December 25th 2021: Ian Middlemist

This service can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/C1_cEzNVNW0

Luke 2
The answer to that longing has come.

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
      Isaiah 9:6

May the peace of Christmas be with you. Certainly, with the children there is anxiety and excitement that leads up to Christmas. It can be exhausting. Then comes the thrill of opening presents. After all of the excitement and noise of unwrapping presents, there’s a lull as children play with their gifts. It’s like the peace of mother and child after labour pains, the agony and expectation and the doubts, ‘Am I going to make it?’ Certainly, as an onlooker, you can think, ‘Is this all it’s meant to be?’ Then, for the majority, there’s that moment of peace as mother and child are skin to skin. Wonderful.

Well, our Saviour has come! Could He really fulfil the promise? Could such a wonderful child be born to this world? There is this longing of scriptures of the Old Testament times. Yes, indeed. All throughout Luke’s infancy narrative, we find many references to peace. The Prince of Peace has come, that is what Luke is telling us. Zachariah was told that this special boy would restore relationships horizontally and vertically between men and between God. Mary was told her greater, special boy, the Lord Jesus, would sit on the throne of His Father David, reigning forever as King. This is the Kingdom reign described in Isaiah 9. Zechariah sang of the coming of God’s of tender mercy, that He would guide our feet into the path of peace.

The shepherds were told of this King, listening to the song from heaven of the angels, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, Peace to men on whom God’s favour rests.’

We rejoice this Christmas Day; God sent His Son, the Prince of Peace, who rules over His land in peace. He is a peace-giving and a peaceable Saviour. He speaks peaceable words that bring restoration and joy.

In His coming, our Saviour achieves peace. God didn’t send into this world a good politician, a diplomat. He stands in the gulf between men and God. Through the cross He bridges the gap, that chasm between men and God. The chasm is too deep for us, we need Jesus, that bridge. Because of His incarnation, we have this mediator between Man and God. The Son came to take on human nature. The Father will never renege on His holiness.

We all think of Christmas Day in different ways. Will you keep peace? The demands of the perfect Christmas are very high – the peaceable Christmas where no one falls out. The Father demands upon mankind are very high – unattainable for us on our own, yet not unreasonable. We mess everything, but praise God, Jesus did not mess up this day. He came and He lived for us. He achieves peace. Dear friends, as you think about the achievement of Jesus’ incarnation, of His coming to reign over you as the Prince of Peace, are you realising that? Are you going to maintain that peacefulness today?

God has led us, He has been with us, yet we often lack that sense of peace within us. We complain about being lonely, but He has been there. Maybe we complain about the lack of gifts. But God has given us the greatest gift. We should be all about peace. We should pray for peace, that we will be those who are living under the peace of Christ. God is near to us. He achieves things by His coming, by His living the perfect life, by His going to the cross, by His ascension, He achieves peace. It is settled, it is done. Peace has been made you and your Creator. Praise His name.

Secondly, He brings peace. When you know Jesus Christ, you know peace. He has driven that definitive blow to enmity itself. God has created us and given us life and this gift. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s be thoughtful of others and express our love. Think of family, the homeless. Man wants to remove God from the picture, to be thankless., to forget about the real meaning of Christmas Selfishness leads to anger and anger leads to violence. When you are right with God, peace ensues between God and Man. Peace must radiate from within towards others. Jesus came not to ponder peace in some ethereal idea, but to bring peace. The baby Jesus lying in that feeding trough was destined to die on a cross. As He died on the cross He carried the hatred of people towards God. He died so that we might be forgiven and experience peace and would also be peacemakers as well.

He achieves peace, He brings peace and He sustains peace. It’s a lasting peace. We know that unofficial story of that ceasefire in the First World War where those soldiers met and sang Silent Night and they played a game of football. It’s a wonderful, uplifting story. We all know that just a moment later the gun fire returned. It was short-lived. We know that any peace made on this horizontal level is short-lived.

The peace that the shepherds heard of must be more than a brief moment. There are manufactured peace treaties made, that look like peace, but really underneath the animosity is still there. May be some families are saying today, ‘I’ll keep my mouth shut for mum. I want to keep mum happy today, it’s a special day for her. I’m not going to say the things that I want to say.’ Brother and sister are going to get on today for mum. That’s fine, but it’s just going to last a day, isn’t it?

This perfect peace that Christ achieved in His coming is utterly secured by the Father. That’s why we speak of this justice being higher than any other. This justice has brought forth this plan of the Incarnation, of the cross, of Jesus’ work of salvation, of what He achieved. Justice itself came up with this. Therefore, it is a permanent solution. You know where you stand with God. I know where I stand with Him. I know that Jesus is my Saviour and I know that my salvation is secure. The Father will never take that away from me. He will never change His laws, His mind. He will never grow tired and weary of me. He will stay with me forever and ever because of Jesus. I know because Jesus came I will always be fundamentally at peace. I don’t always work it out in this lifetime because sin still remains, yet I am at peace.

Let’s make sure we spend some time realising God is for me, God isn’t against me. He will be with me forever. We have a wonderful song to sing, the Christmas message. Praise God with songs all year round. We really will be at peace, peace will reign where ere Jesus is King and Prince of our lives. “Peace I leave with you.”

December 19th 2021: Alan Davison

To watch this service, please click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/NGvW4gv4rcg

Luke 2:1-14

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
Luke 2:14

Christmas in our culture has become quite controversial. Nativities sometimes change the words of Christmas carols so as not to offend people. Advertising in the media does not portray the Nativity of the Bible. How do you present the Christmas story to someone who doesn’t believe in it? Is a fresh approach needed? No, not really. We need to simply tell it as it is, in the way Scripture portrays it.

Luke sets the scene, in verses 1-7, telling us about the birth of Christ. Given that this was the birth of the long-awaited Messiah, we might expect, humanly speaking, that there would be a huge fanfare for this – royal announcements, town criers going out in every street. But  God chooses to tell a bunch of shepherds first. Shepherds weren’t exactly respected in Israel at this time. Shepherding was something families would consider the younger sons to do after the older sons had respectable occupations. But God, I think, is making a very important point here – The Messiah is for everyone.

Jesus came for anyone who would accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. When Samuel arrives to anoint one of Jesse’s sons, God rejects the eldest sons. The youngest, keeping the sheep, was chosen. In human culture people become marginalised for different reasons. Shepherds were expected to protect the sheep, spending nights out in the open. Certainly, this group went from humdrum boredom to terror – the glory of the Lord shone around them. The brightness of the glory of God reveals sinfulness. This is why the angel says, “Do not be afraid.” The angel has good news, for all people. This Messiah, the Saviour of the world, can be found in an animals’ feeding trough. The angel was joined by more angels. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”(Luke 2:13-14). The Scripture says they specifically said. The Greek word for this means ‘to lay forth, to relate in words.’ Having said that they simply spoke this declaration, I’m sure that so many angelic voices sounding forth the glory of God would have sounded melodic and lyrical to human ears.

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).

I think this verse really splits in two, based upon two locations. First of all, the angels declare ‘Glory to God’ but they make the point that God is ‘in the highest.’ The initial focus is in heaven. Christmas is something that would not have happened without God. We need to remember that Christmas is a celebration of what God has done for us. For many people, Christmas is simply food. Perhaps to others it’s family or may be simply the capacity to have a party. But the Bible makes clear that we are celebrating a person – Jesus.

The angels are declaring glory to God for what has just been given. We read of the gift in verse 11, For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

There are three titles for Jesus in one verse: Saviour, Christ and Lord. Jesus’ name is the Greek version of Joshua. It means ‘Saviour.’ The Jews were very much a religious people and knew a Saviour was prophesied to them throughout all the scriptures that they had. But they were not so clear what they needed to be saved from. In this time, many thought they needed to be saved from the Romans because there was an occupation of their land. But they were simply the latest in the line of foreign occupiers. If Jesus had come to save the Jews from the current occupiers, the Romans, this would have been a temporary solution. Sooner or later, another oppressor would turn up and they would need another saviour.

But this gift of God was also Christ, another Greek word for a Hebrew term, in this case, ‘Messiah.’ This tells us that this saviour has come to do God’s will because He is the anointed One. He is the one set aside for the purpose of salvation. In Old Testament times those set aside for God’s work – kings, priests and prophets – would very often be anointed with oil to publicly demonstrate that they had been set aside to fulfil God’s will for the people.

There is also another term Jesus is referred to, as Lord, declaring His divinity. This Savour was also from God as much as He was God Himself. As human beings, we cannot save ourselves from our own sins, so God had to come to be the ultimate Saviour, to be the One who will save everyone from their sins. Not from the Romans, nor from any other invading empire. God was coming to deal with something much more dangerous. Interestingly, it is Joseph who is told, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). God spells it out to Joseph.

Ever since Adam and Eve, sin has been Man’s greatest enemy. It broke our relationship with God and ultimately let death into creation. Very often, people blame God. But sin creates a debt which needs to be paid for by someone. Even in our culture, people can have their debts cleared, but someone, somewhere must bear the cost for that to happen.

In the case of sin, it is God who bears the cost of our sins. But don’t miss how this will happen, ‘For there is born to you.’ God will live a human life. He won’t just appear fully formed as Adam was. He will actually be born, staying for nine months in Mary’s womb. Jesus would experience every aspect of what it means to be a human being – fully man, yet fully God. Divinity veiled in flesh. Jesus would be the ultimate definition of meekness; strength under control. He was and is God but chose to accept the limitations of a human body. When He was hanging on the cross of Calvary He could have called on legions of angels to save Him, but He didn’t. He stayed on that cross until He died because that was how He was going to save His people from their sins. He was the only One who could save us.

Jesus is also important because He links the two location we are talking about. Jesus was born. He did not come into existence at the Incarnation. When Jesus talks about coming into the word, it is only once He refers to being born, “Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37). To have come into the world, Jesus must have been somewhere else beforehand. Jesus has always existed. He chose to be born so He could work out the salvation plan for man.

From a spiritual perspective, His birth and death were planned. Jesus acted because He chose to do so because He loved us.  

The second location is on earth, “And on earth peace.” Israel, at this time when Jesus came, had a kind of peace. Nowadays, we refer to it as the ‘Pax Romana,’ which was imposed by the Roman legions. It was a peace in the sense of an absence of open conflict. But the fact is, strife remained. There were people who were rebelling against Rome. It continues today to be a land of conflict. The peace spoken of here is God’s peace, the promise of One who has been born, who will bring peace to the world from God. The angels are described as a multitude of the heavenly host. God sends His army to announce peace. This is not imposed upon humanity but a promise of what is to come. It fulfils Isaiah 9:6,

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Men, for the most part, will initially reject this peace. Even in Christ’s infancy, Satan would try to eradicate God’s peace, through his agent, Herod. God’s peace is different. Goodwill towards men! Note, not ‘amongst men.’ Goodwill should be a permanent state of our character, not just at Christmas.

“Goodwill towards men.” Goodwill to is have favour upon someone. It speaks of an on-going relationship, a truly warm feeling upon someone. This is goodwill from God towards men. Because the Saviour has come the relationship can be restored.

At Christmas time we are celebrating the fact that God looks upon us sinful people with favour because of what Jesus has done for us. This peace of God is directed to us who are believers, just like the shepherds, who came away glorify and praising God. Others heard them and thereby became aware of the news. The scriptures tell us the shepherds simply marvelled at what they heard. Later, in the gospels we hear of other people who marvelled at what Jesus said and did. In so doing, they were drawn to Him, they wanted more of what He offered. But many of these people didn’t act on what they heard. God was interested in the shepherds so much so, they become the first human heralds of the birth of the Messiah.

God remains interested today, kin those on whom His favour rests. This is something we should be celebrating. Christmas is a day for us to remember God became man, fully man, and lived a human life full of human experiences, good and bad. Jesus did all of this without sin so He could offer Himself as a sacrifice to pay the debt of our sins on that cross at Calvary.

Celebrate and remember what and whom you are celebrating. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).

July 8th 2018: Dave Norbury

Dave Norbuy-July18Philippians 1:1-11

This is a significant book written to a significant church in Philippi. Paul knew this was the place God wanted him to be. He was about to plant the first church in Europe. God directed him here. This church has to grow and succeed. We are reading about our family history. This church in Philippi was set up against all the odds. Two people were converted here. Firstly, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. It so happens that she was a business lady who had a big house which people could meet in (Acts 16). Paul is imprisoned. There again, God meets with the jailor who asks how he might be saved. He was converted.

The church at Philippi is established. From this seed, others are planted. Like every church it is fragile. Philippi was a strategically important church, light in a very dark place. Churches are strategically important. We are a vital, strategic church to our area, as Philippi was to its area. 95% of people in the UK know nothing about the gospel. Just as Philippi was fragile, so can we be too. The world, the flesh and the devil are out to destroy God’s work.

Paul is writing from Rome to Philippi. As he writes, he writes to you too. Timothy is probably doing the writing, Paul is dictating. It’s a servant leadership – just as Jesus was a servant. They are writing to all the saint in Jesus Christ, it’s a letter to the leadership and to every single person in the church. Paul wants us to see the hallmarks of Christianity – grace and peace (Philippians 1:1). Grace is kindness which we don’t deserve. We should ooze with this. We are trusted with inestimable kindness by God. We should have peace, even though we have rough edges, peace in our own hearts knowing we can trust the God we love. These are the hallmarks of God’s church. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). This is the outworking of grace and peace – the interest of others.

Paul looks back. He pours out his heart to the people he genuinely loves. He’s remembering them with great love and appreciation. He has joy when he thinks of them. He thinks of them and a smile comes to his face. Isn’t that what we, as a church, want to be? The Philippians have sent gifts to Paul and his fellows regularly. Epaphroditus risked all to reach Paul, to support and encourage him. We should be partners with others in the gospel, that’s what the Philippians were, sending support.

Paul also rejoices because God is at work in them. There is a real fellowship. Paul is speaking of a deep knowledge of God, he knows their faith is real, their lives have been turned inside out. He knew they had been born again, so he rejoices.

It’s when you go through personal challenges you grow. Be encouraged – this is when you will grow most! God will take you to a place you never wanted to go – and achieve things you could never achieve.

Paul looks up (Philippians 1:6). There’s an absolute certainty that the work God began will come to completion. He looks up and he rejoices. You and I were lost sheep, in darkness, dead in trespasses and sins. He, in His kindness, began a work in us and will bring it to completion. God works in us. He continues the work. Believe Him, trust Him. We are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). This should give great encouragement. God is at work in you. Paul is delighted, we should be delighted too because of His glorious work.

Paul looks forward. What does he want for the church to succeed and grow? Love abounding more and more, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). Biblical love is not sentimentalism – it’s anchored deeply in the love of scripture and Christ. It’s a wonderful thought that our churches should abound in love. Pray God will help you. Love abounding – with knowledge and all discernment. It’s a love that knows what’s right. Discernment – it is not blind love, it knows what is right and what is wrong. We are encouraged to know what is right and wrong and to prove the things that are excellent. There’s a testing going on. Growing in love is about maturity. We need to be blameless, our characters need to grow.
Don’t get distracted, have your integrity intact. When we make mistakes we should be the first person to say sorry. We should be humble, the first to admit we’re wrong.

We should mature and grow in Christian character, knowledge and discernment. Ask God to help you. Articulate this in your prayers. Be filled with the fruit righteousness produces. They’ll be many and varied. What joy it gives to God’s heart when fruit is produced in your life and mine. Praise God. Be a joy to others, have confidence He will complete the work He has begun, be mature, blameless, growing in maturity, full of integrity, growing in the work of the Holy Spirit.

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.