October 2nd 2022: Colin Jones

Texts: Habakkuk 1:2-5,12-15; 2:3,4,18-20; 3:17-19.

Brief background.

            Habakkuk is a book which displays something of what we may feel but might be afraid to express. He asks the question we might not wish to ask. Habakkuk was contemporary with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah. Everything in the world of that time was undergoing change. Assyria had been the great super-power during the days of Isaiah and Hezekiah where the Lord wonderfully brought about a great defeat for Assyria at Jerusalem (Isaiah 37). But in 626 BC Nabopolassar, the king of Babylon, rebelled against Assyria’s dominance. In 612 BC Nineveh was destroyed, and by 609 BC Assyria was no more. Thus, Babylon became the super-power of the time. It was this regime which took Judah captive and by 586 BC the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken Jerusalem and the nation was no more (until the exile).

Where is God when trouble abounds?

            The central feature of this book is the question of why things go wrong (from our perspective) and how we should view them correctly. The Scriptures are blunt and openly honest. We do not read sanitized versions of the people that God had dealings with. Abraham was a man of faith and the friend of God, but he treated Sarah, his wife, in a very poor way on two occasions. David was a man after the Lord’s own heart and yet he committed murder and adultery. Jeremiah is open too with the Lord, expressing his concerns about what was happening, and on one occasion he stated that the Lord had “deceived” the people (Jeremiah 4:10). But even though Jeremiah speaks to the Lord in such ways, there was no lightning bolt from the Lord! The former prophet Elijah after the contest at Mount Carmel despaired when he heard of Jezebel’s threats and ran for his life to the wilderness. The Lord made him sleep, then eat, and then sleep again before taking him to Mount Horeb where He spoke not in thunder nor lightning, but in a still small voice (1Kings 19:1-18).

            The Scriptures are an incredible record of how God is patient and caring for His people. God has no need to justify Himself and His actions, for He is good and always does good (Psalm 119:68). But even though He does not need to explain anything, He does explain much to us. Often not in the ways we might expect, but always in the ways which are good for us. God even tells us the end of the story in the book of Revelation.

A look at the texts.

            In Habakkuk 1:2-4 the prophet seems to be saying that they were going through tough and terrible times and the Lord seemed not to be concerned, but rather He appeared to be paralysed. There was “violence” and “iniquity” but the Lord did not seem to want to save nor to hear. There was “strife” and “contention” and the law seemed powerless whilst the wicked continued and the righteous were treated badly. We too have had tough times in recent years with the pandemic and with economic hardship so that some are saying “where is God in all this difficulty?” Some ask why God does not intervene? The Lord had defeated Egypt in rescuing Israel from bondage and He had defeated Assyria during the reign of Hezekiah, so where is He now?

            In Habakkuk 1:5f the Lord answers, but not as expected. He is raising up the Babylonians (Habakkuk 1:6). Assyria were described as the Lord’s “rod” of His wrath (Isaiah 10:5-12) to deal with Israel, but they overstepped the mark so now the Lord was raising up the Babylonians to correct them. Now, it would seem, the Babylonians appear to be worse than the Assyrians (Habakkuk 1:7,8).

            In Habakkuk 1:12,13 the prophet appeals to the character of God. He is eternal and He is pure so why does He allow the wicked to prosper and say nothing when they treat the righteous so badly? We can imagine Habakkuk saying something along these lines: “Israel was more righteous than the Assyrians but they seemed to win out generally, and now the Babylonians have arisen and they are worse than the Assyrians and yet they will win out – how can this be? We might ask similar questions: “Why is Putin still in power?” “Why do the wicked prosper and get richer and good people suffer?”  “Surely the God who is good, holy, and just can see these wicked things happening so why does He not act?”

Babylon – a picture of the world.

            The first mention of an empire comes in Genesis 10 and 11 where we read of Nimrod, the mighty hunter against the Lord, who built Babel the beginning of his kingdom. This rebellion was a direct challenge to the command of the Lord. God wanted mankind to spread out across the globe (Genesis 9:1-7) but Nimrod led a rebellion so that they could make a name for themselves. They built their own way, their own religion, their own systems, and all so that they could glory in themselves. Well God confused their languages so that their project came to an end – although the Lord allowed Nimrod to build further cities.

            We do not read again of Babylon until their resurgence during the time of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39). When Babylon regained power during the ministry of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we find Daniel and his friends in captivity. The first way in which Babylon exerted its pressure upon the people of God came with the food they were eating. This was in order to undermine their trust in God, for He had told them what foods they could and could not eat in the Law. What were the exiles to do? Well in Daniel chapter 1 we find that Daniel refused to compromise on this issue and God gave him favour. Then the stakes were raised, for in Daniel chapter 3 the challenge to the people of God was to compromise in worship. Shadrach. Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden statue the king had made, and so were thrown into the fiery furnace. But wonderfully we discover that there were actually four people to be seen in the flames, and none were burned up even though the fire was fierce and at its top heat. Babylon’s challenge to the people of God began small (concerning food) and then got more serious (whom should we worship). And then in Daniel 6 we find that persecution for Daniel comes in connection with his inner practice of praying. They could not fault Daniel in any way save in connection with His faith. The king’s advisers convince the king to make life impossible for Daniel – you cannot pray to anyone except the king! What would Daniel do? Well he continued his normal practice and for this was thrown to the lions. The angel prevented the lions from harming Daniel, but they were still ravenous for they consumed others thrown into the same pit after Daniel was lifted out. Or we could point to Psalm 137 where the captors ask the captive exiles to sing a song for them. The exiles could not because all their songs were of Jerusalem and this was now gone. Babylon’s final end is pictured in Revelation 14:8 – fallen!

God’s answer.

            What does God say to Habakkuk in reply to his question as to what was going on?

First answer.

            The Lord’s first answer comes in Habakkuk 2:3

“For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

The vision is not for now. Habakkuk must wait. It will all occur just as God has planned. It is “in My time and not your time” says the Lord. How we want an instant answer! But God says “I know what I am doing, and I know when is the right time to act.” All God’s times are right. He sent His Son into the world at the right time. All our times are in His hand.

            In 2Peter 3:8,9 the apostle tells us that with the Lord a day is as a thousand years and He is not slow concerning that which He has promised. All will come about just as He has planned. The Lord has a much broader agenda than Habakkuk (and we) realise. You, Habakkuk, are looking at things from the point of view of Habakkuk. The Lord is looking at things from not just a heavenly perspective but from a whole world view point. There are many more people to consider! There are still people to gather in, and so the Lord continues to uphold the universe allowing the wicked a time because He has people who are yet to be born for whom He has died and will bring to glory.

            God is working in our lives through these difficult times for our good and for our sanctification. What did we learn through the pandemic? Some began to see the vital importance of fellowship because they had missed it so much during the lock-down. The Lord is also sifting through times of trouble and difficulty. Many people did not come back to some churches after the pandemic and some churches closed. There is a separating of the wheat from the chaff going on. How serious are we in following the Lord? We are to heed these words of Paul:

“rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.” (Romans 12:12).

When it seems that the Lord is not delivering then keep trusting and keep believing.

Second answer.

            The second answer comes in Habakkuk 2:4b: “But the just shall live by his faith.” These words have been world-shattering. The reformer Martin Luther sought peace and a right relationship with God through all the means he could see from his Roman Catholic environment, penances, indulgences, pilgrimages and so on. He tried all sorts of works-based means to get himself accepted by God, to try and demonstrate his righteousness before God, but then he came across these words and everything changed. This Scripture, for him, was one of the greatest gifts that God could give. It was this text that released him from all his efforts at gaining salvation.

            The wonderfully unique thing about the gospel is that it is all through grace and not by self-effort nor by works. Every other religion, world view, system of thought or so-called ‘faith’ requires a person to do something by their own effort, or to offer something from their own means. Christ has done everything necessary so that when the Lord was asked by some of His followers: “what shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” the Lord replied by saying: “this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:28,29).

            We must live by faith and not by sight (2Corinthians 5:7). The clamour of man to prove his worth or to demonstrate his value is all a waste of time because of sin. In Habbakuk we hear these words:

“But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Habakkuk 2:20).

There is no argument nor persuasion against the Lord. Mankind must be silent before Him for he can do nothing and offer nothing which will be acceptable to God. One Man alone did all that was necessary and that was Christ Jesus, the Son of God. He gives to us His righteousness and so we are now “just” and we continue in this by faith in Him.

            Now such a view is generally unacceptable to people. When the Lord Jesus pointed out this teaching that we can live only by faith and trust in Him, and that to live we must feed on Him for we can nothing to make ourselves presentable, many of His followers left Him (John 6:66). He then asked His disciples if they too were going to leave, Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68,69).

            This may be a “hard saying” (John 6:60) but it is the best, the only, and the surest way to find peace and true satisfaction. “The just shall live by his faith.”

Third answer.

            The third answer comes in Habakkuk 3:17-20. Habbakuk imagines the worst possible situation that he could think of:

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls.”  (Habakkuk 3:17).

He imagines a situation of abject and complete famine so that everything fails. What then? Well even though the worst possible thing could come about in God’s plan:


“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” (Habakkuk 3:18-20).

He will rejoice in the Lord (cf. Philippians 4:4). Notice how he reminds himself of the character of God for He is the covenant keeping God of all power and strength. Look to what he knows the Lord will do for him too (“he will make …”). Even in the direst and most dark of circumstances Habakkuk has come to know that the Lord God is still on the throne, and He is still for His people. God will not abandon them, and He will never leave them even though He may have to chastise them for their sanctification.

By way of application.

            How should we face adversity (in whatever form it may come)? Trust fully in the Lord. The just (those given righteousness from Christ) live by faith in the Lord Jesus. God is faithful. We can trust in Him. Consider His character and attributes. Moses requested a view to see God (Exodus 33:18), but the Lord said He could not see Him and live, so He placed him in the cleft of the rock and passed by covering Moses with His hand enabling Moses to see His back (Exodus 33:2-22). And then when the Lord passed before Moses He proclaimed:

“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6,7).

This is God. He abounds in mercy and grace. He is patient beyond human imagining. He is good, true, and righteousness, so that no sin will be left that is not dealt with. The Lord promised Noah that He would never again flood the earth and He has kept this promise. But we know in reality that sometimes harsh and difficult times will come. The world as a whole may never be flooded again but what of the floods in various places and at various times? Assyria was bad, Babylon was worse, but God is always good. These difficulties are sent to chastise us as Hebrews 12:7-11 tells us. Let us therefore consider the good and faithful God and seek to learn what it is that God is teaching us through such difficulties.

            In Hebrews 12:2 we are exhorted to look to the Lord 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).

We can face the trials and tribulations to come if we:

Nourish ourselves on the Lord and all He has provided us (He will not forsake us).

Nourish ourselves on the future that God has promised us in glory.

We may grow old and get weaker, but the Lord never leaves His people. We may have to suffer but the Lord has gone before us as our Pioneer. Remember that He has prepared a place for us in glory to be with Him forever (John 14:2; 17:24).

July 10th 2022: Paul Daniel

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/3lyINvNoBtk

Colossians 1:1-23

Whilst on holiday, my family and I recently visited a cathedral. My children were shocked, especially when a chap started playing the organ. They had never seen or heard anything like it. The grand piano didn’t look special, but its volume and grandness made my children stand in awe. When we walked into the cathedral, the place was very different to going to church on a Sunday, where they run in, listen, go to Sunday School and have squash afterwards. Their experience was very different as they stood in awe, never having seen anything like this before.

Are you glad that you are here – because you stand in awe of the God who wants to speak to you, the God whose hands flung stars into space, the God who knows each and every one, who wants to meet with us? Is that your prayer this morning, your expectation? Are you really glad to be here because you want to meet with God?

Can you imagine the church at Colosse receiving this letter? What was it going to say? It starts off like this, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae,” (Colossians 1:2a There’s a church there being born because Epaphras has taken the gospel to them and they’ve come to put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, Paul writes this letter to the church and addresses them and says, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae,” (Colossians 1:2a). This tells us they are Christians, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, and they’re in Colosse.

Here is a group of Christians, they’ve been saved by God, they’ve heard the gospel. They are in Christ, and they’re also in Colosse. They are in Christ but are also in Colosse, in the world, a fallen world. There is a great tension in the Christian life; we are in Christ but also in the world, a place we’re called to live. This great rescue brings across many challenges. The Christian life is not a walk in the park. You’ve got to go through the week but after all the battles done, you get to church on Sunday, to meet with God. It’s almost as if you’re being re-armed, fed, ready to go on. The tension of living in the ‘now and not yet.’ So, this morning, are you glad to be here? Do you want to meet with God? Do you want to stand in awe of what God’s word says? Will you be changed by it? God wants to prepare you for this week ahead.

We have been rescued from darkness, He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13). What a profound verse. He has rescued us from the domain of darkness. Only God can do that. He has rescued you, brought you into the light, into the Kingdom, through the Lord Jesus Christ in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Consider the cross. Consider what Jesus Christ has done. He came, was put on a cross. Darkness came over the land and He bore our sins so that we can be redeemed,  so that we could be saved. He’s done that because we can’t do that ourselves. Sinners can’t save themselves. That’s why Jesus Christ came into this world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Darkness leads to death, to judgement. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). The Bible reminds us that you are loved, that I am loved. We stand before a God who has loved us with an everlasting love. He has chosen us before the foundation of the world. He set His love upon you. He knows you. He has called you out of darkness. Wonderful! You didn’t want to be rescued. You didn’t want to choose Him. But He showed you mercy and compassion. You didn’t deserve to be rescued, but God doesn’t want anyone to perish.  He wants everyone to come to repentance.

People would rather say there’s no problem with the dominion of darkness because it means they’re in charge and can do whatever they want, when they want. The world says, ‘My freedom is what matters.’ The gospel is here because God wants us to reason with people. It’s not that we can pluck them out of darkness, but God wants us to reason with people. When we start reasoning with people, we see what it actually means to live in the dominion of darkness.

When you go and do things you think will make you happy, following your own rules, it doesn’t satisfy. Because it’s darkness, it’s difficult to know what’s right and what’s wrong. We need to pray for people, to pray for our world, to pray for our communities. When they’re stuck in the dominion of darkness they don’t know God. We need to pray for mercy. We need to pray for the work of God’s Spirit. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit would come and illuminate their hearts and their minds, so they begin to see God’s ways are His best ways.

My friends, do you find it comfortable talking to people about the gospel? Are you comfortable telling people about your experiences, about how you became a Christian, about the things you thought would satisfy you but they really didn’t? Are you willing to speak up? Are you willing to confront? Are you willing to have a gentle word, so that they really would be rescued from the dominion of darkness, brought into the kingdom of the Son He loves?

It’s a rescue. There’ a destination to the darkness. There is a darkness forever. We are reminded that there’s an eternity. Heaven is real. Hell is real. We have this wonderful opportunity to keep on going, witnessing to our friends and family, inviting them, reasoning with them about the hope that they too can have, coming out of the darkness into the kingdom of the Son.

On the front page of most of the newspapers this morning you’ll see an article. You’ll see a lovely picture and it says something like this, ‘The star of Centre Court.’ The star of centre court is Elena Rybakina. Born in Russia, then changed nationality to Kazakhstan. However, her picture is not on the cover of any newspaper. It’s not a picture of the winner of Wimbledon women’s final. It’s a picture of Kate Middleton. It’s political. The politics of what goes on the front page of the newspapers. It’s almost as if they’re trying to avoid the truth. Are we going to do that as God’s people or will we love people and do the most we can, in the power of the Spirit?

In prayer and petition, will we speak the truth? We know what it’s like to be plucked out of the dominion of darkness by God’s mercy and grace. We know the joy of being brought into the light, standing in awe of God, who wants to know us. We’ve been rescued from the dominion of darkness. Don’t we want others to be rescued from the dominion of darkness? Let’s pray for them. Let’s pray for God’s Spirit to come in power. Let’s plead with God, as maybe others too pleaded for our hearts, that God would do a work and He would bring that work to completion.

Reconciliation from God. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,” (Colossians 1:21-22). Amazing! ‘Once you were’ – that’s the gospel. You were nowhere near God – alienated from God. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, it doesn’t make you any more special. But look what He has done: He has reconciled you, by Christ’s physical body, through death, to present you holy. Now, because of what He’s done, you’re seen as holy. You have the joy of having your sins cleansed, to have the guilt removed. You know that you stand right with God. God doesn’t count your sin against you. You now have a new position before God. You are seen as His child. You belong to Him. You begin to come to know God.

Once you’ve experienced His grace, everything changes. You want to open your Bibles, you want to know more about it. You want to search, to ask questions that you’ve never asked before because you belong to Him. You want to know what His purposes are, what His plans are. Then you come under His care, the author of creation.

Knowing all of this, do you love God’s rescue plan? Do you hate the darkness, knowing that is where you’ve been plucked from? You know sin is lethal, bringing death and destruction. Do you hate the darkness? As a child of God, nothing will separate you from the love of God. As you hear God’s word, you pray God’s Spirit will make you more like Him each day.

There is something profound in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Think about this rescue and reconciliation; how God in His wisdom, planned before the foundation of the world to send His Son into the world, planned for you to be chosen, sitting here listening to the gospel, planned for you to one day be with God in glory.

Think of this grand master plan of rescue and reconciliation, of being God’s people. Paul, with all the letters he wrote, and with all the doctrinal elements, with all the grand statements, what does he say about this great rescue plan? Just three words, “And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15b). Isn’t that staggering! It’s almost an understatement. ‘And be thankful.’

Are you truly glad to be here? That you have been rescued from darkness? You were not looking for a rescue, were it not for the grace and the mercy of God. He chose you. He saved you. He’s cleansed your sin. He’s removed your sin as far as the east is from the west. Are you ready today, despite all the scars of last week, to get going again? Are you ready this week to listen to God’s word and see your need to be more like Jesus? God loves you and wants the best for you. This week, will you go out in God’s strength and witness to others, praying for the work of the Spirit and their lives too, that they too will be rescued, that they too will find a relationship with God?

May 30th 2022: Ian Middlemist

Ephesians 2:11-22

The purpose of the Church.

You can look at taller buildings using an electric drone. Gou can see on screen what the drone is looking at, see how it is looking up there. How is the church looking from up there today? How is it looking from God’s perspective? How is our heavenly Father looking at us today? What do you think of when you think of the church? You can go on a computer and zoom in on Google Earth, zoom into London, into Canary Wharf, into the Bishops Gate area and see enormous, magnificent office blocks made out of glass. Bishops Gate was largely obliterated in the Blitz. There’s a large church – St. Helens. When you see it from the office blocks it looks tiny. Some of those office workers, on their breaks, high up, can look at the little church down there and wonder why it’s there. Worshippers can look up today and ask how they fit in. I encourage you today to raise your vision to God’s perspective. Hi is the one who has created the church for His own glory.

The church is a heavenly assembly.
The church is an earthly assembly.
The church is for the glory of God.

The church is a heavenly assembly.
The New Testament translation of church is ‘ecclesia.’ It actually means an assembly. We’re assembling today. Assemblies in schools haven’t happened for the past two years because of Covid. Schools can now come together, one school, one message. The New Testament has two kinds of assemblies, one is in heaven and one is on earth.

The universal church gathers in heaven, the local church gathers on earth. The Church is fundamentally a gathering. This must be first in our thinking. The local Church is equally important, but the invisible, universal church must come first.

When you become a Christian you become part of the universal church. You didn’t join the church. Scripture invites us to see things from His perspective. Jesus Christ has joined not just individuals to Himself, but a people, all invited to Him. When Adam and Eve sinned, the immediate effect was division occurred. Their relationship and communion with God was broken. They became afraid of Him, uncomfortable before Him. They hid, hoping to disappear from the face of the planet. The relationship suffered. God seeks out that unity between human beings. Because of this rebellion there was no harmony. But God came through His Son, to have a people He will cleanse and purify. Today, He is calling a people out of this world, out of dominion of Satan and death, to be His people in oneness.

He has raised us up with Him, “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6). Upon saving us, He has given us a place in God’s heavenly throne room.

“12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:12-16).

What are the two groups? The Jewish and the Gentile groups. God is uniting these two groups through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. United together, one in the glory of heaven. If you’re sitting with Christ in heavenly places, you are also seated with the heavenly assembly.

The earthly assembly.
This is the local church. God’s purpose is that His heavenly church, one in the Spirit of God, show up on earth through the existence of local churches. God has declared us righteous in heaven, seated with the saints. It’s real, in the here and now. He has declared us righteous for the here and now. Earth, this globe, this time – May 2022, matters to God. We are not merely to be thinkers of how we live out our lives, we’re doers and need to get on with it. Our God acts in this world. Look at Jesus Christ Himself – how God demonstrated His love, not merely by making declarations of His love. But Jesus became a man, entered into this world, came in flesh.

As soon as a Christian becomes a member of the heavenly assembly, they want to become part of the earthly assembly. They want to become part of the local church. They want to be with other Christians, wanting to be in a local church. We put on the heavenly, we get involved. We’re putting on the new self, working it out with other Christians. The glory that is done to the Lord will be revealed to the world through His church. Membership in the universal church must become visible in the local church. Committed Christians, committed to one another. The ideas of a Christian who doesn’t want to become part of the church is impossible.

The purpose of the Church.
Some will emphasise that the church is heavenly; what matters is we’re walking with Jesus, trying to do our best. Others will say that the church needs to be active. The Protestant Reformation say it was possible for someone to be part of the visible, local church without being part of the church of Jesus Christ. These days, we seem to emphasise the local church.

We’re united with all churches, one with other churches. The church is universal. The Almighty God has created the church. He has brought it into existence. What is the purpose of the church? We’re here today for the glory of God. So easily we can be caught up with the concerns of the day – evangelism, bank accounts, so much so we forget we’re here for the glory of God. We’re here today to glorify Him and Him only.

The church is not ultimately for seekers. It doesn’t exist for those enquiring about the gospel. Jesus did pay attention to the needs of crowds and unbelievers. He teaches them (John 6). There’s a danger we become more and more like the world if we exist to be attractive to the world.

The church doesn’t exist to be more attractive for the disciple either. It doesn’t exist for the Christians. The church doesn’t exist for you. We’re not to go around taking surveys for our needs. We’re not to ignore people’s needs but our goal and purpose is for the glory of God.

Our God has come down to us and reached us, lifted us up to the heavenly places. All of our needs are found in Him. We’re here for Him. The church exists in the people of God. Lour primary occupation is the glory of God.

What a wonderful thing it is to be part of the church. It’s our joy to discover that. It’s wonderful to be built on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ. We have a church that is firm and secure. None can destroy His church. Praise His Name.

May 12th 2022: Chris Rees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 14th 2021: John Mann

1 Samuel 3:11 – 4:11

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/hwXDavv0rik

1 Samuel 3:11 – 4:11

I love the Old Testament accounts and exploits of God’s people. Here, the nation of Israel is in a state of apostasy. We read at the end of the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6).

Today, people do what is right in their own eyes. God remained faithful to the Israelites, despite their foolishness. “Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (1 Samuel 3:11). Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the day, were wicked men. God pronounced a curse on the house of Eli because of his disobedience and his failure to control his sons (v.14).

Eli’s two sons are about to suffer the judgement of God. Poor Samuel was tasked with bearing bad news, telling Eli of God’s judgement. Even in this situation, the sovereign goodness of God works in His people. Eli came to acknowledge, even through his discipline, even through this difficult situation, that the sovereign goodness of God works ultimately for the good of His people. “So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” (v.18).

There is an application for us already, at the start of this passage; God is always working out His overall plan to do us good, to work out His set purposes according to His constant grace and mercy. God is faithful. There are no accidental incidents on our lives. Our lives are ordained according to the set purpose of our sovereign God. Very often we may not fully recognise it. God is faithful and He is working our His purposes.

Fear of Eli’s response made Samuel initially shy away from giving Eli this message. But he realised it had to be declared openly and fully as it had been given to him, no matter what Eli’s response would be. The gospel of salvation is very often an offence to sinners. It exposes the condition of their hearts. It lays bare the corruption that lies within everyone of us. The doctrine of hell is an offence to sinners. The idea of eternal punishment goes against what they feel to be true of themselves. Preaching the full gospel in our day can often be a hard undertaking. It is not always easy to proclaim the full truth that God has entrusted to us. The gospel very often is watered down, even in the established church.

Eli indicates how seriously we must take God’s instructions, “And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” (1 Samuel 3:17). God will deal severely with those who do not preach truthfully, honestly and boldly. I believe that Samuel learned an important early lesson – it is not our place to edit the word of God or choose those things we feel are more acceptable, but to tell it as it is and leave God to deal with the reactions that come from it.

God blesses Samuel’s response, “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1 Samuel 3:19). God helps us to see that in our day, the words that are preached do not fall to the ground. We are promised God’s word will not return to Him void. That is the assurance we should have. Jesus said, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12). Warning people of coming judgement and hell takes great wisdom and tact. Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). We have to be truthful and speak of judgement and hell. Our witness must be urgent and not compromised. But it also has to be with love and tears.

God continued to use Samuel, “And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 3:20). Strangely, after being called by God, Samuel takes a back seat and is not mentioned in chapters 4-6, which switch to God’s sovereignty and His gracious dealings with His rebellious people. God’s grace was seen on countless occasions. Samuel did not go on holiday or take a sabbatical; he would still have been preaching. Sadly, the people weren’t listening or responding to God’s word. But God was still at work, working out His purposes.

The Israelites are about to engage in battle with the Philistines. The battle commences, the Philistines are victorious. In the wake of this stinging defeat the Israelites come up with the bright idea of getting the Ark of the Covenant, “And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it[ may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3).

When the Ark of the Covenant arrived, the Israelites gave a great shout, “As soon as the Ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.” (1 Samuel 4:5). The Philistines shake in their shoes. The wonders of what God had done in Egypt have reached their ears, now this God had come to the Israelites. However, the Philistines’ morale is restored (v.9). The battle continues, but this time the Israelites are not just beaten but thrashed (v.10). Hophni and Phinehas died. It’s a bloodbath, gruesome, awful.

The Israelites were on the receiving end. Why? Because they had taken the Ark of the Covenant into battle. They didn’t so much want God as the box that He was in. They have rejected God and gone their own way. They are facing an enemy and are going in their own strength, led by Hophni and Phinehas, who dishonoured the name of Yahweh. The called for the ‘magic box’, a talisman. Their faith is no more than superstition. God will not be manipulated or manoeuvred.

Sadly, even within churches of our day, people want to use the name of Jesus as a means to an end. With so-called faith they expect to get what they want from God – their health and their wealth. Their hearts have little consideration for the glory of the name of Jesus. Their lives do little to honour His name, but they still expect an answer when the battle heats up, when opposition comes or when they face difficulties.

Remember what Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23).

Our God is not a God who operates at our beck and call. We can’t manipulate or mould God into our way of thinking. This is our sovereign God who is awesome in His majesty. He cannot, and will not, be trifled with. This is the reality of many today, who think God is there for their convenience, when it suits them.

What a god of grace He is. When His people oppose Him, when they blaspheme the name of Jesus, when they scorn and criticise, God, in His grace and mercy, withholds His hand of judgement, causes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous. He sends rain on the just and the unjust. Our God is a God of remarkable grace and patience. I believe it is only when people of our day seek God as He really is, in all the wonder of His being, in all the purity and perfection and the awesomeness and power of our God, that our nation will ever change and be lifted out of the pit that it has put itself in.

34,000 soldiers lay dead on a gruesome, blood-filled battlefield. The enemies rejoice. Often, the church seems so weak against the enemy. It appears it is all over for the Israelites. But that is to forget God is working through all circumstances. He foretold the deaths of Hophni and Phinehas (chapter 2). Now God is bringing His judgement to pass. But even in this disaster, God was working out His purpose for His chosen people. God always keeps His word and His intentions are always carried out. Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18).

There are battles in the life of the church, in our own personal lives. We may feel the battle is lost, we may feel discouraged, until God reminds us not to lose sight of His sovereignty and purposes. God uses our circumstances, even the enemy against us, to remove the dross and refine us. Eli is feeling the discipline and judgement. But God’s promises are true and will always come to pass. There has been a great battle and a great defeat, but this is not the end.

Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, another battle was fought, a greater battle. It appeared there that the enemy had the upper hand, it seemed that Satan had achieved his ultimate purpose – to destroy God’s Messiah, along with His plan of salvation.

The enemies of God were rejoicing as they stood at the cross and saw what was happening, as they mocked and scorned, convinced that their victory was complete. The hero of the church was captured, humiliated, hanging on a Roman cross. It appeared this gruesome, blood-soaked battlefield was the end, not only of the Lord Jesus Christ but also His church. But God’s plan was being fulfilled and His purpose was being carried out. Out of this apparent defeat came a glorious and final victory – the enemy of our souls destroyed forever. Sin destroyed forever. Death destroyed forever. Pain, suffering, illness, conflict, sadness, loneliness, crying, weeping, all ultimately destroyed forever.

This was no defeat. At Calvary it was a glorious victory. We are told to never judge by appearances. It appeared it was all over for the Israelites. But God had not deserted them. He was ordering events, guiding circumstances, controlling the outcome, in order that their future might be more certain, that they might know a stronger future, that they might be drawn ever closer to Him, that their future might be more faithful, that their walk with Him might be deeper and closer.

There may be times when we appear to be losing the battle. There may be times when our enemy seems to be winning. There are times when we lose some battles, when we foolishly rely upon our own strengths, thinking we can make it by our own resources. We find, to our own cost, that our strength is completely insufficient. There are times when we lose these battles. But God is always in control. We lose some battles, but the war is already won. The Lord Jesus Christ has triumphed on Calvary and those who are in Him, who are in Christ Jesus, looking alone to Him for their salvation, are safe and secure, because we are lon the victory side.

God hadn’t finished with the Israelites, this wasn’t the end. God hasn’t finished with us. If you are believing and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing the difficulties, knowing the battles, feeling the weakness, God hasn’t finished with you yet. His perfect, gracious, unstoppable intention was to lead His people, the Israelites, to a greater knowledge of Himself. His unstoppable intention in your life and mine is to lead us on to a greater Christ-likeness in this life, but then, ultimately, to perfect Christ-likeness in eternity.

So, when you are feeling the heat of the battle, look to Christ because He hasn’t finished with us. We are still on the victory side and the best is yet to come.

October 31st 2021: Ian Middlemist

You can view this service on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/t6N6c5-jETw

Romans 3:21-31

A man kneels before a woman, a little box in his hand. A secret is to be revealed. An announcement is to be made. Our God reveals to us, like a secret, that He loves us beyond measure. We treat it like a secret, but it never is. He loves His people so much that He is willing to send His only Son for them. In due course He would be revealed – the Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder if you ever doubt that God loves you? That you are loved beyond all measure? Is it time for that secret to be revealed to you?

I see, in our reading this morning in Romans chapter 3, ‘previously, presently and meanwhile.’

Previously.
We read that God had passed over sins. I am praying that you will receive an assurance of the love of God that your sins are forgiven. The cross alone is where we receive that forgiveness. We need to understand a few things about how justice works. We need to be forgiven of our sins. It is God’s justice that must be satisfied. The payment is to be made to God. Christ gives us the sacrifice that satisfies the justice of God. He has never ignored sin. The opening chapters of this book proves that beyond measure. Our great concern this morning should not be how happy we can be, but the righteousness of God. It is supremely seen in the cross of Jesus.

How is it that sinners before Jesus Christ could be dealt with in any gracious way with God? Justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:24-25). You and I need to know that the God who has justified us, is just, that He is perfectly righteous – always has been and always will be.

Is the cross the only way that anyone can be right in God’s sight? Yes! So how did God deal with sin before the cross? What did believing people in the Old Testament have to look to? We can see the wondrous cross of Jesus today. They didn’t have that. They did have a system of sacrifices though. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter into a secret place – one person on behalf of others. They would represent those who believed in the Lord. It was concerned with making atonement between holy and unholy.

We need atonement. The High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies. He was appointed by God. There, he would take the blood of an animal, symbolically, so that humans would not be killed. The animal’s blood would be sprinkled on the mercy seat. At that moment, sins were atoned, wiped away. We need our sins to be wiped away in God’s justice system.

This sacrificial system was to satisfy the consciences of the believers in Old Testament times. No animal is sufficient to pay the price of a human being. No animal could possibly match-up in God’s sight. The perfect human sacrifice offering still had to come. So, God, in the Old Testament, is seen as waiting, anticipating a better sacrifice. Therefore, He was satisfied to deal with sinners in the Old Testament times in grace and mercy. God knew a better sacrifice was coming, a human being who was perfect. I don’t know how much the Old Testament believers knew of this. It was still quite secretive to them. But God knew, and that’s what mattered. That’s all that matters to us today. God is just.

That was previously. Let’s come to ‘meanwhile.’ Now. God shows us His righteousness. We come to the present day. The cross is essential, and always has been essential, to deal sufficiently with our present-day problem, with our concern. What is the problem, our concern? We could say that the problem we have is that we are sinners. In one sense, that is the problem; we have broken God’s law. As soon as you were conceived you started to add to the record of wrongs, because you have not been righteous. We are all utterly and completely lost. We cannot cover over our sins ourselves. We can’t redefine what sin is.

Propitiation is about the appeasement and satisfaction of God and His righteousness. Our great problem is not only sin. The great issue in this letter is that God is rightly angry with our sin. Propitiation, as the means of atonement, is all about the removal of God’s wrath. God Himself provided for His wrath. He offered up His own beloved Son on the cross. He provided from within Himself. The cross, the sacrifice, covers our sins. God has done that which He was always willing to do. John 3:16.

God makes atonement for you and I. His justice is now satisfied. His wrath is utterly removed forever because of the cross of Jesus. It is a perfect sacrifice and complete. Why? Because it came from God. It wasn’t human intervention. We need to repent of our sins. We first and foremost need to bring them to the cross of propitiation. We need to focus on God, not our sins. When we come to the communion table don’t focus on sins but the cross of Jesus.

We know we are justified. Do you know you are saved by the love of God? Saved from the wrath of God? It is impossible not to be a sinner. Paul says throughout this letter, up to this point, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). You can’t ignore it. It is the glory of God we need to be concerned with. Are you saved? Do you have that assurance? Where do you receive that assurance? Look at Him. Place your faith afresh in Him. See the crucifixion of Jesus.

God the Father provided Him for you, a public demonstration of the love of God. The believers of olden time waited. The sacrifice was hidden away. We are about making public that which has been revealed to us. He was “put forward” (v25). It is a public presentation. Have you ever wondered why God chose the means of crucifixion to pay the blood price for our sins, why it didn’t take place in the Holy of Holies? Why, on a Roman cross, Christ dies, naked and utterly humiliated? Why was He placed so high? For all to see. He had nails through His hand and feet, with His feet just out of reach so no-one could touch or feel the victim.

God publicly displayed the crucified Son for all to see. It was a public declaration that your sins are atoned for. We can walk with Him in purpose and grace. God’s Son was crucified for you. It is a decisive demonstration. He did it! What was required, occurred. It was His initiative, so you can trust it. He decided the plan of salvation for you. He did it!

October 24th 2021: Roger Thomas

You may view this service on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/88omF4CHocA

2 Kings 5:1-19: The Healing of Naaman

This account happened about 850 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, during the times of the kings of Israel, with Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Syria (v1). Syria was to the north-east of Israel. Naaman was highly respected by the king. Why? He had defeated the enemies of Syria. But behind this military success was God. God rules over the nations.

Naaman was a mighty man of valour, strong and brave. However, at some point he caught leprosy, a serious illness, incurable at the time. With time, the body deteriorates, the flesh is eaten away.

During this time, the Syrians had gone out on raids and took captive a young girl who became a servant of Naaman’s wife. Here we see God at work, drawing Naaman into a relationship with Himself. Through these things that had happened, in God’s over-arching providence, He was drawing Naaman to Himself. In verse 3 the young girl says, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Samaria was the northern capital of Israel. This young girl, a prisoner, shows no bitterness. There is love towards her captors. Her faith is very strong. She believes, through Elisha, Naaman could be healed from this disease. She is so gracious and confident.

Naaman’s wife shares this with Naaman, and he, in turn, shares it with the king. The king tells Naaman to go and gives him a letter to give to the king of Israel, saying, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman goes to Samaria, taking the letter. He goes with his chariots and servants. He also takes 340 kg of silver, 68kg of gold – a huge amount, and 10 changes of clothing. This was a substantial gift, telling us how rich Naaman was.

In Samaria, Naaman sees the king, who read the contents of the letter (v6). The response of the king was that Naaman was asking him to do the impossible. Panic set in; he is dealing with a powerful king. Notice, he doesn’t think about Elisha or about God. The prophet Elisha hears the king’s response and sends a message to him, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (v8).

Naaman comes to Elisha in Samaria, the same city. Naaman, a mighty man of valour, stood at the door of Elisha’s house, a very humble house. He stood outside with chariots, servants and gifts. Instead of going out, Elisha sends a messenger (v10), telling Naaman to go and wash in the River Jordan 7 times, and he would be healed. Naaman was a very proud man; success had made him proud. He had expected to see Elisha. Instead of doing what Elisha told him to do, he travelled back to Syria, hundreds of miles away. He despises Israel and wants to wash in the rivers at home. God uses the servant (v13) who knows that because Naaman has been asked to do something so simplistic, he finds it insulting. He encourages him to do as the prophet says.

Naaman then travels to the River Jordan and dips himself 7 times. After the 7th occasion his flesh was restored, like that of a little child (v14). Not only did Naaman have physical cleansing, but he also had spiritual cleansing of his sins. The outward cleansing was pointing to a spiritual cleansing of the heart; his soul had been cleansed of its sins. How do we know? By the spiritual fruit we can see in his life (verses 15-18). He went back to Elisha and notice four things:

  1. He now has faith, “Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel,” (v.15). He believes the God of Israel is the true and only God. That’s faith!
  2. He wants to give a gift he has brought with him to Elisha. He feels great gratitude to Elisha, “So accept now a present from your servant.” (v.15). But Elisha refuses. He presses upon Elisha to receive the gift, but Elisha continues to refuse.
  3. Naaman wants to worship God and asks Elisha for two mule loads of earth so he can build an altar in Syria to offer burnt offerings, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.” (v17).
  4. Notice there is conviction of sin, “In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” (v18).

There was a great friendship between Naaman and the king. When the king went to worship Rimmon, the king would lean on him and Naaman would worship Rimmon too. Naaman says when he returns, he will bow down to Rimmon, not to worship, but in respect for the king. He asks Elisha for forgiveness for that, for God’s forgiveness. Elisha says, “Go in peace.”

We see the fruit. Naaman hasn’t just been cleansed physically, but also spiritually. Naaman has come to know God personally. Let’s apply this to ourselves. Have we each come to know God personally, the God of the Bible, the only God? Have we had a spiritual cleansing from God? Each of us needs forgiveness. Before God we are sinful. We need spiritual cleansing.

How do we have our sins washed away? There is a Jordan we need to wash in. We need to immerse ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to believe the gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2,000 years ago, in order that you and I could have spiritual cleansing, God came down to Earth as a man. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, He never sinned. He kept the commandments of God. On the cross He took all our sins upon Himself. He suffered the punishment of our sin, He suffered our hell, on the cross of Calvary. He shed His blood. He died paying that penalty. He was buried and on the third day God rose Him from the dead. That’s the Good News. That is what God did for me and you in order that we might have our sins cleansed.

But we have a responsibility – we have to believe that message. We have to believe each fact of the gospel – that Jesus is God’s Son, that He was sinless, that He kept the law, that He took our sin upon Himself, that he suffered our penalty, that He died, that he was risen from the dead. We have to believe that message.

We have to ask God to forgive us, to cleanse us, based on the work Jesus Christ did on the cross. When we believe that message, when we believe the gospel, and only then, God will forgive us our sins. God will wash our sins away through the blood of Jesus Christ. When we believe that message we become joined to Christ. We become a child of God and God comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit.  

When we believe this message God cleanses us from our sins. He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit. We come to know God, become a child of God. The Holy Spirit changes us and makes us more Christ-like, creating fruit in us – worship, praise of God, thanksgiving, conviction of sin and repentance. We don’t want to live the ways we used to live, we want to live the way God wants us to live.

When we leave this world God, through death or when Christ returns, He will take us to be with Him in heaven and with all the saints, for eternity. Have we gone to the Jordan? Have we believed the gospel? Have we believed in Jesus Christ?

September 19th 2021: John Mann

You may view this service on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/svsV6pckGeE

2 Kings 5:1-16: Naaman healed of leprosy.

Naaman was commander of the army of Syria. He was a great man in the eyes of his master, and highly regarded because through him, the Lord had given victory. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Here we have this picture of this great Syrian military commander, Naaman, who had won many victories and had received many accolades from his own king and from his peers. He was a man of great standing, of respect, probably of great wealth. He is serving Syria, a pagan country, a place of many gods but nevertheless a godless place, a country of ignorance, superstition and idol worship. Syria was a country that sought to further its own success and its own progress at the cost of others. It was a dark land of spiritual blindness.  Naaman served that country with great commitment, with great energy and with great determination. That is why he had risen to his position.

Despite all of his privileges, despite his position, despite his great power and his prominence, Naaman had a great and awful problem. He is afflicted with a serious, life-threatening condition. He is a leper, in days when leprosy had no cure.

As we look at this country of Syria, what does it remind you of? Well, I believe it presents a clear picture of our world today and our own nation today, with its many idols, religions, philosophies and gods. Syria was a place where the one, true, living God has been largely rejected and ignored. It was a godless place in many ways, a place that sought to promote its own success by its own philosophies and ideas. That is what sin has done to the nations of the world – turned God’s perfect creation into a ruined place of ugly rebellion and hatred.

In the eyes of his peers Naaman has everything that the world desires, everything that it holds dear, everything that 21st century Wales would long after – an impressive life, presence, charisma, wealth, success, authority, influence and position. But just like Naaman, they have a problem, a far more serious, not just life-threatening problem. A soul threating problem. Spiritual lepers afflicted with the disease of sin that will take not only their physical life but their eternal souls.

Naaman was a man of great power but he was absolutely powerless when it came to saving himself and taking away this awful disease that he was suffering from. So, it is true with those suffering this spiritual leprosy. Healing is outside our own hands, outside of our own power. There is nothing we can do to solve the problem of our sin in and of ourselves. The outcome is inevitable – spiritual and eternal death unless we can be saved from this awful disease.

What a sad picture Naaman presents. Apparently, he has everything the world desires but in reality, he has nothing of any lasting value and all that he does have will one day be taken from him. Apparently, the name Naaman means ‘beautiful, gracious, well-formed.’ In days when names that were given to children meant something, the likelihood is that he may well have been a handsome and striking man. But in time the ravages of leprosy would change that. His features would be eaten away. He would be left disfigured and decaying, an ugly sight, eventually an outcast of society.

Again, we have a picture of what sin does to us. People created in God’s image but yet disfigured, blemished, spoiled by this disease of sin. Outcasts from the presence of God who created us.

Verse 2 introduces us to a second person and the contrast between Naaman and this second person could not be greater – a captive a young girl from Israel who served Naaman’s wife. Naaman was fighting against Israel, God’s people. Naaman was a man who was at enmity with God, yet he was still under God’s control. God had given him the victory. From amongst the very people that Naaman was fighting against, the Israelites, a saviour is brought to heal him of his problems. That is the grace of God. By nature, we are at enmity with God. There was a time, certainly in my life and maybe in yours, when the Lord Jesus Christ meant nothing to you. I can say from my own experience that I was at enmity with God. Yet the one who I was at enmity with came to save me, to free me, to free all of us all. That’s the grace of God. God sent the very one we are opposing, against whom our rebellion is aimed, to be the one who will free us from sin and death.

Did you notice the great contrast between Naaman, this great man, this commander of notoriety, and this young, un-named, insignificant girl who possesses none of the privileges that Naaman had? She’s a servant girl at the beck and call of her masters, brought from the freedom of her homeland to a place of captivity. She may be even an orphan, maybe orphaned by the armies of Naaman himself. The biggest contrast between them is one that elevates this slave girl far above this commander of the armies of Syria; she knows and she trusts the God of Israel. This is an encouragement for us. I know I am nothing in the eyes of the world, but I know the living God. In His eyes I am His servant, I have been called and have the privilege to be used by Him. If you are trusting in the Lord Jesus, you are a servant of the living God, there to be a blessing and of use in God’s service.

In verse 3 we see that God uses this young girl. She says to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who was in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy.” God is working His sovereign purposes, not only in the life of Naaman, but also in the life of Israel and in the life of this young servant girl. In His grace and mercy, He is bringing these circumstances together to fulfil His own sovereign purpose. The Lord is ordering these events in accordance with His own will.

The people, as they were prone to do, were going through a period of apostasy and rebellion against God. Their disobedience has once again led them to be disciplined and judged by God. Discipline came at the hand of the Syrian army, led by Naaman. When we wander away from God, when we turn our backs upon His ways, God will use circumstances to discipline us, to show us the error of our ways, but always for good. Our God is good. When He disciplines us, it is with the purpose of drawing us back to Himself, to the place of blessing.

Naaman, the instrument in God’s hands, brought God’s punishment to the people of Israel. His mind is set on victory, serving his own nation. But as we read, God had used him, God had given him these victories. God is using even a pagan leader of the army for His own purposes, and ultimately for Naaman’s good. God has His hands upon this man, He’s drawing Him to Himself. This young, captive girl is placed in his household to serve Naaman’s wife. You may be passing through difficulties now, but you are being used by God to make you more dependent upon Him, to draw you ever closer to Him.

This young girl must have been experiencing grief, fear and anxiety. She’s been made captive. She may even have been asking the question, ‘Why is God allowing these things to happen to me?’ Yet it doesn’t prevent her from trusting God or telling others about the God she worships and serves. So, she stands firm and speaks confidently about the love and the power of her God. This young girl is very gracious and compassionate. Why should she show concern for the one who had dragged her away from her own land and made her a captive? Why desire good for one who had done so much ill? Well, it’s God’s grace working in her and through her. She is confident that God is more than able to deal with this situation that Naaman has found himself in. She doesn’t say the prophet might heal him, or it’s possible. Her words are, ‘If only he would go, he would heal him of his leprosy.’

Are we gracious, are we loving to those who may oppose us, who may criticise us, who make fun of us because of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we deal with them graciously and compassionately? Do we boldly and confidently tell them about the salvation that they can find in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we tell them that if you come to Christ, it is not a case that He might save you but that He will save you. ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

In verse 4 we see, perhaps, an even more amazing turn of events. Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. Can you believe it? This battle-hard, self-confident, powerful soldier is listening to the likes of this young servant girl. Why would he do that? Firstly, it is direct revelation from God Himself. Naaman’s mind is opened by the power of the Holy Spirit to respond to the witness of this young girl. The Lord Jesus Himself said, “No-one can come to the Father unless the Father who sent me, draws him.” Salvation is by grace. We have nothing to offer. It is all of His doing, all of His grace.

I wonder if they had already seen the peace of God is this young girl’s heart? I wonder if they had already heard testimony from her lips of other great things that God had done? That is how God most often chooses to work, isn’t it? Through the testimony of others, through His Word, by the hearing of God’s Word – whether through the preaching of the Word, or through the testimony of His people – that’s how others are drawn, through the Holy Spirit.

Then, the story begins to unfold. In verse 5 Naaman, in his search for healing, departs with cartloads of money and treasure, and a letter from his king, which almost commands the king of Israel to do something about this man’s leprosy. That’s quite amazing, in light of what leprosy was in those days. Naaman presents himself and his payment for services rendered. He goes to the very king that he’s been fighting against, the one who felt the full force of his power and authority. He seeks to buy him off with the gifts that he has to offer. He goes to a person who has no reason whatsoever to help him.

Sadly, that’s what many people do in their attempt, their search for a cure for spiritual leprosy. It’s how many people try to make themselves right with the eternal God. They go to Him with their offerings of good deeds: money to charity, money for the church, loaded down with commendable actions. They unwittingly try to buy off the God of creation that they might be made right with Him. They go to the eternal God who has no reason whatsoever to help them. He has no reason to help us, other than He is a God of love, a God of grace and a God of mercy. We have nothing to offer, we have no gifts.

Look at the king of Israel’s response in verse 7. Compare the king of Israel to this young servant girl. He is fearful, he doesn’t know what to do. He’s concerned for his own well-being. What a difference between someone who is walking closely with the Lord and this king who has turned his back on God’s ways. That’s where we find ourselves if we wander away from God, where our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not where it ought to be. We find ourselves fearful, anxious and afraid. Yet, when we are walking close with the Lord, then we are more like this young girl: gracious, bold and confident.

Thankfully for Naaman, help is at hand in the person of God’s prophet Elisha. Elisha makes himself known; he makes the first move so that Naaman will see the power of God. Then he waits for Naaman’s response. That’s what God says to all of us. That’s what God is saying to the nation of Wales. ‘I’m available. I’m willing to meet with you. I have made the first move. I have opened up the way for you to come. I sent My Son to die on Calvary, to take your place. Now, what’s your response? Will you come?’

In verse 9 we see Naaman does go. He turns up with all his finery, his wealth, his chariots, his entourage. But Elisha is unmoved. He is unimpressed. He doesn’t even get out of his chair to go to the door. I believe that Elisha is presenting a picture of God’s response to us if we turn up with all our own good deeds, and everything that we’ve done, everything that we’ve given. Can I say this reverently, when we do that, when we think that our own attributes will save us, God doesn’t even get out of His chair and go to the door. We cannot approach him because we are corrupted by our sin.

God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness are incompatible. God’s perfection excludes our imperfection. Because perfection cannot change, our imperfection, our leprosy, has to be removed before we meet with this great and glorious God.

Elisha makes another move. He sends his servant. That’s what God did, didn’t He? He sent His Son as a servant. He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Elisha sends his servant with this instruction, ‘Go wash yourself in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will be restored and you shall be clean.’ Now Naaman is unimpressed. You can imagine his reaction, ‘I beg your pardon, go and wash. Do you know who I am? I’m the leader of the armies in Syria. We have conquered many nations. Haven’t you and Elisha heard what I have done? He will meet me where I am, or he won’t meet me at all.’ That’s Naaman’s response. And Naaman, we read, went away angry.

We see his response and second great mistake – pride. How many people when hearing the gospel go away angry, indignant, ‘who are you calling me a sinner and telling me I need to be saved? Haven’t you heard what I have done, don’t you know me? I am as good as the next man.’ That’s the response of humankind. The problem is we are as good as the next man – we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. That’s our problem.

Paul writes to the Romans, ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’ Many people say to the eternal God today, ‘You accept me as I am, or I won’t come at all. God says, ‘Your way isn’t good enough. It’s my way – the way of humility. It’s my way of cleansing or you remain a spiritual leper.’ It’s God’s way or no way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

The Jordan River presents God’s way, that is cleansing by the power and in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Naaman wanted to reject the means that he was being given. What is he, at this point, turning his back on? The glorious blessing of eternal life where all pain and suffering will be taken away, where our sin will be dealt with forever (Revelation 21:3-4).

Verse 13. Naaman’s servants said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” Do you thank God for His servants that He sent and told you about the Lord Jesus Christ? Salvation is easy and straightforward, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.’ Naaman’s servant tell him to do as he says – wash and you will be clean. Thank God for those who came to you with the simplicity of the gospel and drew you towards the wonderful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, telling you, ‘You are not required to do anything, great or small. All you have to do is put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.’

Naaman is persuaded and he turns and dips himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him (verse 14). Complete obedience at last. He didn’t go and give himself once, or three times, or five times. Seven times he did it. We read his flesh was restored and became clean, like the flesh of a young child. Naaman left all of his offerings behind him, and he went in obedience to the man of God. He washed and he was cleansed. This is a picture of being born again in the Lord Jesus Christ. Washed. Cleansed. Made new. A new creation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Born again of the Spirit of God. It’s only when we are born again, cleansed in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, that we can know fellowship in God.

No-one can stand before God, or speak with Him, or know His forgiveness, or experience heaven until they have been washed clean. Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power, are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

September 12th 2021: Pete Hilder

Matthew 6:19-24

Everyone has opinions, whether it’s morals, politics, films, tv or books. We look for reviews, for holidays, purchases online. As Christians we are to review things, for example, at the end of the day in prayer, at the end of the year. Covid pauses us to review and reconsider our time and money, our commitment. There are all sorts of things we review and assess. Maybe we go to church and review the service over lunch or review the minister! But God has a different plan when we come to worship Him. He wants to review us, to assess us, to look at us and tell us about what He thinks. Maybe you’ve come this morning to have a look and see what you think. God has come and He is going to have a look at you and tell you what He thinks.

In this passage of scripture there are three pictures, three reviews or assessments, which God brings before you and which Jesus brought to the hearers of this sermon on the very first occasion, and He desires to do so again this morning.

There are three questions for each picture. He wants to know where you are, how you are and who you are living for.

The first review: Jesus, the doctor
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus is ready and waiting for us. He is the greatest doctor who wishes to review us and our health. He has a question for us. If you went to a doctor and he asked, ‘Where is your heart?’ you’d be worried! But our heart can be in many different places. Is your heart in a good place or a bad place? You can know because your heart is where your treasure us.

What is your treasure, your most prized possession? Is it your bank balance, job, status, family? Where do we spend our time and energy? Jesus is telling us there is a danger – our heart could be in the wrong place. There is a danger to us of hell, judgement, being destroyed. Dr. Jesus is concerned for physical and spiritual health. He identifies a couple of dangers for us. Your heart could be in a place of danger and destruction if it is placed in the wrong place. The other danger is our heart could be stolen. Jesus is offering us something different – placing our treasure in heaven.

Jesus has not lost one of those who have entrusted themselves to Him. He wants us to place our hearts in a safe place, in heaven, to entrust ourselves to Him. He is already preparing our inheritance. Jesus is 100% reliable and true. His concern is full and true. His way is a way of life to the full.

The second review: Jesus, the optician

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23).

This time we have the review of the optician. The greatest one who we need to see is Jesus, who is available at all times. How healthy are your eyes? Your heart is important but so are your eyes. That first time you need glasses, you put them on and you’re amazed. Suddenly the world opens back up again. The eye is the lamp of the body. It has great purpose – to shine light. Jesus says it is possible that your lamp is a lamp of darkness. We have many different ways that things enter us. We can be very careful about what we put into our mouth to eat.

How careful are you with what you let into your eyes? Are you filling your eyes with things which are darkness? God’s Word is a testimony of Him. The light of God’s Word is granted to you. God’s concern is so many of us are filling our lives with not seeing Him. So many are in darkness, they choose the darkness. You have a choice when you see an optician – whether to listen and act on what they say or not. Jesus, the optician, is perfect. He has seen the impact of those who reject Him (Genesis 3:6). Sin came into the world through the eye. The same happened with Lot’s wife; she looked back and longed for the world. Job made a covenant with his eyes.

God wants us to have life to the full. But without receiving Jesus Christ as Lord, we face the outcome of death. Solomon wrote, “The eye is not satisfied with seeing (Ecclesiastes 1:8). But Jesus contrasts those very words saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus wants us to enjoy the blessings which are there for those whose lives will be filled with light. What are you filling your life with? We should be filling our lives with Jesus. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8). Fill ourselves with these things, the gifts that are there for those who follow Him.

The third review: Visiting the Master
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24).

The thought of this puts a shudder down my spine. This is a picture of more than just your master in work. It is a 24/7 commitment. Who is your master? There are two but you can only have one – God or money and possessions. Materialism is one of the great ‘gods’ of our age. We find ourselves not living for God, the Master, but living for someone else.

A squirrel will be busy storing up treasure – nuts for what is to come. Winter. Imagine that a squirrel comes to your garden, bored with collecting nuts and instead collects pebbles to store. What happens when winter comes? He dies. He hasn’t followed his maker’s design. We have a winter – a time of judgement. Maybe the squirrel decides to collect nuts and pebbles. What happens when winter comes? He still dies! The first commandment states we are to have no other gods, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). These are testing words. Are our hearts wholly devoted to the Lord our God or are we storing up other treasures, serving other masters, filling our lives with darkness? God is not that cruel boss who is looking to pick all your faults. His concern is to bless us, to draw us back. We thank Him that He calls us back again. Jesus promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7). He calls us to build our life on the rock, to have life for eternity.

It is very interesting that the rest of Matthew 6 is about anxiety and worry. So often, when we are taken up the things of this world, we become anxious and worried. God has presented to us everything, the way to live, to have peace, to store up treasure in heaven. Jesus states it very clearly at the end of this chapter, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:32). Amen.

August 29th 2021: Phil Swann

Psalm 121

This is a ‘Song of Ascents,’ one of a group of psalms (psalms 120-134), clustered together. They are short and often extremely heart-warming. Some people say that these are an ascending series of ideas about God, which is an interesting theory. Others have suggested that the songs were written for pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem. Another idea is these psalms were part of temple worship in Jerusalem; a verse would be sung on one step, then they would go up a few more steps and sing another verse and stop, and so on. The truth is, we don’t know. What we do know is there’s truth to enable us to understand who God is, who we are and, most importantly, how we may know Him, and as a result of knowing Him, how we may live.

Psalm 121 is the most well-known psalm of ascent, often used in times of crisis. The word ‘help’ is used throughout. ‘Help’ is a word that needs no explanation; we all know what it means to ask for help. The Psalmist lifts his eyes to the hills as he thinks about the need for help in his life. There is interesting discussion as to what this means. Is it just a poetical phrase that I’m in a situation which is so overwhelming, my human resources have been so exhausted, and I’m looking to bigger things and higher places? Others have suggested that David’s thoughts are turning to Jerusalem. Mountains and Jerusalem often go together. What we certainly know is that David is not in a good place.

Where does my help come from? Maybe you have experienced times when you have asked a similar question. How am I going to get through this? Maybe there are times when you have felt overwhelmed and devastated by what is going on around us in life? This is no lightweight psalm. It is going to the heart of human experience. It is for those times when we are in need and genuinely out of our depth, during deeply unsettling times, having a devastating, horrible experience.

Even asking for help is a humbling experience. To ask for help is to acknowledge our need. There are experiences in life when God, in His providence, allows us to feel completely and totally out of our depth. They are painful experiences. David speaks words of deep testing and pain. Where does my help come from? They are words of desperation. God, in His providence and in His goodness, may allow us to experience such devastation so that we may see who He is more clearly, and experience His help and grace more deeply.

During the Pandemic, where, in the middle of it all, do you turn for help? Incidents of alcohol, smoking and Netflix subscriptions have increased during this time. It seems that these are often the ways of coping as we try to find ways of coping. Let me be bold this morning and ask you personally, ‘Where do you go to for help when you are overwhelmed?’

Wonderfully, this psalm invites us to turn to God for help. In verse 2 David’s testimony in the midst of his distress is that, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2). This is a wonderful statement. It is always the experience of the Christian, in that whatever difficulty they face, they are always able to turn and seek the help of their heavenly Father. Help is promised here to the Christian, and crucially it is help from the Lord. We care for one another, but here David speaks of specific help coming from the Lord.

This Psalm encourages us to explore who the Lord is. Many of the psalms do this. The very first psalm, which in a way is a template of how we should read the psalms, tells us “But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) For David, the phrase ‘The Lord,’ acts as a trigger to think and remember who the Lord is. Here, (Psalm 121:2) the Lord is described as the maker of heaven and earth. This is a recurring theme in many of these psalms of ascendance e.g., Psalm 124 and Psalm 134.

Interestingly, David could have written many things about the Lord, but why home in on this? He wants us to remember our helper is not weak, neither is His help something that we should doubt. We should have confidence in Him that He can help us. He is never threatened by the things that threaten us. He is the maker of heaven and earth. This speaks of His authority and power. The one whom we are invited to trust in is almighty.

If you are not a Christian, how do you discover who God is? When you look at scripture you are pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is both man and God. We see so much in Jesus. He is the one who has all wisdom – what a comfort that is when we are in need. We see in Jesus Christ one who has all compassion and mercy towards us as sinners. It is in Christ we see the reality of the love of God enduring forever as He is patient with us, even in our rebellion. His truth, love and power are seen ultimately in the greatest thing He did for us as sinners, in His death upon the cross and by His resurrection from the dead. We must stress His resurrection. For it is in that wonderful news that he was raised on the morning of the third day, that our confidence to seek help from God is made most clear.

This psalm points us to specific help. What is the help the Lord offers David and which David rejoices in and sings about in this psalm? There’s a word which dominated this psalm, ‘Watch.’ It is found in verses 3,4,5,7 and 8. The Lord continually watches over His people. This may seem a little intimidating; He knows everything about us. But the direction in which this psalm is going is one who is our carer and protector. Here, the news in this psalm is that God sees our lives, our distresses, and concerns, and He is watching over us, committing to us. He is Immanuel, God with us. He has come to us as one of us. He understands. Your life, with your troubles and distresses, as a child of God, matters to God.

If we try to limit God’s interest in us to the times when we mess up, we fail to do justice and we fail to be honest to the wonderful picture that scripture presents us of our Father in heaven (Luke 12, Psalm 17). God loves us and cares for us. This is not because we are special or better than others, it is because the Lord is good. He delights in us. He cares for us. He will not allow your life, as a Christian, to fall into absolute chaos. He is totally committed to you. He is the God who sees us, who will never neglect His care towards us. His commitment to you is total and enthusiastic. We may seek to support one another, but there are times when we fail and get tired. God never slumbers or sleeps. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, where you are, the Lord is always with you. He will keep you. The things in life we think can harm us most, illustrated here by the sun and the moon, cannot. The Lord sets a limit to which disaster touches our lives. Central to that limit is the news that we will not be overwhelmed.

This psalm, which brings rich encouragement and comfort to Christians over many generations, over many centuries, is offered to us today for our comfort and encouragement. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian, to know that the maker of heaven and earth is the one from whom our help ultimately comes. It is wonderful to know that He is always with us, He will never forget us and He will watch over our coming and our going, both now and evermore.

A Christian always has somewhere to turn. There is always an ear that is open. There is always a heart that is inclined towards them. There is always help. It’s a wonderful thing to be a Christian, to be found today in Jesus Christ, with access to the help of the maker of heaven and earth.

Are you a Christian? Is this help really your help? This is the help of the Christian. It is the comfort of the Christian. But are you a Christian today? You may be very little, very young, a lot older and a lot bigger, but it makes no difference. The invitation goes out repeatedly from scripture to us all. It is for us to come and put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, to become a disciple of Christ, a follower of Christ, and in coming to Him, to receive grace and mercy and love from God. Understand, that the one who sees your life, in all of its chaos, in all of its hypocrisy, in all of its needs and its fears and confusion, is the same one who invites you today to forgiveness, to life, to joy and to freedom in Jesus.

Where does your help come from in this uncertain and dangerous world? Do you feel yourself to be overwhelmed by life? Well, there is a God in heaven who is, indeed, the maker of heaven and earth, who cares profoundly and deeply for each one of us. In His Son, Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, offers us new life. He invites you and He invites me to come to Him today and to receive His help.