September 8th 2019: Owen Jones

Owen Jones-Sept19‘But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”’ (Ruth 1:16-17)

Mother-in law and daughter-in-law relationships are not the easiest of relationships to sustain. In this story of Ruth and Naomi some people may ask was it right for Naomi and her husband to leave Bethlehem to go to Moab. There was money in Moab – but when they got there, there was trouble. Providence is a great and glorious doctrine of scripture. Naomi lost her husband and two sons. How did Naomi feel? Have you ever received visitors after a bereavement who mean well but their pearls of wisdom only add to your misery? Naomi tried to persuade her daughters-in-law to go back to their home (v8) but they wept at the thought of this (v14). Orpah returned, Ruth was encouraged to go back. It is a very touching situation.

The text shows these two women stuck together, becoming part of the family history of Jesus. Things happen for a reason. God has only one purpose – His will. This morning we will develop two themes: (1) what one woman expresses and (2) what one woman experiences. Naomi expresses what she feels and Ruth experiences coming to faith.

  • Naomi expresses how she feels (verses 16-17). She had mixed feelings. Our first heroine never lost the sense of Yahweh’s loving kindness, yet she bares her soul. In all she has gone through God shows His loving kindness (Psalm 63:1, 1 John 4:10-11). Even in her grieving Naomi felt that love towards her. Later Boaz told Ruth he knew all about the love she showed Naomi, she was the talk of the town (Ruth 2:11). You may be going through the most difficult time of your life. Thank God His loving kindness is felt, known and experienced.

There is a paradox here. Naomi bares her soul. As we read the story we see how Naomi felt. She wept aloud (Ecclesiastes 3:4). There is a sense of loss. She felt God was her enemy (v13) that God was out to get her. Is it possible that a child of the Covenant could feel this? Well, here’s an example. She had suffered not only the loss of her husband but also her two sons. The future looked bleak. She was penniless, aging, feeling betrayed. Yet at the same time she knew the loving kindness of God. Do you sometimes feel that everything is against you, yet you still come to church, read the Bible? Can you have mixed feelings when going through the valley of the shadow? Yes! David prayed, in a sense of desolation (Psalm 22:1). This was David’s lament. Someone else prayed such a prayer on the cross, but it began ‘My God’. He still had faith!

As the British abroad we have a traditional picture of never complaining, having a stiff upper lip. As a Christian is there ever that aspect of calling on God, ‘Why?’ Do you weep aloud? Do you feel your trouble is worse than others? Face this situation bravely, spiritually, honestly.

  • Ruth experiences coming to faith (Ruth 1:16-17). Here is spiritual conversion, Old Testament style. She is speaking as a young woman that’s come to know or coming to know God. Such an experience can take place when there is trouble. Ruth saw something in the life of her mother-in-law; Naomi loves Ruth even though she was a Moabitess. Though Naomi was widowed and penniless, she possessed something Ruth wanted – faith. At funerals every one of us is presented with our destiny, where earthy life culminates. This woman comes to the Lord in the depth of misery. Naomi tells her to go back but Ruth is drawn from Moab, from gods to the loving God her mother-in-law enjoyed. Do you know what it is to find God, to find Christ, to come to Calvary by faith?

Ruth was to become a proselyte – a rebel becoming a Jew. The glory is when you become a Christian you belong to the people of God, you become part of the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). This is what happened to Ruth. Ruth and Naomi belonged to the same family, they walked together (v17). In Roch, will you leave the world and cleave to Christ? Will you cease to walk in darkness and come to the light of Christ? Perhaps tragedy has crossed your path recently or years ago and you still can’t get over it, yet you still know something of the loving kindness of God? Have you ever felt like Naomi felt, knowing the loving kindness of God yet things happen you don’t understand? Yet God is graciously refining you gold in a furnace, ultimately for His glory and your well-being.

August 11th 2019: Peter Gleave

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‘And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.’
(Mark 6:31)

Jesus is speaking to the Disciples, who were so tired. Everyone here, including those on holiday, put everything aside and rest awhile and let the Lord Jesus speak to you.

 
1 Kings 19:1-8

We have mountaintop experiences in life, a moment when the world doesn’t interfere with experiences with God. Elijah had a mountaintop experience, literally on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Elijah was representing God against 450 prophets of Baal. Things had gone on long enough, the people had to decide they were either worshipping God or Baal. So a contest took place. People thought it was a great idea. The people cried out to their god, a pagan, dead god, to help but it didn’t help one little bit. Elijah turned to the people and said, ‘Let’s make it more interesting,’ and he soaked his sacrificial bull and wood in water. He then calls on the living God, who answers. The people fell on their faces and shouted, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39). The 450 prophets of Baal were executed.

The rain then comes, ending the drought. Elijah runs supernaturally in front of King Ahab. Ahab speaks to his wife, Jezebel, who declares that she will have Elijah killed. You would think the first thing Elijah would do would be to call on His God. But he runs and he runs. His faith turns to fear. He takes his servant with him, heading for Beersheba, where he left his servant.

This is like you and I. Sudden, unexpected changes come in life. We often have a mountaintop experience followed by a valley. Things take an unexpected turn in our lives – a visit to the doctor leaves us with life now going on a different path. Faith turns to fear. We may question where is God? Instinctively, we can run away to our own place.

Elijah ran to the desert and sat down under a broom tree. He asks God to take his own life. He is crying out to God because someone has said that they were going to kill him, yet he is asking God to take his life! Sometimes, in a right mess, we can’t see the way out. But God had a plan for Elijah. In the same way, God has got a plan for us.

In our confusion, sometimes we try to sort things out ourselves. Sometimes, God wants to help us and we tell Him we can do it on our own. We reach rock bottom. We get weaker and weaker. Then we hand it over to God, to safety. We need faith, to trust in God.

Elijah falls asleep under the broom tree. An angel comes along, a messenger of God. Right then, in these circumstances, the angel tells Elijah to get up and eat. Elijah smells fresh bread and water. He ate and drank and felt better. God knew where Elijah was and what He needed and He provided it. He did so supernaturally. Friends, wherever you are, on a mountaintop or in a valley, may be you feel all alone and no-one understands your position. God knows exactly what you need and will provide (Romans 8:28). We are destined, as Christians, for heaven, for eternal life. That’s the goal of where we are heading.

The angel wakes Elijah again. He tells Elijah to eat and drink again. The food sustains Elijah supernaturally, allowing him to travel for forty days and forty nights. He was equipped to go on the journey. God provides the means for the journey you go on. Rest is important. When God created the world in six days He then rested. Why? Because He wanted to enjoy that which He created. It sets a pattern for us, a day set aside to rest. Rest is so important God made it the fourth commandment. You and I, in the busyness of our lives, need to rest, relax and enjoy the world God has given us to enjoy.

Elijah’s disillusionment turned to discovery. He rested in a cave in Horeb. God asks Elijah why he’s there, not in service. Verse 10 tells us how disillusioned Elijah was, he spilled it all out to God. The Lord listened to Elijah. God already knew how he felt, but He is interested. He let Elijah finish, then He spoke. He told Elijah to go outside because the presence of the Lord was about to pass by. Elijah stood outside. The wind came. The Lord didn’t speak to him in the wind. Then an earthquake came. The Lord didn’t speak to him in the earthquake. Fire came. The Lord didn’t speak to him in the fire. Then, there was a quietness, a whisper, God’s heart speaking to Elijah’s heart. Too often we look for the grand gesture. We forget the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).

That inner voice of assurance, that voice that assures us God has power. In our weakness God’s strength is made perfect. Having witnessed this, Elijah has a second opportunity to answer ‘What are you doing here?’ Elijah pours out his heart again, He hadn’t grasped the truth. So what does God do? He tells Elijah, ‘“Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place,’ (1 kings 19:15-16). Elijah’s mantle was now to be passed on. Let’s not lose our opportunities of service.

At the end of this portion of scripture we see Elijah’s work was not in vain. He thought he was alone yet there were 7,000 of God’s people in Israel. Sometimes we think we’re alone. Yet on judgement day, when we stand before God, God will reveal what we’ve done for Him. We may not realise what a difference we can make to the people around us. By our example we can show we are different. Remember, God can take your from disillusionment to discovery. Go back and witness to where God has placed you and serve Him. When faith turns to fear, remember our mountaintop experiences. Let God equip you so you can do He wants you.

Elijah started on Mount Carmel, went to the valley and finished on Mount Horeb. He went from one mountaintop experience to another mountaintop experience. One day we will spend eternity in the presence of Almighty God. Press on, go on in the strength of God.

**************

We were blessed in this family service with Peter’s story for the younsters as well as a duet by two of our Children’s Club.

June 10th 2018: Alan Davison

alan davison-june18‘Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12:2)

The word ‘author’ comes from the Greek ‘archegos’ and only appears four times in the scriptures: Acts 3:15, Acts 5:31, Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 12:2. The word has been translated in different versions of the Bible and includes prince, captain, leader and founder. It is a word so heavy in meaning that lots of different words can be used to describe it. Today, we will focus on three of these descriptions: author, pioneer and captain.

Jesus is the author of our faith. In literary terms the author is the one who determines the story, how characters are introduced and interact and how the story ends. Before creation, the trinity had already planned how humanity would be redeemed.

In Ephesians 2:8-10 we read that our faith is a gift of God. Jesus is also the finisher of our faith. Our faith is also of Christ, not just the start but the ending. It is ongoing. This is a great encouragement to us to know our faith is of God Himself.

In Hebrews 12:1 we read that those who have gone before us cheer us on as well as Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate encourager. He has ascended, further glorified, and now resides in heaven in His resurrection body. The joy that was set before Jesus is also the joy He sets before us. Christ is watching over us, just as is the great cloud of witnesses. We are to run race by looking to Jesus – He’s not only watching us, but watching us from the finishing post. Distractions for us tend to come from the side or from within. We are to lay aside every weight, every sin. Jesus alone is the one we are to look to along the race of life.

Author can also be translated as pioneer – a pathfinder or a trail blazer, someone who goes first. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15. As our pioneer Jesus has gone first. He has experienced first what we will experience.

Jesus became our captain through being our pioneer and leading our way. Jesus is the perfect model that we are to follow but He also makes it possible for us to follow Him. Jesus had to suffer on our behalf to make our salvation complete and perfect. He left nothing to chance, it doesn’t depend on our works. As He blazed the trail He endured the cross, obtaining salvation for His people. Jesus is to be revered as our prince.

As our pioneer Jesus shows us that death is not the end – it’s the path to glory. True followers of Christ will suffer. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. Following in the footsteps of the pioneer, Jesus wants us to be able to face the trials ahead. We panic when something happens that distresses us. Yet God watches over us. At a whistle from God, Satan scurries away. We will all face troubles in our lives. Every day, God watches us, He is always there, looking after His children.

As He continues to lead us, He does so as a captain. We are to be looking unto Jesus as we set out on this race of life. There is also a military connotation. We need God’s guidance in our individual lives but also as a group. Jesus will lead His troops home. Jesus’ wounds were necessary to make the victory for us. We gain entry into heaven because He laid down His life for us. His death resulted in victory – resurrection and salvation for all His people.

Jesus is also a model of obedience – He followed His Father’s will. He has ascended. He is now exalted for what He has done for His people. He has returned to a position of supremacy. His earthly ministry is complete, yet His work goes on. He now sits in glory and knows His earthly work is complete. He planned all that came about before time. He is our captain, leading us forward in our Christian lives, the author of our faith and our salvation.

 

November 19th 2017: Ian Jones

Ian Jones-November 17John 4:43-54: Jesus heals the Nobleman’s Son

We remember those in the Bible we hear a lot about – Abraham, Sarah, Ruth, yet we may forget about those we hear least about, like Elkanah and Malon. What about the nobleman here in John’s gospel? He is only mentioned in John’s gospel.

Jesus had been in Judea and left for Galilee, ‘he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.’ (John 4:3). There was growing opposition from the Pharisees. Jesus, however, didn’t take the normal route around Samaria but went through Samaria because He needed to meet with the woman at the well (John 4). Jesus spent two days here before He left (John 4:43).

Jesus went to Cana, Galilee (John 4:46). John reminds us this was the place whChrere Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding. This marked His great Galilean ministry, which lasted over 16 months. Matthew, Mark and Luke record this but John only records the feeding of the 5,000 and the healing of the nobleman’s son.

Who is this nobleman? He was called a nobleman because he served in the king’s palace. He has a son in Capernaum who was very sick. We expect a man of his position to have sought the very best medical help. However, his son’s sickness got gradually worse. He heard that Jesus was in Galilee and went to implore Him to heal his son, ‘When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.’ (John 4:47).

Straight away we have an important lesson. Why do so few people have no need of Christ? Why do so few read the Bible? If people have no need of Christ then hearing about Him will have no effect on their lives. If the nobleman didn’t have a sick son, he would have no interest in seeing Jesus. This is the way God works in his life. Hearing Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, perhaps the nobleman had heard reports of Jesus turning water into wine, or other reports of Jesus’ healing ministry. This gave him the reason to come to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whatever our needs are in life today, none can be compared to our greatest need to come to Christ. The Lord may work in a physical or spiritual way to bring them to Christ. It’s wonderful to see how the Lord brings us to Christ and works in people’s lives, in the lives of people who had no interest in Christ, yet come to Him. This is what we pray for as a church, for others to come as we have come. As God’s word is preached people may be reminded of their true position – sinners before God – and have a need for their sins to be forgiven, to be restored in fellowship with Christ.

What is even more amazing about this nobleman is that nothing will stop him from coming to Christ. He has a sick son at the point of death yet he went to Christ and implored Him to come to heal his son. It doesn’t matter how far away you are when a loved one is dying, you will want to be with them. The noble man had servants of his own he could have sent to Jesus whilst he stayed at home with his son in those valuable moments. Yet he left his son to go to Jesus Christ, to implore him to heal his son who was at the point of death. The distance would have been about 25 miles and would have taken 4-6 hours travelling. It was a long journey for him, he might never see his son alive again. He would do everything possible to save his son.

Are we willing to do everything possible to bring others to the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring Christ to others? It is easy to sit back and relax. Here we find an encouragement. Are we coming to God in prayer about those who are facing a lost eternity? Are we praying that Christ would restore them and give them life as He has given life to us? The noble man went on that journey to bring Christ to his son. Are we seeking to bring Christ to others?

What did this noble man think about on the journey? He may have wondered what Jesus would say to his request. However, Jesus’ response was not what he wanted to hear, ‘So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”’ (John 4:48).  This would have been a shock to the nobleman. Jesus was not only speaking to him but also to the crowds. When a person comes to Jesus they do not always hear what they want to hear (like the rich young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life).

What does the nobleman do when he hears something he doesn’t want to hear? Does he go home? No, because he had a great need. He wasn’t going to give up lightly, ‘The official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”’ (John 4:49). Again Jesus’ response is not what he wants to hear, ‘Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.”’ (John 4:50). He had been asking Jesus to come and heal his son but the Lord Jesus says, ‘Go.’ This man only had faith that his son would only be made well if the Lord came to his home to heal him. He didn’t have the faith of the centurion.

The Lord does an amazing work – He gives the nobleman the faith so he trusts Christ at His word, ‘The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.’ (John 4:50). We can make excuses not to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the crowd was doing. They wanted proof but the Lord Jesus wanted them to believe first in Him rather than have miracles. What is holding us back from believing in the very word of God? God asks us to simply believe in Him, believe the word of God is true. The nobleman turned and went on his way home, when he was met by one of his servants who told him his son lived. What joy! What confirmation.

God creates a need for us to come to the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives us faith to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, as we walk in faith He gives us confirmation of what we believe. He establishes our faith. He strengthens us in various ways.

Jesus had it that the nobleman’s servant met him. That’s what God does as we walk by faith, as we go through various trials, he establishes us. The Lord doesn’t just leave us when we come to Him. There is confirmation. Twice the nobleman believed; initially, when the Lord told him to go, and again at the end, when he and all his household believed, ‘And he himself believed, and all his household.’ (John 4:53). This is important – the nobleman went on to tell others what had happened.

This was the second sign that Jesus did when he came out of Judea and into Galilee. Both miracles are very similar, they both have people who have great need and who show persistence leading to great faith.

September 24th 2017: John Funnell

John Funnell - Sept 17Ruth 1:1-22

The world is changing, and there is all sorts of political unrest. It is much the same as it was during Ruth’s life. She lived during the period of Judges, when Israel had no king. As a people they were fighting to survive against foreign influences, foreign gods and foreign invasion.

You will see the word “Moab” a lot in the earlier verses of our reading. “Moab”, is essentially a word for “Foreign”. Foreign means. “Bad”, “Bad”, “Bad”, “Bad”! But not in a racist way – the entire book is about how Ruth, a foreigner, is welcomed into God’s family. ‘Foreign’ here means ‘away from God and His promises.’ You can almost replace the word ‘Moab’ with ‘away from God.’

So what we see here is a tale of a man called Elimelek who takes his family away from God (which is bad) and away from their identity at the same time in history when God’s people are battling for it. Elimelek takes his family away from his people because of a famine. Essentially, he goes away from God for profit, for worldly gains. And such a decision brings complications.

We are told in these verses that in God’s land there are lots of men, but away from God, the men die. In God’s land there are women getting married and having children, but away from God, women (Naomi, Ruth and Orpah) with no husbands or children. Elimelek went away from God, left His identity and as a result he suffered the consequences for it! Death!

Naomi becomes desperate so she thought best to go back home, back to God which is? …good! As she embarks on her journey we then read ten verses of goodbye. It is like a train station goodbye. Naomi in verse 8 tells her daughters to go, and blesses them in the name of God. The daughters wished to come with Naomi so in verse 11 she reiterates further why they should go from her.

Stay with your people and find husbands.

It would appear Naomi has learned her lesson on leaving her own kin to go to the foreign land. A lesson that cost her all the men in her life!

She obviously did not want her Moabite daughters in law to suffer the same.

V13 the Lord’s hand has turned against me – Naomi says before graciously sending them away in tears.

A touching moment……or is it? If we look at the context we see Naomi is in the mire! We know from Deuteronomy, Israel had provisions for their widows.

Naomi, would have also known the shame that was ahead of her as a returning Jew, who left her people at a time of great need (famine) to go to land of a sworn enemy, Moab for profit.

So, I propose, with the context in mind, that this loving “train station” goodbye is not what it seems. I believe Naomi was in fact preparing for her homecoming! She was concerned that returning with two foreign Moabite women would cause her even more shame? “Naomi’s back and she allowed her Jewish sons to marry Moabites!”

Could this be why Naomi was sending her daughters in law, Ruth and Orpah away? Not in love, but to ease her return back to God? This knowledge changes this dialogue into an argument!Naomi’s tone changes from v6 to a desire to feed her family, to (v12) palming them off on other men!

Naomi is not pleading with her daughters-in-law to come to the God who provides for His people. No! She is clearly trying to persuade both Ruth and Orpah of the many material benefits they will have if they stay in Moab (v9) a new home and a husband!

On Ruth’s insistence to stay, Naomi’s reply in verse 15 becomes a rather coarse and short reply. Naomi clearly does not want her daughters in law, the baggage of her past shameful choices to come back with her.

But as we read Ruth remains honourable and faithful and insists (v16) that She wants Naomi’s God to be her God too! V18 ends the discourse…..“Naomi stopped urging her”. What you have here is a car ride home with a loved one just after an argument.

So how does this argument between two women, thousands of years ago help us today? We are all like Naomi. We have all disobeyed God, gone to foreign lands and done terrible things. And going away from God is always…..bad!

When we realise what we have done is wrong, we then have a desire to repent, so say sorry to God and come back to Him. Often with big ideas of how to make things right by ourselves, we often try to hide our shame, our daughters of Moab, from Him.

But God sees all and knows all and on the cross as He hung naked between two criminals, He took the shame for you, that you deserve for you wrong doing and in His resurrection He beat it!  And if you give Jesus your shame, He can turn those things that once damned you into greater blessings. He can turn a foreign daughter of Moab, Ruth, into a grandmother of Christ Himself!

Do not think that you can’t come to God until you have sorted yourself out. Do not think you have to wait to be an adult before accepting Jesus into your life. Do not try to hide your Moabite daughters’ in-law from Him as you prayerfully return!

He will accept you today for how you are – warts and all! Give yourself over to Him completely and He can turn your problems into wonders of grace for His Glory!

This is the Gospel! The good news! That God saves sinners! Of which I am chief!

Ruth in faith came with Naomi – and that faith lead to God’s embrace. As you will see if you read the rest of the book, Ruth is welcomed in and marries Boaz and her identity changes.

She has a child called Obed, who was the Father of Jesse, the Father of David!

Ruth the Moabite – the Moabite! – becomes a direct ancestor of Jesus Christ our Lord as a result of her faith! Imagine what God could have done if Naomi let Orpah came too!

Do not be like Naomi is here and let your past and present sin hinder your relationship with God today. Do not wait until your life is good enough for God, before coming back to Him, because it will never be good enough without Him.

Bring your shame (your daughters of Moab) to the cross and see God Bless you.

Come to Jesus today and instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.’ (Isaiah 61:7)

Amen

 

 

Anniversary Service: August 7th 2017: Dave Norbury

Dave Norbury - Aug 2017John 20

We have a gospel and a faith, which to some extent is under attack. There are groups of people in the U.K. who would say our faith is a blind faith with no evidence. I beg to differ.

Our faith is rooted in history. There is objective evidence to what we believe. Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again. We have solid, reliable evidence on which our faith is built.

‘Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.’ (John 20:1). Here we have the reality. Mary Magdalene was a wonderful lady who loved the Lord deeply. Mary had watched the unjust trial and was with Jesus every moment of His awful suffering. She had suffered the trauma of seeing Jesus crucified, losing the one she loved most. She turned up at the tomb and found His body had gone. The stone was taken away to reveal an empty tomb. ‘While it was still dark’ tells us Mary Magdalene had not had much sleep.

Jesus had told his disciples repeatedly that He would die and rise on the third day:

‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’ (Luke 9:22).

‘And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’” (Luke 13:32).

‘For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” (Luke 18:32-33).

This is pretty clear. It was the third day yet nobody thought, they didn’t believe Jesus would rise from the dead . . . Yet they came to believe. Why? The Bible tells us the disciples saw Him a number of times. They ate with Him, they touched Him. 500 people saw Him at one time.

Some people say they made it up. Let’s examine this. If you were to make it up, the last person you would say Jesus would meet would be a woman. Women in those days were not seen as reliable witnesses and were not even allowed to give evidence in court. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus, even though she was of low status.

‘Then the other disciples, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.’ (John 20:8-9). Did Jesus show Himself first to Peter and John as a risen Saviour? No, He showed Himself to Mary Magdalene. What an amazing, wonderful Saviour we have. He broke the cultural norms.

This is powerful, clear evidence, therefore the resurrection happened, then everything is OK. Jesus is really who He says He is. It is really true.

We have a faith that rests in the risen Jesus Christ. ‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.’ (John 20:11). Notice the wonderful way John opens this truth to us. Mary Magdalene had been through a terrible trauma. Jesus had gone. She saw two angels in front of her, ‘And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain,’ (John 20:12). She saw Jesus but did not know it was Him, ‘She turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.’ She had two angels in front of her and Jesus behind her. When we’re overwhelmed, remember there are two angels before you and the Lord behind you. You are not alone. Mary Magdalene finally understood when she heard her name being spoken by Jesus. If you could hear Him today, He would be saying your name tenderly. Mary Magdalene then clung to Him as she put her arms around Him, but , ‘Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ (John 20:17).

Our faith experiences God Himself. This is not just objective, it is subjective. You and I, with all our sin, can be forgiven and experience God Himself. Mary held onto Jesus, but Jesus said not to hold on to Him. There are different interpretations of this. In my view you don’t need to hold on to Jesus now because He has ascended. We now have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a greater experience than holding onto Jesus personally. The Holy Spirit is with us.

Have you known the touch of God on your life? Have you received a glimpse of His glory? There’s a personal, close experience you can know. You and I do not have blind faith. Our faith is rooted in history, it’s a faith that rests in the risen Jesus Christ. He comes to us in His Holy Spirit. He is known to us in a personal, subjective way. Our faith experiences God Himself.

 

July 16th 2017: Ian Jones

Ian Jones-July 17Luke 7:36-50 A Sinful Woman Forgiven

Puzzling questions:

Why did the Pharisee ask Jesus to eat with him?
Normally, there is always a good reason to invite someone to dinner or others to invite us. But here, there seems no reason why Simon, the Pharisee, should invite Jesus, ‘One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.’ (Luke 7:36). This was not like the occasion when Jesus was invited by Mary and Martha to their home, where Jesus was welcomed. It was not like the occasion when Jesus invited himself to Zaccheus’ home and was warmly welcomed by Zaccheus. In Simon’s home there was no welcome. Jesus says, ‘I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oi, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.’ (Luke 7:44-46). Jesus received none of the customary greetings of the day. So why did Simon ask Jesus to come to his house? Because he was one of those who wanted to discredit Jesus, to prove that Jesus was not a prophet, not the Son of God. Therefore he did not give the normal hospitality to Jesus.

Simon was quick to judge the woman and Jesus. There are many like Simon today; when we meet them they want to discredit Jesus. We even have an example in the apostle Paul, who persecuted Christians until he met with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). People want to resist Jesus, to resist the grace of God. Many have come to a meeting to cause havoc but have been struck by the word and come to Jesus. None are too far from the Kingdom of God – Christ’s message is for all, that all might receive Him gladly.

  • Why did this woman enter Simon’s home?
    It would have been easy for the woman to have stayed away, she knew she would not have been welcomed. She came because the Lord was there. The custom of the day was that anyone could come into another one’s home. We would find this difficult today! There, they would have been onlookers – not participating in the meal but standing by the walls, looking at the table and chatting with those around it. Luke tells us, ‘And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment.’ (Luke 7:37). Luke draws out attention to the woman, ‘behold, a woman of the city.’ The men would have recognised her. They classifies her as a sinner. She brought an alabaster flask of oil. It would have been a shock when she entered the house. Possibly she was a prostitute – which would have been even more shocking. She stood behind the Lord Jesus with a costly flask of fragrant oil and began to pour it over his dusty feet. His feet wouldn’t have been washed. Her tears fell onto those feet. She undid her hair, which would have been another shocking thing. She used her crowning glory to wash his hair, and kissed His feet in a loving, respectful way. Ointment was poured. All eyes were on her. Everyone was silent. Watching.

Why did she come to Simon’s house? She wanted to show her love and devotion to the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus had obviously changed her life. She was no longer a practising sinner as she had been before. Jesus changed that when He came into her life. Has He has changed our lives? Do we have the same love as she had? Have we come today in that same manner, wanting to express our love?

  • Why did Jesus come into this house, knowing what Simon was like?

Simon was not a seeker, like Mary, Martha and Zaccheus. Why did Jesus go into his home when His time on earth was short? He would have known all about Simon, ‘Now when the Pharisee who had invited him say this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”’ (Luke 7:39). Jesus answered him. He knew what Simon was thinking as well as his guests. So why did Jesus come? It was for a very important reason – to teach an important truth. He distinguishes a contrast between Simon and the woman.

Jesus has a parable, a very simple parable: a creditor had two debtors. One owned a lot, one very little. Both couldn’t pay. The creditor freely forgave both. Then Jesus asked a question of His own – which debtor would love the creditor the most? There is any easy answer, but Simon struggled, saying, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ (Luke 7: 43). We see, as Simon answers, ‘I suppose,’ that he didn’t want to give an answer. Jesus tells him that he has judged rightly (before he had wrongly judges the woman). Then Jesus turns to the woman and says to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.’ (Luke 7:44-46). He wanted Simon to focus on the woman. He directed his attention to her. The important truth was, ‘Her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ (Luke 7:47). The reason Jesus came to that house was to declare to Simon and us, the more we recognise our sin, the more we realise we are indebted to our God, the more we love Him. The more we see why Jesus went to the cross and bore our sins, the more we will love Him.

  • Why should we want to come into that house?

If we could go back in time, why would we want to go there? ‘And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”’ (Luke 7:48). Those who sat at the table asked, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ Do you and I need to do something amazing to have our sins forgiven? The Lord Jesus gives us the answer, ‘And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ (Luke 7:50). We won’t be saved by our good works or our family connections, but by faith. Salvation is by faith. How do we come by faith? By the word of God. Turn from sin, express your thanks to God. Jesus told the woman, ‘Go in peace.’

Luke 7-50.jpg

No matter how many times we hear the gospel message, we need to be reminded of the truth, that by faith we are saved. When we leave this world and face death, we know we have been saved by faith if we have repented. Faith saved the woman, she can now go in peace. Might we have the peace of God as we know the Lord Jesus.

June 4th 2017: Norman Gilbert

Luke 18:1-8

We are living in a day in which there is much to be despondent about. In this parable of the persistent widow, the Lord shows us two encouragements we really need: we need to pray, we need never to lose heart.

In the previous chapter the Lord has been speaking about the day of judgement and talks of the last days. Believers are living in the last days – we may be in the last of the last days. Jesus is reminding followers we’re living in last days. Now, after 2,000 years, we are closer to that day. When Jesus first came, He came to bring Salvation. His return will bring judgement. He will introduce a new heaven and a new earth. In this particular section Jesus is people to have hope. In Luke 17 everyone was carrying on with life as normal, not preparing for judgement. In the light of the days in which you live, do not lose heart. We need to continue in prayer and not to lose heart.

IN this parable there are two main characters – a judge and a widow. The judge oversees the affairs of a particular city. We are told two things about this man; he had no regard for God and no regard for man. He had no reverence for God, no reverence or concern for fellow man, he was self-centred. The widow lived under the jurisdiction of the judge. She was in a vulnerable position. It was the culture of the day for widows to be taken care of by their family, but she may have had no-one to be concerned for her welfare.

Looking at the context of the parable, the widow needs to address her problems. Her only solution is to go to the judge to seek justice. We are not told what her problem was. Initially, when she sees the judge he had no concern for her problem whatsoever. He was not interested. We then see the true character of the widow. Her complaint was so urgent she kept on coming. She shows great determination. She was tenacious, she wouldn’t be fobbed off. In the modern world, she would probably be continually emailing her complaint, the one resorting to Twitter or holding a placard as she sought justice. The judge then decides he will grant her justice. Why? Not because he had a change of heart because he had pangs of sympathy for her; he wanted to get rid of this nagging woman. She got her result in the end by nagging. Her perseverance won the day, it had nothing to do with the heart of the man.

Looking at the application of the parable we see the purpose of it in verse 1, ‘Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.’ (Luke 18:1). We must always pray and not lose heart. This is the reason for the parable. Jesus’ disciples needed to hear those words; they would go through horrendous times. Throughout history there are times Christians need to be reminded to pray and not to lose heart. We may go through those times when we ask ‘Is there any point in asking God to stem the tide of evil of our days? Is there any point praying for youngsters who are fuelled by credit? We live in a generation of people fuelled by alcohol and drugs, a generation who have been provided for by the previous generation and have become self-centred – people who only know Jesus as a swear word. We have every encouragement to pray for people to find a real purpose and meaning in life, to turn from their old ways and follow Christ, who is all we need.

The parable is a challenge to us to continue to pray, not to lose heart. We don’t need to equate the judge to God. It is a contrast. If a wicked judge can help a widow, how much more will a God who loves His people be concerned for them? God doesn’t always give us what we want. The widow kept on praying. God sometimes has to give us time, give us trials to go through. We need to pray day and night. That’s the requirement. If we don’t pray we have to question where we stand. Prayer is an evidence we are a true believer. It is a time when the Christian communes with their heavenly Father. We have a great advocate who presents our prayers faultless before the Father. Pray at all times, in all situations, in any place. We need to pray at prayer meetings. Some don’t like to pray openly, but God knows our hearts. Prayer is vital for the church of Jesus Christ. The church has to gather together to pray continually, encouraging one another.

But don’t use prayer to twist God’s arm. Pray and then qualify it with ‘Thy will be done.’ Be bold in prayer, but praying that God’s way will be done. Have confidence.

At the end of Luke 17 there is a warning; no-one knows when the end of the world will take place but we need to be ready. At the end of this parable Jesus asks ‘will the Son of Man really find faith on earth?’ The widow did not give up, she continued in faith. True faith endures to the end. We have hard days and easy days. When Jesus returns will He find faith? We must not give in, believing He knows best and leaving everything in His hands. Our God graciously wants to provide for our needs.

April 2nd 2017: Matthew Maxwell-Carr

Looking at Christ produces radiance on the face because it brings rest on the heart. Just by looking at Christ rest comes immediately. A look at Christ does something to the heart and you’re not ashamed anymore because you don’t fear God will fail you or let you down. The biggest battle you and I face now is the battle with sin – the sin of all sins  is unbelief. It’s so natural to disbelieve and doubt because we’re sinners. Daily, how do we deal with this? Read the Bible? Pray? Look to Him is the answer, fix your eyes on Jesus Christ. He’s the answer to everything we need. A look at Jesus cures it all. This is what it means to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul directs us to the Holy Spirit, to walk in the Holy Spirit, to live by faith in Jesus Christ. He emits the Holy Spirit.

Paul says ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ (Galations 5:22). These are all divine qualities. The Lord puts us all through trials and difficulties. The Lord wants us to have divine peace – peace in the midst of the storm. Keep your eyes on Jesus to have divine peace.

In Numbers 21: 4-9 we read  how the people were discouraged because they took their eyes off Christ, And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” (Numbers 21:5). When the Israelites took their eyes of Christ this affected their relationship with God and with Moses. Their ingratitude is seen in their complaining and worry. Can you identify with that? I can! ‘So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and many of the people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ (Numbers 21: 6-8). Here we see the antidote to the problem. How does God deal with this? ‘… when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.’ (Numbers 21:9). The people had venom coursing through their bodies. The pole reminds us of Christ lifted up. Moses lifts the serpent up, those who look at it live. Look and live. That is the Christian life. Every look at Jesus Christ produces life. You are saved by faith alone, by resting in Jesus Christ. Look and you will live. It seems ridiculous to us that looking at a serpent could bring life, but that is the way of God.

2 Chronicles 12 is a chapter well worth reading. It is very encouraging. Here we see that to win victory all that was needed was praise. The people had tambourines out and were marching. The Lord Himself defeats the enemies – just because the people gave praise. We read in verse 5 that Jehoshaphat pleads to God because they are in difficulty. In verse 12 they cry out, ‘We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.’ Let the Lord move you by the Spirit. Trust in Him.

‘You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.’ (Isaiah 26:3). You, me – we don’t keep ourselves in peace, perfect peace is from the Lord. Our responsibility – ‘whose mind is stayed on you.’ Stay your mind on the Lord Jesus. Trust in Jesus every moment of your life.

‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Matthew 11: 28-29). Rest isn’t our focus, peace isn’t our focus, our focus is Jesus. He will sort the rest and peace out. The human condition is unrest. Jesus Christ is the medicine.

‘But immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27). In our Christian life Jesus wants us to be fearless. As Jesus walked on the sea the storm raged. Peter experiences the supernatural, keeping his eyes on Jesus. Jesus was the focus. ‘So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.’ (Matthew 14:29). When Peter looked at Christ the power of the Holy Spirit supported Peter so he could do the supernatural. But then everything goes wrong, ‘But when he saw that the wind was boisterous he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”’ (Matthew 14:30). Peter saw the wind. He turned his eyes away from Jesus and this produced unrest in his heart. He cried out to the Lord to save him. He still had a little bit of faith. Even when we fail, Jesus still comes. ‘And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”’ (Matthew 14:31). Why do we doubt? Things get on top of us because we are fallen, sinners. Look at Jesus and He will conquer unbelief and unrest. He will sort everything out, we just need to look to Him.

Paul says whatever is not of faith is sin. Look to Jesus and H e will help you sort out all the rubbish. ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ (Galations 2:20). This hits the nail on the head. The great apostle Paul lived his life by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave His life for him. Look to Jesus.

March 17th 2017: Ian Middlemist

Ian - March 17Joshua 6: The ‘Battle’ of Jericho

The gospel message can be summed up in the words, ‘In my place condemned He stood; sealed my pardon with His blood.’  He’s done it all for us! We find that in the history of God’s people, from Adam and Eve being provided with garments, the provision of the Ark for Noah, the rescue of Lot, God providing for Joseph, Jacob and family, to the land given to the Israelites, as promised.

The amazing thing in Joshua 6, the Battle of Jericho, is that there was no battle! God gave Jericho into Joshua’s hands. In the New Testament, in Hebrews, we read the wall of Jericho fell down by faith, it was the Lord who did it all, ‘By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.’ (Hebrews 11:30).

Joshua 6 is a wonderful narrative of a great victory – the grace of God working and the powerful judgement of the Lord. Jericho was not a particularly large city, about 7 acres in total. It was a strong fortress. It was shut up, secure, no-one could go in or out, ‘Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in.’ (Joshua 6:1).

This was a classic siege. Jericho was on the road to the mountains. It geographically affected the tactics; if Israel was to capture the hill country, it needed to defeat Jericho. Joshua’s strategy began and ended with the Lord. Yes, there were armed men, but they were followed by priests carrying huge trumpets, not swords. The trumpets were the ones used to announce the year of Jubilee throughout the land – the presence of God’s kingdom. The Ark of the Covenant was prominent as they were marching, behind which were armed men and the people. The people’s whole focus was centred on the power and presence of God.

When we think of the cross of Jesus Christ, how could a man, bleeding and dying, destroy the dark powers of Satan? How could the cross destroy sin and death? In Joshua 6 we see an example in what God does again and again in the history of redemption. Our weapons are not swords, it is our humble Christian testimony of our broken and fragmented lives lived in unity with Christ. Our great weapon is prayer. God takes the foolish things of this world and confounds the mighty and strong.

The salvation of Rahab. How was Rahab delivered? ‘But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.’ (Joshua 6:25). She was saved because she hid the men who Joshua had sent. She didn’t merit salvation, ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way.’ (James 2:24-25). Rahab demonstrated her faith in the amazing promise the spies had brought her. She was brought out with her faith (Joshua 6:23).

Because she was unclean she was set outside the camp, then brought back in because she was now clean, fully part of the people of God. In chapter 2 it seems as if the spies knocked on a door and there, by chance, stood Rahab. Rahab herself explained that this wasn’t the situation (Joshua 2:10). She had heard of Yahweh, the eternal God of great deeds. The citizens of Jericho had heard of what the Lord had done but only Rahab believed and wanted a sure sign. She pleaded for God to have mercy on her.

David, in Psalm 51, also pleads for mercy, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!’ (Psalm 51:1-2). Rahab’s family was the only family to turn in faith, that He might show mercy on them. If you appeal to God’s grace you can be saved, the arms of the Lord will welcome you. Rahab received mercy from a gracious God.

There is something deeply disturbing about what happened to the city of Jericho. The people were slaughtered – women and children. Only gold and silver were taken out for the treasury of the Lord. The scriptures have set this up – it’s not covered up, it’s spelt out in detail. It’s a totally righteous judgement. Jericho was ‘shut up’ (Joshua 6:1). If the city opened up its gates and pleaded for mercy, then mercy it would have received. But the people’s hearts were hardened and would have nothing to do with God. The worst judgement – hell’s eternal agony for all who reject Him. When we see our Saviour crying out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46), we begin to appreciate the depth of the righteousness of God.

When Christ comes, this is how it will be: when Jesus heals He restores. He will utterly destroy everything that stands in His way. The wall of sin is broken down by the cross. We live in gospel days. Today is the day of salvation. But death is near. People are interested in the materialistic things of this world, but the judgement of God is coming, there is no escape. We long for our friends to take hold of the promises of God. We must pray that they might be rescued from the coming judgement.