April 3rd 2022: John Scanlon

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel:    https://youtu.be/7mRnvNumJD4

Luke 19:1-10

I’ve never been to Jericho, but it must have been an interesting city. It is mentioned quite a lot in scripture: in Joshua 6 we read of the walls of Jericho falling down, of David saying, “Wait at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return.” (2 Samuel 10:5), in the New Testament Parable of the Good Samaritan. We cannot say how many times the Lord Jesus went to Jericho. We know this was His last visit to Jericho. The people might have listened more if they knew it was His last visit. We are very much in the same position. Opportunities pass us by. We do not know our day of visitation.

Here is the Lord Jesus walking into the city of Jericho. He has been hailed with a peal of praise as He has just healed Bartimaeus, whose sight was restored by the grace of God. As He entered the city the place was full of people full of anticipation at the great day of Pentecost, all hoping to glance a glimpse of the man who had healed Bartimaeus.

We are all familiar with the story of Zacchaeus. Luke has faithfully recorded highlights of what was being carried out, for there was so much going on. As John tells us And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20: 30-31).

Luke tells us of a blind man who cried out for mercy and Jesus restored his sight. This is itself a great miracle. If Jesus had any intention of entering Jericho unannounced, this man and his gratitude had changed all that. As Jesus now enters Jericho, he would touch only one man – a tax collector. So, the crowd gather. Then someone comes along who wanted to see what was taking place. He sticks out from the crowd. He tries to push though to find a place but nobody gives way to him. This man is Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus. We all know him. All that we know is recorded in these ten verses. He is a tax collector. He is a Hebrew. His name, Zacchaeus, means pure. Maybe, when his parents gave him this name, they hoped he would grow up pure. But he was crooked, the biggest rogue in the city! He had made loads of money and was chief among the tax collectors.

We all want to have more, but there is no satisfaction in this. Zacchaeus didn’t just want to be first, he was first. He was wealthy. Many people want to be rich, but it can be very lonely at the top. Zacchaeus had power, he had influence, he had wealth. It reminds us of one of the churches in Revelation. The word of God goes on to say in spite of all he had, Zacchaeus wanted more, He wanted to see Jesus.

Zacchaeus was arrogant, but underneath all that veneer there was a heart that sought reality. He was a soul needing to be redeemed. He couldn’t remain happy. He realised late that the true things of life are not material. Perhaps, he thought he would find a new life if he found Jesus.

But Zacchaeus had two problems: he was too small, and the crowd was too big. He couldn’t see Jesus. He was a little man in a big crowd. He couldn’t see over the crowd, he couldn’t see through the crowd, so he couldn’t see Jesus. I have heard of unbelievers who have been given a Bible and upon reading it ask, ‘Why does this book tell us different stories to what people preach?’ In other words, people don’t practice what they preach. Their own lives do not reflect the love of Jesus as much as they should.

How many Zacchaeus’ are out there and want to see Jesus, but can’t see because we get in the way? We are told to walk in the light, but not in someone else’s light, casting a shadow, when they themselves are looking for Jesus.

Zacchaeus must have been made of stern stuff. If there wasn’t a way through or a way over, then there’s a way round. He couldn’t see Jesus, so he ran further and found a sycamore tree. He waited for Jesus to come. When Jesus came, He looked up and saw him. That wasn’t part of Zacchaeus’ plan. It wasn’t what he was hoping for. We need to be careful when we are looking for God, for before you know it, He finds you. You can find yourself alone with God.

In no time at all, Jesus looks up and sees him. It is as if the whole of Jericho was waiting to see what Jesus, the son of a carpenter, the Son of God, would say to the biggest rogue in the city. Everybody was waiting. You could almost hear what they were thinking, ‘Go on Jesus, let him have it! Tell him what a terrible man he is. Condemn him for his wickedness and greed.’ What kind of people were these inhabitants of Jericho? They had just heard of a blind man being healed. They stood waiting, expecting to see more. They were anticipating entertainment. What they were about to witness was a miracle – a man who had been obsessed by world wealth about to be transformed. The love of money would be replaced by the love of Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not confront Zacchaeus. He lets him off the hook and simply says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5b). What about sin? What about repentance? What about conviction? What about restitution? There is no mention. Jesus calls him by name and invites Himself to dinner. There is a chief sinner in Jericho who needs to be saved. Jesus did not come to condemn. He seeks him in love and a miracle takes place. We need more of the Spirit of God. When Jesus preached the gospel, He administered grace to the hearer and He moves in the love of God. Most times, when Jesus went fishing, He came home with a catch.

The crowd called Zacchaeus a sinner. We are all sinners. If were are not lost, we will never be found. Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (Luke 19:8). I shouldn’t think he would have had much of his wealth left after that.

Salvation is more than an external transaction. When people are truly saved they are a new creation, new creature in Christ Jesus. They have a new set of values. Their priorities change. Their very reason for living changes. Zacchaeus revealed by his testimony that a transformation had taken place. He began with an act of benevolence in giving half his goods to the poor. Then he showed his willingness to make restitution to those he had wronged. He has learnt that to have your sins forgiven is more valuable than gold. Zacchaeus found forgiveness of sins. A free gift. There is a price to be paid for it; it is Jesus doing the paying. The Lord said, “Today salvation has come to this house, becausehe also isa son of Abraham;for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10).

For as much as Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham, this wasn’t what the crowd had told him. They called him was a sinner. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. We are told that it was Zacchaeus doing the seeking, who sought Jesus. But we know it is God who is seeking the lost. The Son of God has come. He seeks diligently and when He finds, He saves. Who did He come to save? The word of God tells us He came to save the lost. There is something final about the word ‘lost.’ There is hope for the sinner, for Jesus has come to seek and to save. It doesn’t matter how lost a person is, or how immoral or deceitful he might be, because God in Christ, has come to seek the lost and to save them. That has got to be good news!

March 13th 2022: Paul Daniel

To watch this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/X9d2b0EO1wI

Acts 26: How Christians ought to respond when asked about their faith

What are we here for? Penuel Chapel has been around for 200 years. Here in Acts chapter 26, as Luke writes his account and the explosion of the gospel, he writes different accounts of how people speak about Jesus. Paul, in presenting the gospel 2,000 years ago, is no different to presenting the gospel today. We are called today to present the gospel, to tell people. As we look at Acts chapter 26 we see Paul behaves very godly in the way he speaks.

Godly evangelism is patient. Are you a patient person? We live in this culture of everything being fast-paced. We order something today, it arrives tomorrow. Paul had been in prison for two years for preaching the gospel. Felix didn’t know what to do with him, so he left him in prison. Here, two years later, in chapter 26, we have an account of what Paul said when he was given the opportunity to speak to King Agrippa, “So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defence,” (Acts 26:1).

King Agrippa, a Jew has been called because Felix didn’t know what to do with Paul. When Paul is given the opportunity to speak he says, “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defence today against all the accusations of the Jews,” (Acts 26:2).

How would you feel if you had been put in prison for two years for something you hadn’t done, and when you are finally given an opportunity to speak and give a defence for yourself, what would you do? What does Paul do? He starts talking about the gospel. He tells King Agrippa he wants him to listen to him really patiently, that he is fortunate he can present his defence to him. Pauls asks King Agrippa to listen to him patiently. The fruit of the Spirit is patience. God Himself is patient. The New Testament reminds us that God is patient, and with the Lord, “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8). So, this is two days ago. When the first church started, that’s two hours ago!

Paul is patient. He’s been in prison for two years. How patient was God with us? Think of the many times you’ve heard the gospel, of the many times you would come to chapel, to youth club or the times a friend would come and talk to you. How patient is God with us. As Christians, we are to be renewed in the image of God, to reach people with the good news of Jesus. Here Paul takes the opportunity to say to King Agrippa what Jesus had done for him. King Agrippa was a Jew so Paul talks to him in a way he would understand. King Agrippa knows the history. What kind of nation do we live in now? Penuel is celebrating its 200th anniversary year. What kind of nation was Penuel 200 years ago? Nations change. We might have to approach people in a completely different to even 30 years ago, therefore we need to be even more patient.

What does Paul want? His freedom or King Agrippa’s freedom? Even though Agrippa is religious, he needs the forgiveness of sins. Even when Festus says, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind,” (Acts 26:24b), Paul politely responds saying, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” (Acts 26:5). You see the work of God and the Holy Spirit in Paul’s life. He is patient and understands.

Be ready to go, to be on standby all the time, wherever God has placed you. Be ready to give a reason for the hope we have. As we come week in, week out, being shaped by the Holy Spirit, in the image of our Creator, we are called to be patient, to be gentle, to know what to say in different circumstances. So, when you have an opportunity to speak about your faith, be on standby, be ready to be godly, ready with a reason for the hope we have. My friends, as we come week in and week out, we learn more about God’s Word. We’ve been shaped by the Spirit, we’ve been shaped by God’s Word. We’re being remade in the image of our Creator to be more like Him. Be patient. Be gentle. Know what to say in different circumstances, so that when you’re getting your haircut and you’re having a conversation which may become deep and meaningful, you’re ready and you’re alert. When someone pops round for a cup of coffee, and they are worried about something, they want to talk to you because they trust you because you know you’re going to listen because you’re alert. They know you want an opportunity to speak into their lives and say something of what it means to not be anxious and put your trust in Jesus.

I wonder what Paul was doing for the two years whilst he waited in prison? Godly evangelism is patient.

Godly evangelism is God’s message to all of us. Paul starts telling Agrippa about his conversion on the road to Damascus, when he was ready to persecute Christians, he meets God. This is his story. Godly evangelism starts with us. God came to Paul. God came to save him. Paul was elite, but even he needed to meet Jesus. He followed the law to the letter, but even he needed Jesus. Paul himself was a sinner who needed saving, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Acts 26:9).

Saul was convinced, obsessed as a Pharisee, that he was right and everyone else was wrong. He realised he himself was opposing God. Sometimes, we can give off the wrong impression of what it is to be a Christian. We can sometimes forget what we are living for and saved from. It is God’s message to all of us. As Saul meets Jesus He says, “But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:16-18).

God’s message is for all of us. Jesus Christ says, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 26:14b). Christ says He wants Paul to take the good news of the gospel to the ends of the Earth. He says, ‘I am going to send you so you can go and share this message so that blind eyes can be opened, so people can receive forgiveness of sins. So, Paul was there to tell them God’s message. This was Jesus’ message. This was Paul being an ambassador. This was Paul taking the only message he could have.

There is no other variation, no other gospel under which men and women, boys and girls can be saved. There is no other name under heaven in which there is salvation, “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.” (Acts 26:26). This is transparent. Jesus Christ was put on a cross. It was witnessed. Jesus Christ died. It was witnessed. He really did die. They really did put His body in a tomb. And many saw the risen Jesus – the same Jesus with holes in His hands and feet, His scars. This is truth, an historical account. Paul says to King Agrippa, ‘You can see for yourself.’

Isn’t it wonderful that here, in the year 2022, we are able to pray for people and want to do Godly evangelism? We can invite people to examine the message for themselves. 2,000 years ago, there was no printing press. We have Bibles, the gospel, literature, tracts, all forms of opportunities. There is the internet: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TicTok. There are different opportunities, different means that God has given the Church so that His message can go to the ends of the Earth, not in a corner.

Paul is communicating God’s message that He wants to go out. In Acts 17:1 the Bereans were pouring over Scripture. We need to be more like the Bereans; they were asking questions, looking intently into scripture. We need to be like the Bereans. We need to show that there is absolute trustworthiness in this gospel message, by making sure it is God’s message, not ours. Look at the small details. Go back to basics. When we package the gospel message we can distort it, give a distorted view. We need to be careful that what we present is Jesus Christ and Christ crucified. When we present Him to the world so they can turn from darkness to light, you can never be disappointed with that. For all of us, all of us, have fallen short. All of us have sinned. Godly evangelism is patient. Godly evangelism is for everyone.

Godly evangelism persuades people to follow Jesus. Paul here is trying to persuade King Agrippa, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 26:26-28).

Anyone can come to church. Anyone can wear the right clothes. Anyone can say the right things. This is not just information; it is the gospel that transforms. We commit to following Jesus and being obedient and, just like Paul, we want people not just to come to church but to follow Jesus. Imagine you package up the gospel message and the impression that someone gets is that being a Christian, being in heaven is about one really long church service. It isn’t though, is it! It’s about being with God, it’s about being with Jesus.

Paul is trying to persuade Agrippa. When King Agrippa says, ‘If you think you’re going to persuade me in such a short time,’ Paul responds, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:9). Paul says, ‘However long it takes, that you would be persuaded by God to follow Him.’

If you’re not somebody who is a Christian, I can’t convert you. I can give you all this information and I can say that God wants you to follow Him, but I can’t do it. You need God to persuade you. The Bible says if you seek God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, you’ll find Him. He will not turn you away.

For those of you who have got friends or family who are still in the dark, still outside the Kingdom, He wants you to try and persuade them. He wants to work in you and through you. When it is a struggle, you need to pray for them – short or long.

You may say, ‘I’d love to reach people with the gospel. I’d love to be patient. I’d love to share the message of the gospel as God intended. I’d love to persuade people, but I haven’t got any friends. Well, we need to get some friends, to be more friendly.

We could say, ‘Well, I’m not as patient as I’d like to be and sometimes, I can be sharp with my words, and it comes out all wrong. The Bible says we have to be careful about our tongue and pray for self-control.

You may say, ‘I know I should share the gospel but I actually I’m cold in my faith. When I come to church, and I come to weekly meetings I don’t feel that close to the Lord. Pray that God would make our calling and election sure and that we would grow to love him more.

Some of us will say, ‘I’d love to share the gospel but I’m just too busy. Remind yourself that God says, ‘Don’t store for yourself treasure on earth where moth and rust are going to destroy.’ (Matthew 19:21a). Store for yourselves treasure in heaven.

Some might say,’ I struggle to share the gospel because I’ve lost my confidence, you need to remember that Jesus Christ died for you, and He died for us whilst you were still a sinner.

Some will say, ‘Sometimes I feel as if I’m looking around at my friends and the world and I’m convince that actually they’ve got greater problems, that they need friends, or food, or money.’ Praying for common grace is really important, that our friends do have everything they need. We need to pray for common grace that they would be looked after, that they would have shelter, clothes and help. We need to pray for common grace.

But common grace and saving grace are two different things. My friends, we must try and persuade people to follow Jesus. God has promised an eternity for those who follow Him and those for those who don’t. Paul had met with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He was convinced he needed to be patient with people and to take every opportunity as he ought.

When God says in His Word, one day He will make everything new, God’s people will live with Him and be with Him forever. He calls us now, as Christians, to go into all the world. You don’t have to go far, go into Roch. God calls people to be patient with them and to share God’s message with them, to try and persuade them. Keep praying, whether it’s short or long, that they would come and put their trust and faith in Jesus. Pray that, as verse 18 says, that they would come and find a place amongst those who are sanctified. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your neighbour, your work colleague, your granddaughter, your grandson, your children, parents, might come and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Despite whatever may happen to them in this life, that they had a place set apart for them and God will make everything new.

December 12th 2021: Ian Middlemist

To view a recording of this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/qGVI5Y_FSP4

Hebrews 2:5-18

At this time of year a lot of discussion is taken up with the ‘what’ of Christmas – what happened? There are a lot of descriptions of the manger, animals, wise men, location and historical events surrounding our Saviour’s birth. We, as Christians, must focus our thoughts on the ‘why’. Why was the Saviour born? It is not always easy to stop and consider why. Sometimes, in the middle of a crisis, e.g., a business crisis, we think, ‘Is it really worth it?’ In the busyness of things we need to stop and consider the purpose of Christmas, the purpose of the Incarnation. Jesus never stopped and panicked whether it was worth it or questioned the purpose of His ministry on earth. He was, and always will be, united with the Father. Jesus came to save sinners and to be made like us.

Jesus came to save sinners. In the Saviour’s first coming, Jesus, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, implemented this rescue plan. This rescue plan had been conceived in the mind of the Triune God before human beings ever stepped onto the face of this planet. Jesus didn’t come to promote holiday Christmas cheer after a tough year. He didn’t come to boost end of year sales. He didn’t come to serve as the central figure on a nativity scene. He came to save sinners. To save sinners He had to deal with the heart of the matter – sin. The dawn of man’s history, like this unwanted virus, affected single person. Sin has infected every single one of us. God was revealing His plan for salvation, bit by bit, through the Old Testament sacrificial systems – a sacrifice, a separation, a holy one, a Lamb.

One of the main themes of Hebrews is the Old Testament sacrificial laws and an emphasis on the labours of the priests. Hebrews 7 – the former priests were many in number because they were prevented by death from continuing in office. Already the writer is emphasising the priests were many because their offices were limited. Morning and evening priests placed these burnt various offerings for sin, burnt offerings in particular, on the altar. The fire there was never to go out, it was perpetual thing that needed to be preserved. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4).

The Old Testament sacrifices were just a shadow of what was yet to come. They would never wholly fulfil God’ plan. Something better was needed. When a truly perfect sacrifice was offered, on the tabernacle of heaven, sin was finally dealt with. Christ suffered and died the eternal death on the cross, once, for all, to put away sin, by the sacrifice of God. Our sins have been buried finally and completely in Jesus’ death. So fully has Christ purged the sins, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.“ (Hebrews 9:28). There are no further sacrifices, Christ has done it all.

As we approach the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus, what are your thoughts? Are you dreading His coming? We, in our sin, have fallen short of God’s requirements (Romans 3). But believers, because of Christ’s incarnation, are not dreading the Saviour’s return because Christ has done all to redeem us. There shouldn’t be any fear; we are looking forward to the Saviour’s return. Jesus Christ has saved us. He is my friend. Christ came to earth for sinners. He is the one who is able to save to the uttermost. Christ can save you. No matter how hell-worthy you are, Christ came to save you. Christ came to save sinners.

Christ came to be like His people. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14). It is the message of the Incarnation, so He could be the appropriate Saviour for you, the appropriate friend in heaven. The baby in the manger had the same human nature as you and I, yet without sin! Jesus was born perfect. He is the conceived message of hope for imperfect people.

Wrapped in swaddling cloths, God teaches us we cannot solve our problems ourselves. We cannot attain perfection and peace by our own strength. We need a brother. In Christ, God has done this. He’s done that which we are incapable of achieving. We are incapable of being righteous, as God requires. We are incapable of entering heaven on our own rights. In the words of the church father, Irenaeus, “When He became incarnate, and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam – namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God – that we might recover in Christ Jesus.”

Sin is not how we are meant to be. His death would accomplish true healing in every way for us. Because He is like us, Christ also sympathises with us in our weakness, with all the pain and miseries that comes from living in this world. Our bodies groan. When His bodily strength was spent, He slept. Christ slept. The body that God prepared for the Son meant He experienced all that it means to be human, with heart-broken grief, with tears, He wept. Our Saviour was tempted to sin, as we are, with the full force of hell. We draw great encouragement from Christ, His steadfastness in the face of temptation, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession,” (Hebrews 4:14).

As Christians, we look back over this year, we look back on the struggles. It can cause us to despair at times. But at such times we really can look to Christ. Our salvation doesn’t depend on our performance, but wholly and solely on the Lord Jesus Christ, on His obedience. He came to be made like us so that He could raise us up to be with Him in glory. We are born in Adam, but in God’s redemption we have been placed in Christ. As we glimpse at the manger, the birth of Christ, we can say, ‘This is my brother, this is He who is my flesh, my blood.’ As He grows and matures and continues to do the will of God, He grows in obedience.

When we see Christ seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, we can also say, ‘This is my brother, this is my flesh, this is my blood.’

Because of the incarnation, believers can say of Christ, what Adam said to Eve, “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Such is the unity we have, all because of Christmas, all because of Christ entering into this world, not as an angel, but as a human being just like us. He is not ashamed to call us brothers. Why would we be ashamed of Him?

It is wonderful that the Son of God became man. It is mysterious. It is mind-blowing! We must not forget the reason Christ came – He came to save sinners and He came to be made like us. The question for us is not, ‘Are you good enough for heaven?’ It is rather, ‘Are you sinful enough to go to heaven?’

(Illustration story of Samuel Colgate, founder of the Colgate business empire, who spoke out at an evangelistic meeting regarding the congregation’s response to receiving a sinner into membership).

Today, we praise God that Jesus Christ was born into this world to save all sinners, sinners of all types, like you and me, and to be lour faithful High Priest.

September 19th 2021: John Mann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8th 2021: John Mann

Mark 7:31-37: A Saving Appointment with the Lord Jesus Christ

The gospels are filled with the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ, as he confirmed the truth of who He claimed to be and who He is. We thank God for the accounts of the many miracles of Jesus that we read about and learn from.

As Jesus travelled through the area where He was, we read of many miracles. In chapter 5 we read of Jesus travelling through the region of the Gerasenes and we read of the healing of the demoniac who lived among the graves. Jesus healed that man. There is no other mention of anything else done in that particular account, no other incidents there.

 Immediately Jesus gets back in the boat and travels across the lake and there he meets with another two individuals who are in need: Jairus and his daughter who had died, and the woman who had suffered a bleed for twelve years. Jesus deals with them both. The woman is healed and Jairus’ daughter is brought back from the dead. There are no other mentions of other incidents in that particular area.

In chapter 7 Jesus travels another 30 miles, may be on foot, to Syro-Phoenicia and heals a Syro-Phoenician woman. There is no other mention of any other healing here. It seems that Jesus is keeping appointments with people to heal. He seeks out those who need His healing touch. At the same time, we realise these people have to be where Jesus is coming to find Him. They are desperate for answers, they want to find Jesus, only to find that He was ready to meet their need.

Salvation begins with people feeling the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. In loving kindness Jesus responds. He brings forgiveness and healing. The Lord Jesus Christ has called us to Himself. We find in salvation, He has come for us, granted us healing and deliverance from our sin. Have you had a personal appointment with the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you sought Him out?

Jesus is on His way back to the Decapolis. We have to ask ourselves why he would go back. His first visit hardly felt like a needy return. The people pleaded with Him to leave. He wasn’t welcome. Aren’t you glad that Jesus didn’t leave you when you first rejected Him? Aren’t you so grateful He never gave up on you? Jesus returned because He had an appointment. This should fill us with hope for loved ones who reject Him. He is able to save and to heal. Jesus is still saying, ‘I have an appointment with that person.’

This return visit will be different (v37). It is only the amazing loving kindness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ can turn ‘Get out of our region’ to ‘He has done well.’ In verse 32 we see another person in desperate need, a man who is deaf and has lost the ability to speak. He lives in an isolated, silent world of his own, relying on others for his daily needs. In their care they take him to where Jesus is. The deaf and mute man must have been confused, wondering where they were taking him. He can see others are excited but doesn’t know why. His problem has cut him off from society.

Here is a picture of our spiritual condition before we know the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you remember a time when you were deaf to the gospel? When your physical ears heard but your spiritual ears were deaf? A time when the gospel went in through one ear and out through the other in spiritual deafness? This results in spiritual muteness, having nothing to say about the Lord Jesus Christ, no time to praise Him, being cut off from God. Our spiritual condition meant we could understand what it was all about. Sadly, in many of our churches this morning, the gospel goes in one ear and out of another. There is a world of difference between hearing and understanding.

The beauty of this miracle is Jesus came to open the lines of communication of our spiritual ears. The gospel is the truth. But in our natural condition we are deaf to its meaning unless we come to Christ. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, our ears are opened. We become hearers and experiencers of the gospel.

People took the time to take this deaf man to Jesus. Do you give thanks to people who lead you to the man who could heal you, when Jesus said to you personally, “Ephphatha! Be opened.”

These are pictures of the need of our day. The people had a heart to bring someone to Christ. Are we among the ‘some people’ bringing others to Jesus, or bringing Jesus to others through our testimony, our lives, our witness? We are called to reach our loved ones and neighbours by our testimony. How determined are we to take others to Jesus?

Do we notice how serious these people are? They begged Jesus to heal him (v.32). They believed Him. Are we begging Jesus to save others in our community? They were determined for him to know the healing power of Jesus. Can you imagine the man’s joy when Jesus heals him? Suddenly he hears for the first time. Are you filled with joy when you hear someone has been saved? There is joy for the deaf man and joy for the men who took him to Jesus. Do you thank God for the people who went out of their way to bring you to Jesus?

Jesus took the man aside (v33). Here we see this personal aspect of salvation. We are not forgiven as a group. Jesus wants a personal relationship. He takes us out of the crowd to have a personal appointment with Him. Jesus draws us aside from the company of others, from the distractions all around us. He says, ‘Will you accept me as your own Lord and Saviour?’

Then Jesus does this unusual thing. “Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spat and touched the man’s tongue.” (Mark 7:33). Why does Jesus do these strange actions? Jesus deals with each of us according to our own need. We come with our individual fears and doubts. What is the best way to connect with a deaf man? Sign language. Jesus touches the man’s ears and lips. He knows what the problem is, and He knows what the answer is. This would have caused many to resist, but not this man. He accepts the Lord Jesus Christ without turning away.

There are many people who know something is missing from their lives and may come looking to Jesus for an answer, but who are not willing to come without reserve. They want to be healed but not have an intimate relationship with a Saviour. They have missed the opportunity to be saved. But not this man. Whatever Jesus decided to do, this man puts his faith in Him. In this miracle, it is almost as if Jesus is kissing away the problem. We need to place ourselves into the hands of the only one who can heal our spiritual need.

Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed deeply when he said, “Ephphatha.” He has a deep love and concern in his heart for this man as He looks to heaven for his healing. He sighs with the same compassion He has for every one of us. Our healing is His passion. Salvation is the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why He came, that is why He was willing to suffer the scorn, the mocking, the rejection, the beating, the crucifixion and having God’s wrath poured out upon Him – because His passion is to save souls and to make us well. This is what Peter says, ‘He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.’

If you are a believer this morning, it is not through anything you have been able to offer, nothing that you have done, no righteousness of your own. This deaf man had no possibility, not a hope of healing himself. There was nothing that he could bring to Jesus, that Jesus could say, ‘Well, I’ll help you, you’ve gone so far I’ll bring you the rest of the way.’ The man was helpless, powerless and hopeless, just as we are, outside of Christ. There is nothing we can bring whereby we can say, ‘I’ve made a contribution.’

We are totally dependent on the mercy and grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. We can just imagine what the man was saying when he began to speak (v.35). He would be speaking His praise. Jesus came and suffered and died so people like you and me could have our ears unblocked, to have our dead hearts brought to life.

Have you known a saving, personal appointment with Jesus? What words are on your lips?

Sunday Morning, August 1st 2021 199th Anniversary Service: John Funnell

Mark 2: 1-12 Jesus forgives and heals a paralysed man

This miracle comes at the end of a tirade of healing. The Messiah has come. In chapter 1:29 Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. In 1:40 Jesus healed a man with leprosy. He healed all who were sick in Capernaum. The news of these great miracles spread across the entire region of Galilee. It comes as no surprise that when Jesus returned to Capernaum, people gathered in great numbers. They were coming in droves to Jesus to be healed of ailments or to watch a spectacle of healing.

Four men come carrying a paralysed man. There is no doubt they are gutted when they saw a crowd squeezed into a little building where Jesus was preaching. They had come all that way, carrying a loved one, a grown man, in the hope that he would be healed. In verse 4 we read that they hatched a plan; they would carry the fully grown man all the way up to the roof and make a hole to lower him safely. This was no mean feat to get a paralysed, grown man through the hole. They must have been exhausted. They lower him down to where Jesus was, in great anticipation that Jesus would work a miracle.

There, in verse 5, Jesus says to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” Think, for a minute, what these friends of the paralysed man would have thought when they heard these words. They must have been devastated. They see no physical difference as the paralysed man lies on the floor. Then, in verse 6, the teachers of the law accuse Jesus of blasphemy – only God could forgive sins. All they see is an impoverished Palestine carpenter.

So, we see, in verse 10, to the amazement of the crowd, Jesus heals the paralysed man. He does this to show He is God. He has the authority to forgive sin. What is going on? The eye- witness account raises so many questions. Why did Jesus only forgive sins to begin with? It would have saved a lot of arguments. Jesus is making a very clear statement – forgiveness from God is more important than anything, even your health.

Jesus preaches the Word to the people. He knew the hearts of the people in Capernaum, he knew they were coming for a show, not salvation. He wants to park the miraculous for a minute and get the gospel out there. He comes with serious truth that has eternal consequences for your soul. As He tries to proclaim the gospel, a paralysed man is dangled from the roof, so they can be entertained. In Matthew 11 Jesus says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

Capernaum was a godless place, but God was reaching out to them, time and time again, with miracles. Jesus stood before them, the divine incarnate God, but they didn’t recognise Him. They didn’t fear God’s judgement. They wanted entertainment, they wanted a show. We can all be guilty of this. We can come to church, maybe anxious, feeling low, scared, in grief, in pain. We can come expecting God to free us from our daily hardship, forgetting our real need is God’s forgiveness. You are not in control, He is.

Leave this chapel in praise and thanksgiving. God has done a far more important work. He saved your soul from eternal damnation. We often forget death has no respect for age. Judgement can come at any time. For anyone of us here, tomorrow could be too late. Are you ready to meet your maker? Have you come here to get better or for your forgiveness? The answer you give to this affects your eternity. Do you know that in Christ your sins are forgiven, washed clean?

I love you all, so I say this in absolute love, if you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour today all, you are not ready. Without Jesus, you stand before God on your own. The all-seeing God knows your heart, your hidden sin and shame. He also knows your greatest need today is not miraculous healing, it is forgiveness. You may have come for great singing at Penuel, for healing, but this chapter tells us our greatest need is forgiveness. There is only one man, Jesus, who can save you. Only He paid the price for our sin in full. Trust the man who paid the price for your sin, because from God’s forgiveness comes healing.

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!

March 8th 2020: Owen Jones

Owen Jones - March 2020“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:14-17

We reach the heart of the Epistle of Romans in chapter 1, in verses 14-17. All we see here is worked out; the Lord Jesus made statements concerning coming Himself in John’s gospel, the ‘I am’ statements, His claim to deity.

When we come to the Lord Jesus Christ we see He claims to be none other than God Himself. And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:14).

We are going to look at 3 ‘I ams’ of Paul:

I am bound (verse 14)
I am so eager (verse 15)
I am not ashamed (verse 16)

I am bound:Paul is under obligation. He saw his Greek culture and philosophies. He was bound to bring the gospel to them, to tell them. He has something more to give to them then they have now. He owes it to them because God has saved him, justified him by grace. In light of this vast blessing he owes it to the Greeks and barbarians to tell them. There is a sense in which we are bound to tell others. Do we feel under any obligation as Christians to tell others, to share your testimony? Let’s be like Paul. An obligation has been laid upon us by God.

I am eager: Paul is saying there is a readiness – go anywhere, do anything. There was a yearning, a burden for Paul. He was ready but God prevented him going at that time. Paul prepared to preach the gospel to people in Rome. We see that the people he wanted to go to were God’s people in Rome (Romans 1:7). Paul wanted to go to the difficult areas.  There is no greater privilege than telling the Lord’s people, in encouraging them. Paul was eager to come to them. Christians need to be preached to evangelically; we are not past the delight to be preached to.

I am not ashamed: This is  the very heart of being, it is based in the gospel. Paul is immeasurably and unspeakably proud of the gospel. There is an ironical statement here, a litotes (an ironic understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary). The gospel is the only news that can bring the hopeless any hope at all. We see the power of God, dunamis. We get the English words dynamic and dynamite from this word. Dynamite has a dual role; it has a destructive power and a constructive power, to knock down and to build up. What needs to be destroyed in the lives of men? Every barrier raised against the gospel in your heart. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can do that, there is no other philosophy. Then, when everything is being blown down, something begins to grow. The foundation that is laid – the gospel. The Word of God, the gospel, is the power of salvation to whoever believes.

Paul saw the gospel for everyone who believes, wherever you come from, whatever age. This gospel alone will bring you to God. As for our works, achievements, trying to work for salvation, God says ‘You’re bankrupt!’ Look to Him. When Christ died upon the cross He died for the unjust. He is our righteousness. Trust Him and He will clothe you with His righteousness. Where do you stand? Do you stand in righteousness before God right now? It is a righteousness from first to last. My righteousness is God made. It is from heaven. Nothing you and I can do can make us righteousness. “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2) Be unspeakably proud of this gospel, bring it to men!

December 25th 2019: Ian Middlemist

Ian Middlemist -Oct18“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16).

We see briefly the overall glorious theme of God’s love displayed – Jesus Christ came to reveal God’s love for sinners. Consider the purpose of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; He came into the world to show God’s love for sinners. John 3:16 is very famous. Maybe we no longer find this verse astonishing. It is a remarkable verse, revealing an amazing truth – the greatest present we could ever receive! As we eat our Christmas dinners today, take delight in this. All the sensory pleasures we receive today can be overwhelming but whilst we have all of this, remember to take delight and joy in the truth of God’s love and how shocking and glorious it is!

John 3:16 makes a surprising claim; God loves the world. This is shocking. The Maker of heaven and earth loves the world. He is self-sufficient, He needs no-one. He is holy, the holy one who cannot look upon sin. “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors  and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13) His desires are always right. His affections are never mis-placed. How then can this holy God love this broken, sinful world that gives to Him nothing?

Our God clearly loves the creation in a general way because it exists because of God’s providence and sovereign power, He preserves the world. He provides for it, upholds it by His power. By His word it was brought into being, corrupted by us. But it will not be left to decay. His plan is not for it to crumble and fade by global warming or nuclear disaster. It will end when He decides to create a new heaven and a new earth, when the Lord Jesus comes. His plan is to make it new and fresh, filled with life. Bodies that have been decayed in the ground will be raised on that day when Jesus returns.

Heaven will receive Jesus Christ on that day (Acts 3:21). To John, the word ‘world’ represents human inhabitants of the earth, the human race. We are all one, one in that we are rebels and idolaters to the Creator who made us. We take what He has given and reject Him. We are the ungrateful child. Outrageous! That’s the world – hardly an object of God’s desire, of God’s love. It makes little sense. Surely God would not love us – that would make sense – to get rid of us, a terrible mistake. But God does not make mistakes. God has chosen to love this broken, sinful world. The word ‘world’ is used to show God’s mystery. It is not limited to a race or time. God’s love is not speaking of universal salvation. The Father has chosen a people for Himself – of all background (John 6:37). God loves sinners. The holy God loves sinners.

God has provided a way of salvation for the people of this world, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Some of you may be disappointed today with your Christmas gifts. You will all say thank you, even if your heart is sinking at the frying pan you may receive! The wrong gift can be very disappointing. The one gift you will not be disappointed with is God’s love – the perfect gift. Jesus came into the world. There is God’s love! Jesus’ coming into the world is irrefutable evidence of God’s love for us. Our Western world’s definition of love is bankrupt – just listen to Radio 1 and find out how empty the word ‘love’ is today.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers,” (1 John 3:16). Christ’s coming to die is the proof of God’s love. His birth and death are utterly linked. His sacrificial love is a love that will do anything, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10). The only begotten Son is the object of God’s eternal affection. Two times during Christ’s public ministry everybody heard the Father speak, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, Matthew 17:5). Who can fathom the love the Father has for the Son? Not even His brothers believed in Him. God’s love is, perfect, deep, unchanging.

God sent His Son for us, for you and me. Christ came to earth to show us the riches of God’s love. It really is good news! It is eternal love. The Father sent the Son to earth, the earth where He would be condemned to death. Christmas confirms to us that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.

September 29th 2019: John Funnell

John Funnell-sept19Luke 19:1-10

Winter is coming. Christmas is near. Some people love Christmas. We all know the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I haven’t read the book, but have seen the film. To me, Ebenezer Scrooge is Michael Caine! He was a wealthy, yet tight-fisted man. He treated Bob Cratchit and his family very badly. Through various ghostly and spiritual influences, Scrooge miraculously turns into a wonderful philanthropist. Everyone is happy. It’s a classic tale.

Many people see this story as quite similar to the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus turns a wealthy tax collector into a nice, generous person who gives half of what he earns to the poor. However, such a simplistic interpretation doesn’t do it justice. It limits us to read it as part of the crowd, who see Zacchaeus as a known sinner (verse 7). Once Jesus gets involved he becomes a generous Christian.

Viewing this story from the perspective of the crowd is limiting. Step back from the crowd and stop being simply a spectator. What truly matters is the viewpoint of Jesus, looking at this through Jesus’ eyes.

Jesus ignores the crowd. They swarm around Him yet He goes straight for the man in the tree. Why Zacchaeus? Dr. Luke provides us with many clues why. The crowds ‘pressed onto Jesus’. Why? Because they had heard God in flesh was there. To them, Jesus was an A-Lister celebrity. Zacchaeus was one of the people who wanted to see Jesus. Yet he had a problem; he was too short and couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd. His view is blocked. The detail of him being short didn’t need to be added. There must be a reason Dr. Luke added it to the narrative.

The Greek word for ‘short’ is interesting. It is not just used to describe height but also age. In John 19 we read of the blind man who was healed by Jesus. The Pharisees were not happy. His parents were called into court to be quizzed. Yet his parents say he is of age and can answer for himself. The same Greek word for age is used as to describe short. We see this again in Hebrews 11:11 when Sarah is described as beyond child-bearing age. It’s the same Greek word again. Dr. Luke adds the adjective ‘short’ because Zacchaeus was short but also because the word describes his status, especially in a society where age and status matter in a community. Dr. Luke added it not just to explain why he couldn’t see, but also to show Zacchaeus has a lowly status in his community. Zacchaeus’ ultimate problem was not his height but his family and friends had flocked to see Jesus and had left him behind. That’s the tragedy that sits behind the narrative. Zacchaeus was left behind by his community, abandoned by friends and family. He had no status. He was lost. Zacchaeus was all alone and without a loving community to guide him. Perhaps this is why he went down the wrong path and became a tax collector to Rome?

He climbed a fig tree – a symbol of prosperity. Fig leaves are a symbol of covering sin. Zacchaeus is trying to rise above. Jesus finds him in his sin, lonely, hiding up a fig tree. ‘And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”’ (Luke 19:5). Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus by name. He calls him down and reconciles him with his community. Jesus makes a public statement that he is a son of Abraham. He tells the crowd he is one of them. Zacchaeus is restored. Hallelujah!

‘And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”’ (Luke 19:9).

 Jesus can come into the life of any person who has been outcast and left out by his community. He can bring them back into his community. This is a story about Christ, come into the world, coming to seek the lost. Hallelujah! “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

As Jesus was walking down the street He didn’t see what the crowd saw, He saw a broken man, trying to lift himself above his community, yet hiding. So Jesus came and He personally called him by name. And what did He do? He loved him. For the first time in a long time Zacchaeus knew he was loved. We see repentance. He gave half of his possessions to the poor. Zacchaeus gave freely and joyfully because He knew the overwhelming and overflowing love of Christ. Friends, the good news, the best news, is that Jesus’ love can do the same for us today.

If you have times when you feel low, exhausted, ashamed, overwhelmed, convicted by the weight of your sin, please know that Jesus is here for you. He will never ignore you for the crowd. He will call you by name. He’ll say, ‘My dear brother, my dear sister, ‘I love you.’ The creator of all time, space and matter says, ‘I love you.’ He says, ‘Come down from the tree of tiredness and shame, come down to your community, your church. I don’t care about your past, what anyone else thinks of you, I just want you. All that shame I buried at the cross.’

The call today to Christians and both non-Christians alike is ‘will you come down from your hiding place and take Jesus home with you, just like Zacchaeus? Will you let Jesus transform your life with His love? Today, salvation has come to the home. Will you take it?