Peter introduction (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 2nd March 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: John 1:35-51
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Hi everyone, welcome to Tuesday evening sermon here from Brightons Parish Church. It’s really great to share in this time with you tonight.

We do have something a little bit different tonight and in the coming months probably up until around about Summer, July time, and we’ll be looking at the life of Peter, but it’s not going to be me that’s taking you through that journey, my good friend Gordon Elliot who preached the first Sunday of January and started our series in Philippians.

Gordon is coming back each month to lead us through this study in the life of Peter and Gordon will lead us through that. Bringing a word each month and just to try something new, something different to give us a different voice, to give someone of a different age and experience to myself and to take us through a series over that time, and to give space from month to month to reflect to put things into practice, then come back and get a little bit more input on that theme, and I think that what Gordon will share will also tie into where we’re at as a church, where we’re at with our Values and our Purpose, as well.

So I’m going to hand over to Gordon now and invite him to come and lead us in our first sermon with him tonight.

Can I say wherever you are and whoever you are, thank-you so much for this invitation to take part in your monthly home group bible studies. It’s all a strange experience for me standing up here and only just talking to Scott, but he assures me there are people out there.

Over the next few months, once a month, we’re going to just be looking at the life of Peter and that will also include some of the other disciples and people that he meets etc, but that’s generally the thrust it will be through the life of Peter, but before we read together let’s just pray together.

Father, we thank You that Your word is not just a time in history about a people or people, individuals, that we know or think we know, but we just pray that You would help us to see ourselves in and through them, as to what You taught them, that You might teach us.

We again just thank You for the open bibles that we have and just pray Your richest blessing on our times together in Jesus name, Amen.

Our reading, our first reading is going to be in John chapter 1. John chapter 1 and reading from verse 35.

John’s disciples follow Jesus. “The next day John was there again”, that John, of course is John the Baptist, “with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by he said “Look the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around Jesus saw them following and asked “What do you want?” They said “Rabbi (which means Teacher) where are you staying?” “Come here” He replied “and you will see.” So they went and saw where He was staying and they spent that day with him.” this wasn’t just going to be a brief conversation. “It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him “We found the Messiah (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas (which, when translated, is Peter). The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. “Nazareth! Can any good thing come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said to him “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” Jesus said “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added “Very truly I tell you. You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

So, these are our some of our first introductions to some of the disciples and very briefly to them, to Peter himself.

Almost two years ago my wife and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary and we were over in Ireland at the time. Our eldest daughter and her family live over there and our son and his family, who actually live in Spain, they had come over. Likewise so, my youngest daughter and unfortunately she was even further afield in Vietnam so she couldn’t join us, but we were going to have a family reunion with just one or two friends and they had organized just like what we thought, my wife and I thought a get-together for lunch, and we went down to the church where I used to be the pastor to pick up the wife of the friend that was going to take us to Ballymena, not far out of Belfast, and we went into the church and waited and then to our shock and amazement, I can tell you it was a shock and amazement, 80 people just suddenly appeared from round the corner.

We had been caught out and caught on. We had no idea that this had been planned. I presume we thought our kids didn’t have it in them, but they obviously did, and even the grandchild, nobody had spilled the beans, we got no wind of it, and as we looked around these people, and got over the sense of shock and surprise, I looked around and just looked at some of the faces. Most of them I did recognize, one or two had grown older like myself, but some of them I hadn’t seen for years, and I mean in years, but what we could say about all of them, they were all friends.

Where we had become friends were quite different. Some were through the church in the Antrim Baptist where I’d been the minister; thers woere family friends and even to our bigger surprise was Margaret’s nephew and his wife, flew over from Bristol just to be with us. But that’s another another story.

But as we looked around, all the memories that were stirred, memories that were happy memories, that were difficult. Here were people that I had ministered to and ministered with and it’s very hard sometimes to look back and you see people’s faces and you know a lot about them that nobody else knows. That’s one of the privileges, sacred privileges, of being a minister.

But I wonder if you’ve ever taken stock of your friends? Whether they be friends in the church. And you’re longing to see people again like most of us? Or whether it’s people in your neighborhood or people that are away from you? To take stock of how your friendships came about. What were your first impressions?

Because we’re going to look a bit about the first impressions of Peter. Because when you look at the disciples that we’re going to look at, initially they were a real motley crew and you sometimes can look and wonder “Why did Jesus pick them?

As I looked at these friends of ours, and some of them had had really difficult backgrounds and I went through some very tragic and very difficult pastoral situations with them, but they’ve now become very close friends, not all of them, but all of them we know and we were astounded.

I wonder if you’ve ever sat down, now I’ve never done this, but I wonder if you’ve ever sat down and tried to count the number of friends you have or people that you know or even more so, how many people you’ve actually met and known over the last 50 years, the last number of years? Now that just is probably totally out of order, I wouldn’t even attempt to do it because you’ll notice that some people that have come into your life stay in your life and they become good friends, and a lot of these people they had been in my congregation, so it was more like a pastor and his flock, or some of them where now it’s very much I’m no longer a pastor there, but it’s now very much people or myself and people who are very strong friends, and you build relationships.

Now, when you look at the apostles, and we’re obviously not going to look at them all and we’re not going to even look at a lot of Peter’s life tonight – yes it would be tonight wouldn’t it that as to How did they come to Jesus?

Have you ever asked even your close friends How did you find Jesus? How did you come to know Jesus?

Now, we can get so used to people that we think we know, but during these days of pandemic, when we’re away and longing to just meet with people, maybe you need to think again and say I wonder how so-and-so found Jesus? and prepare some questions. You don’t have to wait until the pandemic’s over. You might wait a while but you could always text them, email them, phone them, and just ask after the bible study How did you come to know Jesus? and it may be told, you may be totally shocked but ask questions of your friends, ask questions of the people that you would normally worship with, or others that are outwith this congregation but part of another congregation, and it’s very interesting when you see even briefly n the portion that we read together, the different ways that they came to know Jesus.

You’ve actually got Andrew and John, John the brother of James, Andrew the brother of Peter, they heard a preacher, that preacher was John the Baptist, and it was just some words that he said as he pointed to Jesus who was obviously in the background said “Behold the Lamb of God” and he went on to say and describe later on “who takes away the sin of the world” and Andrew and John left John the Baptist and followed Jesus, and they spent some time with them. We don’t know exactly how long.

Some people just don’t have the time or don’t want to make the time but perhaps again it’s a time for you to get to know Jesus, to get to know what he’s done in your life, what he’s done in other friends life. So you need to spend not just a passing few moments but some time now. We don’t know what the conversation was all about but one thing we do know is the result of the conversation, they found that this was Jesus the Messiah. They heard a preacher John who then led them to Jesus and what Jesus said to them as I said we don’t really know, but we know that they had found Jesus.

The influence of sermons, the influence of preachers, the influence of people who have this tremendous power into our lives, to bring us to Jesus.

I don’t know, again I hardly know any of the people here, so I don’t know how you found Jesus, and perhaps it’s worthwhile looking back whether you’re young or whether you’re old, to look at the influences on your life.

People heard a preacher, and then as we go into Peter himself it wasn’t so much the preacher he heard at this time but he heard a testimony, he heard the testimony of Andrew his younger brother, well we think he was his younger brother, and John, and he just says “We found him the Messiah.” So they heard a testimony that would probably be more my initial way of coming to Jesus.

I worked in the civil service many years ago and I was really, I’m trying to think how old I was, but it was many years ago anyway, and it was through the testimony of two people I worked with. They belong to the Salvation Army in Leith in Edinburgh and it was their lives and their works. One was a young typist girl and she was actually leaving the office. She was only there for a few months but she was going on to train to be a Salvation Army Officer. Now I’ve never heard anybody speaking the way they spoke about Jesus and their faith, but I had a testimony and through their testimony I started to go and attend the Salvation Army in Leith and that’s where I became a Christian.

How did you find Jesus? Was it somebody witnessing to you? Was it someone even in your family, even as a child your Sunday school teacher, who they might not regard themselves as preachers, but in one sense they are bringing the Word of God?

It’s very interesting to find out the different ways that people have found Jesus. We’ll come back to that at the very end.

So some heard a preacher, some heard a testimony and, when it comes to Nathaniel and Philip, they were, it was quite different again. With them it was almost as though the Lord spoke directly to them. Perhaps they’re not used to that, that somebody says “You know how I found Jesus, because He spoke to me.”

I was reading the Bible which is His Word and through that message I found Him.

You could almost say that Nathaniel also was really spoken to by Philip’s testimony.

What’s also interesting, and we maybe haven’t got too much time to go into it all, you take it for yourself, but what did they hear about the Lord. I’ll just touch on it briefly later on.

And some of the phrases that are used even in this short passage. So, they heard the Lord.

Some needed time. John and Andrew just wanted time to spend with Jesus and to hear what he said and those words that John the Baptist said “Look the Lamb of God” and that’s what drew them. To find out what did he mean.

Now imagine the conversation, don’t be afraid to imagine what they talked about, and I’m sure it wasn’t just about the weather and I’m certainly sure it was not just about COVID etc. So, that’s all we seem to talk about nowadays.

They wanted to hear Jesus but through His word, through His message, not only did they find Jesus, but they started to testify and to witness to Jesus, and to Andrew. It was to his brother and we’ll look at this again in a moment. They were very different, as many brothers are very different.

Take this time take this time to ask yourself and to find out or to remind yourself who was influential in my life. Who was influential in other people in the congregation in their lives. What’s our first impressions of these disciples?

Well, as I said earlier, when you look at them and when you look at them later on we don’t hear an awful lot about Nathaniel and Philip but you really at times wondered what was Jesus thinking of in asking them to become His disciples, to join with Him, to lead the ministry with them. And you may look at some people around your church, in your congregation, you’re thinking Well there’s not much in them. I can’t understand why Jesus would have called them. Because you don’t see what the Lords maybe doing in someone else’s life. Ask them, because these are the people they may not be the closest of friends but they’re the people you worship with, or people who are your friends and who have had a lasting impression upon you, and you are now good friends, like some of the 80 people that we met at our surprise golden wedding celebration, but not everybody’s like that, You obviously know that Peter and Andrew and John, Nathaniel and Philip and others of the disciples, were bonded together as this group.

But you know, not everybody stayed together. Have you ever looked around the church and wondered where is so and so, I haven’t seen them for a while, and yet I thought they were going on well with the Lord. But if you read through the Scriptures you see people that literally just pass, almost pass through Jesus’s life, and we don’t know what happened after that.

Take for example Zacchaeus, now he obviously heard something, maybe it was from other tax collectors, but he was so keen to see Jesus. Being small, he did what was really unacceptable for a man of his standing to, climb a tree and he just thought he was hidden because nobody wanted to know him, but Jesus did, and after that incident we don’t know what happened. You ever wondered what happened to Zacchaeus after? What about the little boy that brought his loaves and fish? What happened to him afterwards? No doubt he went home to his mum and said “See that lunch pack you gave me today, do you want me to tell you what happened to it?” Oh yeah, what happened to him after that? We just do not know.

And there must be people in your life, as there are people in my life, that they’ve been part of my life at one time, they may have even had an influence and I have no idea what they’re doing now years ago.

I used to play tennis, not very well, l but I played with this guy and it was only years later I found out he was a Christian, and I really went at him, not roughly, and said “You never ever told me that you were a Christian.” I wasn’t at the time were probably that busy trying to play tennis and his now wife was in my classes at high school, he wasn’t, he was a couple years younger, but he’d never said anything until we met later at some Christian meeting. He had never shared a thing with me.

But, of course, it’s not up to us to even be those witnesses. The Lord can move in our hearts. So, search through the Bible and look for some other characters and thinking what happened to so-and-so and maybe do a Bible search and you might be find you don’t know anyway. Those are the first people that we we’re looking at tonight and yes just think what are your impressions. What are your impressions about Peter?

We’ll certainly look more at him in days to come and months to come, but the people they were, and, again, we’re not going to spend a lot of time in this, but when you look at them and you see them, and they were young people, not terribly young well as far as we know there was no one as old as me, I don’t know, but no I don’t think they would have been but when you look at their characteristics, there’s that Peter, now we know that Jesus even here calls him the Rock but you know he was a coward. There were times when he really was a miserable coward. Liar, swore and cursed, and he had a boldness with him. Sometimes he opened his mouth just too soon and too quickly. A boldness, but he was also a denier.

You know when we look around at one another in any fellowship none of us are perfect and we can undermine one another and somehow I think that we should all be on a perfect road of following Jesus and then you’re shocked to hear of someone who well “I never thought that would come out of his mouth, I never thought he would ever do something like that” but we do. You don’t know my life, I don’t know your life, thankfully.

But here the first impressions of Peter and those impressions go on through the different gospels I don’t know if I’d wanted him on my team until you realize what the Lord did in his life.

Look at other people through Jesus eyes and there may be someone that you know in this congregation that just needs that encouragement, needs that word, to just draw alongside them and help them to grow in their faith. When you look at the two brothers, well Peter and Andrew very different – Peter this bold, brash, sometimes very insecure, sometimes as cowardly – and Andrew who seems to be very quiet, I would reckon, because I don’t know him that muc,h but trying to read into the passages he seemed to have more stability and he was certainly an evangelist. Everytime you see Andrew he’s leading or pointing someone to Jesus. The brothers were very different and obviously Andrew lived in the shadow of his brother, but there doesn’t seem to be that spark of jealousy, he wasn’t one of the top three.

So, remember as you look around your congregation, as you look into your own life, you may not be one of the top three or one of the top 103. Does that matter? It’s who you are and the characteristics that you have. So, you’ve got this quiet, perhaps timid, young man.

You’ve got these fiery brothers, sons of thunder, John and his brother James. Again, I may be misjudging, but perhaps Philip was a bit uninspiring. We don’t hear very much about him.

Nathaniel, we again don’t hear very much about him, but what if you read into it seems as though Philip and Nathanael were friends and very perhaps very possibly met together for Bible study because when you read together, let me find it again,

Yes down in verse 41 the first thing Andrew did was find his brother and he brought him to Jesus, And the next day you find Philip and Nathaniel, and Philip found Nathaniel, and told him “We found the one Moses wrote about in the law.” Had they been discussing something through the Old Testament over that week. We don’t know, but it looks as though they were and about whom the prophets also wrote Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph and it looks as though they were a couple and maybe others who were just looking and searching in the word of God.

Read between the lines and don’t worry if it never happened, you’ll never know until you get to heaven, but read what’s not there and see how these people were going to be molded and then when you do this, these are all sermons in themselves, but when you see what words they came out, just in this short period of time, as I said Andrew said to Peter “We found the Messiah, the promised one” Incredible. John the Baptist said to Andrew and John “the Lamb of God”.
Nathaniel picked up the theme “You are the Son of God. The King of Israel.”

Philip picks up the fulfiller of prophecy, you know, take time to read what these men were being impressed with. What there was happening in their lives.

Again, let me take you back to my church in Northern Ireland and Antrim. When I look not just with friends that we had in Northern Ireland, when I look at some of the people, then when I first got to know them, and not really know them, you can look with a bit disdain or a bit critical. Believe it or not, even ministers do that.

There was a guy called Bertie, big tall guy, he was a policeman actually he was quite high up in the police. I won’t mention other family names but he won the Queen’s Medal for Gallantry and they don’t just hand those out. I don’t know all the incidents but it was still quite impressive and yet when I looked at Bertie, and we still look at Bertie, he was one of the people that they were at the 80 they traveled over from Donegal, and I didn’t recognize them at all, but I didn’t have I would have put it. When I looked at Bertie in those first days he didn’t impress me as a particularly spiritual man, and not terribly critical and he was, I think never at the prayer meeting, and perhaps, because of his duties, he didn’t get too involved in church life, perhaps because of the job he did, but you know that man and his wife, who was a nurse, now live in the Republic of Ireland and minister not as a minister but as Christians in an area where there are very few Christians, and they’ve gone through really difficult times, but they are a very spiritual couple.

Who am I to make impressions or to feel impressions that become totally wrong?

Another friend called David, still see him from time too, and he’s a right laugh, he’s one of these people when you get together he and his wife and me and my wife, you always have a good laugh together. When he was younger his mother seemingly took him to the doctor thinking there was something seriously wrong with them because he couldn’t speak. There wasn’t anything wrong with him, but he was no academic, he was no big top-notch theologian, but he ended up with his wife, as missionaries to Peru. My first impressions and still my impressions of David “How did he ever get through Bible College?” but he did.

Your impressions can be wrong, but when you get to know people.

There’s another David, and when we first got to know him, he was really a bit of a mixed up kid, but he spent a lot of time coming to our house some nights they think “Oh no, we’re going to be here all night” – he needed a lot of help but he was seeking. Now that David and his wife, as she later became, became missionaries to Africa and now they’re actually, believe it or not, presbyterian minister retired. I would never in a million years have dreamt that David would have ended up like that.

Our first impressions of people can be so, so wrong, but the blessing I’ve had and, as I look at these 80 people, was to see how the Lord had had taken many of them on into different ministries, to bringing up families, to being part of their churches. Some, no doubt, wandered away but for the majority of them, the words fail me, became very real in each of their lives.

So, in these days of lockdown, take time to think of the friends you have around you. And I start to think what questions would I like to ask that I don’t know about them. What impressions do you have that may be totally wrong?

Now I know, particularly Scots, we don’t like people interfering into our lives or what we think is being nosy. It’s not, it’s to encourage one another in the fellowship and it may just be a phrase or something that you say that will make them search as to who this Jesus really is.

So, in finishing, I’ve got some homework for you. Now I promise you, I will not be taking it in and marking it. It’s really for something I normally be asking have you done or not done it, but here’s three things hopefully we might have them on the screen so you can take them down.

Share your testimony – share your testimony with how you met Jesus share it with someone else.

Who were the people of influence in your salvation? Who were the people of influence in your salvation? For me it was the two people initially who were in my work and belonged to the Salvation Army who have never seen for, well the older man’s dead now, but praise God and give thanks for them, even if you haven’t seen them. Just stop and give thanks.

And then thirdly and lastly, Who are the people you are now seeking to influence for their salvation, that you may want to share your testimony with, that you may want to share Jesus with, that you may want to teach or preach or bring the word of God to?

So, there’s three little suggestions to give you something to work on and do take the passage before us. It’s thrilling, I’m always thrilled by the word of God. Even as I’m reading, I’m thinking “Oh I never saw that before” and I’m always being like any minister you think you want to go off on a tangent but I haven’t so take time to read and you’ll pick up even just these few characters and maybe your impressions of them will totally change and maybe your impressions of someone in your congregation or a friend out with the congregation may totally change and they will be helped and encouraged and the Lord will be glorified.

Scott would you come and pray with us.

Having heard Gordon preach tonight and what he brought from the Lord to us from the Scriptures, let us now take a moment to pray. Let us pray.

Our God and Heavenly Father, thank-you for Your word, thank-you that You are the living and active God, the great I Am, that you are ever present and ready to speak to us, Father for Your faithfulness and Your goodness to us and this we thank-you and praise You.

Lord we’ve heard Your word opened to us by Your servant our friend Gordon and we ask Lord that we would be doers of Your word, that we would not just listen or hear but would it sink deep into our very beings changing us from the inside out, because Father, You’ve called us to be a church that invite, encourage and enable others to follow Jesus and how we see that in the passage tonight of others who did that, who introduced Jesus to people and Lord, we have to admit we’re not good at this, we’re scared of this, often we shy away from it, we shy away from spiritual conversations, but would You give us a boldness, would You help us to be people who give people that little nudge.
We don’t have to be a great preacher, we don’t have to share a lengthy story or our message, but we can just do simple things, even and still point people towards You.

Lord, give us courage, give us opportunities, but help us also to take the initiative Lord, and to put Your word into practice.

Father, nurture in us Your way, Your ways that we might have that right focus and right attitude that we were speaking about some Sundays ago.

Father, we ask this and I and for your enabling in Jesus name, Amen

So brothers and sisters, thanks for joining us tonight for this experiment doing something a little bit different and please do take note of the questions. I’ll maybe also put them into the description at the bottom of the video if you want to quickly access them, to think about how to put this into practice.

We’ve got Thursday Evening Live Prayer at 8 15 on Thursday and then back on Sunday as well concluding our study through the book of Philippians. So, we’ll hope we’ll join you then too.

I think tonight for me has really nurtured that part of our values which is about sharing, sharing the love of God through words and deed, that part of our purpose that is about inviting and encouraging people to follow Jesus, and even that enabling and sometimes enabling doesn’t always mean it’s easy or comfortable, sometimes we have to step out our comfort zone and so that we can help people to follow Jesus and I pray and hope that we will do that, and that we’ll hear some of your stories about that in due course. If you have the opportunity to share your testimony or even just to think about what would you say about your testimony then do remember that in April we’re probably looking to have another Testimony Tuesday evening and so if you would be willing to share your testimony about how you came to follow Jesus then please get in touch with me and I can help you get that recorded in time for sharing in April.

So, thanks for being with us and we look forward to seeing you again soon. God bless you.

The Colours of the Rainbow (Wonder Zone wk.3)

Preached on: Sunday 12th July 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 20-07-12-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: John 9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: John 9 (NIV)
Sunday 12th July 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet 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 acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, you probably can’t see me just now, but I am here. What do we need for you to see me? We need…LIGHT! (SWITCH ON LIGHTER) Give me a moment to light a candle here. (PAUSE)

We need light to see – and when we don’t have light, darkness can be very overpowering and scary; darkness can suck the life out of us. So, here’s a question to think about at home: what else does light do? It helps us see, but what else do light do? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home just now. (PAUSE)
I wonder what ideas you came up with, why not share them in the Live Chat just now.

Light is a fascinating, amazing thing! Do you know that we need light to see rainbows? And the light from the sun, also provides us with warmth, in fact, that warmth hitting the earth, especially at the equator, gives us weather and if we didn’t have the light from the sun we wouldn’t have rain or clouds or wind or heat – did you know that?

So, light helps us to have life – and we see this with plants. For plants to grow, they need light. A plant without light is not going to grow big and strong, and our world, without light, would not be the amazing world that it is! We could say, light gives life.

Jesus said in verse 5 today: ‘…I am the light of the world.’ You talked about that earlier at home and hopefully you came up with some good ideas. Jesus doesn’t explain what He means by this, neither does the Apostle John. But maybe that’s because this isn’t the first time in the book of John Jesus has been described as light.

If you go all the way back to the beginning of John’s gospel, we reed there: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.’ (John 1:1-4)

Jesus, light and life are all wrapped up together. At the beginning of everything, there was Jesus, and He helped bring light and life to all mankind. Genesis 1 paints a picture of God taking the dust of the earth and from that dust bringing life to mankind, a life they get to enjoy in the light of that new creation at the beginning of history. We’re meant to imagine Adam opening his eyes up for the first time and seeing the light of the new world around him, and also the God who is there in front of him.
Does that sound familiar to you at all?

For in our passage today, Jesus uses mud, literally the dust on the ground, to bring light and life to a man. Because Jesus isn’t just restoring this man’s sight, Jesus is giving this man life, for he would be poor, homeless, without family, without purpose, without value or hope.
Living in darkness sucks the very life out of us, physically, but also spiritually.

As Jesus bends down to make some mud out of the dust, He is re-enacting those first moments of creation, when life and light were brought to mankind. Because that is who Jesus is: He is the light of the world, and that is part of what makes Jesus unique. He did it at the start of creation; He did it for the man in our story; and He will keep doing it because it is who He is: Jesus is the light of the world; He is about bringing light and life to mankind, and He’s still doing it even today.

To hear more stories of how Jesus is bringing life and light to people in our time and in our community, join us for
Testimony Tuesday this week, when 6 people from our congregation will share how Jesus has made a difference in their lives, bringing light and life to them.

Now, let’s go back to our story. There are many characters in it and we are meant to wonder, who I am most like? So, let’s think about two of them for a moment, starting with the religious leaders.

Here is Jesus upending their traditions, their preferences, their way of understanding the world, and especially of understanding God. Jesus, the light of the world, is trying to help them find true life in God, by taking apart what they hold dear. But the religious leaders won’t accept that, they don’t welcome it for it’s just too much for them, and so they push Jesus away; they’d rather stay in the dark, than come into the light given by Jesus and find true life.

I wonder, if we’re like that at all? In our own personal lives, have we welcomed Jesus or are we pushing Him away? There are many reasons we might push God away – maybe He seems to ask too much. Maybe a hurt or a difficult experience in our lives, raises within us a desire for some distance. Maybe we simply think we don’t need Jesus. Each of these, is pushing Jesus away, and we’re meant to see, that when we push Jesus away, we push away His light, and so we push away His offer of life.

Or what about on a corporate level, either as Brightons Parish Church, or as the Braes Churches? Where is Jesus bringing His light that we might see something new about Him and His purposes? I wonder, where is Jesus trying to lead us out of old patterns, old traditions, so as find the new life He wants us to experience?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be like those religious leaders; I don’t want to stay in the dark, I want to know Jesus, and experience the light and life that He offers. But to know this we must become like the man in the story, who comes to see Jesus as God in the flesh. For at the end of the passage, we reed: ‘Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshipped him.’ (v38)

That man’s journey is a model for us, and it began in verse
7: ‘…the man went and washed, and came home seeing.’ The man stepped out in faith because some guy he’d never known, clearly never seen, told him to go wash off some mud. Why do that? Yet he does, and that simple act of faith, of obedience, brought him light and then life.

Jesus said in chapter 8: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (v12) To follow Jesus, is more than liking the stories, the songs, the ideas of Jesus. To follow Jesus, is to heed His command, it is to respond in faith through obedience, it is to embrace Jesus as Lord.

Who of us needs to do that? Some of us might need to do that for the first time; some of us, who call ourselves Christian, might have a specific area where Jesus is saying to follow Him now, today, in one particular area of our lives. So, will you heed Jesus? Will you follow Him? Will you embrace Him by submitting to Him as Lord?

Because, it’s only when you walk out of the darkness, it’s only when you make that choice, and step into the light, His light, that you can then know His life, true life.

I pray that we will all make that choice, today and all the days before us. May it be so. Amen.

We close our time together with our final hymn…

Without belief! (Passion Wk.6)

Preached on: Sunday 19th April 2020
There is no sermon text or powerpoint available for this sermon.
Bible references: John 20:19-29
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Fidelity (Haggai 2:10-19)

Preached on: Sunday 3rd 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 19-11-03-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Haggai 2:10-19; John 15:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Haggai 2:10-19; John 15:1-17
Sunday 3rd November 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

When Ian Baillie introduced this series a few weeks’ ago, he outlined what he understood as my reasons for having a series on Haggai. What he was too kind to say was that, I wanted to work systematically through an Old Testament book, but we only had a four week window, so it needed to be a short book – and so the best fitting option was Haggai. You might have expected a more mature or spiritual reason, but that’s the honest answer.

However, my feeling is that it has brought a timely word for us as a congregation, timely in relation to what is happening around us in the Braes area, timely…
in our life as a congregation, hopefully timely in our own personal lives as well.

In the first week, Ian spoke on the first chapter and brought home that challenge to each of us: are we putting God first and giving ourselves to His purposes today? It’s a question we need to be regularly asking ourselves, because without that core conviction the rest crumbles.

Then last week we looked at the first half of Haggai chapter two, and we saw the encouragement of the Lord, in that He seeks to help us persevere in our calling by finding strength in His presence and courage through His promises. And when the going gets tough, it is crucial for us to be seeking and trusting the Lord, and so last week was equally important to hear.
But when you heard the words in Haggai today, did you get that feeling? Did you think: mmm, sacrifices, defilement, mildew, lack of fruitfulness…wow, this sounds like really relevant stuff!? If you did, you’re clearly a more spiritual or knowledgeable than I am, because that was not my first reaction last Sunday night when I began looking at this passage – my first reaction was:
God, why have you got me preaching through Haggai?!?

But you know, as I’ve delved into this, as I’ve read up on the books of Deuteronomy, Matthew, John…I feel like God has made this passage a lot clearer and more meaningful for me, and I hope you’ll see its relevance for you and for us as a congregation.

To get our heads around this passage I first want to give you what I think is the summary message of this passage, and then I’ll try to help us see where I get that from. So, the summary message of this portion of Haggai, I think, is this: ‘fidelity over formalities leads to fruitfulness’.
‘fidelity over formalities leads to fruitfulness’.

I realise I’m doing that typical old-school preachers’ thing of using alliteration, and ‘fidelity’ isn’t a word we often use now-a-days, but go with me on this, and hopefully you’ll see why I’ve summed up this passage as ‘fidelity over formalities leads to fruitfulness’.

The first four verses of our reading today are in some ways the weirdest, and seem almost to have no link to the second five verses, but in actual fact they do, and they prepare the way for that second portion.

What God is doing here, is setting the scene for what is to come, and God begins on the positive side of things first, as we all do. So, God ask the priests:
‘…“if someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?”’ The priests answered, “No.”’
(Haggai 2:12)

And this is a correct answer, for God’s law says that only what originally touches the offering is made holy; holiness does not pass along the line, as we read:
“the sin offering…is most holy…Whatever touches any of the flesh will become holy…” (Leviticus 6:24-27)

So, with that correct answer, Haggai continues:
‘“If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”

“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”’
(Haggai 2:13)

Again, a correct answer, as God’s law says:
“Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days…Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.” (Numbers 19:11, 22)

In this case, defilement passes further along the line, whereas holiness did not.

And with their correct answer, Haggai continues once more and shares a startling word from the Lord:
‘“So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,” declares the Lord. “Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.”’ (Haggai 2:14)

If you had been part of the Jewish people at this time, such words would have been a real slap in the face, because Haggai is saying here that the offerings and worship they have been giving are seen as…
meaningless and ineffectual by the Lord. They are meaningless and ineffectual because they are defiled, they are unholy, they are revolting, even abominable, in God’s sight, and God sees these offerings that way because the people themselves are unholy.

It sounds really bizarre to us now-a-days, but we need to remember that God gave the sacrificial system as a way of maintaining the relationship between Himself and His people – and the people valued that, they valued having a right relationship with God, because they wanted to stay as God’s people and enjoy His blessing.

As a result, we read at the start of Ezra chapter 3, that one of the first acts by the exiles after their return was to rebuild the altar amongst the temple rubble…
They did this because for God’s people in the Old Testament, sacrifice was essential to being right with God. And so, one of their first priorities was to rebuild the altar and reinstitute the rhythm of sacrifice in the Holy Land. This reveals the importance they placed on a right relationship and on worship as the people of God, and we might even applaud them for such devotion.

Unfortunately, these people did not continue their reconstruction efforts on the rest of the temple, and instead they focused their attention on their own homes at the expense of the temple, which lead to God’s challenge through Haggai in chapter 1, for by focusing on their own homes they had disobeyed God’s call to reconstruct His sanctuary. As a result, their disobedience made them unholy,…

thus rendering their sacrifices unacceptable before their holy God and so, the people remained under the judgment of
God despite sacrifices, and so their crops failed.

The point is that the project needed to progress beyond the “altar” stage; God had called His people to build an entire temple structure, not merely an altar, and until they obeyed Him, they were unholy, their sacrifices were unholy, and so all that they offered was meaningless.

Now, this should have been known by the people, and especially by the priests, which is maybe why God starts with the priests. For in multiple places within the Old Testament we find such words as these:
‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’
(1 Samuel 15:22)

It is obedience to the Lord, fidelity to His voice and commands, that leads to life, to fruitfulness – and the priests should have known this. As a result, God first withheld His blessing from their crops, so as to get their attention, but that didn’t turn them from their ways, and so He sent Haggai to spell it out to them, and as we saw at the end of chapter 1, thankfully, the people heeded the prophetic word of God through Haggai, for we read: ‘So the Lord stirred up…the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.’ (Haggai 1:14-15)

They began the work on the temple, they moved beyond a focus on the alter, and so now, in chapter two, three months later, God sends Haggai a third time, not with a word of challenge, but with a reminder of what had come before this day and what lies ahead of their fidelity.

Verses 15b-17 rehearse some of this again:
‘consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.’ (Haggai 2:15b-17)

The same principle is here: sacrifices offered by an unholy people are meaningless and God’s judgment remains; the harvest will be poor, whether the harvest of grain or the harvest of grape, it bore less fruit because of the people’s disobedience.

Before and after these words, however, the Lord gives a word of encouragement, for we read:
‘“Now give careful thought to this from this day on – … From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig-tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit…From this day on I will bless you.”’ (Haggai 2:15a, 18-19)

In verse 15, Haggai begins a sentence, then breaks off to remind the people of the past as we saw. But with the same words in v18, ‘…from this day on…’, he returns to the original thread this prophecy: ‘from this twentyfourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid.’

This day, this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, is a crucial day, because it marks a turning point – it marks the point where the people show themselves as truly committed to obeying the Lord, because they lay the foundation of the Lord’s temple. It is a mark of commitment, of intention, that they are going to see this through, and because of that intention, because of that obedience, this day also marks a turning point in their relationship with God, because now He will bring blessing.
In fact, to really prove that this is a prophetic word, the Lord adds at the end here:
‘…is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig-tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.’ (Haggai 2:19)

This news of forthcoming blessing is given as a prophetic word, as foretelling of what will come about before anyone can predict it. For by this time of the year, mid to late December, there’s no seed left in the barn; it’s in the ground, it’s been planted.

And when the people look to the vines and the trees, again there is no sign that something good is coming, the plants have not borne fruit, even though by this point in the year they should have.
Into this this bleak situation the Lord gives a word of promise through Haggai, a word of certain hope, that blessing is coming, fruitfulness lies ahead, because they have been obedient, they have shown fidelity to the Lord’s command and voice.

So, hopefully you can now see why I summarised the message of this passage as: ‘fidelity over formalities leads to fruitfulness’. Fidelity to the Lord’s voice and commands is of greater worth than formalities, than sacrifices, services and ceremonies, for it is fidelity to the Lord’s commands that leads to fruitfulness, to blessing.

And in our heart, we know this. Many are the stories we could tell when we’ve felt convicted of the right way to go, or directed by the Lord to do something,…
and it has led to life. Those times where I have been a terrible husband, grumpy, irritable, and then the nudge of the Spirit comes, a nudge to go seek reconciliation, to say “sorry”, to humble myself. And when I have heeded that voice of the Lord, it has healed the relationship.

I’ve already spoken with you about the times the Lord nudged Gill and I to marry sooner than our parents would have wished, but from it came good. Or, with Friendship Plus, I shared how the Lord led me into ministry, and because of fidelity to the command of the Lord to leave chemical engineering and go study youth work, a path opened up to me that has led to so much good. If I had kept to ‘formalities’, to the way things should be done, then I would have missed out on so much life and blessing.
Conversely, I wonder if this principle is at the heart of the current state of the Church of Scotland. We as a denomination have not kept fidelity to the Lord’s commands, but we sure have kept to the formalities, and as a result, I wonder if the Lord has held back His blessing. For example, we know we have a shortage of ministers, but our ministers have been a large part of the problem, often preaching a less than true gospel, often encouraging the church along paths that are not in keeping with God’s commands, and so I wonder if the shortage of ministers is God’s judgment upon us – maybe He is calling less people into ministry until such a time as we, and those in ministry, keep better fidelity to His commands, and then He will bring fruitfulness. I can’t prove it, but it’s certainly a thought.
Another thought that has struck me this last week has been: I wonder what the New Testament equivalent of this passage is? Because, we don’t live under the Old Covenant, and so God doesn’t deal with us quite the same as the Israelites – there is not a list of blessings and curses in the New Testament, as there is in the book of Deuteronomy.

But in reading up on the book of Deuteronomy, I was directed towards our second reading today, John chapter 15, for in that chapter we see that ‘fidelity to the command of Jesus also leads to fruitfulness’. We see this in a couple key verses:
‘‘‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love …My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”’ (John 15:5, 10, 12-13)

If we remain in Jesus, we will bear much fruit. To remain in Jesus, means to obey His commands, and His command here is to love each other, to lay down our lives.

Now, obviously, Jesus taught many things, beyond just love for one another, He taught also love for God and love for neighbour. So, fidelity to the command of Jesus here, surely includes not only love for friends and those in the church but the principle is that fidelity to the command of Jesus leads to fruitfulness, but that fruitfulness only comes about by showing fidelity to the command of Jesus to love, to love well, to love by laying down our lives.
And so that got me thinking, where do we need to grow in our love for others? Where are we being called to lay down our lives for one another?

Fourteen years of marriage between Gill and I, has rubbed off a fair number of rough edges, though we’re still not perfect. Some of those rough edges have been serious things, some have been smaller but still important things. For example, I am terrible at scheduling stuff and putting things in the diary, or making a decision about something, without checking with Gill and including her in the process.

I’ve had to learn that she and I are a partnership, and that to partner with her well, to love her well,…
means to include her in the decision making and scheduling. It might sound silly way of illustrating this, but hopefully you get the idea: that the tensions in our relationships can show us where we need to grow in love for one another and where we might need to lay down our lives.

So, I wonder what tensions you would pick on? What would you highlight? I am not the font of all knowledge, and I don’t see and hear everything, but across the Western church, and across our denomination, maybe especially our denomination, there can appear to be a tension at times between the generations. Specifically, there can be a feeling at times, that priority is being given nowa-days to our younger generations, that things are being changed to benefit them, that money is being given to them.
I wonder if you resonate with that feeling, with that sense of things? I wonder if you have that feeling for what we here at Brightons? If we do feel that way, if we have this tension at Brightons, then we need to remember the words of Jesus: ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ And it is fidelity to this that will bring forth greater fruit in your own life, and maybe through you to the wider church.

And it might seem horribly unfair – this place, this way of worship you have grown used to, and it is precious to you. And it is you that has funded the church for decades, and it is by your time and your sweat that there is still a place and community of worship here.

But Jesus says: ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ So, when it comes to our young people, we need to lay down our lives, and maybe that includes our preferences, our time, our money. Because you know, or may you don’t know, we have a short window to convince them that this congregation, and this Christian faith, is of relevance to their lives, and that they are truly loved. We probably need to convince them of this before they are ten or eleven years old, because after that, they’ll just walk, they will refuse to come to church.

My daughter Hope is three years old – we will be here as a family for at least 5 years, God willing, and maybe as many as 20 or more. It is here that Hope’s faith will either be helped or hindered in its formative years…
And in 20 years’ time, when she is a young adult, what do you want Hope’s memory to be: that this was a place, a community, who gave themselves in love, who lay down their lives for her, such that her faith blossomed and she grew into a woman of God? Or do you want her in 20 years’ time to look back on how we clung to our life, to our way of things, such that it stymied her faith?

Quite literally that is the choice we all face, every one of us who is over 18, including myself, that is the choice we face not only for Hope, but for every single child we have contact with as a congregation.

Jesus said: ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down
one’s life for one’s friends,’ and it is by fidelity…
to the commands of Jesus that we will abide in Him, and by abiding in Him, His life will flow through us, impacting our own lives and impacting the lives of those around us, for fidelity leads to fruitfulness, not formalities.

Now, it is not just to older generations that this is of relevance, younger adults need to heed this too. We are all called to lay down our life, and how younger adults might show that to older generations may simply be to take notice and give of our time to those more mature members of our congregation. I realise we are all strapped for time, but we are called to lay down our lives. And it’s the most beautiful thing seeing the generations come together – what might it look like, if a family invites an older couple, or a few older single people, round for a cuppa, or round for a meal?
Friends, we can know a fruitfulness in our own lives, and a fruitfulness through our lives to others around us, beyond anything we have known or imagined. But fruitfulness comes by fidelity not formality, and in our day, by fidelity to the command of Jesus, to lay down our lives for others, to love others like He loved us.

In our day, in our time of change and uncertainty, I pray we also may be a people who show such fidelity to the command of the Lord that it bears fruit for generations to come. May it be so. Amen.