March 30th 2018: Good Friday: Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards - March 18“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

During the Crucifixion Jesus gave seven sayings, which were not merely random words to what was happening. It was a commentary about the meaning and purpose of His death. This saying, the middle of the seven sayings, is perhaps the most revealing. It’s a cry that is awesome. It should fill our souls with a sense of dread. It is power, it is poignant – the cry of dereliction as the Lord suffers the punishment of our sin. It’s a cry that deifies all definition, a moment between God the Father and God the Son, a cry of the Son of God in His human nature as He experiences the wrath of God against our sin.

Sin and Judgement:
The cry tells us the Saviour really suffered at the hand of His fate as he bore the judgement for our sins. Three hours prior to this cry darkness covered the land from noon to 3 p.m. (Matthew 27:45). The sun is normally at its height, yet darkness engulfed Jerusalem. This was prophesied in Amos 8:9 many centuries before, ‘”And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”’  Darkness is a symbol of judgement (Isaiah 5:30, 60:2, 2 Peter 2:17). The darkness of that day tells us that the wrath of God is being poured out on His Son for our sin. This is the only time ever that God the Father turned His back on His Son for our sins.  The torment of Jesus wasn’t just physical. What no-one else ever endured was the agony of eternal judgement griping the soul and drawing it into the deepest darkness of hellish pain.

The reality of judgement is God loved no-one more than He loved His only begotten Son. Divine love continued when the Son added to His divine nature and became man. God does not hold back on pouring His judgement on His Son. That terror engulfs all who die without faith in Christ. This judgement will be visited upon our sins one way or another. If we have not yet come to know Jesus Christ as our Saviour, then the terror expressed by Jesus is a terror we will know. Sin is a terrible offence. Such is its evil in the sight of God that our sin could not be forgiven until God the Father unleashed all the horror of hell against His Son.

Substitute of Atonement:
Jesus here is our substitute, taking our place, becoming us and taking liability for us. He suffered for us, He died in our place. He became us as He bore our sins. He does not address His Father in His usual way as He now stands in our place, fully identifying with us, as He cries, “My God.” He atones for our sins. He pays the penalty for our wrong doing. We are the perpetrators deserving of God’s judgement. Jesus steps in and bares that judgement. For those dreadful hours God saw Jesus not as His Son, but saw Him as being you and me. He poured out upon Him the punishment for us. Justice is satisfied and mercy is made available to us. He dies specifically taking my punishment in His love for me. It is an illogical love. Why should He love me so? In my sin I am a hideous, deformed creature, deserving nothing but the implementation of God’s wrath against me. Yet, Jesus loved me so and substituted Himself, takes my judgement, atones for my sin. What a price it was! What a payment was made! An infinite payment! We simply cannot begin to understand what it cost the Lord Jesus Christ to hang upon that cross. No words in all the languages can express what it meant. What a Saviour He is. He willingly took our place. That’s why it’s Good Friday.

A cry of hope and joy:
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Although this is a cry of dereliction, it is also a cry of hope and joy. These words were written many centuries before the crucifixion, in Psalm 22, a prophetic psalm which speaks of the sufferings of the coming Messiah. It gives a detailed, graphic description of crucifixion – before crucifixion was perfected by the Romans. It is a psalm that looks forward to the events of Calvary. Jesus uses this psalm as a commentary on His own death. He is now experiencing what Psalm 22 prophesied. But Psalm 22 ends in hope and joy. It is a psalm that speaks of the Messiah not only in suffering but also in triumph. The Saviour confidently knows that He would not be abandoned forever and will triumph and know the joy of resurrection. He knew this as He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). He knew He would arise again. He told His disciples this three times. He knows that as He endures the suffering of agony of body and soul, it is the way to triumph, to hope, to joy.

It is a cry of dereliction but it is not a cry of defeat. Here lies hope and joy for each one of us. What hope have you got in the face of death? What joy can there possibly be when confronted with the reality of judgement, what hope is there in death? That Jesus Christ died and paid in full the price for our sin, thereby affording to each one of us forgiveness, allowing us to experience the mercy of God’s love and triumph over death. A sure and certain hope that in Jesus Christ our sins have been forgiven. God the Father, having judged Him, can no longer judge us for that sin. The joy – being reconciled with God if we come and trust in Jesus Christ. There is no other way for us to return to God, to enjoy fellowship with God. The only thing that can bring true joy is knowing God. So it is Good Friday.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This saying is central to what forgiveness means. It teaches us the reality of our sin and God’s judgement, but it assures us that atonement is made. Jesus, as our substitute, takes our place, bore our guilt so hope and joy is ours. May it be our personal understanding of what it all means and may this fill us with love for Christ and joy in our salvation.

 

December 31st 2017: Reverend Dr. Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards Dec17

How should a believer celebrate the coming of a New Year?

We shouldn’t celebrate in the way others do – with drunken revelry. Is there a particular Christian way of marking the beginning of a new year?

The Jews of the Old Testament marked the beginning of a new year (which would be September in our calendar), in the following way:

‘And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD.”’ (Leviticus 23:23-25).

What we see in these verses is different to the drunken foolishness of New Year celebrations. For the Jews, the New Year was marked by the blowing of trumpets all day. What does it signify about our marking of the New Year?

  1. It is a day with God. ‘The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Make two silver trumpets. Of hammered work you shall make them, and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for breaking camp. And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. But if they blow only one, then the chiefs, the heads of the tribes of Israel, shall gather themselves to you. When you blow an alarm, the camps that are on the east side shall set out. And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are on the south side shall set out. An alarm is to be blown whenever they are to set out.”’ (Numbers 10:1-6).

Here, we can see Moses was commanded by God to make two silver trumpets. They had a dual purpose – to sound the alarm in times of danger, particularly in wanderings in the wilderness. The second purpose was to call the people together; one blast was to call the leaders to come to the tent of meeting, two blasts was to call the whole congregation of Israel together before the lord. It was a call to come and worship and offer up sacrifice. The sound of trumpets became synonymous with the voice of God.

There is an on-going call to start the year in the worship of God, to have a day of solemn rest, a holy occasion. No work is to be done, it is a Sabbath day, a day given over to God, to worship God.

So, for the Jews, it was a day to be spent in the presence of the worship of God. Start the year as you mean to go on. Get your priorities right from day one. The priority at the top of the list it to make it a year lived with God and for God. Give the worship of your life to God. Re-dedicate your life to Jesus Christ, your Saviour. Be determined to carry on.

The pattern of the Old Testament worship had a rhythm of worship that infiltrated every aspect of their lives. This should be true of you and I. We don’t follow the same rituals of temple worship, they merely pointed to Christ, to the anointed. But woven into every aspect of our lives must be the worship of the Lord. There is growing secularisation in our land. We are told we can worship, don’t allow this to infiltrate outside. Worship is not what happens in a particular building, but given over to our lives in everything we do every day. We offer ourselves, as Paul says, as a living sacrifice. There is to be a rhythm of worship in our lives, every day: prayer every day, the Word every day, Christ every day.

So how does the believer start a New Year? Start the New Year as he means to go on – worshipping the Lord with all his being, all he possesses, all his abilities, honouring Christ.

  1. The New Year is a day of joy, the Feast of Trumpets. It is a solemn day, but solemn doesn’t mean joyless. It was a day of joy, ‘On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over you burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the LORD your God.’ (Numbers 10:10). The sound of the trumpets is a sound of joy, ‘Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face.’ (Psalm 89:15). This Feast of Trumpets began a season of joyful celebration and was quickly followed by two other important feasts; nine days later was the Day of Atonement and then the Feast of Tabernacles. These feasts were celebrations of the joy of salvation – that God would provide sacrifice that would take away their sins.

The Feast of Trumpets began a month of joyful celebrations of God’s goodness to His people. It there any greater joy than beginning the year with Jesus Christ as your Saviour? Is there anything you can add to that to mark the start of the New Year? There is nothing better than the knowledge that our Saviour died for us, granted us His righteousness so we are acceptable with God, knowing we are certain that through Christ we are eternally secure in the everlasting arms of our God. There is nothing that can bring more joy to the soul than that. By His suffering on the cross we begin every year in fellowship with God and with His people. So it’s with joy we mark the passing of the old year and the beginning of a New Year. There is joy of salvation in our hearts. We know that everything up to this point the Lord has provided for us He will continue to provide – every hour of every day through 2018 that God has ordained for us. The start to a New Year is a day of joy.

We are also told the Feast of Trumpets was also a memorial day, a memorial proclaimed with blasts of trumpets. A memorial is not just looking back and being thankful. In looking back in thankfulness we can look forward in anticipation of future blessings.

During this day of the Feast of Trumpets the law, the Torah, was publically read to remind the people of the covenant God had made with His people. The reading of the Torah reminded them how God had promised covenantal faithfulness, how God had committed Himself to them. As they looked back they saw How God had kept His covenant, even though there were many occasions when they had failed to keep the covenant. As they looked back so they looked forward knowing that covenantal grace would be there in the days ahead.

How thankful are you for God’s covenantal faithfulness? Have you thanked Him? God knows our hearts and minds, yet surely we need to express our thankfulness day by day. As we give our thankfulness so we can remind ourselves of His faithfulness. As we give our thanks to Him so we are encouraging ourselves to be confident in Him for all that is to come. Look back in thankfulness but forward in confidence – not confidence in ourselves but in assured confidence in the God of covenantal grace. We have confidence based on our experience of His grace in the past. He has never left or forsaken us. He is always true to His word and His promises.  He is immutable – He never changes. We change, He does not change. We may not be able to keep our promises but He does. There are no circumstances that can overtake Him. He knows the whole of history to come. There is nothing that can cause Him to fail in keeping His promises. He doesn’t change His mind. He is constant, consistent and never changes.

Remember all that is past and trust God for all that is to come.

How does a believer celebrate the New Year? Marking the passing of one year and the beginning of a New Year in the worship of God, in the joy of His blessings, knowing His covenantal faithfulness to us. We are the children of the living God, united in faith, assured of the love of our Father and the abundance of His grace. Worship and rejoice in His covenantal faithfulness. Let’s shout out the praise of our Lord.

December 25th 2017: Gareth Edwards

gareth-e-sept-2016In 1647 Christmas Day was not celebrated. No church bells rang, no services were held. Christmas was not to be celebrated by an Act of Parliament for a few years. Why? Was it because M.Ps were against the gospel? Because there was no love for Jesus Christ in the land? Perhaps a great disaster had struck in the land so Christmas was cancelled? No. The people who passed this Act of Parliament loved Jesus Christ with all their hearts. So why then? The people were concerned to underline the importance of Sunday worship. Over the centuries the church had added saint feasts, there was concern to point out the only command is to worship the Lord on the Lord’s Day. They wanted to establish the Lord’s Day as a worship day for the nation.

The people were also concerned that Christmas was celebrated with drunkenness, gluttony and little or no reference to the birth of Jesus Christ. They thought it such a travesty that they cancelled the celebrations. Perhaps we should cancel Christmas? After all, isn’t it true that Christmas is nothing more than an excuse for gluttony, revelling and with little thought of Christ? An increasing number of children do not know Christmas is anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.

What about us? How much are we conscious we gather because of the birth of a Saviour? What is wrong with the nativity scenes that are presented to us? It is highly unlikely Jesus was born in a stable. It is not likely animals were present. One thing in the usual nativity scenes in Christmas cards and presented to us is definitely not part of the nativity – the wise men weren’t there. Herod slaughtered boys up to two years old. The wise men would have taken a substantial time to travel to Herod. We are not told the wise men found Jesus in Bethlehem – they came to a house where the young child lay.

Our Christmas is so full of different ideas and notions and bear little or no relation whatsoever to the birth of Jesus. Let’s cancel it. We don’t need a special day of giving thanks to God … But perhaps Christmas is worthwhile, worth keeping if we, like the wise men, come to worship. If that’s our true motivation.

The wise men brought three gifts. The gold symbolised the kingship and royalty of Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Frankincense is a very aromatic spice used in the temple as part of worship of God. The priests prepared it. The wise men brought frankincense to one who will be the great High Priest of His people, representing His people before God, bringing sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Myrrh is associated in the New Testament with the death of the Saviour. It was part of the preparation of herbs and spices of Jesus’ body by the women. He came to die. Myrrh is a symbol of death. Perhaps Christmas should be celebrated if it’s us coming to worship the King of Kings, the great High Priest, the Lamb of God. If that’s why we gather, then certainly it is right we do so. But how sad so many are careless they celebrate what they do not understand or know, they reduce worship of the King of Kings to nothing more for indulgence.

Perhaps too, Christmas is worth keeping because God has given us, in Him, the gift that really matters. There are presents you can open anytime, not waiting for a certain day, presents offered by God. Angels spoke of them. Presents embodied in the baby. He is the gift, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ (John 3:16). This is God’s gift. It brings us joy. There is a difference between great joy and great fun. For most, Christmas is just great fun. But at some point the laughing stops. But joy continues. There is a difference between great happiness and joy. Happiness depends on circumstances. But circumstances can change. Adverse things can overtake us and our happiness is spoilt. Great joy, deep satisfactions of the soul, is knowing God, having contentment which means we know it is well with our souls and nothing can change that. The laughing may stop but the joy goes on, knowing God’s presence because a baby was born to die for our sins. It’s not only joy, it is peace, that peace with God, being made right with God. God was justly at war with us because of our sin. He shed the blood of His only Son to bring peace.

God’s gift in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is so we can enjoy every moment of every day. It is worth celebrating Christmas if it’s thanking God for His great gifts to us. We can show the concern of 1647 but maybe we don’t have to cancel Christmas if we truly come to worship the King, trusting in Him as the sacrifice offered for our sin, thanking God for joy unspeakable and peace which passes all understanding that He has given us – Jesus Christ.

May this day be a blessed day as we spend it having fun, being happy, but full of joy and peace in Christ Jesus, our Saviour. Amen.

 

Christmas Day 2016: Rev. Dr. Gareth Edwards

isaiah-9-6Our Christmas morning service was led by Reverend Dr. Gareth Edwards of Hill Park Church, who preached from Isaiah 9. Gareth began by telling us that God has given us the main present – the Lord Himself. We are also told in Romans that God also gives every good gift.

The year of Isaiah 9 is around 735 B.C. Uzziah, King of Judah, had just died. There was a time of stability during his 12 year reign. We read in chapter 7 that Isaiah says a child will be born who will be Imannuel, ‘Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.’ (Isaiah 7:14). The two kings who the people dreaded would be wiped from the face of the earth. However, it was not all good news; an even greater enemy would come and destroy them – the Assyrians – the great super-power of the day. God’s message to Judah is that, because of sin, judgement will come at the hands of Sennacherib of Assyria. But Isaiah also speaks about a future day, the coming of another, Immanuel, who will bring salvation. This suffering servant will die for the salvation of His people. Here is chapter 9 Isaiah looks to the future, it’s the day when God will raise up the one who will be the Saviour, and all of the blessings that will come through Him. In Matthew 4 we read that the majority of His three year ministry is spent in Capernaum – a fulfilment of these very words from Isaiah, spoken many centuries before. This will be an invasion not of terror but now of grace and goodness, of the gospel.

Isaiah speaks of 5 blessings:

  • Light takes the place of darkness.

It is the light of hope. We know the light has come, the Saviour has come. We have the hope of eternal life in Him. Our future is better than our past. Everyday our future gets better, every day we experience more of the grace of Jesus Christ. It’s a step nearer. The best is yet to come.

  • Joy:

There will be no more gloom, it will give way to joy; the joy of being restored from the hands of the Assyrians. But Isaiah looks further to the future – the joy of Salvation of the Lord, that eternal life that comes with the Saviour’s birth.

  • The release from the burden of sin.

The message of forgiveness of sin, the message Jesus preached personally, brings release from bondage. The Saviour has come, the joy of salvation is our release from sin, is all because a ‘child is born, a son is given.’

  • Peace with God.

His name, Isaiah tells us, shall be, ‘Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.’ (Isaiah 9:6). It’s a peace that passes all understanding. There is little peace in Syria today, or in Iraq, or in Pembrokeshire. People in Pembrokeshire don’t face the bloodbath of Syria, but they are oppressed by the cars of this world, but the materialism of this world. There is so little peace. They do not know the peace of God, they are in sin and have rebelled against Him. But a Saviour has come who has taken upon Himself the responsibility of the rebellion and offered Himself for the sacrifice of this sin, for those who take Him to be their Lord. All hostility has ended. They now receive the peace of God and know what it is to face an uncertain world, the anguish and difficulties, but on their own. They know that, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.’ (Romans 8:28). Through it all, God’s purpose is to bring glory to Him.

  • The kingdom:

Isaiah speaks about a kingdom. The government will be upon the shoulders of the child. There is one empire that is eternal, the empire of God’s grace, in the person of Jesus Christ. This empire is an empire of justice and righteousness. The rule of the Lord Jesus Christ is a rule that is marked with infinite kindness, it is omnibenevolent – all good. He has come and He has conquered our lives and subdued us to His will. In righteousness He leads us and guides us. His loving kindness that fills us day after day in a harsh world, where there is little kindness; we experience His abounding benevolence, day after day.

‘For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given.’ Praise God!