March 28th 2022: Ian Middlemist

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John 18:1-11

Jesus is in control. God is sovereign over everything that happens. He is not responsible for our evil. People are responsible for their sins, and they will face the judgements of God if they do not repent. At the same time, their evil deeds do not frustrate God’s plans. As the Early Church prayed in Acts 4:27-28, For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” 

God predestined the death of Jesus, but those who did it were also responsible for their terrible sin. We will not understand in our lifetime why God allows our sufferings. We know He will work all things together for good because He is sovereign, and He does love us. God’s sovereignty over this tragedy of the cross of Jesus is throughout John’s account of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The sovereignty of God is pre-eminent in John’s consciousness as he omits Jesus’ agonising prayer at Gethsemane. But John includes Jesus’ resolve to obey the Father’s will when He rebukes Peter (John 18:11). John also omits Jesus’ betrayal kiss. But he includes something other gospel writers omit; when the armed group came to Jesus, Jesus took the initiative in greeting His persecutors (v4). He was in control. Only John tells us when Jesus answers them, they all drew back and fell to the ground. The power and authority of Jesus! The overall impression that John brings to this narrative was that Jesus was in complete control of the arrest, the trial and His own crucifixion. Jesus was calmly in complete control in events leading up to His death. He was not a tragic victim, but rather the Good Shepherd who willingly laid down His life for His sheep.

We are going to see a number of characters.

Firstly, we see the self-condemnation of the opponents. Sometimes, when we look on the evil of the world you may wonder where is God in all of this? Here, in verse 3, you have the Jewish leaders, who should have welcomed their Messiah. Secondly, you have the betrayer under the influence of Satan himself, and the Roman military in all its might, representing the world-dominating Roman Empire. All are aligned against Jesus. All the evil powers of the darkness of this world coming against the humble, innocent, pure Messiah. From outward appearances they seem to triumph. But from God’s perspective, it is absolutely laughable to thwart God’s plans (Psalm 2).

Firstly, under this heading of opponents, are the religious authorities. They are filled with pride that demonstrates the sovereignty of Jesus in this account. During His three-year ministry the Pharisees and Scribes were Jesus’ main opponents. They knew the Old Testament, they heard Jesus’ teaching, they saw Jesus’ miracles. Of all people, they should have been worshipping Jesus and seen that He uniquely fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. But they not only rejected Him but stirred people against Him. They created a crowd to instigate an arrest, even to the point where they desired His cruel death.

Why? Jesus threatens their comfortable grip on power, they made a nice profit selling animals for sacrifices, they loved high places of honour (Matthew 23). All of that would be gone if their religiosity proved false. Also, Jesus confronted their root problem – their pride of their religious practices. They were fastidious about their cleanliness, keeping ceremoniously clean. They also thought their racial identity and practices secured a place in heaven. But Jesus showed them God looks at the heart. He is not interested in outward religious performances. God always looks at the heart. Religiosity – trusting in religion rather than trusting in Jesus, is always built on a system of work. It never deals the death-blow to pride. It is always trying to build up pride. They over-estimate their own goodness – their good works will out-weigh their shortcomings. But the Bible declares, “There is none righteous, no not one.” The second error of the Scribes and Pharisees and today’s religious is that they underestimate the absolute holiness of God.

Secondly, we see Judas, who is harbouring sin. This is the final appearance of Judas in John’s gospel. John describes Judas as privileged. He was numbered among the twelve disciples of Jesus (verse 2). A beautiful picture is painted of a special meeting place which the disciples, including Judas and Jesus, would often meet. What a privilege to have sat in the garden and listened to Him. Judas had seen and been a part of so much. He saw miracles, Lazarus raised from the dead. Here, in the garden, he saw that sudden flash of glory that threw them to the ground, including probably him. He has changed allegiance. He professed to know Christ but his deeds denied that he did.

Secondly, he is a thief! (John 12). He often pilfered money meant for the whole group. He kept much for himself. That greed led him to betray the Lord Jesus for 30 measly pieces of silver, which were utterly useless to him after he got them.

Thirdly, he stands with the opponents (verse 5), the enemies of Jesus, not with the elven others, his friends. They were at risk of arrest now. They were at risk of being killed because they were standing with Jesus. Whose side would you be on this that circumstance? Where would you stand?

Judas is now at greatest risk. He is at greatest risk of his soul. To stand with the world is to put your own soul at risk, to stand under the judgement of God. To stand with Jesus against the world is to face eternal security. It is so easy to fake being a Christian. When Jesus told His disciples at the Last Sipper that one of them would betray them, they didn’t have a clue who it was.

Thirdly, under the opponents who are at risk of judgement, is the Roman authorities, the Roman cohort who had joined the Jewish temple police. They all fall backwards, don’t they! When Jesus answered, ‘I am He,’ at that moment they all fall, like a mighty earthquake. They just cannot stand. Hundreds of fully-armed soldiers, strong men, fall flat kin the presence of the unarmed, humbled man, Jesus.

Jesus could have destroyed them all in that moment, taken their breath away. But He doesn’t. It is a reminder He is not just Jesus the Nazarene, He is God. It also reminds us His purpose is to save. How many times has God struck us down, only for us to stand up and just carry on? These three groups we have seen, just condemn themselves.

Secondly, another way the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrates His control over all that is happening here is the disciples who remain under Jesus’ care. Wonderful care. Back in John 17:12 Jesus says He has guarded them. Although preservation in 21:9 refers to keeping them from arrest, it also refers to keeping them spiritually.

Peter impetuously draws his sword and wildly swings it and chops Malachus’ ear off. Why is Malchus’ name mentioned? John is quite specific in naming the servant’s name as Malchus. I think it’s an indication that everyone knew this name. Malachus was on the Roman side? Peter, whilst he goes for Malchus’ head, would have split this guy’s head in two if Malchus hadn’t ducked.

Peter was a loyal and committed enough to try to defend Jesus. Hopeless odds. There was a Tsunami in front of him. His action stems from a mis-understanding for God’s purpose for Jesus going to the cross. Peter is trying to stop Jesus going to the cross, but he was wrong. Jesus has repeatedly told the disciples of His impending death. The Lord’s intervention to let the disciples go, shows Jesus keeps all of those of whom the Father has given Him (John 6). He intervenes for us. Jesus bore the penalty of our sin on our behalf. Having saved us, He keeps us. Despite our foolishness, our doubts, our lack of understanding, He so evidently has a strong grip on us. Even when we fail, His promise still holds. “I give them eternal life and they will never perish and np-one will be a le to snatch them from my hand.”

We have seen:
firstly, the rebels who oppose Jesus do not thwart His Lordship;
secondly, the disciples who fail Him are still under His protective care. Jesus is in control.

Thirdly, Jesus’ suffering achieves salvation for us, which shows us Jesus is in control. In the Garden, the first Adam succumbed to the tempters there. Here, in another garden, the second Adam triumphed over Satan’s desires and actions. Satan is now influencing and possessing Judas. On the surface, it looks as if Jesus is defeated but it is Satan who is being crushed. Jesus was being obedient to the divine plan (John 3:16).

Even though Jesus could have escaped, He deliberately went to the place where Judas and approximately 600 soldiers would find Him. Jesus was in complete control. ‘I am’ is a declaration of His divinity. Jesus is Lord God. He rebukes Peter for his attempted rescue because Jesus was resolved to drink the cup which the Father had given Him. Nothing took Him by surprise. He was in total control.

The cup (verse 11) was the cup of the Father’s wrath of His righteous anger against all ungodliness. It is the cup of wrath for our sins. The cup of wrath spoken of in Psalm 75:8. Because God is just and holy, the penalty for all sin must be paid for. It must be paid for either by us or by the God-appointed substitute. Because Jesus drank this cup for us, we don’t have to drink that cup of the wrath of God. Rather, we can drink another cup – the cup of His salvation spoken of in Psalm 116:30. The cup of love, the cup of atonement.

While Christ’s suffering was unique, an atoning sacrifice, we can learn about our suffering. Our suffering is only a cup, not an ocean. It is momentary. It is given by the Father who does us no wrong. Just as Jesus was in control, even around the events surrounding His own death, so he is Lord over every difficult circumstance that you may face. Even though you, like His disciples, love Him, we fail Him often, grievously. He still keeps us, and He is still protecting us. After our failures He restores us and uses us.

Inspite of rebels who oppose Him and disciples who fail Him, Jesus is still Lord over every situation, including His own death. He is Lord over the situation of our lives, so at all times we can really lout our trust in Him.

November 14th 2021: John Mann

1 Samuel 3:11 – 4:11

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1 Samuel 3:11 – 4:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 21st 2016: Matthew Maxwell-Carr (afternoon)

14087366_1740074836265878_270299574_oDuring our Sunday afternoon meeting Matthew Maxwell-Carr asked us to consider a fresh understanding of God’s sovereignty. We can be quick to say God is in control of everything. However, being a sovereign implies being a ruler. God is the supreme ruler and only monarch of the universe.

‘Wherefore David blessed the Lord before all the congregation: and David said, ‘Blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.’ 1 Chronicles 29:10-12

God is the supreme and only monarch of heaven and earth. Everything is under His authority. He lifts some up, He sets others down. Anyone in a position of authority should rule in God’s heart, everything belongs to God by right. In the New Testament He is called the King of Kings and Lord or Lords. There is only one King of Kings, one Lord of Lords, one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Being the supreme ruler, God is sovereign over everything that happens in this kingdom. He rules over all that happens. It is amazing how many people do not understand this. God created everything so He rules over everything. He is involved in everything.

‘He watereth the hills from His chambers, the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth.’ Psalm 104:13-14. We see it is God who brings forth the food for us.

Psalm 104: 27 reads ’These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. Thou givest them they gather; thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.’ All the animals of the world wait, it is God who provides for them, the Lord opens His hand and even those in the deepest depths of the sea have food. In verse 29 we are told all are thoroughly dependent on Him.

 Genesis 45 shows when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers who had sold him into slavery. We see Joseph’s love for his brothers. Verse 5 shows how Joseph attributes going into Egypt not to his brothers, but to God. ‘Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.’ And in verse 8, ‘So now it was not you that sent me thither, but God.’ This can be further illustrated in Genesis 50:18-20. God is in control of all aspects of our life. We must adopt a God-centred attitude to life. This is what Joseph did.

We read in Exodus 4 that Moses had been called by God to save the Israelites. Moses makes every excuse possible (verses 10-11). However, God is not having any of it! He’s the one who is in control and involved in everything.

2 Samuel 16 shows how God commanded David to be cursed. We don’t understand false accusations, but God allows it.

God is in control of everything, in every detail. Jesus ended up on the Cross because it was prophesied, ‘They pierced my hands and my feet.’ (Psalm 22:16). God created the greatest evil in humanity and turned it into good.

Ephesians 1:11 ‘In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.’ Paul’s theology is God uses everything in the universe so it conforms to the counsel of His own will.

Romans 8:28 ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.’ We have a confident knowledge!

Matthew 10:29-31 ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.’ Here Jesus picks something we see as worthless, insignificant – a sparrow. Yet not one sparrow moves outside of our Father. God is so involved in the life of every bird in this world but He cares for us so much more. Don’t be afraid, we are far more valuable. God is ultimately involved in even the most insignificant details in this world.