September 19th 2021: John Mann

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.

August 22nd 2021: Peter Gleave

Luke 9:10-17 ‘You Give them something to eat.’

This miracle is so important, so important that it is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Therefore, you and I really need to take note what Jesus wants us to learn from it. The disciples arrived back from their mission trip and come to Jesus to tell Him all about what they have been doing. It seems to have gone well. They preached the gospel, they healed the sick and they cast out demons. They’ve done the very thing that Jesus wanted them to do. Even Herod, the King, was stirred into wondering who this Jesus was.

When you and I go on mission, there’s a mission taking place this week here in this church, we are used by the Lord. Very often we’re on the mountaintop. We are really excited about what God has been doing and allowing us to be a part of. The disciples came back and reported to Jesus, very excited.

 Such times are often followed by tiredness. Many pastors taken Monday off because, having preached on Sunday, they get excited in the pulpit. After, they get tired physically, emotionally and spiritually and take Mondays off to rest. Jesus knew this and says, ‘We’re going to rest and recuperate. We’re going to get into a boat and we’re going to go to across the lake, to the north-eastern corner and we’re going to have a time of rest at Bethsaida. There’s a nice, quiet spot and we’ll have some time together.’

It is part of our mission, as we go out and do what Jesus wants us to do – sharing the gospel and meeting the needs of the people – there are times when you and I need to rest, relax and recuperate. As part of that resting, it is absolutely vital that we spend time with Jesus alone, that we spend time talking to Him in prayer, that we spend time reading His Word and allowing Him to speak to us. The psalmist reminds us, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ There are times when we need to be off mission and we need to be resting, relaxing and recuperating in God’s presence, prayer and studying His Word. To give out, it is necessary to take in.

Sadly, we can get stuck in either one of two extremes: some don’t rest from mission and they risk burning out, some do nothing but rest from mission and risk missing out. Neither extreme is right, neither extreme is good for us. We need to get the balance right and ask ourselves, ‘Have I got the balance right between mission, and resting and recuperating, spending time with Jesus?’

Jesus and His disciples landed. They got to the shore and pulled up. The disciples were getting out of the boat and already there was a crowd of people there. The crowd had heard about Jesus. They were running from village to village around the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. By the time Jesus and the disciples got there, there was a huge crowd waiting for Jesus, wanting to know more about what He was talking about. They got people who were ill and wanted Him to heal them. They had heard all about what he had been doing, they wanted to know more about Him. The disciples too had been out, and no doubt the word had spread even further. People were, no doubt, excited about what the disciples had said and so they wanted to know more about this Jesus.

I wonder, what would you do with such a great opportunity? You’ve gone off to rest and relax and suddenly there’s a great crowd there. What would you do? Would you perhaps send them away? Would you, maybe, wait for another day?

In verse 11 we find that Jesus welcomed them. He spoke the gospel to them. He told them how He could make a difference in their life. He also healed those who needed healing. Jesus did exactly what he had sent His disciples out to do: twofold ministry – to share the gospel and to meet people’s needs.

We are called to do exactly the same. Imagine, if you sat in your garden, resting and relaxing, and 890 people came to you needing to hear about Jesus. They bring with them all their physical problems, their cancers, their difficulties, their debt, their incurable diseases, their depression, their anxieties, their addictions, their guilt of past sins.

If you live in Roch, that’s pretty much the reality of the situation you’re in. Because, on your doorstep there are 890 people in Roch in need of hearing about Jesus. I’m pretty sure that every one of those 890 people will, at some time, have a physical need that they need help with. Do you send them away or do what Jesus did and meet their needs?

Over the last eighteen months, Covid has caused a lot of people to ask questions about what life is all about. Many are affected by it physically and spiritually. People don’t want the isolation anymore. Young people are depressed because they can’t go out and live life as they want to. Families are suffering economically because the loss of work and furlough and all sorts of different things. Of course, 2,000 years ago there was no NHS on the shores of Galilee. There were great physical needs in that crowd, alongside the spiritual needs that they come to Jesus with. I want to suggest to you that very often, if we can meet the physical need of somebody, we get the opportunity to share the gospel and meet their spiritual needs as well.

So, do you continue to sit chilling in the garden, or do you prepare to do something about the 890 people on your doorstep? How do we get the balance right between not resting from mission and risking burnout, and doing nothing but rest from mission and risking missing out? Ask yourselves, when was the last time you met the physical needs of someone in Roch? When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone in Roch? If it’s been a while, maybe you’re at one extreme, spending too much time resting and relaxing. When was the last time you went along and spent time with Jesus alone? When was the last time you purposely spent time with Him reading the scriptures and talking with Him? If it’s such a while since that happened, then maybe you’re doing too much of mission and not spending enough time with Jesus.

I know we have all got family responsibilities, we’ve got work, we’ve got leisure time to include, but Jesus sent out these disciples with a great urgency. There is an important imperative for you and I to include these things in our daily lives. Jesus has commissioned us to go out urgently with the gospel, to meet people’s needs and to share the truth about Him. It has got to take priority in our daily lives.

I’m going to suggest to you the answer to the balance problem is that every day we should be spending time with Jesus alone, and every day we should be spending time meeting the needs of people in our villages and in our homes and around us, sharing the gospel with them and meeting their physical needs. If we do that, we’re probably going to get the balance right.

Jesus ministered for a while out there. The people came with all their diseases, and it was there He met their needs. In the late afternoon the disciples wanted to send the crowd away; they were in a remote place with no food. At first, it might seem reasonable. But did they really think Jesus didn’t already know they were in a remote place, or not know the people’s needs? Did they not realise that Jesus knew the vast crowd was likely to get hungry? Had they forgotten that it was Jesus who had given them authority and the power to go out in the first place, to share the gospel and to heal people? If they thought this through, they must have realised that Jesus, the Son of God, who they had witnessed do other miracles, would in fact, be able to meet the needs of this great crowd.

Maybe you think in a similar way of the 890 people on your doorstep? Maybe your response is similar to the disciples? Maybe it’s a practical, thoughtful response – we can’t meet the needs of 890 people when we have only got a few members? We’ll pray that the Lord sends along some more workers and then we’ll go and do it? Or maybe you’re tired and weary and think, ‘Well, they’ll still be there next week, or next year.’

Whatever the disciple thought, they probably weren’t expecting the reply that Jesus gave them. This is what He said, “You give them something to eat.” In the Bible, the Greek emphasis is on the word ‘You.’ Having this practical mindset, the disciples started to respond to Jesus’ command. They found a boy with five loaves and two fish and told Jesus. They said, ‘We could go and buy some food.’ Philip calculated that if they were going to go and buy food, it would have taken eight months wages, and all they would have got was a bite, which was hardly worth having.

They had completely forgotten the mission they had been on and reported back to Jesus earlier that day. Let’s not be too hard on them. The disciples had had seen Jesus heal individual people but never witnessed a miracle they were about to see. Let’s not forget how like them we are. Sometimes we forget the blessings we’ve experienced and where they come from. We forget that God has blessed us in the past in our churches. We forget that 199 years ago this church was planted in a village where there was no church. After nearly two hundred years, the work has been ongoing.

We forget God has been meeting our needs week in, week out, throughout our lives, both as individuals and as a church. Consequently, we turn to ourselves for answers. Friends, Jesus knows the scale of the problems. He knows the issues that you’re facing. He knows all the issues for you personally and you as a church. Jesus has the power and authority to give you what you need to feed 890 people in Roch. You, yes you, give them something to eat. When we don’t look to Jesus and start to look inwardly, we become inadequate and ineffective. We need to remind ourselves that when we work in Jesus’ authority, miracles can happen. God’s kingdom can be built here in Roch.

This miracle has its roots in the Old Testament – when God rescued His people from Egypt, out of captivity, and took them to the wilderness. There, where there was no food and no water, He fed them daily for a long time. Never once did He let them down.

God’s chosen people had their needs met every day. Now Jesus was going to do exactly the same for this for 5000+. He was also going to meet the two-fold need of the disciples: spiritually, He was going to remind the disciples of who He was and physically He was going to feed the twelve of them too, as well as all the thousands of people who were there. God is a God of provision. On this day, at a remote place, Jesus was going to identify Himself as God. He was going to remind those of a Jewish ancestry to look back and see how God had provided for His people in the desert and how He, too, today, was going to do the same thing. Jesus was going to remind them that He is one with God. He was going to provide their daily food, right there, right then.

What God has done before, God can do again. What God has done before in Roch, He can do again. What God has done before in your life, in your church, God can do again. It doesn’t rely on you, it relies on your willingness to give what you have. You may feel as if you’ve only five loaves and two fish, and nothing else to give. But what Jesus wants is for you to give your all. He wants you to give yourself. He wants you to commit your time, your talent and your treasure to Him. He wants you to give all to Him.

The Lord wants you to give what you have, to yield what you have. We may feel that we don’t have the resources to meet 890 people’s needs. The truth is, we don’t. But God does. He simply wants you to surrender all you have to Him, which, of course, He gave you in the first place. Your time, your talent, your treasure is only what God gave you in the first place, and He wants to take it and to use it.

When the disciples had surrendered to Jesus all that they have, in the Master’s hands it became something much more. Picture the scene: He organised the people into groups of 50, sitting on fertile land. In front of all, He takes what was there, five loaves and two fish, and looks up to heaven, give thanks and breaks the bread. In looking up and giving thanks to God, Jesus acknowledges the source of power, God Himself. When we look up, when we give thanks, when we acknowledge the source of power and authority by which we do the work of God, we don’t look inwardly. Look up.

Jesus kept breaking the bread and the fish, and He kept on giving it out. He distributed it to the disciples. They gathered round and they went on to give them something to eat. You give them something to eat. He kept on giving and He kept on giving. From these five loaves and two fish He just kept on multiplying.

Jesus could have done this entirely on His own, but He chose to involve the disciples in this miracle. In exactly the same way, in His kindness, He chooses to involve us in mission. Why? Simply so that we can experience the joy of service for the King of Kings, so that we can learn the lesson that the disciples did about trusting in the Almighty, and about the power of Jesus in meeting the needs of the people.

There is enough in the gospel for every one of the 890 people who live in Roch village. Jesus died for every single one of them. His blood is sufficient to cleanse and to save them all. God has already shown that He is prepared to give His power and His authority to you, for you to be able to give them something to eat. What He wants is for you to surrender all.

Whatever this church needs to reach 890 people, God will provide – workers, a pastor, finance, skills, talents, abilities, youth work, even an extension to the building. God already knows what the needs are, He knows what the issues are. He has the means to more than meet them. What He wants is for you, yes you, to give them something to eat. He doesn’t want our excuses, He doesn’t want what we don’t have, He doesn’t want us to be burned out, He doesn’t want us to be missing out. He wants what you do have. No matter how small in your eyes, He wants it willingly, completely, unreservedly given to Him.

There’s an opportunity this week. There’s a mission taking place in your church, doing the very thing we’ve talked about. Support it. Pray for it. Get involved. Do whatever you have to do to reach those children in this community, starting tomorrow. Apart from that, you’ve your own mission, spending time everyday looking for opportunities to meet someone’s physical need and their spiritual need, but equally spending time with God alone in order that you can do that.

This is your 200th year of service of your church in this village. I want to set you a challenge. Just think about this for a moment. Think of your 200th anniversary next year. Just imagine if every one of you brought one other person to Christ as their Saviour. The church would be doubled in size by this time next year. There’s a challenge for you – to go and evangelise and try and point people to Jesus; every man, woman and child in this community.

Imagine 890 people on your doorstep, grouped together in the street. Imagine going to them with the bread of life, knocking on their door to show them and to tell them about your love for them and about the love of the Saviour for them, how you want to meet their physical needs, and then getting the opportunity to meet their spiritual needs and tell them why you are doing it – because you love them because the Saviour loves them. He wants them to have life in all its fullness and that He is more than able to meet all their needs in this life and the next. Imagine, it happens so often that you’re bringing people to know Jesus into this church on a regular basis, to the extent that you have to start a building programme to make the church even bigger. It’s entirely possible.

Make sure you balance your time right, spending time with Him. Make sure you spend your time right by speaking to people about the gospel, meeting their physical needs. Don’t send them away. Keep going. Give all that you have. You, yes you, give them something to eat.

August 15th 2021: James Gleave

Luke 9:1-9 ‘Take Nothing for the Journey.’

As we have read Luke chapter 9, there is a lot to think about as we consider our own personal mission. John Wooden’s famous quote reminds us that ‘failure to prepare is preparing to fail.’ It is a quote that athletes plaster all over social media, alongside photos and videos of intense training. Preparation for a task is undeniably really important. Alexander Graham Bell knew this really well when he said, ‘Preparation is the key to success.’

When I think about what it means to be prepared, I think about making sure all the right things are packed, that I have got everything with me that I need to be well-prepared for a wide range of potential situations. For example, prior to driving down here on this holiday, I spent time counting out my T shirts and my socks. I made sure I was appropriately stocked for the duration of my stay. A few weeks ago, when I was camping in the Lake District, preparation involved making sure that me and my friend had means of storing clean water and cooking the food that we were going to buy. It meant making sure that we had a good mix of clothes, so we were prepared whatever the weather was going to do during our time there.

So, when I read these first few verses of Luke chapter 9, and this command to ‘Take nothing with you for the journey,’ it doesn’t sit well with the way that I’ve come to prepare things. In fact, one thing I do every time I go anywhere, whether it’s for a weekend or a week, is pack at least one extra shirt. So how are we to understand and interpret this morning’s command ‘to take nothing with us for the journey’ and what does it mean practically for us today?

The command, ‘Take nothing for the journey,’ as you might expect, is not quite as black and white as it might seem. Because whilst not taking the physical items that you and I might consider essential with them, the disciples do take some really important things with them as they start out on this mission for Jesus. We are going to look at each of them in turn this morning. We’re going to think about how they had companionship, command and calling with them, all of them provided by God Himself.

Firstly then, companionship. Jesus calls the 12 together. This band of brothers who follow Jesus and support His ministry, know each other just about as well as anyone else on the planet. They are, in essence, a little church family of believers all gathered together around the love of God.

Companionship is incredibly important, isn’t it? It is something that lots of us have found very difficult in the last 18 months with the isolation and separation from other people. We are social creatures, and for the most part we enjoy being around people and having relationships with other people. This is true across all aspects of our lives and is certainly true when it comes to our faith. We enjoy being around like-minded people. It makes exercising our faith more comfortable. It’s one of the reasons that things like Christian Unions are so important because it gives opportunity for like-minded people to come together to support each other.

In Mark we also read the same story that we read in Luke chapter 9. But Mark records it in chapter 6 in a bit more detail. He tells us that after Jesus brought the disciples together, He actually sent them out two by two. Jesus, the master teacher, is also a pioneer of that never-failing ‘buddy system. Jesus knows the value of companionship. The value of this companionship is to be a sense of support for the disciples as they set off on this mission. Not many people would understand the disciples mission that Jesus is sending them on. I think we could all agree that it’s a unique one, especially in the context of the time that the disciples lived in, or perhaps more so today. Most people, in the culture of the disciples, got up every morning, put on their sandals and their cloak and they go out to fish or to work on a farm, or perhaps to craft something. I dare say very few get up of a morning to go and witness the raising of the dead, for example, which the disciples had just done earlier in Luke.

This principle still rings true today. Not many people in 2021 in the UK, get up of a morning with a calling to share the message of a guy who walked around 2000 years ago as the Son of God. Not many people in the UK in 2021 believe in life after death, resurrection, miracles, the power of prayer or the significance of prophecy. The list goes on and on. But as we gather here today, there are people who have experienced these things and who share these beliefs.

As a result, it is imperative that we have a sense of companionship and a spirit of togetherness with our brothers and sisters in Christ, because when our ministry is difficult, or when it attracts the wrong sort of attention – as it did for the disciples towards the end of the passage that we read this morning – it’s our Christian family who will be there to relate to us, to understand us, and to empathise with us in a way that other people simple can’t. As a result, this can be a great source of strength, blessing and encouragement to us.

The other benefit of this companionship that the disciples took with them on this mission is that it gives them an opportunity to demonstrate the love that they have for each other as evidence of their discipleship. As they walk around through these villages, ministering and talking, they also have the chance through this companionship to love each other as Jesus of taught them. In doing so, they provide a practical, visual example of the transformative power of the gospel.

I really love thinking about Christian companionship in this way because I can often be quite quick to see church family and Christian companionship as good for being a means to support and encouragement, but I’m less quick to see it as an opportunity to show the difference that Jesus has made in my life. I think it’s something that would certainly serve me well to begin making a conscious effort to demonstrate the love that God has for me in the way that I interact with my Christian brothers and sisters, so that my way of life, as well as my message, are more attractive to those who don’t yet know Jesus for themselves.

You can imagine that the disciples go out on this mission, there will be times when the right physical preparation and the right practical arrangements won’t be nearly as important to them as knowing that they have someone with them to help maximise each unique opportunity, and make sure that their ministry is most effective and supported.

 So, having been brought together by Jesus so that they can take companionship with them, they are then bestowed with command, all power and authority, as it is described in the NIV. It says that they are given power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases. Having seen Jesus heal people who simply touched His cloak, having witnessed the raising of a young girl from the dead, the disciples will have known full well significance of this power that they have been given.

 I think there’s something in that for us to take hold if this morning. You see in our experience as Christians, as we have walked with God through various aspects of our lives, we will know, just as the disciples did, the power and authority that Jesus has. We have seen it in a variety of ways, at different times. When these moments come in our lives, where God sends us out in his power to do something for Him, we need to know to look back on our lived experience of the power of God, in order to have full confidence it, and full understanding of the sovereignty of God. The disciples know what is possible because they have spent time Jesus, learning from Him and seeing what He can do.

Now, as they are sent off into the world, this knowledge and experience which is the combination of their faith and the basis of their confidence, the disciples knew that they were being asked in their own strength was impossible. Perhaps this morning God is asking something of you which seems impossible? But when we go out in God’s strength and God’s power, as the disciples did, we know that all things are possible.

There’s something else significant about the example we see here of God’s power being bestowed upon the disciples. That is, it was specific. What I mean by this can be explained by briefly looking forward to verse 40 of Luke chapter 9. When a man asked the disciples to heal a demon possessed boy, they could not drive it out. What we see from this is that the provision of power and authority given to the disciples in verse 1 of chapter 9 is for a specific purpose. God equips them with all they need for this particular mission. The same may well be true in our experience; when God is asking you to do something for Him you can count on whatever power and authority you need, when you need it. You can count on God to be with you just enough time to carry out specific tasks that He is asking you to do. I think the significance of this is that the disciples can be left in no doubt that what they are doing is through God, and that they have to keep returning to God, to keep relying on Him for anything and everything they need to serve in each new avenue of service that they come across.

Charles Spurgeon once said that without the Spirit of God we can do nothing, we are ships without the wind, branches without sap and like coals without fire, we are useless. This is something that the disciple will surely have realised as they have this power and authority for this specific mission.

So, having been equipped with companionship and command, the disciples then received their calling in verse 2. This calling comes with some conditions. We’ve already referenced the fact they’re commanded to take nothing with them, not even an extra shirt. They are instead to rely on God and His provision through the good nature of the people whose towns they are going to visit.

They are told in verse 4 that whatever house they enter, they should stay there until they leave that town. I wonder how many villagers cottoned on to what was going on with the disciples, and pretended not to be in when they came knocking so as not to be the ones in the village left with these unexpected house guests, with no definitive departure date? Perhaps that’s just the cynic in me. In reality, we can assume that God was at work preparing the hearts of the necessary people and placing them in the disciples’ path at the right time, so that they were unhindered in their mission.

The command to stay in whatever house they entered was also significant; it prevented the disciples from going around looking for better accommodation. They weren’t to go around looking for five-star, all-inclusive hotels. This, combined with the instruction to live simply, i.e., to take no extra shirt, no bread, no money, no bag, meant the disciples would not be with the travelling people who were out to make money unscrupulously. In fact, they were to go out of their way on this mission to avoid any criticism for making money out of their work. As we witness for God, it’s important that we too are easily distinguishable from others around us, and conduct ourselves in such a way as to minimise the risk of any criticism which may distract from the message of hope that we take with us.

Peter writes in the New Testament, ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.’ Perhaps it’s in these moments in Luke Chapter 9 when Peter begins to understand the significance of this as he and his fellow disciples make every effort to be exemplary in their conduct, so as to bring glory to God and win people round to God in the message that they are sharing.

Another more detailed instruction for this mission arrives in verse five. The disciples are told that if people do not welcome them, they should leave the town, shaking the dust off their feet as they go. Whilst they might not have definitive departure date, they certainly weren’t hanging around. There’s a real sense of urgency in this instruction that the disciples receive. I don’t know about you, but it makes me sit up and take notice. You see, urgency is something that I often really struggle with. I get complacent thinking that I’m relatively young and perhaps not in the greatest hurry to share the gospel with everyone that I meet as soon as I meet them. But perhaps I would do well to take something in the spirit of this mission and apply it to my own.

 I think in our culture, as Christians, we are relatively good at being polite, sometimes too polite. We hate the thought of offending somebody. Perhaps, sometimes that makes us a little bit over cautious so as to avoid any risk of doing so. The disciples were not afforded such a luxury. They are told that if they are not welcome, to shake the dust off their feet and leave. It’s a symbolic way washing their hands and responsibility, saying that they’ve done all they can and, basically they should waste any more time on people who don’t want to hear the message, when there are other people who haven’t the chance to hear for themselves.

I’m not suggesting we have quite the same cut-throat approach to our evangelism here and now. I think it’s clear that there were specific time constraints on the disciples which necessitated a more blunt style of mission. I think we’re very fortunate today to have opportunity to build relationships with people and adopt a more long-term approach as we seek to share the gospel.

But just because we don’t have the same time constraints at the disciples had, doesn’t mean that we don’t have any at all. On the contrary, we must be aware that our time on this earth and with the people around us is limited. Our opportunities to share the good news with those around us are numbered. We must seek to strike a healthy balance between urgency and gentleness in our mission, so as to ensure that we can shake the dust off our feet, confident that we’ve taken our message of hope and good news to everyone that God needed us too. As Robert Moffat once said, ‘We’ll have all eternity to celebrate our victories but only one short hour before sunset to win them.’

So then, the disciples set off with very little in the way of physical comforts or belongings but with everything that they needed for the mission. They are joined together and sent out with command, representing God and loving and supporting one another as they do so. They are relatively unhindered by the burdens and the stresses of having to be practically and physically prepared. They are not slowed down by the discouragement of those who reject the message, but rather, in obedience they continued to press on as Jesus had commanded them to.

Bear Grylls once said, ‘Pack the right skills and the right attitude and you won’t need much else.’ The disciples took with them an attitude of faith and trust, packing the knowledge and the skills for this mission that they’ve learned from Jesus Himself. They went on without need for much else besides.

The impact of their mission was far reaching. Not only were people physically healed and able to hear the good news, but as we read, the impact of the mission reached Herod the tetrarch himself, the man responsible for killing John the Baptist. He’s understandably confused by the claims that John has been raised from the dead. His attempts to stop the spread of this message have certainly not worked. In fact, there are now more people spreading the good news, reaching more people, performing more miracles. The disciples’ attitude of faith and the way that they have been preparing with Jesus, has allowed God to achieve some truly incredible things. And as we know, this is only the beginning.

June 27th 2021: Paul Daniel

2 Timothy 1:1-14

We live in an age of influence. There are more and more celebrities who have an impact on what people do. We are bombarded with advertisements and Youtube channels. Influencers can drive us; they can change the way we look and how we talk. Influencers can change the way we shop. If influencers haven’t got Jesus as king of their lives, it’s going to distract you. This past year we have seen a change in the way we have been influenced. It’s been complicated. We want things to be better than before.

As Christians we need to be thankful of those who have influenced us. Paul is writing to Timothy and reminded him of the influence of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. This morning we should be utterly thankful to those who have influenced us. Paul, in prison, is writing to Timothy in Ephesus. Paul is reminding Timothy as he goes forward, of what he needs to be influenced by, of what is going to shape his ministry in the church and the future. Today we hear so many voices, like the voice of the government. If you listen to too many voices, it becomes confusing. This letter to Timothy is really helpful for us; it has key doctrines of what must always be at the heart of our Christianity.

This letter reminds us of the impact of the Spirit of God. In verse seven we read, “For God gave us a spirit not to fear but of power and love and self-control.” As we have seen this week, the media can break a family, a relationship, in one single image on the front cover. But God sees and hears everything. He can reduce everyone’s lives in a moment, but he doesn’t. He offers his grace. The Holy Spirit brings new life. Our life begins to change. He moulds us to be more Christ-like. His spirit helps as to apply and understand God’s words. We’ve been bought by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and called to live for him.

The beginning of verse 8 reads, Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” We are called not to be ashamed, not to be worried about what others think of us. All of us are sinners. We need to be saved by grace. We are reminded in verse nine that it is God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”  There are somethings none of us can do or be able to do, that only God can do. God alone is the one who can rescue us from the Kingdom of darkness and bring us into the Kingdom of light. We can explore the universe and go to the ends of it, but we will never be able to save ourselves from the sting of death. The gift of God is eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of God makes it possible to be made right with God.

As we start to rebuild churches and ministries, what are we then to do? To declare that God alone can do what we can never do. In verse 10 we read it is ourSaviour, Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Jesus Christ has destroyed death. He says in John 14 :6, “I am the way and the truth and the life no one comes to the father except through me.” Friends, are you reminded of that soul single truth this morning? Jesus Christ alone can destroy death.

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

We have to remember what Jesus Christ has destroyed. If you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, when He calls you home or returns, you are free. Why are we here this morning? To gather and worship God. But we are also here for a purpose, we are here to serve. What is God calling you to do? In what ways is God calling you to serve? Paul is writing to Timothy from prison, he is serving his life out in prison. Timothy is living life in Ephesus where people were trying to distract the church. We live in a fallen world, and we are called to serve in a fallen world. There are challenging times ahead. It is the Spirit who empowers us.

Verses 11 and 12 say, “I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I’m convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” Paul makes it clear that contentment requires effort. We have been called by God to live lives that are holy. We are also to be ready to give a defence for the hope that is within us. To have Christian contentment, remember God is with us in all things and in all times.

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith aunt love that are in Christ Jesus. by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

June 6th 2021: Johnny Raine

Revelation 4

“How dare you!” says another student teenager from Sweden to the most powerful leaders around. She carries on, “People are suffering, people are dying, systems and entire eco systems are collapsing. We are in the beginnings of a mass extinction.” What about the group known as Extinction Rebellion, who are actually having a protest this week at the G7 summit? Their website says this, “We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on earth is in crisis. Scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown and are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.” Now, I don’t want to minimise the importance of looking after the environment, caring for animals, keeping the oceans clean and reducing our emissions across the world. All that is important, all of that is vital and is part of God’s first great mission for us in Genesis chapter one, the very first chapter of the Bible. But what are we to make of this kind of talk that we’re in a crisis, that the whole world is in a crisis, that we’re on the brink of a collapse?

If you were to operate with the mindset of this world, that this is all there is, then we probably have a reason to be very concerned, perhaps even hysterical. But the Christian worldview should take a different view to this. In fact, the biblical mindset should actually heighten our concern for environmental issues, but it should do so with less of a hysterical attitude, less panic and less fear. This is not just about environmental issues, this is about many other things as well; we think of nuclear weapons and the potential for global war, we can think about the way there is such tension in the world that we live in, so much polarised opinions about what is right and what is wrong. We can even think, as we’re all too aware, and seeing your masked faces today, about the Pandemic. Should we be hysterical, should we be concerned that we’re on the brink of collapse because of Covid 19? Well, we’ve got Revelation 4 to help us here.

For the churches of the 1st century, as this was written to them, were facing all kinds of issues themselves. But when you look at chapters two and three, for example, there are all kinds of issues in these seven historical churches: there was a church that needed to recover its primary love, a church that needed to cling on in light of the suffering that was about to come their way, there was a church that needed to watch out they didn’t compromise with the world, a church that needed to bring back some spiritual life because they were all but dead. There’s one that needs strength in their weaknesses because there were some of their community that were trying to get rid of them. There’s a church that needed to stop being so self-sufficient in their wealth.

There are churches facing all of these kinds of issues today around the world but also here in the UK. We might think that if there are churches facing all these issues today, churches that are compromised, churches that are as good as dead, churches that are faithful under great suffering and persecution, is there a hope for the future? Can we adapt the words Extinction Rebellion and say this about the church, ‘We are facing an unprecedented global ecclesiastical emergency, the church on earth is in crisis.’ Theologians and missiologists agree that we have entered a period of abrupt ecclesiastical breakdown, or we are in the midst of a mass extinction as Christians of our own making. So, our planet in crisis, our health system is in crisis, the church is in crisis. Shall we ramp up the fear? At the risk of giving the game away far too early, the answer is ‘No.’ But why is that?  Well, you’d have to read the whole of the book of Revelation to find that out, because that’s what the rest of the book is essentially about. But for this chapter today, what we need is a vision of the sovereign Lord, the God who is in control of everything.

You are probably familiar with the book of Acts which tells the story of how churches spread across the world in the 1st century up until the 60s. In many ways, Revelation is a retelling of the history of the Church, of the church in the 1st century, but from a very different angle.

We are given a heavenly perspective of what is going on. We see that clearly in the first verse here. John sees this door in heaven and he’s invited to go into heaven and see what is going on, what is going on behind the scenes and what will take place. He is in the spirit (in verse two) and he enters into this continuing vision that actually began in chapter one of Revelation. He goes right into the most sacred part of heaven, the very throne room of God. The immediate focus as he gets into the throne room of God is, of course, on God Himself. He is the one who is sat on the throne, He is the one who sits in the position of sovereign rule over all things. Imagine if you were in John’s shoes – you went into the throne room of heaven. Perhaps one of the first questions you might ask is, ‘What does God look like?’

Whatever image of God is presented in the Bible, we are never shown a direct image of God. We don’t see Him directly. We are given indirect allusions to His appearance. That’s because the core truth of who God is, is that we cannot look at Him and live. He, in His Holiness and brilliance, is so awesome that if we saw a direct image of God, or even if we conceived of a direct image of God, we would melt before Him because we are mortal, fallible creatures.

One vision of God that this chapter particularly refers to and draws on, is the material from Ezekiel. It is one of those books that we perhaps struggle with and perhaps don’t spend too much time reading. But it’s a wonderful book. In Ezekiel chapter one Ezekiel is given a clear vision of who God is. It’s just an amazing image. So, Revelation here particularly draws on Ezekiel chapter one.

Ezekiel sees the throne of God and as Ezekiel spends time describing what is going on, he describes what goes on around the throne of God rather than describing the One who sits on the throne. Ezekiel says, “Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (Ezekiel 1:25-27).  

He’s describing what goes on around the throne rather than One who is on the throne. So back in Revelation chapter 4 verse three you have John saying that God’s appearance is like all of these precious gems. His appearance is something like Jasper, a ruby which has very bright, luminous colours as it reflects and refracts light and spreads and shines it out.  Surrounding Him was the full spectrum of colour, so that the whole rainbow is encircling the throne. Also referred to in Revelation chapter 1, there’s a rainbow there as well, but somehow this rainbow looks like a shining emerald, just part of the contrasts that go on in Revelation, things that can’t quite square up in in our understanding.

So, where it is the fieriness of Ezekiel, with a bright glowing metal that looks like there is fire there, or whether it is John seeing these beautiful gems that are there before him, shimmering and sparkling, the point is that the any image of God is just far too overwhelming, and brilliant and bright, awe-invoking. But that’s all we are given because we can’t see God Himself. Using the brightest, most colourful, most wonderful things that we’ve got in this world of gems and fire, that is all we can muster up to describe God. Actually Ezekiel, at the end of chapter one, says, This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”

John is not seeing the Lord, he is not even seeing His glory, he is not even seeing the likeness of His glory. He is seeing the appearance of the likeness of His glory – that’s four times removed from a direct image of God. So even these visions of God in the Bible, even this vision of God in Revelation chapter one, there is barely a hint of the wonderful appearance of God Himself.

So then John, having given us a hint of the appearance of God, then moves on to describe who else is in the throne room of God. So, he begins in verse four with these 24 thrones, along with these 24 thrones are 24 elders, every one dressed in white, gold crowns on their heads. Wonderful imagery. White clothing, as we may know, is the picture of God’s people in purity. Crowns represent the victory of having kept faithful to God throughout their lives, having reached the end of the goal of their faith.

I think these 24 beings, these heavenly elders, represent the fullness of the church, both before and after Jesus. Before Jesus came, we had 12 tribes of Israel. In Jesus’s time and beyond we have 12 apostles who are the foundation of the church. Simple maths, 12 and 12 is 24. It’s something that crops up throughout the whole Book of Revelation. So, you’ve got these representatives of the whole of the church, both before and after Jesus. They are then representing us before God in the throne room of God, which is wonderful.

But then the drama ramps up from here. From the throne comes these flashes of lightning. There are rumbles or possibly shouts and then you’ve got these peals of thunder. I’m sure you all remember when we’ve had a dark, stormy night and been woken up by a thunderstorm. Perhaps you’ve seen either flashes of lightning or heard the distant rumble of thunder? It can be fearful. These thunderstorms in heaven, around the throne room of God, are there to invoke a sense of awe within us.

Then, because this throne room is the temple, it needs a few temple artefacts. In fact, Hebrews tells us that the earthly temple in the Old Testament was actually modelled on the heavenly temple. So here we have some of the objects that were in the Old Testament temple of God. We’ve got the lampstand, which is the next thing to capture John’s attention, the sevenfold lampstand. And that is, as we are told, to represent the 7 spirits of God (by the way, that’s not to say there are seven Holy Spirits of God. The number seven is simply used that to show completeness and perfectness of the Holy Spirit). Then you have this sea of glass that was like crystal.

But then there’s one last thing that captures John’s attention – and they are very weird. You’ve got these four living creatures who were introduced to us at the end of verse six. We are first told that they are around the throne of God. They have eyes all over them, even under their wings, which is pretty strange to think about. It just means they see everything, I think. They have six wings. The first creature is like a lion, the second one is like an ox, the next one has a face like a man and the fourth is like a flying eagle. Those four creatures are the four pinnacles of their territory: the lion is the king of beasts, the ox is the strongest of all of the domesticated animals, the human is the ruler of all the creatures and the eagle is the king of the sky.

The number four is used to talk about geographic completeness: north, south, east and west. We have four creatures covering the entirety of the earth. So I think these four living creatures represent all of the creatures from all across the world, from all different animal kinds, including the human beings and pets.

 As we allude back to Ezekiel, these living creatures are mentioned in Ezekiel chapter 1 – four of them again, except they are slightly different. It tells us in Ezekiel chapter 1 that that all of these creatures have four faces,Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body.” (Ezekiel 1: 10-11)

So, they are a little bit different in Ezekiel, but nevertheless it’s the same kind of creature representing all creatures before God’s throne. It’s just overwhelming, isn’t it? To think about these creatures with their faces, with their wings, their eyes all over them.

Now so far everything seen is pretty much in static. It’s as if you put on the film in Revelation but you’ve put it in pause and all you see is this static image with the exception, perhaps, of the lightning that needs to move, doesn’t it. Everything else hasn’t needed to be in motion yet. So, it’s come on in pause and we’ve yet to press play. But because it’s being paused we’ve been able to glance at every detail that is on the screen. So, we’ve been given a hint of the One who’s at the centre of it all. The Sovereign Lord rules from His throne in His brilliance and in His splendour. In accord with His brilliance we have glimpsed all of the brilliance going on around Him: the temple, the 24 elders on the throne that represent the entirety of church, the four living creatures that represent all creative beings. So we had a glimpse of it all. But what are we to make all this so far?

I think one thing is for us to recognise that God is so unapproachable, He’s so incomprehensible, He is so unseeable. We could never grasp the entirety of God. He is far beyond our reach – and that’s not least because of our limited brain. We don’t have the capacity to fully grasp Him because of the limitedness of our brain but also the limitlessness of God because He is beyond limit, so it is impossible for us to grasp it. But it’s also because His brilliance emanates from His holiness; His brilliant shines out of His Holiness. When we compare ourselves to him in His Holiness, we are nothing. We see our imperfectness, we see our sinfulness, we see all of our flaws before this holy and perfect God. It’s because of that that we can’t fully grasp God. For us, trying to approach God and trying to understand Him in our sinfulness is a bit like a refuse worker or someone who collects the rubbish coming straight from work and trying to get into a fancy, Michelin star restaurant, dressed in their work clothes and not had a shower. They will be refused entry. It’s like us trying to grasp God in our simpleness and His holiness.

If we tried to grasp God in our simpleness, if we tried to enter His presence as flawed as we are, then we would simply melt before Him. He is so perfect, especially compared to us. On one hand God is far beyond our grasp and yet He is also not completely unknowable. John, in his vision, doesn’t have nothing of God, he’s able to grasp something of Him. That’s because he’s been invited up. He has seen something and so we too should be able to recognise how privileged we are to know something about God.

The Bible tells us that everyone knows something about God just by looking at the world around us. What a good thing that is for God to give us this world, to look at it and see He is powerful, He’s made everything, He is eternal and stands above the creation. Jesus had invited John to see something of who God is. He has shown us who the Father is. When we look to Jesus we are privileged to see something of who God is. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Well, to finish up our time in chapter 4, as we’ve seen everything in pause so far, we need to press play. At the end of verse eight we are told what these living creatures say. It’s put in several Bibles as a quoted section, formatted slightly differently so it stands out. They say “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!”

They don’t just say it once, they don’t just sing that at the top of their voices once and think ‘We’ve done with that now, we’ve said it don’t need to say it again.’ No, they never stop saying it. In fact, day and night they say it over and over again. It’s not just them saying something here; whenever they say, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!” it is almost like a starting pistol for the 24 elders, who then respond by doing something and saying something.

So whenever they hear that phrase, they then respond by bowing down before God, they take off their crowns and put them in front of God, and they say (which is seen in verse 11 and is also formatted differently), “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

But no sooner had the 24 elders finished saying that, finished bowing down, then saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” then the four-legged creatures will say their bit again, and as soon as they finish saying “… by your will they existed and were created,” then you’ve got for living creatures, who once again say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!” 

What happens when they say that? Well, that triggers the 24 elders again to bow down before God, cast their crowns before Him and say, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” And so it goes on – back to the living creatures, back to the elders, in this constant cycle of praise as they recognise who God is.

But when we look at those things they tell us a few things about God that are important for us to hang onto. It tells us He’s absolutely holy – that’s why they say it three times, to really emphasise that He’s absolutely holy, that He’s the Lord God Almighty, that He’s eternal, that He is worthy of praise, that He deserves recognition and esteem and authority. Everything that is and everything that continues to exist is by His will. He’s made everything in the first place, and He keeps everything going. Therefore, He is worthy of worship.

So, from all this, we see that God deserves our perpetual worship. He deserves all of the perpetual worship that ever there could be. He deserves that worship to go on forever and ever. He deserves one choir to declare His unique being, only for another choir to declare His sovereign worth. He deserves it! He deserves our worship.

 Do you ever find it repetitive coming to church every week? You come week after week. We do the same thing week in, week out – a slightly different hymn, slightly different reading, a different preacher this week to last week. We’re doing the same thing over and over again. Do we ever find it repetitive? Maybe we do, but that’s because of our sinful nature, that’s because of our flaws.

But God he deserves our praise. Perhaps you find it hard coming in these in these times we’re  living in, with these restrictions? You hate wearing masks? I hate wearing masks, I hate that we can’t sing, that we’re not supposed to talk to each other too long at the end of service. These are frustrating times. Perhaps it makes our repeated worship, week in week out, even harder to do. But God is worthy of it. He deserves our worship and He deserves it to be done over and over and over again. And after all, if God is, as we have said, beyond our full grasp, then we will never be able to declare the fullness of who He is. We will never be able to tell Him fully how amazing He is.

Coming week by week and telling Him something a little bit different each week, something a little bit more of God’s glorious splendour each week, will build up into this big picture of who God is and how He deserves our worship. We need to remember that every time we gather in worship, when we spend time throughout the week, morning, evening, reading your Bible and praying, that God is worthy of our repeated worship everyday of our lives. And when we do that, when we read the Bible on our own and pray, when we gather each Sunday and worship, we’re joining in the perpetual worship of heaven. As the temple of God is meeting, even right now, we’re joining in their worship. Our worship started at 10:30 a.m. this morning but we joined in what was already going on in heaven. Revelation 4 is always going on in heaven. We are simply joining in this morning. He deserves our worship. He deserves us to join Him and declare His work.

So, as we began, is the world going to end? Are we on the edge of collapse? Are we in danger of mass extinction? Is the natural order about to cease to exist? Are humans going to be wiped out by Coronavirus? Well, we need not be fearful. Everything that exists is by God’s control, by His sovereign hand. It will not cease to exist except for Him allowing it to stop. It is by God’s will that anything exists, and it is by His will that we, as humans, and every other creature on this Earth, continues to have their being. It is by His will. We see He is the sovereign Lord who is on the throne of heaven, who is in control of all things, who holds all things His hands. He is unapproachable yet He has revealed Himself to us and He is worthy of all of our worship.

May 23rd 2021: Gareth Edwards

Esther chapter one

The first chapter of Esther is so relevant to our situation today. Hebrew Ahasuerus.  His Hebrew Persian title is Xerxes. For the purpose of this sermon he will be referred to as Xerxes.

This scripture is so relevant to our situation today. Esther is one of two books in the Old Testament that actually never mentions God. The other is the Song of Songs. But it would be wrong to think that this book of Esther is just a book of history. The fact that God’s name is not mentioned is deliberate because the message of the book of Esther is this: behind the scenes of life lies the unseen God whose hand controls the movement of individuals and empires. God is not directly mentioned. Why? Because the message is although God is not acknowledged and is unnamed, He’s clearly there. His will is sovereign, and His will and sovereign purpose is being worked out.

Here we are in an age of pandemic. How many people have thought about God? People believe He’s a God who is not relevant; our trust is in science, in SAGE, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. The government says we’re following the science, it doesn’t say we’re following God. We live in an age when the church of Christ is struggling in some lands. Perhaps, even as Christians, we are tempted to say, ‘Where is the God of the revivals of Welsh history? Where is the God of times past of salvation of large numbers of people? Perhaps, as individuals, there may be circumstances in our lives when we ask ‘Where are you God, have you abandoned me? I see no evidence of your presence.’ The message of the book of Esther is that God is at work, constantly accomplishing His will and purpose. He’s at work in and through the pandemic, He’s at work in and through the church and He’s at work in and through the life of His people.

The opening two chapters introduce us to the main characters. In chapter two we see Esther, her cousin Mordecai and the ‘baddie’ in the story, Haman. Esther is going to placed on the throne alongside King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) to be the instrument by which God saves His people, the Jews, from annihilation, and therefore assures that the line of the Messiah continues and Jesus is born to be Saviour of the world.

But before chapter two we have a look at chapter one, where the other main character is introduced to us, King Xerxes. Xerxes the First, son of Darius the First, who ruled over the Persian Empire from 486 – 485 B.C. He is presented to us in this chapter as the master of all of the civilised world, as his kingdom stretches from India in the East to modern day Ethiopia in the West, a kingdom that was organised into 127 provinces. He is now in the third year of his reign.

From history, we know that he has just successfully put down a rebellion in Egypt and is now turning his attention to Greece. His ambition is to conquer and subjugate the Greek world. He gathers together his commanders and all of the chief of officials of the various provinces to come to his palace in Susa, the capital, to plan the attack on Greece. The Persians believed in mixing business and pleasure and so the occasion of the planning of the campaign is elongated by many feasts. After about six months the preparations have been made, a plan has been drawn up and so the time is being drawn to a close by a great feast. Herodotus, a Greek historian of the period, says that Xerxes was going to raise the largest naval and land force the world had ever seen, numbering 2.6 million men. A huge, huge military operation. Having planned it all out, there was now this great climatic feast.

It was held in the opulent luxury of Xerxes’ palace, which was tastefully decorated for the occasion. It was a fitting backdrop to this display of his royal liberality. Xerxes provides abundantly for his guests, no expense spared. He is magnanimous; there are people from different cultures, different backgrounds with different attitudes. Protocol would be that if the king drinks everyone else drinks. But Xerxes is not going to force people to drink, he allows them to follow their own customs. Here he is, this great king, commanding a vast army, ruling over the greatest empire, fabulously wealthy, but he’s not going to force people to follow what he does.

The man sits upon the throne with total dominion over many nations, with absolute authority. But we know from history all of this went to his head. One of his royal palaces had this inscription written on its foundation stone, “I am Xerxes, the great King, the only King. The King of all countries that speaks all kinds of languages. The king of this big and far-reaching earth.’ But what Xerxes failed to see is that there is a greater King. There is a greater King who dictates the course of Xerxes’ life and the course of his empire. The great, unseen, almighty God who, for His own purposes, raises up Xerxes. The rulers and leaders of the nations feel themselves important. They have their trappings and power and authority. But it is God who appoints governments of all descriptions (Romans 13:1-2). We are to give due regard to those whom God appoints. But we must also expect them to realise that they are answerable to God. They will have to stand one day before their Creator and give an account of themselves, as all men will.

As we look at this man Xerxes I am reminded of another King who has all power and authority, the one before whom every knee must ultimately bow, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Xerxes felt he was the ultimate power. But ultimate authority is given by God to only one, His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He always uses His power for the good of His people. Xerxes could be generous to a point but King Jesus, who has the wealth of all creation, His generosity is boundless. He pours out grace upon grace upon those He loves.

Here is a king who provides a regular banquet, a great and glorious feast. No banquet on earth is like it. Xerxes threw a great banquet, but nothing compares to the great banquet our King regularly provides for us – the Lord’s Supper. Here we feast upon Him. It’s a love feast for pardoned sinners, whatever their status in human society. The bread and the wine are the symbols of His broken body and His outpoured blood, all for the sake of our salvation. This banquet is the foretaste of the great eternal, never-ending banquet in glory to come.

King Jesus eclipses Xerxes. What a blessing it is to be Jesus’s subjects. Nothing compares. We see Xerxes as a powerful king but then we see Xerxes sees as a drunken king, as frail as all men. On the last day of this feast we find him in high spirits from wine. It impairs his judgement. He commands Queen Vashti to appear before him and his men. He wants them to be impressed by her beauty, he wants them to acknowledge that he is the one with the most beautiful wife in the world. He wants his officials to admire her regal beauty.

But such a request was degrading for Vashti. It was an affront. Vashti was also giving a great feast for women because that was the norm. The women and the men did not mix on these occasions. It was regarded as being wrong for women, particularly women of importance, to be involved in these male-only booze-ups. So, when Vashti is commanded to come, she refuses. She is not going to be belittled in this way. She is not going to be subjected to this demeaning behaviour. Whether she was wise to refuse is a matter for debate, but it is wrong that she was commanded.  Here is, perhaps, one of the most telling examples in scripture of drinking to excess. It is said that Joseph Stalin seldom drank himself, but always plied his visitors liberally with alcohol! He knew that when they were drunk they would let slip secrets.

All men are sinful and subject to the same temptations, therefore, all are equally under God’s judgement. All are equally in need of salvation through Jesus Christ, the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown There is no greater place of equality than before the law of God and the cross of Christ. We are living in an age that speaks of inclusivity and equality. Well, there is inclusivity, there is equality. Not found in the ways the people of our day think, but found before the law of God. We are all included. Everyone. On exactly the same basis, exactly the same level – as sinners. There is no-one righteous, no, not one. That is equality before the Lord of God, for all are condemned. There is wonderful inclusivity in the Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what gender, social class or race we are, no one is more saved than anyone else, no one has a greater place in the Kingdom of God than anybody else. Here is true inclusivity. That’s the true meaning of conversion.

The Bible, and the New Testament especially, warns of the dangers of alcohol (Ephesians 5:18). We must never put ourselves in a position where something or someone else has control over us, where we succumb to another influence. We are to be Jesus’ alone.

Finally, we see a furious King. Vashti’s refusal sends Xerxes into a rage. He’s no longer proud of his Queen’s beauty, instead he’s irate. He calls together his seven closest advisors, men who aren’t concerned to see justice done. They think if Vashti gets away with it, what about their wives?  And so they counsel that Vashti be disposed and Xerxes finds another queen. This Xerxes readily does.

Interestingly, at the start of chapter 2, Xerxes begins to regret this, but at this point he’s going to teach her a lesson. He doesn’t acknowledge his own guilt. He would have been better apologising. He sees Vashti’s refusal as an affront, but of course this lays the groundwork for Esther to become queen – Esther the Jewess, the one who at the telling moment is going to announce to Xerxes that it her people that Haman wants to destroy, that she is a Jewess. In that moment God is going to use Esther to overturn Haman’s plan and ensure the safety of the Jews, and therefore of the line of the Messiah, that the Saviour of the world might be born. That doesn’t mean that what Xerxes did was all right. But God worked though Xerxes’ bad temper and drunkenness. God is at work God bringing about the circumstances whereby Esther will be placed in that most significant position.

We’re all like Xerxes; we find it easier to be angry with someone else than acknowledge our own sinful faults. So, we asked that the Lord gives us grace to see our faults first. How thankful we are that our King will never lose His temper, despite our disobedience. He deals patiently with us.

We may deserve to lose our salvation, but we never will because God is faithful. Our king has given us a counsellor who always advises us – the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). He will never flatterer us but will always tell us what we need to know – the truth that sets us free. In Xerxes we see an all-powerful king who seccumbs to drink and a furious rage. But it is God who is at work. God, through all of this, will ensure the great King will come, King Jesus, the one whose rule is righteous and true, the one who rules for the good of His people. His love always ensures they are safe in eternal salvation. He loves them and guides them by the Holy Spirit and ensures they will always be co-heirs in the Kingdom. What a joy to be subjects of King Jesus. What a comfort to know God has ordained all things. May God be praised!

February 9th 2020: Alan Davison

Alan Davison-Feb2020Titus 3:4-8

The doctrine of regeneration.

We glory in the fact we are redeemed, justified before God because of what Christ has done. When Christ rose, He rose to a new quality of life. He was transformed. He earned this for us too (Ephesians 2:5-6). This is what we will experience. By coming to faith we’re made spiritually dead to the world. Our spirit has been renewed (Colossians 3:1-2). We still have to deal with the same bodies, the same weaknesses and sicknesses, but we’re to seek heavenly things. The power used to raise Christ from the dead is the same power He uses to sustain us. If we try to do something in our own strength it is like going in second gear. We need to surrender to God, to truly trust in God, not our limitations (Ephesians 1:19-20).

When we fully trust in God He infuses every aspect of our lives. This starts with regeneration – it is only of God. Its impact upon our lives should be ongoing and obvious.

  • Regeneration is a work of God alone.

The life of faith is initiated by God (John 1:13). When we are born again all three persons of the Trinity are involved. It is the Father who initiated our faith (James 1:17-18, 1 Peter 1:3). The Resurrection of our Saviour is the means used to obtain our regeneration. Our rebirth is of the Spirit (John 3:8).

He has raised us spiritually from death to life, to the realities of the spiritual realm. It is mysterious to us. We don’t understand it but we still give thanks. Scripture tells us God’s ways are not our ways.

Whilst regeneration is of the Spirit, it should affect every aspect of our life (2 Corinthians 5:17). I still have the same physical body but it now serves God. God’s salvation is holistic, it saves the whole person. Our bodies are a creation of God, originally described as ‘very good.’ Regeneration – God has done it all

  • Regeneration comes before saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Once regenerated we come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God has to work that in our hearts. We know that the faith we have can ebb and flow, but regeneration is from God (John 6:44, John 6:65).

Acts 16:14 is an example of this working out. God acted on Lydia’s heart so she would respond positively to Paul’s call. But the reverse can also be true (1 Corinthians 2:13-14).

Look for evidence to see if someone is regenerated. From the moment we realise we have been saved, we have a desire to read the Scriptures, a need to pray. We seek a meaningful ongoing relationship with God. God has done this and will not revoke it. God wants us to build upon the regenerated heart He has given us.

  • Regeneration is confirmed by a changed life.

It is an ongoing process fed by sanctification. The power of sin that used to be in our lives is no longer present. While sin continues to hamper us, God’s seed is in us. We penitently confess our sins, asking God to change us – we must have God’s help to do so.

We are a daily witness as we seek to put others first, not ourselves. Not to do this is to take on the world’s attitudes. (1 John 5:3-4). God has won the victory for us. Since we are regenerated we have overcome the world in God’s strength. Regeneration will protect us from Satan (1 John 5:18). Satan will bicker at us but God won’t let him succeed, He won’t let Satan pull us out of His grasp. Satan whispers doubts in our ears, but the fact you are grieving shows God at work in your life.

Regeneration is something we can depend upon as we live our lives (Galatians 5). The fruit of the Spirit should be nurtured. It is not a check list but character traits we will see as an ongoing basis in our lives.

Jesus tells us what He expects from our lives – fruit in the people we become. He looks at what we will become, not what we’ve done.

December 29th 2019: Ian Middlemist

Ian-December 29th 2019“Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me,” (John 8:42)

Some gifts can be received in a way we did not expect. The giving of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, did not go the way we expected. Not everyone loves Jesus. There are those who militantly oppose Him and His name. His name has been used blasphemously. We see acts of great kindness but then His name is dishonoured. His name is also used blasphemously in anger. Also, there are those who claim to know and worship Jesus yet they do not know Him at all.

The Saviour often offended people by His words. In today’s reading, John 8:31-59, Jesus spoke to people who professed to believe in God. They argued their corner and said they were free men. Jesus’ response goes further in explaining they were slaves to sin. Only the Son could set them free. He goes further still; they desired to kill Him because they were children of the Devil. They responded by calling Christ a demon-possessed Samaritan! We need to critically hear that message at Christmas, New Year, Easter, Summer, Autumn and Winter to come – the message of our plight before God, of our sinfulness and God’s provision for salvation. It is a message many will find hard to hear. Light has come into the world. We live in the darkness. However, Christ did say that true children of God will love Him (John 8:42, Ephesians 6:24).

All who reject God’s Son will be rejected by Him. “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22). Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you able to say, ‘I do!’ Does He mean everything to you? Yes He does. Jesus is mine and I love Him! You may rejoice in who He is, yet you do not see Him. You know what He has done in your soul, that heaven’s beloved one, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, came into this world to die on a cross, to give of Himself for me. I love Him! True children of God love Him as their greatest desire. We love Jesus more than we love any other. We love His commandments (John 14). This is the kind of love we have for Jesus Christ.

Psalm 110, we bow before Him, we submit to Him because we love Him. Our very lives are not as dear to us as the love we have for Jesus Christ. We put Him first. Jesus Christ came into this world to be loved by His people who He had redeemed.

Why should we love Him? The purpose of Christmas is to respond to the love of Jesus Christ. If we have failed to do this then we are wasting our time and have missed the point of Christmas. If today you do not love Him it has all been a waste of time. My plea is to look back again at the incarnation afresh – the Son coming into the world. Why? What is all the fuss about? Pray God will help you be a lover of Him. We love Jesus Christ. He came from the Father, from God. The man who walked on the shores of Galilee is the incarnate Son of God. The Son was always in the bosom of the Father, such was the intimacy of love and affection. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Tri-unity of God. He is not saying He is the Father, but He is in the Father. Even as the eternal Son came into the world, He could say ‘I am in the Father.’ So any child of God loves Jesus Christ because we love the Father.

We love Jesus Christ because He does the Father’s will. Such was His willingness, he was ready to do the Father’s will. There was never any doubt He would obey His Father. His purpose was to go to the cross, to feel and experience the Father’s wrath, His righteous anger poured out on Him. And we love Him for that.

We know how easy it is to argue, even in the most committed marriages, but Jesus is pure and holy, 100% of the time, always committed to doing the Father’s will. This teaches us also to be submissive, in our prayers to do the Father’s will.

It is important to notice we struggle with the will of God in our lives. Our daily attitude is to admit it – we struggle with the will of God. Ask God to help to see the wonder and beauty of His purposes.

We love Jesus Christ because the Father sent Him to save sinners. The Father has called you to joys that will last forever. The Father wants you to be happy. How greatly the Father loves us. We did not love Him yet the Father sent the Son to rescue us. He first loved us, “We love because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). Do you know that? Do you know your security and safety is not dependant on loving Him right now? He doesn’t love you because of that, not because you love Him – He first loved you.

When people receive a great gift, when the great reveal takes place, people say ‘Oh, I love it!’ There is great enthusiasm and passion for a gift. May our enthusiasm expand, may it grow and increase for the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s pray for us to become more dedicated in serving our wonderful Saviour.