June 13th 2021: Alun Johnson

Matthew 27:27-56

I wonder if you can think of a time that left you completely in awe? It could be something like seeing the Northern Lights crossing the sky or the Canadian Rocky Mountains stretching out into the distance, or maybe hearing about random act of kindness by a stranger. There are many things that make us feel good about the world around us. We want to sing with Louis Armstrong, ‘What a wonderful world.’

To read Matthew chapter 27 of these events is also an awe-inspiring experience but in a completely different kind of way.  It surely cannot make us feel good about the world around us when you read about such depraved inhumanity towards an innocent man. For some, it is an historical account that should leave us feeling very much like Moses before that burning bush, that we’re standing on holy ground.

It’s probably the most well-known passage in all the gospels. With well-known passages there is a temptation to come to them and think to yourself, ‘But I have heard this all before.’ But have we really heard it all before? Le u’s be clear, there are things going on in these events that are completely beyond the realms of human understanding. There are things going on in these events that show us that we’ve hardly begun to understand the dreadful position of humankind.

When you read Matthew 27, when you consider the events of Good Friday, we should not come easily to these things. We should, like Moses, take off our sandals and tread carefully. This morning I want us to consider first of all, what is the reality of what is going on.

In 2004 Mel Gibson released a well-known film called ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ I’ve never seen it but I can remember, as a youngster, going down to cinemas in Cardiff and giving tracts to those coming out of the cinemas after watching the film. I remember very clearly the looks on people’s faces as they came out; they looked shocked, devastated. They were shaken. It made me realise that just like the Nativity, the history of Golgotha has been sanitised and sentimentalised. It’s been made into something it is not. What Mel Gibson did very well was to shove people’s faces into the horrors of the crucifixion of Jesus. It shocked them out of that sanitised version that perhaps they had been presented with in Sunday School or in primary schools. As you read these events, the on the surface facts of the death of Jesus Christ are absolutely horrifying.

Any crucifixion was absolutely horrifying. The Roman statesman Cicero describes torture like this, “The mere name of the cross should be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears. The results and suffering from these doings as well as the situation, even anticipation, of their enablement, and, in the end, the mere mention of them are unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.”

What is he saying? Well, he’s saying this: ‘Don’t even talk about crucifixion, don’t even mention it in polite company, it is that bad.’ But when you come to the gospels, they make a great deal of the Crucifixion of Jesus, they talk a lot about it. John devotes over half of his gospel to events surrounding the death of Jesus, Matthew 2/5, Mark 3/5 and Luke 1/3. Clearly the death of Jesus, to the gospel writers, was the most significant thing.

One critic of The Passion of the Christ spoke some truth when he said, “This movie is the prayer of a gifted film-maker, but it is also a narrow and harrowing perspective on a story that, no matter what your faith, is bigger than any attempt to portray it on film.”

Jesus suffered appalling tortures before and on the cross. Soldiers beat Him. Soldiers spat in His face. They mocked Him over and over again. They forced a crown of thorns on His head. The Roman whipping that He received was absolutely awful. It didn’t have the leniency of the Jewish forty lashes minus one. The took Jesus around the city on the longest journey that they could have, trying to prolong the sufferings of Jesus.

As you come to the gospel writings there is no great emphasis on the physicality of tortuous death. That is where Mel Gibson got it wrong and where that film critic got it right. The events of Good Friday are just bigger than any event to portray it on film.

What does Matthew say pertaining to the death of Christ? Actually, not a lot about the Crucifixion. He says, in verse 35, ‘When they had crucified Him.’ That’s it. Mark 15:24, ‘And the crucified Him.’ Luke 23:33, ‘When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Him.’ John 19:17-18, “He went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.There they crucified him.” 

 For the gospel writers, therefore for the Holy Spirit, the brutality of the death of Christ was not the main thing. The main thing was the significance of that death – the spiritual realities of that death were the important ones. They want us to focus on the spiritual realities. This was no ordinary death. There was something massively supernatural and miraculous going on here and you cannot avoid it. You cannot avoid it because, first of all, you have got darkness and dereliction. Secondly, you’ve got what one preacher calls, ‘divine vandalism,’ – the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom. You have also got death reversed (v.52), the mass resurrection of many holy people.

Let’s consider darkness and dereliction for a moment (v. 45). In World War II the blackout, despite its eeriness, kept people safe. On Good Friday there was a massive blackout from the sixth to the ninth hour, darkness was all over the land. Evidently, it was an extensive darkness that covered the whole land. This three hour blackout was when the Middle Eastern sun should have been at the highest in the sky. It must have been terribly unsettling to witness it.  Why the darkness? Darkness is connected with God’s judgement. Peter prophesied against false teachers and prophets (2 Peter 2:17). Jesus says in Matthew 24:29, talking about the end of the world, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

In Matthew 27:46 Jesus gives us some insight as to what is going on. It is called the cry of dereliction, which comes towards the end of that darkness. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is where, I suggest, we need to take off our sandals and tread very carefully. We realise the person who is crying out is none other than the eternal Son of God, the only begotten Son. He was in the beginning with God. There is no relationship in the whole universe that was closer than the Father and Son.

Yet here, at this moment, God the Son is forsaken. In that three hours of darkness, God the Father’s judgement fell on His Son. The judgement that was so awful that the bond between God the Father and God the Son, for some time was broken. The Father never ceased to love His Son because Jesus says, For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again,” (John 10:17). 

There is no voice from heaven to comfort His Son. There is no angel to strengthen Him, He is forsaken. What is going on? “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We realise our sin is absolutely awful, so awful it nailed the Son of God to a Roman cross. It is so awful that the Son of God, who enjoyed the closest relationship with His Father throughout eternity, had to be utterly forsaken by His Father as He endured hell. He had no sin and yet He was made sin for us. God the Father, because He is just, cannot just sweep sin under the carpet. But, by pouring out His wrath on His own Son, against our sin during that massive judgement blackout, He can remember our sins no more.

“My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

When peace like a river

Jesus, in enduring the wrath of God during that cosmic blackout, was pierced, Isaiah says, for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The judgement that brought us peace was upon Him. By His wounds we are healed.

Are you a Christian here this morning? If so, what we have read means that you are as free as a bird. Your sin, not in part, but all of it, is nailed to the cross and you bear it no more. You have peace with God. You are completely healed. Praise the Lord.

If you are not a Christian, or you may think you are a Christian but haven’t thought too much about sin, Jesus’ cry of dereliction, when you hear it, doesn’t make much difference, it doesn’t bother you too much. Perhaps you haven’t realised what sin is about? In our society people don’t accept the idea of sin, it seems outdated. People aren’t held responsible for their own actions, ‘Being who you are’ is the slogan of our society.

But Jesus’ cry of dereliction teaches us one thing – we are sinners. Our sin is real to God and it has to be punished. Only the death of His Son can sort it out. The fact is, we are responsible creatures and one day God is going to hold us to account.

As a Christian, when we hear the cry of dereliction doesn’t it make you hate your sin all the more? Does it not make you cry, “O Lord, help me to live a holy life!” Does it not help you go to places like Titus and echo with Paul, not just to want knowledge of the truth but knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness? In other words, that we don’t just stand there at the foot of the cross, gazing in horror, then just walk away and carry on flirting with sin as if it is no big deal, that we carry on harbouring a few pet sins of our own.

We should come to the foot of the cross and break our hearts over our sin. It was our sin that caused Jesus to suffer such unthinkable agonies. We should throw ourselves on Him to keep us from sin.

At Calvary, God was doing something that He is an absolute expert at – He was bringing the greatest good out of the greatest evil. You see it in the signs that immediately follow the death of Jesus. Between three and four o’clock in the afternoon, God’s wrath had been poured out on His Son, Jesus is forsaken by His Father, Jesus dies (Matthew 27:15 / John 19:13). What effect does all that have? Is the work of Jesus finished? Yes, it is! Because then you get the curtain of the temple being torn in two, from top to bottom (v 51-52). This is no accident, it is hugely significant and important. At three o’clock in the afternoon the priests would have bene busy preparing for the evening sacrifice. Then, all of a sudden, all of the mysteries of the Old Testament are opened, revealed and unfolded to all. The curtain would have concealed the most holy place, the place where only the high priest could go, once a year. Now, it is open to all. The partitioning wall, which would have divided Jew and non-Jew, the ceremonial law, was now removed (Hebrew 10). Now, through Jesus’ sacrificial death, we can all approach the Shekinah Glory. Let me tell you, that is huge.

“There’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin,
there’s a door that is open and you may go in.
At Calvary’s cross is where you begin,
when you come as a sinner to Jesus.”

So powerful, so complete is the sacrifice offered by Jesus that the miracles don’t stop with that divine vandalism of the curtain being torn. You now have death reversed. There is an earthquake that is so violent it splits rocks, it opens tombs, and even before Easter Sunday, Resurrection is already on the cards (v 52). What is all this showing? Clearly, that Jesus’ sacrifice not only pays for sin, it not only opens up the way for sinful people to come back to a holy God. But also, don’t we want to leap for joy at this – it means death is defeated! It will be an inheritance of a marvellously rejuvenated universe and life without end in a mind-blowingly fantastic resurrection. Wow! Good Friday and Easter Sunday prove that this life is just a drop in the bottomless ocean of eternity. And that changes everything!

Let us briefly consider some of the reactions to what we’ve seen. We’ve had the realities, now let’s see the reactions. Before we finish, we’ve got to bring it a little closer to home. Why do we need to bring it closer to home? Because, as I read these gospel accounts, as I think about the crucifixion, I find that there were people who were actually there. There were eyewitnesses of these things and they respond in vastly different ways. I am bothered by this because if you think that even eyewitnesses could be so terrifyingly ignorant of the implications of what was going on, how much more we, living 2,000 years later, can also be terrifyingly ignorant of the most important event in all of history.

What eyewitnesses am I talking about? First of all you have the mockers, those who hurled insults at a man who was being horribly tortured to death. You have the robbers and the passers by (v.40). They use the second person, using the pronoun ‘you.’ Then you have the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders who use the third person, he and him. In other words, they don’t even say it to His face (v 42-43). These were the great teachers of the law. They should have been familiar with the teachings of the Old Testament about the Christ. Yet, they are staggeringly ignorant about it all. It’s a scary thought that those people who possessed all the prophetic writings, the teachings of the Old Testament, observations of Jesus at close hand, had heard His teaching, were now ridiculing this man in such a cowardly way – that God-Man who was dying so that they could have life. It’s horrendous.

Haven’t we been doing something similar ever since? Perhaps years and years of going to church, years and years of listening to the Bible being preached, years and years of listening to our Christian friends and family telling us about the love of Jesus and perhaps, not outwardly, but inwardly mocking the very idea that Jesus was dying for my sins. Don’t let the darkness that so blinded teachers of the law and the chief priests so blind you to your desperate need of to repent of your sin, and your desperate need of a Saviour. Jesus died for you. Believe now. Repent now. Do it while there is still some light emanating from the pages of Matthew chapter 27.

Now less shocking, but no less unsettling, are the reactions of those we read about in Luke 23:48. The people ‘beat their breasts and went away.’ Up to this point, there was Jesus breathing His last. Those onlookers maintained some interest but now they begin to drift away to carry on with the rest of their lives. But ‘they beat their breasts.’ This was an ancient way of showing grief. Somewhere, in the depths of their souls, they realised that in some way which they haven’t quite understood, they were responsible for the death of this innocent man. I wonder if there are any like that here, today? Perhaps there have been many times where you have felt sorrow for your sins. Perhaps you’ve started to realise that your sins nailed Jesus to the cross. But many times you’ve just drifted away; you’ve left church just to carry on with your life, just as before. The Bible, in 2 Corinthians chapter 7, talks about a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Let me tell you, don’t drift away again. Pray for that godly sorrow that leads somewhere, that leads to repentance.

Luke 23:49. Here are brave women. The Bible was ahead of its time. Brave women and not so brave men who knew Jesus and who are watching from a distance. Disciples would follow Jesus for three years, they had given up everything to follow Him. What are they doing now? They are playing it safe. Are we a little like that – not so brave Christians? Are we playing it safe as we live our lives, keeping our distance from this wonderful Jesus? Today, let us really, really endeavour to go right up to the foot of the cross and declare to anyone who will listen, our allegiance to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Last, but definitely not least, is the centurion that we read of (v.54). Here was a man, an extremely hard man, who had witnessed and taken part in scores of crucifixions, and yet realises that this particular crucifixion was like no other. He saw the convulsions of nature in the earthquake, he saw the dignified conduct of Jesus in the way He was put on that cross, the way that He dies, and with the little understanding that he does have, he comes to the conclusion, as Luke reports, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ Perhaps you have very little understanding of what is going on here, you have very little knowledge of Jesus, and of Christianity and of the Bible. Perhaps Jesus has only been recently introduced to you. But look today, look now, really look at the evidence before you. Be amazed at what is before you and believe.

As we close, let’s just focus on one person, the wonderful person of the Lord Jesus Christ. You would think that the glorious dignity of the second person of the Trinity, being beaten, being whipped, being spat upon, being mocked and scorned, being deserted by His friends, being crucified, you think of the absolute control that He showed throughout it all. He, being the One who gave up His spirit, not having it taken from Him. He, being the One crying out in a loud voice, and going out in full possession of His faculties. It reminds us of that hymn, ‘Man of Sorrows.’ Hallelujah! What a Saviour! Amen.

May 16th 2021: Jeremy Bailey

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53 is a portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, written by Isaiah 700 years before the very first Good Friday. In Acts we read of an African official who had been in Jerusalem and was on his way home in his chariot back to Africa. He was reading out loud this chapter. The Holy Spirit had already put it into the mind and heart of Philip, the evangelist, to run down to the dessert road in Gaza. We have heard a lot about Gaza this past week, sadly none of it good. However, this was a wonderful occasion. Philip arrived next to that chariot as the Ethiopian official was reading these words from Isaiah. He asked the question, ‘Who is he speaking about, himself or someone else?’ Philip was invited up into the chariot and started with that chapter to tell him the good news of Jesus. We know that this chapter is all about the Lord Jesus. In fact, we can start anywhere in this chapter, any verse, and we will see Jesus there.

We need the Holy Spirit’s help to be able to see Jesus. There are some people who read the whole Bible and don’t see Jesus anywhere. But there are others who read any part of the word of God and they see Jesus there. This chapter, perhaps above all other chapters in the Old Testament, speaks to us of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, the thing that will do us the most good is to fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus.

In every verse in this chapter, we see the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. We see His physical suffering here. He was a man of sorrows. He was pierced (verse 5) with a crown of thorns, we remember the spear that pierced His side after He had died. He was crushed and bruised. We think of Him being beaten with rods, bruised by the weight of the cross that He was made to carry. We see the physical sufferings, but we know from our own experiences, that physical sufferings are not the only type of suffering that we endure in this world. There’s also injustice. We see here the suffering of injustice (verse 7). He was oppressed and afflicted. There was this pressure upon Him even though He deserved none of it (verse 8). He was arrested, led like a lamb to the slaughter.

We see not only injustice but the agonies of rejection. He was rejected from the very beginning of his life, even as a very young child, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2). It was spiritually dry ground when Jesus came into the world. There had been 400 years when no word had been heard from God at all. The last word of the Old Testament was 400 years prior to the birth of the Lord Jesus. There was very little to see what God was doing. Then, in that dry land a root appeared.

When Jesus was born, He did not have physical attractiveness that we should desire Him. He wasn’t a physically handsome man. He was despised and rejected by His family and by others when He began His ministry. On that first Good Friday He was left all alone, they all fled. The rejection was complete by those who should have loved Him. He was despised and rejected. On the cross people hurled insults. The people really despised Him. When we read all of that we ask, ‘Why did the Lord Jesus have to suffer so much? Why did a loving God, His Father, allow this His only Son to go through that? The answer is, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days, (Isaiah 53:10).

Jesus suffered so much because the Father decided He should. It was the will of the Father that it should happen. The Father caused Him to suffer. We need light and understanding from heaven to understand this.

The suffering of the Lord Jesus was the will of God. In some of the earlier versions of the Bible, the NKJV and the KJV, we read, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10). What a thing to say! Surely the Father won’t be pleased to see His Son suffer? Yet, the same word is used in Isaiah 42:21, “The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” The Lord was pleased the word of God was going out. It is the same word. So, it pleased the Father. How could it please the Father to see His Son suffer? The Father caused Him to suffer. The cross was a deadly wound inflicted on Christ. What Father would be pleased to see His only son crushed?

Throughout His life on Earth the Father constantly assured His Son He loved Him. We hear His voice at Jesus’ Baptism This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17). Then again, when Jesus ascended, we hear the same thing, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5). Yes, the Father loved the Son deeply. There was never a time when the Father did not love the Son.

So how could a loving Father do this? Notice, it doesn’t say Father’ here, it says ‘Lord, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief,” (Isaiah 53:10). It reminds us we have a triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Way before the world was ever created, there was this counsel between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. They determined how sinful, fallen human beings, as they knew they would be, would be saved. The Father would send the Son into the world to be the Saviour of the world. The Son would willingly come, the Son would willingly give His life for the sins of the world. The Holy Spirit would come and make that work of the cross real in people’s hearts. The Son was in agreement, and the Father delighted to send His Son. It was the will of the Son as well. It was the will of the Holy Spirit. It pleased them.

We read the remarkable words of the Lord Jesus in John 10:17, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” The Father deeply loves the Son because He is willing to lay down His life. It was the will of the Lord to crush Him. Not because He had some awful delight in inflicting pain upon His Son but because this was part of the great purpose of God and the only way you and I could ever be saved from our sin and forgiven. If there was another way, do you think the Father would have allowed it? This is the whole point of Gethsemane isn’t it? When Jesus said, ‘If it is possible, let this cup pass by.’ In other words, ‘If there is another way, then let’s find that way.’ Do you think that a loving father would have done that if there had been another way? But the fact is that the Father loved the world of sinners lost and ruined by the Fall. And so, Jesus was made a guilt offering.

In the Old Testament there was a guilt offering – a bull, ram or sheep – and hands would be laid symbolically on the head of that animal to transfer the sins onto that animal, transferring the guilt of our sins onto that animal. The animal was then taken and killed and sacrificed to God on the alter. The animal died in the place of the sinner.

And that’s the meaning of verse 6, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

Human life and animal life are so different. The Jewish people would have known that really, there was no way that the animal could take away their sins. How wonderful Isaiah was given this vision. Here was the Lamb that could take away the sins of the world. Only a sinless person could take away the sins of the world. There was no other way. The Father was doing this, the Son was willingly going to the cross because this was the way that your sins and my sins can be borne away.

If left undealt with, your sins and my sins would carry us down to an eternal hell and we will be punished forever – and justly so. The Father knew that that would be the consequence if the Son did not go the to the cross. And that is why it delighted the Father to see His Son bearing the sins of others so that they wouldn’t enter that eternal hell but that they would be welcomed into an eternal heaven. Only this one sacrifice for sin would prove the Lord to be just and the one who could justify sinners like us. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in.

How can a sinner like me, with all my deceitfulness and rebellion in my heart, go into the presence of the holy, pure God? How can I stand before a just God when I have broken His laws? You cannot provide a ransom for your own sins. Your guilt must be taken by someone else, or you will have to bear it yourself. No act that you could ever perform in your life can ever take away the guilt that you have.

Only the pure Son of God Himself could bear your sin and mine. That is why it was the Lord’s will to crush Him. That is why the Father put Him to grief. There was no other way. A loving Father loved His Son so much that He said, ‘Son, you are willing to go there for the sake of these sinners, millions of them, throughout the world and throughout the whole history of the world. If you are prepared to go and give your life and bear all this sufferings for their sins, and take their guilt, then it will delight Me to see you do it.’

All the fruits of salvation came to us through the suffering of Jesus. Some deaths are fruitful in a measure. It always breaks my heart to see families who have lost someone in tragic circumstances, like when a child dies. Families want to make that life significant in some way, they want to make sure it wasn’t in vain. Parents want to remember them and may set up a charity or research in order that some good might come out of the tragedy. There are occasions when there is fruit from tragedy (example of Annie, the life-saving dummy. Because of her death so many have been saved.)

Yet, there is so much more here, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10). There would be children from Jesus, spiritual children, from the whole of the world, the whole of history – children born again because the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Death could not hold the Lord Jesus. When He had provided satisfaction for sin, He lives forever. The will of the Lord will prosper in His hands. Salvation would be gained.

You and I can never achieve our salvation, but God the Father provided a way. The challenge to you and me today is, ‘Are you resting in Christ and His sufferings or are you resting in something else?’ Come to Christ and rest only in Him. Rest in Christ alone. That is the will of God. It was the Lord’s will to crush Him.

The second great challenge is ‘Do we want to see the Church prosper in our days?’ Of course we do. Yet the temptation is to try all sorts of gimmicks. The preaching of the death and suffering of the Jesus is the only way the church will prosper. Only the preaching of the crucified and risen Lord will ensure fruit. All of us want to see more fruit. None of us are happy with the size of our churches, none of us are happy that we see few conversions. Cling to the cross. Preach Christ alone for salvation. Rest in Him alone.

Through His death and resurrection, the will of God will prosper. Rejoice in Him because He has done it all. What is there for us to do? Simply repent and believe and put our trust only in a crucified Saviour. And one day, this risen, ascended Jesus will come again in glory. And if we are still here on Earth we will see Him. Even those who pierced Him will see Him. If we have already gone to glory, we shall be enjoying His presence forever more because He bore our sins on the cross of Calvary.

February 2nd 2020: Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards - Feb 2020Isaiah 42:5-9

There has never been a more important announcement than God sending His servant into the world to bring the benefits of His Kingdom to men. We would expect the news to be serious but to have joyful tones and to be dramatic. That is the case in these verses here. God underline the enormity of this announcement as He first addresses the servant Himself and then the people of Israel.

  1. God is identified in verse 5.
  2. God addresses the servant – verses 6-7
  3. God addresses the nation – verses 8-9

(We know God addresses the servant in verses 6-7 because the ‘you’ is singular. In verses 8-9 God addresses the nation; ‘you’ at the end of verse 9 is plural).

God’s serious intent is to bring about a remarkable change amongst men by the greatness of His love and power. There will be a distinctive intervention in the person of the servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. We trust we will be thrilled to hear the good news of what God has done for us, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. The announcement comes directly from God,

‘Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:’

    Isaiah 42:5

It emphasises the word for God, underlining He is the uncomparable one, the only true God, the one who effortlessly laid out the universe, who unfolded the whole of the universe with consummate ease and ultimate power. He is the author of all human life, the one who is to be listened to and obeyed. He is the one who we must pay the utmost attention to as He speaks. The ‘Lord speaks of His covenant faithfulness. He came for all He has created. He did not abandon the universe and men to sin. He cares and maintains all creation.

He sustains men by giving them breath. Here is the God who has created this universe and set men in it. He is committed to the welfare of it, He does not stand idly by. In love and mercy He sends His servant to be the Saviour. He does not stand aloof from His creation. He is intimately concerned for men. The Lord Jesus Christ reflects this in His life. We see God’s commanding control over nature and disease, His care for sinners.

This announcement should be accompanied by a great fanfare because it is good news. The coming of His servant, the lord Jesus Christ, proves it. The love of God is so great for the world He made, which rejected His rule, He desires the well-being of His creatures. He must condemn fallen mankind because of their sin. But He shows ‘common grace’, His goodness, to all men. His particular love towards His people is all embracing. We should be comforted to know that our Creator cares for us, even when we all others desert us.

  1. God addresses the servant. Just as God does not abandon creation, He will never abandon His servant who He sends to bring salvation,

‘I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
     to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.’

(Isaiah 42: 6-7)

He promises to accompany His servant, to take Him by the hand, to make His success certain. Consequently, the servant will be the embodiment of God’s covenant. Every commitment He has made to men will be fulfilled through His servant. Man, in his rebellion, has plunged himself into bondage and sin. God sends His servant to bring light into darkness, and freedom from their bondage. He will restore His people to true freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s light to a world wrapped in the darkness of unbelief (John 8:12). God sends Him to release men from their bondage to sin. He brings light and freedom where there is darkness and bondage.

By nature we all live in the darkness of sin (John 3:19). We have lived lives in sinful indulgence, in bondage to our sinful desires, full of darkness of godlessness. This is the terrible predicament of all who reject God. But God in His mercy has sent the Lord Jesus Christ to solve the problem. In His perfect life we see what man is supposed to be. But He is more than our example; by offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sin, He offers a relationship for us with God, which brings light into our world. He offered Himself willingly up to that cross that we might now the freedom of knowing Him. The freedom of what we are supposed to be – children of God.

  1. God turns to address the nation,

‘I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.’

Isaiah 42:-8-9

He declares that His concern is rightly for the honour of His name. Here is the God of glory, the God who is able to do all. He is a jealous of His own name. He will not share His glory with any other (idols). God tells them of a new era in which His glory will be demonstrated more fully than before. All that He has done so far will fade into comparison to the new things He will accomplish with His servant. It will eventually blossom into the new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21).

God is speaking here of how His past glory had been magnificently demonstrated but it is nothing of the glory to be demonstrated in the future – in the work, life, death, resurrection and return of His servant, which will lead to the new heavens and new earth. With the coming of His servant, God’s glory would shine for all to see. The glory given to God through all His other servants, through all His works, are totally eclipsed by the glory gained through His servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, God’s glory is displayed to the nations. He declares, ‘Sit back and see what I’m going to do through my servant and marvel!’ (Colossians 1:19, John 1:14).

January 5th 2020: Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards-Jan 2020Isaiah 42:1-4

Isaiah lived in difficult times. King Uzziah had reigned in Judah and there had been prosperity; the Assyrian Empire was relatively weak on the northern border, so the nations in the south had been left on their own. The land had flourished with trade. But a new king came to the throne, Tiglath-pileser III. He had defeated his enemies to the north and now his attention turned to the south. Israel and Syria had come together against the Assyrians. There was pressure on Judah to join them but they wouldn’t. Judah faces an existential crisis. Their very existence is in danger. Throughout this period Isaiah brings the word of the Lord to the people; Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians and the people will be taken into captivity. Then he speaks of a future beyond the Babylonian exile.

Here, we are on the threshold of a new year. We have had celebrations. Some will say the world faces the greatest existential threat – global warming, political uncertainties. What is going to happen? Many young people are so overwhelmed with anxiety that their mental health is affected. What is going to happen? Well, let’s go back to Isaiah. Isaiah speaks about God maintaining a faithful remnant. He speaks of Cyrus, who will come to prominence 150 years in the future. He is actually named. Cyrus will be the great Persian Emperor who will descend on Babylon and bring destruction. God will raise up this heathen king, 150 years in the future, to restore Jerusalem.

But Isaiah speaks of another one who is known as the servant of the Lord, a perfect servant, who will get to the roots of the issues the people of Isaiah’s day faced. The roots don’t lie in economic or military weakness, the root is sin. This servant will come to deal with that issue. How? By suffering.

There are four songs in Isaiah, the songs of the suffering servant of the Lord. This perfect servant, who will redeem God’s people, bring forgiveness of sin through His suffering. Here is God’s answer to the problem of Isaiah’s day. Here is the answer to the problems of today. As we begin a New Year, begin it with Christ, the suffering servant. God has sent His Son into this world to save us from our sin and to bring hope to all those who trust in Him.

Today we will look at the first song in Isaiah. It is found in Isaiah 42:1-4. It begins with the word ‘Behold.’ We also see that word in Isaiah 41 where it is used to call the people to see the uselessness of idols. But now, here God says ‘Behold, my servant.’ See the one who can truly meet your needs.

He is God’s servant, chosen by God the Father for the task in hand. He has the Father’s seal of approval. He is identified with the Father in the strongest possible terms – the Father upholds Him. Here is the one who is so identified with the Father that He is seen in the Father’s embrace. The Father delights in His chosen one. Here is the servant of God, the one appointed, the one acknowledged, the one guaranteed to accomplish everything set before Him.

Here is the one who has the fullness of the Spirit which enables Him to do all that is asked of Him. His assignment is to bring justice to the nations, the peace and goodwill wherever God is acknowledged as Lord. The servant’s role is to bring God’s kingdom to men. The Kingdom of Heaven, John the Baptist declared, is at hand, as he refers to Jesus. He has come to accomplish the Father’s will, enabled by the Spirit, to men that they might be blessed beyond all measure. We should look upon Him in awe and wonder. He is God’s approved, empowered servant who brings to us the benefits of God’s Kingdom if we receive Him. Here is the answer to the world’s problems. God sends His only begotten Son with the power to deal with the root of the problem – sin.

God has not withdrawn from this rebellious world, He has come into it in the person of Jesus Christ. Through the forgiveness that He brings we know the richest blessings. He is to be loved, praised and adored. He is the most important person this world has ever known. He is to be the most important person in our lives today, every day. Fill our days with the knowledge of Him. He is the altogether glorious Lord.

The Servant’s character. Cyrus was a typical, aggressive, arrogant man. But this servant of the Lord is totally different. God’s answer to the oppression of this world is gentleness and humility. There is nothing strident about Him (v2). Here is no Trump or Boris. He will not dominate or shout others down, neither will He advertise Himself. We remember how He repeatedly shunned the glare of publicity (John 6:15).

We are told, in verse 3, He will not trample on the weak. On the contrary, He will greatly strengthen them. The servant’s character is marked by meekness and gentleness. These characteristics are not the usual characteristics of leaders, but God’s ways are not our ways. Praise God, the Lord Jesus Christ knows how to look after feeble creatures like you and me.

There are times when we are very conscious of how vulnerable we are but the Lord Jesus Christ sees our eternal well-being. We can confidently commit to His Lordship. He will enfold us in His loving arms, His tender hands. He will never disappoint us. As a church we are to follow the example of the Saviour by quietly preaching the gospel, having concern for others, being considerate not aggressive or arrogant. Yes, confront people’s sin but with all humility, because we are sinners too.

The servant’s success (verse 4). Although the servant is meek and mild, nevertheless He will succeed. This servant will not grow faint. He will not be discouraged (bruise easily). He will experience all of those things that crush and quench the life out of men but He will be strong in the face of adversity. Nothing will prevent Him from God’s rule on earth. He will bring the benefits and the blessings to the bruised of this world. Not only Israel, but all nations of the world will hear of Him.

The Lord Jesus Christ knew what is was to be rejected and scorned but He did not grow faint neither was He discouraged. His meek and mild character is matched by determination and strength that came from God, which ensure success of His mission. What has laid you low, knocked the stuffing out of you? What has overwhelmed you? Remember the cross. Look to the Lord. Find in Him the strength to carry on. The work of the Lord Jesus Christ always succeeds. If he is at work in our lives, even as He takes us through deep trials, share in His success and His victory. He is the hope of the whole world. My Hope, your hope. Trust in Him, look to Him. He is the suffering servant of God. He is God’s provision for the broken world. He is the Saviour. He is my Saviour, He is your Saviour. Trust in Him. He loves you, He cares for you. He will see you through. He is the most wonderful person, the most glorious in success. Praise God for His suffering servant. Amen.

November 11th 2019: Thomas Kitchen

Thomas Kitchen 1-Nov 2019Matthew 26: 57-68, 27: 27-31

The philosopher Plato once asked what would happen if an absolutely perfect man would be born and lived in an imperfect world. He also had an answer to his question; our just man will be “thrown in prison, scoured and racked, has his eyes burned out and is finally impaled, presumably on a spear,” (Book II, Plato’s Rebublic). Plato wasn’t a Christian but he realised what a perfect man might encounter. 400 years after Plato was born, this perfect man would be born – Jesus Christ. Plato knew a perfect, holy person would not be welcome amongst us, he would be tortured and brutally killed.

We seem to be mesmerised by court cases. 100, 000,000 people watched the OJ Simson trial. We are obsessed with verdicts and sentences, yet the greatest trial of all time is barely given a murmur amongst people today. Why don’t we consider this trial today, non-Christians and Christians? Matthew 26 is a well-read passage but is over-looked in the build-up to the Crucifixion. Yet it is of immense significance.

The trial of Jesus was an illegal trial. According to Jewish law, the trial should not have taken place at night, which it did. Jesus was not given a formal charge. The high priest was not supposed to intervene. There was no defence or attorney. But there is one point Jewish leaders wanted to adhere to – witnesses to speak out against Jesus. The religious leaders were so desperate to have people to testify against Jesus they panicked. They tried their best to find who they could, as quickly as possible. The problem was the trial took place in the middle of the night. Eventually two witnesses were found (Matthew 26:60-61). As far as the judges and priests were concerned, the witnesses were good enough. Both witnesses said Jesus claimed He could destroy and rebuild the temple in three days, “But they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” (Matthew 26:60-61).

Jesus’ phrase, ‘in three days,’ was used on a few occasion. The priests knew Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. In Jewish tradition someone’s soul left the body three days after they died. So Jesus was saying that He would rise again after three day, stating that He had power over death. The high priest saw this as blasphemy.

We are looking ultimately at different ways in which Jesus Christ stood in place of sinners.

  1. Jesus was silent for us. This is an incredible sentence. Why is Jesus staying silent at such a crucial time? (And again in Matthew 27:13-14). What does it accomplish?
  • To fulfil scripture (Isaiah 53:7). He fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy. He is the true Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
  • If someone is guilty and has no defence, what can they say? Nothing. They have to be silent. The Jewish leaders were expecting Jesus to retaliate. There was no other one able to pay the price of sin. If Jesus had argued for His right, what good would it have done?
  • Most astonishingly, Jesus was silent for us. He lived the life we were supposed to live – a sinless life. He stood in our place because we haven’t lived that perfect life. Jesus had to die for us, for every bad thing we’ve ever said and done. He stood in our place for sins we’ve committed. Jesus stood silent for us because He took our sin upon himself. He is not guilty in Himself but He is made guilty for our sins. A man who is deserving of death cannot speak for Himself. He died our death. How astounding!
  1. Jesus was sentenced for us. The priests and judges seemed to have Jesus backed into a corner. If they took Jesus’ statement literally, that He was to tear down the temple, or if they took it as He would rise after three days and do this, they thought they had Him in a corner.

    Mark tells us after finding witnesses, in the end their testimonies were not consistent with each other (Mark 14:58-59). They were thrown out of court because they were no good. The high priest must have been frustrated. He had to find another way. The high priest uses a clever statement, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Matthew 26:63). Jesus had to answer this question and replies, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64). This is all the high priest needed to hear to get Jesus formally charged under Jewish law. He perceived Jesus was falsely claiming to be the Messiah. This was going to get Jesus killed. Have you ever told a lie? We are lairs. We have stolen. We have looked in lust. All this deserves death. But Jesus stands in our place and takes it Himself.

Death is just more than closing our eyes on this earth. Sin causes separation between us and God. If we are not trusting in God we die physically and spiritually, experiencing God’s anger and just punishment. It is what Jesus experienced on the cross. Jesus and God were together from eternity, always equal. Then tearing separation happened. It was nothing of what Jesus did but all we have done. He takes the punishment. Sin crucified Jesus. Sin tortured Jesus. JC Ryle writes, “We drink the same cup that was drunk by our beloved Lord. But there is one great difference: at the worst, we only drink a few bitter drops; He drank the cup to the very dregs.”

If you trust in Christ, you will never have to endure separation from God. He loves you with an infinite and everlasting love.

  1. Jesus suffered for us. This brings all the points together for us – being silent and suffering for us is suffering for us. They spat on His face, beat Him with fists, told Him to prophesise who had hit Him. It is horrible for anyone, but to my Saviour it was abhorrent, despicable and repulsive. And it was for me and for you and for all who will believe.

The gospel of Mark says Jesus was blindfolded for this part. They slapped and spit on this man. Little did they know He was their Creator, Lord of heaven and Earth. He was pierced for our transgressions. We are healed but He was scourged. He was whipped. Horrendous! Severe! Every sin we have ever committed was whipped into His back. Millions blaspheme His name saying, ‘Jesus,’ ‘Christ’ in the middle of a conversation. Here He is bearing every one of our sins. Our sin tears His body apart. The torture was so bad Jesus seemed hardly human (Isaiah 52). It was terrifying. So great was His bearing of humanity’s sin, so we could wear a robe of righteousness. Every whip mark, every drop of blood, every grimace and cry was for your sin and mine. He stood in our place.

This shouldn’t just cause you to shrug your shoulders. All your fallen-ness and shame should cause you to weep. You need to repent. You must repent or you will be certainly lost in Hell.

 Jesus’ trial is over. Jesus is coming back. Although He was sentenced to death He rose and He must be worshipped and glorified. When He comes again a new trial will begin. Your trial! Jesus will return as a Saviour and Lord – but only for some of us. For those who do not care that he died, He will be a righteous judge. Like He was silent, those who have rejected Him will be silent, standing in their own place, having nothing to say because of their sin and guilt. Now, there is no better time to repent. Jesus may return before we finish this sermon. What do you think of Jesus now? Is He fantastic news?

Jesus welcomes you. He stood in the place of sinners for a reason. What is your verdict of Jesus?  Are you going to sentence Him to death in the sense that you ignore Him? Or is your verdict He is the Saviour of the world, if you if you trust and believe?

Spurgeon said, “My entire theology can be condensed into four words: ‘Jesus died for me.’” Is that your theology? Can you say, “Jesus died for me?”

August 8th 2019: Dave Evans

Dave Evans - April 2019Psalm 22

The vast majority of psalms have a personal and historical application to the author and time. They may look forward to beyond the time of King David, to the coming of the king of Kings. Psalm 22 is somewhat different. It is entirely prophetic. The Psalm unfolds the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is clearly like the passage of Isaiah 53. It is a description of the crucifixion. It gives a clear view of the sufferer’s humility. This makes the Psalm all the more striking as crucifixion was not established until centuries later.

The gospels record the outward details of the crucifixion but they only give a glimpse into the Saviour’s experiences. Psalm 22 opens up the Saviour’s soul and mind the penalty which our souls deserved. He did not endure Calvary unconsciously. As He suffered on the cross He was conscious He was fulfilling Old Testament prophecies (John 19:28). He w aware the scriptures were pointing forward to His death. In Matthew 27 Jesus quotes the opening verse of this Psalm, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Even as the Lord suffers He reviews in His mind those prophecies which concerned Himself. He came to fulfil His Father’s will (John 5). As the Saviour takes the Psalm to His own lips we are given an insight into His sufferings.

What can we learn from this?

1. The repudiation of the suggestion that at the cross the Saviour’s faith failed. As we look at the psalm as a whole we see it is full of the Saviour’s confidence and faith. It’s ‘My’ He has lost sight of His Father’s face but not His faith. In the midst of His suffering and anguish He utters great confidence in God (verses 3-5). In His abandonment He knows God is faithful. Christ is able to realise God’s faithfulness to Himself (verses 9-11). The Saviour, from the time of His birth, knows this relationship of trust and confidence with His Father. This enduring faith does not in any way diminish the depths of His suffering.

2. His humiliation and the pain and mockery of the crowds to the Saviour.
The One who had walked among the people, who was full of compassion, is now alone. Betrayed. Denied. The disciples had fled. The Saviour hangs in full view of all those gathered around the cross, crowds full of venom. We see in this Psalm how deeply it penetrated His heart “But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6). He is humiliated by those He came to save. The Lord God, the author of all creation, now feels Himself to be a worm, the least of all creation. The nails and the spear caused no greater pain than this mockery. Verse 8 takes us so vividly to the foot of the cross (Matthew 27:41). The religious leaders, experts in the Old Testament scriptures, are blind to the promised Redeemer “Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion,” (Psalm 22:12-13).  These rulers are described as strong bulls, an enraged herd ready to trample down their victim.

3.The horror of the Saviour’s physical sufferings (verses 14-15). This is nothing less than a description of crucifixion. As Jesus is laid on the cross and the nails driven into His hands and feet, we see the description of His suffering. In verse 16 we see the description of the crowds, as they follow the lead of the religious leaders, cry out like a pack of hounds wanting blood (Luke 23:20).

Crucifixion is a death which caused constant perspiration, “I am poured out like water,” (Psalm 22:14). The bones are dislocated, bringing the sufferer to the point of exhaustion, producing extreme thirst, “My tongue clings to My jaws,” (Psalm 22:15). It is an awful description of crucifixion. But these words, as horrible as they are, can’t depict the horror of the suffering. We only scratch the surface.

4.The dark hours and the Saviour’s cry of dereliction. The land was covered in darkness, The Saviour cries, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” When the Saviour was born the darkness of the night was broken by the glorious light of heaven as the angels proclaimed His birth. Now, at the ninth hour, when day should have been at its brightest, the darkness of hell shuts out the brightness. As darkness covers the land, so our Saviour enters the darkness which He alone could endure. He had to plunge into that darkness, into the physical wrath and anger of God who is holy and cannot look on sin. The Lord Jesus Christ knew what it was to be alone in His earthly ministry. He could always say e who sent Me is with me. But now, His Father turns His face from His Son as the God-Man suffers. He endures the total forsaking, total abandonment. Why? Paul declares, “Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). It is hard to imagine, we cannot imagine, a pure, perfect, spotless life, to be utterly sinless. But here, on the cross, the sinless one becomes our substitute. He comes to die for those He will save. He suffers all the consequences of a broken law. During those three hours of darkness He bore the holy wrath. Here is the essence of our Saviour’s work. This cry of dereliction is the great climax to the Saviour’s work.

5.The turning point (verses 19-21). The Lord is now saying God has answered Him. God accepts the Saviour’s sufferings are complete. The Saviour can now cry out, “It is finished!” The Saviour has accomplished the work the Father sent Him to do. The public declaration of the Saviour’s work comes on the third day – the Lord’s Day.

We can draw three great conclusions:

  • How dreadful, extremely horrid and evil sin must be.
  • It brings us to a new appreciation of the greatness of the Father’s love. The Saviour was His delight, yet He gave Him to suffer in our place (John 3:16).
  • We proclaim, as believers, because of this, Salvation is utterly free and offered to all.

July 28th 2019: Philip Meiring

Philip Meiring - Juy 19 -1And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” II Kings 5:16

Have you ever had a strange prescription from the doctor? Here, Naaman, a very important gentleman, is told to wash seven times in the Jordan, then his flesh would be completely healed. This story is an illustration of the good news we have of Jesus. God has given us a prescription which is signed off by God Himself, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.’ This prescription is for us as rebellious people full of sin. The gospel prescription is wonderful!

Naaman’s reaction is a good illustration of how people react to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is an interesting twist to this story. Naaman is not only healed but he is a man changed in his heart too. He came to know the living God that the servant girl knew.

Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Syria. His CV was long and impressive. He was a man who led from the front, a ‘valiant soldier.’ He was a brave, strong man, one of the most important people in Syria. He was even used by God in battle. He was a deeply religious guy but he had leprosy. That’s how it is with us. Naaman began to lose sensation in his fingertips. Pale white marks spread on his skin. It was about to ruin him. That’s why Mrs. Naaman was so upset, wondering where to turn. This man didn’t realise he had a deeper problem than leprosy.

We have put men on the moon, can listen to wonderful musical compositions, think about black holes on the edge of the cosmos. God has given us a wonderful world. But the Bible tells us we have a deep problem within our hearts because we are sinners. We have this disease which spoils everything. For all that we are as human beings, this disease spoils us. It’s in our hearts. It spoils the world we live in. Naaman was going to have to have his skin healed, but wonderfully, he was going to have his heart changed too.

How did God sort out Naaman? How does God sort us out? Look at verses 9-16. Naaman was used to being in control of his life. He sort of controlled the gods around him. He was deeply religious but he didn’t know the God who made the world. Everything revolved around Naaman. When he arrived at Elisha’s home, the neighbours must have been surprised to see the chariots roll up. The neighbours would have expected Elisha to come to the door but instead Elisha’s servant came out and gave instructions. It doesn’t sound like Elisha had a lot of respect for Naaman. But this was the man of God. He was giving Naaman a prescription that would change Naaman’s life and cause the pride of this man’s heart to be broken before God. The prescription was designed to humble Naaman. He would have to know his place.

Naaman’s reaction is what happens when a lot of people hear the good news about Jesus. The good news is Jesus died in your place. He took the penalty for that rebellion in your heart, that sinfulness. From the time you and I were born we were cut off from God. But Jesus died on the cross in your place and my place as a punishment from sin which has separated us from God. And if you come to Jesus and thank Him for taking the flack for your sin, if you truly believe in Him, you will be saved and have a relationship with God. It’s wonderful to know Him! Jesus lived a perfect life on my behalf. I’m so thankful. He took the penalty for my sin and I can go free. Believe and you will be saved.

The gospel is designed to make God big and us small, to give all the glory and praise to Him. You cannot pay for this good news, to be washed clean. It’s free. Jesus is the one who paid the price. You and I just have to accept the grace of God. That’s what Naaman experienced that day.

This morning, whatever you think is holding you back from a relationship with God, be assured, God can forgive. Humbly accept it, freely accept it. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. There is no other way, it’s just Jesus. He is the only way.

How was Naaman healed? He went storming off in anger. Like all of us, he rebelled. But he had some wise men around him who told him to be humble and accept the prescription. Eventually, Naaman sees sense. He repents. What is repentance? It’s a change of mind and a change of direction. He turned to God. He washed himself seven times in the Jordan – seven is the perfect number.  He was healed. That’s how it is with Jesus. All you have to do is believe in Jesus. Naaman believed the promise that had been given to him. You need to repent and change your mind about God and what He is offering you. Believe. Trust Him to be your Saviour.

July 21st 2019: Thomas Kitchen

Thomas Kitchen -July 2019Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’
Hebrews 12:1-2

The race in Hebrews is a spiritual race, a very important race. It doesn’t matter how old or young, how rich or poor you are, there is to be one word we say to ourselves when running this race for Christ, “Run!” With this race we should all want to run. Here are three point to get our running gear on:

  1. Run with humility.

We are surrounded by ‘a great cloud of witnesses.’ Who are they? Why should we care? Have a look at Hebrews 11 – it’s all about the great men and women of faith who loved God and had exceptional amounts of faith. If we’re to run with humility, there are great men and women of faith we can look up to, be inspired by. This cloud of witnesses has already run this race before us and done so successfully. It’s not to say these people did no wrong. We’re all perfectly capable of falling into sin. We can’t run without God’s help. May be you know people who run the race who have suffered affliction because they’ve loved God more than the world. We must be humbled by these people but we need to remember they did it in God’s strength. Strive for faith. When we’ve been given the faith that we need, we need to use it. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ So why would physical beings care for unseen things? Because God planted it there is the first place. We know we have a righteous God who knows all things and is completely sovereign. Faith is obeying God despite the outcomes, the consequences. God uses things which we may not have expected for growth in our faith. When living in the now it’s easy to say, ‘I’ll trust you Lord no matter what I face.’ But we must be prepared for suffering. Faith is about trusting God, and when we realise just how powerless we are, we realise how powerful humility is.

The world doesn’t value humility but it’s a great thing. We’re to be humble running ‘our’ race – not anyone else’s. We should serve God with all our heart, no matter what hurdles are ahead. We have worldly thinking. Sometimes, that thinking penetrates our thinking. We can long for gifts others have. But God glorifies Himself by living within us – Psalm 34. Do you boast in the Lord? We’ve got our own race to run, not someone else’s – we can’t change lanes. If we keep looking at other people and what they’ve got, we’ll trip up. That’s not to say we’re not to encourage one another. We can doubt God. We need to build each other up, support each other with scripture, with God’s words, not our own.

  1. Run with endurance.

This is a lifelong race. Sometimes, we can get ahead of ourselves. We can be so busy, for example, reaching out in the community, that we can neglect to pray or read the Bible. Sprinting is not a good thing if there are hills and valleys. The Christian life is full of joys and sufferings, full of ups and downs. Some people are regularly tested and others don’t suffer so much. It’s unwise to charge ahead; you won’t be prepared for a trial and will panic and lose control. How can we show this endurance? How do we acquire it? We can pray, read God’s Word, discuss God’s Word with other Christians, discuss joys and difficulties with other Christians. There should always be time set aside to worship and adore Him. We can’t worship Him if we’re running around. Proverbs 4. Always keep God’s Word and promises in our heart, in front of our eyes.

Lay aside every weight. Sin is a big factor in this endurance run. Sin keeps holding on to us to the very end. The following poem resonates with us:

The Yipiyuk
In the swamplands long ago,

Where the weeds and mudglumps grow,
A Yipiyuk bit on my toe …
Exactly why I do not know.
I kicked and cried
And hollered “Oh”—
The Yipiyuk would not let go.
I whispered to him soft and low—
The Yipiyuk would not let go.
I shouted “Stop,” “Desist” and “Whoa”—
The Yipiyuk would not let go.
Yes, it was sixteen years ago,
The Yipiyuk still won’t let go.
The snow may fall,
The winds may blow—
The Yipiyuk will not let go.
The snow may melt,
The grass may grow—
The Yipiyuk will not let go.
I drag him ‘round each place I go.
This Yipiyuk that won’t let go.
And now my child at last you know
Exactly why I walk so slow.

Shel Silverstein

The Yipiyuk is sin and it will not let go. We thank God sin is only on our toe. Our sinful flesh is still struggling to come out. Sin will never leave us till we reach heaven.

  1. Run towards Jesus:

So how can we run with endurance? ‘Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated’ (Hebrews 12:2). I love this verse. When you begin to read the chapter and see all you have to do, you can despair. But verse 2 tells us we look to Jesus. Everything we have, our growth and faith, is because of Him. The reason we are saved is because of Him. He is everything – which is why we must run towards Him. Jesus had to run this race too. He finished the race perfectly. He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death. Jesus saw the reward of regaining His people and was able to overcome suffering. ‘Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed’ (Hebrews 12:12-13).

We are to be strengthened if we’re to run this race. From where do we receive this strength? Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 6:10, Psalm 46:1, Isaiah 40:29. It’s all about God, it’s all about Jesus Christ. The world may say we need to look inward, to see inward strength. We don’t have strength, it’s all about Christ. And this is why we want to run the race. Not just will we be saved from sin and death, but we will be rewarded, we will see our Saviour at the finish line. It will make all our suffering worthwhile. Everything that has led up to it will be for our God. Ask God to strengthen you, ask Him to heal our frail, dislocated limbs.

Run with humility, run with endurance and run towards Christ. Remember also to grow, to seek to become like Him who has saved us. Revival must begin inside the church. Be signposts to Christ.

‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul has fought, he knew very well he was in a race. We too need to keep the faith. Great people have gone before us. Will you be great for God? It’s not an easy calling. Are you going to be great men and women of God?

 

July 14th 2019: Mike Viccary

Mike Viccary - July 19Jeremiah 13: 1-11

The prophet Jeremiah is often overlooked, which is a terrible mistake. Remember, when Jesus asked, ‘Who do people say I am?’ some thought He was Jeremiah. Perhaps because the message of Jeremiah is so intertwined with the message of Jesus, a message full of compassion. Maybe that is why Jesus is compared to Jeremiah because of his compassion. When we are to present the truth we can’t escape sin. David, in Psalm 8, asks the question ‘What is man?’ We have to recognise our condition, our state. Even as Christians we wrestle with sin.

Jeremiah prophesied in some of the most turbulent times in Israel. The Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians were all vying for attention. Jeremiah’s mission is told in chapter 1:9. In essence, he is to build. He can’t build unless he takes the rubble of our lives and restructures. The opening chapters of Jeremiah are about repentance. We mustn’t skate over warnings – we’re here because Jesus died on the cross. He came to give us beauty for ashes. If you sin you face judgement. But Jesus is alive.

There are many images in this chapter. Every bottle is filled with wine. It was a place of plenty. Yet we must not focus on wrong things. The Lord instructs Jeremiah to get a sash, like a kilt that fitted around the waist and went down to the knee. It was a very useful garment and covered the main areas. It is described as linen. Linen is especially used for covering tables and precious garments (Revelation 18:16). It is used for angels’ clothes. Our Lord and Saviour was wrapped in fine linen. In Revelation 19:18 we read the Church is arrayed in fine linen, it is splendorous.

‘For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen’ (Jeremiah 13:11)

Jeremiah was not really a priest but a prophet. Prophets weren’t finely dressed, so it would have been a shock to people to see Jeremiah dressed in linen. The sash was not to be put in water, showing it was a brand new, fresh garment. The reference to clinging reminds us of Genesis 2:24 and the relationship between Adam and his wife. It is an indication that the people of God are to be intimately connected with their God. God is invisible, so how can He be made known? He dressed Himself with His chosen people.

Why was the sash discarded? Jeremiah wore the garment but he was then told to hide it. He travelled 700 miles north to the Euphrates. This is significant; it was where Judah was to be taken into captivity. Jeremiah was then told to recover it. Unsurprisingly, it was ruined. Why did the Lord do this? What were the chief sins of this time? ‘This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing’ (Jeremiah 13:10). The people were guilty of two main things: they refused to hear God and followed their own ideas. Do we sometimes refuse to hear Jesus’ words?

The people were puzzled by Jeremiah. They thought they were still doing things God wanted them to do (Jeremiah 7). They loved the temple. We can say we love fellowship, the scriptures, but do we love the words of Jesus? We are influenced by science, by our culture. Are we being transformed? (Romans 12:12). What are we doing to remove ourselves from worldly thinking? It is very easy to be influenced by thinking of the old flesh. We are told to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of might, to deny ungodly and worldly lusts. The call for us is to get the Word into our minds and hearts so it is life. Putting God first can be a struggle. Get on your knees and eat the words (John 6).  Do we hear God so much that we want to change things?

The people followed the dictates of their own hearts.  God wants you to hear what He wants to say, to walk with Him. How do you stop following the dictates of your own heart? Read and devour the scripture (Hebrews 4:12). Judah was to face exile. The ones who were the clothing of God were now going into exile. They had the law, the tabernacle, priests. They were supposed to be the light of the world. But now they were ruined. They had not heeded Solomon’s wise words. Man, born of Adam, could never do what God intended us to do (Deuteronomy 26:16-19, Jeremiah 13:11). Judah had blown it. Is there no hope? Praise God, the second Adam came down and took the form of a human person, Christ is the true image of God.

Lesson to be learned:

Adam couldn’t do anything about his sin. There is hope because Christ came in my place. We have the hope of Christ. Those who put their trust in Him, He gave the right to become the Children of God. We now adorn God. We are to listen, hear and give ear. Look at the compassion of the Lord. It is so important we spend time humbling ourselves before the Lord, listening. Do not be proud. Pride stops you from listening. Humble yourself. The Lord Jesus Christ came as a humble servant.

When things go wrong, a lot is down to our sinful actions. To be clothed with Christ is to look to Him. In our lifestyle we are to seek to call upon the Lord to be more like Him (Romans 6:4). We are called to walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh, a walk worthy of the Lord. Let’s listen to Him and walk in His ways.

June 30th 2019: Ian Middlemist

Ian Middlemist-November 2018John 8:1-11

The first time you picked up a Bible, as you opened the pages you thought you were studying it. You were encouraged to get into the Bible. But notice, as you grow older as a Christian the Bible is studying you, revealing truths about yourself. The Bible examines you. The book speaks about you. It was written over 2,000 years ago but is scans us inside and out. God knows breathing out this Word, every sin, every thought, every word, everything I have done. There is nothing we can hide from Him. God deals with guilt on the basis of grace and truth.

This scripture passage speaks powerfully to our situations. The Scribes and Pharisees judged the woman according to the law, which clearly condemned her. All of us, like this woman, have been caught in an act of sin and stand condemned in front of God’s holy law. To be caught in the act of adultery meant that the act had to be witnessed, to be actually seen going through the physical movement that could be capable of no other explanation. A compromising situation, such as leaving a hotel room together, would not have been good enough in a Jewish court. It was very likely the Scribes and Pharisees had set a trap to catch this woman so that they could catch Jesus in the horns of a dilemma and get rid of Him. There was a clear motive. Either Jesus would have agreed the woman should be stoned or Jesus would have shown her mercy and would be soft on sin, not upholding the Law of Moses. It was a deliberate trap. They only brought one sinner to Jesus. Why was the man not brought to Him? You can’t commit adultery alone. Maybe he was on the side of the Scribes and Pharisees? We don’t know.

All of us, like this woman, have been caught in the act of sin. We have all had the humiliating experience of getting caught doing something we know was wrong. No matter what the sin, it is always embarrassing. This woman was not only caught in the act of adultery but then dragged into the temple, of all places! All the people would have examined her like a piece of meat. Worse, they accused her in front of Jesus. They were pushing for the ultimate punishment – the act of execution. Even if we manage to keep our sin hidden from others, before God all of our lives are laid bare, ‘And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account,’ (Hebrews 4:13). He knows every simple thought we secretly entertain, every swear word, every hatred – not letting go of those who have wronged us, sin we commit when we’re alone, when we’re away in another city, He knows it all. The reality is every single one of us is caught in the act by God.

Religious people are just as guilty of sin as openly immoral people. We tend to look on the woman in the story as a great sinner and overlook the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees are just as evil, even more so. Clearly, they didn’t care about this woman at all. They could have held her in private custody but they didn’t. She was just a pawn. Their concern is not for holiness in society but to get rid of Jesus. Even more serious, these religious leaders were sinning against the sinless Jesus. They weren’t concerned about God’s honour, but in all they did they sought to kill and get rid of the Son of God. What could be worse? They weren’t using scripture to judge themselves, just pointing the finger against the woman and Jesus. Religious people are just as guilty of sin as openly criminal people are. Paul builds such a case in Romans, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ (Romans 3:23). Who do we identify most with in this passage – the adulterous woman or the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees?

If God is full of love and grace how can He show mercy to sinners and uphold His justice? Nowhere in the story does Jesus condone this woman’s sin, but He shows grace. He applies God’s law and truth to them. The Scribes and Pharisees came armed with the law to test Jesus. Jesus responds by stooping down and writing in the ground with His finger. This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus actually writes anything. What did He write? No-one knows. When He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” (John 8:7) He wasn’t saying judges need to be sinless. Rather, Jesus was applying what He taught in Matthew 7. The Scribes and Pharisees were hypocritical and were sinfully using this woman and Jesus to condemn her.

The starting place for receiving mercy is to be convicted by God’s holy law so that you are able to say, with the apostle Paul, that you are the chief of sinners. Jesus gives the law to the self-righteous but offers grace to broken sinners who repent. The law reveals your sin but the law cannot offer grace and forgiveness. We can infer by Jesus’ gracious words to the woman that He offered her grace. Are we gracious and show compassion? God’s justice is upheld. He can be both gracious to sinners and uphold justice at the same time. Jesus was a sacrifice for sin so that God’s justice could be satisfied, ‘It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,’ (Romans 3:26). His death satisfies God’s wrath on our behalf.

The only sinless person in the temple that day who would have legitimately thrown a stone at the adulterous showed mercy. Trust in Jesus.

God’s grace then is the basis of a holy life. Jesus said to the guilty woman, “Go, and from now on sin no more,” (John 8:11). He doesn’t say, ‘Go your way, sin no more and I will not condemn you.’ There’s nothing you can do to make yourself righteous. Her pardon was the motivation to change. There’s nothing you can do to obtain justification. God grants forgiveness as a free gift, free grace becomes the motive for living in holiness. ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?’ (Romans 6:1-2). God’s amazing grace is the greatest motive for living a holy life.

I was guilty. I was condemned before Him. But rather than condemning me, the Son loved me enough to die in my place and offer a full pardon. Since it cost Him so much, I want to please the One who love me and sacrificed Himself for me. There are no conditions. Just grace available to every sinner whose been caught in the act.