Assyria whereas usually the prophets preached to Judah and/or Israel.

            The sending of a nationalistic Jew to a Gentile nation is rather surprising, and (humanly speaking) would not expect to succeed. But there is much more going on here than the mere deliverance of a message to a Gentile nation, for the prophet himself is also being dealt with by God. In this we see that God’s purposes are not thwarted. He can bring about His purpose even with means which might not appear promising! Isn’t this something we see time and time again?

Three features of Jonah 1!

            The book of Jonah is a deep well but for now we can derive three important features of this first chapter.

[1] The Just Judge. (Jonah 1:1-2).

            In the second verse we discover that the “wickedness” of Nineveh had come before the Lord. The Lord God is sovereign. He not only rules over-all, but further, He owns all things. He has seen the wickedness of the Ninevites and so judgment was to be handed out to them for their wicked ways.

            Don’t we find in modern life that people love judgement? People like to point the finger. If someone falls foul of modern ‘principles’ they are called out and shown up. None may make a mistake. As soon as someone is judged in error they are made to pay. They might lose their job or their reputation. Modern minds love to judge, to ‘cancel culture,’ and to point the finger. But what do we have here in Jonah? God is sovereign and owns all. He could very easily have rained down judgement upon Nineveh without informing any one and still have been acting justly. We must ask the question: why is God announcing judgement, and why does He not simply destroy them?

            There is a great difference between how modern man sees judgement and how God acts as Judge. God’s announcement is given to bring them to the point of repentance. God’s announcement of judgement to come is a great act of mercy. The Just Judge might easily and justly have destroyed the people of Nineveh, but He announces the judgement first.

[2] The Prodigal Prophet. (Jonah 1:3).

            Jonah was disobedient! He fled from the presence of the Lord. He went in the opposite direction to Nineveh, going to Joppa and then on his way to Tarshish. There are echoes of Adam and Eve’s response in the garden of Eden here. They fled from the approaching Lord. But there is a problem here isn’t there? In psalm 139 (and elsewhere) we learn that God sees everything and knows everything. How then can anyone flee form the Lord? It seems that he was running away from the presence of the Lord – from the felt knowledge of God’s being with him. Why was he doing this? It was not out of fear, nor out of fear of death, for he displays no fears when the storm rages.

            In Jonah 4 we learn that the reason for his fleeing from the Lord was because he knew the character and nature of God. He knew that God was a merciful and gracious God. But Jonah was of the opinion that the Ninevites were totally undeserving of any forgiveness. These Ninevites were so wicked they ought never to be the subjects of mercy and grace.

[3] The Sleeping Saint. (Jonah 1:4-6).

            The storm had become so bad that the cargo was jettisoned and the sailors (experienced men) became afraid. After all the sailors had cried out to their various gods, we see the captain of the ship going to Jonah and asking why he was sleeping in such dire and desperate circumstances. Why was he asleep? Was he tired? Was he sorrowful? Commentators differ on the reasons for Jonah’s sleep. But in reality, it does not matter why he was asleep. The fact was that whilst all around him were seeing the trouble of the storm and were desperately trying to do something about it, Jonah slept.

All about Christ.

            We remind ourselves that the Bible is mainly about Christ. Reading of Jonah fast asleep in a boat whilst there was a raging storm reminds us of a similar incident in the New Testament. Crossing the sea of Galilee one day the disciples were afraid in a terrible storm and there was Jesus asleep in the stern (Matthew 8:23-27). The disciples were astonished that Christ slept in the boat and they shrugged him asking Him why He did not care that they were perishing.

JonahChrist
Disobedient and reluctant.Obedient fully pleasing the Father.
Uncaring for the Gentiles and foreigners.He cared greatly for the disciples and he faced much worse than a mere storm for them (the cross). Romans 5:8.

Three applications.

            What can we learn from Jonah chapter 1?

[1] The same Just Judge has pronounced judgement on all.

            Romans 3:10 tells us that there are none righteous at all among men. We often pass judgement upon others and in the process we neatly avoid judging ourselves. All of us fall short of what God requires. Now, the only means of escape is the cross of Christ. Nineveh had the hope of mercy from God. Jonah preached the message he was tasked and Nineveh repented. We too are in a very similar situation to Nineveh. We are wicked. We may have a different flavour of sin to the Ninevites, but it is still sin. We are still deserving God’s righteous judgement. Christ Jesus is our only hope. Only in Christ’s death and resurrection can we find hope! Could we offer our righteousness? By no means! All our righteousness is simply rotten rags. If we offer anything other than Christ, we will be eternally judged.

[2] What would our lack of compassion and our disobedience cost us?

            We might be tempted to think (like Jonah) that some people are outside of the realms of forgiveness. Some people (we might reason) are beyond the pail, beyond hope. Are we personally guilty of thinking about a certain group of people as being beyond forgiveness and deserving of God’s judgement immediately? Do we think that one group deserves judgement more than others? (Luke 13:1-5).

            All are judged already (John 3:36). Only those who have repented and put their trust in Christ will stand in a position of not being condemned (Romans 8:1).

            In the Lord’s model prayer we ask for forgiveness as we forgive others. Are we lacking the compassion of Christ? Let us examine our hearts. Do we consider some as being unforgivable? Are there some we think we simply cannot forgive? This cannot be! Jonah did not think Nineveh deserved mercy so he fled in the opposite direction, and in doing so he lost the presence of God.

[3] We need to awake!

            Are we awake to the situation around us? People are rushing in madness searching this way and that for some solution and hope. But all to no avail. In the world there is judgement with no mercy (cancel culture). But with God there is mercy and grace. He is long suffering! People in the world know that something is wrong. They get the details wrong and they seek for solutions in the wrong places. Now we (believers) have The Answer to the human condition and problem! Are we sleeping whilst everyone else is running around this way and that? Do we bring the gospel to the people? Are we saying to them that God has judged one and all, and all deserve condemnation but there is hope in Christ and His death?

            The Lord has passed judgement on sin and rebellion but has also provided hope in Christ – His death and resurrection. Awake! Rise up to you calling and proclaim the great goodness of God!

November 27th 2022: Ian Middlemist

John 12:36-43

“The Lord Jesus Christ is to be trusted.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What then shall we do?

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

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

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

November 20th 202: Alan Davison

Luke 16, focusing on Luke 16:13.

You cannot serve God and Mammon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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