Amazing grace: amazing power

Preached on: Sunday 30th May 2021
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 21-05-30 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 14:21-26 & Hebrews 4:14-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

let us come to God in prayer let us pray

come holy spirit soften our hearts to the word of God come holy spirit with revelation and wisdom of our father and our lord Jesus

come holy spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen last week we began a new sermon series on grace and our aim is to understand more of this wonderful word because it is rich and meaningful partly because of its many uses and references in the scriptures and we saw previously that one of its uses is to talk about our spiritual gifts that the spirit gives us to enable us to be part of God’s mission but our passage today doesn’t use grace in that manner we read from Italian Paul and Barnabas sailed back to Antioch where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed earlier in chapter 13 these two men had been prayed for by the local church and sent on their way because the church had felt prompted to do this by the holy spirit so what we read here in chapter 14 is telling us that those prayers are committing of these Christians to the grace of God and so grace here is not referring to spiritual gifts or to saving grace or to God’s character of grace so raises the question what is this grace and what does it do because let’s notice something else first despite being committed to the grace of God despite being faithful and exemplary brothers in the faith they faced hard times in fact a little earlier if you go back earlier in chapter 14 we read of Paul being stoned in response to his labors for the lord and in the second letter to the church in Corinth Paul says five times i received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one three times I was beaten with rods once i was pelted with stones three times I was shipwrecked i spent a night and a day in the open sea i have been constantly on the move I’ve been in danger from rivers and danger from bandits in danger from my fellow Jews in danger from gentiles endangering the city endangering the country in danger at sea and in danger from false believers I have laboured and toiled and often gone without sleep i have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food i have been cold and naked besides everything else i face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches and i don’t know about you but looking at that list there’s part of me that says what is so amazing about grace if this is what Paul had to face what is so amazing about grace

and I wonder friends if you can relate to that and the hardships that you maybe face right now are you maybe asking what’s so amazing about grace where are you God why how am I meant to cope with this when will this end Christians across the ages have shared these same questions and struggles the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon who was used mightily of God in the 19th century suffered recurring bouts of depression throughout his adult life he was also simultaneously popular and unpopular in the stands he took and often as a result would face ridicule including from other pastors added to this was his need to provide relentless care for his wife who was an invalid for most of their marriage and on top of all that if it wasn’t enough Spurgeon faced the last 20 a third of the last 27 years of his ministry out of the pulpit because of his own physical illness there was hardly a weakness an insult a hardship or difficulty that Spurgeon didn’t know personally

so what about you what’s your story

and in the midst of that story are you asking what’s so amazing about grace

and to begin responding to that question we need to turn to other passages later in the same letter to the church in Corinth Paul says i was given a thorn in my flesh a messenger of Satan to torment me three times i pleaded with the lord to take it away from me but he said to me my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness therefore when i am weak then i am strong what does this passage say about grace well the lord says my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness notice the parallel my power my grace so when we receive the lord’s grace we receive his power but power for what does he give this power for well based upon Paul’s experience and the t his teaching in part God gives his grace his power to sustain us to sustain our faith that we might persevere to the end after all in our passage from acts we read Paul and Barnabas return to Lystra Iconium and Antioch strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God they said core to the teaching of the early church was the awareness that hard times come that in fact we will say face such difficulties that it will potentially rock our faith that will test our faith and we may even be tempted simply to walk from Jesus

so what can help us persevere what will hold us fast that we might persevere to the end and share in the perfection and glory of the kingdom of God when it comes

well the answer my friends is the grace of God it is his power that sustains now maybe you’re thinking well that doesn’t sound like very much Scott I’d like a bit more

and i wonder if part of that thinking is because we want a Jesus who makes things right now we want a Jesus who meets our needs in the way we want them met

but as one commentator said God did not change the situation by removing the affliction he changed it by adding a new ingredient grace God did not give Paul any explanations instead he gave him a promise my grace is sufficient for thee we do not live in explanations we live on promises for promises generate faith and faith strengthens hope

I wonder brothers and sisters how’s your faith doing what’s your level of hope in the face of your hardships how how how are you trying to persevere are you simply trying to kind of work up some more willpower and get through on your own strengths or are you trying to resort to positive thinking and simply downplay the doubt in the heart because Paul’s perseverance didn’t come from either of those approaches instead he found in the grace of the lord Jesus Christ a power a strength beyond any human capacity to emulate or duplicate earlier I spoke of Charles Spurgeon and the great hardships he faced and yet he himself said this it is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith at this moment and at all moments which shall ever occur between now and glory the grace of God will be sufficient for you this sufficiency is declared without any limiting words and there I’ve therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee sufficient to strengthen the sufficient to comfort thee sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it sufficient to bring the out of ten thousand like it sufficient to bring the home to heaven whatever would be good for the Christ grace is sufficient to bestow whatever would harm thee has grace is sufficient to avert whatever thou desirest his grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee whatever thou wouldst avoid his grace can shield thee from it if so his wisdom shall dictate hear let me press upon you the pleasing opportunity of taking home now the promise personally at this moment for no believer here need be under any fear since for her or him also at this very instant the grace of the lord Jesus is sufficient

Paul and Spurgeon in the midst of their suffering knew God’s grace in the face of any suffering wherever however whenever they knew the grace of Christ to be sufficient but let’s not fall into easy errors in relation to these words or the words from acts Paul is not a theological masochist who glorifies suffering itself indeed he prayed for deliverance from his hardships what is more Paul is not saying that only when you are weak do you have the grace and power of Jesus weakness is not its one and only condition what is more the experience of grace is not a reward or payment for suffering nor must we seek suffering to receive grace and not going through hardships does not earn us a place in the kingdom of God so let’s not misconstrue things from these weighty passages instead let us see the invitation of God the invitation of God to each of us brothers and sisters to have a grace to have a power that is sufficient for any and every need we may face

yet yet to find and receive this grace there needs to be a response of trust and so we come at last to a passage from Hebrews earlier we read since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven Jesus the son of God let us hold firmly to the faith we profess for we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet he did not sin let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need if we want God’s grace if we want his power and his help in our time of need then the response of trust is to approach him it’s basically to have a relationship with him and to come in prayer that is how we find and receive the grace of God the writer says we’ve to approach let us approach and the idea in the original language is approached regularly almost constantly he says too we’ve to come with confidence as one commentator put it approach with bold frankness with bold frankness that’s the invitation of God to you he’s not a God who asks you to deny the situation he’s not a God that says well it’s all karma so it’s your fault or this is because you’re too attached to the physical world and so again it’s your fault no no no no that’s not our God our God is the God who says come to me oh you are weary and burdened we are to have this confidence we are to pursue God this intently because he knows our experience Jesus knows our experience he shared the depth of our humanity he shared the suffering of humanity our God does not stand alive but he sympathizes to the point of stepping into our brokenness and experiencing it himself

that is our God

yet friends how easy how often too easy too often we drift from God and we allow bitterness and self-pity to create distance between us and God and in doing so we we rob ourselves of immense and timely help

so what about you where are you at with God and the hardships you face the hardships you observe are you making space for God are you coming to his throne of grace or does your life display a practical atheism does your lack of prayer show your true colors do you say with your mouth yeah i believe in God but any lack of prayer simply points to something else that actually deeper down you believe you can do without them that you don’t really need them in huddle recently which is one of our discipleship groups we’ve been exploring the rhythms of our life we’ve been talking about the balance of our relationships and in the midst of that we’re just beginning to hear both the invitation and challenge of Jesus to order our lives according to his wisdom i wonder brothers and sisters do we need more of the same in our own lives

and i don’t simply mean going to Jesus and with lots of words good though that is unnecessary though that is because one of the things I’ve been learning in recent months is just the value and the discipline of silence and solitude and so every day i will try and spend 10 minutes in silence before the lord saying as little as i can seeking him in that place vernally honestly and as much as i can with a heart of worship though it’s easily distracted and it’s only been a couple of months but i can tell you those 10 minutes are making a difference because they are a means of grace in my life but i not only spend some time in silence i do pray as well i pray for the day ahead i pray for my family i pray for some close friends and i pray for at least two families in my pastoral grouping every day so that by the end of the week i pray for my whole pastor of gripping every week and that’s my way of approaching the throne of grace for myself and for these others that we all might know the grace of God and i wonder friends are you creating space are you creating space for God and approaching his throne

because he calls us to be a family and a family is there for one another and so will you seek God will you come to his throne both for yourself and for one another that together with Paul we might confidently say the grace of Jesus is sufficient and though we are hard pressed on every side we are not crushed and though perplexed we do not despair and though we may face persecution we are not abandoned and even if we are struck down and our life is given in the cause of Jesus and his gospel we are not destroyed we are not destroyed for we are heirs of God and coheres with Christ and we shall know his glory and the glory of his kingdom for his grace is sufficient

let us pray

God’s right here right now

is there an area of your life where you need to come before the throne of grace

and maybe just in the quiet of your heart

tell him what that is it might just even be one or two words

he knows what’s on your heart

he knows who you’re breaking

he knows where you’re doubting

and he wants to meet you now with his grace

lord for however is upon our heart or whatever situation breaks our heart maybe today for whatever feels like it’s just too much and we wonder how will i cope and when will this end father we ask afresh for your grace your power to uphold us to hold us fast

both now and always

for we ask it in Jesus name

Amen

The present Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 29th September 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 19-09-29-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 10:25-37 and Hebrews 9:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 10:25-37 and Hebrews 9:1-15
Sunday 29th September 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.

We are now into week six of our current sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and hopefully we’ve seen how central ‘the kingdom of God’ is to the biblical story. In Genesis 1 and 2, we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

In Genesis 3, we saw how the pattern of the kingdom was lost through Adam and Eve’s rebellion, and then with Abraham in Genesis 12 to the reign of King Solomon in 1st
Kings, we saw how God sought to form a people for
Himself once more,…
a people who would live in God’s place, under God’s rule, with the king God had chosen and so once again enjoying God’s blessing.

In the book of 1st Samuel we read about the future king who would come, a king who would be a son of God and a descendant of David, and a king whose reign would be eternal. This would be no ordinary king.

Two weeks ago we ended on the climax of Israel’s history, that golden moment with King Solomon, but we noted that soon afterward Solomon strayed from the Lord and so the kingdom disintegrated. What we didn’t cover, and didn’t have time to cover in last week’s all age service, is that God’s prophets did not only speak a message of hope and encouragement,…
the prophets also warned God’s people to turn from their rebellious ways because otherwise God would bring His judgment upon their sin.

But as with Solomon, the people, and especially the kings after Solomon, largely ignored the prophets and rebelled against God. And so, God brought His judgment upon His people and He dismantled what He had brought about such that His people were taken into exile. The whole of the nation of Israel is in exile around 600BC, although it happened in two stages because the kingdom became divided into a northern and a southern kingdom with two separate kings.

But even in exile, God still raised up prophets, such as
Ezekiel, to bring hope, comfort and warning to God’s people, affirming the promises God had made and that if they turned back to Him, there would be a future.

In the period of 540 to 440 BC, God brought back a portion of the people to the land He had given, under the leadership of men like Ezra and Nehemiah, whose accounts we can read in the Old Testament books under their name. To that small remnant of the nation, God also sent prophets, again to encourage and to warn, and the last of these was Malachi, whose book finishes off the Old Testament – and then from Malachi until the beginning of the New Testament we have 400 years of silence: 400 years of without any word from God, 400 years of waiting.

Until, finally, it is time for the arrival of Jesus and a new prophet is raised up in the person of John the Baptist, and following on from his ministry, Jesus appears. Mark tells us that when Jesus began His ministry, Jesus proclaimed: ‘The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!’
(Mark 1:15)

With these words, and it is echoed in each of the gospels, though in different ways, but with these words we are meant to see that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises, as Paul will say in 2 Corinthians: ‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are
‘Yes’ in Christ.’
(2 Cor. 1:20)

We are meant to see that all the patterns and all the promises of Israel’s history point to Jesus, are fulfilled in
Jesus and this is also true for the pattern of the Kingdom of God.

We are hopefully familiar by now, that part of God’s kingdom is a people who are His, and this was meant to be the people of Israel, descendants of Abraham, a people who would reflect the character of God and His ways. But as we’ve just reviewed, Israel went astray, especially under the influence of their kings.

But then Jesus comes and He says in John 15: ‘I am the true vine…you are the branches.’ (John 15:1, 5) The ‘vine’ was an image used by the Old Testament prophets to speak of Israel, and so Jesus is saying that He is the true
Israel, together with any who are joined to Him;…
and so all who are in Christ are God’s people, but they are His because of the faith they have placed in Jesus, because of the relationship they now have with Jesus.

Similarly, with regards to God’s place, that place where God would dwell with His people, the Apostle John, earlier in his gospel, speaks of Jesus this way in the introduction: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
(John 1:1, 14)

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.
God came to earth and was found in human likeness;… the Word became flesh, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity moved into the neighbourhood. The very presence of God dwelt among us in the person of Jesus.

However, Jesus was not only the true Israel and the place of God’s presence, Jesus was also the true King, in whose life the rule of God was lived perfectly, and in whose life we also see the hallmarks of God’s kingdom and blessing.

Luke records at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, these words:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them,
‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:18-21)

Here are the hallmarks of the Kingdom – spoken first by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years earlier, foretelling what the Kingdom of God upon the earth would look like. This is what it would look like as the reign of God came amongst His people through the promised Messiah.

And Jesus quotes these words, saying that they are now fulfilled in Him for they will be seen through His ministry, and affirm Him as the promised King. But these are no empty words of Jesus, He will go on to fulfil them.

In Matthew’s gospel, we read of an incident where two men meet Jesus:

‘Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’

The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’

Jesus stopped and called them. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.

‘Lord,’ they answered, ‘we want our sight.’

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.
Immediately they received their sight and followed him.’ (Matthew 20:30-34)

The blind see, the prisoners are set free, the Lord’s favour, His blessing, breaks out amongst the people. Here is the true King, that promised descendant of David; son of God, son of man; in whose life the rule and blessing of God are seen.
So, everything in the Old Testament prepared the way for Jesus, acting as a signpost towards Him, helping us to understand who He was and what He fulfilled: that in Jesus, the kingdom of God is embodied and is in our very midst.

And that foreshadowing in the Old Testament is captured by the writer of Hebrews time and time again. In Hebrews chapter 9 the focus in primarily on the tabernacle, that place and symbol of God’s presence amongst His people.

In verses 1 to 5, the writer reminds us of the tabernacle, which we touched on this briefly a few weeks’ ago.

But here in Hebrews, the writer gives us a quick reminder, to get our bearings and prepare us for what he will go on to say about Jesus. So, we are reminded about the two rooms, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. We are also reminded about the pieces of furniture to aid the ministry the priests would conduct.

But then in verses 6 to 7, that limitation of access, that limitation of relationship which was highlighted two weeks’ ago, is spelt out here for us. We read:
‘When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.’ (Hebrews 9:6-7)
In reminding us of these limitations, the writer of Hebrews affirms for us the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin – that the sin of His people created distance between God and the people, and this sin could not be overlooked by a truly loving, truly just, truly holy God, and so sin would bring the judgment of God upon the people. Sin was so serious that any entering into the very presence of God would bring instant judgment and instant death upon themselves. And so, there is a limitation of relationship, there still exists a degree of division, a degree of distance, between the holy God and His people.

The writer goes on in verses 8 to 10, to say that the Holy Spirit was showing something in the tabernacle being setup this way. We read:
‘The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper.’
(Hebrews 9:8-9)

So, the Spirit of God, in giving these specific instructions for the layout, structure and the workings of the tabernacle was showing that distance still existed – the conscience, the debt, between humanity and God… had not been fully overcome. There was a degree of relationship, but not full access and intimacy.

But then, in verses 11 to 15, things change, and they change because Jesus came. He came as a new high priest, one of greater stature, to stand before God on our behalf, and where He went was not to an earthly tabernacle, but to a heavenly tabernacle, to the very presence of Father God, to His very throne room. And He did not gain access to there through the blood of an animal, no, He entered that Most Holy Place in the heavenly realms by His own perfect, sinless blood.

And so, because Jesus’ priesthood and sacrifice and place of ministry are all greater, what He achieves is greater – He obtains an eternal redemption for His people, an eternal freedom and right relationship with God. He is then the mediator of a new covenant, He ushers in a new promise, a new relationship between God and humanity, because He died as a ransom to set us free from the penalty of our sins, that we might be forgiven once for all, and have direct relationship, and intimate access to God.

All this was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, with the tabernacle being a living parable, a living story of what God yearned for His people but which was not feasible through the first covenant, which we call the Old Covenant, or the Old Testament. And so, Jesus came, and He fulfilled what had been foreshadowed.

And yet, when He came, so many people missed this, even though they were steeped in its history and symbolism and limitation – they missed it. They missed who Jesus was, what He meant, what He offered and achieved. And even when He died and rose again, people still missed it, and they still failed to respond in faith.

Friends, have you missed it? You could have been attending church all your life, just like the Israelites, fulfilling religious duty, but missing it, missing the significance of Jesus.

Friends, do you see who Jesus truly is? And does He captivate your heart? Because if Jesus appears meaningless, or if Jesus seems irrelevant, or if Jesus doesn’t fire you up with thankfulness to God, you might have missed it! The writer of Hebrews was writing to people who were giving their lives, in death, because of their faith in Jesus. To what degree, have we grasped an understanding of Jesus that would fuel such faith in us?
And this isn’t just for people who know they are not Christians – this point of application is for us all, even the committed Christian: does Jesus fire your faith? Or have you become a bit lukewarm towards Him? Because if you grasp Jesus, if you see just a minute part of who He is and what He has done, and if you can appreciate that for what it’s worth, you can’t be lukewarm. But if you are lukewarm, maybe you’ve also missed it, or maybe you’ve taken your eyes and your heart off of Jesus. So, have we missed it, friends, have we missed Jesus and all that He embodies and offers?

But you know, the people of Jesus’ day also missed another crucial part of God’s kingdom and of the mission of Jesus. They had forgotten that the promise to Abraham was also for the nations. God had promised: ‘You will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ (Genesis 12:2-3)

The people of God had missed this, even though the prophets would affirm it again and again, they missed it, or they ignored it. And so, when Jesus comes embodying the kingdom it jars with people, because He tells stories like that of the Good Samaritan. Sometimes we think this story is about simple, good morals, but it was revolutionary in His time, because Jesus was challenging people to realise that within the heart of God, was a heart for the nations. The kingdom of God is not about me, mine and us – and that shocked and frustrated the people of Jesus’ day, for they couldn’t see beyond themselves, and they anticipated the Messiah bringing blessing only for them. They missed that God had a heart for the nations.
Friends, have we missed this also? Have we missed this aspect of the kingdom? Do we see, in the example of the Good Samaritan, that the way of the Kingdom is to give of ourselves for those who are without? Do we see, that the kingdom isn’t purely about me or you?

The cross is the ultimate embodiment of this – that God would give of Himself for the sake of rebellious humanity – He gives Himself up for others before they can even think to reciprocate. So, can I ask friends: does that sound like you? Are you giving of yourself for others?

We have a vacancy list needing filled so that people can see Jesus, meet with Jesus, receive from Jesus through the people of Jesus. Are you playing your part? Is there some way you could get involved?
Or what about the Alpha course we’re running just now – did you invite anyone along? If you have a heart for the nations like God, then you might have, even if they turned you down. It’s not too late by the way, people can still come this week for the very first time if they accept your invitation in the next few days.

Brothers and sisters, in Jesus the Kingdom of God came, He is the embodiment of God’s people, place, rule, King and blessing. Have we missed this, or are we lukewarm towards Him?

What’s more, in Jesus, the way of the kingdom was also embodied, because He was outward looking, sacrificial and self-giving for the sake of the nations, are we?

Because what we have in Jesus is not just for us, for as the writer to Hebrews says, the death of Christ is meant to change us, such that we serve the living God. Who are we serving? Who are you living for? Ourselves or God?

I pray we may all grasp Jesus afresh today, and for the first time or for this time and this week, may our hearts be so captivated by Jesus that we live for Him, the One in whom is the kingdom of God.

May it be so. Let us pray.