September 29th 2022: Adrian Brake

Harvest Service

Texts: Acts 14:8-18; Haggai 1:1-11; Genesis 8:20-22.

            God wants us to know Him. He has made Himself known clearly and wonderfully in three important ways. First, He has made Himself known in Scripture. The Scriptures are the “word of God” in which He manifests Himself. Secondly, He has made Himself known through the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Word made flesh (John 1:14) who declared to us the Father (John 1:18; 14:7-11). But then, thirdly, He has made Himself known through creation.

            There are three things we can learn at this harvest time by looking at what God has done in and through creation.

[1] Harvest time tells us something about God’s love.

[2] Harvest time tells us something about God’s mercy.

[3] Harvest time tells us something about God’s faithfulness.

These three things are put on display in creation by God. The Lord loves humanity. He cares deeply for mankind. He is loving, merciful, and faithful.

[1] Harvest time tells us something about God’s love.

            1 John 3:18 tells us that we must not love in word only but in action and in truth. God loves in action! God expresses His love in ways which we can experience. He gives us gifts. Most people like to give gifts. Such a thing shows that we are made in the image of God which although fallen and marred is not completely lost. In that we give gifts we know also that God gives such to a greater degree. When a person gives another a gift it is a way of saying “I love you,” or “I care.” God has given to humanity certain gifts and these declare His love.

[a] Food.

            One of these gifts is food. Where does food come from? Sadly, many youth think it comes from the supermarkets! But we know that it comes from the miracle of God’s creative works. We could speak of the soil, the sun, the rain, the warmth and so on, but all of these are provided by God. He made the systems that enable the seeds to grow in the soil. He provides the water and sunlight to enable photosynthesis to occur. It is God who brings our food to the table. In Acts 14 we hear Paul speaking of the Lord’s witness to those of Lystra:

“Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17).

The people of Lystra did not have the law, the tabernacle, the prophets, nor the sacrifices, but they did have creation, (Psalm 19:1). God loves the cheerful or generous giver, for He is a very generous giver Himself. All of creation witnesses to this. Did He not make an abundance of creatures in the seas and on the land?

            A recent supermarket leaflet lamented the fact that in the UK we waste 6.4 million tons of food every year. This amounts to 730 lbs per household every year. There is a vast abundance of food in this land! God is a generous giver! God has provided. The problem of lack in different areas is not due to God’s lack of provision, but mankind’s greed and sinfulness.

[b] A more precious gift.

            We need food to survive and God has given this in abundance. But we need something else more desperately. Our greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. If we cannot survive bodily without food, then note that we will not survive eternally without the forgiveness of sins.

            God created us to know Him but we are unthankful and rebellious. If we do not know Him then the wrath of God abides on us (John 3:36). But God is so generous and kind that He has provided His only Son for us. Through His coming, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension we are given the gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. This Person is the greatest gift that God has given to us (John 3:16).

            God has given us food that we may thrive bodily. And He has also given us the Lord Jesus Christ that we might have eternal life. Jesus referred to Himself as the “bread of life” (Genesis 6:35,48). In this manner God has loved us. The coming and sacrifice of Christ demonstrates God’s love to unholy men and women (Romans 5:8).

            In Luke’s gospel we read of the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19f). The rich man had plenty to eat in this world but in death he was cast into the torment and flames. The poor beggar, Lazarus, ate the crumbs from the rich man’s table and was taken to paradise. There is a great gulf between these two places where souls are delivered after death. If all we have in this world is an abundance of earthly food then we will end up in the same place as this rich man. If, however, we have little of this world’s fare but are rich in the knowledge of God, we have heaven to look forward to.  

            The apostle John wrote:

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1John 4:10).

If we trust in the Lord and in His provision through Christ Jesus, then we are highly favoured and greatly blessed. But if not then we need to see His provision of Christ afresh.

[2] Harvest time tells us something about God’s mercy.

            In Haggai 1:1-11 we read of a failed harvest. They sowed the seed but reaped little in the end. Why? Well, we read that God “blew it away” (Haggai 1:9). He did this because they had forgotten God’s house. Because they had rejected the Lord in their neglect. The exiles were those who returned from captivity and were enabled through Nehemiah and by God’s power to rebuild the walls. Having done this, they set about building themselves their “panelled houses” but they did not attend to the house of the Lord. They did not set themselves to rebuild the temple. They had no thought of the glory of God. So, God chastised is people by withholding the harvest.

            In our land the Lord has been good and gracious. We have been greatly favoured. We have a great history of God’s goodness so that by-and-large we enjoy happiness and peace in our land with an abundance of food. However, in general we do not think of God. In our rebellion and neglect are we any less guilty than the Israelites of Haggai’s day? Does not our land deserve the same chastisement? In all of this we see that God is merciful.

Mercy is when God does not give us what we deserve.

Grace is when God gives us those things we do not deserve.

What of those who have not? What of those who do in fact starve? Well in a recent supermarket magazine we are told that 29,000 tons of oranges and 6,000 tons of spring onions, all valued at £84 million, are thrown away every year. We do indeed have sufficient but we are grossly negligent in sharing this abundance. It is due to our sin and greed that some starve, not because God does not provide. Psalm 145 tells us something of God’s great provision:


“9 
The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. … 15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season. 16 You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:9,15,16).

God gives generously to all.

“He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45).

In Acts 14:17 we discovered that even though the unbelievers had no thought of God. Nevertheless, He gave them rain and fruitful seasons, food and gladness. Now this fact that we have an abundance of food is due to the mercy of God. At any moment He could justly and righteously consign our souls to hell. This is what we deserve. But He does not send us there even though we do deserve it, but rather He continues to give and provide for us. This is the mercy of God, withholding what we justly deserve. God spares us and He spares us, and He spares us. How long have you been spared the judgment you deserve? God is truly patient and long suffering (2Peter 3:9). Think of the multitudes alive at this moment who have no thought of God and who are rebelling in wicked ways. These are held back from the judgement they deserve. This is only on account of God’s great mercy.

            But there is a time limit for God’s mercy (Genesis 6:3). As day succeeds day, God withholds His judgement from us. He strives and bears with us. Do not presume on this mercy. God could take you at any moment (Hebrews 9:27) but He has enabled you to see this day in which He has graciously provided for you both food to eat for your body and food for your eternal soul. Why would you not take and eat of the Lord?

[3] Harvest time tells us something about God’s faithfulness.

            In Genesis 8:21 we learn that God promised Noah He would not destroy the world again with the waters of the flood. He promised this even though “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Man’s heart had not changed through the flood. He was wicked before the flood and man continues to be wicked after the flood (the Tower of Babel event in Genesis 11:1f declares this especially).  But God promised the entire world that seed sowing, the harvest, the seasons, and the order of day and night would continue unabated throughout the remainder of time (Genesis 8:22).

            God has kept this promise for the harvest has come. How many harvests have come throughout time? The Lord promises and He always does what He has said He will do. God is faithful. What of His many other promises in Scripture? Here are a selection:

[1] Whoever comes to the Lord Jesus He will never cast out (John 6:37). He will keep and preserve all who come to Jesus forever.

[2] Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).

[3] My God shall supply all your need (Philippians 4:19).

[4] God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

[5] The Lord Jesus promised that He will come back for us (John 14:3; Acts 1:11).

We can build on such promises (and there are many more in Scripture) for God is faithful and what He has said He will most certainly do.

We are here to give thanks. We give thanks for:

The God of love – He is great, generous, and abundant in His love for He gives us food to eat and the bread of life for our souls.

The God of mercy – He has withheld that which we deserve in patience offering us the salvation and redemption which are found alone in Christ.

The God of faithfulness – He has promised so much for us, and He will keep this world going in its regular order until that day, and we can rely on all that He has said.

April 24th 2022: Jonny Raine

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

Acts 14:1-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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