Preached on: Sunday 27th November 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above AVAILABLE SOON. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-11-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 2:1-5 & Matthew 24:36-44
Location: Brightons Parish Church
– Waiting for restoration
– Waiting with hope
– Waiting with watchfulness
Preached on: Sunday 30th October 2022
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: Isaiah 53:10-54:10 & 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church
We have heard God’s living Word. May our hearts and our minds be transformed to the glory of His holy name. Let us pray:
Father God, send your Holy Spirit upon us now so that we might hear You in the preaching of Your Word.
Make us open to Your wisdom. Make us receptive to Your will and courageous in response as You speak. Lord, help us to listen. Amen.
Nostalgia, nostalgia is such a lovely thing. Remember the old days, those glorious times when everything seemed to go so smoothly, when things worked and people cared about each other, when people cared about their friends and their neighbors and those they meet up with now and again. Perhaps they even cared about who came to church and who they should be inviting to come along. And, in those days, there seemed to be such unity in the workplace and in the neighborhood. Everyone looked out for each other. And did it not seem as God, as though God was much closer to us in those good old days?
The Bible tells us that the people of Israel suffered from nostalgia. They had gone through a succession of wicked rulers who had led them away from God. In fact, they were at a very low point in their history. At that particular time the kingdom of Israel had been divided and weakened. First, the northern and then the southern kingdom had fallen to their enemies. The land had been laid waste and the walls of the city had been torn down. Even the Temple of God, where they worshiped, had been ransacked and destroyed by their enemies. And, sadly, only a remnant of the people remained faithful to God and they were in exile. They were in exile in Babylon, a nation, a priest weeping in sorrow on the banks of the river Babylon. And they were nostalgic and they remembered Zion and they missed their Holy God; the Bible tells us. And then, through the prophet Isaiah, God speaks these wonderful words to them. He says ‘Listen to me my chosen. I am still here. You may be in Exile, you may be in change, you may be defeated and humiliated, you may be oppressed, you may be afraid, you may be forced into poverty and feeling lost and you may be weeping but you’ve never ceased to be my people. And, through the prophet, we see God opening His arms out wide to Israel, drawing them close to Him, telling them where their comfort lies and where their healing is to be found.
Folks, we must listen, we must listen because the God of Nations, the God of the universe, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, is also the God of individuals, of you and of me, and He sees the pain in our hearts, He sees the pain of nations, He sees the pain of struggling people and He notices every tear that is shared and every fear nurtured in the heart of every individual. And, amazingly, His Word still speaks to all the faithful who are struggling to make sense of life and all the changes that it brings. Through God’s word He comes close to us and He not only says to His people who are starting struggling ‘Receive my comfort’ He also tells them that they have a role to play in receiving that comfort. And so, God says ‘Remember this; the Holy God of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of all the Earth, so do not be afraid however desperate things might look, however desperate the future may seem, because I am the Lord Almighty, I am in control, I am the Creator God and I know you.’
I think the most assuring thing in this; is that God speaks a word of comfort to Israel of old and He speaks to people of all time and He speaks to us today because He knows us, He knows that so often we see only up to the end of our circumstances, He knows that our words become so small that they very frequently exclude God. And so, in His word of comfort, the Lord says to His people, as He says to us today ’Make your vision of me wider. If you are concerned about tomorrow, include me in because I am a redeeming God, I am the God of tomorrow, I am the God of the future.’
And then God uses an allegory that the people can understand. He says ‘Make your tent, that you live in, larger. Lengthen its ropes and strengthen its pegs.’ An illustration that can be made our own because, not only as individuals, but as a church, as a group in the church, or as individual families, because I believe that prayer, prayer should be that the Lord would help, that the Lord would enlarge our tents, that in everything we face, every change we encounter, every difficult decision that we have to make, as individuals and as a church, that there is space for God. Because the message to us today is, open your eyes, open your eyes and your heart and allow the Lord God Almighty in. Allow Him to come close to you, to dwell with you in your tent. And we need to pray like Jabez in 1 Chronicles chapter four where he calls out to the Lord. He says ‘O Lord, that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me.’
‘Don’t exclude me’ says God. ‘Don’t exclude me because I want to come alongside you. Don’t exclude me because I want to walk through the waters with you. Make me part of the challenges that you face and allow me to minister to you. I know you’ says the Lord God Almighty ‘I know you. I am your Redeemer. I am the God of all the Earth so do not be afraid. I will hear your prayers and I will comfort you.’
You know, when we cry out to God with open hands and expectant hearts, when we make our bold requests to God, miracles still happen. I’m sure many of you can testify to that. And, as we come to Him in desperation perhaps, if we trust Him as we pray for whatever situation we are facing or whatever unhappiness we tend to be feeling at that time. new opportunities will emerge from our situation and the course of our lives will shift
I am the Lord God Almighty I am your Redeemer do not be afraid I will comfort you says the Lord, and then the Lord, in great compassion comes close to His people and He stands amongst them. He stands amongst the weeping exiles and He says to them through the prophet Isaiah ‘I will not only comfort you; I will save you.’
You see, Israel really needed to be saved at various levels before God brought them out of exile. He had to bring them out of the bondage, of disobedient and of spiritual laxness. They had wandered from God and then they felt deserted, not surprisingly. They felt abandoned and God had to tell them that their salvation and their liberation are to start with faith and trust in a God who saves. So again, he says through the prophet ‘I will call you back. Because of your disobedience I left you for a little while but, with deep love and compassion, I will take you back, with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.’ If there’s one thing that sufferers through the ages have had in common it’s that sense of abandonment. ‘I’ve tried everything, nothing works! I’ve turned everywhere, I’ve had no help.’ But God’s answer to those people and to us today is found in the allegory of the extended tent. You see, a large tent needs longer ropes and stronger tent pegs in the same way that a wide spiritual vision needs a deep spiritual routing.
The Scriptures teach us that God’s love is everlasting. The Lord’s desire to redeem and to save us is for real. But here’s the thing, we have to turn to Him in fervent prayer and we must do that often and we must trust Him. Israel had to go back to these spiritual roots, they had to trust God, they had to renew their faith in Him, they had to be obedient yet again, they’re to knock in the pegs, make firm their spiritual rooting in their saving God.
And the Apostle Paul understood this deep spiritual truth very, very well. Hammering home the tent pigs of trust and faith he says to the foundling church in Corinth, he says ‘Praise be to our God and Father who comforts us all in our troubles. We are under great pressure far beyond our ability to endure but this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but rely on God, on him we set our hope and he will continue to save us.’ What Paul’s actually saying is ‘extend that tent folks’ he’s saying ‘trust in the saving hand of God and be prepared for what God can do and will do’ not ‘be afraid’ says the Lord God ‘make firm your spiritual rooting. I know you and I will comfort you.’
But what happens when we are dissatisfied with our situation, when we feel we are at the end of our tether? Do we believe God’s Word? Do we go back there and believe that God is an all-encompassing, all-loving, all-saving God? Do we really believe that God will always be there for us? it’s a challenge folks. Because, sometimes things go wrong and we just don’t know where God is in it all.
At that particular time in the life of Israel, as a nation, they had become very inward looking and so, perhaps, they were wondering whether a promise from the Almighty Creator of the universe was enough for them to be assured, not only of their salvation but also of their future? And I wondered, as I was writing this, is it enough for you and for me, when we are up to the eyeballs in difficulties?
Well, the Word of God says that it is, of course it is, and that, for us folks, is a lifetime guarantee. ‘Remember this’ says the Lord, ‘I am the God who loves you and my love for you will never end.’
You see, the God of Israel is the God who loved the world so much that He sent His only Son, suffering servant, and He sent His Son to save that world so that whoever believes in Him will never perish but will have eternal life.
Jesus not only experienced suffering and death, as we know, He also came through that and He came through that for you and for me. And, just as new life came through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, so too, new life can be found in the deepest recesses of suffering and of difficult change that we have to experience, if we look through at it, through the eyes of faith. You see, the God who loves us is also the God who carries us, who hears our prayers, who heals us, who gives us endurance during difficult times and pours His peace into our lives. ‘Do not be afraid’ says God as He stretches out His arm to us. I don’t know why I work, I think in pictures folks, but when I read that, I can see God stretching out His arms saying ‘Do not be afraid. You are healed in the unbroken, unbreakable clasp of my everlasting love.’
We don’t have all the answers. There are so many mysteries in life and so many things that happen that we think ‘Where are we going now?’ but the one thing that we can cling to is what we know is true and that as our Lord God Almighty and His wonderful Word that encourages us every day and when we sit and remember the good old days, when we become nostalgic about the way things were when we were younger, the days before economic struggles, before high petrol and heating and food prices, before Presbytery Mission Plans and all the change that that will bring, when we become nostalgic folks, we must remember that our God is the God of all the earth and He wants us to include Him in and He tells us to extend our tents, to broaden our spiritual vision, to broaden our vision and our knowledge of Him because He is the God who saves. He wants us to trust Him always. He is a God who shows his love to all of humankind. No one is excluded. And He tells us to knock in the tent pegs deeply and deepen our roots of faith.
And also, as always, the Lord has the last word and He says ‘The mountains and the hills may crumble, but my love for you will never end. I will keep forever my promise of peace’ so says the Lord who loves you and who loves me. Amen, and thanks be to God.
Preached on: Sunday 23rd January 2022
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: Isaiah 25:6-8 & John 2:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church
The story of the wedding in Cana reminds me of the time that I got a bit of a surprise, not so nice one, At the time we had just moved from the continent to a small village in the UK where I became involved in the church, in the local church as a Sunday School teacher and we were preparing for a family service and I had chosen to look at the wedding in Cana. The surprise came when I drew attention to Jesus words to his mother when she made him aware that there was no wine anymore, ‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has yet not come.’
The surprise was that my friend, my new friend, did not share with me the thought that these words were significant for she said ‘Jesus got up two minutes later and did what his mother wanted him to do anyway. Help out. So, what’s your problem?’
I was brought up in the Dutch Reform Church and I went to a primary school where we started every day with a Bible story and on the day before any holiday we got a treat in the afternoon another Bible story. An upbringing that shaped my faith and that’s why my friend’s reaction came as a surprise. I was actually quite upset but I upset her too but at the time I didn’t know what I know now.
So, what more, than what meets the eye, is there in this story?
First of all, Jesus’ presence at the wedding party is in itself significant. It could actually leave room for raising eyebrows. One could wonder cynically or not cynically, if Jesus did not have anything better to do than partying. You wouldn’t find John the Baptist at the party, for when his father, Zechariah, was told that he and his wife Elizabeth, in their old age, were going to be parents, the angel said ‘He will be great before the Lord and he must not drink wine or strong drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.’
So, John was separated from wine and strong drink, Jesus wasn’t. Jesus was amongst the people, Jesus shared both their sadness and joy.
Now, John and Jesus were relatives, as their mothers were relatives, but there was a much stronger connection between the two and that connection, that relation was articulated by Zechariah very accurately when he prophesied to his newborn son John ‘And you child, will be called the Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the lord to prepare his ways.’
These days, unfortunately, proper grammar and punctuation tend to be neglected. They’re not needed in quick messages, text messages, WhatsApp messages, using abbreviations and emojis. Yet, understanding grammar and punctuation helps when you read the Bible, for John, you could say, is the colon after the Old Testament; he is the last prophet, as his father said, as he rightly understood, John was the last prophet standing in the New Testament, as Jesus own prophet, with Jesus. Something new had come; a new way; a way that emerged and that emerging is what we see here at the wedding at Cana.
God begins small, not big, not loud, but, quietly, subtly at the very beginning of his ministry when He only had His first disciples, Jesus does this first sign behind the scenes, not in public, not yet. What Jesus does here serves God’s purpose and that purpose is the faith of his first disciples.
God’s hands build, they work in a refined way, using quantities that are well measured just as the precise measures are given of the six stone water jars. What Jesus first disciples experience in Cana confirms their trust in Jesus. But what about mother and son, Mary and Jesus, the brief conversation they had?
It tells that Jesus is in the first place not His mother-son, Jesus is in the first place his Father’s son, and the reason why Jesus does this first sign is not His mother’s but His Father’s will, and it will always be His father’s will that drives Jesus.
‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.’ At first sight Jesus comes across as dismissive towards His mother but it’s not that He rejects her. What He is doing is distancing Himself from her, and the reason He gives to His mother for that distancing is that His hour has not yet come. We find these words throughout John’s gospel and they always refer to Jesus dying and the glorification that comes with it after it. But then, why would Jesus say that His time has not yet come, and then change water in an abundance of aged wine, the finest of wines, the wine Isaiah speaks about? ‘As we heard on this mountain Lord, on this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine.’ The best of meats and the finest of wines.
At Cana, a glimpse is given of the wedding feast that is to come of which Isaiah already had a vision. Being given a glimpse of His promise we meet God as He shows himself through Jesus, revealing Himself in steps gradually, in His own mysterious ways and in His own time.
Without a word being said by Jesus that would have brought about that change, without being touched by Jesus, water in jars that are used for the purpose of Jewish ceremonial washing has become wine.
The wedding guests are completely oblivious to what has happened, and even the master of the banquet is surprised where this wine has come from. ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best till now.’
This is again, the world upside down but then that scene for an opposite world is already set in the first bible book when God turns things upside down when he says ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ which we find in Genesis. This is God’s thinking. It’s not logical but theological thinking. Theological thinking that runs throughout the Old into the New Testament to surface at the wedding in Cana sensed there was something mysterious that changed the water, that changed the water into the highest quality of wine, but that sense is not related to their faith. The first sign that Jesus did, He did for the sake of the faith of His first disciples. The first of the signs through which He revealed His glory and His disciples believed in Him.
It was not yet a public manifestation of His glory, it was still more private. Jesus went a new way after His baptism in the Jordan, by His own prophet John the Baptist, who was shocked that He had to baptize Jesus.
John, the colon after the Old Testament.
And, as you know, a colon binds what comes before it, with what comes after it, and in that light I mention what a Dutch theologian says ‘Within the structure of the scriptural vocabulary, the name (and that is the name I am, who I am, the name that became flesh in Jesus0 the name is the cornerstone that possesses a wondrous capacity. It binds the most divergent components and covers contrasts with irradiance that does not come from people.’
That radiance binds together God’s written word as a wholeness and often a playing with words with names, serves to demonstrate that wholeness as we have it here with Cana and Canaan both, grapes signify the richness of God’s promise. Canaan was the promised land that Israel entered after going through the River Jordan. An abundance of grapes was brought back from Canaan to Moses by the spies whom he sent to Canaan. He had instructed them ‘Be good of courage and bring some of the fruit of the land’ And they did indeed. It was the season of the first ripe grapes.
In Numbers it says ‘They cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes.’
After being baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist, the first sign that Jesus did was changing water into wine in Cana.
If we miss the unshakable flow of the mysteries that binds the two Testaments of God’s written word together, we miss so much of the richness of the way in which He presents Himself in both His written word and in our lives. Recognizing His mysteries in the Bible helps you to recognize Him in your life, makes the story of the wedding at Cana more than what meets the eye, is that it is not just a wedding in Cana, it is the wedding that God has in store for us.
As it says in Revelation ‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory, for the Wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.
It therefore makes sense, that in the story of the wedding at Cana, there is no mentioning of the bride, for the bride is you, His church. As we seek His way that leads us into the future that He has for us, we need to let Him be who He is.
He binds, and He binds congregations in His way and He won’t miss His purpose that He has for them.
I finish with the beautiful words from Isaiah:
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I send it.’
Preached on: Sunday 19th December 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: Isaiah 9:6-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Well, well done to our young people, boys and girls, to the helpers. That really helped pull that together. It’s difficult especially amidst all the circumstances that we feel to pull that off. So, well done! Why don’t we give them another round of applause.
Boys and girls, thank-you for helping us remember and live the Christmas story again to remember this wonderful present that God gave to the world at Christmas. And, today I’ve brought along my own present to help us think about this Christmas story a little bit. While I get it out, yeah. Well I’ll get it out. You don’t seem very excited about this Christmas present, but having all this effort to wrap it up, a bow and everything, while I get the present out right.
Right, I think I probably need two volunteers. Just two volunteers. Readers, two of our narrators, you can come up and give me a wee hand. Right, go for it quick make a choice.
Right, there you go. Let’s take this apart. So, start with the ribbon. Let’s go for it, don’t be too shy. I’m sure you’re not like this on Christmas day are you. Pull an end each there you go, right nice knot you know, I’m a Scout and all that, so it’s always a bit tricky right you don’t need to. Come on don’t be shy about it. There we go. Hey, that’s a bit better. Right, fire away. I’m sure you know how to do this. I’m not expecting to recycle it it’s recycled paper, so it’s all good for the plane, Right, let’s open up, let’s see, we’ll go in here, come on, get it out. What have we got? What have we got? A pine cone! Anything else in there? Tissue paper, pine cone and tissue paper. That’s it? Oh well, thanks for your help. You can have your seat again. Not very exciting. No, there is something I need in here, which was too small, probably, to see. There was also a seed.
What would you think if you got this for Christmas? Would you be excited? Would you not be excited? Like, a nice muddy pine cone and a little seed. You’ll not be excited about that.
Now, what does a seed grow into do you think? What do you think this seed grows into? What do you think? A tree, that’s right. This particular one would be an apple tree because I got an apple yesterday. So, if it grew it might grow into an apple tree. Now it would be amazing if this was a sequoia seed because sequoias are some of the biggest trees in the world, and Neil’s going to put up a wee picture here just now. There is an adult standing next to a sequoia tree and just to try and help you get your heads around one of the biggest trees I need another two volunteers. So, can I have another two volunteers, Matilda near the end, and Fiona right, so Fiona can you come stand here. Come on, run over here. You need to be quick.
There is a tree called General Sherman and he’s that wide that’s how wide General Sherman is. He’s 36 and a half feet wide, he is 300 feet high, which is probably about six times the height of this ceiling. That is how big General Sherman is and he grew from a seed probably about the same size as that, to that size of tree. Thank-you to our two volunteers, you can have a seat now. Thank-you, thank-you, well done, thank-you. That is how big General Sherman is from a little seed like that. It might look really small but it contained so much promise, so much potential,
But God gave us an even more amazing Christmas present. What was God’s amazing Christmas present to us? Samuel, exactly Jesus. Jesus, as we were reading in Isaiah, as Isla read that story, that’s one of the many prophecies that was told about Jesus, that He came to fulfill and He came to fulfill them because He was a very special person. He was God in human form and so, He had some very special titles.
Well, we’ll see if the adults have learned their lines from the last three weeks. Do you think they can remember the three special titles about Jesus? Do you think they can get it in the right order? Well, we’ll see. So, title number one? Wonderful Counselor – there we go, you got a prompt there. See if we can do it together, second one? – Mighty God there we go. Third one? Everlasting Father. And this week’s one is the Prince of Peace. Can we say that together – Prince of Peace – that’s right. But, what is peace? What is peace, boys and girls? Any of our young people? What is peace? What does that mean? It’s a strange word isn’t it. What is peace?
Yes, you’re getting peace but what do you mean by getting peace, What does that – Alexander? Nobody’s fighting, definitely. And when there’s peace no one’s fighting.
Does it mean anything else? What does peace mean? All alone, it’s nice and quiet. Look at me nice and peaceful. Anything else that it means? You want to add something? No.
We might feel quiet or peaceful, calm on the inside and it might mean we’re also getting on with people but those are all just little bits of what peace means. Because in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, the word for peace is the Hebrew ‘Shalom’. Can we say that together boys and girls? Shalom. It’s a much richer, fuller word and, I think we find it hard to get our heads around Shalom because it just affects so much of life. It’s not only not fighting and it’s not only having quiet around us, and inside us. It is being free of all fear, all worry, no gloom, of everything being right both mentally physically, emotionally, spiritually, that everything in society is good and perfect, and functions as it should. It is everything like it was before sin entered the world. So perfect is the Shalom that God speaks about in the Old Testament and Jesus came as a baby at Christmas to bring us into that peace, to bring us into Shalom and many people, sadly, think that Jesus is unimportant, that He’s, because He’s a babe, it’s just He’s so insignificant but actually, just like this seed, the promise that Jesus comes to fulfill has so much potential, it is beyond what we can get our heads around and He does that, He fulfills that, because He is the Prince of Peace.
But, you know, it takes a long time for this little seed or something like it to grow into the big General Sherman. How many years do you think it took for General Sherman to get that big? Anybody want to go for a hundred years? Anybody going for 100 years? Yeah, 100 years. Anybody want to go for more than 100 years? How many years are we going to go for? Shout out. What do you what Simon? 300. Anybody want to go higher than 300, I get more than 300? John? A thousand. Anybody going for more than a thousand? How many years? Maybe not as much as a trillion admittedly, not as much as a trillion. Anybody want to go for less than a trillion but more than a thousand? Anybody? Girls, two thousand years. Anybody want to go for more than two thousand years? Hope?
Oh, a thousand as well. Anybody want to go for something different? Last one Alexander. Two thousand, three thousand years is how long we estimate General Sherman has been growing, three thousand years. And just like it takes a little seed a long time to grow into a great big tree and fulfill its potential and promise, the same is true with Jesus.
You know, some of us especially this Christmas again, when Christmas has been affected so negatively and limited because of Omicron, we might be thinking ‘Jesus, why are you taking so long, 2000 years? Come on. Why are you taking so long? Why is it taking so long to bring us into Your peace? And well, Jesus does have His reasons. He does have His reasons. But our passage reminds us that He is the Prince of Peace. He is the Prince of Peace. It means He has the government; He has the ability; He has the means to bring us into that peace. He has all power and wisdom and love. He will fulfill that promise one day. he will return to bring us fully into that peace. And so, with all the changes we are experiencing this Christmas once again, with the fear and the worry we might be experiencing this Christmas, the call, the invitation this Advent, is to put our hope in Jesus the Prince of Peace, true peace, Shalom and one day He will bring us into that. Don’t put your hope in institutions, the church or the NHS or government. Don’t put it in an ideology. Don’t put it anywhere else. Put your hope, your ultimate hope in that babe that came at Christmas, who grew to be a man and died upon a cross, to secure that peace. He paid a king’s ransom, His own life, to secure that promise and make sure that it will come about one day.
Friends, can we be a people of hope this Christmas? Who hope in Jesus the Prince of Peace and make that known? Embody that to neighbor, friend, family this year? I pray that we might be such a people because He is that Prince.
Boys and girls, before we finish our service, let’s pray together one more time. Let’s pray.
Father God, thank-you for Christmas and for the gift of Your Son who came as a baby. He is the Prince of Peace and through Him we have hope of a better day. Help us to trust in Jesus, to have hope because of Him, even in the waiting, and may we share that hope with all we meet this Advent season. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen, amen.
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 here21-12-12 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:6-7 & John 14:1, 7-11, 18-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Please do be seated.
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word.
Holy Spirit, come among us please and reveal to us the heart of our Father.
Come Holy Spirit and help us see the hope we have through Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen
It’s only nine days to go, nine days to go, and before you start worrying, I’m not talking about Christmas, you’ve got an extra four days on top of that. It’s not nine days to go either to the arrival of the little one, hopefully, we’ll see although, it could be. No, it’s nine days until the shortest day of the year, Did you know that? The 21st of December is the day when we will have the least amount of light in the day, which means in 10 days’ time the days start getting longer, the light starts increasing and strangely, for some reason, as I get older, this becomes a bigger deal, just to get through the winter and get to that point where I know, just mentally, the days are getting longer, the summer is coming, light is coming, and I hope, as we’ve journeyed through this Advent series, maybe it has been a bit of a turning point for you, a bit like knowing this – there’s a light on the horizon.
Because this year has been hard and it continues to be hard, and so, we’ve spoken about the kinds of darkness that we can experience, the circumstances around us are, in personal life that can bring a measure of darkness to our lives. Yet I’m conscious that there’s an area of darkness in our lives which is not related to the circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes we face darkness in our lives because of choices we make, actions we take and, let’s be honest, that affects every one of us, affects you and it affects me. Words said, actions taken, maybe public, maybe private, and every one of us will be able to name something this past year which maybe lingers at the back of our minds and we wish we’d done things differently. There may be something we didn’t do and maybe that haunts us as well. And so, in the face of that kind of darkness does, does the Advent message say anything? Does the Advent message have anything of good news to say to us? And well, we read earlier ‘For to us a child is born and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ and we’ve seen that Jesus fulfills those first two titles so well yet, in the case of Mighty God especially, so surprisingly.
So, what does it mean that Jesus is Everlasting Father? Because, if we’re honest, as Christians, we hear this and we’re like ‘I’m a bit confused! Isn’t Jesus the Son of God so how can He be Everlasting Father? It just doesn’t seem to make sense!’ And so, before we get into Jesus in the New Testament let’s pause that thought and take a kind of backward step into the Old Testament and think what that reveals that would have brought light in the darkness for the people of Isaiah’s day/ Because, in the Old Testament, there are so many references to a kind of father-son relationship or to the Father-heart of God. And so, in Hosea we read ‘When Israel was a child I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son.’ And so, God speaks of His relationship with His people and a father-child, a father-son relationship and He treats them in that way, He loves them and so He rescued His son from Egypt, from slavery, and brought them into the promised land. That’s what Isaiah is recalling here.
But there are also scriptures that speak of the Father-heart of God and how He relates to His people.
So, in the Psalms we read ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him for he knows how we are formed he remembers that we are dust.’ The Father treats us, relates to us, as this father, this is how God relates to His people, as one with compassion. And let’s remember, compassion is not just mere pity, compassion is an emotion that’s deep in the bowels of your being, and it compels you to action. That is the compassion of scripture and that is how God feels towards His people, and then He treats them with understanding and with gentleness. He knows that we are but dust. This is how the Father-heart of God is portrayed in the scriptures or in another Psalm we realize we have God being a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, He stands beside those who might be on the fringes and more vulnerable, the more needy in society. And so, he instituted laws in the time of His people to care for them, to make sure that they weren’t taken advantage of, they weren’t neglected, they weren’t left destitute. The Father-heart of God sought to protect and to care for His people across all of society. And so, when Isaiah speaks of the Everlasting Father, this father across the generations, the people would have recalled these kind of scriptures, they would have recalled this about God and it would have lightened the soul, it would have brought good news in the darkness, to hear again of the Father-heart of God. And so, before we move into the New Testament and look at this in reference to Jesus, can I ask you of this – What shapes your understanding of the father-heart of God? What shapes your understanding of the father-heart of God?
Is it your own experience? Your own father who might have been absent for any number of different reasons? Who might have been overly harsh or angry or was just a disciplinarian type of father, maybe inherited that from his own father? What is it that shapes your perception of the father-heart of God?
And maybe the invitation this Advent, this week of Advent, is for you to allow scripture to speak more loudly. If that be the case to allow scripture to help you see the father-heart of God as it truly is, rather than it be shaped by another experience and by another voice. Allow God’s word to shape your perception of the father-heart of God. Because, one day, an individual did come speaking and teaching about the father-heart of God and He fulfilled these promises of Isaiah and in His ministry, He spoke with such authority and intimacy about the Father and time and time again He displayed the father-heart of God and it was, of course Jesus, and what He said. And then though once again confounding people just like last week’s message, it confounded people, it startled people because the Jews had been taught there’s one God, there’s only one God in all the universe, and He alone is worthy and He’s not found in any image or person, so worship Him alone. And so, Jesus comes and He starts teaching and starts modeling something and He brings the next phase of revelation about God to build upon what had been there in the Old Testament and what had been hinted at in the Old Testament but He brought the next phase of revelation and people found it hard to take on board, and so we read earlier ‘Philip said ‘Lord show us the Father and that’ll be enough for us.’’ Like ‘Good Sunday School answer Philip, great, you’ve got that heart. Fantastic, well done, gold star’ big tick!’ But then Jesus says ‘Don’t you know me, Philip? Even after I’ve been among you such a long time. Anyone who’s seen me has seen the Father. How could you say ‘show us the father? Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.’ And you can kind of now appreciate why Philip and the other disciples are finding it hard to get their head around this because, in effect, Jesus is saying ‘I’m God, The Father’s God. We’re distinct persons but we’re both God.’ Like ‘What?’ And then later on with the teaching about the Holy Spirit and then with the coming of the Holy Spirit we see that the Holy Spirit is also God but the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son either, and so what we end up having is what we now call the Trinity. It’s not a word found in the Bible but it’s a helpful title phrase that just recalls this teaching, that in Christianity, we understand Jesus to have shown us that there is one God but there are three persons and each person is fully God but there’s still only one God. And, in case you’re struggling to get your head around that, so has the church for 2000 years, so you’re not alone. Okay? And every analogy we try and use to get our heads around this falls down in some way. Whether you want to talk about water or clover leaves or eggs or whatever, none of them are perfect and in case you think also that ‘What’s the point of this? What has this got to do with anything? Is this just some nice pie in the sky theological nonsense?’ I was reading in Wayne Grudem’s bible doctrine and preparation for today and he gives six reasons why the Trinity is important Doctrine because he says ‘From this we’re then confident about:
Being made right with God
We can know we are justified by faith rather than by having to try and earn it
We can worship Jesus as God and not commit idolatry
We can know we’re saved by grace rather than by any other means
We can be truly know that God is a personal God
And that there is in fact unity to the universe.
I would never have come up with all those without his help and I’m not going to go into all the detail of all these. If you want to know more, I’ll lend you the book, but you can see that a lot hinges on the Trinity, on this revelation that there’s one God but there’s three persons, and actually the church has got itself into such a mess when we’ve ignored this, shelved this, or tried to go too far with this, and break it down into something we can try and understand.
And, by the way, just as a little aside, I’m sure you’re conscious of in our community or different communities, you’ll be conscious of folks like Jehovah’s witnesses or Mormons, The Church of the Latter’s Day Saints. These two organizations are not Christian by the way, if you didn’t know, because they deny the Trinity and by denying the Trinity they make Jesus to be a separate God, from the Father and the rest of this falls down because neither organization teaches salvation by faith and grace alone, so they’re not Christian. That doesn’t mean you should shun them or be nasty to them, but it’s just knowing where the lines are. They’re not Christian and just if they come knocking at your door or chatting to it and they are trying to change your mind, don’t let them, because the script, even if they say they’re using the Bible, it’s often the Bible in their theology or in the case of Jehovah’s witnesses the Bible wrongly translated, to support their case. So, just that wee aside on.
Okay, because what’s of relevance for us today really, is this point, that when you see Jesus you see the heart of the Father. Hebrews says ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory.’ when you see Jesus you don’t see the Father, but you see the heart of the Father, the Father’s heart shines through everything Jesus says and does. So if you were to try and think through some of the Gospel stories the accounts of Jesus life and ministry – What is it that you see there of the father-heart of God? What stories come to mind? What do you see through the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus? What do you see of the father-heart of God shining through?
To give you something concrete to take away and to have us on a similar page today at least, I went back to the three main passages I’ve referred to today Isaiah, John and also Hosea, to say ‘What did these teach us about the father-heart of God?’ And I’ve got four words which I’ll speak on very briefly.
Passionate, Present, Retaining and Restoring.
And so, in Isaiah we read those great promises that a child would come and he’d be called Everlasting Father and the government would be in his shoulders and there’d be a great work done and there’d be great hope through this child. But what instigates it, what drives it, what underpins everything is the zeal of the Lord Almighty. And you may just have skipped over that. ‘Well that’s a nice wee thought.’ but not really giving it much attention. But the zeal of the Lord Almighty speaks of the passionate commitment of God, the passionate love of God, and it’s there in that scripture that we so often refer to but again just skip over that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son.’ That God so loved you that he sent His Son as a babe at Christmas, that is how much God loves you that He is committed to you passionately with a zealous kind of love, that is the love God has for you. So, whatever this year has brought for you and the darkness you may be facing maybe even because of your own choices don’t doubt this – God passionately loves you – don’t doubt it!
And out of that love He’s also present. As I spoke of the people rejoicing before God, they’re in the presence of God, Jesus spoke of not leaving the disciples as orphans, that He would come to them, that the Father and He would make His, their home with His people. He’s present, He’s the present, He’s with us, He’s near us and so, we see it in the Christmas story that not only does the Father’s love cause the Son to come into the world but by coming into the world as a babe into our darkness and brokenness even into the sin and the mess we make of life, He draws near, He shows that He is present even now, even with all the choices you’ve made, He is present to you. Don’t doubt that either. And because He’s passionate and He’s present, He’s going to do a couple of things and the first is, He’s going to retain, He’s going to hold on. We read earlier from Hosea at the beginning of chapter 11. but just a few verses later we hear of God speaking to Israel again and saying ‘How can I give you up Ephraim or Israel? How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me. All my compassion has aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger now.’ To give you some background to the book of Isaiah, Hosea, his ministry and both his life are a picture of the unfaithfulness of God’s people towards God and so he comes with a message about that but actually in his life you see it as well because Hosea is married to a prostitute and she is unfaithful to him, she commits infidelity and it’s meant to be a picture of God and His people, that His people have been unfaithful to Him and so, imagine that pain, imagine that betrayal, imagine what that would feel like, and still saying ‘How can I give you up? That my compassion, the depth of emotion I feel in my being, causes me into action to hold on to you my people, to retain you, no matter what you’ve done, no matter the darkness you may feel because of choices made this year, I will hold on to you, I will retain you. Such is my love.; And I’m getting so much out of this book Gentle and Lowly just now. I wonder if George drew upon this in some of his prayer – I’ll need to check with him later- but a couple of weeks ago I was reading from this book and the author quotes John Bunyan who wrote, I think it was about the 18th century or so, and John Bunyan draws upon one verse of scripture and I think he writes a whole book about one verse of scripture as the puritans often did, and the verse is in John as well and it’s where Jesus said ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.’ and John Bunyan imagines a conversation between humanity or individuals with Jesus and here’s what he writes:
But I am a great sinner you say. I will never cast you out says Christ.
But I am an old sinner you say. I will never cast you out says Christ.
I’m a hard-hearted sinner you say. I will never cast you out says Jesus.
I am a backsliding sinner you say. I will never cast you out says Jesus.
But I’ve sinned against light and mercy you say. I will never cast you out says Jesus.
But I have no good thing to bring with me you say. I will never cast you out says Jesus.
In the darkness you might be facing because of choices made never doubt His hold on you, His love, His presence compel Him to hold on to you fast, to retain you such, so precious are you to Him, He is a father who holds you fast whatever the darkness, whatever the choice.
But He is a good father that He doesn’t just hold you fast, He wants something else for you. His passionate love and presence compel Him to something else. He compelled Him to restore you. Isaiah said ‘You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy.’ and those words enlarged and increased are restoring words. That the people are facing gloom and darkness, they’re facing persecution, the nation is on the decline, there’s death and destruction, but God is going to restore, He’s going to grow the nation again, He’s going to bring a better future for them so their joy will increase. Where there is fear and gloom, this promise is a promise of restoration. That the Lord hasn’t given up on His people, that He wants a better future for His people and He wants a better future for you, whatever the darkness has brought this year. In the darkness of your own choices know this – you can never fully plumb the depths of the Father’s heart for you, His love for you, His love shown through Jesus coming as a babe, dying on a cross. You can never plumb the depths of it and so He accepts you as you are, but He will not leave you there, He wants to take you on a journey of restoration, He wants to take you on a journey of restoration and so today, you might be feeling in the darkest of winter, you might be feeling that the road ahead just looks bleak and dark and lonely, because of this year, because of your choices, but know this – there’s a corner ahead, there can be light ahead, if you will receive the father-heart of God for you today, and in the days ahead, So will you this Advent receive Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Will you let Him in that you might turn that corner, that you might receive His light and that He might then lead you on that journey of restoration?
I really pray that you will let Him in and so let us take a moment now to pray. Let us pray.
So, as you cast your mind over the year – Where do you need the father-heart of God?
Is it to know that He’s not abandoned you? That He’s passionately committed to you? That he’s present, he’s holding on, that he’ll restore?
In the stillness why not invite Him into that darkness. It might not be wrong choices. It might be something else.
But welcome him in. Welcome Him in,
If there have been wrong choices, take the time now to name them before Him and to ask for his forgiveness.
We’ve all done it, we’ve all been there.
Father God, thank-you for revealing the depths of Your heart through Jesus, for making that tangible. Sometimes we can just turn You into ideas, or have a picture of You as very distant, but you break through all that. Through Jesus, You show what Your heart’s really like, Your passionate commitment, Your presence in the darkness, Your heart to hold us fast, never cast us out and to restore us, that there’s a better day ahead, a better future. Thank-you Father.
And where we do need forgiveness, may that grace just be poured out now, may we receive that and it might not fix the problems, but at least we’re right with You.
And we say to You, we trust You, we cling to You we ask you, to lead us on. Lead us on Father, for You are good, You’re compassionate, You’re wholly trustworthy,
So, receive our thanks and praise in Jesus name. Amen.
We close our service as we sing together Advent hymn it’s it might be an odd one to finish on but in the words of the hymn and some of the verses I’ve picked – the organ is misbehaving itself that’s not Jill – so, in the verses I’ve picked and the verses are picked the there’s some reference to the difficulties we can go through and the love of that’s portrayed in the hymn of Father God so let’s stand to sing Once in Royal David’s City.
Preached on: Sunday 5th December 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button aboveSermon Sunday 5th December 2021. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-12-05 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:6-7 and 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:
Holy Spirit, please come among us and reveal to us the way of our Heavenly Father.
Holy Spirit, please be present and reveal to us the hope we have through Jesus
Come now Holy Spirit we pray, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’
I wonder what kind of person are you when it comes to the Christmas lists and the buying of Christmas presents? Are you a person who enjoys surprises for your Christmas presents? or Do you write a list and give that to family and friends saying I’d like something from this? I’m going to give you 20 to 30 seconds just to talk about that with your neighbour if you feel able. Are you a surprise kind of person or not? Over to you.
Okay, dokey. So, hands up if you’re a surprise kind of person? Are you. Who’s the surprise kind? I think you might be in the minority not by much but I think it would seem like a that. So, the rest of you might be a bit like me. If there’s something I really want then I do probably have an idea of what I’m after, if it’s a piece of tech, if it’s a piece of ( Andrew could we just turn that down a tad) sorry, if it’s a piece of tech or a piece of gear I probably know what I want but there is also something nice about receiving those surprise Christmas presents. Isn’t there?
Last year’s one, the funny one that Gill gave me that I think I showed, the baldy Christmas mug that I received, I really like that, it’s one of the ones I really like, so it gave me a good laugh, and I think we also had a laugh because I think I showed it on the Christmas day service. So I do like a bit of a surprise but Christmas presents is not the only things where a surprise can happen.
Life also has its surprises and more often than not the surprises that come with life are not often the good ones, they’re hard and they can leave us feeling in a really difficult place, a really hard place. The biggest one obviously we’ve all had to be dealing with is coronavirus and it’s ongoing twists and turns but maybe this past year for you has brought other surprises. Maybe surprises with health, maybe surprises of relationships, maybe at work or friends or family, a loss you’ve experienced. Who knows where the surprise may be but I’m sure all of us can resonate with it to some degree. All of us will have experienced that unexpected event that was just not welcome, it was not a positive surprise like on Christmas day, and maybe as you approach Advent this year you’re carrying some of that with you, and so you don’t approach Advent this year with anticipation or peace or joy, but rather something else and maybe when you were hearing of Sharon’s testimony last week on the one hand you’re really encouraged that God is that companion and He’s ready to give wisdom but maybe hearing that testimony on the other hand brought to mind unanswered prayers that you’ve got in your life and you struggle with that and it just brings that to mind for you as you heard that ‘Why, God, are you not answering my prayers?’
And so, as we said last week, we’re beginning this new series where we’re digging into this familiar passage in Isaiah chapter 9 where we read of these four titles of Jesus because it’s so easy just to skip over those four titles and not really grasp maybe something of what they’re trying to communicate to us. And so, last week, we did see that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise made in Isaiah but this week we’re going to see that He fulfills the second title in a very surprising way. Isaiah said ‘For to us a child is born and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And so, what does it mean that Jesus is Mighty God? What does that mean?
Well, ‘mighty in the Old Testament has connotations of military prowess, of being bold and brave, and so it conveys this idea of someone who has the power to resist every evil or threat and he’s able to make his people safe, particularly the kings would be thought of in that way, and so it’s quite natural that a Zionist prophecy speaks also of Midian which was an event in the history of Israel where Israel faced this threat that was described as being so numerous it was like a ‘plague of locusts descending upon the land’ and you can read about that in Judges chapter 6. But Israel did defeat them, they defeated a foe of 120 thousand enemies and there’s that encouragement in Isaiah’s day as they face the threat from Assyria and a numerous enemy as well. There’s Isaiah to bring that encouragement that the Mighty God is on their side and so they should trust in Him, they should wait upon Him, they should wait for His promise to be fulfilled. But, as we saw last week, that this promise can’t be just fulfilled in one particular person, can be fulfilled in the normal kings, that there’s this echo, this sign, that it would be a divine person and no king up until Jesus fulfilled fully those expectations.
And so, we’ve read of incidents like in Mark 2 where Jesus healed the paralytic and the paralytic was able to stand and pick up His mat and walk out the door, and as people saw that, they were just wowed with awe, that here was someone who had the power of God and could heal in such incredible manner. Or the incident in Mark 6 where Jesus is in the boat with the disciples and He’s sleeping in the in the back but then the storm comes and the disciples are so scared that they think they’re going to drown and so they wake up Jesus and He gets up and He simply says ‘Be still’ and everything died down.
And what does, what do they say? How? Here is one who even the winds and the waves obey him? such is His power, such is His authority. And because Jesus kept doing all these things, people expected Him to be this Messiah that they had anticipated, that Isaiah had promised, and so they expect Him to come and to rule in might and power and to kick out the Romans and re-establish the political kingdom of Israel and bring back the glory days where they would rule their land and everything would be perfect and good once more. And so, they want to establish Him as their king but Jesus wasn’t there to establish a political kingdom, He was there to exert His power in a different way and in a surprising way, a way that even confounded people and along the journey of time through His ministry He shared, began to share with His disciples that He would go to die on a cross and they couldn’t take that in. How could God, how could our Messiah die? and it baffled His disciples, it baffled people later when He did die, it baffled people afterwards and as the church began to share that message that God had come as a babe at Christmas and when He grew, He then went and died on a cross.
It was too much for some and so as Paul says in the first letter to Corinthians ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.’ Jesus came exerting His power in an unexpected way, in a way that confounded people, that just seemed like foolishness, it was a blocker for some to faith in Him but maybe, if they had remembered the story of Midian more fully, they might have remembered, might have struggled less with that because Gideon is the one who was used of God to secure Israel’s safety and salvation but he says to the Lord when the Lord comes to him in the form of an angel he says ‘How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.’
The people of God are led into salvation through an insignificant individual, a person who’s weak, who displayed nothing of power or might. And, what is more, do you remember how many the Lord used to defeat 120,000? 300, 300 Israelites is what He used to defeat 120,000. He used weakness, He used insignificance, He used limitation to achieve His purposes and so for the people in Isaiah’s day and the people in the time of Jesus, even in our day, we expect God to exert His power, His might in a particular way, we expect it to be through strength and dominion and force. God often doesn’t work that way. He has the power over our sickness and nature in the demonic for sure as we saw in the life of Jesus, but ultimately, He just chose to display His power in weakness, in death and being born as a babe and growing as a man and living a human life in the midst of that. That’s how He ultimately displayed He was Mighty God.
And so, maybe the Advent message for us this year is that, that God will rescue, He will save His people, nothing can thwart His plans because He is Mighty God. But maybe He displays His power in a way we don’t expect, is through limitation, the limitation of the incarnation of becoming human and in the limitation of death. Maybe there’s an invitation this Advent for us to have our picture of God changed, to go maybe deeper and have a more surprising understanding of God rather than us casting God in the image that we would want. Maybe we allow Him to shape our perspective of Him through His word.
And so, if Jesus is the Mighty God and displays His power in surprising ways, in ways that we don’t expect, naturally that we’d rather He didn’t, we’d rather He just conformed to what we expect this Mighty God to do. If He doesn’t do that, if He’s constantly just inviting us into an alternative perspective of Him what should be our response to that? How should we respond to this Mighty God revealing Himself in weakness and limitation?
Well, I said last week that the chapters of Isaiah 8 and 9 run very closely together and we read a little bit at the end of chapter 8 last week but this week I’d like to read a little bit earlier in Isaiah because Isaiah says this ‘This is what the Lord says to me warning me not to follow the way of this people. Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear and do not dread it.’ Is that making you worry about conversations we’ve heard around the coronavirus and all that’s just the way aside the Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy. He is the one you are to fear – I will wait for the Lord. I will put my trust in Him.
Isaiah is sent to people facing overwhelming odds, an overwhelming threat and he is sent to them to call them to trust Him, to trust Him when it looks like all the odds are against you and the future is bleak and you feel in darkness and gloom. He sent to call them to trust in the Lord rather than trust in other sources of power or wisdom, other places that we might look to for our salvation. Trust in the Lord is his message because here is the promising it goes into Isaiah 9 there to trust and to keep on trusting.
And the same was true in Paul’s day. Paul, we know from what we read earlier, they would say that for God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, the God who created all things and said ‘Let there be light and suddenly there was light’ this God has made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. Basically, when you see Jesus, you see this God who created all things. God has come in human form. That was their testimony, crazy as it sounded, and yet that early church was hard-pressed, they were perplexed, persecuted, struck down, they faced such hard times as we have never known for generations, and it raised difficult questions.
People began to wonder ‘Is Jesus really this Mighty God?’ because in the culture of the time if you claim that your God was the Mighty God and the strongest God then you should be safe, you should be the one in control and dominion, and so the Roman Gods they were the powerful Gods, because the Romans were in power and there was all these claims about who is the most powerful God and because Christians suffered there was questions about ‘Well, is Jesus really this Mighty God? Has he really secured salvation and victory?’ and so, they began to circulate false claims about Jesus. There began to be others who would deny Jesus and forsake Jesus yet, what is Paul’s response, this man who was persecuted, this man who eventually gave his life for the sake of Jesus, what’s his response?
Well, in the next couple of verses he goes on to ‘It is written ‘I believed therefore I have spoken’. Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak. Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself, since we have that same spirit of faith.’ We have that same spirit of faith. Paul adopts a posture of faith, of trust, of holding on and trust to Jesus, and maybe the invitation for us is to do likewise this Advent. That in all the difficulties you face this year, know the difficulties you maybe continue to face even now, as you look at Advent and it’s not for you a season of joy, maybe the invitation is simply to trust, to trust in this Jesus and not allow fear and not allow darkness to turn you away from Jesus, to rather press you deeper into Him and to wait upon Him because that is what Isaiah also said he said ‘I will wait for the Lord’ and you’re trusting. Wait for the Lord. Wait for Him to act in his way and in His timing rather than in the way you expect or want God to do. Trust in Him. Wait upon Him. Maybe that’s the first invitation in response to Jesus being our Mighty God?
Our reading from second Corinthians does however give us a second possible response this morning and earlier we read in first second Corinthians ‘we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body for we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus sake so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body so then death is at work in us but life is at work in you.’
And these words of Paul and indeed in his life and ministry, there was this example, this calling to give your life for the sake of Jesus for His purposes, for His priorities, for His people, to give yourself, to die to self. But Paul was just echoing Jesus wasn’t he? Because Jesus said ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life, will lose it but whoever loses their life for me, and for the gospel, will save it.’
Again, the same echo, the same idea. Give your life away. If Jesus is truly this Mighty God and if you trust in Him, then in a dark times, wait and the rest of life even now in the dark times follow Him, give your life for Him, give your life for His purposes and priorities, make Him known, care for His church, advance His kingdom.
And so, maybe the invitation this Advent for you is to do that. To give yourself , just as Paul did in the face of persecution and ridicule. Paul continued to hold on to Jesus, to trust in Jesus, to give his life for Jesus, to follow the way of Jesus, and that’s so counter-cultural in our day because in our day we just want what benefits us, we don’t want a religion that is costly but actually in dying to self, there’s a thing of beauty, there’s a thing of beauty.
Last week I mentioned that I recently went on retreat and whilst there was prayer walking not only did I receive from the Lord, things that I mentioned last week that really helped to heal some wounds, I also was struck by this scene so I was walking around the the walled garden and I was looking up and looking out for how the Lord would speak to me and this scene just captured my attention. Now, what tree do you think captured my attention from that view? The one in the middle, the big golden one. It was, that was the one that captured my attention. Not the kind of sparse looking drab one on the right. Not even that lush kind of ever-greeny one – that was kind of boring. The one in the middle, this auburn autumn leafed tree is the one that captured my attention. It was beautiful and just appreciating it and taking the time to marvel at it was a real gift to my soul and to my spirit. But here’s the thing, that tree is only that way because the leaves are dying. It was through death that I received life, just by admiring that tree and they are dying so as to bring life in the next season.
It’s the same principle in God’s wired into creation that when we die to self, there can be life for others.
And I wonder what that looks like this Advent season for you as you follow in the way of Jesus, as you say ‘Well Jesus is the Mighty God and I follow Him and that means I’ve to die to self as He died for me?’ He didn’t come just to have a nice wee Advent scene, He came as a babe for a purpose and that purpose was to die for you and me, to walk the way of the cross. And we, likewise, are called to walk a similar way. What does that look like for you this Advent?
There’s so many examples and ideas and I’m just going to pick two but think about where else it could apply in your life, maybe in your home life, in your family life, in your relationships, in your workplace, but I want to pick two just as we examples.
You hopefully received if you’re a member three or four of these Christmas cards to invite people to Christmas services and hear the good news about a God who loved them that He came into the brokenness of this world. Have you given them away yet? Because, sometimes our embarrassment and our fear holds us back but dying to self would encourage us to get over that embarrassment, to not let that hold us back that we would care more for others than for our own image and reputation, that we’d be willing to take that step of faith and say ‘Hey, my church has done some events this Christmas, do you fancy coming along?’ It’s a wee silly way but it is the same principle because who knows what you doing that will lead in the life of another, who knows if that invitation will lead to them coming to know Jesus and that would be a thing of beauty, a thing of beauty.
You’ll also know that over this past year I’ve mentioned it in a number of sermons and in Bright Lights articles and letters to our members directly that we’re having conversations about the future shape of the Braes churches, that there needs to be the closure of some buildings, and I wonder what this principle of following Jesus and dying to self would say to us? Is it possible that closing some churches, so as to sustain other places of mission, might be a dying to self that is beautiful?
There are so many ways that this principle is relevant as we finish off this year and head into a new year and so I encourage you to take some time to think that through, to think through where is this truth, this revelation that God is the Mighty God revealed in Jesus. He reveals it in startling, surprising ways and yet, we are called then to trust Him, to trust Him in the waiting and trust Him by following in His way, in His example. I pray it may be so for each and all of us, Amen.
Preached on: Sunday 28th November 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 21-11-28 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:2-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray:
Holy Spirit, be welcome here and reveal to us the heart of our Father.
Holy Spirit, be welcome here and reveal to us the hope we have through Jesus.
Come now Holy Spirit, we pray, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.
So, however your Christmas preparations go, I’m not the best at organizing the Christmas shopping, someone else in my family has been busy with that over the last couple of months, whether prompted by an ensuing pregnancy and coming up in a few weeks’ time or whether it’s because of the news we heard about coronavirus and Brexit having this great clash of impact upon shopping, hopefully you’re making a better progress because time’s ticking, less than four weeks now, and I wonder if you’re beginning to think, like me are, we going to get it like we normally get it or are we going back to last year where we had that one day of freedom and the frustration and the limitation of that. So, I wonder how you’re approaching advent this year? But as I said in the introduction before the reading, maybe there’s other things going on and how you’re approaching Advent this year. That, actually, if you were to take a moment to pause and slow down and be really honest, is there something deeper going on in you or maybe in people you know, are in our wider community, and world? That though we’re going through the motions and we’re doing the usual habits and making the list and getting it sorted out, actually, deep down, there’s deeper emotions on the go here? Maybe emotions of fear, of weariness? Maybe even of pain, pain of what the last year has brought to you in your life? And the temptation is to bury it and to ignore it, but actually, maybe we need to name it and share it. That, although the nights might be drawing in and it’s getting darker earlier, there is too, in us, a darkness, a spiritual, emotional darkness that’s got nothing to do with sin maybe, not our sin at least and it’s the darkness that has been nurtured sadly by the impact of life on you.
In Isaiah’s day, the people there were experiencing a darkness as well. Just before our passage that we read from, at the end of chapter 8 Isaiah says this of the people ‘Then they will look towards the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom and they will be thrust into utter darkness.’ The situation for them is not coronavirus or political tensions of a form, but political tensions with Assyria that they face. The threat of Assyria coming and conquering them and so the people are filled with a fearful gloom and whenever the future they look to, the circumstances around them, it just looks dark, it looks bleak, it is full of gloom for them. And so, what does Isaiah say to the people in their darkness? What does he say to us in our darkness?
Well, as we read ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light on those living in the land of deep darkness. A light has dawned. For to as a child is born. To us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Isaiah sent with a message of hope, a message that light is coming. In fact, in Isaiah, the words are a light has come as a child is born. It’s that certain. It’s spoken of as if it’s already happened, even though it’s still in the future. it’s that certain. God is going to make sure this happens. A light is coming and it will come with the arrival of a child.
Now, maybe, the people would be thinking ‘Well, who is this child? Who is this?’ We know that Isaiah, his ministry stretched over a period of a number of kings and it’s likely that Hezekiah was just born before this particular message. They might be wondering ‘Is it Hezekiah he speaks of? Is this the child that we’re to look to?’ But it can’t be. It can’t be because the words highlighted here point to something that would be startling. ‘Wonderful’ it was only used in the context of the wonders that God had done, like when you and I we look up to the stars on a dark night in these winter months and we are just filled with awe at the magnitude of creation, of something that only God can do. That’s the sense of Wonderful here. And no prince, no king, no human being was ever called Mighty God. In Israel to do so would be blasphemy and clearly no king, prince whoever, had ever been Everlasting, had been eternal, and so all these terms are pointing to someone who would come that seems to be divine somehow. But then Prince? Prince was a term used of human rulers and so it speaks of someone who would have human lineage and so we have this promise of someone who will come who is both divine and human.
And in the midst of giving that promise, God calls His people to wait, to wait in hope, and in faith, and they had to wait a long time. 800 years from the point of Isaiah, 400 years from the point of Malachi, who we were just looking at in the last couple of weeks. But eventually, finally, a child comes and when He grows, His life, His ministry fulfills every expectation of these verses, every expectation of every other promise given by God, and so the claim of Christianity for 2000 years has been that God fulfilled His promise. That child was born. He, the promised one, the Messiah as he would come to be known, God in human form, bringing light and life into the darkness of our world.
And so, we often read the very familiar passages in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke that tell us the Christmas story and they echo these words of Isaiah like the angel to Mary who says ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. His kingdom will never end.’
Do you see the similarities in the two passages of Isaiah and Luke of the reference to the throne of David, that the government will be on His shoulders, as Isaiah said, that His kingdom will never end, as Isaiah was referring to as well. There are these echoes between the passages because God and Jesus fulfilled His promise but you know, for us, it’s old news. Do we want to have a competition of who gets the most Christmases underneath their belt? Because I want you to put your hand up on that one, because it’s for us, it almost just washes over us, that I’ve heard this so often, Jesus is the answer but when we allow it to wash over us, when we lose the wonder of Advent, we lose the hope of Advent as well, the hope and the good news that God would want to give us in this season as we draw to the close of another year. Because, if Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah, and if that God held true to that promise, then He’s also able to fulfill the other promises of Jesus.
There are the promises concerning His titles. There are promises and testimony of scripture that, for example in the New Testament we read that Jesus is alive even now that He reigns at the Father’s side, and that you and I can know Him. Jesus is not just an idea and He’s not just a moral figure to try and emulate. If God fulfilled this promise and this testimony about Jesus then every other promise is true as well, and so that means you can know Him right here now in your life and you can be sharing testimony like Sharon did.
Because Jesus can be an active part of your life and He can bring light into your darkness, the darkness you may be experiencing even today. that is the hope and offer we’re reminded of in our verses today and, if it’s true that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise made, and if that means that the rest of what we read about Jesus is true, that we can cling to that in faith, then what do the titles of Jesus mean? What does it mean that he’s a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace? What do those mean? Because, again, we just gloss over them, we just skip over them so easily. ‘Oh I’ve heard those before?’ but, actually, there’s so much depth in them, so much life in them, and so, each week, starting today, we’re going to look at one of them, and today’s is Wonderful Counselor.
I’ve already shared about what the meaning of Wonderful means, that it’s something that only God can do, that’s beyond mere human ability, and Counselor has connotations of someone who is an advisor, who gives wise advice and direction, of how to order or govern our lives, both individually and collectively, we might describe it as ‘extraordinary wisdom’ and don’t we see that in the life of Jesus when we read through the gospels? For example, there’s that point when he’s 12 years old and He’s in the temple and He’s engaging with the teachers and He’s asking questions and they’re asking questions, He’s giving answers and then we read that ‘Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.’ Extraordinary wisdom from the youngest of age. But as He grows up and He begins His ministry, one of the things that really struck the people was how He taught, that He taught as someone who had authority, that He spoke with deep knowledge and certainty about the things of God and the things of the kingdom, He spoke with certainty, with authority about how to live life, about how life was structured to be lived the best way, and He could give direction on that. He could give direction that would lead to life and people remarked on that. They noticed that and those that heeded it found that true life, life and all its fullness but you know He’s still offering it even today. He’s still offering that life-giving wisdom even today, to you and I, but we easily, so easily, too easily turn away from them and go our own way.
Back in Isaiah’s day the people had done very similarly. We read just at that end verse at the end of chapter 8 where they’re in darkness. Well, just a few verses before that one, we also read this ‘When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, whose whisper and mutter, should not our people inquire of their God, why consult the dead on behalf of the living, consult God’s’ instruction and the testimony of warning the people were turning to other sources of wisdom. And now, we might not be turning to mediums and spiritus, although some in our community do, but we easily turn to other sources of wisdom. We say ‘Well, these are just old words or these words are too difficult?’ or ‘I just want to pursue what I think is right and what I think is wise.’ and our culture just reinforces that message, reinforces ‘Just live your own story. Live your own way. Allow no one or nothing to restrict or confine your life, because that’s not true life, that’s not true freedom. Do not allow yourself to be governed’ Is the message of our culture. But how we just get ourselves into a mess when we do that and actually we need the wisdom of God and so we find repeated encouragements in the scriptures to turn to God’s word, to find life as the one verse here reminds us that His word revives us and we heard that with Sharon’s testimony today of how God spoke through that verse that someone shared with her and brought life brought encouragement, sustained her when she wasn’t sure what the future held and it gave her such confidence and peace. And so, maybe the invitation this Advent is not only to realize that the promise of Jesus is true and fulfilled and that you can know Him but to let Him in by opening up His word again, to get into a habit, our pattern, our rhythm of being in His word. Now, if you need some help with that then we do order regularly printed copies of daily reading notes and we can get you a physical copy of that of Every day with Jesus or Daily Bread and I’m sure they’re probably just about to begin an Advent series and that might be how you just dig in for maybe 10 minutes at the start of your day or maybe the end of your day and you allow God to speak His wisdom into your life, or if you’ve got a smartphone or a tablet or such like, you could get the Bible app and one of the reading plans there or you could get the Lectio 365 app which I’ve gone on about multiple times, but I really do go on about it because I think it weaves together scripture and prayer so well. We need to be a people who allow the wisdom of God, to be nurtured in us, spoken to us, and the only way to receive that is to be in His word because when we’re in that place of being in His word and being in prayer and we set good rhythms, then God is faithful.
And so just a couple of weeks ago I was on retreat and I have a rhythm of trying to go three or four times a year to the Bield up near Perth and go and retreat just to get some time away because, well, no one’s preaching to me, so I just need to make sure that I have some space and time where God meets with me and I receive from Him and that particular week I’d gone feeling a bit bruised. I’d received some harsh criticism and it had bruised me and so I went just needing something from God, to hear from Him, to meet with Him and, as I do at the start of every day of retreat, I take some time in prayer and in journaling and I write down what I need from God that day whether it’s direction or a revelation or a word of encouragement or comfort, whatever it might be, and that’s a practice I’ve picked up from the writings of others and in that day God spoke, so much actually, that I left feeling encouraged and strengthened with light for the next part of the journey and ready to come back and to serve and to minister in His name. God was faithful, He spoke wisdom into that time with Him that when we create space for Him to speak He does and so maybe the invitation this Christmas is to begin to become reacquainted with the Wonderful Counselor by being in His , by being in the place of prayer and allow Him to speak His life-giving wisdom into your life rather than just trying to go at your own and rely on your own wisdom to govern your life as how you think best and, instead, let Him begin to govern your life by His word.
In Sharon’s testimony as well this morning the council of friends was really helpful and often when we think of who do you go to for advice we probably end up thinking well I’ll speak to my friends you might also say you’d speak to a spouse or a partner or maybe a parent but again you’d probably do that because they’re your friend. How many of a spouse would say ‘Well, they’re my best friend’ so even if it is a spouse, a partner or a parent it’s often because you’ve developed a degree of friendship with them and so I’ve been thinking in my preparation can we understand the counsel of Jesus in terms of His friendship and actually I think we can because the word Counselor also has connotations of someone who gives comfort of someone, who draws alongside us, who journeys with us and we see that in the gospels of Jesus that He was often called a friend of tax collectors and sinners, He welcomed them, He spent time with them, He counseled them about how to live but He was , He journeyed with them, with people whose lives were messy, broken, maybe dark, and I was reading around the same time a chapter from a book that I’ve referred to you before Gentle and Lowly and if you’ve not got a copy I do encourage you to get one because it’s such a wonderful book just sot brings out the heart of Jesus to us and in that particular chapter on the friendship of Jesus. The author builds his case over the chapter speaking of how Jesus is our companion and friend and he reaches this conclusion near the end he says ‘Christ’s heart for us means that He will know, He will be our never-failing friend, He offers us a friendship that gets underneath the pain’ He offers us a friendship that gets underneath the pain – can you imagine a friend like that? Do you need a friend like that? Who knows the depths of your soul? Who knows the heart and the pain, the doubt and the dismay, that’s there and who is present there with you as you face that? Because that is the heart of Jesus for us. He proved it two thousand years ago that rather than stay in the glory of heaven He came in human form, born into squalor and experienced the hardest of lives, experienced everything that we might be able to experience, He held nothing back but entered into the pain and brokenness of our world and maybe what you need to know is that is who Jesus is and He’s there with you this Advent season. He is the Wonderful Counselor who offers life-giving wisdom and companionship because sometimes the best counsel is not a whole lot of words but just someone’s presence and maybe you just need to know the presence of Jesus with you this Advent. That His presence can be that light that sees you through the dark times and into a new day, a new day of hope and of joy and of peace, but in the time between now and then that He journeys with you. He’s that faithful companion. He will never leave you nor forsake you and He offers you light for your path.
If you’re experiencing darkness, it is real and there’s no need to deny it, but it doesn’t have to be the only reality in your life. Jesus can also be there. He can be that companion, that Wonderful Counselor, and so He can then reshape life and reshape your reality.
So, why not this Advent let Jesus in. Get into His word. Spend time with Him in prayer, for He is the Wonderful Counselor. May it be so Amen
We close our service as we sing together our final hymn another traditional advent hymn calling upon Jesus to come into our lives to come into our world afresh as we journey towards Christmas we sing together ‘Come thou long expected Jesus’.
Preached on: Sunday 28th November 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 message.
Bible references: Isaiah 9
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Well today we begin a new teaching series, as we begin a new season in Advent. And I wonder how you’re approaching the Advent season this year?
I was talking with my Spiritual Director who’s someone who accompanies me to just listen out to what God’s saying in my life. Because, who pastors the pastor? And so I meet with her every couple of months and we got talking, because not only does she do spiritual direction, she’s a counsellor and does various different things, and we were reflecting upon how maybe, others are approaching this Advent season. That maybe people are feeling really worn-thin weary, I’m struggling, that we’ve maybe lost a bit of confidence and we’re still yearning for that real return to normal? And, even now, we see the news and what’s happening in another variant and we might not be approaching this season with a feeling of hope and joy and peace. And so, it got me thinking. What, where might we turn in the Advent passages? Where might we turn to be renewed in that? To be renewed in faith and in our hearts too? To be uplifted again.
And so, today, and for the next three weeks, we’re gonna keep coming back to Isaiah chapter 9. We’ll dip into some other passages as you’d expect me to do, but in Isaiah 9 we find four titles of Jesus and we’re going to dig into those titles and see why they are good news for us today. And so, we hear our passage now read for us by Liz.
Preached on: Sunday 22nd November 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 20-11-22 Message PPT slides multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 61:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Text: Isaiah 61:1-9
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.Today is our last week in our series focusing on justice through the book of Isaiah. Over the previous weeks, we’ve seen time and again that justice is a priority for the Lord because it is central to worship and core to His plan for bringing hope and light to the world, so that the norm changes and there might life for all. Each week, we’ve also had input from members of our church family, sharing with us ideas for seeking justice.Of the passages we explored, several may be less well known to us, but today’s passage could be familiar, or the beginning at least, because these words were quoted by Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and He reads this very passage, then says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) This passage of Scripture foretold of someone who would come, anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, to set the world right, to bring life and healing of soul and of society. In that synagogue, Jesus was claiming to be the person referred to in Isaiah, the promised Messiah who would come to suffer and to serve, that God’s promises and plan would be fulfilled. Many of the promises in this passage should be familiar to us by now because they echo many earlier passages that we read and more besides.
Yet, there is something else in this passage, which I think helpfully rounds off our series on justice. Isaiah said:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.’
(Isaiah 61:3-4, 6)
In these verses, we see that, whilst the principle agent of change and restoration is the promised Messiah, the people who benefit from Him, the people who receive…
His deliverance and salvation and help and grace, these same people are then called to be His ongoing agents, His ambassadors, His priests and ministers, such that they stand in the gap on His behalf and share what they have received from Him with the wider world. These people are called to change, they are called to change the world – to rebuild a world that has been devastated by sin, a world marked by a lack of love and too much cruelty and a way of life that says to take care of yourself first and at all costs. To all who have met with the Messiah, who have met with Jesus, there is a calling – we have a calling – to play a part in rebuilding lives and even rebuilding societies. It addresses the spiritual dynamics of life but also the material, for the earlier verses in the chapter speak of the Messiah transforming the full range of human reality and experience.
So, I wonder friends, as we heed last week’s message, that simply returning to normal is not viable and so we must look forward and look out, where are our resources being invested? What are we rebuilding or restoring? Are we simply maintaining the old structures and institution? Or can we learn the way of Jesus, to look outward and see the brokenness all around, and in love and compassion – where ‘compassion’ literally means ‘with suffering’ – can we love and suffer with this broken world for their benefit, and so play our part in what Jesus, the Messiah, is doing in our world? Friends, we are called to change, to change the world, so how is that seen in your life? How is that seen in our congregation’s life?
But this calling to change is not only external, it’s also internal. Isaiah did say:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour…
For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.’
(Isaiah 61:3, 8)
We are called to change, but not only to change the world, we are called to change within ourselves. The Lord through Isaiah says that those who experience the ministry of the Messiah will be called ‘oaks of righteousness’, they will change in character, in their nature, such that they ‘display…his splendour’, His glory, His likeness – they will pursue justice, because He…
is the Lord who loves justice. So firm is His commitment to our change, that it is in fact part of the everlasting covenant He makes with us, His people. And this is key friends, because we shouldn’t fall into a false understanding about these matters – we don’t grow in righteousness by trying harder, that would be man-made religion. Instead, we are ‘a planting of the Lord’ – it is He who will nurture and grow this righteousness in us.
It’s a theme picked up in many places across the New Testament. Paul will say to Titus: ‘…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus 2:14) God through Isaiah, God through Paul, God across the Scriptures invites us into relationship and through that relationship into a calling to change, to change on the inside. It’s something we see in the life and ministry of Jesus: He transformed a tax collector into a disciple, a prostitute into a missionary, a sceptic into an apostle, a madman into a family man, and a thief into a friend.
Of course, it takes time – the Scriptures don’t speak of us becoming perfect instantaneously – because an oak matures slowly, it doesn’t become great overnight. But nevertheless, this is part of God’s plan, part of His calling upon our lives – and He will help make it possible. He promises to give us His Spirit to dwell in us and enable us to change. Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit…put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) and the fruit of the Spirit – not the fruit of our hard labour – is ‘…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Gal. 5:22-23) God will do what we cannot do for ourselves – change our nature, change us on the inside.
Does this mean we have no part to play? Do we simply lie back and allow God to work some magic on us? Well no, in that same quote from Romans, Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) You, with the Spirit, but without the Spirit you haven’t got a chance; for our brokenness, our darkness, the captivity within us because of sin is too powerful for us to overcome alone. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and because He has ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit, we can now know the healing and transformation promised in Isaiah and so increasingly grow as oaks of righteousness.
In our culture today, there’s that practice of taking a picture or selfie and adding a filter to make you look better or jazz things up a bit. Sometimes it’s just for fun, but other times I wonder if it points to a wishful desire in us, or a discontentment with who we are – so we end up putting on the filter, we fake it, and whilst the outside changes, it does nothing about the inside. We’re still broken, we’re still insecure or easily angered, because we need outside help to change on the inside.
Friends, we’ve been exploring God’s call to seek justice. That call requires us to change, it requires us to put others first, and like every call and command of God, if we see it as optional, we will never change. When I first became a Christian, I knew I had to stop getting drunk, I knew I had to stop swearing, I knew I had to treat girls better,… because the Scriptures teach us these things and I knew it wasn’t an option. And so I wholeheartedly said “yes” to God’s way, and change came, much quicker than I ever expected – but I had to choose, I had to choose to submit to God and not see it as optional. By taking that step, that step of faith to trust God’s way over mine, He then gave power by His Spirit and I did change on the inside.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to change, to change this world and see it rebuilt and restored. But for that to be – for our future to be different from the past – we must also heeds God’s call to change on the inside and allow His Spirit to grow and mature us in His character and in His ways, which includes the seeking of justice.
Preached on: Sunday 15th November 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 20-11-15-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 56:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Text: Isaiah 56:1-8
Sunday 15th November 2020
Brightons Parish Church Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.Eight months today was our last Sunday service here in the sanctuary at Brightons – it was the 15th of March. Numbers were already down at that stage, people were starting to stay home because of the spread of Coronavirus, and from the Sunday after we have been primarily online. Eight months of waiting. Eight months of waiting to return. Eight months of waiting to get back to some form of normal.
In our passage today, the people being addressed have been waiting. It’s not obvious straight away, but chapter 56 marks the start of a new section in the book of Isaiah. Up to chapter 40, the people were still in the land of Israel and God was calling them to change their ways and warning them what would happen if they did not. Sadly, Israel didn’t change its ways and so they were taken into exile, to Babylon, the whole nation was upheaved and marched hundreds of miles away. Chapters 40 to 55 speak into that time and share promises and hopes of what would eventually come: that the people would return to the land that God had given them and the scattered exiles would be gathered home.
By chapter 56 the Israelites have returned, or at least a portion of them have, for many chose to stay in Babylon… and so the mass return of exiles has not been realised – the great hopes and dreams and promises shared through Isaiah and other prophets are far from complete. The people are waiting. They live in an interim time. They are waiting for a new world to dawn.
And into that waiting, God spoke. I wonder, in our waiting, has God been speaking to you? Have you been seeking to listen? What might you have wanted Him to say? It strikes me that these words from Isaiah may not have been anticipated by His people. Here they are waiting, hoping for other exiles to return and complete the promises God made, of there being a people who belong to Him, living in His kingdom and living by His values. Yet, what God says here is startling:
‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant –
to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure for ever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants… these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer…’ The Sovereign Lord declares – he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.’ (v4-8)
God is going to gather ‘still others’ – others beyond the Israelite exiles – and not just any others, but eunuchs and foreigners, people who up till now have been excluded from worship in the inner places of the temple. This is unexpected! To a people who are waiting, who want to return to the glory days by having the exiles return, this is startling news. In the midst of their waiting, God directs their attention out and forward, rather than back.
Six weeks ago, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met – largely in a virtual way, with a minimal few in the Assembly Hall. At its opening, the Moderator, Martin Fair, brought this message to the church.
In our waiting, what are we waiting for? A return to normal? A return to what we were doing, life that was marked, in many cases, by catastrophic decline? Could it be possible, that in the midst of our waiting, God might come with a message that directs us to look forward and to look out?
The Lord began this section with these words:
‘…my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.’ (v1)
His people were on the cusp of something new; they were on the cusp of God bringing about His righteous purposes such that lives would be changed, transformed,… delivered, saved. But to do that, there could be no returning to the old ways and so the Lord directs His people to look forward and to look out.
Friends, in your waiting, which direction are you focussing on? Is it back, “back to normal”? It’s not easy to look forward and it’s not easy to look out when we feel vulnerable. But if our future is to be other than decline, then we can’t just look back to what was normal, we need to look forward and we need to look out.
Yet in the waiting time, the Lord also had another major point to raise with His people. Not only were they to look forward and out, they were also to evidence His kingdom through justice in the present time. He says to them:
and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the one who does this – the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.’ (v1-2)
We see again those words, ‘mishpat’ and ‘tzadeqah’, ‘justice’ and ‘doing what is right’. It can seem confusing at first why God would string together justice, salvation and sabbath in these verses, but He has good reason. The Lord wants them to look forward and out, but He does not want them to neglect doing right in the present time either, and doing right involves, once again, seeking justice, justice for all.
Because Sabbath had to do with rest; not just for masters and Israelites, but servants and foreigners as well as for animals. To keep the Sabbath, meant, among other things, that you valued what God valued, that you cared for what He cared for. The Sabbath was not an end in itself, but a sign that you wanted your life to be lived in submission to God, such that you shared His values, including His passionate concern for justice.
In their waiting, the Lord’s people were to look forward and look out, but they were also to evidence the values of the Lord, particularly through justice. They were to be a visible sign that the Kingdom of God was breaking into the world and making itself felt, and not just for those on the inside, or those with status or the right credentials – there was to be justice for all.
I wonder friends, would our local community see this in us? Are we a visible sign that the kingdom of God is breaking into this world and setting things right? That’s part of God’s righteousness, His righteous purposes – He doesn’t just correct sin, He also sets things right.
We sang earlier:
‘Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.’
Do our lives evidence this? Or are they just nice words? Who is in ‘moral proximity’ to us and are we doing anything about their needs? Because in our waiting, there is a world out there who needs to know there is a God who cares, yet His plan is for His people to show His love and concern, and to do that we must share His values.
Brothers and sisters, we are in a waiting time, but may we not simply wait for a return to normal. Instead, may we open ourselves to the Lord’s leading by His Spirit, that this time of waiting might equip us to look forward and out, and also to be a people who seek justice in the present.