The Inner Room- Tacking (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 3rd February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Act 15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everybody and welcome to our Tuesday night input here on our Youtube Channel for Brightons Parish Church kind of dubbed it The Inner Room.

Wasn’t really sure what else to call it to be honest, because tonight is a little bit different from what we’ve done on other occasions, and it’s a bit like, I guess, a mini message, but at the same time I hope it to be have a little bit of a kind of bible teaching element

and as well, as just a little bit more of sharing, I guess, what’s going on inside me about what maybe the Lord has been saying to me, or what I think He’s saying

and so, I kind of just want to share a little bit from the heart. I in that way I just want this to be kind of a safe space and a place where it’s just that “inner room”. It’s the kind of an inner sanctuary, the safe place where I’ve been able to be real and honest, in one way or another with you, So, The Inner Room.

If it ever happens again it might get a new name, but I had to come up with something so that’s what I came up with.

Welcome, anyway, to this time together and it’s really great to have you. Please do say HI! if you’re there on the live chat, and have the means to do so, and if you’re listening back to this on a recording or on a telephone, thanks as well for putting in the time to tune in and have a listen or watch to this particular video.

So, tonight, as I say, is meant to be a little bit of a heart-to-heart, a little bit of sharing from the Scriptures.

I guess, what has led to this has been a journey for me over the last well six to eight weeks. I guess it started before Christmas and I think was prompted a little bit by being aware that towards the end of January I’d be coming up to the end of my second year, going into third, and there are developments on the go with the Braes Hub and there are lots of changes coming for us as a Congregation, as an area, Even things being planned or put on hold because of Covid, and lots of different things, kind of on the go, and so, I guess, it got me in a bit of a reflective mood, thinking “I wonder what is next Lord?”, because what’s been really encouraging for me is to be able to look back over the last two years and see some of what we’ve changed, what we’ve done differently, some the impacts that we’ve had in different places.

If you want in the live chat and feel free to put up things that you see or you’re aware of, for what you would give thanks to God for.

The things that come to mind for me are seeing people come to faith – I’ve been so encouraged by that one guy who got in touch recently saying he came to faith during one of the sermons in January – someone came to faith during the Alpha Course – we saw other people come to faith along the way in previous year’s Alpha Course and different things like that.

I am so encouraged when people say “I have chosen to follow Jesus” and that’s great to see, because not every Church is seeing that. It’s a great encouragement.

I’m encouraged also that and we’ve made some changes in some of our identity and things.

So, we’ve said part of what our Purpose is to “invite, encourage and enable all ages to follow Jesus Christ” It’s really clear, it’s really bold, and it’s really deliberate, and it’s really biblical, So, I’m super excited about where that might take us on a journey together,

and as part of that we’ve also said well here are four Values that go with this, that kind of put some flesh on the bones, and that kind of say well this is part of our DNA. We know what our Purpose is but what’s also part of our DNA, what’s some of the essence of Brightons and where we’re going within that broad purpose, and so we have our four Values and it’s been great fun just to tune into to that, to talk it through with the Teams and the different Teams we have in our Kirk Sessions and Deacons Court, as well as to hear people’s hopes and dreams for 2021.

We’ve also started the Pastoral Groupings, and that’s a big change for us moving from the Pastoral District to the Pastoral Groupings, There’s many more besides.

A Scripture Union group starting up at Wallacestone and the input in classes picking up again and since Murdo’s time, I know that he did that,

and there have been lots of things like Belong starting in the last two years – and Yes, okay, we’ve not been able to continue that and lockdown, like many things, but it got started. It gave us a flavor of things.

I was so encouraged just before we went into lockdown that we had our first Sunday morning where we had Prayer Ministry in the morning Service. I thought that was a huge step for us and it felt like we were in a good place as a Church family, because I didn’t feel like people were thinking or feeling “Not sure about this, Scott!” because I remember two years ago and I was asking you to respond to the Word and I did some things that were a wee bit out-there, even for me to be honest! A few of you, or probably a lot of you, were like “I’m not sure about this!” but a year on you allowed me to lead you into Prayer Ministry, and about six or seven people came forward that morning to be prayed for in the morning Service, about some really personal things and that’s just amazing! Amazing!

There’s much more besides and you can feel free, as I say, to put some things up in the live chat that’s encouraged you.

So, I’ve kind of been reflecting a little bit on the last two years and thinking about some of what’s been achieved, but there was a growing sense within me that there’s something else around the corner, and Yes we’ve done all these things, Yes we’ve seen Huddle start, an initiative through the discipleship team and you’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks so, listen out for Huddle, but my sense was there was something more, that and there’s more around the corner for us as a Congregation and part of what I want to share tonight is around that.

This is unscripted, other than some bullet points and notes, so we’ll see what comes but before we get into that before we turn to God’s Word let’s pray okay, let us pray.

My God and Heavenly Father, we do give You thanks for all that we’ve seen of You in the last two years that, even in the midst of lockdown and a pandemic, Lord, you’ve been at work in us and through us, and before this time, Lord, before this season, You were at work in ways that were great and so worthy of praise. And so, we want to lift our voice up and glorify You and give You the thanks and the honour.
But Lord, we’re on a journey, we’re on a journey together. That’s part of one of our Values of being Family – community journeying together towards wholeness – Lord, we’re never complete this side of heaven, so there’s always more, there’s always a next step, there’s also always something around the corner.
So, as I share, Lord, from Your Word and what you’ve been, I think, saying to me, Lord, give us ears to hear You, let me help us to hear You. As John said, John the Baptist, “May the speaker decrease and Jesus of Nazareth increase”, for we do say and pray all this for His glory and in His name, Amen.

So, if you will turn with me in your Bible, whether hardback or electronic, to Acts chapter 15, Acts chapter 15.

Prior to this point the Church has been going through phenomenal growth. Peter’s had that vision where how this has led him to Cornelius’s house the church has grown Peter’s miraculous escape from prison Barnabas and Paul have been sent off on a missionary journey and they’ve seen God do incredible things, and the Church has grown in different places and then they come back and to him to Antioch and they’ve spent quite a bit of time there and so, chapter 15 verse 1 we read this:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

And then we’re going to jump on to verse 24:
Prior to this in the in between time they’ve done a report and there’s been lots of debate and conversation and then James gets up and he says in response to this that and he thinks they should do certain things and say certain things to the believers in Antioch, and other areas, who have come from a Gentile background and so they decide to write a letter and what we’re about to read is part of that letter, verse 24:

“We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:”

and then detail some things and say Farewell, well and send these gentlemen off back down to Antioch with the letter and it brings great encouragement to the people if you read on into verses 13 and 31 so, Amen and thanks be to God for this reading from His Word.

I came across this passage as I was reading a book about discerning the will of God together. It’s by a lady called Ruth Haley Barton and I’d encourage you to have a look at it. It’s a phenomenal read in quite a revolutionary way really of doing discernment as a congregation. A lot to share. Not something you could implement straight away. I think it would take some time, months if not years, to get to that place as a community where you could put it fully into practice, but it gave me quite a bit of food for a thought.

And she points out in her book that in this passage, that circumstances arise which God utilizes for the furtherance of His mission, for the spread of the Gospel, for the building up of His Church, and it arises in the midst of a very difficult situation, even conflict, and yet it’s used, and it’s in the midst of that, and trying to decide how to respond, and what’s next, what’s the right way.

We were thinking about, in Jim’s preaching on Sunday, what is the way of Jesus? They were trying to think, what is the way of Jesus for these Gentile believers? and so they discuss and, I presume they pray as well, because in their letter and I think it’s also there in the earlier passage which we skipped over we get this these words “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”, I just think that’s incredible what they say. They have real sense that the Holy Spirit was teaching them, leading them, in that way and in the way of Jesus and guiding them in that moment.

I and Ruth Haley Barton says that we come across many situations in life, in Church life, where something arises, and we discuss, and we pray, and we wrestle about it, and, in the midst of that, God does something that we might discern the mind of Christ together, and move forward in His way and into His purposes for us,

and my sense is that we are coming into a season of trying to discern some of that, or at least I am, but I think it will involve many of us, or that should involve many of us. I’m not quite sure what that will look like or be like but I’m excited about it!

I was listening to a podcast and went out walking Hector, I think maybe during my Christmas break, and it’s a leadership podcast – really helpful – but, actually, this particular episode, was from early on in the pandemic maybe the Summer time, I’m not exactly sure, maybe June/July time, but in that podcast the speakers talk about how even at that stage the pandemic was what they called an accelerator and a revealer, an accelerator and a revealer, and what they were meaning by that was the onset of the pandemic has accelerated certain things, for example it’s accelerated the use of Zoom and virtual communication, and has accelerated issues within the NHS or within us as a nation, and even as a world, it has accelerated within the Church, it has changes too.

That we went online and I can remember having conversations with our IT guys, I said Well we eventually get to that in four or five years time! and not knowing what was around the corner, and I’m sure you can think of other things that have been accelerated – if you want put it up in the live chat.

It’s also been a revealer. It has revealed where we’ve maybe put our trust and, for the Church, has it really been in God? or has it only been in the good times. It has maybe revealed the insecurity of life or the fragility of life. Has maybe revealed just how insecure certain structures are within our nation and across our nations.

So much has been accelerated and revealed and, again if there are things revealed that could pop up for you then please do again share it in the live chat.

And what Barton was saying, what these folks were saying in the podcast, and I think tied-up together in Acts chapter 15 here, that things are revealed for the Church here. Revealed that there’s a kind of change needed and it’s really interesting that in Acts chapter 10 the Disciples already knew that things were permitted and certain practices were to go, and when Paul & Peter got that revelation from God by the Holy Spirit and went to Cornelius’s house, and the Gentiles came into the faith, and things have been revealed but I’m not sure exactly how much change.

Yes, Paul and Barnabas went out but they hadn’t pinned down, they hadn’t made some decisions yet, and that lack of communication, the lack of decision, the lack of kind of concreteness, ushered in some of these issues, and so, it kind of accelerated change, accelerated the need for a decision.

I think it also revealed that need to make a decision. It also revealed what were to be the Church’s priorities for Gentile believers. They hadn’t pinned that down before, they hadn’t pinned down What are we going to pass on from our Jewish roots to these new believers, and they were still wrestling with those things. They hadn’t figured it all out and so, there were things revealed. There are things accelerated in that story, and, as I say, this time of pandemic has accelerated and revealed things for us.

But, I wonder what’s next because?

Hopefully, at some point this year in the not too distant future, we will be able to return to worship in person,

But.

I wonder whether we will seek to simply just return to what was and, remember that sermon where I quoted the Moderator the Church of Scotland, and he said we all yearn to get back to normal and he kind of questioned Why do we yearn to get back to normal, when normal was Church membership going off a cliff in churches without children. And then I don’t think it was that sermon but I think it was a Tuesday Evening Sermon in December, if you didn’t see it maybe go back and have a look, where I talked about the Brightons situation that, Okay, Yeah, we’ve seen people come to faith and we do have a number of contacts with children and families, but if you look at our demographics we are declining. Even within Brightons our membership is going down compared to what it was. Our demographic is getting older and if you look five, ten years down the road, unless things change dramatically, we’re gonna have some really tough times, and we’re going to have to think about what are we going to stop doing, because we just can’t sustain what we are doing just now. And so, maybe again, that’s part of why I was thinking What’s next Lord? You’ve taken us this far, we’ve reached this stage together what’s next?

and I don’t have an answer to tha.t I don’t know what you expect of my leadership as the Minister.

I’m certainly not what you’ve maybe had before, clearly. You’re certainly not what you maybe hoped or expected for.

I’m not someone that’s going to steady the ship. I’m probably going to rock the boat more often than not, because that’s what I think is needed in the Church just now nationally, never mind just here in Brightons. But I hope, within that rocking, I can also be a catalyst.

I talked with the Nominating Committee, I think, about wanting to be a catalyst, that, rather than being the answer-man, I would be a catalyst, kind of question-man.

and again I was influenced by a book I read called Canoeing the Mountains, and the Elders have read a good chunk of that along with our Deacons, and we’ve not finished it yet, we might come back to that at some stage, who knows, but it’s been almost a year since we last dipped into that together, but that book again influenced that kind of way of thinking and I find great freedom in that, that I don’t have to have the answers myself, that this can be a team effort, a family effort, a community effort, that we all you all have a place to play in us, and I can act as a catalyst alongside the Kirk Session and the Team Conveners and the different groups that we have in the ministries we have within the congregation. So, you’re not going to get from me a grand vision – Oh, this is the vision for the next year or the next five years, you’re not gonna get that from me. Sure, you’ll get some principles and foundations which is probably in part what has led to our Purpose and Values but I didn’t come up with all that on myself, again it was a team effort, and it was taken to the Kirk Session and unanimously voted on by the Kirk Session, that these should be our Purpose and Values.

So, I want to be a leader that enables and champions ideas, rather than the one has to come up with all the ideas.

Nevertheless, I do think as part of that catalyst part of my job is listening out to the Lord so that both in the preaching and in other ways of leadership and influence, I can be part of kind of steering us forward. Because in crisis, not just in the pandemic, but let’s be honest folks, as a Church, as the Church in Scotland, not just the Church of Scotland but the Church in Scotland, we’re in crisis largely, falling numbers, as I say in bits and pieces and again in this podcast I was listening to, he said it is tempting to hold on to what makes you feel secure and what is familiar, in times of crisis, rather than pivot or innovate.

So, in crisis, it’s tempting to hold on to what makes you feel secure and what is familiar rather than pivot or innovate, and I know places that have Churches that have really struggled in this time and Yes, we all have, but in some ways, they’ve struggled more because their ministers their members have not been able to innovate and or pivot in these times,

and the sense of isolation is much greater than what we have, and I think folks are so hungry, much more than we might be, hopefully, because we’ve been able to do certain things and provide certain things. We haven’t got it perfect clearly, there’s always things we can do better,

But I think this is in my thinking because this crisis makes us want to turn in and feel safe, and I wonder what happens later on in the year when we get back and Yes there’ll need to be a time of coming together, of being family, of reconnecting and of celebrating that, and valuing that, but the danger would be that we then get comfortable again and don’t look at what we need to be looking at, and even in this time now, to be looking out and I’m thinking “Well where next God? Where next?

and in all of this, just last week actually, I believe it was only last week, and I was sitting in this chair, I just read the bit, I think it was Mark, final chapter of Mark wasn’t it last Monday and I knew it was my Spiritual Director the next day and I thought he’s going to ask me if I’ve been spending some time in prayer and listening to the Lord, which is an exercise that I do every so often, and sometimes I’ll maybe get a picture or maybe get a phrase that’ll come to mind, and it’ll really help with my leadership. Actually, of late, it’s been really helpful for leadership. He can speak in other ways but I find, most often, nice speaking, into me about leadership,

and so, like the last two years there’ve been different things for my three or four months block so, I had my Bible reading, jotted down my thought or my prayer for the day, as I encouraged you in the Mini Message. I thought Right, I’m gonna spend some time preparing to see God says anything and he did! Surprise, surprise!

and I normally get a picture but this time it was more a phrase, and the phrase was “It’s time to tack” and I knew it was about sailing and tacking and I didn’t really know why this had come to mind.

At first I thought God was correcting me and that’s a bit of my own insecurity that I think as a young leader I’m till guessing half the time. I’m probably, like most ministers even with 30 years experience, probably still feel that they’re guessing, but I definitely feel that I’m guessing half the time, and that’s experimentation, and it’s life of faith and all that,

but Yeah, it kind of feels like I’m guessing half the time and with guesses can come wrong things, and Imake mistakes, and I have made mistakes in the last two years, and so I thought I’ve done something wrong, He’s correcting me. It’s time to tack. It’s time to change direction. It’s like What have I done wrong? What needs to change? but I decided to do some a searching on Youtube, actually, we’re all on Youtube aren’t we to some degree or another? and you get some nonsense on there, but I went looking for tacking, because I didn’t really know anything about tacking at all.

But I watched a couple of short videos about tacking and about the physics of sailing and some really startling and interesting things came up!

So, tacking is when the boat changes direction so as to be able to keep moving forward in a particular rough direction. So, if you’re wanting to go that way, you’re kind of tacking different angles to keep going in the rough direction but you’re cutting across and the rough path, so that you’re doing a kind of zig-zag to eventually get there,

but what’s interesting with tacking is, you’re sailing into the wind which I didn’t know you could do, like sailing into the wind just sounds mental, How is that even possible? but apparently it is, it’s apparently possible because the boat has a keel and forces and vectors, apparently, apply and the result of that is that you go forward!

A couple of things that jumped out to me that people said:

you can actually go forward faster than the speed of the wind when you tack. So, you’re going into the wind but because you’re going at a particular angle and all the forces and physics that are involved, you can actually go faster than the wind. I find that crazy! And you can go faster than the wind being blowing behind you. Which I just thought was really startling!

What other things kind of jumped out at me and just the general idea that it’s into the wind, faster than the wind, and it’s still going in a rough direction. You’re keeping your course but you’re changing slightly so as to catch more of the wind, and because you’ve maybe run out of distance, you’re getting near the shore, or you just need to change direction slightly, so it’s not actually about having done something wrong, it’s about keeping your course, but catching the wind so that you can do that, and you can maintain kind of maximum speed almost, and so, when thinking about this, talking about a few others, the sense of that it’s about aligning, it’s about God directing and guiding rather than correcting came to the fore, because he wasn’t seen to change direction completely.

So I think we’ve got our Purpose and Values. We know our overall direction but it’s time to tack, and that will feel difficult because, when you tack then, notes tell me, you go through what’s called the no-go zone.

Basically when you’re turning into the wind and that’s when the sail starts flapping because the wind’s on both sides of it, is not properly catching the sail, and the rigging is swaying a little bit, and you kind of lose a little bit of momentum, but then you keep going round and eventually you get past 45 degrees and you start picking up the wind again, and you go forward, and it sails and the rigging pulls taut, and you go forward in your direction with your crew, and you pick up speed to hopefully travel faster than the wind.

And, this next season, my sense is that there’s a season of perhaps three months maybe more where we need to do that tacking, and it might feel a bit awkward and the sails might flutter a bit, and we’re not really sure what’s happening, and we don’t really feel comfortable.

It was interesting reading a blog about the analogy of tacking with ministry and I’m often encouraged, the encouragement was that’s a time to be still and be in God’s presence, and you know what I’ve been talking about with my Spiritual Director, the need for retreat, the need for solitude, and silence, with God, and to grow in that discipline, and just how many things can come together at the one time – I was just blown away!

and so, I feel like God was just saying, It’s time to tack! and it’s funny, I had been talking to the Kirk Session back in December and thinking Well, I’m not quite sure when next I’ll share with them directly so I’ll give them their New Year’s message before Christmas, and the message was there’ll be more change on the horizon and who was to know that God would give this Word at this time to tack, that in my reading I would come across Acts 15, that in my time off I would listen to a podcast talking about this time being an accelerator and a revealer, and in times of crisis we want to buckle down and feel safe, but actually we need to pivot, we need to tack, we need to innovate, and just all that’s coming together,

and I want you to know where I’m at as your minister, as your leader, and some of you will find that really hard because you want a pastoral leader, you want to be made to feel safe, and there are times when I can do that and do do that, there are times when I bring a measure of encouragement, or try to at least, but we also need to pivot. We need to tack, we need to innovate. We’re not out of this as a Church, Yeah, we’re not out of our time of crisis even when the pandemic goes away, we still are faced with the situation that our membership numbers are going off a cliff. We’re barely seeing anyone come to faith, numbers of children are dropping, it’s going to be even harder. Younger people and children have been away from Church and Church groups for so long – Will they come back? – who knows. Will the adults that we’ve been reaching out to come back? Who knows.

So, it’s not time, I don’t think, to buckle down and feel safe. It’s time to tack, and we do that together.

As I say I’m not going to be your answer-man. I’m not going to come up with a grand plan. We need to do this together.

What does that look like? Here’s a couple of ideas:

I was chatting with some folks recently kind of about the bits and pieces of this and one part of the conversation led to send to someone You know if you’ve got ideas and you want to contribute to the life of the Church, then get involved in some of the Teams and in the Church, and I think that’s an avenue If you want to help shape the life of the Church, if there’s something that’s bugging you, or if you see that there’s an opportunity, then get involved in the Teams of the Church and those teams.

There are teams on the Kirk Session: Pastoral Care, Discipleship, Community Outreach and Up-and- Coming which looks after the under-25s. Information about all those Teams is on our website on the Get Involved page. So, go and have a look there.

There are also Teams within Deacons Court: Communications, Property, Finance and a few other minor pieces, but those are the kind of major teams. Maybe you could lend some of your support there, to help us move forward.

So, or it might not be one of those bigger Teams. It might be a team that reports to one of those teams for example the Sunday School Leaders Team

or it might be within, as I was saying recently, your Pastoral Grouping. Remember I talked about this recently in a sermon. Getting involved there, speaking to your Elder and saying How could I play a part in this Pastoral Grouping? Are there some people that I could phone or I could visit? And are there ways that we could be together?

My Pastoral Grouping and one of the people said
Well in a previous existence in time we had this thing where we would do like a kind of trip around people’s houses and share one course together and then you’d move on to someone else’s house for the next course

Clearly we can’t do that just now but let’s have a Zoom call, and an hour of fun, and we’ll do a quiz, and maybe do some games, and bits and pieces, and there was quite a few a party cracker jokes, Christmas cracker jokes. It was a great hour! Someone else’s idea, largely organized by other people, and I just facilitated it, and it was such an encouragement to be together, and I have a sense within my pastor of grouping that we’re becoming a bit like a kind of mini family within this wider family of the Brightons family. I’m really enjoying seeing just how that’s kind of growing.

Maybe you could lend your time and your love and your gifts there, if it’s not part of one of the wider teams.

Another idea for you is that hopefully you’ve watched the video from the start of the year, I think it was the second week in January, where we shared some hopes for 2021 from different people, and maybe there’s some stuff that’s resonated there, for you. I’ve certainly taken notes of things to pursue potentially, pursue the year ahead, but you might, you may have a hope for 2021. We couldn’t ask everybody. So, get in touch, send a message to our Facebook page or drop us an email, and say Hey, I was listening to this message and Scott invited us to share one hope around one of the values maybe, and this is what I hope for in 2021,

and clearly if it’s the same as what’s been repeated in that video, there might be no need to email, but if there was something different, or else you wanted to add to someone’s idea, again, drop us an email saying this is one of my hopes for 2021 for the Brightons Church family, and again we take that on board,

and I’m not saying that we’ll pursue all these ideas but it’s starting to do that discernment together of What does it mean to tack? Where is God calling us to tack in these coming months that we might be ready to catch the wind as we come out of restrictions, and hopefully come back together.

Yes, we’ll come back, and we’ll celebrate, and we’ll love seeing each other. I really miss you, I miss you all. I miss that Sunday morning –

one of my favorite points on the Sunday morning was around about half past 10 to 10 to 11, I go around and I talk to people and that people had come early so, if you never got that opportunity you clearly know that you didn’t arrive in time, and for that I’m sure you’re right on time for the service just not in time for me going about, and I really loved that time, it was just a really special time. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed that. Live Chat doesn’t equal it, not everybody’s on there that I would normally talk to at that point. I’ve missed that and I’m looking forward to that starting back as I say.

As many people are saying if we don’t allow God by Sis spirit to work amongst us so that it reveals and accelerates and that, so that we pivot, so that we tack, then we are just gonna run aground or we’re gonna just get comfortable and kind of bunker down or we’re gonna get kind of stuck in that no-go zone and the sails just gonna flutter and we’re gonna lose momentum,

and we really can’t afford to because, we have a community, we have a Parish that needs to know Jesus, needs to know that He’s real and living and active, needs to know the love and grace of God, and we’re called into that ,we’re called to invite others to share, we’re called to encourage one another in the way of Jesus, we’re called to enable all ages, the youngest to the oldest, to follow Jesus, and to know what that means, and to know and play their part.

So, I look forward to the next year, to the next two years and more, and I wonder what’s on the horizon for us next, as we tack,

and there’ll be more tacks along the way, but we’re entering into that season of tacking. Now and I pray that we would have the boldness, and the courage, and the sensitivity that the early Church showed in Acts 15 as well, and then from that see the Church of Jesus flourish in this place, and the Kingdom come like we’ve never known.

May it be so let us pray

My God and Heavenly Father, we thank You that You promised to never leave us nor forsake us, to journey with us by the Spirit. Jesus You promised that Your sheep will hear Your voice and that the Spirit will lead us into truth and into life, that He will reveal You and Your way.

Help us Lord, to be sensitive to the Spirit and to hear what You’re saying to us as a community, to us individually, by Your Word, and in the place of prayer.

Lord, where things have been of me, just pull them away, let them not linger in our hearts and minds, and cause unrest, or lead us in the wrong direction. But where things have been of You Lord, take it deep, keep it safe and bring forth a harvest that would be to Your glory.

Lord, we seek Your way and Your will. Help us to be bold where we need to be bold.

We ask this in and through the name of Jesus, Amen

Friends, thanks for being with us tonight. I realize it’s a bit of a longer message or session than normal, that’s the danger when I don’t have notes or detailed notes, and I just kind of keep going a bit, but I’m excited and passionate about what’s coming. So, hopefully, forgive me in the midst of all that.

It’s been really good to share in this time together. Look forward to our next time and in one way or another, and next week we’ll have Testimony Tuesday, so join us then, as folk share about their faith journey, and various different ways and forms. We’ve got our Thursday Prayer back on Zoom this Thursday as well as well as on our Youtube Channel and then I’m back in preaching this Sunday morning, as we continue in Philippians.

So, as we go from here, the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you, my dear brothers and sisters, this night and forevermore. Amen

Persevere in your calling (Haggai 2:1-9)

Preached on: Sunday 27th October 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-10-27-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Haggai 2:1-9; Acts 18:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Haggai 2:1-9; Acts 18:1-11
Sunday 27th October 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I wonder if you struggle with church as it currently is? I wonder if you feel disgruntled about how things are done now-a-days? Or I wonder if you compare our present state as a congregation, or as a national church, even the state of our country, to what it used to be? For some of us, we may have vivid memories of Sunday School numbers in their hundreds, or of the singular focus on a Sunday being church and family life. And maybe you compare what we have now-a-days to that time and you may struggle with that comparison – it may grieve you, sadden you, and maybe even provoke the thought that what we have now is nothing compared to what once was.
You may assume, that such things are felt only by older generations, and so you may also assume that this message is going to be aimed at those of you amongst the older generations – but that is not so.

Feelings of dissatisfaction, even disillusionment with our present experience of church, are not limited to older generations. Those who are younger may not look back to the glory days of a particular congregation, or even to the glory days of a denomination or country, but they may look back to moments when God moved in power in particular places, or even their own lives, those moments when God seemed much nearer than He does in today’s church.

What’s more, there can be a tendency, across the generations, to hark back even further still – to the early church in the first century and to yearn for those days when the faith was new, and the Spirit moved in such power and the growth and vibrancy of Christianity turned a whole empire upside down.

Dissatisfaction and disillusionment are not limited to any one generation; we all feel it at one time or another.

You may even have felt your despondency and pessimism increase another notch with the recently proposed Presbytery Plan with the reduction in ministers for the Braes area – maybe that news provoked you to think that we are simply managing decline and that the future of the Church in this area is doomed with such a trajectory.
In every age, across all the generations, spanning thousands of years, God’s people have had times and seasons where dissatisfaction and disillusionment rise up. In what we read in Haggai today we see those very same feelings.

God’s people had returned from exile in Babylonia some twenty years before Haggai began his ministry. A small fraction of the total Jewish community had returned and begun the reconstruction work, but strong opposition from neighbouring peoples soon brought the work to a standstill. And so, in the year 520BC, Haggai is called by the Lord to bring a prophetic message to God’s people; coming firstly with a word of challenge to the people, which we read about in Haggai 1 last week, and which Ian superbly covered in my stead…
We heard that the people did respond to the Lord’s challenge and they began the work on the temple.

But now a second prophetic word is brought by Haggai and yet it has a different tone. We read earlier today: ‘On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai…“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?”’ (Haggai 2:1-3)

We can guess that during the intervening weeks between the first and second messages that efforts were concentrated on clearing the site of rubble, re-dressing stone, testing the walls for safety, and organizing teams of workmen. Such preparations on a sixty-year-old ruin, without any mechanical aids, would tax the endurance of even the most enthusiastic people, so no wonder there was a degree of frustration. But there was another factor.

Progress would have been delayed during the seventh month by the major Jewish festivals on which no work would be allowed. In addition to sabbath days, the first day of the seventh month was the Feast of Trumpets, and the tenth the Day of Atonement. Then on the fifteenth day the Feast of Tabernacles began.

So, how could there have been any measurable progress in such a short period of time considering the few days the builders had to work? And so, with seeing little real progress, pessimism once again may have set…in amongst God’s people, as they became overwhelmed… by their external circumstances and their internal expectations.

Indeed there was a small proportion of the remnant who remembered the first temple built in the days of King Solomon; a magnificent structure, full of glory in its material decoration, and at one time full of glory with the presence of the Lord dwelling in the Most Holy Place. Some could still remember that structure, which had been destroyed some 60 or 70 years earlier, and compared to it, what they saw before them in Haggai’s day was pathetic in their eyes, it was nothing.

And so, maybe people begin to question the call upon their lives – were we really called to return from exile?
Maybe we should have stayed in Babylon…
and enjoyed the good life. Were we really called to rebuild the temple when all we have is this heap of rocks? Maybe we should just give up; maybe our leaders were deluded or on an ego-trip; maybe it’s better to cut our losses and downsize our dreams and mothball any sense of calling we had to this.

And into that situation God sends Haggai once more – not with a message of challenge, but with a word of encouragement, of exhortation, and the Lord gives two specific encouragements so that His people persevere in their calling.

Firstly, the people are exhorted to find strength in the Lord’s presence. We read today:
‘“But now be strong, Zerubbabel,” declares the Lord. “Be strong, Joshua…Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you,” declares the Lord Almighty. “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you.”’ (Haggai 2:4-5)

Be strong and work, for my Spirit remains among you. In one form or another this promise is said by God to His people over 50 times across the Old and New Testaments:
• “let them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8)
• “go and make disciples of all nations…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew
28:19-20)

• “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you…’” (Acts 18:9-10)

Each time the Lord placed a calling upon His people and promised to be with them.

What is also striking is the similarity of the words from Haggai with what is said to an earlier Joshua in the history of Israel, a Joshua who also led God’s people in equally challenging times. In the book of Joshua we read this:
“After the death of Moses…the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them…As
I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you…Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:1-2, 5, 9)

On both occasions, separated by hundreds of years, we find a Joshua leading the people, and into both situations God speaks a word of encouragement to strengthen them for the calling upon their lives. Now the word of encouragement that would give strength was similar in both contexts: ‘Be strong…for the Lord your God will be with you’ (Joshua 1:9), or in Haggai: ‘Be strong…for I am with you…my Spirit remains among you.’ (Haggai 2:4-5)

In both periods it was a crucial encouragement, for in one
Moses had just died, their leader. He was the one… through whom God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and the people would wonder, is God with us still?

In Haggai’s time, the people had returned from exile, but after twenty years little had been accomplished with regard to the temple, and maybe they too wondered: is God with us? Does He want this calling fulfilled? Has He given up on us?

Into both situations, God speaks a word of encouragement – “I am with you, I am among you, press on”. At both times, the people of God needed to persevere in the calling upon their lives, and to do so they needed to be strong: strong of conviction, strong in hope, strong in faith that the Lord would come through for them and strong in faith that the Lord would work through them to accomplish His purposes.

But to find and keep that strength, they needed to have and know the presence of God in their midst. They needed to shake off disillusionment and dissatisfaction by turning their focus upon the Lord, who was among them and working through them, for with a focus on Him the people of God would find new vigour for the calling upon their lives.

I wonder friends, is that what we may be need at this time? In the midst of our dissatisfaction and our disillusionment, do we need to pursue the Lord Himself? In whatever way we may be feeling despondent and pessimistic, whether it be in comparing things…
to how they once were, or frustrations with the present, or what the future might look like in our Braes area, do you need to seek the Lord’s presence and face?

Because, as I emphasised in the latter weeks of our previous series, we have God’s Spirit in an even greater way than what the Lord’s people did in Haggai’s day. Back then, they relied on prophets and leaders, for it was only key people who had the Spirit of God upon them.

But in this age, through all that Jesus won for us, every person who calls themselves a Christian, is a temple of the Spirit, you have the Spirit of God living within you, and so any Christian can seek and know the Lord’s presence in greater and more intimate ways than those to whom Haggai spoke.
Friends, there have been too many instances to count when this has been the case for myself. Even just last week in my own devotions, the Lord gave words of encouragement in the times I spent with Him to sustain me in the call upon my life. Key, for me, and indeed for any of us, is the Bible – it is God’s principle way of speaking to us, and we need to be in the Word so that we can hear God’s words of encouragement, strength and affirmation.

But – it is in the real, dynamic, up-close presence of the Lord that we find strength not to crack up under the demands upon us, nor to give in to the worries that assail us, or turn bitter and judgmental in our present time.

In our dissatisfaction and disillusionment – will we heed the encouragement of the Lord, to draw near to Him and to know that He is with us?

If you’re not sure how to go about this, then one practical step would be to listen to the sermon from the 17th of March this year, and download the resources from our church website for that date on the “sermons” page.

But equally, you could join a Fellowship Group, get a copy of the Bible reading notes, come along to one of our prayer times. But let us seek the Lord, one way or another, for He is with us and in His presence we find strength to persevere in our calling.

Now, the Lord also gave a second exhortation to the people of Haggai’s time, for He said:
‘“Do not fear…[For]…In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory…The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the Lord Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…And in this place I will grant peace.”’ (Haggai 2:6-9)

In this portion of prophecy, the people are exhorted to overcome fear, they were exhorted to find courage, by trusting in the Lord’s promises. They are to trust that God will move in power and accomplish the calling He has laid upon His people.

The fear that they would have felt would have been of the mighty nations that surrounded them. This remnant of the Jewish people are in a struggling province on the edge of the great Persian empire, dwarfed by it and by the stronger provinces around them. Fear had been evident in the early days of their return from exile, and once again fear is beginning to rise up.

Understandably so, we might say – for they have been called to rebuild the temple, there is opposition against them still, and they have no idea where the resources are going to come from, especially in light of such a poor harvest – where will they get the money for the elaborate decoration that the temple demands?

And so, into this situation comes the word of God, a word exhorting them to have courage by trusting in the Lord’s promises. He promises “once more” to shake “the heavens and the earth…[indeed to] shake all nations.”

Now, the reference here to “once more” is to jolt their memory back to other times when the Lord caused a shaking upon the land and amongst the nations. In particular, we reed in the book of Exodus:
“Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire…and the whole mountain trembled violently.” (Exodus 19:16-19)

Here the land shook because of the presence of the Lord. As for the shaking of nations, the exodus of God’s people from Egypt shook that nation to its core, as the Psalmist recalls for us in Psalm 114.

And so, God makes a promise in Haggai’s day to shake cosmos and the nations again, such that “what is desired by all nations will come” – i.e. wealth, treasure – and so financial, material provision will be made for the calling upon God’s people to rebuild the temple.

Indeed, if we were to go into the book of Ezra, where we reed of the wider story and what is happening around and through the people, then we come to see that soon after this prophecy God did meet their financial need.

In chapter 6 of the book of Ezra, we reed that the very opponents of God’s people,…
the opponents who had hoped to bring the building work to a halt, well these opponents were ordered by the emperor to pay in full the cost of the temple repairs (Ezra 6:8–12).

But the people first had to respond in faith – they had to trust in the Lord’s promises, so that courage could arise, fear be overcome, and the work continue. They could have held back, they could have played it safe, but instead they responded in faith, then the doors began to open, then the resources were provided, and God’s purposes for this time were fulfilled.

We might be tempted to spiritualize these material elements of Haggai’s prophecy. But the Lord did promise to provide His people with the material resources…
for the building of His kingdom purposes. His provision is simply a sign of His sovereignty over these resources as Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos.

And the same is true for the church. This same sovereign God promises to provide the resources for kingdom work in material as well as spiritual ways. The church, as the place of God’s presence today, as His present temple, needs material resources to carry out the Great Commission given to us by Jesus, and God does promise to provide those resources (see Phil. 4:10–20; Matt. 6).

Indeed, in this very year, your giving has confirmed this – God has more than given the resources we need as a congregation, because our level of income has gone up significantly…
The question has always been, whether we would be open handed with it; would we give sacrificially, and thankfully we have, we have responded to God’s sovereign provision in our lives with generosity towards His Kingdom work.

But let us take the principle of these verses beyond material provision, and let me ask you this friends, what are the promises we are clinging to by faith for our present time? As we face potentially radical changes in how we do church in the Braes area; as we compare church now to church as it once was – what are the promises of God that we are clinging to?

For we need to have those promises and cling to them, because it can be tempting, especially in hard times, especially in times of dissatisfaction and disillusionment to play it safe, or to bunker down.

But to live in step with the God of Haggai is to place ourselves in the dangerous position of trusting in God’s promises; it is placing ourselves in the dangerous position of grasping the hand of our Creator and Redeemer, and walking into the unknown with Him.

Personally, I find some of the promises of Jesus helpful: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Or that passage where Jesus said to the disciples:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

God used Haggai to call a generation to experience God in the present, not only in similar ways to the past, but in ways that would dwarf the past. That is akin to what Jesus meant when He said: “you will do even greater things than these”. We often see the past as setting up patterns that are insurmountable. But Haggai encourages us to see the past as only setting precedents that can provide a springboard to even greater miracles.

To a people who were wavering, laid low with dissatisfaction and disillusionment, the encouragement of God through Haggai is to persevere in your calling by finding strength in the Lord’s presence and courage through the Lord’s promises.
I pray we may be such a people as well, a people who resolve to seek and trust the Lord always. May it be so.
Amen.

The proclaimed Kingdom

Preached on: 6th October 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-10-06-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Acts 1:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Acts 1:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-14
Sunday 6th October 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week in our current sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ we saw that in Jesus the Kingdom of God came, that when He came to earth He was the embodiment of God’s people, God’s place, His rule, King and blessing. Hopefully we went home thinking about that, excited about who Jesus is, and ready to be part of His Kingdom.

Because when Jesus was here with His disciples, after His resurrection, they were excited, they were expectant. For forty days after He rose from the dead Jesus taught them about the Kingdom of God, and it prompted one of the disciples, we don’t who, to ask this question:
‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6)

Gathered around Jesus, expectant of what might happen, because He’s just come back from the dead, they start to wonder: is this it? Is this when we’ll see all our hopes and dreams for the kingdom of God realised?

But within the space of minutes, we read this about Jesus: ‘After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.’ (Acts 1:9)

Jesus leaves, He ascends to heaven, as He said He would do – He’s alive, but Jesus is now no longer present. What does this mean for the Kingdom of God? If Jesus…
is the embodiment of God’s kingdom, does that mean that the Kingdom of God is no longer present either?

Well, we did miss out a few important verses, in what we read this morning. Jesus had been teaching them about the Kingdom of God and reminded them that something was about to change. On one occasion he said: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 1:4-5)

And in response to the question He was asked, Jesus said this: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8)

Jesus reminds them, time and time again, that they are going to receive the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, whom Jesus had during His ministry, this Spirit, whom only the greatest heroes and prophets in the Old Testament had known, well this Spirit was going to be given to the Church, to the disciples of Jesus.

Paul in His first letter to the Corinthians wrote these words:
‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.’ (1 Cor. 12:12-14)
It is by the Spirit that we are formed into the body of Christ – that in sharing the Spirit we become united to Jesus, part of His body. And so, Paul affirms that the Spirit is given to all who claim to have placed their faith in Jesus – indeed, in writing to the Romans, Paul says:
‘…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.’ (Romans 8:9)

You cannot be a Christian without the Spirit – the Spirit is essential – and if you have confessed Jesus as Lord, and called out to Him to be your Saviour, then the teaching of Scripture is that you have the Spirit, you have been given the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean, what are the implications? Well, let’s take our familiar headings, of
God’s people, God’s place, God’s rule and blessing, and see what the Spirit does for the Kingdom of God, and for you and me.
We’ll begin with God’s people. Last week, we looked at those verses from John’s gospel:
‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’ (John 15:5)

In calling Himself the ‘vine’, Jesus was saying that He is the true Israel, the embodiment of God’s people. But in calling His disciples the branches, Jesus affirms that God’s people includes all who are joined to Jesus. But how do you get joined to Jesus? Is it simply head knowledge, is it about knowing the right stuff? Is it about attending church?

Well, earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus had a meeting with Nicodemus, one of the Jewish leaders and we read this:

Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’

Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’ (John 3:3-5)

We come into the Kingdom of God, we are joined to Jesus, we become part of God’s people, as the Spirit brings about a new birth. We are not then part of God’s people because we come to church, or because we are nice people, or even because of what we know about Jesus. And sadly, these ideas still persist, even today, not only within our culture, but within church folk. I’ve had people said to me, over the years…
that such and such is a Christian, or must be a Christian, because they are deeply religious, or display Christian values. But being deeply religious, being a good person, is not confined to the church – there is in most people, if not all people, a tendency towards being ‘religious’, it maybe just gets masked with other things.

I was with a friend the other day, and he recounted going to a football game, and he described the experience as like being at church – because football, the game, had become for some people their religion, the thing that was foundational to life, that gave purpose and meaning, to which they gave of themselves, even sacrificially. It is their religion, but many other things can be other people’s religion – family, success, the list is endless…
So, maybe we’re all religious about something, so being religious doesn’t mean that you’re part of God’s people, that you’re part of the Kingdom of God, even if you’re religious about church stuff.

Likewise, being a good person, isn’t confined to the church, and theologically we explain this because of what we read in Genesis – that we’re all made in the image of God, and even though that image is marred because of the fall, we still see something of God in all of us, there’s still good in people. And so, being a good person, doesn’t mean you’re part of God’s people, that you’re part of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’

Are you born again? You might ask, how can we know? So, here are a few ideas:
• John 16:7-10 – Jesus said that the Spirit would bring conviction of sin. Have you been convicted of your sin, and is the Spirit continuing to convict you of your sin? Because if you’ve never been convicted, or it’s been some time since you’ve been convicted, maybe you’re not in a good place with God.
• Romans 8:15 – Paul says that the Spirit brings about our adoption as children of God such that we know God as ‘Abba’, our heavenly Father. Do you know God that way? Is God intimate and known to you, is He real and personal? Because if God seems distant, if God is simply up in the sky to you, again maybe, you’re not in a good place with God – you might know about God, but maybe you’re missing out on that new birth.
• 2 Cor. 5:5-15 – Paul says that anyone who is a Christian has been given the Spirit, and an outworking of this, is that we should no longer live for ourselves but for Jesus who died for us and was raised again. Do you live for Jesus? Does He shape your choices, your values, your priorities? Because if Jesus is just a nice guy, or if you think about Jesus on a Sunday but the rest of the week you call the shots, then I’m afraid you’re may not be in a good place with God.

Jesus said, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ You’re only part of God’s kingdom, you’re only part of His people, part of the body of Christ, if you are born again. You may not be able to say when it happened, but Jesus makes no if’s or but’s about this, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. So, are you born again?
As I said at the beginning, all who are God’s people are given the Spirit, not only to facilitate this new birth, but for other reasons as well.

Let’s look at God’s place. The kingdom of God includes God’s people living in God’s place, enjoying God’s presence. Before the Fall, God lived amongst His people in the garden of Eden. After the Fall, God formed a people for Himself and He took them to a land He would give, and He lived among them, He presenced Himself in the place of the tabernacle, and then eventually the temple.

However, last week we saw that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s place, because in Jesus the Word became flesh, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity moved into the neighbourhood. And so, we might say that Jesus is the true temple, the place of God’s presence.
But within the writings of the New Testament, we find another change because of the Spirit. Jesus is still the true temple, but because we are part of Jesus, by the Spirit, the language of ‘temple’ is extended in two ways. Firstly, in 1 Corinthians 6, we reed:
‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from
God?’

It’s a natural development of what we’ve seen already about the Spirit – if we individually are now part of Jesus, by the Spirit, then our very selves, are temples of the Spirit, He lives within each of us.

Secondly, we reed these words in Ephesians chapter 2: ‘In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’
(Ephesians 2:21-22)

Paul describes the church as a building, with a foundation, with a chief cornerstone, such that together we are a holy temple in Jesus, a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. Now, this isn’t referring to us individually, but as a community – within us, as a community, God lives by His Spirit. So, God lives within us individually, but God lives within us a community; God’s place is within His Church, because His Church is within Jesus by the Spirit.
Now, if we are God’s people and so also the place of God’s presence, all because we are in Jesus Christ by the Spirit, then this really should have an impact, don’t you think?

I think it should, and it should have an impact in at least two ways. Firstly, it should have an impact on us individually, on how we live and on what we do with our lives. This is part of the reason why Paul in His letters will say in one form or another: ‘…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’ (Eph. 4:1)

You are God’s people, you are God’s temple, so live as such, and we do so by living under the rule of God, just as Jesus did. Paul will detail, in every letter, what this looks
like, but he will also remind them…
that it is by the Spirit that we are enabled to live under the rule of God. For example, he writes in Romans: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13)

When we trust in Jesus and are born again, we are saved from the penalty of sin by the death of Jesus. In a future day, when Jesus returns, we will be saved from the presence of sin. But in our present time, we are being saved from the power of sin. And so, although we shall
never be sinless this side of heaven, God the Spirit is at work within us to help us fight sin and become more like Jesus.

The Spirit is ready to help us grow in love of God and love of neighbour, so where do you need the Spirit’s help?
What is the sin over which you need the power of the Spirit to break free?…
Where in your life, do you need power to pursue the things of God and His ways? In some cases it will take time to change, as you partner with the Spirit, and that will bring greater maturity of character. But in other cases, the change can be more instantaneous. Where do you need the power of the Spirit to live under the rule of God?

I said earlier, that now we are God’s people and His temple, then it should have an impact in at least two ways, and the second way it should have an impact, is through us to the people around us.Remember that
promise given to Abraham: ‘You will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ (Genesis 12:2-3)

What we have, and who we are, is meant to ripple out and affect the world around us. As Jesus said in our passage today: ‘…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8)

The blessings that we have in Father God through Jesus by the Spirit are not just for us, not just available to us – we are meant to help others know the blessing of God for themselves; we are meant to be a signpost to God, an ambassador of His kingdom.

And again, in this the Spirit helps us, that by His work in us, changing our character into the likeness of Jesus, love for neighbour should be seen. And so, bringing a donation for the Foodbank should be a natural expression of who we are, but this really shouldn’t be a one-off, this should be regular and generous, if we are going to live up to our calling.
We can also be a signpost, a witness, to God in other ways. For example, our reading in Corinthians reminds us that we are each given gifts by the Spirit of God for the good of the Church and for our corporate mission. Are we giving ourselves to the ministry of this congregation? You have been given gifts to further and strengthen what God would do amongst us and through us. Are you playing your part?

But love of neighbour, and use of gifts, are only two ways that the Spirit works in us to impact the world around us. I came across a challenging quote this week, which read: ‘We cannot claim to be filled with the Spirit as individuals or as [congregations] if we are not active in evangelism; [for] the Spirit’s great concern is to lead people to Christ.’
(Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture, page 136)
I wonder what you make of that. I suspect a lot of us will be uncomfortable with it. We’ll push back. We’ll try to argue against it, maybe we’ll say: “I’m introverted”, or “it’s the minister’s job”, “or I don’t know how to share my faith”. But this writer is correct is saying that the Spirit’s great concern, even His greatest concern, is to lead people to faith in Jesus.

But the Spirit seeks to do that through God’s people, and the testimony of the church is that from the very beginning, in the book of Acts, up to our modern day, that individuals and churches who share their faith are also individuals and churches who are full and overflowing with the Spirit. They might not know how to do it, but they will try or they will try to learn; it will be an itch that needs attention, so they might read, or go on courses,… or give it a shot and make really bad mistakes, but they will have a burden to share their faith.

And where that burden is weak, or non-existent, in an individual or a community, then it’s not to say that you don’t have the Spirit, for all in Christ do, but the Scriptures say that we can ‘quench’ the Spirit, we can turn off the tap, with regard to the Spirit’s influence in our lives. The Scriptures also say we can ‘grieve’ the Spirit, and so whether it be by quenching, or whether it be by grieving, there are ways we can become less full of the Spirit, because the Spirit will not give of Himself in great measure to a people, or to a person, who resists, or outright rejects, the Spirit’s concerns and activity. His principle concern is to see people come to know Jesus, and if we do not share that concern, if it is not a burden of our hearts, then He may well hold back a little,…
and that may go a little way to explaining why our denomination, and the Western Church, is in such dire straits. Friends, let’s not kid ourselves: if we don’t share the concern of the Spirit, then maybe we have a lack of the Spirit, individually and as a community.

But that too can change, quickly and powerfully, as we respond to the Spirit’s promptings through the Word, as we say “yes” to Him, as we give of ourselves in prayer for His concerns.

Friends, I want to play for you a video that speaks of what the Spirit can do in our lives, and in the lives of anyone. It’s a video that we saw on Wednesday night at Alpha, so apologies to those who have already seen it, but I found it deeply moving. (PLAY VIDEO)
Brothers and sisters, friends, the Kingdom of God came in the person of Jesus 2000 years ago but even though we can’t see Jesus, He is still extending His kingdom by the Spirit of God. That Spirit invites us to experience a new birth, of being joined to Christ, part of God’s people, such that we become a dwelling place of God, individually and corporately. To each who has the Spirit, there is power over sin, there are gifts for service, and there is a call to be a witness through love and the sharing of the Good News, so that the rule of God and the blessing of God, might extend to the nations.

I pray that we would be a people, together and individually, who are full of the Spirit, and as such see the
Kingdom of God come in our midst. May it be so. Amen.

Devoted to teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer

Preached on: Sunday 17th February 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-02-17-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: Acts 2:42-47
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Acts 2:42-47
Sunday 17th February 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchJesus said, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ (Matt. 22:37-39)

With our young people I began to unpack that, love for God and for one another was central to the early Church, so much so that even in their changing circumstances they prioritised certain practices and were devoted to doing them, because, as we saw last week, they wanted to live for Jesus and play their part in His continuing ministry; they were convinced He was alive and so, they wanted to know more of His life for themselves and be a conduit of His life to others.

Over the years it transformed the world – in a relatively short space of time, the early church came to be envied by the Roman authorities for how extravagantly they showed love to neighbour, no matter creed, colour or class.

And the result was this: “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) The growth of the Christian faith was phenomenal, not only here at the birth of the church but across the early centuries. Yet does this phrase mean that these Christians simply stayed at home? Does it mean that they played no part in these historical changes coming to fruition? Of course not – the verses we will look at in a moment, as well as the rest of Acts, if not the rest of the New Testament,… make it very clear that individual Christians and the Christian community as a whole play a key role, that what we do, what you and I do, is of great importance. If Brightons Parish Church is to have a vibrant future, and if that is to overflow into our community, such that our community thrives as well – then we all (we all) have a part to play in that; we all do need to do certain things, as we’ll see today and next week.

But before we get practical, notice this: “…the Lord added to their number” – “…the Lord added to their number” – the early church knew that any life, any growth, any success, any vibrancy, any positive impact upon its own members and then the surrounding community was a result of the Lord being active in and amongst them,… and so, they made it clear in their account: “…the Lord added to their number.”

Maybe it’s because of this conviction that the author of Acts sandwiches the stuff we like: the miracles, the great feats of love, the joy, the incredible growth in numbers – the author sandwiches all these things that we’d love to see, between two key statements: “They devoted themselves to……[and] the Lord added to their number.” The start and the end go hand in hand, because the top list is like the four wheels of a car – without those four wheels, the car won’t move, or with some wheels missing it will only bump and grind along the road, but never reach its full potential, never seeing the distance and destination it could reach with all four wheels.

Or it’s like me trying to make my favourite cake – Chocolate Guinness Cake (and yes, I can make it) – it’s like me trying to make that cake without chocolate, Guinness, bicarbonate of soda or cream cheese: any Chocolate Guinness cake that doesn’t include those things is going to be dull and flat, lacking life and lacking all the good stuff that makes me want to keep it to myself!

With baking and cars we know that we need the whole package, but when it comes to church we somehow think we can have one without the other – we want the miracles, the great feats of love, the joy, the incredible growth in numbers – but we’d rather leave the other stuff to the “spiritual people” or “religious people” or the minister. So, please here me clearly on this: we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord; we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord.
If we want vibrancy in Brightons Parish Church, and if we want that vibrancy to overflow to the community, such that it blesses and benefits the community, and if we want people out there to think church might be relevant, then we each, individually, must know and walk with the Good Lord – because when we do that, His life, His power, His love, His grace will flow into our lives and overflow into the lives of the wider community. It’s simply how it works: we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord.

So, our passage today is not complex or even hard to understand, and many of the ideas and terms you will be familiar with. In some ways, I probably could end the sermon here and leave the rest up to you…but I love to learn, and consequently, I love to give others the opportunity to learn and grow as well.
So, in the time remaining, I am going to try and limit what I say, and give you as much of the remaining time to chat amongst yourselves. My idea is that this week we’ll focus on verse 42, and next week we’ll cover the other verses. Hopefully you’re up for giving that a try for these two weeks, and then we’ll go back to me talking for twenty minutes. Sound fair enough?

So, v42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

But what do these terms mean for us today?

• Firstly, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching: they learnt about Jesus and His ways. We can do that a little through Sunday worship,..
but we each need more, and so today, maybe you should consider starting to read your Bible more regularly, and if you need help with that, then the discipleship team have daily reading notes available in the vestibule after today’s service.

• Secondly, they devoted themselves to fellowship: the word for fellowship here is “koinonia” and its basic idea is “sharing” – sharing in life together. How can we do that with one another? Maybe join a fellowship group; or maybe get involved in active service in this church and next week we’ll hopefully have a vacancy list to help with that. Or help with the Easter Fun Day.

• Thirdly, they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread: they shared in communion,…

they came back to the Cross time and time again. Here we only celebrate that a handful of times a year, so please try and be here for it.

• Lastly, they devoted themselves to prayer: they prayed; again and again throughout Acts we see that the early church prayed. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is quoted as saying this: “there has never, to the best of my knowledge, been a revival in the church that did not begin with a renewal of prayer.” We never get the good life, without the Good Lord, and that’s so true of prayer. For us, that could mean coming to the Thursday evening prayer meeting. Or you could come to the Sunday evening services, because this year I’m thinking our theme for them will be prayer.

So, now it’s over to you – I’d like to give you the remaining time in small groups to talk about what it might look like for you to be devoted to Jesus through these things, to know and walk with the Good Lord. If you like, one idea is to start the conversation with the category you are weakest at – but whatever you do, try to come up with one or two things you personally could do differently so as to love the Lord a little more with your heart and soul and mind. So, over to you.

(PAUSE FOR DISCUSSION)

Friends, we obviously have not had time to think about all the ways we could apply these verses in our lives – but hopefully you’ve got a few ideas to take away, and maybe you can take some time this week…

to read these verses again and think through how you might put them into practice in your own life. For these things do help us to walk with the Lord, from whom we receive life, and love and grace – and as we dwell in Him and He in us, then His life and love will overflow in this place and out into the wider community, and maybe then Brightons Parish Church might also testify too that “…the Lord added to their number.”

May it be so. Amen.

The right heart

Preached on: Sunday 10th February
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-02-10-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and Acts 2:36-41
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and Acts 2:36-41
Sunday 10th February 2019
Brightons Parish Church“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

Between my first sermon in November last year and the first three sermons of my time here, we have begun to explore what the early chapters of the book of Acts might say to us at this time. In Acts we find the early church experiencing the winds of change – they are on the cusp of huge changes, changes like they had never seen nor expected. And so, Acts, especially these early chapters, gives us insight into some core things to remember in the midst of change.

For we are, ourselves, in the midst of change too. You have a new minister here and that will bring change, in time, maybe even already.
But more broadly, the Church, both the Church of Scotland and the universal Church, finds itself in changing times. As a denomination, numbers are falling and we struggle to know how to engage with today’s generation; indeed, we struggle to engage with any of the generations that don’t come to church, not just the young. In our denomination too, it is predicted that minister numbers will continue to fall, that in ten years’ time, maybe less, there will be around half our current number of ministers, meaning about one minister for every three churches. We are very much in changing circumstances, and Brightons Parish Church will not remain unaffected. What’s more, you also may be facing a change in personal circumstances. Change is everywhere.

So, what core things has Acts taught us so far? Well, we’ve thought about how Jesus IS risen and His ministry continues, even to this very day. We’ve seen that part of His continuing ministry is to challenge us, to force us to reconsider the box we have Him in, so that He can expand that box, or even blow it apart, leading us into a greater fullness of life with the aid of His Holy Spirit. And last week, we thought about how Jesus was shown to be the promised Messiah and that He is Lord and so in Jesus we see the reign of God.

In our passage today, Peter has covered the same material we have, and he reaches that point where he says: “‘Therefore…be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’”

But the moment does not end there, for we read: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to
Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

The people were conscience-stricken and convicted; they were convicted of their need for Jesus; they were convicted that their faith had not been in Him, but in other things and in other people.

Another translation puts it this way: ‘Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers! Brothers! So now what do we do?”’

So now what do we do? That question is as applicable for us as it was then. In the midst of change – so now what do we do? After we know whom Jesus is: that He is alive, that He is Lord and Messiah,…
that He His ministry is continuing by His Spirit through His Church – so now, what do we do? So now what do we do when we know He is challenging us and calling us to expand the box? So now, what do we do?

We read on: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

First off, Peter says to repent and to repent is much more than saying sorry or feeling remorse for what we’ve done. True repentance is when our minds are changed about Jesus such that our attitudes towards Him change and consequently, the direction of our life changes too…
In essence, we need to know for ourselves what the Apostle Paul wrote: That ‘he [Jesus] died for all, [so] that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor.5:15)

We see here that repentance involves two things. Firstly, we can’t truly repent if we don’t truly know who Jesus is and why He died on the Cross.

In the same passage, Paul writes in v21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.’ It’s a strange sounding idea, but what Paul wants us to understand is that Jesus, the perfect, holy, sinless Son of God, was treated as a sinner and bore the penalty of all sin in place of us. But why did God do that?

Well, our God is a holy God – and thank God that He is! Imagine a God who could simply overlook sin? That God would not be righteous, that God would not be perfect – that God would not even be loving because love does not delight in evil. And so, sin offends God, it grieves God, it alienates God and ourselves, and so we need a Saviour – everyone of us needs someone to save us from our alienation from God and the brokenness we have brought upon ourselves. And Jesus is that Saviour, He is the Messiah. Jesus died, that we might be reconciled to God, that we might be forgiven for our sins.

But it is perfectly possible to know who Jesus is and why He died, but never to repent. And so, Paul’s second point about true repentance comes to the fore.

‘he died for all, [so] that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor.5:15)

That those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him. This is the true mark of repentance – do you live for Jesus? Does He shape your life? You will know you have truly repented when you see Jesus as He truly is and you can honestly say that He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for Him. That’s true repentance.

But as I say, it’s entirely easy not to repent because so often we only get half of the story. In the Church of Scotland, we have not been good in calling for a response to Jesus, we shy away from it and so we leave people short-changed…
Sure, we share that God loves you, that Jesus died for you, but we don’t tell people the next bit – that they need to respond. And so, they miss out on the whole package. My own story is a testimony to this very failure in our denomination but also of God’s grace.

I grew up in the Church of Scotland, being baptised within it, going to Sunday School and then to Youth Fellowship. I remember one time in my teenage years of being motivated to read the Gospel of Mark, and going to my minister with my questions, but he simply brushed over them. I could never really understand his preaching, and I cannot remember hearing much about the love God has for me, nor that I needed to respond…

And so, I went to Youth Fellowship until it stopped, and then to the Sunday evening service when I worked in the morning, and I thought I was genuinely a Christian because I went to church, I helped run my local Cub Scout Pack and I had a good public image.

But over the course of my teenage years I grew in confidence and with that I grew in selfishness, and that particularly impacted the girls that I dated, for it was all about me and what I could get from the relationship. It came to a head when I was out celebrating my 19th birthday, and the parts I can remember from that night continue to shock and horrify me. My selfishness was rampant, and I lived for me.

But in the small hours of the morning after, God met with me, as I lay in bed, and He convicted me of my sin, and I repented – I didn’t say anything, but I died to self, and I got up that morning, out of that bed, a new man, a new creation as the Apostle Paul puts it, and I no longer lived for self but for Jesus: He was the centre of my life now, His will and His call and His goodness and love shown on Cross were the things I would build my life upon.

Friends, we don’t all need to have such a dramatic change, but do all need to repent – to respond to the Good News of who Jesus is and why He died, such that He becomes the centre of our lives and we then live for Him. Hopefully you’ve heard that before, but if you haven’t, now is the day of salvation, now can be the day of your salvation – and so as Christ’s ambassador, I implore you: be reconciled to God. Humble yourself, truly repent; come to God anew, set your hope upon Jesus, and come in to that new life with God. Before I became a Christian, I thought I was living life to the full, I thought I knew what the good life was, but it wasn’t the whole truth; it’s only through Jesus that you can know life in all its fullness – not an easy life, not a perfect life – but a life beyond imagination, a life we all hunger for in the deepest parts of our souls.

Friends, if you haven’t repented, if you don’t live for Jesus, then today could be your day, and I invite you to come speak with me after the service and together we can help you find that new life in Jesus.

But if you have repented, if by God’s grace you are a new creation, then there is a call upon your life for Peter says: “‘Repent…every one of you…And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Now what is that gift given for? We’ve heard in recent weeks that the Holy Spirit helps us to know who Jesus is and assures us that we are children of God – but the Spirit is also given for another reason. As the Apostle Paul said: “All this is from God, who…gave us the ministry of reconciliation…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

So, there is call for all of us to live for Jesus by being His ambassador, His witness, and so you are called into the ministry of reconciliation;…
you are called to share your faith with others, to see everyone you meet through the lens of the cross, and to give of yourself for that ministry, the continuing ministry of Jesus.

Today, I want to focus on our hearts and outlook, because in all likelihood, some of us may shy away from this for any number of reasons. We might let fear, or feelings of inadequacy or awkwardness, or past negative experiences put us off. We might also shy away from it because we are not motivated to do so, that “Christ’s love [does not] compel us”. And that may have happened because of any number of reasons as well.

But whether you shy away because of fear, or for lack of love for God and neighbour, today God wants to help you have the right heart –
He calls you back to live for Jesus, He calls you out of fear and out of apathy, because today, now, is the day of salvation, and what you have received is not for you alone, but for every person that Jesus died for. Friends, if that is you – if fear or apathy hold you back from sharing in the life of this church, from sharing your faith with others – then you need to do business with God, and in a few moments, we’ll have an opportunity to pray about that.

So, we need to have the right heart for this ministry of reconciliation – but we also need to have the right outlook. We need to see, we need to appreciate, that “now is the day of salvation”. Now is the day, now is the time. Now is the day that people can come into a lifechanging relationship with Jesus; now is the time for broken hearts to be mended, and injustices to be challenged, and the poor helped…
Now is the day, now is the time, for the kingdom of God to come in our midst – and for that we need to have the right outlook, so that we can see the world as it is and see the world as it could be within the kingdom of God. With the right outlook we will see that “now is the day of salvation”, and we will do everything we can to usher in the kingdom.

Friends, we are in changing circumstances, and more change will come, and will need to come, if we want to know life in all its fullness, for ourselves, for one another and for the wider world. But for that to happen, we need to have the right outlook – that “this is the day of salvation” – and we need to have the right heart – that
“the love of Christ compels us” –
because then we will give of ourselves to that change, we lean in to that change, and before we know it, we’ll really be living for Jesus and participating in His continuing ministry, the ministry of reconciliation.

Brothers, sisters, what shall we do? First of all – have you repented? Do you live for Jesus? Secondly, will we commit to this ministry of reconciliation? Do we have the right heart? Do we have the right outlook?

Your Jesus box

Preached on: Sunday 3rd February 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-02-03-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: Psalm 115:1-11 and Acts 2:22-36
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Psalm 115:1-11 and Acts 2:22-36
Sunday 3rd February 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLike with our young people, we each have particular labels, and words, and ideas that describe God, that define His character and His ways. And we take those words and we take those ideas and we construct a box for God.

In reality, putting God in a box suits us – we quite like the idea of knowing we have the lid on God, that we know the boundaries to His character and ways. We generally prefer not having many surprises with God – we like knowing where the edges and corners to God are, we like knowing His colours and so His temperament. We like the assurance that we understand God and that God will behave according to the way we understand Him.
We also like the sense of control we have over God by Him being in the box because being in a box makes God a bit more manageable.

We all have a box for God – I have a box for God. People of every age, of every culture have had a box for God. And the same was true 2000 years ago when the Holy Spirit came upon the early Church for the first time. In that moment, something happened – something totally unexpected and new, something outside of everyone’s box. Certain people felt it went too far and they sneered and mocked the disciples, because these accusers had God in a box – a small, tight, clearly defined box.

But Peter stood up and He countered their allegations, explaining that something new had happened, that what they had heard and seen and experienced was nothing less than God and His kingdom breaking into our world and blowing open their boxes.

Friends, Jesus is always seeking to change, expand, or even blow apart, the box that we all have Him in so that by His Spirit He brings us all into a deeper understanding of Himself, and into a life of faith that is lived to the full.

But that raises the question: who is the Jesus that we each know and follow? Which of these names would you use? How would you describe His character and ways?

Maybe more importantly, would you still hold that perspective when life gets tough? When the difficulties of life come along, they confront us with some searching questions, and we might echo the words of the psalm: “where is God?” Who is this God that I’m called to trust in? What can I be sure of?

Any number of things could force each of us to ask these questions. It could be the death of a loved one; or the loss of health, work or a relationship; or it could be change – maybe changes in family or society, even changes in church.

All those experiences, all these questions, I can resonate with because there have been two times, at least, in my relatively short life when I’ve been left holding the pieces, holding the pieces of my life, of my faith, and wondering, where are You God? Who are You God? What can I be sure of?
It’s in the hard times that you really come down to focus on the essentials, because the hard times remind us that much of life and of faith is mystery, that there are questions we cannot answer, and may never get an answer.

But there are some questions that can be answered, and in their answer, we find hope for the difficult times and something to cling to when we’re holding our broken pieces and asking: where are you God?

One such answer is given in our passage today: in response to the question, “who is Jesus?”, Peter reminds us, encourages us, with these words: ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ (v36)

I like how the NRSV puts this verse: ‘Therefore…know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ – – – Know with certainty…be assured – of what? That Jesus is both Lord and Messiah.

But why is that hope for the difficult times? How is that anything to cling to 2000 years after the fact?

Let’s take a moment to think about each of these titles of Jesus and I’ll start with Jesus being Messiah.

Messiah is that Hebrew title from which we get the English title Christ. It literally means, “the anointed one” or “chosen one”…
In biblical times, anointing someone with oil was a sign that God was setting apart that person for a particular role. Thus, an “anointed one” was someone with a special, God-ordained purpose, usually a prophet, priest or king. But the Old Testament predicted that a Deliverer would come – someone who would be chosen and anointed by God to set Israel free, and this Deliverer was called the Messiah.

Is Jesus the Messiah? Well Peter argues He is: that Jesus was ‘a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him’ (v22) – and the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible give us eye witness accounts of what Jesus did – He was no ordinary man.

Peter also argues that the death of Jesus confirms Him to be the Messiah for He died on the cross because of ‘God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge’ (v23). Peter wants us to understand here that the death of Jesus was not the unfortunate defeat of a good man who had no power to save Himself. To see Jesus that way is to miss the point entirely – for even though it might look that way, it was in fact brought about because of the foreknowledge, decision and plan of God. This was no ordinary death of a common criminal or failed religious leader.

And to clinch his argument, Peter concludes with one final claim – – – that Jesus being raised to life fulfils the prophetic words of David, who wrote: ‘you will not let your holy one see decay’ (v27). These words are about the Messiah and were written 1000 years before Jesus,
So in resurrecting His Son, God the Father…
vindicates the death of Jesus and confirms that it was not some failed moral revolution, but instead a triumph over the agonising power of death and sin.

So in His life, in His death and in His resurrection, Jesus is confirmed as the Messiah, the Promised One, our Saviour, our Deliverer, one who is mighty to save, conqueror of sin and death.

In Jesus then, we can find hope, hope for today and hope for tomorrow, indeed hope for all eternity, because in Jesus we see the embodiment of God’s love and faithfulness, in Jesus we see the extent that God was willing to go for us: that He loved you and me with a suffering love, and He has loved us with that love from all eternity…

because He made a deliberate plan to send Jesus as our deliverer, as our Messiah. In fact, God was so meticulous and deliberate about this plan that He gave 60 prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah. Do you want to guess the odds of Jesus fulfilling just 8 of those prophecies? It is 1 in a hundred million billion – basically impossible without divine intervention! But the incredible news is that Jesus didn’t just fulfil 8 prophecies, He fulfilled all 60, showing that He truly is the Messiah.

So, when hard times come, and we feel in the grip of darkness, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah? When changes come, and we feel unsettled and fearful, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah? When an opportunity comes to take a step of faith, and we’re tempted to play it safe, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah?
Years after the events of Acts 2, Peter will write in his first epistle these words: ‘set your hope on…Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:13), Jesus the Messiah. So can I ask? Is your hope set on Jesus, Jesus the Messiah? It is a choice – you choose where to set your hope. In the dark times, in the times of asking, “where are you God?”, will you choose to set your hope on Jesus? There’s nowhere better, nowhere surer, no one else has conquered sin and death, no one else offers life in all its fullness and life eternal. So, my friends, set your hope on Jesus, on Jesus the Messiah.

In addition to all that, Peter says that Jesus is also Lord. Peter is convinced of it so, he now introduces a key Old Testament quotation:
‘“The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.’” (v34-35)

To our ears it is a strange argument but it is a quote from
Psalm 110, a psalm that was believed to refer to the Messiah – this chosen one, this anointed one. The Jews understood that the Messiah would be a direct descendant of King David, because that is what God had promised, and so the Messiah would be a man, a real human being.

But David, here, refers to this coming Messiah as “my Lord”, ‘Adonai’, giving to the Messiah a title that is reserved for God alone and the Jews didn’t really have an answer for this conundrum. So, Peter now makes it clear
– this Messiah is a man but He is also God –
and His name is Jesus. And this very Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling in a position of all authority, including over salvation and its blessings, and so it is from Jesus, by Jesus, through Jesus that we receive the grace of God: it is as we call on the name of Jesus that we receive salvation.

And the impact of this is huge! If Jesus is not only Messiah, but Lord and God, then in Jesus we see the reign of God – we see that God is not distant, He came close as a real human being; we see that God is not uncaring, He died for love of you and me. What’s more, we see that God is not a figment of imagination or superstition, rather He is risen and alive, a true person you can know; and finally, God is not just any god or every god, He is Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, and no other but He is truly God.

In the hard times, in changing times, is that the Jesus you turn to? Or is your picture of Jesus simply of a man, or a good teacher? If that’s the case my friends, hear this: your picture of Jesus falls so far short, you have been shortchanged, because you are missing out on knowing the true Jesus, the Jesus who is Lord.

Maybe that doesn’t sound much to you. You may even conclude that if Jesus is God, then He is doing a pretty poor job. And you know, the people of Peter’s day would probably have thought the same thing – for Peter to claim that Jesus was Lord was startling news, ridiculous news, even laughable news, because this Jesus had been crucified, and everyone knew that if you were crucified, hung from a tree, you were under the curse of God…
How could any such person be Lord? How could any such person be Messiah?

But appearances can be deceiving, for despite appearances, God was working His purposes out in Jesus – – – death did not have the final say, that cross, which by all accounts should have been the end of Jesus, was His finest moment.

Friends, in the hard times, in changing times, we can be asking: “where is God?” Who is this God that I’m called to trust in? What can I be sure of?

Despite all appearances, despite all other claims, the testimony across the generations is that only Jesus is
Messiah, only Jesus is Lord –
it is in Him that we can find true hope for the dark times, and someone to cling to when we’re left holding the pieces. It is Him I have run to when my life has fallen apart; it is Him who has been my rock when all else is unsteady and unsure.

Friends, who is Your Jesus? Is He Messiah and Lord? Is He your Messiah and Lord? Have you chosen to put your hope in Him? Have you called on His name for salvation? Do you daily turn to Him in prayer and in His Word to find the refuge and strength and guidance we each need every day? My encouragement to you this morning, is allow your box to be expanded and come afresh to Jesus, even now, and set your hope on Him, our Messiah and Lord.